Meandering Movies. Films reviewed: A Date for Mad Mary, Nostalgia, Goethe Films: Ulrike Ottinger in Asia, PLUS Oscar Predictions!

Posted in Coming of Age, Death, Drama, Experimental Film, Feminism, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Lesbian, LGBT by CulturalMining.com on March 2, 2018

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

Some movies have linear narratives – stories that move in a straight line from start to finish — but occasionally you can find movies that take a more circuitous route. This week I’m looking at some meandering movies. There’s a path to a wedding in Ireland, a journey to Asia from Germany, and a search for keepsakes in America.

But first…

Oscar Predictions, 2018

Here’s a list of who I think should win, and who I think will win.

A few caveats: I’m usually wrong, though this year my choices of the best movies of 2017 (published in December) is very close to the Oscar nominations (including Get Out, Call Me By Your Name, Three Billiards Outside Ebbing Missouri, and The Shape of Water — all nominated for Best Picture; plus Loveless and A Fantastic Woman, both nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.) Does this mean I’ve been a movie critic for too long and my taste is getting worse? Or that the Academy’s choices are getting better?

I haven’t seen three of the nominated movies, so for these I can only go by what I’ve been told:

Darkest Hour – I couldn’t bring myself to watch this; I’m all Churchilled out. No more Churchill, please.

Phantom Thread is probably great but you have to be in the mood to watch a Paul Thomas Anderson movie. And I haven’t been in that mood yet.

And I Tonya – I just haven’t seen it yet, but plan to soon.

Adapted screenplay

James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name). Should win and will win.

Original screenplay

Should win: That’s a real toughie, I have no idea which should win; there are too many good ones to choose just one.

Will win: I’m guessing Greta Gerwig (Ladybird). ✘ (Jordan Peele won for Get Out)

Best foreign film:

I loved Loveless, but I think A Fantastic Woman should win and will win.

Best Actor

Should win: Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)

Will win: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

Best Actress

Should win and will win

Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Best Supporting Actor

Should win: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Will win: Willem Dafoe (Florida Project) ✘ (Sam Rockwell won.)

Best Supporting Actress

Should win: Laura Metcalfe (Ladybird)

…but everyone tells me Allison Janney will win for I, Tonya

Best Director

I think Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) should win and will win.

Best Film

Again, I think The Shape of Water should win and will win.

 

A Date for Mad Mary

Dir: Darren Thornton

Mary (Seána Kerslake) is a pretty young woman who lives at home with her mom and grandmother. She likes Tank Girl, Hello Kitty and her best mate Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) They used to be inseparable but things have changed. Charlene’s getting married, and Mary is the maid of honour but she can’t find anyone to be her date to the wedding. She enlists a Polish matchmaker to set her up with a series of men. Problem is she’s a foul-mouthed heavy drinker who is quick to anger. Her last brawl led to six months in the clink. And now she’s finding it hard to find a guy she likes who also likes her. As her grandma said, even a sniper wouldn’t take her out.

But things get better when she meets Jess (Tara Lee), the videographer for Charlene’s wedding. Jess is a singer in a band and Mary likes her style. And she’s a good influence too: Mary feels comfortable around Jess and maybe… there’s something deeper.

I really enjoyed A Date for Mad Mary, a coming-of-age drama about a misfit who is trying to fit in. Very well-acted, especially Seána Kerslake as Mary. It’s a touching drama loaded with salty oneliners.

Nostalgia

Wri/Dir: Mark Pellington

Daniel (John Ortiz) is a reserved, middle aged man who works for an insurance firm. He helps asses the monetary value of possessions, so clients can decide what’s valuable to them. This can range from a lifetime of accumulated detritus, to a single possession. Helen (Ellen Burstyn) for example only has a few pieces of jewelry and an autographed baseball she grabbed as her entire house burnt to the ground. Brother-and-sister Donna and Will (Catherine Keener and Jon Hamm) are forced to look through endless boxes in their late parents’ attic to decide what to keep and what to give away. These are just a few of the stories in a loosely-linked chain of vignettes about possessions and keepsakes.

Nostalgia is a nicely-photographed film with a stellar cast whose characters segue from scene to unrelated scene. The problem is the movie has no plot, the stories don’t follow any particular order, and the only thing that connects them all is the theme. Worse than that, a third of the movie is taken up by characters weeping, a third with them bitterly sniping at one other, and a third pondering the meaning of life in painfully drawn-out voiceovers.

This is like a Hallmark movie if they only printed the kind of cards you give to people at funerals.

Ugh. Avoid this movie at all costs.

Goethe Films: Ulrike Ottinger in Asia

Ulrike Ottinger is a lesser-known German filmmaker who emerged in the 1970s alongside Von Trotta, Herzog and Fassbinder. Born by the Alpen city of Lake Constance, she studied art in Paris around the time of the riots of 1968. She ran a bar in her home town, a welcome place for men with long hair and women who smoke cigars. She started as a visual artist before deciding on film as her ideal medium.

By the early 1970s she moved to Berlin, establishing herself as a lesbian feminist director, pioneering avante-garde film. Her work was highly stylized, combining over-the-top expressionistic acting with a pop-art aesthetic. Full of bright blues and reds, Ottinger incorporated medieval motifs, bare-breasted Wagnerian women, leaping pigs and crashing waves. Her interests range from food preparation to textiles, her characters from luxurious femininity to militant and radical feminists. And keeping true to her avant garde roots, she eschews strictly linear narratives, choosing instead the more realistic “meandering” style.

One running theme is her reverent and deferential view of the foreign, especially of East Asia. These films in particular — plus a biographical documentary about her life’s work, called Nomad from the Lake (directed by Brigitte Kramer) — are being shown as a mini-retrospective by Toronto Goethe Institute. This includes Under Snow, a combination kabuki-style drama and documentary. It shows life in Japan’s snow country around New Year’s day at a hot spring onsen. From there it takes viewers to Sado island, a land of exile, seemingly populated by clockwork automatons working in the gold mines. In Exile Shanghai she looks at Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany to that Chinese city in the 1930s and 40s. And Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia about European women encountering that country.

Ottinger’s unique and often-imitated style of filmmaking gives viewers an aesthetically pleasing look at the odd, freakish and mysterious.

Nostalgia opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. A Date for Mad Mary is tonight’s opening film at TIRFF, the Toronto Irish Film Festival; and the mini-retrospective Goethe Films: Ulrike Ottinger in Asia is also playing now. Both festivals are screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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

Best Movies of 2017

Posted in Movies by CulturalMining.com on December 29, 2017

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

New Year’s Eve is just around the corner.

Once again, the Cassandras are predicting the end of Hollywood, and the death of movies. Certainly, it’s been a trying year. Politically, the change in US president combined with the widespread use of social networking as a news source has spearheaded a widespread attack on journalistic integrity. And the exposure of sexual harassment in movies and TV meant a loss of credibility in the Hollywood infrastructure. Brexit – if it goes through – could damage cultural production in both Europe and the U.K. The big studios are consolidating like crazy. Disney just bought Fox, and a Timewarner/Comcast merger is in the works. Net neutrality is out the window. Finally the big studios are releasing their movie plans years in advance, which seem to consist solely of cartoons, space movies, superheroes and comedies based on bad TV shows.  And in Canada the government signed a sweetheart deal with Netflix, saying the media giant should produce Canadian content… but only if they feel like it. No pressure! And no tax on your Netflix bill!

Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Then how come there were so many fantastic movies this year. So many I can’t possibly put all the great ones on my list of the best of 2017.

But here goes, in no particular order – my list of movies that played in Toronto – either in theatres or at film festivals in 2017. These are all movies that moved, surprised and delighted me in some way. (Not included: documentaries and animation.)

First two movies that were made the previous year but finally reached the big screen in 2017:

I, Daniel Blake is Ken Loach’s deeply moving look at an ordinary guy screwed by by British austerity measures.

Certain Women is Kelly Reicharts look at women out west who don’t quite get it right.

Honourable mentions to the surprising crime drama Good Time, the subtle A Ghost Story, and the funny Wilson.

Next some genre movies I really liked:

Get Out is a dryly funny and satiric horror movie played out against the backdrop of the American racial divide.

Verónica is a Spanish movie set in the early 1990s about a teenaged girl in Catholic school who lets loose demons when she plays with a Ouija board during a solar eclipse.

Now some fantastic movies that opened in the fall and are still playing.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a cutely violent story of a woman – played by Frances McDormand – trying to bring to justice the unknown killer of her daughter.

Call Me Your Name is a flawless take on first love in Italy in the early 1980s. It’s not the sappy sentimental story it looks like in the trailer, but an intelligent and subtle drama.

The Shape of Water is about a mute cleaning woman working in a government lab in the Cold War 1960s who falls for a man who is part fish.

There are many more great movies – like Ladybird, Florida Project, Wonderstruck, Happy End, Thelma, BPM and The Square – that should also be mentioned.

Here are some movies made in 2017 but scheduled for release in the new year, that must be seen.

Lean on Pete is a touching and realistic tale of a kid and the horse he takes care of, setting off in a journey in unknown territory.

Loveless is a heart-wrenching story of a kid in Moscow who runs away from home after he overhears his parents say neither of them wants him.

Foxtrot is a sharply satiric comedy drama that looks at a middle aged couple who discovers their son — who works at a military checkpoint – might be dead.

A Fantastic Woman is about a woman whose life falls apart when her lover dies, and his family discovers she is a transwoman.

Sweet Country is set in the Australian outback in the early 20th century. Its a classic western, but told for once from the indigenous point of view.

And finally, The Captain, is a fast moving, jaw-dropping, absurdist drama about a German deserter at the end of WWII. He puts on an officer’s uniform, totally changing his identity, status and sense of morality.

As usual, I had a whole year to decide but end up scribbling down my choices right before I record it. So I’m sure I left out a lot of great movies, but hopefully you will catch some of these.

Once again, the list:

The Captain, Sweet Country, A Fantastic Woman, Foxtrot, Loveless, Lean on Pete, The Shape of Water, Call me By Your Name, Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri, Veronica, Get Out, Certain Women, I Daniel Blake.

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 movie critic Simon Howell about the Oscars

Posted in Cultural Mining, Hollywood, Movies by CulturalMining.com on February 24, 2017

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

Hooray for Hollywood. Yes, it’s Oscar time again, with the excessive glitz and glamour that goes with the award ceremony: things like 100,000 dollar swagbags, and a red carpet to show off a parade of dresses. Then there’s the awards themselves, the celebration of an increasingly rarefied and incestuous genre that some say exists only for the awards themselves. And yet… as many as a billion people still watch it – including me.

To help me talk about the Oscars and present our (probably) wrong predictions, I invited movie pundit Simon Howell.  Simon co-hosts two podcasts: one focused on genre film called Sordid Cinema, and another The Lodgers, a Twin Peaks podcast, that he also produces. Previously a music and talk show host at CJLO in Montreal, Simon is an “avid devotee of all forms of expression that let you remain invisible.”

I spoke to Simon Howell in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

Out of Their Element. Movies reviewed: Triple 9, Only Yesterday, Where to Invade Next PLUS Oscar predictions

Posted in 1990s, Animation, comedy, Coming of Age, Corruption, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Japan, Movies, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on February 26, 2016

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

The White Oscars are on this Sunday, and here are some of my predictions. But beware: I’m often completely wrong.

Animated feature: Pete Docter & Jonas Rivera (Inside Out) ✓
Foreign language: Ciro Guerra (Embrace the Serpent) X
Documentary: Amy (Asif Kapadia & James Gay-Rees) ✓
Original screenplay: Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) ✓
Adapted screenplay: Emma Donoghue (Room) X
Supporting actor: Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight) X
Supporting actress: Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) X
Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) ✓
Actress: Brie Larson (Room) ✓
Director: Lenny Abrahamson (Room) X
Best picture: Room X

This week I’m looking at movies about people out of their element. There’s a documentary about a Michigander in Europe, an action/thriller about Atlanta bank robbers in a cop shop, and a Japanese anime about a Tokyo dweller on a farm.

gallery_onesheetTriple 9
Dir: John Hillcoat

Early one morning, Russel and Gabe, Marcus and Jorge (Clifton Collins Jr) and their leader Michael pull of a perfect bank robbery in Atlanta, taking lots of cash, and leaving no fingerprints. Why are they so good at it? Because they’re cops… crooked cops. They split the cash and prepare to pull off gallery_chrisjeffreyjust one more robbery.

Problem is there’s a new cop in town named Chris (Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone) investigating this crime. He’s a straight arrow. He’s looking for clues around the Latino section of Atlanta with a gang war in proigress. He doesn’t realize that his partner Marcus (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker) is crooked.

