War and remembrance. Films reviewed: Hacksaw Ridge, Birth of a Nation, Seoul Station

Posted in 1800s, 1940s, African-Americans, Japan, Resistance, Sex Trade, Slavery, soldier, violence, WWII, Zombie by CulturalMining.com on November 4, 2016

img_1527Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

November 11th is Remembrance Day, when we remember the death and destruction of war. Even wars fought for good reasons may result in horrible deaths for soldiers and ordinary people. This week I’m looking at movies about war. There are armies of zombies in Seoul who want to eat people, a secret slave army in Virginia that wants to free people, and a man who joins the US army in WWII… but refuses to kill people.

hacksawridge_d14-6618Hacksaw Ridge

Dir: Mel Gibson

It’s the 1930s. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a young man who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with his drunk Dad (Hugo Weaving) and religious Mom (Rachel Griffiths). As a kid he loved climbing cliffs and rassling with his brother Hal. But when he saw how close to death his brother came when he hit him in the head with a brick, he swore never to hurt or kill another person again. As a Seventh Day Adventist he takes the Sixth Commandment — thou shalt not kill – very seriously. Years later,hacksawridge_d4-3041-edit he rescues a man injured in an accident by putting a tourniquet on his leg. He has studied medicine on his own since he can’t go to college. At the hospital he meets the beautiful and smart Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) a nurse. It’s love at first sight.

But it’s 1941 and the country is at war. Young men all rush to join the army and Doss is no exception. But he joins as a medic to save lives, not as a fighter to kill people. He and Dorothy plan to get married after boot camp. But then reality hits. You can’t be in the army and refuse to carry a gun. They offer him a Section 8 – a psychiatric discharge. But he refuses to quit. He’s not crazy, he’s not un-American, he’s not unpatriotic. The army disagrees.  Soldiers beat him and bully him, and on hacksawridge_d22-10131_fullframehis wedding day the Army throws him in the brig, leaving Dorothy waiting at the altar. Will he be court-martialed?

Somehow he makes it to Okinawa, in time for a crucial battle. They must climb Hacksaw Ridge, a sheer cliff, to face a never-ending battalion of Japanese soldiers. Can Doss use his medic skills to save his fellow soldiers?

Hacksaw Ridge is a heartfelt war movie about a conscientious objector who goes into battle without a gun. For a movie about a heroic man opposed to killing,  there’s also an ungodly amount of gory carnage shown in minute detail. Not for the squeamish.

Interestingly, the entire cast, except for Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughan, is Australian. And with all those thin-lipped, lantern-jawed, soldiers, I had a hard time telling them apart. (Didn’t that guy just die in a foxhole? Must have been someone else…). Garfield, though, stands out as the stubborn, jug-eared Doss. If you like heroic war movies, this one pushes all the right buttons.

birthofanation_04Birth of a Nation

Dir: Nate Parker

Nat Turner (Nate Parker) is born to loving parents and grandparents in a wooden house in Virginia in the early 19th century. At an early age mystics declare him a born leader, with special birthmarks on his belly. He grows up a student of the bible, reading to himself at night. And he happily marries a beautiful woman when they fall in love.,But he is also an African American in the south which means… he is also a slave. The slave owner Sam Turner (Armie Hammer) played with him as a child and they share the birthofanation_02same last name. When earnings are down Sam hires him out to other plantations to preach to fellow slaves, to help calm potential unrest. Nat delivers the sermons, while Sam keeps the cash.

It is on these visits that Nat Turner witnesses the truly horrifying nature of slavery. A young girl kept like a dog with collar and leash. Men set upon by vicious dogs. Families broken up and sold like cattle at auctions. Heinous torture – worse than you can imagine – for crimes as simple as looking a white man directly in the eyes. Women are subject to birthofanation_06horrific rape.  Murder and lynching — always white violence against blacks — is not even considered a crime. So Nat Turner decides enough is enough and organizes a small army to fight back. But can a handful of men and woman overturn slavery itself?

Birth of a Nation is a fictionalized retelling of the famous Nat Turner rebellion. The movie birthofanation_01concentrates more on Nat’s life in the years leading up to it than on the battle itself. The film is disturbing, dealing with topics rarely shown in mainstream movies. Even so, it has a mainstream feel to it: flickering candles, gushing music, and Hollywood kisses in profile. The title itself reclaims D.W. Griffith’s wildly popular silent movie from 1915 which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and inspired countless terrorist attacks on black Americans. This is a good film about a neglected part of US history, downplayed or glossed over in most movies.

seoul_station_film_posterSeoul Station

Dir: Sang-ho Yeon

It’s a typical day at the central train station in Seoul, Korea. It’s used by commuters everyday. But it’s also a mecca for the disenfranchised — the poor, the mentally ill and the homeless. Hye-sun is a young runaway,  a former sex worker who lives with her wimpish boyfriend. They are separated by a massive zombie attack — and the virus is spreading. He teams up with her father, while she follows a deranged, homeless man. Hye-sun communicates with her boyfriend whenever they can find a signal on their phones. When she turns to the police for help, they lock her up in a jail cel. Later, a large group of people trapped in an area besieged by zombies appeals to the army. But instead of rescuing them, the soldiers fire water canons and teargas… not at the zombies, but at their fellow citizens. Who will survive the zombie onslaught?

Seoul Station is an animated prequel to the hit horror film Train to Busan. Characters are drawn with clean black outlines against realistic backgrounds. Seoul is portrayed as a desolate place, its dim skies lit only by neon crosses.  This may be a zombie movie but it’s also an unsparing look at the maltreatment of the homeless and disenfranchised in modern Korea.

Birth of a Nation is now playing and Hacksaw Ridge opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Seoul Station is playing at the upcoming ReelAsian Film Festival. Go to reelasian.com for showtimes. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

East Asia. Movies reviewed: The Assassin, Miss Hokusai, Port of Call

Posted in Animation, Art, Crime, Cultural Mining, Hong Kong, Japan, Movies, Sex Trade, Taiwan by CulturalMining.com on November 7, 2015

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

Toronto’s fall film festival season continues in November. 2015-rwm_logo-with-bg2Rendezvous with Madness opens tonight, featuring films and documentaries made by or about people with mental health or addiction issues. Each screening is followed by a reelasian-headerpanel discussion. And don’t miss the ReelAsian International Film Festival which started last night. I find movies from East Asia doubly interesting, not just for the story, acting and cinematography, but also for the cultural insights. This week, I’m looking at three Asian movies: a true crime drama set in contemporary Hong Kong, a martial arts epic set in Tang dynasty China, and Japanese anime set in 19th Century Edo.

0gEJM3_assassin_01_o3_8674043_1439243554The Assassin
Dir: Hou Hsiao-hsien

Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi) is a young woman in Tang dynasty China born into high-ranked family. As children, she and Tian Ji’an – a first cousin (Chang Chen) — are given matching disks carved from yellow jade, as a symbol of their future marriage. But destinies change. So to save her life, her mother sends the 10-year-old away to study with a Taoist nun.

But what does she study? She leaves there with a moral drive to defend the empire against all foes, both inside and at its fringes. With her long black vgRE5n_assassin_02_o3_8674110_1439243572hair hanging down, the beautiful Nie Yinniang now dresses in black robes to remain unseen, a veritable Chinese ninja. She can handle a sword like none other. Her profession? Assassin. The kind who can take down an official on horseback in the midst of a royal retinue and disappear a second later.

But does she have the mental toughness to kill on command? She refuses to kill a target when she sees him protecting his child. The nun says “to be 0gEJB5_assassin_04_o3_8674243_1439243607a true assassin, first kill the one that victim loves, then the victim himself.” And she sends her back to her beginnings with a mission. Kill the one she loves most — Tian Ji’An!

This sounds like just another martial arts movie, and it does have some excellent sword fights, battles and chase scenes. But don’t go to this movie expecting an ordinary action film. Cause it ain’t. It’s by renowned Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, known for his stunning visual and musical style, cultural sensitivity… and sloooow pace. Cloak and dagger politics, sumptuous costumes, stilted language, they’re all there, but without the driving music and non-stop action of most Wushu movies. This is suitable for Hou Hsiao-hsien fans, but anyone looking for a crouching tiger or a hidden dragon will search in vain.

MISS_HOKUSAI_main_01Miss Hokusai
Dir: Hara Keiichi
Based on the manga Sarusuberi by Sugiura Hinako

O-ei is an accomplished painter in 19th century Edo (now called Tokyo), known for her scary images of hell, and erotic portraits of women. She spends her days painting in her father’s studio, or trolling the lanes of Yoshiwara, the red light district. She lives in the floating world of actors, sex workers, geisha, samurai and nouveau-riche merchants. And she visits her blind little sister, sent away by their dad who doesn’t like being near disabled people. The movie follows episodes from her life, both realistic and fantastical: painting her first MISS_HOKUSAI_main_02dragon (the spirit has to possess you), seeing demons, even witnessing a long-necked geisha’s out-of-body experience. And her first sexual experience with a man, an onna-gata kabuki actor, who spends his life dressed as a woman.

Based on a true story, you may be wondering how come you’ve never heard of her? The answer is simple: she lived under the shadow of one of MISS_HOKUSAI_main_03the most famous Japanese artists of all time, Hokusai. His ukiyo-e block prints of mount Fuji and his big blue cresting wave are still ubiquitous images when you think of Japan. He was quite the showman, creating the world’s largest brush painting of Zen Buddhist monk Daruma, using a brush bigger than he was.

Miss Hokusai is both faithful to, and a victim of, Japanese anime based on manga. It follows the winding pace and endless variations of Japanese manga, not the neat beginning/middle/end of a western graphic novel. I like its non-judgemental view of the pre-Meiji demi-monde, and it’s all-around Japaneseness. Just wish it had a more linear plot.

IMG_1682Port of Call
Dir: Philipp Yung

Wang Jiamei (Jessie Li) is a student at a Catholic high school in Hong Kong. Originally from Hunan on the mainland, she arrived with her ambitious divorced mom and her innocent little sister. Her dad is a layabout gambler who makes his money whenever Manchester United loses a game. She picks up the local language but can’t fit in. She feels cold and detached inside, alienated. When a girl at the next desk slits her wrist in class, she doesn’t even blink. She drops out and drifts from job to job. A modelling agency sends her to one gig – she becomes the poster girl – literally – in an ad warning about domestic violence. Prophetic.

Ting (Michael Ning) is a friendless, chubby boy whose mother was killed inIMG_2338 a truck accident when he was a kid. After online chatting, he had hired Kama (Jiamei’s name she uses as an escort.) But their meeting leads to a series of horrific events. And when she completely disappears her mother calls the cops to investigate. Detective Chong (Aaron Kwok) quickly determines she’s not missing, she’s dead. But her body is nowhere to be found. Until Ting walks into a police station and confesses all.

Through a series of flashbacks and courtroom testimony, the three C1D31722characters – the murderer, the relentless detective and the dead victim – all reveal their secrets, feelings, histories and surprising motivations. What starts out as a simple police procedural turns into a moving — and at times shocking – drama of a case that had Hong Kongers glued to the tabloids just a few years ago.

Port of Call is a bit long and has some truly disgusting scenes. But it captures a feeling unique to parts of Hong Kong: gritty, grimy, cramped and crowded. The great performances by two unknown actors (plus veteran singer/star Aaron Kwok), its indie soundtrack, the unmistakable images of HK cinematographer Christopher Doyle, plus a surprise ending, all place this film a step above most true crime movies.

The Assassin is playing now in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and you can catch Miss Hokusai and Port of Call at the ReelAsian Film Festival. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com.

Daniel Garber talks to Elisa Paloschi about her new documentary Driving with Selvi premiering at the ReelAsian Film Festival

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Feminism, Human Rights, India, Movies, Poverty, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 27, 2015

Elisa Paloschi, 1, Driving with SelviHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for cultural mining,com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Selvi was a 14-year-old child bride in Southern India. Her husband was so abusive she contemplated suicide, but instead ran away. She made her way toElisa Paloschi, Driving with Selvi photo 2 home for young women where she learned to be a driver, and after a ten-year journey, she became South India’s first female taxi driver. How did she reach that stage? And what’s it like to go driving with Selvi?

Driving with Selvi is also the name of a new Canadian documentary that tells her story. It’s directed by Toronto-based filmmaker Elisa Paloschi, known for her documentaries dealing with social issues around the world.  Her film is having its  premier at Driving with Selvi 2Toronto’s ReelAsian film festival. I spoke with Elisa in studio about visiting India as a tourist, how she first met Selvi, 10 years of shooting the film, making a film in a developing nation, why Indian women in smaller cities rarely drive, Selvi’s motivation, human trafficking, child brides, poverty, feminism, women as second-class citizens, dowries, divorce, motivation, how to share her story …and more! The film has its Toronto premier on November 5, 2015, at the ReelAsian Film Festival.

Talking to People. Movies Reviewed: Dear White People, Mourning Grave, Propaganda, PLUS November Film Festivals!

Posted in African-Americans, College, comedy, Conspiracy Theory, Cultural Mining, Horror, Korea, Movies, Politics by CulturalMining.com on November 7, 2014

reelasian-header

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,PiF2014_LOGO-Orange- festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

rendezvousFall festival season continues in November! Ekran Polish festival is on right now, with wonderful films like Ida, on tonight; ReelAsian, which just started, Planet in Focus – environmental films, on now; Rendezvous with Madness96c1a290cd6169be3a2d8459f9d9e1fe_0_1150movies about addiction and mental health, starts Monday; and the EU film Festival with free films from across Europe, starting later this month. This week I’m looking at three movies about social issues. An American dramedy about a college student who talks to white people, a South Korean chiller-thriller about a high school student who talks to dead people, and a North Korean documentary about a man who talks to… well, to any people willing to listen.

68294-DWP-Sam GroupDear White People
Wri/Dir: Justin Simien

It’s a small town college where students live in “houses” — sort of like fraternities. Your house says everything about your status and something about your political beliefs as well. The school has a white president and a black dean. Sam (Tessa Thompson) is a progressive undergrad who stands up for her ideals. She broadcasts a somewhat controversial talk show on campus 68288-DWP-8E-1-Pub-Siteradio. She’s black, but calls her show Dear White People. Her house is headed by Big Man on Campus Troy (Brandon P Bell) a popular athlete, whose dad just happens to be the Dean. And who is dating the daughter of 68292-DWP-H46A5230the president. Another student, the pretty and vivacious Coco (Teyonah Parris) is more interested in getting famous, so she’ll do almost anything to convince a TV producer to make her the star of a reality show on campus. And observing all this is fuzzy-haired Lionel (Tyler James Williams), a budding journalist… who 68289-DWP-H46A4216might also be gay.

But when Sam wins the election as head of the house, toppling Troy from his lofty heights, things start to change. She puts in new rules and tries to change the political outlook… but then comes the blowback.

Another house plans a huge party, where people – as in white people — are encouraged to dress and act “black”. Minstrelsy rears its head, even in the 21st century.

How do Coco, Lionel, Troy and Sam choose to react? To lie down or walk away? Or stand up and fight back? This ensemble cast shows the lives of middle-class African Americans from a new angle. While the film covers a lot of ground, the ensemble cast is uniformly good, across the board. Dear White People is both an enjoyable comedy and a cogent political satire, exposing the errors and vulnerabilities of characters on both sides of the political spectrum. I like this movie.

MourningGrave_still3Mourning Grave

Dir: Oh In-chun

In-su (Kang Haneul) is a high school student from the big city. He recently moved back to his childhood home in a small town, to get away from his troubles. He likes to sit in the park, sketching pictures of pretty girls he sees. And what do they all have in have in common? They’re all ghosts – he sees dead people.

In fact, he can’t even tell if he’s seeing someone who’s living or dead, but he carries an inherited charm that spins if he’s near a ghost. They’re attracted to him mainly because he MourningGrave_stillhelps them redress the wrongs that led to their death. But his new high school isn’t the peaceful place he hoped it would be. Turns out, the school bully remembers him from his childhood, and knows that he’s that weird kid. And the bully’s pretty girlfriend is as cruel as he is. In-su is the only one to challenge them when they’re MourningGrave_still5hurting someone – the rest of the kids just turn away.

