Big Changes, Big Trouble. Films reviewed: Every Day, The Party, Annihilation

Posted in Army, comedy, Fantasy, High School, Horror, Movies, Politics, Romance, Science Fiction, UK, Y.A. by CulturalMining.com on February 23, 2018

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

Everybody knows change is good, but big changes can lead to big trouble. This week I’m looking at three good movies about women facing big changes. There’s a British politician with a once-in-a-lifetime career change; a biologist investigating changes that are scientifically impossible; and a high school student whose boyfriend changes bodies once a day.

Every Day

Dir: Michael Sucsy

Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) is a highschool student in Maryland. Her mom’s a careerist, while her dad, since his breakdown, stays at home painting pictures. Her boyfriend Justin (Justice Smith) is a popular athlete… and a bit of a jerk. So she is surprised when he agrees to play hooky and spend the day just with her. It’s the perfect date: They explore downtown Baltimore, he pays attention to her, stops smoking, they share intimate personal stories, find their special song, and for the first time, they actually have fun together. Is this true love? But the next day he’s acting like a douche again, with only vague memories of the day before. It’s like he’s a different person. What’s going on?

What’s going on is he was a different person that day, someone named “A”. “A” is a bodyless being who inhabits a different person each day and — like Cinderella — departs that body at exactly midnight. “A” has no choice of who they’ll wake up as, except that it will be someone their age who lives nearby. “A” could be a boy that day, or a girl, could be black, white or asian, could be straight, gay or trans. Could be ugly or attractive. Rhiannon and “A” have to find each other each day to carry on their relationship. Hint: “A” knowing Rhiannon’s phone number helps a lot. Can their love overcome “A”’s ever-shifting identity?

Every Day is a cool, young adult fantasy/romance that works. It’s set in Maryland, but was shot in Toronto, and it has a Degrassi feel to it, where the multiracial, multigender nature of the cast is omnipresent but not central to the plot. Instead it deals with questions of identity, look-ism, and mental illness.

I liked this movie.

The Party

Wri/Dir: Sally Potter

Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a politician in the UK celebrating her promotion, the pinnacle of her career. Starting tomorrow, she’ll be the Shadow Minister of Health for the opposition Labour Party. So she’s throwing a party for her nearest and dearest. They arrive two- by two . There’s Martha (Cherry Jones) – a lesbian feminist university prof with her earnest partner Jinny.   Cynical April comes with her flaky boyfriend Gottfried (Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz), a self-professed healer. And Tom — a nervous and brittle financier (Cillian Murphy) — comes without his wife Marianne, Janet’s closest friend and workmate. Janet’s husband the grey-bearded Bill (Timothy Spall) sits alone in the parlour spinning vinyl as she bakes her vol-au-vents, to show that a woman can feel at home both in Westminster and in her kitchen. Problem is, her hors d’oeuvres are burning even as her party is collapsing like a house of cards, as each guest reveals a big secret. There’s cocaine, champagne, a fire, broken glass, face slaps… even a handgun.

The Party is a drawing room comedy that pokes fun at the social conceits of a generation of middle-class, leftist baby boomers. It’s the work of Sally Potter, director of Orlando and Ginger and Rosa. Shot in black and white with a wicked musical soundtrack that shifts the mood from scene to scene, it clocks in at just over 70 minutes, as a short-but-sweet English comedy.

Annihilation

Dir: Alex Garland

Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biology prof at Johns Hopkins who specializes in mutating cancer cells. Her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) – a soldier she met when she was in the army – is missing and presumed dead. But when he shows up at her bedroom door, seemingly with no memory of what happened and how he got there, she decides to investigate. She’s valuable to the military, a woman as comfortable with a petri dish as she is with a submachine gun. She joins a crack team of scientists, all women, headed by the laconic psychologist Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Their goal is to explore unknown territory within a swampy National Park.

It’s encased in something called “the Shimmer”, a phenomenon eminating from a lighthouse on the coastline.  No one who goes into the Shimmer comes out alive (except for her husband Kane) and it’s getting bigger and bigger each day. From the outside it looks like a giant rainbow-coloured, plastic shower curtain that’s melting upwards. On the inside it’s even stranger, a world where distinctions like “animal/vegetable/mineral” cease to exist. It’s both beautiful and grotesque, filled with Chihuly crystals, human topiary and brightly-coloured tree fungi. Unrelated species are combining and mutating at a rapid rate, into a cancerous growth — just like the cells Lena studies, only prettier. And they’re affecting the five women too, both their minds and their bodies. Video messages they find (left by previous soldiers) only make things worse. Can Lena survive the hideous creatures and her deranged and suspicious teammates before she faces the scariest entity of all?

Annihilation is a terrifying exercise in horror sci-fi psychedelia. It references everything from Arrival, to The Wizard of Oz to Apocalypse Now, as the team paddles their way though a Heart of Darkness in their search for emerald city. Natalie Portman is great as the elegant soldier-scientist, and director Alex Garland brings us a different take on post-apocalyptic images. Annihilation is the kind of psychedelic fantasy that keeps you guessing.

This movie is scary-pretty… and pretty scary.

The Party comes to Toronto next week (check your local listings);  Every Day and Annihilation open today. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Frenemies? Movies reviewed: The Host, Ginger and Rosa

Posted in 1960s, CND, Cold War, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Movies, Politics, Protest, Romance, Science Fiction, UK, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on March 29, 2013

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.

Do you have a “frenemy”? Maybe someone who is part of your circle but secretly hates you. Or a best friend who becomes a rival, or, maybe, a bitter enemy who turns out to be someone you can depend on. Well, this week I’m looking at two very different movies about young women and their frenemies. One is set in the future where two women’s souls share the same body; the other is set in the past, in the 1960’s, where two best friends become rivals when a certain man comes between them.

AV9D9769.CR2The Host

Dir: Andrew Niccol

It’s the future. Aliens have beamed down to the earth from outer space, in the form of glowing, sperm-like liquid crystals. They travel in little silver clam shells and burrow into the brains of their hosts – that’s us — and instantly take over. Pretty soon we’ve all turned into those emotionless aliens. They look just like you and me, except for their eyes: they have glowing rings embedded in their irises.

But one young woman, Melanie, (Saorise Ronan) is a fighter. When her mind gets taken over by an alien called the Wanderer, the internal Melanie refuses to give up. Her boyfriend, Jared, and her little brother are still out there somewhere and she has to save them… So now there are two rivals living in one body – but only one of them can speak to the outside world.

In a crucial mental battle, Melanie wins out over the Wanderer, and they manage to locate the rebels’ AV9D9558.CR2hideaway – a redneck, survivalist utopia, full of guns and wheat fields and special mirrors as an energy source —  that’s hidden between two mountains in the desert. But Melanie is shocked to be attacked by her loved ones. The rebels only see that alien ring in her eyes, but not Melanie’s soul buried somewhere deep inside. So they lock her up in a cave and treat her worse than an animal.

Gradually, the Wanderer (aka Wanda), becomes more like humans with actual emotions. Wanda has eyes for a guy in the desert hideaway, Kyle, but the internal Melanie still loves Jared (Max Irons). Melanie wonders: if Jared kisses her, would he be cheating? Since, even though she looks just like Melanie, he knows her body is occupied by Wanda’s soul. Melanie forces Wanda’s hand to slap Jared’s face when he seems to be enjoying the kiss too much.

THE HOSTMeanwhile, The Seeker (Diane Kruger) an ice blonde she-wolf of the SS, is in charge of finding the rebels and blasting them into submission or even wiping them out. Will the rebels win or the evil aliens? Will they realize Melanie is still alive? And who will win this split personality’s love – Ryan or Jarrod?

The Host, is a romance set within in a science-fiction/action movie.

It’s written by Stephanie Meyers, who brought us the insipid Twilight series (teen romances disguised as vampire movies). I like the main story, but whenever tension starts to build, it turns back into a sexless romance, where the main topic is Will he kiss me, and Does he really, really love me? and Why is he looking at me that way?

It wavers between a not-bad action drama and a romance suitable for a pre-teen bible camp. Saorise Ronan is quite good as the dual-personality alien, as is Diane Kruger as the Seeker, but the male romantic leads are boring and bland.

See The Host if you loved Twilight and want the same thing but with a bit more action, and a science fiction twist. Otherwise, give it a miss.

GINGER AND ROSA by Sally PotterGinger and Rosa

Dir: Sally Potter

Ginger and Rosa are best friends. They share everything with each other. They were born in a London hospital in 1945, with their mothers giving birth, side by side, just as the atom bombs were falling on Hiroshima. Fast forward to 1962: it’s the Cuban Missile Crisis, they’re both 17 now, and everyone thinks the atomic bombs are about to wipe everyone out.

Red-haired Ginger (Elle Fanning) is a political activist who writes poetry and goes to protest marches. She sleeps with a peace sign over her bed. She lives with her depressed but beautiful mum (Charlotte Hendricks) but thinks she’s boring and bourgeois. She idolizes her handsome and free-spirited dad (Allesando Nivola), who is an intellectual, a pacifist, and an activist. She also has an extended family, with two gay godparents, Mark and Mark 2, and various protesters, radicals, political organizers, artists and thinkers who hover around her home.

Dark-haired Rosa (Alice Englert) lives with her single mother. She’s Catholic and sexualized. She GINGER AND ROSA by Sally Potterteaches Ginger about sex, boys, making out, and the church. Ginger, in turn, takes Rosa to demos and CND ban the Bomb youth meetings.

But something is amiss in their friendship. Someone they both know well is attracted to Rosa (the feelings are mutual), and that secret relationship threatens to mess up both their lives and turn them from best friends to rivals.

This is a fantastic movie for so many reasons. Sally Potters film captures the mood of a newly radicalized London youth movement, and the very real fear of nuclear apocalypse. But it’s also a very moving story, a coming-of-age in an era fraught with changes. The acting, the moving story, the historical accuracy, even the period jazz music – just amazing. It’s Sally Potter at the top of her game.

I strongly recommend this movie.

The Host and Ginger and Rosa both  open today – check your local listings. Also opening is Spring Breakers, a unique and highly entertaining in a style that only Harmony Korine (Trash Humpers, Gummo) could pull off. And coming soon are Images, Cinefranco, Real World, TJFF, and Hot Docs.

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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