In fact the street gangs have nothing to do with the bank heist, gallery_michaelelenait’s tied to organized crime. Specifically: the Russian mob, headed by Irina (Kate Winslet, Titanic), the blond Russian kingpin.  (…Queenpin?) She’s running her hubby’s Kosher meat empire while he’s behind bars. And what’s the police connection? Policeman Mike (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Twelve Years a Slave) is married to Irina’s beautiful sister Elena (Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman) – and they have a black, Jewish kid gallery_irinaparkinglottogether (named Drake?).

That’s not all. Russell and Gabe (Norman Reedus, The Walking Dead; Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad) are brothers, and Chris – who is Marcus’s detective partner – is the son of another cop (Woody Harrelson, Rampart) His dad smokes pot and expects freebies from his transsexual prostitute informant, but he’s considered “not corrupt”. Which group will triumph — good cops or bad cops? Criminals or the mob?

All clear now? I didn’t think so. This is such a confusing movie. There are a dozen important characters each with his own reason for double-crossing someone else. Triple 9 has a great illustrious cast, but they’re wasted in this messy, shoot-em-up, cops and robbers story. Not boring… just pointless.

48vgKk_Only_Yesterday_Trailer_o3_8939181_1455135765Only Yesterday
Dir: Takahata Isao

It’s the early 1990s in Tokyo. Maeko is an office worker in her late 20s, who finds life dull and pointless. So to perk things up she decides to go back to the land… on vacation, at least. She pays money to a farming family to let her help them with the harvest of WnK5vg_Only_Yesterday_credit__1991_Hotaru_Okamoto_-_Yuko_Tone_-_GNH_(1)_o3_8935474_1455135738safflower blossoms.

The long journey by train gives her time to think and remember. Almost unbidden, memories of her childhood come flooding back. When she was in grade 5, everything — like her first crush, first tampon, even her first taste of a fresh pineapple — seemed much more JZKORD_Only_Yesterday_credit__1991_Hotaru_Okamoto_-_Yuko_Tone_-_GNH_(4)_o3_8935564_1455135750important.

Life on the farm also gives her a connection to a greater history: how the safflowers crushed by once-poor farmers becomes the rouge used by rich city women to blush their cheeks. Even the runoff water becomes the pink dye used for the clothing she wears. The people she meets there — especially Toshio, the goofy country guy who clearly qjpO93_Only_Yesterday_credit__1991_Hotaru_Okamoto_-_Yuko_Tone_-_GNH_(5)_o3_8935596_1455135751likes her — seem more real, more important than her “friends” in the city. But what will she do when the summer is over?

Only Yesterday is a 25-year-old animated film from famed Ghibli studios, rereleased in English with Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel providing the voices of Maeko and Toshio. I have mixed feelings about this one. I like how it deals with real life problems and its beautiful animation, with bright colours for the 1990s Maeko and faded, old-fashioned illustrations for her as a child. But there’s a super-earnest tone to it, with lots of educational bits, like a kids’ show on NHK (Japan’s public TV). And it has some long silent parts, without sound effects or music, that make you squirm.

Much like Maeko’s childhood memories, the film somehow seems better in retrospect than while you’re watching it.

acbcc98e-e19f-4532-b534-2424684a1e6aWhere to Invade Next
Dir: Michael Moore

More Americans – especially African Americans and Latinos — are in prison than in any other country in the world. Decent education and health care are still out of reach for many people, with spiraling debt and falling incomes. How can America solve its huge social problems? It’s easy, says Michael Moore. Let’s invade Europe again and take home its best ideas. Armed only with an American flag and a camera, Moore visits the best parts of the EU to record its plusses. Like affordable, delicious school lunches in France, complete with 19 cheeses; the kids shudder fb3cab01-2368-4ad7-83d1-a6beb0ed251dto see Moore guzzling a can of Coke. Or free universities in Slovenia. Generous union contracts in Italy. There are open prisons in Norway that reintegrate prisoners back into society. When the stock market crashed in Iceland they arrested the brokers responsible. And Germany makes sure its school kids know all about the atrocities in their history. (We should be so lucky.)

