America, America. Films reviewed: Charlie’s Country, Mistress America, American Ultra

Posted in Australia, CIA, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, drugs, Indigenous, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 21, 2015

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

American Graffiti, American Gigolo, American Psycho, American Beauty… notice a pattern here? Hollywood is loathe to give up a trend as long as it’s still profitable. This week I’m looking at two new “America” movies and one from Northern Australia. There’s a drama about an Aboriginal hunter tied to the land, a comedy about two sisters not tied by blood, and an action thriller about a small town couple tied to their vaporizer.

P1Wr2A_charliescountry_01_o3_8713870_1438270187Charlie’s Country

Dir: Rolf de Heer

Charlie (David Gulpilil) is a hunter who lives on Aboriginal lands in Australia’s Northern Territory. All he wants is a job, a home and a place to practice the traditional ways: to take his spear and rifle into the bush, shoot a bird… and eat it. Sounds like a simple request. But the “whitefellas” (or “white bastards” as he sometimes calls them) seem to do everything they can to ruin his life.

While nominally still his land, it is strictly administered by govertnment agents who intrude into every aspect of his life. oYX82X_charliescountry_04_o3_8713994_1438270186They drive police cars and check anyone entering or leaving the Aboriginal lands. Charlie prefers to live-and-let-live, an existence not ruled by borders and fences. But when the government confiscates even his gun and spear… how is he supposed to hunt?

Meanwhile, the elders expect him to pass his knowledge on to the kids. It’s all too much for him so, remembering his earlier trips into the bush, Charlie sets off carrying nothing but his experience to guide him. But his beard is grey now… can he survive? Or will he brought to his knees by the government and police in Darwin?

vgLRg0_charliescountry_05_o3_8714054_1438270195Charlie’s Country is a casually paced film but one that packs a powerful punch. It’s told from Charlie’s point of view and in his language. Gulpilil co-wrote the script. He is fantastic in this movie, as is all the cast. He is also a legendary actor in Australia. I first saw him in the title role in Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout when I was just a kid. It disturbed meWalkabout poster at the time to see another boy die in a movie; maybe that’s why I remember it so well. It’s almost as if this movie continues that story and brings it up to date.

Though at times funny, it’s a moving look at the devastating effects of the government’s superficially well-meaning but ultimately destructive intrusions into the lives of its Aboriginal people.

image-cd5747c9-33fe-46ef-b347-3f0934d056ecMistress America

Dir: Noah Baumbach

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a college student in New York City. She’s smart, funny and drop-dead gorgeous. But school life is not kind to her. She has a crabby dorm-mate, no friends, no sex life… no life, period. An aspiring writer, her short story gets firmly rejected by the school’s literary club. Tracy’s mom is divorced, so she feels a bit uncomfortable to hear her mother is marrying some new guy she’s never met. But then she finds out her stepfather-to-be has a image-8b8d0511-0e6d-4bc2-9be7-5418ec1c4d2cdaughter living not far away in New York City. That means she has a sister – a fully-grown sister – that she can meet.

Her new sister Brooke (Greta Gerwig) is a blonde whirling dervish with ADHD. She’s in a band, she’s opening a restaurant, she has a boyfriend in Greece, everyone knows her, everyone loves her. She’s flashy, she’s trashy, she’s wordy but in an odd sort of way. And everything she image-e1cde435-260b-4fb2-9085-e834e858494ctouches turns to gold. That’s Tracy’s first impression. She wants either to be with her or become her. Meanwhile, ever the aspiring writer, she records everything Brook says or does… and turns it into a short story.

But as she gets to know her better she realizes Brook is teetering on the brink – a step away from bankruptcy and homelessness. So the two of them (plus two of Tracy’s non-friends) pile into a image-ee6ce8c2-edad-4e9b-bb05-5a0283bda293car for a field trip to Greenwich Connecticut. Brook figures it’s time to call in some favours from her former best friend. But how strong are the bonds tying these two non-sister together?

I liked this movie. Mistress America has an unusual structure. Tracy narrates the movie. The first part is life on campus and her fast-moving nights on the town with Brooke. The second part is more like a drawing-room comedy, with various characters playing out their parts at the Greenwich home. This makes the film feel a bit disjointed or unbalanced. But since I liked the two parts, I liked the whole movie a lot, too.

IH7A9142.CR2American Ultra

Dir: Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) Wri: Max Landis (Chronicle)

Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) lives in a small town in West Virginia where he works in a roadside convenience store. He lives in a shack with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), and the two of them spend most of their time totally baked on weed. He suffers from unexplained panic attacks but Phoebe is always there to talk him down. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he’s being watched, via satellite, by hidden cameras. And who is doing the watching? The CIA, a.k.a. “TheBL5U2102.CR2

Company”.

Yates (Topher Grace) is a pencil-pushing popinjay at The Company, who is drunk on power. He says he’s going to “terminate an asset”. By “asset” he means Mike, and by “terminate” he means kill. But Mike has an advocate of his own, a field agent named Lassiter (Connie BL5U8500.CR2Britton). She visits Mike on the sly to tell him what to expect – and possibly save his life. The thing is, Mike hasn’t a clue what she’s talking about. So either the CIA has made a big error, or Mike has a very poor memory. Or maybe some combination of both.

Whichever it is, Mike and Phoebe must somehow fight off a squadron of special-op psycho-killers who descend on the small town to get him. Can a lazy stoner and his girlfriend fight off the most dangerous killers in the world?

American Ultra is an unusual genre movie: it’s a Stoner Comedy Action Thriller. A S.C.A.T. And I think it’s the best S.C.A.T. so far. It’s funny, it’s exciting and it’s (intentionally) stoopid. Maybe not for everyone, but I liked it a lot.

American Ultra, Mistress America and Charlie’s Country all open today in Toronto; 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

Middle. Movies Reviewed: Salt of the Earth, Last Knights, While We’re Young

Posted in Action, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, photography by CulturalMining.com on April 3, 2015

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

While exciting things might happen at the fringe, people tend to aim for the centre. This week I’m looking at three movies about the middle. There’s a comedy about a middle-aged couple who try to regain their youth; an action drama set in the Middle Ages; and a documentary about a news photographer who always places himself in the middle.

© Sebastião SALGADO : Amazonas images This photo cannot be reproduced out of this context. The image must be reproduced in its entirety, no cropping, no modifications are allowed 2Salt of the Earth
Dir: Wim Wenders, Julian Ribeiro Salgado

Sebastiao Salgado is a photojournalist from Brazil. Trained as an economist he moved to Paris in the 1960s with his young wife. He soon realized he was in the wrong profession and became a news photographer, taking pictures of people in dramatic or disastrous circumstances. The Ethiopian Famine; the Rwandan © Sebastião SALGADO : Amazonas images This photo cannot be reproduced out of this context. The image must be reproduced in its entirety, no cropping, no modifications are allowedgenocide; the subsequent refugee crisis in Goma, Congo; and the Balkan wars. The movie opens with his masterpieces: unbelievable shots of pit miners swarming like ants up and down vast dirt walls in a Brazilian gold rush.

© Sebastião SALGADO : Amazonas images This photo cannot be reproduced out of this context. The image must be reproduced in its entirety, no cropping, no modifications are allowed 3His images are breathtaking, moving, informative and historically relevant, and they’re mimicked in the film’s cinematography. This guy is a great photographer. The movie gives you the photos, alongside the cameraman himself commenting on when he took them. It’s like looking through the world’s best photo album with the guy who took the snaps sitting beside you. Salt of the Earth is a documentary made by his son and Wim Wenders. With the stunning visuals, he comes across as earnest if a bit dry.

VVS_LstKnights_UltraVODPosterLast Knights
Dir: Kazuaki Kiriya

It’s the middle-ages. Raiden (Clive Owen) is the Commander of the 7th rank, widely known throughout the land for his fighting skills and discipline. He and the other knights are sworn to loyalty to their master. They’re well trained with the bow and arrow, and can cut down four enemies with a single sword. Their clan is headed by Milord, ruler of the Bartok lands (Morgan Freeman). Each year, the lords are summoned to the capital to pay tribute – as in bribe – to the emperor. But the gifts actually go TLKLH_D37-5869.CR2directly to a corrupt minister named Geeza Mott (Aksel Hennie: Max Manus). He’s effete, whiny, cruel and evil. You can tell because he spends more time with his black and white lapdog than with his wife. He pulls all the strings – the Emperor is just a figurehead.

TLKLH_D44-7495.CR2Bartok has had enough. He challenges Geeza but is executed for his insolence, his lands stolen and all his knights cut loose. Will Rainer and his men siege Geeza’s palace and avenge Bartok’s deat? Or will they all just give up?TLKLH_D18-725.CR2

This is an odd sort of movie. It has an amazingly diverse cast : African-American, British, Norwegian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Persian… you name it. Problem is a lot of the cast doesn’t speak English… they’re basically unintelligible. Not that the lines they’re stumbling through are that important anyway. What’s interesting is that this is a Japanese Samurai movie, reset in a multi-ethnic Europe of the middle ages. Geeza Mott is the Shogun, Bartok the Daimyo, Rainer and his crew are Samurai. (Think 47 Ronin in tights and tunics.) Even the sword fights are Japanese, not European style. The fights and battle scenes – though loaded with CGI – are very well done. See it for the action, not for the dialogue.

11052541_1460114650915742_7017630456054098766_nWhile We’re Young
Dir: Noah Baumbach

Cornelia and Josh (Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller) are a childless — and decidedly unhip — couple in their 40s living in New York City in . They once had great hopes of artistic achievement, but it didn’t quite work out. Ben has been making a documentary for more than 8 years with no sign of progress. He’s a purist who wrangles daily over the essence of his subject, when he should just be finishing it. And even though Cornelia is the daughter of a famous documentary filmmaker herself, Josh is much too proud to accept advice from his father in law.

Then something changes: he meets a young couple of aspiring filmmakers seemingly by chance – they crash one of his university lectures just to talk to him. They tell him he’s their hero. Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seiyfried) are just what Josh needs to regain his confidence, rejuvenate his ailing career and recesitate his marriage. He can get back in touch with his creative side. Cornelia is11026357_1454347351492472_304194366553560543_n suspicious at first, but soon is just as entranced as Josh is. They volunteer to help him with his documentary. They’re so casual, they’re not out for fame or fortune, they do it just for the art. Josh is in love.

Soon enough, they’re listening to the same 80s vinyl songs they used to laugh at. They’re attending weird native purges that involve puking. They’re hanging in crowded nightclubs with obscure bands. It’s like they were told the secret hipster handshake and given the keys to the city… of Bushwick. They adjust their wardrobes and lifestyles accordingly.

But all is not what it seems. Does the younger couple have ulterior motives?

While We’re Young is a good, light social comedy and not much more. It portrays Cornelia and Josh — a couple living in New York and working in a creative industry — as if they’d just arrived from a farm and never seen a hipster in their lives. Noah Baumbach is a very good filmmaker who happens to be dating a much younger woman (Greta Gerwig); perhaps this movie is a self-deprecating apology. He’s trying to make Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors but ends up with Meet the Fokkers. This is a formulaic, generation gap comedy.

Last Knights and While We’re Young both open today in Toronto, while Salt of the Earth opens next week. 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

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