Sudden changes. Films reviewed: Mountain, Girls Lost, Demolition, My Big Night. #TIFF15

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Israel, Mental Illness, Movies, Spain, Sweden, TV by CulturalMining.com on September 18, 2015

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

TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival is winding to a close but there are still many movies left to see this weekend. With the change of times, I’m going to talk about movies sudden changes. Four very good movies. A woman who lives in an Israeli cemetery discovers a change in her surroundings; three teenage Swedish girls who discover they can temporarily change their sex; a Wall Street investment banker who is left dumfounded by a sudden change in his life; and a group of people locked into a TV studio where nothing ever seems to change.

Nx1RGp_MOUNTAIN_04_o3_8815368_1441410067Mountain

Dir: Yaelle Kayam

Zvia (Shani Klein) is an orthodox Jewish woman who lives with her husband and children in a stone house on a hillside. But not just any hillside, it’s the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, the hill that divides east and west. It overlooks the Dome of the Rock, but it’s also a graveyard filled with stone markers. Zvia, who wraps her head in a white- cloth turban, is alone all day when her husband is praying and kids in school. And alone again at night when everyone sleeps. She occasionally talks with the Palestinian grounds keeper, or k5MPK5_MOUNTAIN_05_o3_8815402_1441410070mourners looking for a grave, but otherwise she is all alone, So she ventures out onto the side of the mountain, only to find a different nighttime population. In the bible, the Mount of Olives is where the idolators worshipped the gods Chemosh and Molek. And she looks with wonder and awe at the prostitutes having sex on the gravestones, the drug dealers and homeless lying desolate on tombs. Where she once came to visit a poet’s gravesite, now everything somehow seems defiled. But is she more at home here on the hill or back with her dysfunctional family?

Shani Klein is amazing as Zvia in this dark and troubling first feature. It leaves the viewer with many questions, but little sense of hope.

k5XQkE_GIRLSLOST_01_o3_8689990_1439859122Girls Lost

Dir: Alexandra-Therese Keening

Sweden, present day. 14-year-old girls Momo, Bella and Kim (Louise Nyvall, Vilgot Ostwald Vesterlund, Tuva Jagell) are best friends, like the three musketeers. Momo has long brown hair, Bella is a redhead with glasses, and Kim has a dark, boyish haircut. They are bullied relentlessly for being non-conformists. Almost everyday they are attacked in the hallways, the playground and in gym class. Big crowds of people shout nasty j26QrR_GIRLSLOST_05_o3_8690089_1439859164names at them. But they, and their teachers, do little to fight back. Then a odd-looking seed arrives by mail. And when it grows, overnight, into a sticky, black orchid, the girls are intrigued. They decide, as a group, to taste the sap to see what happens. What happens is something big. The three girls, by the light of the moon, become three boys. Though they still have the same coloured hair and eyes, their faces, bodies and voices morph. And the same kids who rejected them as girls welcome them as RgjYGq_GIRLSLOST_04_o3_8690072_1439859150boys.

They turn back into girls in the morning, but with a difference: now they have the confidence to fight back. But for Kim, the change was even more important. As girl-Kim she always feels awkward, but as boy-Kim everything suddenly works. If only he can stay like that forever. But as he asserts his male identity he falls into a troubled relationship with a rebel named Tony, confusing his gender and sexuality even more. Can the three musketeers stay true to one another? Or will the plant and its effects destroy the friendship they once had?

Girls Lost is a very cool look at gender and identity combined with a fantastical body-shift plot.

DEM_9502.psdDemolition

Dir: Jean Marc Vallee

Davis (Jake Gyllenhall) is a rich investment banker who works at his father-in-law’s office (Chris Cooper). But after his wife dies in a car accident (he escapes with barely a scratch) things get strange. He starts compulsively taking things apart — his fridge, bathroom doors at his office — but lacking the compulsion to put things back together. At the same time, little things start to bug him, specifically the fact that the vending machine at the hospital where his wife died, took his money but didn’t drop the candy. So he begins to send 12 page handwritten letters to customer service, pouring out all his troubles and worries. TO his surprise, he gets a response from a real, living person, Karen (Naomi Watts) a single mom with a troubled teenage son (Judah Lewis). They eventually meet, even as his compulsions escalate. Get ready for lots of long scenes of him smashing and demolishing things on an ever bigger scale. Will he ever work through his loss before he destroys everything in his path?

This movie is pretty good, with a few surprises and unusual characters. And lots of breaking glass. The adventures of a rich middle-aged white guy getting to act like a self destructive adolescent with impunity was less palatable. While occasionally irritating, this movie is definitely worth seeing.

KO9Wzz_mybignight_01_o3_8770665_1439314785My Big Night (Mi Gran Noche)

Dir: Alex de la Iglesia

It’s New Year’s Eve in Madrid and there’s excitement in the air. On stage a chorus line whirls in unison, while the audience, in evening gowns and tuxes, sip champaign with uproarious laughter. Heading soon toward the stage are Spain’s biggest stars: Adanne (Mario Casas) a teen idol dressed like a fireman, and superstar singer Alphonse, (played by superstar singer Raphael). Unfortunately, the champagne is plastic, the Bg9KvW_mybignight_05_o3_8770860_1439314797viewers are all paid extras, and it’s not even New Years, it’s mid October! They’re shooting a glitzy, kitschy TV show. Meanwhile, they’re rioting on the streets outside, the set is collapsing inside, with one audience extra already dead; there are two groupies attempting to steal the idol’s sperm… and a psychotic with a gun NxWZn8_mybignight_06_o3_8770924_1439314803— and the lover of Yuri (Carlos Areces) the son of the sadistic superstar — is preparing to assassinate the singer. And yet, the new years fun goes on, with love, sex, injury and death happening all around.

This movie is hilarious, with a high level of excitement. If I were Spanish, the pop songs would mean more to me, but… I get it. And director de la Iglesias doesn’t disappoint — there are enough shocks, gross-outs and over-the-top gags to keep you laughing. I loved this goofy, kitschy, slapstick comedy.

Mountain, Girls Lost, Demolition and My Big Night are all playing at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for details. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

 

New Rules. Films Reviewed: Wild, Félix and Meira, Regarding Susan Sontag

Posted in Canada, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Feminism, Queer, Romance, TIFF, Wilderness, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 13, 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.

Do rules restrict us? Or set us free? This week, I’m looking at three new films about women. A religious woman who longs to be free of the rules that restrict her; a woman in crisis who, to save her own life, follows strict rules to hike and cam; and an intellectual who applied academic strictures to new topics like high camp.

FOX_3558.psdWild

Dir: Jean-Marc Vallée (Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir)

It’s the mid-late 20th century. Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) is a young college student in Minneapolis. Her single mom (Laura Dern) wants to educate herself, too, so they’re in the same lecture halls doing English lit and women’s studies. Her mom asks her help understanding concepts like Erica Jong’s “zipless F*cks” (F-words.) Aw, Ma! So Cheryl reads her Adriene Rich, falls in love with a nice guy named Paul, and marries him. But then something terrible happens. And before you know it, Cheryl is taking tons of serious drugs and having countless Zipless Fs with strangers. I want to live like a man, she tells herself. But is what she really wants?

Her daily life spirals toward oblivion, until she’s rescued and brought back to reality by her husband and her best friend. She decides to start her life anew by doing something dramatic. So she decides to head out on a walk up the Pacific Crest Trail or PCT from the Mexican border to Canada.

Aside from her over-packed backpack, and too-tight boots, she has to overcomek5oMn6__wild_02_o3__8207946__1406599560 the potential dangers of wild animals and skeezy men, rednecks and deadheads. She interacts with the hikers along the way, people who have read the quotations she leaves in the record books. Cheryl passes through dried out deserts and snow-filled valleys, hiking ever-northward in a quest to find herself, and to learn to live by her mother’s optimistic words: always look for the kinder way of doing things.

Wild is worth seeing. It’s full of beautiful scenery and assorted unexpected characters. The movie itself is fairly flat, with no real suspense, conflict or climax. Which is fine… but doesn’t move you to tears. It’s an on-foot road movie. I enjoy her chronicling of what happens along the way (as well as the flashbacks that explain why she’s there.) Most of all, it’s a chance for Reese Witherspoon to show off her acting skills. But does she? I can accept her as a woman recovering from drugs and emotional loss. But what I don’t feel is her soul. She seems opaque, superficial. I haven’t read the memoirs it’s based on, but Movie Cheryl just seems like a woman facing hard times. She’s not Book Cheryl: a poet  a writer, a feminist or a thinker; just a character that things happen to.

Actress: Hadas YaronFélix et Meira

Dir: Maxime Giroux

Young, pretty and quirky, Meira (Hadas Yaron) lives with her stern husband Shulem (Luzer Twersky) and their baby. She comes from an insular, Chassidic community in Montreal, where her first language isn’t French or English, it’s Yiddish. She likes drawing pictures and listening to reggae music…but only when her husband’s out of the house. He’s strict and conservative, and quick to tell her what she’s doing wrong. In response, she’s as likely to listen as to drop dead, on the spot. Well, at least pretend to. She’s depressed. When the men burst into joyous songs at the Sabbath dinner table, she just fiddles with her matzo balls. She doesn’t like the headband or the wig she has to wear; she doesn’t like the dullness and tedium; she doesn’t like any of it anymore.

A couple of blocks away, but in a separate solitude, lives Félix (Martin Dubreuil). Actor: Martin DubreuilHe’s single and carefree, likes painting and music. He tends to his dying father suffering from Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t care about money, and supports himself by selling the tapestries off the walls of his father‘s mansion. But when he dies, Felix is at a loss. Religion plays no part in his life, so he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, what he’s supposed to feel. On an impulse, he asks the woman he sees at the local pizza parlour. She studiously ignores him, and tells him to leave her alone. but eventually he wins her attention. Je m’appelle Meira she says.

Though reticent at first, she starts to appear at his doorstep, so she can listen to some music, she says. Something clicks. Meira longs to be a single woman, to wear blue jeans, to do as she wants. She looks with dread at the 14-kid families around her. One’s enough. Alienated Felix admires her calm, her grounded-ness, her Actor: Luzer Twerskytraditions. He finds her exotic, shy… different. She’s not like the women he usually meets. To her, Felix represents an unseen world. Shulem suspects something is up and sends her off to Brooklyn. But Felix and Meira vow to meet again someday, to experience each other’s lives. But are their cultures too distant to bridge their differences? And is what they’re doing morally right? Can she give up everything just to be with him? And…are they even compatible?

Felix and Meira is a sweet, gentle drama of tolerance and coexistence with the Other. It jumps neatly between the two sides, gradually revealing their hidden truths and desires. Most interesting is the unexpected shifts in its portrayals of the three characters, especially Shulem. Hadas Yaron (Fill the Void) is fantastic as Meira, again playing an ultra-orthodox Jewish woman, and Martin Dubreuil – who I’ve never seen before, is a sympathetic face to watch. I liked this understated drama.

85573_1416507737Regarding Susan Sontag

Dir: Nancy D. Kates

The late Susan Sontag was one of the most prominent American intellectuals, widely known for her essays On Camp, On Photography and Illness as a metaphor. But she kept her personal life under wraps. This new documentary reveals all. Did you know she was considered a pin-up girl for young lesbian women? Or that she read Kant and Proust at age 15, before she even know how to pronounce their names? Or that she appeared as an actress in an early French New Wave film. This doc chronicles her first visit to a San Francisco lesbian bar, her life in Paris, Oxford and Manhattan, her friends and lovers. And the controversies she faced — both in intellectual culture and in the mass media. Loaded with new interviews, and childhood photographs, film clips, TV footage, it’s informative and fascinating.

Wild is now playing in Toronto: check your local listings. Félix and Meira was selected for TIFF’s Canada Top Ten. It’s playing on Sunday, December 14th at 1 and 4 pm at the Empress Walk cinema as part of Toronto Jewish Film Festival’s Chai Tea and Movie series. Got to tjff.com for details. And you can see Regarding Susan Sontag on HBO Canada.

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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