The movie starts with a fast-moving, hard-hitting news 5ea9a85c-ecb6-4e85-8337-1504b51ab17amontage about American life, well worth the price of the film. After that, it’s a gentle, cute, and completely enjoyable travelogue of the best of Europe. (The film was made before the huge influx of Syrian refugees, where some European countries are showing their uglier sides… but that’s a different movie.) Basically, Where to Invade Next is like a travel guide to places where Bernie Sanders’ election promises are already in place.

Triple 9, Only Yesterday, and Where to Invade Next all open today: check your local listings. And if you’re into wolverines — not X-Men, the real thing — check out the rare footage in Wolverine: Ghost of the Northern Forest, a new documentary on CBC’s the Nature of Things this weekend.

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

Past and Future. Movies reviewed: Svengali, 45 Years PLUS Oscars So White

Posted in Canadian Screen Awards, Cultural Mining, Movies, Music, Romance, UK, Wales by CulturalMining.com on January 22, 2016

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

One of the big cultural stories this week was the whiteness of all the actors nominated for an Oscar. The reason isn’t the Academy’s voting patterns. It’s because Hollywood just doesn’t make “Oscar-type” movies starring non-white characters. It doesn’t cast black actors in those types of roles. TV movies, comedies, action-thrillers, yes, but “serious” Hollywood movies — historical dramas, movies adapted from books, or biopics? Almost never.

d49101d5-8581-4eba-9138-f91214bab2edBut what about Canada? Do actors in movies here look like us? I’m surprised that the cultural pundits, even on CBC radio, failed to mention Canadian Screen Awards nominees when talking about the Oscars. Take a look: Waris Ahluwalia and Balinder Johal (from Beeba Boys) and Irdens Exantus  (My Internship in 12080363_1650555245182508_6174572057209938197_oCanada) are just a few of the many multicultural faces in this year’s movie nominees.

This week, I’m looking at two UK movies. A light drama about a young couple from Wales with a rock’n’roll future, and a heavy drama about an elderly couple in Norfolk with a message from the past.

Svengali_Stills_0612Svengali

Dir: John Hardwick

Dixie (Jonny Owen) is a youngish guy from small town Wales. People say he has golden ears – he can tell great rock music the moment he hears it – and he aims to discover the next Beatles, Sex Pistols or Oasis. One day he hears a band on youtube and decides that’s the band I want to manage. He heads off to London with his girlfriend Shell (Vicky McClure) and his collection of 45s.

Convincing the band is easy – all it takes is a few cans of beer.SVENGALI_CAST_JONNY_AND_VICKY But connections prove more difficult. His childhood friend Horsey (Roger Evans) is now a record label exec. But he’s also a douchey hipster of the worst calibre who sneers at Dixie’s smalltown ways. Dixie dresses in chainstore mod revival outfits and carries his band’s demo songs – on cassette tapes, no less – in grocery bags.

Svengali_Stills_0651But things start to snowball when he books them at a pub. The show is a disaster – igniting a near riot — but that’s exactly what he needs. Almost instantly the band’s music is on the BBC, their pics appear in NME, and the band members get booked on a football talk show. All for a group that has yet to sign to a record label.

But at the same time, Dixie is bleeding money. On the brink MG_3095of success he’s also flat broke, nearly homeless, pursued by loan sharks, and worst of all, his girlfriend Shell – the love of his life – might leave him. Will he make it big in London, or return to his country ways?

Svengali is a cute, low-budget fish-out-of-water comedy. Jonny Owen and the gang are fun to watch and the sountrack is catchy. It’s also a self-consciously retro tribute to the good old days of rock and roll. It’s full of handbills, cassette tapes, vinyl 45s and record contracts written on paper. It feels like an aging millennial mimicking a rocker from the 80s who is imitating a mod from the 60s. But even with the stock characters and predictable plot, I enjoyed it anyway.

6a1cfe62-844f-4158-816c-b1800241235d45 Years

Dir: Andrew Haigh (based on a short story by David Constantine)

Geoff and Kate Mercer (Tom Courtenay, Charlotte Rampling) live in a small town in Norfolk, England. They have a happy, if uneventful, life, as they enjoy their retirement years. Sex is a chore. Conversation is routine. Their friends are annoying. They have dogs, not kids or grandkids. Geoff is forgetful, Kate a bit surly and depressed. And then there are the health issues. But they do have each other. They fit together like hands in old leather gloves. They know everything there is to know about each other. And they’re getting ready for their 45th wedding anniversary. 45 years of faithful marriage. Then a letter arrives from Switzerland.

