Northwest. Movies reviewed: Amy, Rear Window, Testament of Youth PLUS NXNE

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Feminism, Movies, Mystery, Thriller, UK, War, Women, WWI by CulturalMining.com on June 19, 2015

North. Movies reviewed- Amy, Rear Window, Testament to Youth

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

It’s summertime here in the great white north, so I thought I’d talk about Northern films playing in Toronto. This week, there’s a Memoir of WWI set in North Western Europe, a classic voyeuristic suspense-thriller by the director of North By Northwest; and a documentary playing at NXNE.

4318843f-61a8-446d-921a-ccc683cf9ac1-1Amy
Dir: Asif Kapadia 

Amy Winehouse was a soulful jazz singer with an incredible voice. She was born in North London and dead by the age of 27. A new documentary fills in the missing years with grainy camera footage, voicemail messages, TV appearances, studio sessions and private snapshots. It follows her precipitously quick rise to stardom and all that goes with it. And London’s voracious, cannibalistic journo-papparazi who dog her every step. This is an excellent documentary of an artist killed by fame.

(Capsule review.)

AnW2N3_RW_Stewart_Kelly_2_o3_8642515_1433452249Rear Window
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock

It’s 1954. LB “Jeff” Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a news photographer for Life Magazine. He lives out of a suitcase in exotic locales in search of the ultimate cover story. But now, with a broken leg, he’s holed up in his inaccessible apartment that’s not friendly to wheelchairs. He’s visited in the daytime by Stella (Thelma Ritter) a plain talking nurse, and in the evening by his high-society girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly). Between visits he stares longingly out his back window at the array of apartments visible just across a courtyard. There’s a newlywed couple, a frustrated musician, a miss lonelyhearts looking for love, a busty single woman, and a travelling salesman with his bed-ridden wife. He’s the ultimate voyeur, witnessing the drama of countless lives displayed just out of his reach. But when he thinks he sees a crime, he feels impotent that there’s nothing he can do to help. And after his old pal the cop refuses to get involved in local squabbles, he enlists Stella and Lisa to launch potentially dangerous investigations that he watches through his rear window. Is it real, or just a man’s overactive imagination.

Rear Window is a fantastic classic Hitchcock movie that captures the frenetic overpopulated American city life in the 50s. It’s filmed with an unusual point of view. We see everything the way Jeff does, through his window looking at the rooms across the street. With so much of our time now spent staring at windows (meaning screens) Rear Window predates our voyeuristic digital lives by half a century.

IMG_0585.CR2Testament of Youth
Dir: James Kent

It’s 100 years ago in rural England. Teenaged Vera (Alicia Vikander) lives with her brother Edward (Taron EDGErton) and her mum and dad who made a small fortune in paper mills.

She’s smart, educated, creative and multilingual. She writes poetry. Vera is a twentieth century woman with a mind of her own, ready to explore the world. But the world isn’t ready for her – they treat women as silly and frivolous who shouldn’t waste their time studying at university. Just find a husband, her parents tell her, that’s what women are there for.

And she’s not at a loss for suitors. Young Victor (Colin Morgan) likes her a lot, but she thinks of him as just

IMG_2115.CR2a sweet boy. She thinks Roland (Kit Harrington) is a persistent pest (though they do fall in love eventually) Her musically inclined brother Edward and his best friend complete the quartet of young men in her life, and she spends time with all of them keeping up her end of discussions.

Vera is stubborn and driven woman and after a great struggle she lands a place at Oxford, a huge accomplishment at the time when women couldn’t even vote. But no sooner does she start to study when WWI breaks out and all four of the young men in her life rush to join the army for King and country. She wants to do her part too and signs up as a nurse, one of the few professions open to women. But war is not quick and it’s not easy. She ends up at makeshift medical camps in France where she sees death, disease and despair everywhere, on both sides. Who will survive this war, who will die and what will they learn from it all?

IMG_2464.CR2There’s some great acting in this movie, including Vikander – she played a sexy robot in Ex Machina, and the two parts couldn’t be more different. But Testament of Youth is based on the classic memoir which gives a rare female Point of View of WWI. So it doesn’t have a movie’s traditional compact story line. It’s plodding and episodic. It felt like a miniseries – a good one maybe with notable actors and high production values – but not one that’s very exciting or gripping or heartbreaking. I didn’t dislike it but it didn’t blow me away, either.

