Significant Hair. Movies Reviewed: Viva, Green Room, Sing Street

Posted in Cuba, Cultural Mining, Horror, LGBT, Movies, Music, Punk, Skinhead, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on April 21, 2016

Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Can hairstyles hold messages about your job, your politics, your musical preference or your sexuality? This week I’m looking at movies about men with significant haircuts: a family drama from Cuba, a thriller/horror from the US, and a musical from Ireland. There’s a boy in Havana who’s dying to try a wig on; some punks trying to avoid dying when the skinheads are wigging out, and a kid in Dublin who will change his hairstyle for a girl he’s dying to meet.

A017_C001_11119KViva

Dir: Paddy Breathnach

Jesus (Héctor Medina) is a young man who lives alone in Havana. His dad was a prize fighter who ran off when Jesus was three (his picture is still on the wall.) Later, his mom died leaving only her record collection of classic Cuban boleros and torch singers. And her threadbare apartment. Now he’s 18 and all alone, an adult orphan. He earns a meager living cutting the hair of old ladies in his neighbourhood, along with one important client.

Mama (Luis Alberto García) runs a bar popular among foreign tourists. It features travestidos, drag queens who perform on stage in makeup, wigs and gowns, lip-synching and dancing for an appreciative audience. Jesus is there backstage to Héctor Medina in VIVA, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.4clean and style their wigs.

But when one performer suddenly quits and Mama is left with an open space, Jesus volunteers to take her place. He knows all the songs by heart, and he longs to express himself. Mama is dubious. It’s not just the clothes she says, you have to feel it, get inside of it, live it. But after begging and cajoling he’s allowed to try out. His persona is named Viva. At first clumsy and awkward soon Viva dares to get off the stage and walk among the clients. Viva spots a new customer, a rough-looking middle-aged man, and gathers her courage to approach him. But when she sings to him and touches him, he punches her in the face, knocking her to the floor. They kick the man out, and help patch up Jesus’s split lip. He goes home feeling miserable. But who does he find in his apartment? The same man. I’m Angel, he says, and I’m your father.

Jorge Perugorría and Héctor Medina in VIVA, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures2-1Turns out, Angel didn’t exactly run away. He’s been in prison for 15 years, and now he’s home again. He’s a mean, selfish drunk and spends all his money on cigarettes and rot-gut rum. He takes over the apartment: food, coffee and bed. He’s macho and wants his son to harden up. Jesus is self-reliant and tough in his own way, but definitely not macho. Jesus hates this stranger who has taken over his life, but… Angel is his father, and the only family he has. Or is he? Mama says Jesus is welcome to come back to the club, to stay with his new “family” — he’ll even get a room to live in. Angel forbids him from dressing up like a woman and “humiliating” himself on stage. But that is the only place where Jesus finds fulfillment… and his sole source of money. As a gay man in Cuba there are very few jobs open for him. It’s that or the sex trade.

But Angel has a secret of his own — the reason he’s come home to spend time with Jesus. Can the two of them get along? Can they accept each other for who they are? And will Viva ever enter the picture again?

Viva is a moving drama about contemporary gay life in Havana. The cast is all Cuban, and is shot on location. It doesn’t cover up or apologize for the seamier side of Havana, including its poverty. It stars Jorge Perugorría as Angel, one of Cuba’s best-known actors, famous in North America for his role in Strawberry and Chocolate, another Cuban movie with a gay theme. Héctor Medina is a newcomer but also very good. Surprisingly, though, this movie is officially considered an Irish production — its writer and director are both from there. I don’t speak Spanish, but I’m told the dialogue, words and accents are muy authentico.

12642920_1557369967920554_2236015225478540444_nGreen Room

Dir: Jeremy Saulnier

Sam, Pat, Reece and Tiger are hardcore anarcho-punks from the east coast. Their band is touring middle-America, playing at dive bars and roadhouses in Corn Country. They’re musical purists – no social networking or  iTunes. It’s vinyl discs and live performances – or nothing. The r0BLjE_greenroom_01_o3_8676897_1439243368problem is they’re not making any money. And when a promised gig goes south, they have to siphon gas out of parked cars just to keep driving. So when a local punk offers them a paid show at a country roadhouse, they jump at the chance. Just don’t talk politics they’re told. And don’t play zmQWRr_greenroom_03_o3_8677014_1439243414anything political.