They have recovered a body from a glacier in the Alps. A be5824c6-6d9d-48eb-b2bf-3fb9a9edf94bwoman who died 50 years earlier, but whose body is only revealed now, due to global warming. And Geoff is listed as next of kin. What?

Turns out, there was another woman. Did he cheat on her? No this was before he married Kate. But he still seemed to carry a torch for this young love. And up in the attic, packed away, are letters and slides, evidence of a relationship Kate never knew about. Has their half-century together been just an afterthought? And will the big event – the 45th anniversary party in a rented hall – even take place?

66dbabff-5c1c-449f-a8ad-aa66e1279d2745 Years is a well-acted film about love and relationships. I could call it introspective, thoughtful and subtly nuanced, and that would be true. Definitely no overacting in this movie. Charlotte Rampling is nominated for an Oscar for this role, and Tom Courtenay is another beloved actor known for his working class characters. Thing is – dare I say it? – I thought it was dull. Dull, drab and slow-moving. It was like the French movie Amour, but without death, dementia, intrigue or suspense. It’s not a bad movie (it’s infinitely more complex than the light Svengali) and it’s not that I disliked it, but I was underwhelmed.

45 Years open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Svengali is now available online and VOD. You can view the Canadian Screen Awards nominees here.

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

Oscar Time! Movies reviewed: Omar, The Great Beauty

Posted in Action, Cultural Mining, Drama, Espionage, Italy, Morality, Movies, Palestine, Romance, Suspicion, Torture by CulturalMining.com on February 28, 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.

Oscars 2014It’s time for my Oscar picks. Warning – I’m almost always wrong.

Best Actor. Should win: Matt McConoughey. Will win: Chiwetel Ejiofor.

WINNER: Matt McConoughey X

Best Actress. Should win: Judy Dench. Will win: Cate Blanchett.

WINNER: Cate Blanchett

Best Supporting Actor. (No idea… Jared Leto?)

WINNER: Jared Leto

Best Supporting Actress. Should win: Lupita Lyongo. Will win: Jennifer Lawrence.

WINNER: Lupita Lyongo X

Best Documentary. Should win: Act of Killing. Will win: 20 Feet from Stardom.

WINNER: 20 Feet from Stardom

Best Director. Should win — Steve McQueen. Will win:  Russell or Cuaron

WINNER: Alfonso Cuaron

Best Picture. 12 Years a Slave (Should win and will win.)

WINNER: 12 Years a Slave

Best Movie in a Foreign Language. Should win: The Hunt. Will win: The Great Beauty.

WINNER: The Great Beauty

Sunday, March 2, 2014 ,  midnight. Oscars Results: My predictions weren’t bad this year — I got 6 or 7 out of 9 correct. The two I got wrong were winners I labeled “should win” not “will win”: Lupita Lyongo, and Matthew McConoughey.  And I gave myself two “will win” options for best director (Russell or Cuaron).

So, in keeping with this theme, this week I’m looking at two movies nominated for best foreign language picture. One’s a dramatic thriller from the Palestinian Territories about a young man caught between a rock and a hard place; the other is a nostalgic look at contemporary Rome.

Omar_ Adam BakriOmar

Dir: Hany Abu-Assad

Omar (Adam Bakri) is a young Palestinian who works in a one-man pita bakery. He’s a clean-scrubbed guy with an indefatigable spirit. Nimble on his feet, Omar can climb a three-storey wall — and back again — in a few seconds. And climb he does, over the Separation Wall that runs along the long border between Israel and the Occupied Territories. Because walls mean nothing to Omar — the border is porous, an arbitrary line.

Why does he cross the wall? Ostensibly to visit Tarek – serious, stern (Iyad Hoorani) and Amjad, a teller of jokes (Samar Bisharat).

But his real motivation is Nadia (Leem Lubany) Tarek’s younger sister, who lives on the other side of the wall. Omar is as tall dark and handsome as Nadia is kind, witty and beautiful with tousled black hair. Omar, Bakri, Lubany

One day he’s stopped by a particularly cruel unit of the border patrol. The Israelis are about his age, but they beat him up and publically humiliate him. A shift in Omar’s thinking?

So he joins Tarek and Amjad for a planned action. They are all prospective members of the militant Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. Their initiation? A shooting. Omar doesn’t personally kill anyone but he’s the one arrested.

Omar, Zuaiter, BakriIn prison, he’s tortured and interrogated. Finally he’s approached by a member of Al Aqsa. He warns Omar that spies are everywhere – they’ll pretend to make friends with him to get him to confess. The only way out is to collaborate with the Israelis – and any collaboration will last forever. His words are prophetic.

Soon enough, he’s out again, working to marry his love, trying to find the traitor who gave up his name, and, meanwhile, regularly speaking from a phone booth with his Israeli contact Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter) an Arabic-speaking agent.

Whose side is he on? Which side does he really support? Can he even trust his friends, his love, his fellow militants?

Omar is a dramatic thriller about the Israel/Palestine conflict told decidedly from the Palestinian point of view. As a drama, it shows the psychologically draining toll non-stop surveillance takes on the lives of Omar BakriPalestinians. The movie’s done like a chess game: each side makes a move, countered by his opponent. But you soon see there are multiple chessboards, operating simultaneously, with countless players, alliances and betrayals until it’s hard to figure out who is black and who is white.

The acting is great, especially Adam Bakri and Leem Lubany as the young lovers, and Waleed F. Zuaiter as Omar’s handler. While not perfect, this is a thoughtful, informative and disturbing film, one that makes you think… and then rethink.

01_Toni_Servillo_La_grande_bellezza_foto_di_Gianni_FioritoA Great Beauty

Wri/Dir: Paolo Sorrentino

Jep (Toni Servillo) is a bon vivant living in the floating world of contemporary Rome. It’s still the Dolce Vita. Ostensibly, he’s a novelist, but hasn’t done anything great in decades. He coasts along, living off his reputation, and partying with faded royalty, vapid models and the ultra-rich. He is a camera, experiencing and recording all of this in mind.

His Rome is one filled with gilded palaces, rococo night clubs and 13_Giovanna_Vignola_foto_di_Gianni_Fiorito_01893velveteen Vatican chambers. His editor at a popular magazine, Dadina (Giovanna Vignola), is a little person, given to wearing electric-blue dresses. As his 65th birthday approaches he confides in her: he needs to find something or someone important, genuine – the “great beauty” of the movie’s title.

Slowly, the movie chugs along, heading toward his dinner party, with an elusive guest. Will he be touched by God? Or will it all prove as superficial as the rest of his life?

06_Sabrina_Ferilli_Toni_Servillo_Giorgio_Pasotti_La_grande_bellezza_foto_di_Gianni_FioritoThe Great Beauty is a nostalgic look at Rome’s faded glory, the cool elegance of old Fellini movies. Wonderfully acted, carefully shot. But does it add up to anything new?

I found this movie hollow at the core.

And, aside from a few minutes of genuine beauty, it’s not attractive at all. It’s drenched in a 1970s aesthetic of awful opulence, far from the coolness of 50s and 60s Italian cinema. And both its story and its look exists more as a tribute (or a rehash) of older Italian movies than as a new one all its own.

The Great Beauty is now playing and Omar opens 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

Scary and Scarier. Movies Reviewed: Dark Skies, Act of Killing PLUS Oscar predictions

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow oscarmovies, 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.

Oscar is back – and I’m not talking about Pistorius the Paralympics star’s trial. This weekend, the good and the bad compete for the most important prizes in the industry.

So, once again I will make my Oscar predictions – but a warning: I’m almost always completely wrong.

I have a feeling Amour, Haneke’s devastating film about the final years of an elderly couple, will come out on top. Zero Dark Thirty – the CIA torture-fest about the hunt for Bin Laden – will be largely shut out. And Silver Linings Playbook, the bi-polar rom-com, and Argo, a light, revisionist history about the Iranian hostage crisis, will divide the rest if the spoils.

Best Movie: Amour should win, but Argo will win. Best Actor: I haven’t seen Lincoln yet, so I can’t judge Daniel Day Lewis, but of the other four, Joaquin Phoenix did the best performance. He should win. Best Actress: Emmanuel Riva should and will win. Supporting actor? Robert De Niro in Silver Linings should win, but Christopher Waltz will win. Supporting actress: I liked Amy Adams in The Master, but I think Anne Hathaway will win. I think Michael Haneke will win best director and he deserves it.