And haunting the school is a ghost of a dead student who is always seen wearing a cotton mask over her mouth. Who is she? At least there’s someone who likes him — a pretty girl with very pale skin, who shares his drawings. Will he stop the bullying? Will the ghosts ever find peace? And will his lazy uncle (another adept) help him exorcise the school of its ghosts? This is a cute Korean ghost story that wavers from rom-com, to high school drama to supernatural horror. With a cast of unknown actors, it’s packed with movie references – from the blood in Carrie to the ghost in Ju-on. Nothing too deep, but I liked it — it’s fun.

propaganda1Propaganda
Dir: Slavko Martinov

A propaganda film about the rest of the world smuggled out of North Korea? That’s what a new film claims to be. BUt don’t expect the usual rosy-cheeked, red army kitsch. This film is actually a sophisticated, British-style monologue narrated by a Korean man sitting in a chair facing the camera. He wears a corduroy blazer but his face is pixillated. And over his voice is a woman’s voice simultaneously narrating in English. And it’s illustrated by a non-stop barrage of short images, each lasting not more than a second or two. There’s historical footage, current advertising, TV clips, vintage photos. If you’ve ever seen a film by the great English documentarian Adam Curtis, you’ll immediately recognize the style. But the content? Not exactly.

It starts out as a funny and fascinating look at western capitalism (supposedly) seen through the eyes of a fish-out-of-water North Korean, trying to makes sense of the consumer economy. We’re treated to hilarious shots of Oprah giving out prizes, and talentless celebrities in skimpy clothing. Americans PR, it decides, is what rules the world. We think we’re free, but public relations, Propaganda still grabs 52marketing and advertising has turned us all into slaves and zombies. Next, the film harshly criticizes certain western nations:  Australia for what it did to its indigenous population,  Israel for the Palestinians, the US for what it did to everyone. (Canada is conspicuous by its absence.) Japan comes under special criticism for annexing Korea, drafting the population into forced labour, suppressing Korea’s language and culture, and kidnapping thousands of “Comfort Women” (sex slaves for the Imperial Army). Oops, sorry, I got that wrong. The main beef this North Korea has with Japan is that it kills Propaganda still grabs 112whales and dolphins.

Then it goes right off the cliff into Truther territory. We’re told political parties and voting means nothing, the jews caused WWI, the Bush family rules the world, 9-11 was a hoax, and the W.H.O. uses vaccinations to secretly poison babies in developing countries . Uh-oh…

In any case, if you want an unusual look at our culture of consumption (as well as the usual internet-style conspiracy theories), this film is totally watchable — if you can get past the dubbing of English over Korean.

Dear White People opens today, check your local listings; Propaganda starts next week at the Big Picture Cinema on Gerrard St E., and Mourning Grave plays this Saturday at ReelAsian, on for the next ten days. Go to Reelasian.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 filmmaker John Pirozzi about his new documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll premiering at Toronto’s ReelAsian Film Festival

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Cultural Mining, documentary, Movies, Music, Uncategorized, US, War by CulturalMining.com on November 7, 2014

DTIF_DirectorHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for cultural mining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

In April, 1975, Pnomh Penh went silent. Cambodia — a small nation in Southeast Asia — has a centuries-old rich musical heritage. Influenced over a hundred years as a French colony by Western music,  Pnomh Penh’s teenagers were swept off their feet by the introduction of rock and roll.  Despite US bombing, a military coup and an intense civil war, the Cambodian pop music scene flourished for DTIF2three decades… until the Khmer Rouge took over.

Have thirty years of music disappeared forever? Has it all been forgotten amidst the genocidal horrors of the Killing Fields?

A new film that documents modern Cambodias musical history from the 1950s to the 1970s says “no”. The DTIF10film’s called DON’T THINK I’VE FORGOTTEN: Cambodia’s lost Rock and Roll, and it’s having its Toronto premiere at the ReelAsian film festival on Saturday, November 8th at 4:00 pm at the Royal Cinema. Using archival photos, vintage film clips, music recordings, and new interviews with key figures, the film brings a history of Cambodian music to Western screens for the first time.

Director John Pirozzi is known for his previous work in Cambodia, and as a cinematographer on films by Patti Smith and Matt Dillon. I reached John in New York City by telephone.

November 9th, 2012. Blind Dates? Movies Reviewed: Unconditional, Wolf Children PLUS ReelAsian, Rendezvous with Madness

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.

Have you ever been on a date that doesn’t turn out quite the way you expected? What if you’re in a relationship that requires accommodation… but only on one side? This week I’m looking at two movies – both dramas — about people asked to completely change their lifestyles due to an unexpected aspect of their relationship.

Wolf Children (おおかみこどもの雨と雪)

Wri/Dir: Hosoda Mamoru

Hana is a university student who sees a guy hanging around campus. There’s a definite attraction. But there’s something…. unusual about the guy. Not his looks, not his attitude, nothing like that…Turns out he’s descended from the now-extinct Japanese timber wolf! And every so often he slips back into wolfdom and goes out hunting.

But Hana says, OK, he’s a wolf, but, hey, I can handle that. They move in together and have two kids – Yuki and Ame, named after the snow and the rain. But then Hana is left alone to take care of them with no husband. And then… she discovers that both her kids regularly turn into baby wolves and back again! Yuki is wild, runs around, chases cats and howls to the moon. Her little brother Ame is more withdrawn. Hana doesn’t know what to do, and her neighbours accuse her of secretly having a dog in her pet-free apartment building. So she flees off to the countryside with her kids, where she thinks she can raise them on a farm without any interference from nosey neighbours.

This animated Japanese feature – playing at the ReelAsian Film Festival – is a cool story about the domestic life and coming of age of two werewolf kids, Yuki and Ame, and their devoted mother. What it’s not is a horror movie about werewolves. And that’s OK with me.

It’s also about urbanites moving back to the land, adjusting to life in an area where there are no young families, only elderly farmers still holding on to their patch of land.

Can poor Hana take care of two wolfish kids and try to run a farm with no experience? Can the kids learn to interact with other people without revealing their other lives? (Yuki demands to let her go to school – she promises not to turn into a wolf at school.) And as Yuki and Ame grow older, will they choose to live as humans, as wolves, or somewhere in between?

Wolf Children is a neat look at family life, non-conformity, and the socialization of wild girls and boys within the strict Japanese social system.

Unconditional

Dir: Bryn Higgins

Kristen and Owen are twin teenagers in England who take care of their poor, bedridden mum. Lonely, blond bro Owen (Harry McIntire) says he doesn’t really care what he wears – jeans, trainers and toques with earflaps are good enough for him. He just wants friends – there’s no one to go to the pub with him. But raven-haired sis Kristen is furious she doesn’t have enough money to buy new clothes, so she borrows some cash from a local loan shark, Liam (Christian Cooke). She likes Liam, and he seems to like her, too.

But one day, when Kristen’s not around, Liam takes him for a spin in his car and then to a pub to play snooker. Owen is thrilled to have someone pay attention to him for once. And after more drinks at Liam’s swank flat, he asks Owen if he wants to see something funny, something good for a laugh. The “laugh” turns out to be dressing in women’s clothing, complete with makeup and a dark wig. Liam has all the stuff put away in his closet. Hmmm… OK, I get it. Liam is transsexual, right?

Nope – that’s not it at all.

So Owen puts on the stuff and… whoa, he makes a very pretty woman! And Liam – who is straight – says he wants to be lovers, but with Kristen, not with Owen.

Liam is a guy who is only turned on by cross-dressers. So you have this strange situation. Shy Owen wants to be the centre of attention. He loves being the object of affection from a good-looking older, rich and successful guy – but Owen has no gender issues. He’s just a bloke. Meanwhile Liam wants Owen to disappear so he can date “Kristen” – not the sister, but the neo-sister. That’s the one he’s attracted to. And if Owen so much as shows his real face or takes off his wig Liam flies into a rage. He has “anger issues” you see. He says he adores his girlfriend but wants nothing to do with this Owen character who keeps popping up at all the wrong times. He demands “unconditional love” – but the accommodations are all on Owen’s side, not his. Then there’s sister Kristen (Madeleine Clark) who started the whole thing – she thought Liam was into her. And who’s taking care of poor Mum?

Unconditional (playing at the Rendezvous with Madness film festival) is an interesting, quirky movie. I just want to point out it’s not a psychological thriller — though there are some scary moments – and certainly not a rom-com. It’s a psychological drama about a troubled guy with unusual ideas, and his lover who is forced, against his better judgement, into a difficult situation. I enjoyed the movie, with its good, convincing acting (especially Henry McIntire) and unusual plot.

But you can’t stop thinking — aren’t there enough willing cross-dressers out there so that Liam could have a happy life? Why does he have to force it on an impressionable 17 year old? Or does Owen actually like it, he just doesn’t want it all the time? Hmmm… In any case, it’s a strange but interesting movie.

The animated feature Wolf Children is playing downtown this weekend at Toronto’s ReelAsian Film Festival; the festival continues next week in Richmond Hill. Go to reelasian.com for times and details. And you can see Unconditional at Rendezvous with Madness a festival about movies about addiction and mental health issues. It’s opening tonight at the TIFF Bell Lighbox and continues all week through next weekend.

And don’t miss the excellent, award-winning documentary The World Before Her about the contrasting lives of two young women in India – a westernized model and a Hindu fundamentalist militant! – which opens at the Bloor next week. (I interviewed the Canadian director, Nisha Pahuja at HotDocs last spring.)

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

November 2, 2012. Migration. Films Reviewed: Flight, Midnight’s Children PLUS Dal Puri Diaspora

Posted in 1940s, 1970s, Addiction, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, India, ReelAsian, Spirituality, Supernatural, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on November 1, 2012

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.

People and populations are constantly shuttled around, from homes, cities and countries, from one airport to the next. A constant migration. At the ReelAsian film festival, starting next week, Toronto filmmaker Richard Fung wonders if the same isn’t true for food, not just people. Fung is originally from Trinidad, and goes on a worldwide quest to trace the origin of what he calls the Dal Puri Diaspora, the exile of that roti unique to the Caribbean. His fascinating voyage takes him from Toronto to Port of Spain, in and out of spice factories, abandoned sugar cane fields, Mauritius (a remote island near Madagascar), and finally to Bihar, a little known (to North Americans) corner of Utar Pradesh in India.

On the way, he gives a politically-informed history of indentured servitude in the British empire as well as some amazing encounters with deliciously specific foods from around the world.

This week I’m talking about two dramas about migration, one following the displacement of people after the Indian Partition, the other about a short but eventful hop by plane from Florida to Atlanta.

Midnight’s Children
Dir: Deepa Mehta

Saleem and Shiva, two of the babies born around midnight in 1947 when India and Pakistan become independent, have their name tags switched in hospital by a nurse named Mary. Wide-eyed Saleem Sinai is now part of a fabulously rich family of power brokers, while Shiva, bitter and angry, is raised by a destitute street performer known as Wee Willie Winkie. As he grows older, Saleem believes he can hear the voices of other kids from somewhere inside his nose. He thinks he can telepathically contact all of the other kids who were born that fateful midnight, and maybe bring them all together. Saleem would have them bring peace to the subcontinent, while his rival Shiva would rather form a gang of evildoers out for personal gain (sort of like a mini X-Men rivalry).

Soon, Saleem is tempest-tossed all around India and Pakistan – from Kashmir to Bombay, Rawalpindi to Karachi, his fate tied to that of India’s and Pakistan’s. He’s there for the military coups, Bangladesh’s independence, war, strife and change. The story culminates in the 1970s when Indira Ghandi declares martial law, and all of Midnight’s Children – the youth of new India – bear the suffering she inflicts.

