B Movies. Films reviewed: Sisters, Black Christmas (1974), He Never Died, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, comedy, Cultural Mining, Horror, Movies, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 18, 2015

 

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

Star Ka'at 1976 A certain movie – which shall remain nameless – is opening today, but I’m not going to cover it. It’s getting more than enough airtime already.  Instead, I’m going to talk about “B” movies and genre movies opening this weekend that might otherwise be neglected. There‘s a comedy about adult sisters, a classic horror movie about sorority sisters, a comedy/horror about a man who can’t die, and a French noir mystery about a woman who can’t remember.

1_lSisters
Dir: Jason Moore

Maura and Kate Ellis (Amy Poehler and Tina Fey) are adult sisters. Maura is the do-gooder – she always behaves responsibly, even excessively so. She just wants people to like her. Kate is the wild, irresponsible one. A single mom, she can’t keep a job, hold onto an apartment or even care for her teenaged daughter. But when the two sisters hear their parents are selling their childhood home, they jump into a car and head on south to Florida, to reclaim their childhoods. And once there, they decide to invite all their old friends to a final bash, complete with dating, drugs, loud music and debauchery. Except this 2_lparty will be different. Maura can go wild while Kate has to be the responsible one. Maura invites James (Ike Barinholtz) a guy she likes who’s renovating a nearby house, while Kate has to deal with her high school nemesis, Brinda (Maya Rudolph).

That’s the story but it’s not really important. The movie is just a series of semi-improvised sketches about grown-ups behaving like teenagers. It also lets female comics – including lots of others in small roles — be the funny ones with the men as sex symbols, foils or goofs. It’s pretty sloppy: for example, the house swimming pool is emptied then full, emptied then full, in the course of a couple scenes… as if the film editor forgot to read the script. But it’s still pretty funny. I laughed a lot, at about 60% of the jokes.

MjBBrA_11B_Black_Christmas_o3_8804423_1442868311Black Christmas (1974)
Dir: Bob Clarke
A group of sorority sisters live together in a shared house in a college town. Most have gone home for Christmas break, but a few are still there. Barb (Margot Kidder) is there for the sex, Phyl (Andrea Martin) is more bookish, Clare (Lynne Griffin) is conservative — called a “professional virgin” by Barb — while Jess (Olivia Hussey) is working things out with her boyfriend, Peter. And then there’s Mrs Mac (Marian Waldman) their alcoholic 76JJ5j_11C_Black_Christmas_o3_8804484_1442868309housemother who spends most of her time trying to keep track of all her hidden whisky bottles.

Then one day they start getting strange, obscene phone calls by someone who uses various voices and seems to know all their secrets. And when they start disappearing, one by one, they realize something is very wrong. But the town police are slow to react, dismissing them all as just silly girls. That is until a search party finds a body. Can they track the phone call and find the killer? And will anybody ever look in the attic?

BLACK-CHRISTMAS-Website-PosterBlack Christmas was made more than 40 years ago, it’s a Canadian film, and was shot right here, in spitting distance from where I’m recording this. And it’s often called the very first slasher-type horror movie. But it’s much better than the flood of slasher movies – ones where the cast members are killed one Black Christmas posterat a time in their home — that followed it. And the cast is amazing. Besides the ones I mentioned, there’s also John Saxon (Enter the Dragon) as the police detective, and Keir Dullea (2001: a Space Odyssey) as Peter, Jess’s confused musician boyfriend. It also deals with big issues of the day: vigilantes with guns, abortion, sexual freedom, and feminism. They’re re-releasing it now on DVD and VOD, and it’s also great chance to see it on the big screen.

He_Never_Died__22349He Never Died
Dir: Jason Krawczyk
Jack (Henry Rollins) is an ordinary, monosylabic guy who lives alone in a dingy, downtown apartment. At the foot of his bed is a wooden chest filled with money. He uses it to pay for meals at the Times Square Diner (where he occasionally talks to a waitress) or for old people bingo games at a local church. He has an intern named Jeremy (Booboo Stewart) who brings him a large, unmarked bundle once a day. He needs it to stop the voices he hears in his head. He likes life to be as simple as possible.

Then things start to get complicated. A gangster (Steven Ogg) that Jack used to work for reappears on the scene. A teenaged girl names Andrea He_Never_Died_Still_03(Jordan Todosey) shows up saying he’s her father. And she tries to get him to date Cara (Kate Greenhouse) the waitress at the diner.  Thugs come to his door demanding he tell them where Jeremy is. They say he owes them money. They hold a gun to his head and threaten him. But they don’t realize that death threats don’t work because Jack can’t die. He’s actually very old. In-the-Bible old. And he doesn’t hesitate to smite people who do bad things.

He_Never_Died__94057Then things get worse. They break the intern’s kneecaps, cutting off Jack’s supply. They kidnap his daughter, enters his domain and messes up the diner he goes to. It’s not like he seeks revenge, or wants to kill dozens of people with his bare hands. He just gets in these bad situations. Where people make him angry.

He Never Died is a funny but violent horror movie with a supernatural dimension. It was shot in an urban, gritty-looking Toronto. This movie is fun. It stars the 1980s hardcore hero Henry Rollins, who plays it very calm and chill… until he explodes. I wonder if I would like this as much as I do if I didn’t like Henry Rollins. Maybe, but it also has a good story, a cool look, and good acting all around.

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (photo_04)The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun
Dir: Joann Sfar
It’s the 1960s. Dany (Freya Mavor) is a young woman with fiery red hair and round glasses who lives in Paris. She’s just a secretary, she tells herself, but has wild fantasies and vivid nightmares. One day her boss (Benjamin Biolay) orders her to type up a 60-page report at his home before he flies off to Switzerland with his wife. The next day he hands her a cash bonus, and lends her his brand new Thunderbird to drive back to Paris from Orly airport. But on a sudden impulse, she turns south instead and drives toward the sea. She buys some new clothes in a seaside resort and examines her The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (photo_01)new self – she’s not just a secretary – she’s a star!. She feels free, glamorous, sexy. People ogle her as if she’s famous. That’s when things get strange. A woman from a café asks if she’s feeling better now. Truckers at a roadside gas station stare at her and a mechanic there swears he fixed her car the night before. At her hotel she finds her name already on the roster. And a cop stops her car and addresses her by name. It’s all so strange!

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (photo_02)She meets a slick but sketchy man named Georges (Elio Germano) who asks her to drive him to the sea. He has to catch a boat to West Africa. There’s a definite attraction between the two, but can he be trusted? And when a dead body shows up, she wonders if she is losing he mind. Was she a killer and just can’t remember?

I like this movie. Have you heard of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady The_Lady_Vanishes_1938_PosterVanishes? An elderly woman disappears on a train, but everyone except the main character swears she was never there. This film is more like The Lady Reappears. Everyone, except the main character herself, swears she was there the day before. The film is pure eye candy,  and it looks like a graphic novel, with split screens and parallel scenes. Beautiful and stylized. Director Joann Sfar is a great comic artist, so it makes sense his movie looks like this. And I love seeing two non-French actors doing a movie entirely in this lingua franca.

Sisters, He Never Died, and The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun all open today in Toronto: check your local listings. And Black Christmas has a special screening on Saturday at the Royal Cinema with live appearances by Nick Mancuso and Lynn Griffin.

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

Exotica. Movies Reviewed: Hotel Lux, The Rabbi’s Cat, To the Wonder

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, Africa, Algeria, Animation, Berlin, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Comics, Germany, Kremlin, Romance, Uncategorized, US, USSR by CulturalMining.com on April 19, 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.

Images and Toronto Jewish Film Festival continue on through this weekend, with Hot Docs just around the corner. This week I’m looking at movies about people travelling to exotic lands. There’s a German screwball comedy about an actor who escapes the Nazis only to find himself in the heart of Stalin’s Moscow; a French animated film about a group of travellers from Algiers looking for a lost city; and an American romance about a woman from Paris looking for love in America.

Hotel_LuxHotel Lux

Dir: Leander Haussmann

It’s Berlin in the 1930s. The comedy team Zeisig and Meyer (Michael Herbig and Jurgen Vogel) work at a successful cabaret, playing Stalin and Hitler. But their livelihood is threatened when the Nazi’s come to power, and political satire is no longer tolerated. An undercover Dutch communist, Frida, suddenly appears, and Zeisig, a notorious lothario, is smitten. Meyer goes into hiding, but Zeisig sees no reason to run. But eventually he must. He flees Berlin with fake papers and the name of a Moscow landmark: the Hotel Lux. Outside, it’s a stately building with a spinning red star on the roof. Inside it’s a rat-infested heap. And what he doesn’t realize is it’s also the epicenter of Stalinism, a hotel filled with the hardcore German communists in exile.

Every conversation is bugged. People are constantly dragged out of their rooms by a diminutive NKVD agent and accused of the worst possible crime: Trotskyism! And, due to a series of strange coincidences and mistaken identities, Zeisig, the Stalin impersonator, finds himself in meetings with Stalin himself. And his old friends, Meyer and Frida, both end up in Hotel Lux, too.

How will Zeisig get out if this mess? Will he have an influence on Stalin’s decisions? Will his true identity be discovered? And will Frida ever like him?

Like an Austrian comedy set in the same era, My Best Enemy, this movie doesn’t have any grave meanings or deep philisophyt to impart. Rather, it’s a fantasy set against a backdrop of the troubled thirties. Hotel Lux is just a cute, old-fashioned screwball comedy, with its history and politics filtered through the eyes of post-reunification Germany.

The_Rabbis_CatThe Rabbi’s Cat

Dir: Antoine Delesvaux and Joann Sfar (based on his graphic novels)

It’s 1920s in Algiers, part of the North African colony annexed by France. (It’s inhabited by Arabic-speaking Muslims and Jews, and their French speaking rulers.) Rabbi Safr lives with his beautiful but fiery daughter Zlabiya. But there normal life is interrupted by some strange things. His cat suddenly begins to speak, and wants to have religious debates. The dead body of a blond Russian man appears in a wooden crate of prayer books sent from Europe. And a cousin, who travels with a huge lion comes for a visit. The Rabbi Safr, accompanied by a Muslim sheikh, also named Safr, a Chagal-like artist, and an aristocratic white Russian, set off on a road journey in a Citroen. They are on a quest through northeast Africa to find an ancient hidden city, an African Jerusalem, the legendary land of giant Black- African Jews.

On their journey, they encounter nomads, Belgian colonists (in the form of a pink-skinned Tintin in a pith helmet), and pick up new members to join their group.

Joann Safr is a great, contemporary French cartoonist who creates fantastical imaginary worlds. This is the first animated version of his work I’ve seen, and it stays true to his comics. This is a great movie: funny, fantastical, and colourful, and featuring French-Algerian actors like Mohamed Fellag.

Redbud_Day28 (412 of 381).CR2To the Wonder

Dir: Terrence Malick

Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a single mother, meets Neil (Ben Affleck), an American tourist who is visiting France. They fall in love in scenic spots. Their love affair is extended when he invites her (and her daughter) to follow him back to America. Ah, America. Calm, rich, honest, she thinks as she pirouettes around her new Oklahoma backyard. Her whispered thoughts are an ongoing narration to her new life there. Ah… l’amour, l’amour, she whispers, turning another pirouette. Je t’aime. Her life is an avalanche of tenderness. Neil doesn’t speak, he just nods or grunts and goes out to check an oil pump.

OK, just so you know, I was describing a typical scene. But the whole movie is like that. It’s like a two-hour-long movie trailer, an endless montage of a bumpy, depressing relationship in an Oklahoma suburb. With a non-stop voiceover of the most painful poetry, the most awful French doggerel ever inflicted on my ears in one dose. I kind of liked Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life from two years ago (he supposedly spent a decade making it) but this one is worthless. I’m not even mentioning the various sub plots — Marina’s depression, a priest who talks to poor people, marital infidelity — because they barely add anything to this meandering, dull story. Avoid this movie at all costs, unless you are looking for two hours of pointless, superficial Hallmark images and loads of false solemnity.

To the Wonder opens today, check your local listings; and The Rabbi’s Cat and Hotel Lux are both playing this weekend: go to TJFF.ca for details.

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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