Novelty. Movies reviewed: Live from New York, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Posted in comedy, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Movies, Satire, Sweden, TV, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on June 11, 2015

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

Part of what makes a movie enjoyable is its unpredictability. It has to deliver lots of shocks, laughs and new images to keep the audience watching. So this week I’m looking at three films with increasing degrees of novelty. There’s a documentary about a once-novel TV comedy show; a quirky, high school dramedy based on a novel; and a truly bizarre Scandinavian fantasy about novelty salesmen.

LIVEFROMNEWYORK!_(PHOTO+COURTESY+OF+EDIE+BASKIN)-4Live From New York
Dir: Bao Nguyen

Saturday Night Live was created 40 years ago by Canadian producer Lorne Michaels as a late-night music and comedy show appealing to the baby boomers. Michaels chose the variety show format, a dying television genre. But unlike most variety shows, the show had a different host each week, supported by a cast of unknown comics called the Not Ready For Prime Time Players, presumably for their adult themes and because the show aired live around midnight each Saturday night.

So far, the show has lasted 40 years, coining countless catch phrases, LIVEFROMNEWYORK!_(PHOTO+COURTESY+OF+EDIE+BASKIN)-5spawning movie stars and way too many terrible films. But is Saturday Night Live actually funny? Not really. (Is it sacrilege to say this?) Its laugh-to-groan ratio is low. And it’s infamous for stretching a single joke over a long drawn-out scene. And if it gets enough laughs, they repeat variations of the same joke, week after week.

This film is a less of a documentary than a hagiographic tribute to the show. It conveniently leaves out the uncomfortable deaths and ODs that have plagued some of the show’s stars. Does that mean the movie is boring? No, just the opposite. In fact, it’s the best way to appreciate SNL — as an anthology of its funniest lines… with all the bad parts cut out.

11258021_1071223622891348_2358076739079178040_oMe and Earl and the Dying Girl
Dir: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (based on the novel by Jesse Andrews)

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a shy high school senior in Pittsburg, PA. He doesn’t like school but has learned to navigate the halls without disrupting anything. His dad is a foodie- hippy, prone to lounging around at home in embroidered burlap caftans. Each day he sends Greg to school carrying iron cauldrons of Romanian organ-meat stews stashed in paper bags. Luckily, he can eat them with his best friend, Earl, in Mr McCarthy (a beat poet English teacher)’s 11113319_1071223669558010_2264475725501551061_ooffice. He’s known Earl (R.J. Cyler) since kindergarten. Greg us middle-class white; Earl is black and lives in a rundown part of town. Together they regularly plunder Greg’s Dad’s collection of criterion DVDs as raw material for the film parodies they create (Goddard, Herzog and Bergman).

11233601_1071223656224678_7242156405292471071_oSo Greg’s life is offbeat but normal until his mom throws a wrench into it. A neighbor, Rachel (Olivia Cook) has leukemia and greg is drafted to keep her company. So begins their initially awkward but increasingly deep relationship. Soon Greg and Earl are enlisted to direct their filmmaking skills toward a tribute to Rachel. But when Greg realizes 11270260_1071223586224685_1082857646675967953_othat what he does for fun could have real-life consequences… he panics.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a self-consciously off-beat movie. The adults – like the kids — are all given quirks: Beat Poet Teacher (Jon Bernthal), Hippy Dad (Nick Offerman), Rachel’s alcoholic single mom (Molly Shannon). But it’s the kids who carry the show, especially Thomas Mann as the everynerd. Though the film seems overly mannered, it’s still very funny. I fell for its humour, its plot and characters. It’s definitely a YA story but it appeals to all ages.

nZ7R77_pigeonsatonabranch_01_LEAD_o3_8613849_1432133049

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Dir: Roy Andersson

A pair of morose salesmen ply the streets of Gothenberg, Sweden. demonstrating their wares. They sell entertaining novelties. A rubber mask, vampire teeth, Bag o’ Laffs. One is always angry, the other one depressed. Needless to say, they don’t sell many novelties. They rent sterile, windowless rooms in a boarding house, and frequent Limp-Leg Lotta’s — once a boisterous bar, but now filled with sad, old men sitting alone. At somepgBZLV_pigeonsatonabranch_02_o3_8613895_1432133077 point, they wander off-map into a sort of a time warp, where an 18th Century gay Swedish king – followed by dozens and dozens of soldiers in three-cornered hats – marches through a modern-day bar on horseback. (Sweden is preparing for battle with Russia.)

76Y9Jy_pigeonsatonabranch_03_o3_8613940_1432133035Simultaneously, a large flamenco teacher keeps groping her male student, and a school for kids with Down’s Syndrome is putting in a show.

These are just a few of the story lines and gags that fill this strange but hilariously sad movie. It’s set in a timeless era, like a series of New Yorker cartoons brought to life. It’s shot in sepia tones, in a Teutonic, 1920s realist style. The actors all look like they’ve come back from the dead, with pale, powdered fleshy faces and beige clothing. But what does the title “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” mean? You (the viewer) are a pigeon observing humanity, with all its violence and sadness, but  unable to do anything about it. It’s depressing, it’s funny, it’s uncategorizable. You’ve got to see it – it’s a great movie… and one with high marks on the novelty scale!

Live from New York played last night at Cineplex, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl And A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Contemplating Humanity 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.

Dark Humour at TIFF14. Films reviewed: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch…, The Editor, Wild Tales, Magical Girl

Posted in Argentina, Canada, comedy, Corruption, Crime, Cultural Mining, Death, Drama, Movies, Satire, Spain, Sweden by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 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.

It’s the final weekend at TIFF, with the hits rolling out…  There are amazing biopics, like The PHOENIXImitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing;  period romantic drama’s like Christian Petzold’s stunning Phoenix, starring Nina Hoss, and the dramatic drama from Ukraine called The Tribe — told entirely in sign-language, no subtitles! — about a boy at a school for the deaf who is pulled into a criminal gang. All fantastic films.

But these are all opening this fall, so I’d like to talk about the kind of festival movie that’s harder to categorize, harder to grasp. This week I’m going to look at the some unusual films from Sweden, Argentina, Canada and Spain. What do they have in common?  Dark humour, whether used ironically, absurdly or for its camp.

MjED0B__pigeonsatonabranch_01-TEMPORARY_o3__8264667__1406644686A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Dir: Roy Andersson

A pair of morose salesmen ply the streets of Gothenberg, Sweden. demonstrating their wares. They sell entertaining novelties. A rubber mask, vampire teeth, Bag o’ Laffs. One is always angry, the other one depressed. Needless to say, they don’t sell many novelties. They rent sterile, windowless rooms in a boarding house, and frequent Limp-Leg Lotta’s — once a boisterous bar, but now filled with sad, old men sitting alone. At some point, they wander off-map into a sort of a time warp, where an 18th Century gay Swedish king – followed by dozens and dozens of soldiers in three-cornered hats – marches through a modern-day bar on horseback. Sweden is preparing for battle with Russia.

Simultaneously, a large flamenco teacher keeps groping her male student, and a school for kids with Down’s Syndrome is putting in a show.

These are just a few of the story lines and gags that fill this strange but hilariously sad movie. It’s set in a timeless era, maybe retro, maybe present day. the movie’s like a series of New Yorker cartoons brought to life. It’s shot in sepia tones, and the actors all look like they’ve come back from the dead, with pale, powdered fleshy faces and beige clothing. The title “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” suggests the thoughts Roy Andersson imagined while viewing a diorama of a bird behind glass in a museum. It’s depressing, it’s funny, it’s uncategorizable – and it’s a comment on life, existence and man’s inhumanity to man. Seriously. You’ve got to see it – great movie, and it just won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival

ElZxkN__editor_01_o3__8277762__1407351475The Editor
Dir: Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy

It’s a dangerous time at a 1970s Italian movie studio. They’re shooting a sexy horror film, but someone keeps stabbing the stars. Luckily, Ciso, the one-handed, master film editor, is there to rework the scenes and save the footage. But Detective Porfiry thinks Ciso is the killer – and he’s gonna take him down once he finds the evidence. But he has to navigate round a suddenly blinded wife, devious movie stars, and a razor in a black-gloved hand. Oh yeah, and there’s the catholic priest warning him not to deal in the black arts or he might open the door to hell itself.

OK, that’s the barebones plot. But what The Editor really is, is a combination parody and homage to 70s-era Giallo movies – the sexy, bloody genre made by directors like Dario Argento. That means spooky music, gushing blood, dark shadows, screaming starlets, and blurry, soft-Wnwq44__editor_06_o3__8277930__1407351499core sex scenes. Throw in insanity, lust and suspicion, and you’re all set.

This parody goes out of its way to be authentic – things like characters who say lines, even though their lips aren’t moving.

This one had me laughing very loudly through much of the film, partly because it’s perfectly ridiculous. To say it’s full of gratuitous nudity and gore is like saying a musical is full of music. Of course there’s a lot of it, and in a normal movie it might be excessive, but in a movie like this, it’s not gratuitous, it’s essential to the genre. The movie stars the two directors in lead roles, blond Conor Sweeney as a sexually confused actor, and the marvellous Pas de la Huerta rounding off the cast. Made for drive-ins and Midnight madness. And to think they made it all in Winnipeg.

BgnDyY__wildtales_01_o3__8254116__1406599920Wild Tales
Dir: Damian Szifron

A demolitions expert is furious when his car is towed from a valid parking spot. A waitress in a small town diner discovers the man she’s serving is the gangster who drove her father to suicide. A bride at a Jewish wedding suspects her new husband is already having an affair. A macho douche in a Lamborghini locks horns with a redneck thug in a junk heap on a rural highway. What do these short dramas all share?

They’re all ripping stories — almost urban legends — about ordinary people vowing revenge and retribution. Each of the six, separate segments in Wild Tales functions as its own short film. It starts with a small incident or conversation, but gradually escalates into something huge and potentially disastrous. Some of the characters are sympathetic, you can understand why they’re acting this way, even if you wouldn’t yourself. But it’s not just a random grouping of short films, shot like hollywood features. No. In Wild Tales the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. The tension grows as the movie rolls on to a series of amazing climaxes. Wild Tales is a compilation of funny, absurd looks at extreme consequences caused by small actions.

P1MR0y_magicalgirl_03_o3_8343970_1408453081Magical Girl
Dir: Carlos Vermut

Luis, an out of work professor, is trying to take care of his young daughter. Alicia is into ramen, manga and anime. She says she and her friends go by Japanese names. But the girl is also dying of cancer. Luis will do anything for her. So in an effort to grant what he believes is her last wish, Luis decide to get her the dress the Magical Girl wears in her series. In desperation he decides to commit burglary, but is stopped by a strange coincidence that introduces her to Barbara (Barbara Lennie.)

Barbara is a beautiful woman married to a rich but domineering psychologist, who decides LgA62A_magicalgirl_01_o3_8348922_1408453230what she can do, who she can talk to and what meds to take. Luis ends up sleeping with her, but then turns to blackmail to get the money for his daughter’s dress. Now Barbara must decide whether or not to return to a previous secret life. But will that lead to unpredictable consequences both for her and Luis?

This is a combination comedy, tragedy and drama. It feels like an O Henry short story brought to the screen.The audience poured out of the theatre in droves as soon as it was over, because they all found it disturbing — it is disturbing. But in a disturbingly good way.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, The Editor, Wild Tales, and Magical Girl are all playing at TIFF through this weekend. Go to tiff.net for details.

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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