May 25, 2012. Rescue Me! Movies Reviewed: Chernobyl Diaries, Hysteria, Where Do We Go Now? PLUS Inside-Out

Posted in Cold War, comedy, Cultural Mining, Disaster, Drama, Feminism, Horror, Sex, Thriller, UK, Ukraine, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 27, 2012

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, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Toronto’s spring film festivals are full speed ahead now. Inside out, Toronto’s great LGBT film festival is on through Sunday, featuring a Women’s Spotlight evening tonight, including the Toronto premiere of Cloudburst, Thom Fitzgerald’s new movie starring Olympia Dukakis. And coming soon are the Toronto Japanese Film Festival, The CFC Short Film Festival, and NXNE.

Festivals are a chance to see on a big screen foreign, indie, niche, low-budget, or experimental movies, the kind that never make it to your movieplex. But at a recent screening at Inside Out, one of the directors said something that struck me. Ira Sachs, (director of Keep the Lights On) made the point that, were it not for the support they receive from these film festivals, many of these movies could never have been made in the first place. All the more reason to see movies at film festivals.

So this week I‘m looking at a horror movie about jaded tourists who want to ogle technological excess; an historical comic-drama about how technology can make women happy; and a drama about how how the women in a Lebanese village try to stop a war.

Chernobyl Diaries
Dir: Bradley Parker

A group of Americans backpackers are relaxing in Ukraine where one of them has an apartment, when one of them announces a change of plans: Instead of Moscow, let’s try extreme tourism – a daytrip in and out of Chernobyl! That’s the uninhabited site of the nuclear disaster back in the 1980’s. It’s a post-apocalyptic time capsule – all the workers at the plant only had minutes to flee the village, leaving half-eaten sandwiches and family photos behind. With its abandoned classrooms and peeling communist murals, it’s a modern-day Pompeii. And nature has reclaimed the town of Pripyat, with feral animals and plants running wild. So it’s a creepy thrill for the travellers to explore, and their guide Uri carries a Geiger counter to warn them if the radiation level gets too high.

But when Uri disappears, possibly attacked by wild dogs, and the van they came in stops working, they are forced to find their own way out. Can they survive the radiation, the wild animals, and… maybe, the people who never escaped the place? Sounds like something scary is about to happen…

I spoke with its writer and producer Oren Peli this week, the creator of the classic Paranormal Activity series. He said “there are moments where you don’t see anything but you hear a noise far away, you don’t know what the noise is, but just the fact that the noise exists that you are hearing something cluttering in an apartment nearby when there is not supposed to be anyone else there, that can be really scary.” And he’s right — the soundtrack really is scary and the images and the mood are perfect.

But what about the movie? The title is somewhat misleading. It’s not a found footage film like the Paranormal Activity series; it’s more of a conventional horror movie, (one without the camera as a character) with lots of constant suspense, shocks and boos. But the story itself lacked much humour, sympathy for the characters, or surprising plot turns… and it didn’t quite make sense to me. It was just a lot of panicky people screaming and shouting as they run around, randomly chased and knocked off (as tends to happen in horror movies) by mysterious, and possibly zombie-like bad guys. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s not as scary as Paranormal Activity.

Hysteria
Dir: Tanya Wexler

(I saw this one at last year’s TIFF, and it’s just delightful.)

It’s Victorian London, and earnest and handsome young Dr Granville (Hugh Dancy) is trying without luck to help people stay clean and healthy while remaining loyal to the ideals of Lister, and modern medicine. He is hired by a psychiatrist, Dr Dalyrimple, who gives special treatments to rich, society women suffering from the blanket ailment “hysteria”. Women who were designated frigid, or nymphomaniacal, or moody, or argumentative – well, they’re all “hysterical”, so the problem must be in their uterus (and hysterectomies were sometimes considered a “cure”). Treatment consists of manual genital massages behind discretely mounted miniature red velvet curtains.

He’s engages to marry the Dalyrimple’s porcelain-skinned but conservative daughter Emily (Felicity Jones); she’s a pianist and an phrenologist: Oh, Dr Granville, your thrombus is rigid and jutting! she says after feeling the bumps on his head. But he always seems to be in arguments with the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall) a suffragette and social worker who runs a settlement house in the impoverished East End. And poor Granville might lose his job because of the repetitive stress injury in his right hand. But, together with his gay-ish best friend and steampunk inventor (Rupert Everett) he just might have the solution to eveyone’s problems– a new machine that may permanently cure hysteria.

I was expecting nothing from a movie about the invention of the vibrator, but it was a real treat – a romance, a comedy, an historical drama, an old-fashioned Hollywood-style movie, along with a taboo twist. I think this is a great movie!

Where Do We Go Now?
Dir: Nadine Labaki

This movie was the surprise winner of the people’s choice award at last years’ Toronto Film Festival, and Director and star Labaki was the first woman to win it.

The movie takes place in a small village, a town divided equally between Muslims and Catholics. It’s surrounded by landmines, and all too often, people get shot or blown up. Up at the top of a hill is the graveyard where women dressed in black from both sides meet to bury the dead. The town itself is peaceful, and after some brave kids weather the landmines to set up an antenna, the mayor declares it’s TV night in the town square, and everyone gathers to watch the blurry movie.

The danger, though, is that the fragile peace will break, and the men will start killing each other again in reprisals. So the women of the village formulate a plan: anytime news about violence reaches the village, they will hide it or distract the men. Gradually — with the cooperation of the Priest and the Imam — their plans escalate and their schemes get more and more elaborate. They stage religious miracles, and even secretly bring in Eastern European strippers – anything to hide the fact that someone in the village was killed in an incident.

Will it work? Can they create an island of piece in turbulent Lebanon? And will their final, shocking surprise serve to jolt the men away from their never-ending violence?

I thought the movie has an extremely slow beginning, with a low-budget, handmade feel to it. Not promising at all. But the pace picks up and gets much better in the second half. And the ending is just great – clever and imaginative, leaving you with a much better feeling.

Chernobyl Diaries, Hysteria, and Where Do We Go Now open this weekend in Toronto, check your local listings, and Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Festival continues through Sunday: go to insideout.ca for more info.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, with podcasts and complete reviews available on my web site CulturalMining. com.

16 September, 2011. Women Directors at TIFF. Films Reviewed: Union Square, Elles, UFO in Her Eyes, Hysteria, PLUS Road Movie

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, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

TIFF is a strange and wonderful place. Where else can you go from watching a Russian movie (where all the characters speak German, but most of the actors just move their lips, open and closed, since they don’t speak either language)… to a quintessentially Winnipeg party celebrating another movie, where I ended up sitting at a table between stars Udo Kier and Louis Negin, tearing soft-core pictures out of old National Geographic magazines and new Taschen art books to glue onto paper in a collage. (It was a collage party – why not?)

Well TIFF may be winding down, but there are at least three more days left to see a huge amount of movies, and there are still tickets or rush seats available for most of them. Go to tiff.net for more information. So with no further ado, lets get to the reviews. This week I’m talking about four movies directed by and starring women in lead roles.

Union Square
Dir: Nancy Savoca

Jen (Tammy Blanchard), is a neat, pretty, quiet, and tidy
professional, originally from Vermont, living with he boyfriend in downtown Manhattan. She doesn’t drink or smoke, is a vegetarian, a yoga enthusiast, and runs a health food company out of her apartment. Her boyfriend and fiancé, Bill (Mike Doyle), is a generic-looking handsome Stanford grad, who keeps meticulous notes on his marathon training stats, and calls Jen “twig”. They’re happy.

But into this rarefied existence drops Lucy (Mira Sorvino), a loud-mouthed, gaudily dressed women who seems to know Jen for some reason. It’s soon revealed that she’s her sister. She talks at twice Jen’s volume, interrupts her, laughs, shrieks, cries, and breaks hundred of house rules (no shoes, no pets, no cigarettes, no meat) even in her first few minutes in the apartment off Union Square. She’s a working-class, Italian-American from the Bronx! And Rob’s parents are coming the next day for Thanksgiving dinner, even as Lucy camps out on a pile of things on the couch.

Will Jen’s potential marriage crumble as Bill discovers her real origins? Can she still “pass” as a suburban educated WASP? And will Lucy get a chance to explain some important family issues to Jen?

Union Square works like a one-act-play, with revelations, gradual changes in character, and a final concluding scene to explain some of what’s behind the two sisters’ fighting. And it makes for an enjoyable picture.

Elles
Dir: Malgorzata Szumowska

Anne (Juliette Binoche), is a reporter for Elle magazine in Paris. She’s writing a story on two separate, pretty college students she found Charlotte and Alicja (Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig) who secretly work as well-paid prostitutes. Charlotte still lived with her parents, and Alicja was from Poland, studying in Paris but without a place to stay. As they describe their sexual experiences to her, the movie drifts in and out of their sexual experiences with their clients, or at least how Anne imagines them.

Anne begins with questions about how they were forced into this life, what miserable experiences they have, and whether it make them hate sex. But their answers surprise her. Charlotte says there’s a horrible smell that’s really hard to get rid of. Anne nods supportively – all that sex with strangers… No, says Charlotte, its the smell of the housing projects she used to live in with her parents, where she worked as a fast food cashier. Now? Life was wonderful with her new comfortable lifestyle, shoes, clothes, and food. Now she has johns teach her to make Coq au vin with Reisling, and, after sex, sit on her bed playing the guitar.