The documentaries are all fantastic. I have a feeling Looking for Sugarman will win. And the foreign language films this year – Rebelle, No, Amour, Kon Tiki (plus Royal affair, which I haven’t seen) – are all outstanding. Three of them are on my 2012 best ten list, and No would be as well, if it had been released in time. You should see them all. And finally best original and adapted screenplays: I think Amour and Silver Linings will win that.

Some of the Oscar choices are scary, and so are their song and dance numbers. Even scarier are two movies: a Spielberg-style family thriller-chiller, and an unbelievably strange documentary out of Indonesia.

DARK_SKIES_POSTERDark Skies

Dir: Scott Stewart

It’s a hot summer, and the fourth of July is a couple days away. In the best of times, the Barrets are not a perfect family. Mom and Dad (Keri Russel and Jeff Hammond) are in trouble: their mortgage payments are three months overdue. Daniel’s out of work, and Lacey’s real estate sales aren’t doing well. Then there’s their two kids, Jesse and Sam (Toronto-native Dakota Goyo and Kadan Rockett). Jesse is hanging out with an older, “bad” friend, Ratface, who introduces him to long guns, bong-smoking and vintage porn videos (Jesse’s 14.) They hang out in one of the fixer-upper houses Lacey’s trying to sell. And little Sam is having nightmares – the sandman keeps coming to him at night. Still, the family likes their nice suburban neighbourhood, with its swimming pools, American dark skiesflags and backyard barbecues and don’t want to move. Jesse calms the waters by staying up late, talking to Sam by walkey-talkey.

But things go from bad to worse. Birds smash into the windows. The family starts having absence seizures, wetting their pants, and walking into walls. Strange bruises and marks are appearing on the kids’ bodies – is someone calling Children’s Aid? They open their mouths wide and start screaming, like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They wake up in the middle of the night to find strange, little tricks left behind by a Poletrgeist-like being. And humming sounds and bright white lights appear under doors, just like in ET and Close Encounters. (Get the picture?)

dark skies 2Dad is perturbed, so he puts video camera in all the rooms to see of there is any Paranormal Activity at night. And sure enough, he finds something… but what are they? Can they fight off the enemy and keep together as a family unit? Or will they disappear, one by one?

I love the pseudo-retro quality of the movie as they plunder all the scary movies from 70s and 80s. The kid actors are all great, and the adults are usually good. And there are some wicked semi-psychedelic dream sequences popping up all through the movie. They almost make the whole film worthwhile. Almost.

But the story is a mess, some of the characters are lame, and the dialogue waivers between good to chokingly awful. So even though I felt like I should like this kind of film – it was really disappointing, especially the ending. It almost feels like they ran out of money before they could rewrite flubbed dialogue, and re-shoot missing scenes, and just decided to release it half edited. Too bad.

Act of Killingactofkilling_02_medium

Dir: Joshua Oppenhemier (and another director remains anonymous)

This is one of the weirdest documentaries I’ve ever seen, and has to be seen to be believed. Apparently, a group of former militants from Sumatra, Indonesia, decide to produce a fun, action film portraying the torture and murders it carried out in the 1960s. And they want to play themselves and their victims on the original sites where they murdered them. But they want to make it enjoyable, so they add musical numbers, dancing girls, a man in drag (one of the killers) for comic relief, and all sorts of additions to make it “entertaining”.

Historical context: In 1965-66, there were riots and mass-killings of about half a million ethnic Chinese Indonesians and Communist Party members in the mid-sixties around the fall of President Sukarno.

Those killers are still associated with a paramilitary security force and right-wing political group there which proudly actofkilling_04_mediumrecalls their deeds to the locals.

This is simultaneously the western filmmaker’s a first-hand record of the mass murderers unapologetically admitting their war crimes, and a film-diary of a bizarre low-budget Indonesian pop production. Jaw-dropping film.

Dark Skies opens today, check your local listings; Act of Killing is playing at the Human Rights Watch film festival in Toronto – go to tiff.net for details; and the Academy Awards are on TV this Sunday. Also opening tonight in Toronto is the very cool, experimental film Tower, directed by local Kazik Radwanski, who I interviewed last week. Check that one out.

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

%d bloggers like this: