Love lost. Films reviewed: Nocturnal Animals, Manchester by the Sea, Allied

Posted in 1940s, Art, Cultural Mining, Family, Meta, Sex, violence, WWII by CulturalMining.com on November 23, 2016

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

With U.S. Thanksgiving this weekend and Christmas just a month away, this is when Hollywood pulls out the big guns – Oscar-bait films, serious topics and big-name actors. This week I’m looking at three of these grown-up dramas. There’s love and lies in London, lost love in LA, and family ties in New England.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALSNocturnal Animals

Dir: Tom Ford

Susan (Amy Adams) is a rich, LA art dealer who leads a rarefied but hollow life. She receives a package in the mail from Tony, a writer (Jake Gyllenhaal). They were a passionate couple in their twenties but she dumped him when his career stalled in favour of the unfaithful Stepford husband she’s currently married to. But she’s intrigued by what he sent her: a novel called Nocturnal Animals in manuscript form. The story comes to life on the screen as she reads it.

It’s about a middle class family brutally carjacked on a desert highway by redneck killers. The husband survives the attack and vows revenge. He enlists a local sheriff NOCTURNAL ANIMALS(Michael Shannon) to help.

As Susan reads the book, she examines her current, pointless life, and remembers earlier days with her ex, Tony. The movie alternately follows all three strands — the novel, her flashbacks and the present day — as filtered through Susan’s mind.

Nocturnal Animals is a fascinating but flawed movie. It moves you emotionally, but NOCTURNAL ANIMALSwithout tears or love. The emotions it stirs are fear, revulsion and uncomfortableness. Director Tom Ford made the unusual leap from high fashion to Hollywood, so Nocturnal Animals is visually powerful. But it’s too “meta”. We see Tony’s book through the reader (Susan)’s eyes as envisioned by Tom Ford – three steps away from the plot. Which leads to weird images, like performance art we see in Susan’s gallery appearing again, but in distorted form, in Tony’s story. Get it?

Interestingly, Ford bucks the Hollywood trend of exploiting women’s bodies. The naked women you see here are either grossly obese… or dead. Instead, he undresses his men — Gyllenhall, Karl Glusman, and Aaron Johnson — at every possible opportunity. Lots of surface shocks and surprises in Nocturnal Animals, but nothing deep.

76e05278-81a6-4fc7-97b4-861c73eee46eManchester by the Sea

Dir: Kenneth Lonergan

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a handyman who lives alone in Quincy, just outside Boston. He’s called back to his hometown, a picturesque, fishing village, when his divorced brother John dies. It’s up to him to tell his nephew Patrick that his dad is dead. Patrick (Lucas Hedges) is 16 years old, on the school hockey team and in a band. Lee was close to him as a child, until something terrible happened, and Lee left town. Now, suddenly and against his wishes, he finds himself Patrick’s de facto dad. It’s written in his brother’s will. He doesn’t know what to do.

He had kids once, and Randi, his ex-alcoholic, ex-wife (Michelle Williams) still lives MBTS_2354.CR2there, but that was long ago.

At first he acts like Chris’s buddy – lets him drink, take girls home, say or do whatever he likes. But gradually reality sets in as Lee realizes he has to do the right thing: either raise him properly or find someone else who can. Trouble is Lee’s reputation in this town is dirt, and no one will hire him. Can he raise his stubborn nephew despite their geographic and emotional divide?

MBTS_3869.CR2Manchester by the Sea sounds like a typical movie, but it’s not.. It’s an emotional powerhouse that will leave you shaken. The movie is edited in a chop-up style, with flashbacks appearing unannounced right after a present-day scene. So you have to pay attention to understand it. It’s a devastating tearjerker, gradually revealed as his flashbacks come to life. The whole film is exquisitely structured, with certain scenes repeated but with new, subtle variations and revelations. And Casey Affleck might be Ben Affleck’s little brother but you can see who has all the talent. Casey is just fantastic in this understated drama.

I recommend this movie.

14708276_1786944501572397_9000336162931941931_nAllied

Dir: Robert Zemeckis

It’s 1942, when Casablanca was a hot spot for foreign spies. Max (Brad Pitt) is a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot who carries out daring flights behind enemy lines. He’s in French Morocco to meet up with Marianne (Marion Cotillard) a legendary spy with the French resistance. In ten days they plan to assassinate a top Nazi at a high-society party. He is pretending to be her husband, 14700787_1785050565095124_6988829959708533249_oa phosphate executive from Paris, madly in love with her. But they are actually meeting for the very first time. They play their parts well, laughing, kissing and staring in each other’s eyes. And, the night before the big day, not knowing if they will survive, they make passionate love in a car surrounded by a sand storm.

Later, Marion joins Max in London. This 14884429_1792693047664209_3520425651819957282_otime they really are in love. They marry, have a child, and settle into a normal life in Hampstead, even as German bombs fall all around them. But then Max receives distressing orders from HQ. He must carry out a blue dye test – planting a false message to see if it‘s picked up by enemy agents. And who is the potential Nazi spy? Marion! If she proves to be a double agent, Max has to kill her in cold blood. Can spies ever know if they’re really in love when they’re so good at telling lies?

I liked but didn’t love Allied. Marion Cotillard is as passionate as Brad Pitt is stiff and wooden. Most of the side characters are instantly forgettable, the plot has holes in it, pod2gand there seems to be cigarette product placement throughout the film. The movie is not slow, but it feels flat until the last quarter, when it finally gets exciting. Allied is an OK historical drama… but it ain’t no Casablanca.

Nocturnal Animals and Allied are now playing today, while Manchester by the Sea opens November 25th in Toronto, check your local listings. And if Hollywood isn’t your thing, an animated reboot of Dr Who: The Powers of the The blood-in-the-snowDaleks, a 70s episode lost for 50 years, is showing next Wednesday; and an all-Canadian horror festival is on this weekend. Go to bloodinthesnow.ca for details.

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 .

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