American Dream, French Nightmare. Films reviewed: The Big Short, Joy, French Blood

Posted in Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Drama, Economics, France, Movies, Racism, Skinhead, US, violence, Wall Street by on January 29, 2016

GDFF2016-655x250-ENG-V2Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s slow season for movies8-fest right now, but you can catch some unusual ways of seeing films, from the tiny to vast. The 9th Annual 8-Fest shows handmade super 8 films at the SPK Polish Combatants Hall. The Cineplex Great Digital Film Festival is showing classic digital Affiche MYFFF 40X60crowd-pleasers on the big screen across Canada, including David Bowie in Labyrinth. And online is showing new French movies around the world until mid-February.

This week, I’m looking at two dramas about the American Dream, and one about the French Nightmare.

12238242_1696138537295341_6953460731039755401_oThe Big Short

Dir: Adam McKay (based on the book by Michael Lewis)

It’s the first decade of the 21st century and Wall Street is booming. Brokers are investing big in the security and stability of derivatives based on subprime mortgages. (Subprime mortgages were a new invention that let you buy a house with no money down.) Funds that cannot fall issued by merchant banks too big to fail. But a tiny collection of investors see it for what it is: a bubble about to burst.

There’s Michael (Christian Bale) a barefoot genius out west known for his investment acumen. Slimy Jared (Ryan Gosling) heads an unusual section of a big firm. He interests the exceptionally abrasive Mark (Steve Carrel) and his gang. And at the same time, two kids in their early twenties who can’t break through the glass walls of Wall Street, somehow manage to catch the eye of Ben (Brad Pitt) a reclusive former investor. We all know what happens. Wall Street crashed leaving millions of people jobless and locked out of their homes.

The movie follows these separate groups as they bet big against Wall Street, and shows us who comes out on top by selling short. And it explains, if you care to listen, some of the arcane economics behind the whole mess, propped up by fraud, deceit and corruption. The Big Short is a fast-moving entertainingly camp and educational Bro Movie.

More on this one in a minute…


Dir: David O Russell

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a woman who lives with a lovable but misbegotten family. Her bedridden mom (Virginia Madsen) watches TV all day. Joy’s ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) lives in her basement, and her loving grandma helps with the kids upstairs. And now her auto-repairman dad (Robert de Niro) is moving back home too. Joy once had high hopes for her future but her time is wasted in a 11952687_773777219400200_7695745313849455796_odead-end job and taking care of her dysfunctional family.

One day inspiration hits. She decides to create and sell a new mop with a removable mop-head, made from a single long loop of string. But how to make it, market it and sell it? She decides to make them in a makeshift factory her dad’s garage, with funding from his girlfriend (Isabella Rosselini) a rich widow. And through a series of lucky accidents she gets a chance to offer it on a TV shopping network. But there are still lots of bumps in the road that might ruin all her plans. Joy is a cute and watchable movie about a woman – and all her quirky friends and family’s — attempt to make it big.

Joy and The Big Short — both nominated for Best Picture Oscar, and neither of which will win — are two sides of the same coin. Both are true stories with similar themes: ordinary people, with a 12238251_801317663312822_1925779943944291784_obit of luck, and a lot of perseverance and hard work can make lots of money even in these tough economic times. Stay true to your ideas, no matter how unusual, no matter what other people say. … but you have to do it within the system.

Both movies are entertaining, fast-paced and fun, with huge casts and big stars. They take risks in their methods of storytelling. The Big Short breaks the third wall with characters turning directly to the camera to “tell the truth” that the movie leaves out. And Joy features a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at a live TV set. Joy is told from a “woman’s point of view” (the home life of a mom who sells mops on TV), while The Big Short is basically an all-guy movie (men with invisible families making money at work on Wall Street). I like them both, but don’t expect to be overly challenged.

xGLJP3_frenchblood_04_o3_8760256_1439474895French Blood (Un Français)

Dir: Diastème

Marco, Braguette and Grand-Guy (Alban Lenoir, Samuel Jouy, and Paul Hamy) are three best friends living in a banlieu, the high rise ghettos ringing Paris. They are French skinheads, complete with Doc Martens, "Un Franais"bomber jackets and neo-nazi tattoos. Hobbies include getting drunk, getting laid, and attacking strangers on the street, specifically gays, leftists and Arabs. They don’t seem to follow any strict ideology, but seem to really enjoy brawling, fighting and terrorizing immigrants. They soon join the National Front, France’s political party of the extreme right. But then their paths begin to diverge.

Braguette is shot and disabled by a leftwing activist. He quickly rises up in the ranks of the National Front. Grand-Guy is a loose cannon, given to excessive alcohol and drugs. His RgjE4K_frenchblood_05_o3_8760328_1439474896attacks on immigrants turn extreme, culminating in his horrifying torture of a random, middle-aged man. And Marco, after beating, almost to death, a rival skinhead, has a mental breakdown. An altruistic pharmacist takes him under his wing and helps him adjust to a life away from violence and racism. But these changes happen gradually, shown over decades, with the movie providing just a glimpse of their lives, once every five years. It’s up to the viewer to fill in the missing parts. And it culminates in an ultimate showdown between Marco and Braguette.

This is a very violent and disturbing — but fantastic — movie. It looks at the extreme vgLEP5_frenchblood_01_o3_8760110_1439474887right in contemporary France from the points of view of three white, working-class men. The acting is amazing, especially Lenoir, Hamy and Jouy. And it’s incredibly timely; after the terror attacks in Paris, the National Front came that close to winning the last election. I strongly recommend this movie.

The Big Short and Joy are both playing in Toronto, check your local listings; and you can watch French Blood online at

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

60s, 70s and 80s. Movies Reviewed: Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Good Vibrations

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Cultural Mining, FBI, Folk, Manhattan, Movies, Music, Northern Ireland, Punk, Uncategorized by on December 19, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for 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.

New Year’s Day (coming soon!) is when you declare your resolutions and your goals. And sometimes, you find you’re overly ambitious. I’m looking at three great movies this week, all about men with ambitions they can’t always meet. They’re all loosely based on true stories and take place in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I’m reviewing them chronologically. First a folk musician, then a con man, and then a promoter of punk.

Inside Llewyn Davis

ILD_00756_ctDir/Wri: Coen Brothers

It’s 1961. Llewyn’s a Welsh-Italian-American folk singer who performs at the Gaslight café in Greenwich Village (brilliantly played by actor and musician Oscar Isaac). He’s recorded his first solo album (his folk duo is no more) but it’s not doing well. He’s broke. He’s homeless. And it’s cold out — and he doesn’t even have a winter coat; just a corduroy jacket. With a guitar on his back and a runaway cat in his arms… he’s just blowin’ in the wind. He’s couch surfing between a Columbia prof’s apartment in the upper west side (that’s where the cat lives), and a married couple Jean and Jim’s place in the Village (that’s where his guitar lives). Jean and Jim (Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake) are a happy young couple, who also sing in a folk duet. Also at the Gaslight.

All is not well for poor Llewyn. His agent is crooked, his not-girlfriend girlfriend is pregnant, his dad is ILD_01359_ctcomatose, and a stranger in a cowboy hat has a hate-on. Llewyn keeps making the wrong decisions. But he refuses to sell out. He doesn’t want to wear a white turtleneck. He doesn’t want to sing in a trio. He’s on the verge of making it big… or packing it all in and joining the Merchant Marines. So as a last ditched effort, he hitches a ride out to Chicago with a mean and nasty blues singer (marvelously played by John Goodman) to get a famous folk promoter to sign him.

ILD_05466_ctIt sounds like a so-so story… but it’s not. This is a fantastic drama tracing a couple days in the life of this urban troubador. It’s loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s story. (He was a pretty famous folksinger from New York that you may have heard of.) The movie’s ordinary, and yet extraordinary. It gradually reveals surprising secrets, even while it dangles red herrings. Watching the movie, you get tossed around, clueless, just like Llewyn Davis, until things gradually start to become clear. This movie captures the feeling of the era, before JFK’s assassination, between 50s conformity and 60s mass protest and counterculture. And about a third of the movie is wonderful music performed by the actors. I think it’s one of the the Coen Brothers’ best.

American Hustle Adams BaleAmerican Hustle

Dir: David O. Russell

Irv is a con man. He pulls off low-level jobs — art forgeries, bank fraud – in New York. Sydney is originally from Albuquerque, but she dresses like a Cosmo cover model. She creates a new self – an aristocratic Englishwoman. They meet at a party, fall in love, and become power-team of scammers. But when a con flops, Irv and Sydney (an uglified Christian Bale, lovely Amy Adams) find themselves working for the FBI. If they can bring the FBI four crooks, they get immunity. Richie (Bradley Cooper) the fed who catches them has big ambitions. He wants to run a con to catch crooked businessmen, politicians … the sky’s the limit! To pull it off, they need the bigwigs to accept a briefcase of cash from an agent dressed as a Sheikh from the Emirates.

Irv is cautious. He doesn’t want to take it that high: respect your limits. When Richie tries to rope in the American Hustle Adams Cooper Renner Bale Lawrencemob, Irv sees nothing but trouble. As Irv says, you can’t con a con. Well, Irv gets all palsy-walsy with a potential mark, a popular Jersey mayor named Carmine (Jeremy Renner). But to be friends with Carmine family he has to bring his real wife, Rosalyn, into the mix. Yes, Irv is married, and not to Sydney. And Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence, stealing every scene she’s in) is a bleach blonde homebody who talks like a gangster’s moll. She’s the fly in his ointment. Sydney, in retaliation, starts coming on to the vain (yet douche-y) FBI-man, Richie. Will they pull off the scams or go to jail? Will Irving choose Roz or Sydney? (And why are all the characters obsessed with their hair?)

This movie’s not deep, driven or meaningful – except, maybe, that we’re all vain and self-centred – but it does it so well. It’s funny, quirky and fast moving. I liked it a lot.

Good Vibrations 2  Richard DormerGood Vibrations

Dir: Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn

It’s Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Troubles. Bombs are exploding, people beaten or killed by paramilitary groups. In the middle of all this is Terri Hooley (played by the terrific Richard Dormer). His friends once were anarchists, pacifists, feminists. Now they’re just Catholics or Protestants. But Terri opts out of sectarian conflict and opens a record store, Good Vibrations, right in the thick of it. And, against all expectations, this bearded, smiley and spontaneous leftist is suddenly drawn into the local punk scene. New York has its haircuts, he Good Vibrations1  Richard Dormer centresays, and London its trousers, but Belfast is the only place with a real reason for punk. As thousands are killed, he sets up a punk club in a strip bar and starts up a record label. But will anyone outside of the city ever hear them?

Interspersed with period BBC news footage, Good Vibrations is a fun biopic about one man’s attempt to reclaim a no-man’s land using punk rock.

Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle and Good Vibrations 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,


September 21, 2012. TIFF Round-up. Movies Reviewed: Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence, Anyways + TIFF12 awards

Posted in Cultural Mining, Dance, Drama, Football, Mental Illness, Movies, Quebec, Queer, Trans, Uncategorized, US by on October 6, 2012

Photographs by Jeff Harris

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for 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.
Xavier Dolan TIFF12 awards Photo by Jeff Harris

TIFF is over for the year. I feel like a kid who was left, unsupervised at an all-you-can-eat buffet with no one to tell me to stop stuffing my face. I ended up seeing 53 TIFF movies (if including the 17 press screenings I saw in the weeks before the festival started), and liking about 2/3 of them. I ran on adrenaline — not food, sleep, or exercise — for the length of it, turning my eyes red, my body to mush, and my brain to putty. Luckily I kept good notes.

The winners were announced on Sunday, with the Blackberry People’s Choice going to Silver Linings Playbook, the Midnight Madness award to the very funny Seven Psychopaths, the NETPAC award to Sion Sono’s excellent Land of Hope, a look at the Japanese nuclear meltdown, and the City of Toronto award to Laurence, Anyways. The Canadian first feature prize was split between Jason Buxton’s excellent Blackbird, for its authenticity and social conscience, and Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral for its sophisticated visuals and plot. So this week, I’ll take a look at two of these winners, both of which deal with odd couples and mental illness.

Silver Linings Playbook

Dir: David O. Russell

When Pat Jr (Bradley Cooper), a schoolteacher from suburban Philadelphia, is let out of a me­ntal hospital he vows to make his life better. He’ll get back in shape, re-connect with his estranged wife, Nikki, and stop all the negativity in his mind. He’s going to look at the silver linings in his life, not the dark clouds. But the dark clouds keep coming back. He has moved back in with his mom and dad, and Pat Sr. (Robert de Niro) is an abusive, obsessive-compulsive bookie. Pat Sr wants his whole family to base their lives on his obscure patterns and lucky shirts so he can bring the Eagles football team to NFL victory.

Meanwhile, Pat Jr will do anything to get a letter to Nikki, and he finds out the way to do that, when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), an extremely intelligent and beautiful young woman who stalks him during his morning jogs.

She’s the only one who can see through his BS without being afraid of his odd behaviour. Tiffany understands what he’s going through – since she’s had her own episodes and sexual compulsions. So if Pat agrees to be her dancing partner in a contest, she’ll help him get his wife back. But is that what she really wants?

Silver Linings Playbook is a fun, crowd-pleaser that presents mental illness as a palatable, fascinating, and easy-to-understand difficulty that people can overcome with hard work, the right attitude, and a bit if help from friends and family. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are a nice couple, and De Niro is finally acting again, not just mugging for the camera. I have absolutely no interest in Philadelphia’s football scene, or Dancing With the Stars, but the fact that the story depended on those two subjects didn’t make it ay less interesting.

Laurence, Anyways

Dir: Xavier Dolan

Laurence Alia (French actor Melville Poupaud) is a slim prof with a black buzzcut living in Montreal in the late 80’s. He’s in love with his fiery, beautiful and passionate girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clement). She’s gaining fame as an assistant director while he’s fighting off the adoring looks of the pretty girls in his lectures on Celine. And the two of them are trying for a baby. But one day, in the middle of having sex he confesses he’s about to die. The old Laurence of the past three decades was all a façade which he is now throwing away to make way for the real Laurence: a woman! Fred is shocked and their relationship teeters on the brink.

As Laurence embarks on her transition, she loses her job, and since she can’t easily “pass” in public, she faces physical danger and derision from strangers. When Lawrence is bashed in a bar she is given refuge by an unusual family – the Five Roses. He awakens in a palatial building filled with the actual tabernacles, chalices, hostiesand ciboires that Fred curses about in one of her rants — a sort of a cathedral of transsexuality, a Quebecois Notre Dame des Fleurs.

Fred, meanwhile, is left to deal with her bipolar episodes on her own, as Laurence is more busy with her own changes than that of her lover. As the decade passes, Fred retreats to Trois Rivieres with a handsome but bland husband, while Laurence, with a new blond girlfriend, publishes her poems in Europe. Will the troubles that tore them apart bring them back together?

Laurence, Anyways is a long, complicated melodrama of mismatched lovers immersed in  Quebec’s cultural life even while facing their personal trials alone and together over the course of a decade.

Poupaud and Clement are great as the lovers, and Monia Chokri (as Fred’s acerbic and offensive sister Stephanie) steals every scene she’s in. This is not a perfect movie: it’s longer than it needs to be, the story has some confusing omissions which leave me unsatisfied, and some of the montages — which look like 80’s music videos — while a welcome break, are a bit jarring. (They feel like the director is intruding into his characters’ story).

This is how I felt watching it. But an amazing thing happens: in the very last, short scene, it all ties together with a masterful ending. This is Dolan’s most challenging and sophisticated  movie so far.

They’re both good, enjoyable movies, touching similar topics.

Laurence, Anyways is less commercial than Silver Linings, the mentally ill characters are less delightful, but it feels more passionate and heartfelt, and less calculated and Oscar-hungry.

Silver Linings Playbook and Lawrence Anyways both won major awards at TIFF. Laurence opens this weekend and Playbook will be released later this fall. And don’t miss the fantastic documentary opening soon at the Bloor, Detropia – a look at the collapse and possible revival of the rapidly shrinking city of Detroit.

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

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