Testament of Youth opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Hitchcock’s Rear Window is screening in July as part of the series Technicolor Dreams. Go to tiff.net for the schedule. And Amy, along with films like Diamond Tongues and short films from Austin texas curated by Jonathan Demme, are all playing at NXNE films now through Sunday night: go to nxne.com for details.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Pavan Moondi and Nick Flanagan about their new film Diamond Tongues debuting at NXNE 2015

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Interview, Movies, Music, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on June 7, 2015

Nick Flanagan, Pavan Moondi, 2 Diamond Tongues  CIUT © 2015 cultural miningHi, this is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Edith is a young Toronto actor waiting for her big break. She even dumps her boyfriend so she can devote herself to her career. But ambition and moxie don’t translate into lead roles in hit movies. Despite her relentless auditions, she’s dt-print-2swimming upstream but never moving forward. Forced to deal with crowds of frenemies, mounting letdowns, awkward situations and countless humiliations, Edith is losing touch with her inner goodness.

Still in her early twenties, she’s turning bitter, friendless and alone. Only her bickering best friend Nick keeps her grounded. Is Edith’s heart in danger of turning to stone, with a tongue as sharp as diamonds?

Diamond Tongues is the name of a new film premiering at NXNE on June 21st. Co-DTONGUES-078-1380x918director/writer Pavan Moondi and star Nick Flanagan have created a quintessential Toronto indie film, a tightly-scripted comedy/drama about life as an actor on the hard city streets. I spoke with Nick and Pavan in studio at CIUT about artistic pursuit, acting, co-directing, “making money”, the Coen brothers, improvisation, montage, shooting during a blackout, Toronto, micro-budget films, music, authenticity, July Talk, “blood sausage”… and more!

NXNE 2013. Movies Reviewed: Filmage, All Out War PLUS Dirty Wars

Posted in B-Boys, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drones, Music, Punk, Uncategorized, US, War by CulturalMining.com on June 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.

NXNE is Toronto’s annual indie music festival. It works like this: Right now, all across the city, on the hour, in dozens of nightclubs and spaces, a different band sets up and plays one intense set, straight through. Then, at the next hour, another band plays, and so on and so on. Plus some really famous bands, like the National, playing for free tonight at Yonge-Dundas Square.

There are hundreds of bands in town for this, from across the country and around the world. Punk to dubstep, indie to experimental, folk rock to hip-hop… you name it, it’s here. And there are also music-related movies (that’s my territory), plus art shows, digital workshops, and even comedians. Quite the experience – you should check it out.

So this week I’m going to talk about two entertaining docs having their world premiers at NXNE, plus a very important one that’s in the news.

FILMAGE_movie_coverFilmage
Dir: Deedle Lacour, Matt Riggle

NXNE is full of rock docs, so you should choose one with music you enjoy. I liked this one, about a largely unknown 80s band called the Descendants. They played non-political, non-scene driven punk-pop like nobody’s business. Eschewing the standard punk clothing and song subjects, they hand scribbled their album covers and dressed however they wanted. They sang about life, love, farting and frustration: songs with non-stop guitars, bass and always, always drums. Their most famous album was Milo Goes to College.

Some of them were only 15 when they started, but the band Milo CU by Atiba Jeffersoncontinued on and off, in different guises for another couple decades. It’s said that they were a decade and a half too early. Listen to the music and judge for yourself. While Filmage isn’t exactly a thrilling documentary, it does have lots of great tracks, cartoon bits and vintage pics to complement the frequent talking heads.

NastyRayAll Out War
Dir: Robert Pilichowski

What was called break dancing or breaking in the 80’s was a form of impromptu street-side dancing that started up alongside rap, graffiti, and other elements of hiphop culture. That was then – this is now. All Out War is about some current B-Boys who engage in the dance form as an intense, corporate-sponsored competition.

Matches are set up, judgements are made, winners and losers are decided on. Dyzee, a Filipino-Canadian from Toronto wants to make something with his life, but has to watch out for competing crews who start gang fights to depose him. TheNessRoof2 Machine — rural, African-American – is doing well. In the deep south where he’s from, the machine says you prove your worth with the three B’s: B-Ball, B-Boy, and BBQ. Caspar’s a white kid from Hollywood, forced by his stage mom to earn money dancing in ridiculous costumes for TV appearances. And Alienness, an old-skool Latino breaker, once part of the rock-steady Crew is trying to get into Canada for the big competition, the All Out War, the King of the Ring.

If it sounds like a boxing competition, then they’re succeeding in their sports metaphor. The whole event is staged just like a boxing (or MMA) match, complete with an elevated boxing ring, a loud announcer, referees and judges who declare the winners. It’s a sudden- death competition, with each match eliminating one of the competitors.

