Daniel Garber talks to OCADU artist-in-residence Isaac Julien with Yuling Chen

Posted in Art, Cultural Mining, LGBT, Migrants, Movies, Toronto, UK by CulturalMining.com on March 31, 2017

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

In the late 1970s and early 1980s,  Thatcher’s England was a place of great unrest and mistrust. The country was rocked by strikes, demonstrations and riots. It was also the time of a burgeoning music scene, with fashion, art and the punk movement inspiring international change. It was into this world that Isaac Julien came of age in London’s East EndAs an artist and filmmaker he embraced three separate movements: the Afro-Caribean scene, London’s gay nightlife and the largely white progressive left. His work incorporated themes of sex, politics and interracial  relationships. Over the decades to follow, his focus shifted from film to art installations.

From young soul rebel to international art star, Julien’s moving image installations can now be seen in Europe, Asia and around the world. Recently two of his works ran at the Royal Ontario Museum, another is on at the Museum of Modern Art, and two of his early films will be screening at Toronto’s Images Festival. He’s artist in residence at OCAD University (the Ontario College of Art and Design) where he is mentoring five students who will follow him to London.

Yuling Chen is a Toronto artist, originally from Hainan, China. She creates animation, video and performance art and is studying with Isaac Julien.

I spoke to Isaac Julien and Yuling Chen in studio at CIUT. 

 

 

Daniel Garber talks with curator Jon Davies about Conundrum Clinique at Images Film Festival

Posted in 1970s, Art, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Movies, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on April 15, 2016

Jon DaviesHi this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 fm.

A place like Toronto is known for its reputation. Migrants from farms and small-towns and far-away countries flock here to recreate themselves as Jon Davies someone richer, more attractive, more famous and talented. Their new images are reinforced through fancy condos new cars, hairstyles and fashions. It is plastered on TV in movies, online, and in advertisements. But where does a facade end and reality begins?

A new collection of films called Conundrum Clinique examines Jon DaviesToronto’s invented images and facades as viewed in 1975 and today. It’s a world of collapsing castles, flashing lights, and real estate ventures lighter than air. It includes work by Janis Cole and Holly Dale, Oliver Husain, Robin Colyer and many others. Conundrum Clinique is the work of award-winning Toronto curator Jon Davies and has its world premiere on Saturday as part of the Images Film Festival.

Jon tears off Toronto’s cultural façades and examines them. I spoke to him in studio at CIUT.

Spring Film Festival Season. Movies Reviewed: Next time I aim for the heart, Tomorrow is always too long, Clouds of Sils Maria

Posted in Acting, Art, Drama, France, Movies, Scotland by CulturalMining.com on April 10, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM. It’s Spring Film Festival Season. Cinefranco is a festival of French language movies from countries like Canada, France, Tunisia, and Belgium. Images Festival shows art expressed in the form of moving images: films and videos, showing off-screen in galleries, and on screen at the AGO. So I’m combining the two this week, shaking the pot, and adding a bit extra. A French art film in English; an English art film in Scottish; and a French crime thriller… en Francais. 269b36e876e375e05083f78293992209_S

Next Time I Aim for the Heart / La prochaine fois je viserai le cœur

Dir: Cedric Anger

It’s the late 1970s in France. Out on lonely highways and suburban streets all is not well. Young women are being shot and some killed by an unknown man in a car. The serial killer sends hand-written notes to the police after each killing. Still, the cops are stymied, no one can describe the man or the car he drives, and he always gets away. Enter Franck (Guillaume Canet) He’s not a policeman, but a member of France’s gendarmerie — the national force (much like the RCMP) that operate in small towns and rural areas across the country. Gendarmes (the la-prochaine-fois-je-viserai-le-coeur-guillaume-canetones who wear that distinctive round top hat) are controlled by the Ministry of Defence, and comes through in Franck’s formal, militaristic manner. He’s gaunt, thin-lipped, tense. Always polite, he follows the rules and catches the criminals. He’s seeing the Sophie (Ana Girardot) the gorgeous young woman who does his laundry. She is smitten by him – a true gentleman – not like the slovenly men she knows. He’s also a prized detective, praised by la-prochaine-fois-je-viserai-le-coeur-ana-girardot-1his chief and respected by his squad. And they are all on the lookout for the crazed, vicious serial killer, whose crimes are escalating, but who always seems to escape. The gendarmes need to catch him before their rivals, the police force. Seems like a typical policier, right? The good cop searching for the deranged killer. But there’s a twist (and this is not a spoiler): Franck, the gendarme is also the serial killer! Whoa!

This is based on a true story and makes for a pretty good thriller. It has a dark and brooding tone to it, and leaves the viewer unsettled – who can you trust? And the whole story is told solely la-prochaine-fois-je-viserai-le-coeur-guillaume-canet-1from Franck’s point of view – the rest of the characters, including Sophie, are opaque. So you’re forced to sympathize with Franck – and you do – but he’s a troubled soul, and a loner/ nutbar/killer too, so how sympathetic can you be? Also, the guy’s psychotic – you wonder why it isn’t obvious to his fellow cops. Visually, the movie is great, shot in rural fields and forests, or in offices and homes, always with blow up colour photos subtly placed on the walls. Neat effect. And Canet is excellent as Franck. tomorrow is always too long

Tomorrow is always too long

Dir: Phil Collins

It’s an ordinary day in Glasgow, Scotland. People go to school, to the pub or to jail. But on a normal day, do you suddenly break into complex dance steps, and start singing wonderful indie pop sings by Cate Le Bon, accompanied by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra? This is a very strange movie, filled with ordinary people doing extraordinary things, the complex mixed with the mundane. It’s like watching TV with someone else holding the remote control, and constantly changing channels. Now you see Mindy the bored psychic touting for calls; a tawdry male phone sex line; an infomercial selling products for women who enjoy being patted down by security guards at airports; three people in sparkling glam makeup answering trivia questions; or a grizzly guy in a garish tam o’shanter buttering bread.

Huh? Exactly.

These scenes alternate with silhouette animation (by Matthew Robins) giving a stylized look at Glasgow’s underground: with nightclubs, drugs, and furtive sex in the bushes. This is definitely art, but it’s also great fun. You can tell it’s art because the performers all keep blasé, chill expressions as they dance. No jazz hands or smiley faces here. But it’s also a thoroughly entertaining portrait of one day in the life of the city of Glasgow, and a lot of the people who live there. Art you can love. 52501167-6576-45cc-a057-e4f607bf0e35

Clouds of Sils Maria

Dir: Olivier Assayas

Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a very famous French actress, who is heading by train for Switzerland. She’s going to a town near Zurich to honour a playwright who, twenty years earlier, wrote the first play she ever performed in. The play is about a young woman who works at a company, and her older boss – actually the head of the firm. The older woman becomes infatuated with her, leading to tragic end. When the play premiered, Maria was a brash, young woman – totally unknown. Now she’s a seasoned professional. She owes Melchior, the playwright, a lot. But when circumstances change she’s asked to be in the play again… but this time as 3cc6e467-ae1e-4c7c-9f22-8fb65ae63788the older woman. This jars her. She thinks of herself as a beautiful young actress, but, while still beautiful, she’s clearly middle aged now.

All her emotions and worries are confessed to her young PA (personal assistant) Valentine (Kristen Stewart). And once Maria takes the part, she decides to stay in the Swiss town to learn her role. So Val plays the other part when the two of them rehearse. But Val senses a weird change, where Maria seems to be losing her grip – is she the boss in the play in love with the younger woman? Or is she an actress boss, obsessed with her PA? Val’s patience is also running low. 52e4e874-5796-45ed-94e1-073d90b85524

And a third woman Joanne (Chloë Grace Moretz), enters the picture. She’s the tempestuous teenaged actress playing Maria’s former role. She’s a Lindsay Lohan-type, chased by paparazzi, in and out of rehab. And all three acting out their roles against foggy, stark Alpen scenery. This is an intimate portrait of Juliette Binoche. The three actors were all convincing and absorbing. And I can appreciate the film intellectually. But it’s a bit too “meta” – play within a play, actors playing actors playing characters – to be deeply moving.

The Clouds of Sils Maria opens today in Toronto; Tomorrow is Always Too Long opened the Images festival which continues all week: go to imagesfestival.com for times and galleries. Next Time I Aim for the Heart plays next weekend at the Bloor Cinema. Go to cinefranco.com for times and locations of these and many other French language films.

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

Clandestine, Intimate. Movies Reviewed: Suitcase of Love and Shame, Your Day is My Night, The Place Beyond the Pines

Posted in Art, China, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Linked Stories, Movies, Secrets, Suspicion, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on April 14, 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.

Film festivals continue in Toronto. Cinefranco is on through the weekend, with two new ones starting today. The Toronto Jewish Film Festival is bringing comedies, dramas, documentaries and musicals from around the world. Images is a festival of art, moving images and sound –projected on movie and video screens in theatres and art galleries. This week I’m looking at three films, all from the US, that are both clandestine and intensely intimate and personal. Two films at Images: one’s about a long-distance sexual relationship, the other about people who share the same bed… just not at the same time. And the third movie is about how family rivalries can carry on over generations.

LoveShame_Hers1Suitcase of Love and Shame

Dir: Jane Gillooly

It’s the 1960s in middle-America. A married man and a single woman are having a secret, sexual affair. They meet in hotels, a hospital, a planetarium, and record their sexual encounters and fantasies. He promises her he’ll leave his wife so they can be together – but someone else may be listening in. Sounds like a Hollywood movie, but it’s not.

This highly unusual film uses a suitcase of reel-to-reel tapes from the 60’s that someone bought on eBay. It’s the story of two nameless, faceless people who recorded their affair on two tape-recorders, words they LoveandShame-Postcardnotext-5x5.5-300dpi-938x1024believed would only be heard by the two of them.

(Here’s a clip: on podcast)

The audio is accompanied by simple, images of period artifacts – tape boxes, matchbooks – and filmed “still lifes” of suburban homes, dogs, cars. The sexually-charged, explicit dialogue is paired with simple, non-sexual but private-seeming visuals. As a viewer, you’re an audio-voyeur, hearing things you’re not supposed to know about. Jane Gillooly has made a haunting, very intimate film, out of material from long before the days of youtube.

Your_Day_Is_My_Night_Two_Men_sing-800x450Your Day is My Night

Dir: Lynne Sachs

This movie is about Chinese immigrants, documented and otherwise, living in close quarters in Manhattan’s Chinatown. By close quarters, I mean so close that people actually share their beds – half of the tenants work day shifts, half at night. It’s a very diverse crowd, speaking mutually unintelligible dialects. They each tell their own stories. Some do it in casual conversations. Others in a grand manner: like a classic Chinese storyteller, enunciating each word.

Your_Day_Is_My_Night_Tsui_Face2-800x450This sort of dwelling is not unique to New York. I remember spending time at the notorious Chunking Mansions, an apartment and flophouse high-rise in Kowloon, which had people sleeping in beds so close that the next stranger’s bed was just a curtain away. But I’ve never seen anything quite like this.

I’d call it a scripted documentary.

There’s a wedding singer, a poorly paid worker, a grandmother, a masseur. They each have their say, either in the kitchen, on one of the mattresses they sleep on, or outside on the streets of New York Chinatown. They talk about lost ancestors, about fear of the subway, about Ai Weiwei, about sweet potato varieties.

This is an art piece – so it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s staged. But the content seems real enough, as do the people – identified by name. And the stories are fascinating.

Gosling Place Beyond Pines circus cageThe Place Beyond the Pines

Dir Derek Cianfrance

This is another unusually structured movie, made of three sequential parts. The first part is about Luke (Ryan Gosling).

Luke is a travelling carnie who is in Schenectady, NY for the annual fair there. He’s a bleach-blond, tattooed, motorcycle stunt rider, a darling of the pre-teen set. He’s just passing through when he discovers last year’s fling with Romina (Eva Mendes) brought her a bouncing baby boy named Jason. He’s a father! Romina has a home and a boyfriend now, but Luke wants to be with his son and support him. So he quits his job with the circus, stays in town, and turns to robbing banks on his motorcycle to raise the necessary cash. He ends up in a shootout with a rookie cop, Avery (Bradley Cooper). Like Luke, Avery also has a one-year old boy, named A.J.

Place Beyond Pines Bradley Cooper Evidence RoomThe second part is about Avery, who is forced either to confront the corrupt local police force or to join in.

And the third part, is about the two grown-up sons, now 16-year-olds, who are brought together for the first time, as discover how their fathers once crossed paths.

Fortunately, this movie starts with an amazing scene which has Luke on his cycle entering a spinning metal circus globe and zooming around and around inside it – like a human hotwheels car driver. Cool. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there. That’s the happiest scene in the movie. There are chases and shootouts and love and loss, but the whole movie has a fatalistic feel. Society, class, fatal decisions and Place Beyond the Pines Emory Cohen Dane De Haancircumstance try to push us all in certain predetermined directions It’s up to us to make the right decisions.

Visually it’s a very nice movie, and the acting is good, but I found the story rather pat. Cianfrance’s last film, Blue Valentine, was all sex – this one is mainly violence. I enjoyed it, but the blatant story manipulation left me with a meh feeling.

Your Day is My Night is playing on the 19th and Suitcase of Love and Shame is playing tonight at 9 pm, both at Images; go to imagesfestival.com for more information; and The Place Beyond the Pines also opens tonight. 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 .

April 13, 2012. Interview: Simone Rapisarda Casanova talks to Daniel Garber about his film The Strawberry Tree at Images Festival

Posted in Animals, Art, Canada, Cuba, Cultural Mining, documentary, Images Festival, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on April 16, 2012

Simone Rapisarda Casanova talks about The Strawberry Tree, a film he shot in a remote fishing village in Cuba that was later flattened by a hurricane. Simone shares his thoughts on the Three Utopias, the relationship of the artist and his subjects, honesty, class, and shooting a film looking up from the floor.

April 6, 2012. The Dispassionate Eye. Movies Reviewed: Images Festival, Strawberry Tree, The Pettifogger PLUS Bully v. Fightville

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.

…I’m back again with some movie reviews. As I’ve said, springtime is film festival time. You can catch the Toronto Film Society’s “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” weekend at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto starting on May 11th, for a chance to see B&W film noir and other classics from the 1940’s, like Suspicion, The Big Sleep, The Glass Key and Double Indemnity.

And starting this Wednesday is the unique and amazing Images Media Arts Festival. Images is North America’s biggest festival of art-driven film and videos, including live performances, gallery installations, and, of course, movies. It’s their 25th anniversary, so you can see new and innovative work, as well as work shown their first year, way back in the 80’s. The Festival opens with John Akomfrah’s The Nine Muses, and closes with a live performance by Yo La Tenga.

The Strawberry Tree

Dir: Simone Rapisarda Casanova

This film is filled with mundane but lovely composed views of life in a small, Cuban fishing village. Scenes range from repairing fishing nets, and fish teeming underwater, and the slaughter of a goat in real time, to a woman peeling plantains, or  a man performing card tricks at a kids’ party.

The director’s camera is an unmoving, dispassionate observer set up on the floor, usually at a distance from the people he’s filming. But the posture of an artist’s indifference is challenged and exposed by the constant patter of the film’s subjects: sexual banter, casual insults, joking stories and comments often involving the artist by name. They talk about his jewelry, make fun of his accent, his attitude, his looks, his wealth, and the way they think his life must like in Canada. And they talk about the film itself and how it distorts – positively or negatively — the way it makes them look.

The calm beauty of the film is balanced with the knowledge (from the very first frame) that everything we see was later wiped away by a hurricane that flattened the village after the film was made.

This is a gorgeous and often funny impression of small town life in Cuba.

To get in the mood for the festival, on Wednesday, the day before Images begins, there’s an amazing free screening of:

The Pettifogger

Dir: Lewis Klahr

This is kind of an art-film, kind of a mood-narrative, about an early sixties gambler. It’s filled with noir-ish newspaper comics, film stills, and found objects like buttons, poker chips, and plastic sword-shaped toothpicks. Everything leads back to hardboiled tough guys — men who wear hats — and their femmes fatales. Using cut-out style animation, Klahr manipulates the collage images across the screen in jerky jumps.

So suspicious comic-strip detectives can be seen peeking through the glassine windows of manila envelopes. Two jacks from a  poker deck do an angry, sullen standoff before skulking off screen again. And everywhere are the bright, coloured icons of that Man’s World: cigarettes, mickeys of scotch, license plates, greenbacks, with hearts and spades, all floating around on the screen. The “bars” of the one armed bandits detach themselves and become coloured bars blocking or censoring the stories he tells… and in the background, sounds of traffic, thunderstorms and ever-suspicious dialogue from radio potboilers.

Check out The Strawberry Tree and Pettifogger at Images, all starting next week.

Last week, I left this studio and saw, a stone’s throw away at Queen’s Park, a protest against bullying. That’s nice, I thought, They’re against teenaged bullying. Until I got closer — it was a pro-bullying demonstration! A what? That’s like a protest against puppies! Apparently, fundamentalist, right wing religious groups object to the new anti-bullying law because it involves teaching about sexuality in public high schools, and calls for allowing “gay-straight alliance” support groups to be started in government-funded schools — in order to help many of the kids who are being driven to suicide by this very bullying. It seems there are people who want to keep bullying just as it is now…

Which brings me  two documentaries opening this weekend, Bully (dir: Lee Hirsch), which is getting a lot of attention, and Fightville (dir: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker), both of which I saw at last year’s HotDocs.

Bully is about bullying, Fightville is about Mixed Martial Arts.

So which is the better documentary?

It’s hard to admit, but Fightville is just a much better doc. Although it’s much more commercial in its style, its characters are more interesting, it’s camera work more pleasing, the storyline (two young fighters trying to become pros vs. five high school students who get bullied) more engaging and dynamic. The problem is Bully, which follows five bullied kids around for a year, has the feeling of a fundraiser, a charity infomercial  (the sort of thing you find yourself watching on cable TV at 5 am on a Sunday morning.) It’s bland and it’s slow and it’s a little bit boring. It doesn’t really offer many solutions. And I was left with the impression that the filmmaker intentionally tried to make one poor kid, Alex, (who has a slightly “unusual”-looking face from certain angles), look odder than he really was. Which in my mind is “movie bullying”.

Does this mean bullying (as an issue) is less important than a bloody, competitive sport? Of course not! It’s just that Fightville is a better film than Bully. I often talk about movies with “good taste” versus movies that “taste good”.  But it looks like I’ve been neglecting a third category. Bully is “good for you”. Like brussels sprouts.

Opening this weekend are Lovers in a Dangerous Time, a low budget, pretty, romantic Canadian drama; Pettifogger and the Strawberry Tree (go to Imagesfestival.com) and the docs Fightville and Bully.

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

How Women see the World. Films reviewed: Beeswax, Littlerock, Hanna, Born to be Wild PLUS Rivers and my Father, Images Festival, Sprockets Festival

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s still true. The Hollywood star system has made a huge shift over the past few decades across the gender line. The biggest stars are now male, not female; most movies are about men, not women, and most stories are told from a man’s point of view. Even in movies with a female star, all the other main characters are often male. Most, but not all… there’s actually a bumper crop of movies opening today that buck this trend.

So, this week, I’m looking at four very different new movies, two realistic dramas, an action thriller, and a kids documentary, all told from the point of view of women, and, interestingly, all touching on family relationships. (All of these films were directed by men.)

Two of them, Beeswax and Littlerock, are part of a new trend in indie filmmaking (sometimes called New Realism or Mumblecore), using non-actors — often using their own names — ordinary situations, improvisational scenes, locations not studios, no special effects, and without the usual obvious plotlines and clichés. (Last year, I enjoyed Modra, and No Heart Feelings, two Toronto movies that fit into this category.) It’s always fun watching new types of movies, but some work better than others.

Beeswax

Dir: Andrew Bujalski

Jeannie and Lauren (Tillie and Maggie Hatcher) are adult twin sisters who live together. Jeannie owns a vintage store in an American college town. She gets around in a car or using her wheelchair. She’s having problems with her business partner who’s always flying off overseas, while Jeannie’s always working at the store. She’s faced with the question of what to do with her business and whether her partner is suing her. Meanwhile, her sister Lauren is also deciding whether or not to take a big step in her life. And Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), a law student writing his bar exams, is Jeannie’s on again off again bed-partner, and her potential lawyer, if he passes the bar.

The movie starts and ends very suddenly, as if we’re allowed to spend a few days with these characters — as if it were a documentary — and then they’re gone again. The story itself is about normal everyday events: people living their lives, having sex, going to work, talking with friends and family members. The parts are played by non-actors, who are appealing, and pretty funny, but still just regular people.

I like the fact that it has one main character with a physical disability, without making it the main story, and dealt with in a very matter-of-fact way — not ignoring the very real accommodations she has to be aware of to live her life, but without making it the central point, morphing into some weeper where she stands up out of her wheelchair in triumph saying “I can walk again!” It’s sort of like casting a black Hamlet or a male Ophelia. This movie also deals with same-sex-couples in the same unremarkable way.

It’s not a big and exciting movie, but has a comfortable, familial feel about it, along with the underlying competitiveness and rivalry among family members. Beeswax (as in mind your own?) is a realistic look at a few days of the secrets and tensions in two sisters’ lives.

Littlerock

Dir: Mike Ott

Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka), and her brother Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) are visiting from Japan. They’re driving from Los Angeles to the San Francisco area (to visit a place related to their past) when their rented car breaks down in Littlerock, a small town in LA county. They’re forced to stay in a motel until they send them a new one. But when they go to the room next door, to complain about a loud drunken party, they end up meeting some locals and hanging out.

Atsuko likes Cory (Cory Zacharia) – who wants to be an actor/model, but owes too much money to his father and his drug dealer – but they don’t speak the same language. They pretend to understand what each other are saying, but once Rintaro takes off, they are left without a translator. Atsuko meets some other people, and jealousy and duplicity ensues.

The problem with the movie is that most of the characters seem bland or uninteresting. It’s realistic, but maybe too realistic. Atsuko and Cory never figure how to communicate – but most of the things they want the other to hear are just standard chatter anyway – aside from a very touching scene toward the end of the movie. It really needed more interesting dialogue to go with the nice scenes of a pensive young Japanese woman coming of age in smalltown USA.

Hanna

Dir: Joe Wright

Hanna (Saoirise Ronan) is brought up by her dad, Erik (Eric Bana) — a spy and assassin who’s gone rogue — in an all-natural setting somewhere in the far north. She learns everything from a stack of old encyclopedias, dictionaries, and grimm’s fairytales. He teaches her how to shoot a deer with a bow and arrow from far away, skin it and cook it. “Always be alert” he tells her. She has to be ready to fend off any attacker — even when she’s asleep. But when she can beat her father at a fight, she realizes it’s time to “come in from the cold” to use the old spy term. She’s ready to face her father’s old foe and handler: the icy, prada-clad CIA agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett).

From there, the movie races on, with the three competing killers – Erik, Hanna, and Marrissa — trying to out-do, capture or kill one another. It’s purposely kept unclear who is the hunter and who is the prey, who is running and who is chasing as power dynamics shift. Marissa and her henchmen – an effeminate German man in white tracksuit and his two skinhead fighters – pursue the 14 year old through various unexpected exotic settings. Hanna just wants to make a friend, find her father again, revisit the brothers Grimm, and listen to music for the very first time. She falls in with a family of British hippies who are driving their van around on a camping trip, and begins to understand the complex rules of social interaction.

The plot is extremely simple, a more-or-less non-stop series of chases and fights – but it’s visually sumptuous movie, with a terrific driving soundtrack, constantly surprising cultural references, stunning scenery, great comic relief, and amazing camera work. There are scenes where the camera spins around and around in a full 360, and others where it flips or rolls or turns upside down. Cate Blanchett is great as the super-villainess, Erik Bana good as a troubled spy, and Saoirise Ronan really great as Hanna, a new type of super hero.

Born to Be Wild

Dir: David Lickley

Wild animals? Aww… Cute, baby wild animals? Cute little baby wild animal… orphans? Awwwww….

How about cute little orphaned baby elephants in Kenya, and baby orangutans living in the rain forests of Borneo… in IMAX 3D???

Yeah, this is one really cute G-rated movie, the kind that makes you

say to hell with my carbon footprint — I wanna hop on a jet-fuel guzzling airplane and fly off to the jungles of Borneo to commune with the Orangutans who look a lot like Homer Simpson…

Actually, the movies about how the rainforests that make up the wild habitat of many the great apes are rapidly disappearing. And in Africa, there are still poachers killing elephants for their ivory tusks. And when the young are left without their mothers they have no one to feed them. These are the orphans – meaning motherless orangutans and elephants — that the movie is about. Narrator Morgan Freeman shows two women — Birute in Indonesia and Daphne in Kenya — who adopt and raise these animal orphans until they’re old enough to gradually be set free again. The extremely short movie (it’s 40 min long) also has some of the best live 3-D footage I’ve seen since Avatar. An enjoyable film (though maybe a bit cloying for adults) it’s perfect for kids who want to see wild animals up close.

Canadian director and artist Luo Li’s newest film premiered at the Images Festival, North America’s largest experimental art and moving images festival, that combines gallery exhibitions with screenings at movie theatres.

Rivers and My Father

Dir: Luo Li

In this movie, he takes his father’s collected memoirs of old China, and sews them together in a black and white patchwork quilt of repeated disjointed scenes, narrations, titles and subtitles, centering around people in and around water. His own relatives play some of the parts (but not all).

So you see a man in a bathing cap bobbing up and down in a river; kids playing in the woods; a formally dressed woman leading a child up an outdoor staircase; a boy on a boat; and some older people talking to each other about their childhood memories, and about shooting this movie.

I was a bit put off by his use of obvious anachronisms that don’t match the year given in a scene’s title; and the frequent repetition of certain odd scenes, but I love his images of a wet road scene looking down in a moving bicycle in the rain; of the slow, grey waters of the Yangtse river; of a distant shore across water.

It’s funny — I’m dismissing various “errors” in the movie as artistic license, but grumbling to myself just the same… when the last third of the movie begins: his own father’s critique (represented by moving, plain and bold chinese fonts on the screen, over english subtitles) of the film I’m watching, as I watch it, and the filmmaker’s response! That was the most surprising and interesting section of this movie.

Beeswax and Littlerock are at the Royal, Born to be Wild at AMC in IMAX 3-D, and Hanna in wide release, all opening today, April 8, 2011. Check your local listings. And keep your eyes open for Toronto’s Images Festival, which is playing right now, both on-screen in theatres and off-screen in art galleries. Look online at imagesfestival.com . And Sprockets, the festival of movies for kids and young adults opens this weekend: www.tiff.ca/sprockets

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

War and Filmic Vocabulary. Movies Reviewed: The Christening, Essential Killing. PLUS Cold Fish, Images Festival

It’s funny how current events can change our whole filmic vocabulary, adding new concepts and words to make images that would have made no sense a decade ago instantly recognizable on today’s movie screens.

Most people immediately think of technology — ipods, digital pics, texting, on-line dates — as the biggest recognizable changes. But,  unfortunately, some of the biggest stretches of our visual vocabulary is in images of war, violence and death.

During one of the darkest periods in American history, that started less than a decade ago following 9/11 (and doesn’t seem to have finished), the Bush/Cheney administration started a “war on terror”. Countries were invaded, bombs dropped, and a huge number of suspects were arrested, jailed, tortured or killed. In general, these horrific events were kept away from American soil, but done by Americans under direct orders from the government. They also introduced new words and concepts into our vocabulary, that previously might only have been used in horror novels.

Clandestine prison camps, known as “Black Sites”, were set up across Europe and the Middle East. Undocumented suspects, who were sent there to be tortured or interrogated, were called “Ghost Detainees”. One of the torture techniques, in which detainees were made to repeatedly suffer the sensation of death by drowning, is now widely known as “Water Boarding”. And the black hoods put over prisoners (used in Abu Ghraib) are also instantly recognizable.

Canada has also morphed into a nation at war, without consciously deciding to make the change from peacekeeper to bomber. We’re fighting on two fronts now. So today I’m looking at some new movies from Poland (a country that has certainly seen more than its fair share of wars) that examine how war and violence has infiltrated daily lives.

The Christening
Dir: Marcin Wrona

The movie opens with a soldier, face covered, being chased down by cops who beat him up, and arrest him for unknown reasons. Then flash forward – Janek (Tomasz Schuchardt) is visiting his army buddy and best fishing friend, Michal (Wojciech Zielinski). They’re together again to guzzle vodka and do Maori war chants. When they go fishing, they use their old military experience – throwing grenades into a lake — to blow up as many fish as they can. Nice guys!

Everything seems great for Michal: he has a good job, a beautiful wife, Magda (Natalia Rybicka) – he says they met in a hospital when she stitched up a cut on his brow — and a little baby. He’s gone straight: he even offers to help his friend out. But Janek, he’s happy just getting drunk, carousing with his buddies. He doesn’t want an office job – he makes good cash stealing cars and stripping them down for parts.

But there’s a problem — Michal seems to be hiding something. Someone’s putting pressure on him, and he’s showing up with a black eye, or beaten-up body. Janek doesn’t understand what’s happening — if there’s a problem he should tell him – he’ll just beat the guy up. Janek still likes a good brawl. Meanwhile, Magda is sure everything is Janek’s fault. He’s dragging her husband into the gutter. Maybe Michal owed something to his army buddies, but she doesn’t owe Janek anything. But her husband’s dark secret – one of betrayal and duplicity – makes Michal feel both guilty and trapped.

So he sets up a scheme to exit from his problems after the baby’s christening. He thinks he’s doomed there, but maybe his best friend can replace him in his home.

Will Janek stick by him? Who’s the criminal here? The cops or the thugs? Where does a person’s loyalty really lie? And how far will you let it go?

The Christening is an extremely – I’d say excessively — violent movie. I get the feeling the director was influenced by directors like Quentin Tarantino, but in all the wrong ways. Characters, like the gangsters’ boss, Fatman, who behaves like a sadistic killer, seem to be there just for titillation. So lots of horrible, gory, senseless, over-the-top fighting, but almost no humour (only melodrama) to lighten the mood.

Essential Killing
Dir: Jerzy Skolimowski

Mohamed (Vincent Gallo), a militant hiding out in the smooth caves of a lunar landscape (Afghanistan?), is startled to hear two American marines approaching in desert storm camouflage and beige burnooses. He pulls out his weapon and Boom! Ratatatatat! He ambushes the soldiers. Mohamed runs out into the sun to escape, but is taken down by helicopters and more special ops soldiers.

So now he’s taken away to some unidentified place (a black site) where he’s placed on his back, screamed at in English (he can’t hear after the explosions) and then waterboarded. Next, he’s off with other prisoners on some snowy forest road – looks like Canada – and there’s an accident. He gets out of the truck, grabs a gun and starts a long, painful, and violent trek trough the woods of rural Poland, pursued by US Special Ops and helicopters.

It becomes almost like a fairy tale or a picaresque novel, but with a violent streak running through it. He encounters a stream of characters — like a huge-breasted woman on a bike with a baby, a friendly black and white dog, some drunken wood cutters,  a deaf-mute woman who lives in a cottage in the forest who tends to his wounds, and a pale white, broken horse — as he tries to escape, survive, and get away. He climbs snow covered banks, slides off cliffs into rivers, hallucinates after eating poison berries, and conceals himself using the changing costumes he finds or steals on his journey.

Essential Killing was directed by Skolimowski, who was one of the dialogue writers on Polanski’s Knife in the Water, but this movie has almost lines at all. It’s not silent, but with both Mohammed and the US soldiers far from their own homes, they can’t understand each other. The locals around the Dark Site talk a bit but about nothing in particular. This is an aesthetically beautiful, though bloody, art movie – one of very few “action/art” films. I’m not a big fan of Vincent Gallo, but he is fantastic in this as a silent pilgrim, alternately Christ-like and psychotic.

This is an unexpectedly amazing movie — just be aware it’s not a conventional, Hollywood-style film.

And, just in case this isn’t enough violence for one weekend, the Japanese horror film Cold Fish also opens today. You can read my whole review but just let me say, it is the most hellaciously bloody, gory, horrifyingly abusrdist exploitation movie I’ve ever seen. And it left me physically shaking by the time I walked out of the theatre, after its orgyistic tsunami of sex, blood, serial killing and cannibalistic outrages that In a few days transform the life of a mild-mannered tropical fish salesman, to a victim and potential participant in this ultimate sex blood flic.

The Christening played last year’s TIFF, Essential Killing and Cold Fish are opening today, April 1, 2011 in Toronto. Check your local listings. And keep your eyes open for Toronto’s Images Festival, which is on right now. Toronto’s Images Festival — an exhibition of film and art, experimental and independent — is the largest one in North America to feature moving images and media art both on the big screen and in gallery installations.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM and CulturalMining.com.

%d bloggers like this: