End times? Films reviewed: Arrival, The First, the Last

Posted in Aliens, Crime, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Drama, Movies, Science, Science Fiction, US, War, Western by CulturalMining.com on November 11, 2016

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

With the reality of the recent US election sinking in, people are using words like Brexit 2, Armageddon, Apocalypse and even Thermonuclear War. So this week I have a couple end-of-days movies to capture the prevailing mood. There’s a Belgian western about lost souls who think the world is about to end, and a US science fiction drama about scientists trying to stop the world from ending.

Arrival

14707836_664581693705770_5049392264758941723_oDir: Denis Villeneuve

Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguistics professor who speaks Chinese, Portuguese and Sanskrit. She occasionally translates top-secret documents for the US government. She has red hair, blue eyes and porcelain-like skin. She once had a daughter she adored but Hannah died of an incurable disease. Now Louse lives alone in a brick and glass lakeside home comforted only by her memories. Then something cataclysmic happens.

Twelve enormous, lozenge-shaped spaceships arrive on earth. They hover, silently and menacingly, over twelve random places, including Montana in the North America. there’s rioting in the streets, mayhem, mayhem, mayhem. Right away, she gets a knock on the door; it’s Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) a high-ranked officer. He needs her help translating strange clicking sounds into English. Translate? says Louise. I can’t translate a language I don’t understand.I need to speak directly to the aliens. So they whisk her off to an army base in rural Montana along with an arrogant physicist named Ian (Jeremy Renner). Together they’re expected to figure out why the aliens are there and whether the army should 13996056_631361680361105_8857193805571371798_oattack them. Easier said than done.

The aliens let them board the spaceship, kept separate by a glass wall. Louise is shocked by what appears in the mist. No little green men here;  these aliens are septipods – hideous sea creatures with seven legs — and hands that look like starfish. These mollusks have pulpy-grey bodies and can shoot out ink, like octopuses. Louise also discovers they are highly intelligent, with a sophisticated written language with multi-dimensional ring-shaped characters that look like Japanese brush painting. They float, suspended, underwater.

And their cryptic message? Something involving weapons! This pricks up the ears of a sinister CIA agent, her nemesis. With the world on the brink of thermonuclear war, it’s up to Louise to communicate with the aliens and decipher their message before armageddon.

ARRIVALArrival is a fascinating and thoughtful science fiction drama, told through the eyes of an academic. It’s part of the new trend of science-y fantasies that favour intellect over explosions. It’s similar to films like The Martian and Gravity, but I like this one the best. While Jeremy Renner is dull and Forest Whitaker unremarkable, Amy Adams is great as the pensive Louise. Arrival takes place in a barren military camp and it’s overloaded with khaki, camo and annoying Cold War jargon like domino effects and zero-sum games. But it’s also a feel-good movie with a truly surprising twist. It can satisfy your craving for excitement without resorting to superheroes.

12698182_1695852464032129_1864656549375743261_oThe First, the Last (Les Premiers, les Derniers)

Wri/Dir: Bouli Lanners

It’s present-day Wallonia, a place of barren fields, billiard halls and abandoned warehouses. Cochise and Gilou, two rough-and- tough middle aged guys, are hired by an anonymous client to retrieve a valuable lost telephone in exchange for lots of cash. Gilou (played by the director) is a white-bearded man in a midlife crisis, who thinks he’s dying, while Cochise (Albert Dupontel) is a moustached heavy in a leather jacket, always ready to fight but looking 13411815_1749664588650916_4661391988069200063_ofor love. Gilou sets up camp in a lonely motel run by an ancient innkeeper, who looks like an old-age version of himself. Cochise moves in with a woman he meets on the road.

The phone they seek is in the hands of a mysterious young couple named Esther and Willy (Aurore Broutin, David Murgia) who are making their way down a highway, dressed in high-viz orange 12418937_1698598447090864_4975528855641345564_ojumpsuits they found on their journey. They are society’s outcasts, mentally disabled and homeless, but at least they have each other. They need that comfort now, especially since Willy learned that the world is about to end (he saw it on TV). Esther declares they must find a proper gift for a final visit she has to make before it’s all over. And they meet a Jesus-like figure on the way, who tries to take them under his wing.

But neither pair realizes they have wandered into the badlands, an area filled with crooked sheriffs, black marketeers, and all- around villains who don’t take kindly to strangers. So while the phone hunters are tracking down the outcasts, they’re all being sought — violently so — by the bad guys. There is also a mysterious 12291825_1669565919994117_8655432979938888484_ogangster, an antlered stag, a mummy and a lost child to make things interesting. Can any of them find what they’re looking for?

The First, the Last is a satisfying — if baffling — western, set among the highways and desolate fields of French-speaking Belgium. It has the “European” feel of a movie like the Lobster, only not so straightforward. There’s also twangy music, nice cinematography, and all-around good acting, including a cameo by Max von Sydow as an undertaker.

Arrival arrives today in Toronto, check your local listings; is playing at the EU festival, now until the 24th. Tickets are free, but be sure to line up early to get a seat. Go to eutorontofilmfest.ca for showtimes. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Big Ticket TIFF. Movies reviewed: Sicario, The Martian

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, FBI, Mars, Movies, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on October 2, 2015

6002bf07-aaaf-4f30-8420-9d038fba9d3fHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Fall festival season is gearing up right now. Toronto’s Russian Film Festival is featuring actor Alexey Serebryakov, who starred in last year’s stunning Leviathan. Now’s your chance to see him on the big screen and in person. ImagineNATIVE, the international The_Last_Saint1indigenous film and media arts festival is showing award-winning, Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk’s newest movie Angirattut (Coming Home). estdocs_logoEstDocs – the Estonian film festival — has amazing animation, documentaries and short films from that tiny Baltic nation. Next comes Planet in Focus looking at environmental films. And pif31Toronto After Dark brings horror, action and science fiction logomovies to get you ready for Halloween. This week I’m looking at films that played at TIFF that are opening today across the country. Ones about a female cop pushed into the war in drugs; the other’s about a male astronaut who wants to be pulled out of his life on Mars.

SICARIO Day 16Sicario
Dir: Denis Villeneuve

Kate (Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent investigating a kidnapping near the Mexican border. She shoots the bad guys, but uncovers a grisly scene: countless murder- victims’ bodies packed into the walls of a drug-smuggler’s house in the desert. Shocking and revolting. So she agrees to join Matt (Josh Brolin) and his special team of agents (not part of the FBI) in order to bring down the Mexican kingpin responsible for all these deaths.

They fly her out to El Paso Texas where she meets the rest of the team, including a mysterious man named Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). Soon she’s being ferried across the border into Juarez, playing a small part in a big confusing raid. She used to save kidnap victims, now she’s helping kidnap people (albeit accusedS_D037_09788.NEF criminals)? What’s going on?

She tries to piece it all together. What’s her role in this exactly? Is this above board or is she being pulled into a nasty scheme run by crooked cops? Why are they doing this and who’s really in charge. She stays with the group, but finds herself involved in or witnessing a world of robbery, murder, drug smuggling, and undocumented migrants. Is she stopping it or part of it?

S_D045_11529.NEFWhat’s going on is a total shift in the movie’s point of view. It’s not about Kate at all, it’s actually about Alejandro, his role and his goals. Huh? What? Wait a minute…

Sicario is a beautifully shot, suspense drama set in the world of organized crime around Juarez. It’s also a total mess. It starts like a horror/ police investigation, but turns into something completely different. It’s hard to follow, hard to understand, and really boring in parts. There are exciting chase scenes, but there are also driving scenes: long sequences just about people driving along highways. (Zzzzz….). Characters are introduced with long build-ups… and then prove to be unimportant. Even Kate, the ostensible star of the movie, seems peripheral to most of the plot. And Mexicans seem to be there just to die. Denis Villeneuve is usually an excellent director (Incendie, Polytechnique) and the movie does make sense in the end (no spoilers), but even so, at two hours, Sicario is just not very interesting.

THE MARTIANThe Martian
Dir: Ridley Scott

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is an astronaut collecting soil samples on Mars, the windy and dusty red planet. He’s a botanist, part of a NASA team. When a storm hits the planet, the crew all rush for shelter in the space ship. But Mark gets struck down by a satellite dish and presumed dead. The rest of the team, headed by Mellissa (Jessica Chastain), fly off on their long trip back to earth. But wait… he’s not dead, just hurt. He patches himself up and takes stock of his situation, recording it all on a video log. Limited oxygen, water, and food, and no way to communicate with earth, and no way to get off the planet, with the next space ship coming four years down the road. And only 70s disco music to keep him company. So he makes do with what he has: rusty soil, a shovel, some potatoes and his own excrement. Can he grow enough to feed himself?

12010715_902892753131439_6023652552739710341_oMeanwhile back on earth, a woman at NASA spots movement on Mars. How can that be? It’s him – he’s alive! The various players spring into action. Teddy (Jeff Daniels) the stuffed-shirt head of NASA, is more concerned about budgets and public image than saving Mark’s life. Vince (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wants things to work, Mitch (Sean Bean) wants to save him, and Annie (Kristen Wiig)12079790_905407586213289_8367337197547907182_o wants the news to be released in the best possible way. And a whole bunch of others trying to build things, and calculate the math. Now Mark can communicate with earth… but how will he ever make it back?

I liked the Martian. It’s about pluck, ingenuity, improvisation and perseverance, with lots of science, math and IT geekiness thrown in along the way. One goofy guy (Matt Damon is totally likeable in this role) with thousands of people rooting for him. It’s not 11807373_879652648788783_3514176622830470311_oreally a science fiction movie, though. No space battles, no aliens, no Klingons. It’s also far from the pristine, antiseptic world of space travel – instead Mars is plastic tarps, dirt, duct tape and shovels. This is a movie for guys who like tinkering in their toolsheds. Making do with what you’ve got. Remember, this is a Ridley Scott movie – the guy who made Blade Runner and Alien.The Martian And while this one is much more mainstream, with absolutely no sex – the only kiss is through a glass space helmet — it’s still got dirt, blood, 4-letter words.

The Martian and Sicario both open today in Toronto. Also opening is Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home; and a weird and wonderful documentary about mould – yes, mould, slime mould to be exact – called the Creeping Garden.

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

Short reviews of movies now playing: J’ai Tue Ma Mere, Polytechnique, Police: Adjective, Revanche

Posted in Austria, Canada, Communism, Crime, Drama, Feminism, Movies, Quebec, Romania, TIFF, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on January 25, 2010

There are some good movies now playing that you should try to catch. TIFF Cinematheque Ontario, in Toronto, is running a series of good movies this coming week, including the top 10 Canadian movies made last year. Not surprisingly some of the most interesting ones are from Quebec.


J’ai Tue Ma Mere (in French)
Dir Xavier Dolan

If you have the chance, try to catch J’ai Tue ma Mere, (I Killed My Mother) a coming of age comic-drama about a gay teenager and his troubles with his gauche and difficult, but loving mother. Hubert (Xavier Dolan) doesn’t get along with his mother. He’s smart and well-read, but he isn’t doing well in school. He’d rather spend time with his boyfriend Antonin than in his own home. Hubert and his mother, played, perfectly by Anne Dorval, each try to win one another’s affections but things always devolve into shouting fights between mother and son, until he is forced to move out.

It’s a low-budget movie, but really well done, with believable characters, funny lines, interesting story, good acting. And, amazingly, this semi-auto-biographical film was directed and written by the same 19-year-old (Xavier Dolan) who plays the main character. And it’s a good movie, not just because it was directed by a kid.

Polytechnique (In French)
Dir: Denis Villeneuve

Another Quebec film, beautifully done, but not as successful in my eyes, was Polytechnique, (directed by Denis Villeneuve) a fictionalized version of the 1989 massacre of 14 women at Ecole Polytechnique, the engineering school at the University of Montreal. It’s very similar to Elephant, Gus Van Sant’s great movie Elephant (from 2003), about the killings at Columbine, but Polytechnique was shot in black and white. It is an upsetting and moving period drama of that horrible massacre, in which a crazed gunman shot as many women as he could because they were “feminists”. Which brings me to my beef with this movie.

Like so many other movies, this one feels like it just can’t bare to tell a story through the point of view of a woman. The director gives us the killer’s private thoughts (Maxim Gaudette) as well as some of the victims (in other words, all of the women – but especially Valerie played by Karine Vannasse) but then feels obliged to create a heroic male counterpart to the villain (Sebastien Huberdeaux). So we get something that feels a bit like the old silent movies where a Dudley Do-right rides in to try to rescue the Damsel in Distress from the bad guy. Since it’s a made-up dramatization, would it have been so difficult to make the fictional, tragic hero a woman instead of a man? Especially in a movie about a massacre of women killed for daring to be the equals of men.

Anyway, as I said it’s beautifully shot movie, black and white, set in a wintery Montreal. It’s visually great, and (except for my problem with the film itself) is a good telling of this tragedy.

Also opening very soon are two European movies, one from Romania and one from Austria, both good.


Police: Adjective (in Romanian)
Dir: Corneliu Porumboiu

This movie is about a cop, Cristi, living in a modern, small city in present-day Romania, where people have the trappings of western Europe and modernity, but with the pedantic, rule obsessed absurdity of the communist Ceausescu still strong.

Cristi is asked to launch a sting operation on a high school kid who smokes pot with his friends. Cristi doesn’t think it’s fair so refuses to do so, but is pressured by his boss. His tension at the absurdity of the issue continues in his apartment as he tries to understand the reasoning behind it. His wife/girlfriend, a school teacher, doesn’t help with her own obsession with an awful Eurovision-type song that she tries to analyse (in one of the funniest scenes in the movie.)

This is a very slow-paced “art” film, but I enjoyed it’s off-beat sensibility in its realistic-seeming (at times, maybe, too realistic) depiction of daily life in Romania. Don’t see it expecting another 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (a drama about a Ceausescu-era woman trying to get an illegal abortion). It doesn’t have the narrative drive and tension of that great movie. But it is still very good.


Revanche (in German)
Dir: Gotz Spielmann

Alex a strong ex-con and his beautiful Ukrainian girlfriend Tamara both work at a brothel, Irina in a bedroom, Alex moving boxes in the basement. They sneak away for athletic love-making in his apartment as she tries to teach him Ukrainian. They want to escape the sleazy life of Vienna’s demi-monde and head somewhere warm away from her increasingly sketchy pimp. But they need money,

Alex comes up with a foolproof plan to hold up a bank not far from his estranged grandfather’s country homestead. But things don’t go as planned when a wimpy local cop happens upon the robbery. Alex is forced to hide out at his grandfather’s home. Tension grows as he contemplates revenge – hence the title – and chops away, violently, at a pile of firewood…

This is a great movie that I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival over two years ago but still remember very clearly. When a film resonates for so long it’s a good sign that it’s worth seeing. This is an excellent, moving film, beautifully shot. Alex (Johannes Krisch) and his grandfather (Johannes Thanheiser) are especially good.

– Daniel Garber, January 13, 2009

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