Anne begins to have sexual fantasies about their lives, even as she questions her own privileged, but meaningless and alienating consumer lifestyle, and how her husband and two sons all ignore her. Elles is pleasant, pretty and sexually explicit — if lightweight — and one that offers a pro-sex, feminist view of the trade thats different from most movies.

UFO in her Eyes
Dir: Guo Xiaolu

Guan Yu (Ke Shi) is a peasant who lives in rural southern China amid the small tree-covered mountains.
She has a roll in the hay with the town schoolteacher. Afterwards, she picks up a piece of crystal and looks at the sky where she’s sure she sees some flying saucers coming to earth. Soon, word has spread, and the ambitious communist party chief for the village (Mandy Zhang) has decided to make the town rich by forcing it to be modern, complete with an ugly town sculpture, a UFO amusement park, a 5-star hotel, and a golf course. The schoolteacher begins to teach his 8-year-old students to read Henry Miller. The town Chief declares Guan Yu a model peasant, and the married school teacher a model intellectual. The schoolteacher should divorce his wife and marry Guanyu to make a perfect couple for the town, and embrace Americanism – whether they want it or not. But what about all the people in the town – the poor, the migrant bicycle repairman, the farmers whose land is requisitioned to build a golf course, and the local butcher whose pig sty is declared unsanitary? As the haves are marching toward modernity richness, the disenfranchised are banding together to protest it. Which side will triumph? Will Guan Yu go with change? Or will she find her true love, the quiet, migrant bicycle repairman? And what about the UFO – will she ever see them again?

UFO in her Eyes, based on the director’s bestselling novel, is a cute satire of the new capitalism in rural China.

Wuthering Heights
Dir: Andrea Arnold
You probably know the story: Heathcliff, an orphan brought home from a port to a rural village in 19th century England, is baptized, and raised sort of as a member of the god-fearing family. He and his adopted sister, Cate, become very close, rolling around in the heather and mud of the moors. But they’re threatened by Hindley who thinks his dad likes Heathcliff more. When Cate decides to marry a rich man, Heathcliff flees the farm, and doesn’t come back for many years. Will they get back together and embrace their love, or will it consume ad destroy them both?

OK. The thing is, this version is done by the great director Andrea Arnold, who made Fish Tank last year – that’s why I wanted to see this. She makes some changes. People speak naturally, the camera is handheld, and jiggles around, lighting seems natural – sunlight or candlelight or complete darkness – interspersed with beautiful contemporary-looking costumes, and tons of shots of birds animals and plants. Most of the actors are non-actors, Hindley’s a racist skinhead and Heathcliff is black!

It doesn’t always work, and gets a bit tedious in the second half, but has some very beautiful scenes, like Cate blowing a tiny feather or licking the wounds on Heathcliff’s back. It’s an interesting, naturalistic take on what’s usually just a costumed melodrama.

Hysteria
Dir: Tanya Wexler

It’s Victorian London, and earnest and handsome young Dr Granville (Hugh Dancy) is trying without luck to help people stay clean and healthy while remaining loyal to the ideals of Lister, and modern medicine. He is hired by a psychiatrist, Dr Dalyrimple, who gives special treatments to rich, society women suffering from the blanket ailment “hysteria”. Women who were designated frigid, or nymphomaniacal, or moody, or argumentative – well, they’re all “hysterical”, so the problem must be in their uterus (and hysterectomies were sometimes considered a “cure”). Treatment consists of manual genital massages behind discretely mounted miniature red velvet curtains.

He’s engages to marry the Dalyrimple’s conservative daughter Emily; she’s a pianist and an phrenologist: Oh, Dr Granville, your thrombus is rigid and jutting! she says after feeling the bumps on his head. But he always seems to be in arguments with the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall) a suffragette and social worker who runs a settlement house in the impoverished East End. And poor Granville might lose his job because of the repetitive stress injury in his right hand. But, together with his gay best friend and steampunk inventor (Rupert Everett) he just might have the solution to eveyone’s problems– a new machine that may permanently cure hysteria.

I was expecting nothing from a movie about the invention of the vibrator, but it was a real treat – a romance, a comedy, an historical drama, an old-fashioned Hollywood-style movie, along with a taboo twist. Try to see it this weekend – it’s a great movie!

Union Square, UFO in her Eyes, Wuthering Heights and Hysteria are all playing now at TIFF – check listings at tiff.net . And also check out Road Movie, a two sided, three-screen video installation at the O’Borne Gallery by Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatki that shows pixilated footage tracing the roads in the occupied West Bank (from the view of the Israeli settlers on one side and Palestinians on the other) with their words superimposed in short phrases over the footage.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.

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