The place turns out to be a bar for white-supremicist skinheads. And the green room (that’s where bands wait before they go on stage) is laden with neo-nazi, stickers, confederate battle flags and white power logos. Nice…But a few skins aren’t going to stop them. They start their set with a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s classic Nazi Punks F*ck Off! Dead silence. The skinheads aren’t pleased. Still, once they switch to their heavy loud tunes the crowd is slamming and enjoying the concert. All is good. But just as they head out, Pat (Anton RgkQ20_greenroom_05_o3_8677128_1439243450Yelchin, Chekov on Star Trek, 2009) remembers he left his smart phone in the green room. He busts in only to see something he shouldn’t have seen: a skinhead girl lying dead on the floor with a knife sticking out of her head. Pat dials 911 but they grab his phone.

Soon enough, the whole band is locked into the room with one door and no windows, along with a nasty-looking skinhead guard and Amber (Imogen Poots) a skin who was friends with the dead woman. No telephone. And no one knows they’re there.

O7LNWN_greenroom_02_o3_8676969_1439243390Things take a turn for the worse once Darcy shows up (Patrick Stewart, Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek:The Next Generation). He’s cold, sinister and forboding. A big guy in the Stormfront circuit, Darcy owns the club. He doesn’t want the police there, and he doesn’t want the punks talking about the murder. And he has dozens of True Believers – young neo-nazis who want to make their first kill – at his beck and call.

It turns into a battle between the punks (and a skinhead ally) armed with nothing more than a box-cutter, lightbulbs, a single handgun and a fire-extinguisher; and a gang of skins looking to kill. Once killer dogs enter the battle, people start dying.  Can any of them survive an all-out attack? Or will they disappear in a shallow grave in the woods?

Green Room is a great action/thriller/horror movie. My heart was pounding about a third of the way through, and didn’t let up til the end. It’s a typical house-in-the-woods type horror movie, but without the bikini-clad college students of a typical slasher pic. The women – including Sam (Alia Shawkat)–  are as tough as the men. And Imogen Poots is amazing as the Chelsea who joins the fight; so good, I didn’t recognize her until the closing credits.

12768265_228216354192538_6006492979310558347_oSing Street

Wri/Dir: John Carney

Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a middle-class kid at a private Jesuit school in Dublin in the 1980s. He lives at home with his parents, his little sister and older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) a pothead who dropped out of college. But when his family falls on hard times he is sent to a rougher school run by the Christian 12771938_228217334192440_5486446044202041047_oBrothers. (Canadians know the name from the Mt Cashel orphanage in St John’s, Newfoundland, notorious for its horrific abuses.) Cosmo gets bullied from day one, especially by a skinhead. The school is run by men in black priestly gowns from neck to feet, and who are not adverse to corporal punishment. But all is not pgo441_singstreet_02_o3_8934407_1453302712lost. Because across the street from the school he sees a beautiful girl who looks like a model. She even has a proper model’s name: Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Thinking quickly he invites her to star in his band’s video for their next song – and she agrees. Only problem is, there’s no video, no song, and no band. Somehow Cosmo has to make it happen. He meets Eamon (Mark McKenna) and together they start writing music. But will they have it all ready in time for the school prom?

Something about this movie grabs me – I really like it. It’s your basic boy-meets-girl/ coming-of-age story, and it’s set in the 80s but there’s nothing old or tired about it. Sing Street feels fresh and new.

Green Room and Viva both open on April 29th in Toronto: check your local listings. And starting today in Toronto is the wonderful Irish musical Sing Street.

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

Eurasia. Movies reviewed: Mountains May Depart, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Sing Street

Posted in 1980s, Afghanistan, China, Ireland, Journalism, Musical, Romance, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on March 11, 2016

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

Europe and Asia, despite what some people think, are part of the same continent: Eurasia. This week I’m looking at movies set on the Eurasian landmass, from the far east to the extreme west. There’s a love triangle set in a rapidly westernizing China, a true story about expat journalists in Afghanistan, and a coming-of-age musical set in Ireland.

48V7xJ_MOUNTAINSMAYDEPART_03_o3_8667537_1438094807Mountains May Depart

Wri/Dir: Jia Zhangke

It’s 1999 and a mining town China prepares for the new millennium. Especially Tao (Zhao Tao) who is a pretty, young performer. She’s being courted by two men. Liangzi (Liang Jingdong) is a brash but nice guy, brimming with confidence. He works in the mine store. Equally confident, but self-centred and vengeful, is Zhang Jinsheng (Zhang Yi). He’s rich and Liangzi isn’t. She wants to be friends with both of them. But she has to choose, and she chooses the one with money over vgRA2n_MOUNTAINSMAYDEPART_04_o3_8667554_1438094737the one she loves.

They have one son they name Daole or “Dollar”, named after the US dollar, what Zhang desires most. Tao stays in the mining town, while her husband moves to the city to rule his burgeoning financial empire and satisfy his perverse obsession with guns. And their son, Dollar, is sent off to a private English-language boarding school in far-off Shanghai.

GZzj65_MOUNTAINSMAYDEPART_01_o3_8667519_1438094794The second part of the movie jumps to the near future. Dollar lives in Australia now and only speaks English. He has distant memories of his country and his mother and transfers his feelings onto a rootless, Chinese-Canadian teacher named Mia (Sylvia Chang).

The movie then reveals what has become of Liangzi, Jinsheng and Tao – the original three characters.

Jia Zhangke is one of the best filmmakers in China, and a personal favourite. He has a unique style and feel that exposes the flaws and idiosycracies of modern China. But always in a funny satirical or shocking way. What other Chinese director would start his movie with people dancing on a stage to the Village People? It looks like one of his first movies Platform (2000). That said, this isn’t his best work. The first half is a good classic Chinese melodrama, but the second half, with its prediction of China’s future, feels empty in comparison.

12803308_192044051164344_2982674369886159417_nWhiskey, Tango, Foxtrot

Dir: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa (based on Kim Barker’s memoirs)

It’s the early 2000s. Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is a network TV newswriter whose career is going nowhere fast. So she jumps at the chance to relocate to a place grabbing all the headlines: Kabul, Afghanistan. She says goodbye to her boyfriend and takes off. But as soon as she arrives she sees it’s not what she expected. She’s shocked by the unvarnished crudity of the other expats. But she also exalts in her new status. She has, at her disposal, a buff kiwi bodyguard, a smart Afghan translator, and a local fixer, to name just a few. A blonde Aussie reporter named Tanya (Margot Robbie) takes her under her wing.  She says, “In New York City you’re a 6 or a 7, but here you’re a borderline ten.” Tanya also tells her who to get to know, and who to avoid. And above all, to watch out for12362989_139342373101179_5125622253715911362_o the womanizing lush Iain (Martin Freeman: The Hobbit) a Scottish journalist.

Aside from drinkin’, dancin’, cussin’, and screwing around, she also has to file stories. She’s embedded with a Marine battalion, under the misogynistic General Hollanek (Billy-Bob Thornton.) But she manages to find some real news, even venturing out of the insular, foreign enclave in Kabul (or “Ka-bubble” as Tanya calls it). Will her new digs bring her fame and fortune? Or is it a bottomless pit that swallows journalists whole?

This movie is a fictionalized account of print journalist Kim Barker’s stint as an expat in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s an enjoyable movie and Tina Fey and company give a good sense of what it’s like to live there as a foreigner. What it doesn’t give is what it’s like to be an Afghan. There are some good scenes of an Afghan wedding, and she has a bit of professional contact with locals like Sadiq (Alfred Molina) a sleazy government minister, but nothing that challenges existing stereotypes.

And the Afghan women in burqas? Completely silent.

12771938_228217334192440_5486446044202041047_oSing Street

Wri/Dir: John Carney

Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a middle-class kid at a private Jesuit school in Dublin in the 1980s. He lives at home with his parents, his little sister and older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) a pothead who dropped out of college. But when his family falls on hard times he is sent to a rougher school run by the Christian Brothers. (Canadians know the name from the Mt Cashel orphanage in St John’s, Newfoundland, notorious for its horrific abuses.) The school is run by men in black priestly gowns from neck to feet, pgo441_singstreet_02_o3_8934407_1453302712and who are not adverse to corporal punishment. They make it their goal to crush every hint of non-conformity. Cosmo gets bullied from day one, especially by a skinhead. But all is not lost. Because across the street he sees a beautiful girl who looks like a model who just stepped out of a Duran Duran video. She even has a proper model’s name: Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Thinking quickly, he invites her to star in his band’s video for their next song – and she agrees. Only problem is, there’s no video, no song, and no band. Somehow Cosmo has to make it all happen. He meets Eamon (Mark McKenna) and together they start writing songs. Soon, they turn into new wave rock stars complete with appropriate make-up and frosted hair. But will they have it all ready in time for the school prom and before Raphena leaves for London?

Something about this movie grabs me – I really like it. It’s your basic boy-meets-girl/ coming-of-age story, and it’s set in the 80s, but there’s nothing old or tired about it. Sing Street feels fresh and new featuring young actors and musicians who are all amazing.

Sing Street, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and Mountains May Depart 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

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