November 16th, 2012. Up and Down. Movies Reviewed: Floating City, Pusher

Posted in Clash of Cultures, Crime, Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, Finance, Fishing, Hong Kong, Racism, UK, Uncategorized, violence, 中国电影 by CulturalMining.com on November 17, 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.

We’re nearing the end of the fall festival season here in Toronto. But there are still a few you can catch.

ReelAsian shows movies by and about people in or from East and Southeast Asia. The festival continues this weekend with movies shown north of Toronto in Thornhill. It’s a great place to see current films from Asia that don’t normally make it to Toronto theatres. Rendezvous with Madness, which shows movies aboiut addiction and mental health is notable for it’s offbeat, rare and creative works. They’re each followed by panel discussions by the filmmakers, experts, and, here’s what’s different… psychiatrists! And I’m going to be moderating a panel of some great Canadian local films (North of Normal: A Collection of Canadian Shorts) so be sure to check that out series out this Saturday at 4 pm! SAD NEWS: ALL SCREENINGS AT RENDEZVOUS WITH MADNESS THIS WEEKEND HAVE BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO ROOF COLLAPSE.

The EU festival shows one movie from each country in the European Union chosen by representatives from each country’s diplomatic corps. Aside from the great films… it’s also completely free! It’s at the Royal Cinema on College street all week. And finally don’t miss the best named festival in Toronto: that’s Darryl’s Hard Liquor And Porn Film Festival at the Projection Booth on Gerrard St East. It;’s actually funny short films made by indie movie makers — not so much porn, but lots of funny adult topics.

This week I’m looking at two dramas about the fortunes of two ambitious but rudderless men whose fortunes rise and fall within the tides of the former British Empire.

Floating City

Dir: Ho Yim

When a desperately poor woman loses her son in childbirth she buys a newborn to replace him – a Eurasian Chinese boy with bluish eyes. She raises him as her own and guards him with her life on a little fishing junk in the fragrant harbor of Hong Kong. He grows up literally barefoot, illiterate, beaten by his father, in debt, and bullied. His light-coloured hair marks him as an outsider. And the local corruption and bribery makes it very hard for a poor person to leave the underclass.

But one day he sees one of the legendary taipans – the ruling business oligarchs of Hong Kong – and vows to join their ranks. A missionary priest teaches him to read and write. And Bo is ambitious; rather than becoming a labourer or a fisherman, he manages to join the legendary East India Company. Despite the racist bully businessman Dick, his boss, he swallows his pride, even letting Dick call him “mixed” and “halfbreed”.

This movie – based on actual people – shows the rise of Bo (Aaron Kwok) against the history of post-war Hong Kong. It stretches from the social unrest uin the 60s through the panic in the 80’s and the ultimate signing of the British colony to the People’s Republic. It also shows his eternal question – who am I? – as he tries to find love, to fit into European society, always pondering is that all there is? And will any loss of pride to kowtowing pay-off in the end? Or will he always be considered “second class”.

I liked the story and the characters, but it seemed more plodding than moving or thrilling. And the film seems a bit dry for such a monumental topic. Still, Floating World gives a comprehensive view of Hong Kong’s history and its people and its bitter-sweet role as a loyal British colony that was never accepted by the mother country.

Pusher

Dir: Luis Prieto

Things are going well for Frank (Richard Coyle). He’s got a nice arrangement with a sleazy dry-cleaner (Danish actor Zlatko Buric) to supply him with drugs that he sells in dubstep nightclubs alongside his skinny, toothy side-kick Tony (Bronson Webb). And he is sleeping with a beautiful, ice-blond stripper (Agyness Deyn).

He decides to expand – he sends a woman to Amsterdam to pick up some coke, and — after a chance meeting with a casual acquaintance he met in the big house – he decides to go for an easy deal that will make him lots and lots of money.

But things are not what they seem. The Amsterdam deal isn’t working, his buddy seems to have turned on him, he suspects the set-up guy might be a narc, and all the money he borrowed from Milo The Dry Cleaner… has disappeared. He’s forced to accompany a violent enforcer to reclaim some of the money he is owed, knowing all the while that he might well be the next one crushed by the big time criminals.

Will he dig himself out if his hole, get back his money, avoid prison, escape the low life, and maybe find a quiet existence with his lover?

Pusher (a remake of Nicolas Refn Wilding’s film) is extremely violent, gritty, low-budget and depressing. It has some good intrigue and action, it’s fast moving and tense, but it’s not a fun movie. The acting is pretty good and you get to like the characters (even though they’re loathsome criminals)… but they’re all so beaten down by the even nastier bosses that you mentally want it all just to end already.

Pusher is playing now, Floating City is playing at reelasian.com this weekend in Thornhill; Rendezvous with Madness, Hard Liquor and Porn, and EUtorontofilmfest.ca all continue through the weekend.

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

Movies that make you go Hmmm… Fair Game, Client 9: the Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer, Inside Job, My Suicide, Golden Slumber, 127 Hours PLUS Film Festivals: Rendezvous with Madness, ReelAsian, Waterloo Animation

Movies that make you go hmmm…

If you look back at the past decade and wonder what the hell was that all about? there are three good movies that provide some explanations.

Fair Game
Dir: Doug Liman

Valerie Plame is a tough cookie. She works under deep cover for the CIA, recruiting local snitches around the world to gather intelligence on those inscrutable terrorists. She’s part of the group looking into the threat of a nuclear weapons in Iraq. She’s known as the agent who can’t be broken, even by torture. She’s married to a hothead, former diplomat, Wilson, a West Africa expert, who the CIA enlists to investigate rumours about yellowcake uranium coming out of Niger.

But their conclusions (they all hate Saddam Hussein too, but there are no weapons of mass destruction) do not sit well with the conspirers Cheney, Karl Rove, and their attack dog Scooter Libby. The movie traces what happens to Valerie and her family (and the drama sticks pretty close to the true story) when they expose her cover, and start to assassinate her husband’s character.

This movie’s a good historical take on the US government’s WMD scam (which led to the invasion of Iraq, more than a hundred thousand civilians dead and 4 million refugees). It tells a story where even the CIA comes across as one of the good guys. And Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are fun to watch, and the thriller aspect – of a spy escaping her foes – is not bad either.

So… a couple years after all this happened, things were brewing in New York City, on Wall Street, to be exact. The next movie, a documentary:

Client 9: the Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer
Dir: Alex Gibney

… looks at the case of the former Attorney General, and later Governor of New York, who was brought down in an embarrassing scandal involving a prostitute he slept with.

So what actually happened there?
Spitzer was, with great media and popular success – attacking the crooked dealers in the financial industry. He started low, but gradually worked his way into the belly of the beast. But, of course, he was getting on the nerves of some of the bigshots of Wall Street:
Crooked stock analysts at Merril Lynch; insider traders; NY Stock Exchange director Kenneth Langone; and the head of AIG, Hank Greenberg. (This documentary gets to interview everyone!)

As state governor, he added to his list of enemies – he sought out the fights and confrontations. But, of course, the bad guys fought back and cooked up an elaborate scheme using the sleazy, but fascinating, dirty trickster Roger Stone, to bring him down. Compiling published newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with the players, including the prostitutes and politicians involved, this compelling example of real investigative journalism traces the elaborate set-up to bring down the enemy of Wall Street, Albany, and Washington.

Next…

Inside Job
Dir: Charles Ferguson
Narrator: Matt Damon

…takes up the story right where Client 9 ends. It traces the bigger picture of how the real estate and financial bubble led to the collapse of the world’s, and the later bailout and payoffs to the very men whose out-and-out conniving and fraud led to these problems. Politicos, Investment banks, and, interestingly, university professors are taken to task for their involvement. This is also a great documentary, but not as good as Client 9 in getting interviews with the players from both sides of the story.

Does all this stuff make you mad? Well, check out Rendezvous with Madness – a film festival that deals with addiction and mental health by showing some interesting movies, documentaries, and experimental films, combined with discussions right after the screenings.

One movie that caught my eye is called:

My Suicide
Dir: David Lee Miller

This is a fictional blog in movie form. A blog-movie. I’d call it a Bloovie.

Archie is pretty pissed off. He goes to high school, but doesn’t much like it. He has a crush on a beautiful girl named Sierra, and feels alienated from his parents. It’s a 90210-type high school, but he’s not one of the popular kids. So when his classmates are all told to make a movie (everyone in this film seems to have a video camera), he tells the class: He’s going to film his own suicide. He immediately gets driven away by a cop, and passed on to a parade of counselors, social workers and shrinks. But he also unwittingly becomes an underground antihero in the school, with lots of kids vowing to follow his example; and he finally meets up with seemingly perfect Sierra, the girl of his dreams.

This is a frenetic movie: It feels like an earnest episode of Degrassi, cranked up on a six pack of red bull. It’s also much dirtier, with sex, drugs, and some sad stuff too. It quotes TV news, commercials, educational films, and some excellent animated sequences – basically anything you can fit on a green screen behind the main character. A sad and shocking topic, but with an interesting and comic way of telling the story of teenage angst. It’s on tonight at 9; check out the details on http://www.rendezvouswithmadness.com

The Toronto ReelAsian International Film Festival  shows great films from east and southeast Asia, including Japan, China, Korea, HK, and Vietnam, as well as movies from around the world.

The festival opened with the enjoyable retro kung fu flic “Gallants”. One interesting movie (that screens tonight) is:

Golden Slumber
Dir: Yoshihiro Nakamura

Aoyagi (Masato Sakai) is a friendly, ordinary, mild-mannered deliveryman. He was in the Food Culture Research Youth Group (dedicated to “friendship through fast food”) at university, lives in Sendai, and once was famous for 15 minutes when he rescued a pop star by tripping her attacker. He is bamboozled into going on a fishing trip with an old classmate which soon turns into a massive JFK/ Lee Harvey Oswald assassination plot to kill the Japanese PM. And he discovers that he’s the Oswald, and a whole lot of shady characters driving black cars are after him, as well as the even more bloodthirsty and venal press corps.

A pint-sized, teenaged serial killer becomes one of Aoyagi’s many de facto rescuers as he tries to clear his name. “Trust”, Aoyagi believes, “is mankind’s greatest strength.’

This is a neat movie: 50% paranoid conspiracy drama, 50% quirky black comedy, that follows Aoyagi and his various former college friends as the story unfolds in an unusual way. I love this kind of movie.

Another story of a man stuck in a hard place is the very enjoyable

127 Hours
Dir: Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle, of course, is the guy who brought us Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting; all his movies are fun to watch, but totally different from the last one he directed.

This one is an hour and a half of an adventurous, solo mountain climber (James Franco) who’s arm is pinned in a fissure by a big hunk o’ rock… in the middle of nowhere.

And the only way out might be by cutting off his own arm. This is a true story, so if you’ve seen pictures of the guy (Aron Ralston) you’ll know what he did in the end. So how does he keep your attention? A guy stuck in a rock for an hour and a half? Well this is a great movie, that isn’t trapped in the tiny space. I don’t like overly claustrophobic, squashed-in movies. This one reaches out, it goes wherever Aron’s mind, dreams, fantasies, hallucinations, and memories take him. There is an extended episode of extreme grotesquerie, but other than that, it’s a greatly enjoyable movie about a man attempting to overcome nature using his will and logic, without resorting to prayer and salvation.

And if you’re in the Kitchener/Waterloo area, be sure to check out the 10th annual Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema – it’s filled with animated features from places like Eastern Europe and Japan, ranging from anime, to fairy tales to psychedelia – sounds pretty cool. Look for the details on wfac.ca

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