But it makes you wonder – why did they choose boxing as the genre to imitate? Why not, say, skateboard competitions as the model? Or pole dancing? Or figure skating? If anything, it looks most like the Brazilian dance martial art capoeira. It’s almost as if they had to prove that while it’s a dance form it’s still completely macho and manly and all that (there are no women in this competition). Whatever, excellent precise, sharp photography shows some unbelievable moves, spinning on heads, tying themselves into knots and then flipping back to their feet: incredible. All Out War is a fun, wow-worthy competition to see.

From staged competition of all out wars to the nitty-gritty…

Jeremy Scahill in Somalia DIRTY WARS 1 Courtesy Mongreal MediaDirty Wars
Dir: Rick Rowley

Daoud, an Afghan policeman in Gardaz is shot dead at his home by American soldiers, along with three women (two pregnant), when he ventured outside from a birthday party. Then, unidentified special forces (described as “men with beards and muscles”) then dug the bullets out of the dead bodies with knives (to cover up the evidence) and left them to die. At first it was completely denied by the US government

Jeremy Scahill in Yemen DIRTY WARS 3 Courtesy Mongreal MediaThe movie follows investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill (the man who broke the Black Water scandal in Iraq) as he connects the dots, from Afghanistan, back to Iraq, and onward to Yemen, Mogadishu, and all over.

His big revelations made in this new movie, may be somewhat familiar to you, as the things he uncovered have made it to the front pages of newspapers:  the White House has made frequent statements, promises or out-and-out denials about Scahill’s work.. He shows how secretive special ops, like the previously unheard of JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) have spread around the world. Set up by Bush, they have run rampant Jeremy Scahill in Afghanistan Dirty Wars 4 Courtesy Mongrel Mediaduring Obama’s reign, operating in places where the US is not even at war, Like Yemen, sometimes even assassinating US citizens in their operations. The film outlines the war crimes he uncovered in a series of episodes. It’s a combination India Jones journalistic adventure, and a sad testament to the excesses of undeclared wars. And shows how it may be the special ops and drone attacks themselves – the dirty wars of the title – that are fueling the anger of future jihads.

Dirty Wars opens today in Toronto, and Filmage, and All Out War are both playing at NXNE this weekend. Go to nxne.com/film for details.

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

Daniel Garber speaks with VIBRATO the Human Vibrator Shawn Bordoff about the doc NO JOKE premiering at NXNE 2013

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Fetish, Movies, NXNE, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on June 14, 2013

https://danielgarber.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/daniel_interview_june14.mp3ImageHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? And if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound? How many hours have armchair philosophers and grade 10 stoners wasted discussing riddles like this?
But has anybody ever asked: what if you told a joked… and no one laughed?
Well one filmmaker, Matt Frame, decided to look at this question in detail. He launched a troupe of “special” stand-up comics (ones who drew silent responses from audiences) on a trip across North America. Along with manager Shawn Bordoff — aka Vibrato ‘The Human Vibrator’ — he decided to see how long comics could survive without a laugh, and what they could do to change their delivery. The results are in a new film called NO JOKE that has its world premier at NXNE on Saturday, June 15 at 6:30.
And I’m pleased to have the Human Vibrator himself (co-producer Shawn Bordoff) here in the studio to talk with me. Shawn explains what the tour was like, why they did it, what young comics can learn from their experience…. and what it’s like being a human sexual vibrator!

Is Toronto Broken? Movies Reviewed: This Movie is Broken, Thomas Pynchon: a Journey into the Mind of P

Do you ever get the feeling the city is broken? That everything is splitting apart at the seams? A honking parade of cars promoting exuberant football nationalism every time a ball enters a net half a world away, bringing traffic to a halt for a half a day with whistles, buzzing vuvuzelas and rhythmic car horns. And south of there, something more sinister: rows of riot police securitizing the crowned heads from potential cherry bombs, demanding photo ID’s from subway riders and arresting people as they come out for resembling someone “described in an anonymous phone call, ma’am”.

And making sure nobody gets too close to the downtown Freedom Fence. Yup, the G-20 is in town. Aah… I love the smell of teargas in the morning.

What to do? Well, you can always rub that magic lantern and end up at a movie. And if you’re feeling really rebellious, go to an indie movie in an underground movie theatre. Escapism does have a purpose after all.

One movie that seems especially appropriate is called “This Movie is Broken: a Rock Show Romance”, directed by Bruce McDonald (who did Road Kill, Hard Core Logo, and Pontypool), and written by Don McKellar. I caught it at last week’s NXNE music festival.

This is a totally Toronto movie, a concert film shot last summer, featuring Broken Social Scene, with a bunch of guest musicians all up on a stage at Harbourfront. But it’s also a very low key “boy meets girl” story.

The guy (Greg Calderone) tells his best buddy that he just woke up in bed, not with just anyone, but with the woman he had a crush on as a nine year old. His ultimate crush. Pretty, sophisticated Caroline (Georgina Reilly) is studying anthropology in Paris. Can you believe it? His blonde bearded buddy (played by Kerr Hewitt, wearing what a friend of mine refers to as an ironic hat) gets him to play up his status. When Caroline says she’s too busy to hang out that night, he casually says that’s too bad, cause I coulda got us a back stage pass at the Broken Social Scene concert. Oh yeah? says Caroline. That’s what I’m busy doing tonight. Oops. So he has to somehow get her into the concert by hook or by crook. Like I said, it’s a concert movie and a lightweight romance.

But I thought it went together perfectly. I’m not a follower of the band, so as an outsider – not a music critic or a fan of the group – I really enjoyed, and was totally entranced by the performances. This is one of those cases where just the story would have been too silly, and just the concert would have been too concert-y for me, but the sum total was just right.

Interestingly, the movie was shot last summer during the contract dispute (between the city government and the public workers, when no garbage was collected and it was deposited instead in city parks and baseball diamonds, with the garbage mountains reaching epic proportions). So it’s good, gritty, scenic Toronto. Since we survived that we can survive this, too.

Another movie I stumbled upon at NXNE, that should be easy to find online — it was made nine years ago. It’s a German/Swiss documentary: “Thomas Pynchon: a Journey into the Mind of P.”, directed by Donatello and Fosco Dubini.

This is a weird one! Pynchon is the guy who wrote the momentous tome Gravity’s Rainbow, and the more compact novel with the shorter name V. His books, and the movie itself, covers the huge, disturbing themes and incidents that obsessed people in the 69’s and 70’s: The Cuban Missile Crisis, the cold war, The assassination of JFK, the Vietnam war, LSD, the CIA, rockets to the moon… stuff like that. So, naturally, an obsessive cult has sprung up around this writer. What does he look like? Where does he live? Pynchon is known as a recluse who has never had his picture taken and whose personal information is kept, well, private.

So, apparently, urban legends about the guy abound. Did he use to dress up as a woman to go to bookstores unrecognized? Did he meet Lee Harvey Oswald on a crucial airplane trip? What’s his real connection to Timothy Leary? And the CIA? And who really showed up to accept the National Book Award for Gravity’s Rainbow?

And in the background to all these strange unexplained mysteries is footage of subway rides sped up, and music slowed down featuring The Replacements. Warped 60’s pop hits slowed down and distorted till they sounds like this: Yummy Yummy yummy I’ve got love in my tummy… and C’mon baby light my fire… but stuck in tar. And then a train goes into a tunnel… I wonder that means? It’s a strange, low-budget, pop culture documentary about the followers of the Pynchon cult, and worth seeing.

But if you want some real escapism, to get away from it all, there are two new places in Toronto to do that. First, there will be two days of free movies at Carlton and Yonge street in the theatre there. It used to be the Cineplex Carlton, but closed a while back, and is now being re-opened as the Magic Lantern Carlton Theatre. It’s part of the same chain that operates the Rainbow Theatres, which are a little cheesy but a lot of fun, and always packed with students on a budget – they charge lower prices than the big chains, but show first-run movies on the old Cineplex-style small screens.

So now’s your chance to see all the ones you wanted to catch – academy award nominees, good kids movies, foreign films – all at one place. You can see Sarah Polley’s movie Away from Her, based on an Alice Munroe story about Alzheimers, the really great animated Fantastic Mr Fox, The Japanese movie Departures, about funerals, Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, and even How to Train your Dragon – an animated kids movie about a Viking kid who meets a dragon, but a really good one that all ages can enjoy.

I liked it.

Another movie theatre that recently opened downtown is the aptly named Toronto Underground Cinema. I last went to that theatre when it was the Golden Harvest, one of the last Chinese language movie houses – it’s at 186 Spadina, north of Queen. I still remember watching a Hong Kong zombie comedy (zom-com) where they put on the third reel of the film right after the first reel – and no one noticed for a while, everyone just thought the plot was a bit jumpy.

The theatre still has that slightly off-beat, don’t-know-what-to-expect feel about it. The Toronto Underground is deep underground, literally. It’s a nice big place, good stage and screen, popcorn, and cool old plumbing fixtures. The three guys who run this theatre program everything from amazing documentaries like “Gasland”, to cult classics like “Lady Terminator”, to present-day schlock like “MacGruber”.

They seem to be reviving the double feature – putting together two good movies that go together. If you’re in the mood this weekend, and really want to escape, what could be better than “Hot Tub Time Machine” matched with “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. Toronto Underground is another theatre that attracts noisy and fun audiences ready to hoot and holler at the good parts.

This city is not broken at all  —  you just have to know where to go.

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