Midnight’s Children (the screenplay is adapted by Salman Rushdie from his novel) is a huge epic with dozens of characters, cities, and earth-changing events. So plot turns jump quickly from one to the next, and just when you figure out you like a character, you’re already in a new setting and a new era. It felt like an entire mini-series squeezed into one picture, and I’m not sure it quite fit. The acting is pretty good – Seema Biswas as the nurse Mary, Satya Bhabha as sensitive Saleem Sinai, and Siddharth as macho Shiva – and the story beyond rich. It’s a Hollywood (or Bollywood) -sized plot, made on a limited, Canadian budget. I was a bit put off by the threadbare look of parts of the movie along with its frequent anachronisms. But I salute the director for taking on such a monumental story and carrying it through to a dramatic finish.

Flight
Dir: Robert Zemeckis

Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a sinner. In the first scene you see him lounging, lying to his ex-wife about child support, drinking and snorting coke with a stunning naked flight attendant. Lust, anger, envy, gluttony, pride, sloth, and greed neatly summed up in 5 minutes. He’s also an amazing pilot: his dad taught him everything he knows. Soon enough, they’re up in the air, heading on a short hop to Atlanta. But the plane experiences mechanical difficulties, starts shaking, and diving into a crash. If not for his unusual flight techniques (he turns the entire plane upside-down) the whole thing would have been destroyed… everyone dead. As it is, he knocks the steeple off a church and sends parishoners in white blouses running for cover, the next of many implied “sins”.

Recovering in hospital, Whip hooks up with Nicole, a beautiful red-headed junkie (Kelly Reilly) there for rehab. Soon enough, his drinking and drugs start to come to light, and the impending clouds of manslaughter-charges — the people who died in the crash -– start looming over his head. He handles this with still more drinking, shunning even his junkie GF’s suggestion of joining a 12-step. Will the dreaded NTSB (the agency holding the inquiry) get him for his drinking? Or will they blame the airline or the manufacturer for what happens?

The movie Flight carries you along, with some funny parts – especially John Goodman as his hippy coke dealer — but it also has a few awful scenes. When Denzel throws a bottle across the room at a ringing telephone it feels like I’m watching a third-rate soap opera.

While it’s an interesting story with largely good acting — and I love the disaster scenes — it mainly seems to function as a sanctimonious lesson on how sin is no good for your soul – and how we all must repent and attend AA… or suffer the consequences.

This director has made lots of very famous movies. On the Zemeckis scale, I’d place this as much better than the execrable Forrest Gump or the unwatchable Polar Express, but not nearly as good as Romancing the Stone or Back to the Future.

Midnight’s Children and Flight open today in Toronto, check your local listings. Dal Puri Diaspora is playing at Toronto’s ReelAsian Film Festival, which starts next week. And don’t miss the excellent documentary We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists that opens at the Bloor on Monday.

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

Nov 18, 2011 Eurasia. Almanya, Piercing 1, Kevin Hart Laugh at my Pain, EU and Reelasian Film Festivals

Posted in China, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Germany, ReelAsian, Turkey, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on November 21, 2011

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, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Last week, I talked about movies East Asia. (The Reelasian Film Festival is still going on North of Toronto, with movies showing this weekend in Thornhill.) And the EU festival of European films opened last night. But if you look at any map, and you look for Asia, you’ll find this massive body, this huge slab taking up most of the space. And you’ll find there is no Asia, there is no Europe, it’s a made-up concept. There’s just one huge continent. It’s Eurasian. There are cultural differences, for sure, but the geographical distinctions are dubious at best.

So, this week I’m talking about a European movie where so-called Asians (from Anatolia) immigrate to Germany; an animated film from China, filled with western icons — McDonalds, BMWs — that are out of most people’s budgets; and a film from the US, which is basically about… well America of course.

Piercing I

Dir: Liu Jian

This is an animated film from China, released a few years back that played at ReelAsian, but has taken on a new resonance.

It takes place in around 2008, when Wall Street was crashing, the real estate bubble had burst, and Obama had been swept into office in a tidal wave of hope that he would fix some of the things that Bush and Cheney had been allowed to ruin. Meanwhile, in China, the economy there was feeling the ripple effect of the recession in the U.S.

But this animated film deals with how it affected two regular guys, two buddies in Southern China who hang out at night in their dark hoodies: Da Hong has long hair, Zhang has a scar near his eye. They hang out, chain smoking cigarettes, as they try to come up with some way of making a bit of money. But they’re stymied at every turn, by the greedy businessmen and the corrupt police al around them.

Zhang gets beaten up by a security guard at the place he works. But instead of an apology he loses his job. So he gives up on his urban ambitions and decides to take the train back to his village. But just before he catches the train, he sees an old lady, a victim of a hit and run. So he calls an ambulance, takes her to a hospital, and waits to make sure she’s OK. But guess what? Her daughter’s a nasty cop who blames Zhang for the accident – why else would someone help a stranger unless they were guilty of a crime.

He gets beaten up by the cops, and bad turns to worse as he and his friends get dragged into a complex, corrupt bribery scam involving his ex-boss.

Some of you may have heard about the sad story of a little girl, Yueyue, in China who was run over and left to die and then ignored by a dozen passersby, before someone tried to save her. People wondered, how could this happen? But in this movie, they deal with the consequences that good Samaritans have to bear when faced with a culture rife with low-level corruption.

What’s especially interesting about Piercing 1 is it’s look. The director, Liu Jian, an artist, uses a rough, dark two-dimensional animation style, combined with a sort of a Beavis and Butthead lay-out, with the two guys trading profanities in their very funny conversations about their dismal lives, combined with the dark intrigue of street crime. Piercing gives a seldom-seen look at the left-behind in Southern China.

The EU Film Festival is on now in downtown Toronto. It’s a unique festival for a few reasons. First, it’s sponsored by all the different European consulates, each of which who each show one movie from that country. So you get to see movies in the original Czech, and Polish, Danish and Spanish, not just in English. The second thing is – they have some interesting Q&As to go with some of the movies. There’s one that looks great on the 19th, on how to do an international co-production, by Michael Dobbin, the producer of the Hungary-Slovenia-Canada co-production called the Maiden Danced to Death. And the third thing? The movies are all free! Just show up – I recommend 45 minutes early – and wait for a free ticket at the Royal.

I’m just going to talk about one movie today:

Almanya: Wilkommen in Deutschland / Welcome to Germany

Dir: Yasemin Samdereli

Three generations of a German family gather to hear an announcement. The Grandfather Huseyin (Vedat Erincin), has been picked to give a speech before the Chancellor Andrea Merkel, because he was the millionth (well, millionth plus one) immigrant back in the 60’s when Germany let in guest workers. But his grandson, Cenk (Rafael Koossouris) can’t speak a word of Turkish. In school, the kids tease him because he doesn’t know anything about his “Heimat”, his ancestral homeland.

So his sister Canan tells him their family history. The movie jumps back and forth between the 60’s and the present day, where the Grandpa decides to take everyone back to Turkey – some for the first time — for the fall vacations.

This is a very endearing movie, with the feel of Amelie – nostalgic, but not kitschy. It’s a German movie, but completely from the points of view of the German- Turkish family as they struggle to understand a new culture, language and life. Some funny scenes where one son thinks the Germans worship a dead guy and practice cannibalism at Mass each Sunday. The Grandfather is afraid they’ll soon be wearing dirndls and lederhosen and eating pork knuckles if they take on citizenship. And none of them can understand that strange, lilting Bavarian accent at first – it’s not the German they were expecting. But the movie shows the gradual assimilation, with a shift in cultural attitudes, intermarriage, and changes in the German Melting Pot.

I liked this movie a lot (except for a little bit of cornball near the end with slo-motion laughter and tears – uggh!) and it leaves you with a good feeling. Good acting, good story, a simple, well-made movie.

Kevin Hart: Laugh at my Pain

Dir: Leslie Small and Tim Story

This is a stand-up comedy movie about and starring Kevin Hart, a short, African-American funny man. This movie’s in three parts. The first section, and most boring part, is just him showing life in the neighbourhood of Phillie where he grew up. His cheese steaks, his school, his home, and his homies. Strictly for fans. If it was TV, I’d change the channel. The second part — most of the movie — is of a stand-up performance before a huge audience, where he talks about his parents, school, church, weddings, funerals, middle-class money troubles– pretty M.O.R. stuff, just a little bit funny. Like his aunt who pretend-faints at any dramatic junction at Church or his father who goes commando under his sweatpants. Only some laughs, as he imitates the characters.

But he’s really on his game in the middle, when he starts talking about sex, and when he gets into the physical performance he’s really good at. So he jumps around the stage, he’s on the floor, he attacking a chair, he’s doing the hula-hoop, he’s letting his mic mimic how he pictured his father when he was a little kid. He tells about his inner thoughts when he’s on the dancefloor in a club. He totally owns the crowd during that part.

And then the third part, his skit comedy, has its ups and downs, very slow to start… but he eventually gets into a very funny scene – (during an imitation of Reservoir Dogs), where he gets distracted from robbing the bank by a flirty but demanding bank teller.

Laugh at my Pain has it’s good parts and its boring parts, but it’s always fun to see stand up on the big screen.

Laugh at my Pain opens today, check your local listings; Almanya, Welcome to Germany is playing at the EU Film Festival – running all week, check listings on eutorontofilmfest.ca; and Piercing 1 played at reelasian Film Festival. Go to reelasian.com and try to catch Buddha Mountain – a great movie from China about three disaffected youth who find common ground with an angry and depressed Peking Opera singer — in Thornhill if you missed it last week.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.

November 11, 2011. The Real ReelAsian Film Festival. Movies Reviewed: Bleak Night, Full Metal Alchemist, Saigon Electric, Buddha Mountain, Amphetamine

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, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference

As Rome burns and Europe crumbles, and Wall St is pre-Occupied, and the planet is teetering on the brink… all eyes are on Asia. So now’s your chance to get a feel of what’s going on across the Pacific. The Reelasian Film Festival (“reel” as in reel to reel, Asia as in East and SE Asia) is on now in Toronto, and it’s showing great, new, popular, festival and experimental movies from that region as well as some Canadian films. That means dramas, comedies, documentaries, anime, and shorts. There are also lectures, workshops and master classes for actors, scriptwriters, and producers — even events where you can pitch your own movie proposals. So this week I’m talking about films from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam.

Bleak Night

Dir: Yoon Sung-hyun

This is a movie about a group of three friends at a private boys’ high school in Korea. Only they’re not exactly all that friendly. One is the undisputed leader of the group, and lords it over the rest of them. He’s more of a bully than a friend, and pressures and intimidates the others, who go along with it. The encounters turn into physical abuse and name calling – “you’re my bitch” he says – but no one questions him.

It’s not until one boy stands up to him – and even tries to sever the friendship – that the power-dynamic changes and the pressure builds.

I like Bleak Night, but it gets bogged down with a slow-moving plot, and too many repetitive scenes with ten-minute-long two-man conversations about what happened off-screen and what they really mean to one another.

Full Metal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師)

Dir: Murata Kazuya (based on the comics by Arakawa Hiromu)

If you’ve never seen Japanese anime before this is a good place to start. But keep in mind, anime are based on manga and so have very long and complex plots with tons of past references and ongoing twisted story lines.

This movie (one chapter of a long saga) takes place in a fantasy setting that looks like the American southwest in the 1930’s, except the country is under martial law. Ed Elric, the full metal alchemist, is a master scientist-cum-magician with bionic limbs of steel. He teams up with his rival Crichton, his sister Julia, and her robot and companion to try to discover the secrets of Milos, find the stars of fresh blood, and gather any clues that might bring them closer to the Philosopher’s Stone. Watch and learn, grasshopper.

Saigon Electric

Dir: Stephane Gauger

Mai, an innocent girl from the sticks, comes into Ho Chi Minh city to make it as a dancer. But she’s strictly old-school: she doesn’t wear make-up, and doesn’t have a fashionable haircut or city clothes. And her dancing style is traditional too – using a ribbon, no less. But then she falls in with tuff-girl Kim whom she meets working in a restaurant. She’s a break dancer who’s being wooed by a rich guy whose family owns an expensive French restaurant. Kim hangs with her crew – Saigon Fresh — painting graffiti art on city walls, bustin’ moves to American hip-hop, and challenging the Northern Killaz to win the city championship so they can compete in the International contest In Korea. They become close friends, and when Kim finds herself homeless she moves into the room Mai rents from the scarecrow, a grumpy old musician. Mai starts teaching ribbon dancing at the same community centre where Kim is break dancing with her crew – a place where orphans and homeless street kids find shelter.

But trouble awaits: Kim and her boyfriend go off to a seaside hotel, where he promises her the world. But back in the city, some rich developers are threatening to close down the community centre where they all hang out and turn it into a hotel. What’s going to happen? Will all the characters find true happiness or will all their dreams be lost? Will the club be closed down?

This Saigon really is electric, shot in supersaturated colours, of people zooming around the city on motorbikes and skateboards. Even though it’s a age-old story, I like this very modern but distinctly Vietnamese style combined with a good dramatic plot and lots of that excellent 80’s street dancing with head spinning, sometimes even combined with classic Vietnamese drumming. (in Vietnamese).

Buddha Mountain (觀音山)

Dir: Li Yu

Mrs Chang (Sylvia Chang) a former Peking Opera star living in the city of Chengdu, in Sichuan China, is angry, hostile, bitter and depressed, since a tragic death in her family around the time of the earthquake. But she rents out a room in her home to three street-smart kids. Nanfeng (Fan Bingbing) is a pretty girl from a small town who can smash a bottle of beer on her forehead or kiss another girl on the lips – just for the hell of it. She’s trying to earn a living as a bar singer; Fatso (Fei Long) is a chubby, round-cheeked guy who didn’t get into University, but likes practicing Michael Jackson’s moonwalk as he looks for love; and Ding Bo (Chen Po Lin) is a self-centred but free-spirited youth with family troubles and too much time on his hands. They are adventurers – riding the rails, driving around town, rescuing each other from local gangs. Madame Chang orders them around like they’re her servants, and they steal from her and feel no guilt. A real generational divide. She looks down on them for their lack of culture, but for the kids she’s just a screeching fossil from a lost era.

But when one of the characters almost dies the others all rally round to help. They travel up to a Buddhist shrine on a mountain to repair damages from the earthquake and perhaps to fix the damaged parts of their own lives.

Buddha Mountain is a beautiful, touching, interesting and mainly realistic film about rootless youth in urban China.

Amphetamine / 安非他命 (Hong Kong)

Dir: Scud

Kafka (Byron Pang) — named after the Murakami novel, not the Czech writer — is a swim coach, a nude model, and a dyed-blond kung fu expert. His parents are dead, his brother is disabled, and he’s nearly penniless, but he can still do a complete split and support himself with his feet on opposite walls. Then he meets Daniel (Thomas Price), a young and ambitious Cantonese-speaking financier working for an Australian multinational. It is love? Kafka dumps his girlfriend when they seem to be falling for each other, even though it’s a first gay romance for both of them, and Kafka isn’t sure he can handle it.

They go bungee jumping, travelling, living the high life. But things get bad for poor Kafka when he starts doing too much crystal meth, and he begins to lose his grip with reality, falling into strange dreams and scary flashbacks, and beginning to think the white feathered wings he sometimes wears on his back mean he can actually fly. Is their love true? Can a poor but tough man accept the loving gestures of a Chinese-Aussie millionaire?

Definitely don’t see this movie if you’re at all uncomfortable with male nudity, since in practically every scene – I don’t care if it’s a street brawl, a love scene, a hospital, a mental ward, a police interrogation  — they find some excuse to strip down. OK maybe not the bungee jumping scene, but other than that, it’s Naked! Naked! Naked!

Amphetamine is unusual for a Hong Kong movie: a stylized and partly dreamlike gay, erotic melodrama about drugs. In Cantonese and English.

Saigon Electric, Buddha Mountain, Bleak Night, and Full Metal Alchemist, are all playing tonight through Sunday at the Reelasian festival. Check the times at reelasian.com. Amphetamine is also playing this weekend at anotherr toronto festival dealing with mental health and addiction: check times at rendezvouswithmadness.com Also opening today is Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. This is a two part movie, about a wedding with the bride (Kirsten Dunst) heading toward disaster and a post wedding depression with whole planet possibly colliding with a planet called Melancholia. First opart good, second part just so-so. And Charlotte Gainsbourg as the bride’s uptight, beleaguered sister is such a let down after her tour de force in Lars von Trier’s last movie, Antichrist.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site Culturalmining.com.

%d bloggers like this: