Álex de la Iglesia: Dancing with the Devil. Dying of Laughter, A Ferpect Crime, Witching and Bitching PLUS ’71

Posted in comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Horror, Movies, Spain, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 13, 2015

Q153nG_lastcircus_o3_8514727_1421789020Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Alex de la Iglesia is a Spanish director known for his dark, violent comedies, many with a hint of horror and the supernatural. The battles of the sexes is his bread and butter, his stories filled with arrogant, strutting men cut down to size by cruel women. Rivalry, lust, fear and vengeance are the emotions, all seen against the setting of contemporary Spain. And the scary parts? Witches, ghosts, killer… and clowns. Hideous, scary clowns!

Álex de la Iglesia: Dancing with the Devil, a retrospective of his films is showing now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. This week I’m talking about some of his films, looking at the rise of themes like sexual conflict and the supernatural over the course of his career. Plus a new action-thriller about The Troubles in Belfast.

Q15VQq_Dying_of_Laughter_col_slide_3_o3_8514371_1421789008Dying of Laughter
(Muertos de Risa)

… is an early film of his where the war between the sexes is played out, in proxy, by an odd couple.

Nino and Bruno (Santiago Segura, El Gran Wyoming) are like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis – a two-man comedy team. Their act is simple: fast-talking Bruno provides the chatter, until it comes time for chubby Nino to respond. Struck with perpetual stage-fright he just stares straight ahead, unable to speak. And then comes the punchline: Bruno slaps Nino’s face. That’s their shtick and it never fails to have the audience rolling in the aisles. They vg9OWg_Dying_of_Laughter_col_slide_1_o3_8514310_1421789002don’t change the act, just the silly costumes they wear. (Nino insists on always wearing the same pair of socks – never washed – for good luck.) They become stars, rich and famous, and build their homes right beside each other.

The problem? They hate each other’s guts! They are consumed with rage and jealousy, each thinking the other is more talented and more attracted to women. They concoct elaborate schemes to ruin their partners and the source of their fame and fortune. And they just might die of laughter…

A bit more supernatural, and heavier on the man vs woman theme is

Vm08Po_Ferpectcrime07_o3_8514673_1421789014A Ferpect Crime
(El Crimen Ferpecto)

Raf (Guillermo Toledo) is the best salesman at the Yeyo department store. He was actually born there, and knows every nook and cranny. He treats it like his personal fiefdom – the silk bathrobes, the lobster and champagne, and kingsize beds. Loaded with self-confidence, he can charm the pants off any woman he meets – and he’s met a lot of them. He’s always surrounded by beautiful saleswomen who want to sleep him, and men who want to be him. Raf’s life is dedicated to high aesthetic values: beauty, quality and prestige. He is opposed on principle to marriage, families and suburban living. But his job and his future are in danger when, in a scuffle after closing, GZQPZ5_Ferpectcrime05_o3_8514619_1421789007his rival, Don Antonio, ends up dead.

The death is witnessed by Lourdes (Mónica Cervera) an unattractive and shy saleswoman. She’s also the only woman he refuses to sleep with on aesthetic grounds. But she’s not as dumb as she looks. After she helps him dispose of the body (she is a former butcher) he is forced to give in to her desire… maybe even marry her. The greenish ghost of Don Antonio warns Raf of her treachery. He will need a perfect crime to get rid of her once and for all… but who will win?

These themes, plus a mammoth dose of the supernatural come to a head in one of his most recent films

2R1nrJ_witchingbitching_09_o3_8515335_1421789031Witching and Bitching
(Las brujas de Zugarramurdi)

Jose and Antonio – a divorced misogynist and a dumb jock — have a perfect plan. Dressed as a silver Jesus and a green plastic soldier, they knock over a pawn shop. They grab a taxi and escape with a bag of loot – thousands of abandoned wedding rings – and the divorced man’s 10 year old son. But he is hotly pursued by his fuming ex-wife and the police tracking her. After an exciting chase the motley crew – the gangsters and the people in the cab — land up a small Basque town lOMK66_witchingbitching_01_o3_8515203_1421789033country named Zugarramurdi. A town run by witches, who view men as fodder for their evil spells.

It ends up as a face off between the whole panoply of male vs women: On the men’s side are the selfish boy, the sex-crazed guy, the bitter divorced man, the wary cab driver, and the clueless, detached older guy. But they are no match for three generations of witches, plus a furious ex-wife. Only the rebel biker granddaughter witch, who’d rather sleep with men than torture and eat them, provides a chink in the armour. But can they escape the world’s largest coven and the Great Satan himself?

The films of Alex de la Iglesia provide just the right balance between sex, violence and gross-outs —  and giddy laughs. They’re not for everyone, but I really like his horror-comedy combinations.

10960424_308995695976723_8427525493433940388_o‘71
Dir: Yann Demange

It’s 1971, and Gary (Jack O’Connell: Skins, Starred Up, Unbreakable) wants to learn a skill and see the world. He hugs his little brother goodbye and sets off with the British Army for his first foreign posting. But he doesn’t get further than Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The city is in the midst of The Troubles and is divided on religious and political grounds. The IRA unionists are Catholic – they want to join the Republic to the south. The protestant loyalists want to stay within the UK. And within these groups, on both sides, 10868016_293166914226268_8893011712378773515_nthere are militants (like the Provisional IRA and the Ulster Volunteers) who seem to relish the idea of killing some people on the way. So the streets of that city are divided by walls and twisting allies, punctuated by Molotov cocktails and ticking time bombs. And fresh out of boot camp is Jack’s squad, plunked down onto the mean streets on his very first day. As luck would have it – bad luck – his army buddy gets shot in the head and he sees the shooters’ faces. But he gets separated from his unit. So he’s all alone in this hellhole. He meets a guide – a tough, wee lad — who 10352272_288200604722899_1580563761024035270_ntakes him in an out of windows and down deserted allies – and a father and daughter who help him hide. But both sides, and perhaps even elements of the army, want him dead. He’s seen too much.

This is a great, exciting action-thriller about a sympathetic young man who catches the brunt of horrific violence… and realizes he’s part of the forces causing all the trouble. ’71 is a war movie, but not a pro-war movie.

’71 opens today in Toronto, check your local listings, and the Álex de la Iglesia retrospective continues through March. Go to tiff.net for details. Also opening today is Harold Crook’s great documentary The Price We Pay, about off-shore banking and what it does to our economy. I interviewed him last December.

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

Christmas biopics. Movies reviewed: Unbroken, Mr Turner

Posted in 1940s, Art, Biopic, Cultural Mining, Movies, UK, Uncategorized, US, WWII by CulturalMining.com on December 26, 2014

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.

Happy Boxing Day! This week, I’m talking about two biopics, both historical dramas, both starring great actors from the UK. But they are as different as two movies could possibly be. One’s a young soldier captured and kept in the dark; one’s a painter trying to capture the light.

10403575_781275515276942_5431011275441931839_nUnbroken (based on a true story)
Dir: Angelina Jolie

Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) is the child of Italian immigrants in small-town pre-WWII America. He lives on the wrong side of the tracks and is bullied by neighbouring kids. He’s often knocked down, but always gets up for another fight. Running away 10372750_782974231773737_321939819595855320_nfrom bullies also makes him a good runner. With his older brother’s help, he trains as a sprinter, competing at the Berlin Olympics. It’s his endurance and surprising reserves of adrenaline that set him apart. Later, he joins the Air Force in WWII and is stationed in the Pacific. His plane crashes into the ocean which he manages to survive… only to find himself captured by the Japanese, and thrown into a POW camp.

So basically The Unbroken is three movies. One is about Louis and two other men: the laid-back Phil (Domhnall Gleeson: Frank) and the nervous Mac (Finn Witrock). When their plane crashes, they have to survive in an 10409502_786380204766473_4227359387414983355_ninflatable life raft in the middle of the Pacific. Slowly starving to death, they fight off sharks, and inclement weather as they test their ability to endure… against all odds. They hang on by listening to Louis describe his mother’s gnocchi. But as days turn to weeks, can they survive on just hope and a tale? (If you’ve seen the Norwegian drama Kon Tiki, this might seem familiar to you.) I liked this part of the movie.

Then there’s Louis’ stay in a POW camp in Japan. It is run by Corporal Watanabe aka “The Bird”. (played by musician/actor Miyavi). Watanabe comes from a rich family, but never makes it as an officer. Now he’s a cruel but effeminate NCO who struts around in his khakis, carrying a bamboo stick. He takes out his frustrations on the prisoners, especially poor Louis. 1450190_785235881547572_7880022996659246521_nIs he jealous of his fame as an Olympic champion? Or is he secretly in love with him? If you’ve ever seen Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, then, again, this may all be familiar to you.

Finally there’s Louis’ boyhood as a competitive teenaged runner, which appears as a series of flashbacks. This is the weakest part of the film, one of thousands of heartwarming stories about plucky immigrant kids who make good.

This movie isn’t terrible. I like Jack O’Connell a lot and he’s plays the role well. And great supporting cast – Jai Courtney, Luke Treadaway, Domnhall Gleeson — are all really good.

1970439_620940031310492_633068160_nBut can you believe this was written by the Coen Brothers? But there’s no irony, no humour, just straightforward storytelling. And it’s filled with fake profundities, like If you can take it, you can make it. Sounds like a Tony Roberts motivational speech. I get it – Zamperini did great things but survived. But the pounds you over the head with it, with its unrelenting suffer, suffer, suffer theme. The rest of the prisoners look vaguely familiar after a while, but they’re basically just faces in the background. It’s all about Louis vs Watanabe. Not a terrible movie, but disappointing and unsatisfying with an abrupt ending.

7b7c3e5e-dbbb-4a5d-b69b-f8e6d4637e0eMr Turner
Dir: Mike Leigh

Mr Turner (Timothy Spall) is a successful businessman in Victorian London, who lives with his dad (Paul Jesson), a retired barber. He lives a good life, doesn’t worry about money. What does he do? He’s a painter. He visits the seashore to observe and take notes. He finds the right pigments in the market to match them. Later, he paints what he sees. On canvases, big ones, lots of them.

Breathtaking landscapes and seascapes, cloud and light, maybe a steamship, and here and there a ruined castle or a train. He daubs on oil paint, fa38e7e5-08c2-407b-86a0-49e8653ac8adsmooches it around, and spits on it, blows at it! The results are spectacular and impressionistic, like nothing anyone had ever seen. And ethereal watercolours. Turner becomes famous in his own time, and quite rich — aristocratic artists are forced to come by to ask him for money. But he’s not from titled gentry. He’s frequently snubbed by the snooty upper-class, and not allowed into the principal art salons, only the outside rooms. Queen Victoria is not amused by his paintings. And he had to suffer the comments of insufferable art critics like John Ruskin (wonderfully played by Joshua McGuire).

At the same time, he’s a selfish, loathesome boor, who chews on pigs’ heads and belches. He has abandoned his common-law wife and daughters. He has a shy maid, Mrs Danby (Dorothy Atkinson). When Mr Turner feels like it, fdff8789-10b2-466c-81ae-6ba2bcce7189he’ll sneak up behind her, raise her petticoats and grunt a few times. That’s “sex”. How, you wonder, can such a disgusting, depressed and ugly man create such beautiful art?

Whenever he has a chance, he revisits a seaside town from his youth. There he meets an older woman, a landlady, named Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey). Will she help him out of his perpetual blue funk?

Mr Turner is a very long, slow moving and subtle film, filled with skillfully-crafted characters. They’re not loveable people but not hateable ones either. They seem all completely real. The photography in this movie is just e671af49-baab-4efe-b119-952b2968e98famazing. If you’ve ever seen Turner’s paintings, now you get to see the skies, the clouds and the light that actually informed his art. Beautiful. Spall, Bailey and Atkinson play their parts with all their weird tics and eccentricities in place. It’s quite long, but I liked it a lot.

Mr Turner and Unbroken both open today in Toronto: check your local listings. Also opening today is Imitation Game, a fantastic biopic thriller about Alan Turing, the man who invented the computer an broke the German code known as Enigma. Definitely a must-see.

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

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