Making history. Films reviewed: Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, Goodbye Christopher Robin, BPM (Beats Per Minute)

Posted in 1920s, 1970s, 1990s, France, H.I.V., Kids, LGBT, Poetry, Politics, Pop Culture, Protest, Watergate, WWI by CulturalMining.com on October 13, 2017

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

It’s festival season in Toronto: Reel World film festival brings the world’s untold stories to the big screen; and Toronto After Dark has horror, sci-fi and fantasy pics that make you laugh your ass off or will scare your pants off. Toronto after Dark and Reel World are both on right now.

But this week I’m looking at historical dramas based on real events. We’ve got protests in Paris, politics in Washington, and Pooh in East Sussex.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

Dir: Peter Landesman

It’s June, 1972 in Washington DC. Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) a top-ranked FBI agent, notices something strange: burglars were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel. And they weren’t stealing money, they were looking for files. And the burglars are former Federal agents. Who is behind it all? Felt investigates. The trail leads to the White House where Richard Nixon is running for reelection. But his investigation is stifled by a suspicious political appointee named Gray. He’s the provisional head of the FBI – J. Edgar Hoover just died — and seems to be taking orders from the White House. This is a no-no. And the White House seem to know everything the FBI is doing – is there a leak in the Bureau? So Felt decides to do some leaking himself. He secretly meets with reporters from Time Magazine and the Washington Post to pass on crucial information. Will the truth about Nixon and Watergate come out and can Felt keep his identity a secret?

No spoilers here: you’ve probably heard of the Watergate scandal that brought down Nixon. And about Deep Throat – the mysterious source journalists Woodward and Bernstein used to break their stories. And the Senate Watergate Hearings which investigated it all. This movie, though, looks at it from an entirely new perspective: as a power struggle between the White House and the FBI, personified by Felt a career federal agent.

It’s also about Felt’s private life, with his depressed, alcoholic wife Audrey (Diane Lane), and his hippy daughter who disappears and who Felt thinks is a member of the Weathermen Underground. At its worst, this film seems to paint the FBI – which has plenty of its own skeletons in its closet — as the saviour of a nation. But at its best it captures the mood of a superb thriller, based on a huge, real-life conspiracy.

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Dir: Simon Curtis

A.A. Milne (Domhnal Gleeson) is a popular playwright in London’s west end just back from WWI. On the surface he’s full of witty patter, all whizbang and tiddley poo. But he’s actually he’s shell-shocked: Champagne corks or popping balloons send him diving for cover. He’s so shaken up he moves out to the country where he hopes to write an anti-war book in peace. His flapper wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) makes it clear she would much rather be partying in London. Milne has writer’s block. And the crying baby makes the situation even worse. They hire a nanny, Olive (Kelly Macdonald) to help raise their son Christopher Robin whom they call Billy Moon. But when Daphne moves back to London, and Olive to her dying mother’s bedside, Milne is suddenly left alone with a son he barely knows (Will Tilston). He has to talk to him, cook for him and entertain him.

And that’s when some serious father-son bonding kicks in. They go on adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood, climb trees, make up stories and play with Billy Moon’s stuffed animals – a teddy bear, a piglet, and a donkey. He invites his friend — an illustrator — to draw pictures of it all. And Milne begins to write poems. He sends one, Vespers, about their son praying before bed, to Daphne in London to show her he’s writing again. She submits it to Vanity Fair and soon it’s a huge hit. Milne publishes his poems and stories and, suddenly, his son and the toys he plays with – Winnie the Pooh, and Kanga and Roo – become celebrities, famous around the world. The boy is dressed up and trotted out for book tours and toy stores and radio interviews. And this upsets him. Strangers know everything about his private life and his imaginary inventions. They think he’s a fictional character come to life, but he’s not Christopher Robin. He’s Billy Moon. Can the family stop this tide of fame before their lives are ruined?

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a touching story about the reality behind the beloved childrens’ books. It’s also the contrast between the British stiff upper lip – no touching or showing emotion – and all the humour and imagination yearning to escape. The movie is a bit slow in parts, and sometimes succombs to nostalgia and sentimentality, but I liked it anyway. And it also has beautiful locations and great costumes.

BPM (Beats Per Minute)

Dir: Robin Campillo

It’s the early 1990s in Paris, AIDS is at its peak and people are in a panic. The government makes speeches but does nothing and big pharma is sitting on crucial medication. Meanwhile, people are dying every day. So a group of activists launch a protest group called Act Up Paris (after its US counterpart) and spring into action.

They storm into government meetings and pharmaceutical offices, throwing plastic sacs of fake blood at the walls. Then they stage mass die-ins, falling to the floor until they’re dragged away by police. They meet in university lecture halls to hash out their disagreements: men and women of all ages and sexualities. But will their actions fall on deaf ears?

BPM is a story about the group, but especially two of its members, Sean –a scrawny, cynical latino (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart ) and Nathan, a student from a small town (Arnaud Valois). After a spontaneous first kiss – when they take over a high school to teach safe sex – they move in together: Sean is HIV positive, Nathan negative. Their relationship is intense and passionate, partly because Sean might die at any moment. BPM is a long and detailed – but very moving – look at a civil disobedience movement. It captures the fluidity and uncertainty of life and love in the midst of a crisis.

BPM, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House and Goodbye Christopher Robin all open 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.

Art House Dramas. Films Reviewed: We are the Best, Things the Way They Are, Eastern Boys

Posted in 1980s, Chile, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Drama, Feminism, France, Gay, Movies, Protest, Punk, Sex Trade, Sweden, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 31, 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.

With spring comes blockbusters, superheroes and giant atomic lizards. But it’s also spring festival season. Inside out, Toronto’s LGBT festival runs through the weekend, and coming soon are NXNE, with some great movies, spectacular Luminato, the Italian Contemporary Film Fest, and NIFF, a new, integrated festival in Niagara Falls combining movies, food and wine. This week, I’m looking at great festival-type movies: realistic, low-budget, art-house dramas. There are punk girls in Stockholm, a culture clash in Santiago; and, from Paris, a gang of eastern European boys.

Mira Grosin, Liv Lemoyne and Mira Barkhammar in WE ARE THE BEST! a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!)
Dir: Lukas Moodysson (Based on the graphic novel by Coco Moodysson)

It’s Stockholm, Sweden in 1982. Bobo and Klara (Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin) are two young girls who are mad at the world. Grown-ups are idiots without a clue. Other kids are into aerobics and spandex, or long hair, metal, and prog-rock. So they chop off their hair, make it into spikes or a Mohawk and declare themselves punk. Punk not dead! They embrace punk ideology, clothes and politics, not just the music – everything from questioning authority to garbage picking. They are firmly against nukes, organized religion, and consumerism.

Conformist kids pick on them, and they miss out on school sports and clubs. Jonathan Salomonsson, Mira Grosin and Mira Barkhammar in WE ARE THE BEST!So they start off on their own, spontaneously, with a band. Without any music skill. Soon, it’s Bobo on drums and Klara on bass. They’re awful. At the fall talent show, they see Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), the school pariah and a fundamentalist Christian. Because she plays classical guitar and dresses conservatively she gets booed off the stage. But Bobo and Klara can see she really knows music. So they make her a deal: she teaches them how to play and they’ll be her friend and let her join their band. Though labeled a “girl band” these punks set out to prove they are the best.

This is great movie that captures the early 80s dead-on. The best part? These girls are 10-13 year olds, yet they play the punks flawlessly and carry-off the movie.

poster las cosas como sonThings the Way They Are (Los Cosas Como Son)
Dir: Fernando Lavanderos

Jeronimo (Cristobal Palma) is an ordinary guy who quietly lives in a huge crumbling house in Santiago, Chile. He makes his money renting rooms to foreigners, and spends all day painting, plastering, and trying to bring the place into livable condition. Jeronimo has a helluva black beard, looking like a cross between an urban hipster and a 19th century anarchist. But his politics are anything but. He wants things to stay exactly the way they are.

Into his life comes the beautiful, young Sanna, a blonde woman from Norway. She’s there to teach drama classes to kids in a poor part of town. But Jeronimo can’t understand why. What does she get out of it? What’s in it for her? And he’s baffled by Scandinavian attitudes toward sex. Women have sex with whomever they want? In Chile, we call them prostitutes.

Sanna’s for openness, trust, change, being free. Jeronimo is suspicious, THINGS-Website-Photoclass-conscious, homebound. Still, there’s something happening between them. Will love follow? But when Jeronimo, who likes snooping around his tenants rooms, discovers a surprise under Sanna’s bed, that totally changes their situation.

I liked this movie. It’s attractive to watch, though not exciting. It’s more about contrasting characters, cultures and personal philosophies, giving an intimate slice of life in contemporary Santiago.

easternboysEastern Boys
Wri/Dir: Robin Campillo

Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) is a blank- faced businessman who regularly passes through the Gare du Nord in Paris. He meets a handsome young prostitute there named Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) and gives him his address for an upcoming tryst. What he doesn’t realize is that Marek is part of a closely-knit gang of guys from Eastern Europe who practically live at the station. They’re hustlers, thieves, pickpockets, conmen, and prostitutes. And the next day, to his horror, they show up, en masse, at his condo door for a “party”. Their leader, known only as “Boss” (Daniil Vorobyov), is the sinister but seductive alpha dog. He puts on music, pulls off his shirt and starts dancing in front of the businessman. Daniel’s non-plussed, but eventually just says to hell with it. easternboys_01_mediumHe dances with thieves wearing a paper crown, while they strip his apartment bare. His art, his computer, his TV… everything is loaded onto a white van.

C’est la vie, right? No. Who shows up the next day at his empty apartment but Marek, the sex worker who started it all. He says it wasn’t his fault, and he’s still willing to do what he was hired for. Sex is cold and perfunctory, but he begins to show up regularly, on the sly. He’s emphatic that Boss can’t know. Marek spends his weekends at a remote suburban refugee hotel with the gang, where they hold his passport. Daniel’s life is opaque. But we slowly find out more about Marek. He’s from a war zone and still hears the bombers, gunshots and explosions in the distance. Cold Daniel starts to show some backbone and compassion. Gradually they change from buyer/seller, to lovers, to roommates, to friends… to something very different and unexpected. Can Marek escape Boss’s control and leave the gang for a future in France?

This is a disconcerting and disturbing film, but quite good. What’s remarkable though is the ensemble of Eastern European actors, working perfectly together like Oliver Twist performed by Cirque de Soleil. Though moralistic at times, it works both as a crime thriller (with minimal violence), and as a social drama.

Eastern Boys played at Inside-Out, We Are the Best and Things the Way They Are both open 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

%d bloggers like this: