Fighting Oppressors. Films reviewed: Puzzle, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, BlacKkKlansman

Posted in 1970s, 1990s, African-Americans, Coming of Age, Family, High School, LGBT, Mystery, Racism, Religion, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 10, 2018

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

This week I’m looking at three American movies about individuals dealing with oppressive forces. There’s a man in the 1970s fighting the K.K.K.; a girl in the ’90s fighting to remain gay, gay, gay; and a woman trapped in small-town New York fighting the urge to stay, stay, stay.

Puzzle

Dir: Marc Turtletaub

Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) is a committed wife and mother in a sleepy, workingclass town in New York. She wears frumpy clothes and has an unobtrusive manner What With home, family and church she’s always busy, but no one seems to appreciate her – herself included. She cooks, cleans, does the accounting – she’s a whiz at math — and takes care of everybody else. Her husband Louis (David Denman) and son Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) work at Louis garage. Her other son Gabe (Aaron Austin) is the golden boy, headed for University. Louis says he loves her, but does he ever include her in important decisions? Not a chance. it’s like she isn’t even there. Until a birthday present from her aunt changes everything. It’s a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, and she puts it together almost automatically. Something in her brain is awakened and she wants more. She takes the train into NY City to find more puzzles and in a serious of coincidences, ends up meeting Robert (Irrfan Khan: Lunchbox, Slumdog Millionaire)

A millionaire inventor and dilettante, Robert lounges around his townhouse in silk robes. He is as impressed by her naïveté as he is by her genius at puzzles. And she’s overwhelmed by everything about him. He invites her to be his partner at a two-player puzzle competition. If they win, they’ll fly off to Brussels for the Iinternational Championships.

Soon Agnes is splitting her life between her home and Robert’s glamourous mansion. And she keeps it all a secret from her family and friends. Are her clandestine meetings just a temporary diversion? Or do they signal a change in her life?

Puzzle is a fun, feel-good movie about the awakening of a middle aged woman. Scottish actress KellyMcDonald is perfect as Agnes and actor Irrfan Khan is great as the diffident Robert.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Dir: Desiree Akhavan

It’s the1990s. Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a teenaged girl raised by evangelical grandparents. (Her own parents died in a car accident.) Cam is smart, popular, and has a steady boyfriend. But her whole life falls apart on prom night when she’s caught having sex in the back seat of the car – not with her boyfriend, but with a girl she likes.

Next thing you know she’s being shipped off to a camp in the woods called God’s Promise. It’s run by Reverend Rick – he looks and acts like Ned Flanders – who plays the guitar and is always upbeat. And behind the scenes, the boss of it all, is his sister, Doctor Lydia Marsh in her shoulder-pad Atlas Shrugged power blouses. Pretty soon, Cam figures out why she’s there: to be “cured” of her same sex attraction. Because – they say — there’s no such thing as homosexuality, just sinning. The gay conversion therapy goes like this: Each kid is given a cartoon drawing of an iceberg. The students had to fill in all their sins – and the underlying trauma that gave them their “disorder”– before they can be free of their gayness.

In practce this means they’e subject to tough love: watched 24/7, woken up in the middle of the night by guards with flashlights – to make sure they’re not being “sinful” (doesn’t work) – and forced to go to group therapy sessions to bare their souls – only to be humiliated by the other members.

Luckily, Cam discovers two rebels she can hang with: Jane (Sasha Lane), a cynical girl with dreads who loves polaroid cameras; and 2-spirited Adam whose politician dad sent him there (Forrest Goodluck – he played Saul in Indian Horse). Can Cameron resist the brainwashing? Can she leave this place? And will she ever see her girlfriend again?

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is an eye-opening look at a repellent practice that’s now banned in most of Canada. And while this role was hardly a stretch, I’ll see anything with Chloë Grace Moretz in it. On the other hand some of the period dialogue feels anachronistic, and the story, though realistic, is tamer than I might have liked.

Still, it’s a good indie pic.

BlacKkKlansman

Dir: Spike Lee

It’s the early 1970s and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first – and only – black policeman in Colorado Springs. Hi first job as an undercover detective? To infiltrate black activists at a speech by civil rights leader Kwame Ture (whom the white cops still call Stokely Carmichael.) There Ron meets Patrice (Laura Harrier) the leader of a student group that invited Ture to speak. They begin to date, without Ron ever admitting he’s a plainclothes cop.

But things take a big turn when Ron discovers the notorious white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan has a branch in this city. Ron calls them up – using s real name, and lets loose with a racist tirade, including frequent use of the N word. So the KKK – composed of powerful locals and sketchy rednecks — invite him to come by their shack in the woods. problem is… he’s black (they don’t know that) and the KKK was founded to terrorize African Americans. What to do?

He gets Flip (Adam Driver), a white cop from his team — to play him in front of the KKK. It just happens that Flip is Jewish, and the Klan – headed by notorious racist David Duke – doesn’t like them much, either.

But soon, they are deeply involved in an undercover operation to stop the Klan. Can the two of them fool the KKK at its own game, and possibly uncover domestic terrorist cels? And will Ron come clean with Patrice?

Blackkklansman is Spike Lee’s latest and his best in a longtime. It’s very entertaining, funny, exciting, even a bit of a thriller. And it’s full of film references, chronicling Holywood’s anti-black attitudes, from Birth of a Nation to Gone with the Wind to blaxploitation. The photography is sumptuous, including a montage of faces during Ture’s “Black is Beautiful” speech. This is a great movie.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, BlackKklansman, and Puzzle 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.

Greek Myths and Fables. Films Reviewed: Boris sans Béatrice, Chi-Raq, The Lobster

Posted in African-Americans, Canada, Chicago, comedy, Cultural Mining, Fairytales, Greece, Movies, Musical, Quebec, Sex, violence by CulturalMining.com on March 18, 2016

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

Greek myths are not just kids’ stories; they’re full of sex, violence and magical transformations. This week I’m looking at plays, myths and fables from Ancient Greece interpreted by three great filmmakers. We’ve got two films — set in Chicago and Quebec – based on ancient Greek themes; and a futuristic fable by a modern Greek director.

nZlmp5_BSB-Coutroisie_K-Films_Amerique_-_1_o3_8976749_1456938988Boris sans Béatrice

Wri/Dir: Denis Côté

Boris Malinovsky (James Hyndman) is a self-made man. He owns a factory in Montreal, a beautiful country house, and his wife, Béatrice (Simone-Élise Girard) is an M.P. He’s tall, fit, rich and successful. He’s also self-centred, stubborn and arrogant. He can’t stand incompetence and lets everyone know it. Things are k5gjE6_BSB-Coutroisie_K-Films_Amerique_-_4_o3_8976802_1456938983going well until Beatrice climbs into her bed and succumbs to melancholia. (Sounds like a 19th century novel.) Now she’s catatonic and requires Klara (Isolda Dychauk) a ginger-haired young Russian woman, to take care of her 24/7. Boris loves Beatrice, but what can he do to help her?

GZAX4J_BSB-Coutroisie_K-Films_Amerique_-_5_o3_8976819_1456938986Enter a Deus Ex Machina: a mysterious man (Denis Lavant) dressed in gold brocade, who speaks an especially eloquent French. He arrives in an expensive black car, in a grassy field backlit by floodlights. He tells Boris that Beatrice’s illness is his fault. He must change his ways.

Boris changes his ways all right. He is sleeping with Helga, a work colleague (Dounia Sichov), and even flirts with young MjXKpm_BSB-Coutroisie_K-Films_Amerique_-_2_o3_8976767_1456938963Klara. Beatrice continues to decline, until the Prime Minister (Bruce Labruce) drops by to check up on his member if Parliament; and even his estranged, left-wing daughter – who lives with toga-clad young men – tries to help. Will Boris ever change? Or will he end up like Tantalus, the demigod permanently punished for his hubris? And are his worries real or imaginary?

Boris sans Beatrice is a satirical look at life in a Quebec – a multicultural place where ambitious people can get ahead, but where success is always precarious. The cast, especially Hyndman, Girard and Lavant, are all terrific. I like this movie.

Chi-Raq PosterChi-Raq

Dir: Spike Lee

It’s present day Chicago, a city wracked with gun violence that has killed more people than American soldiers killed in the Iraq War. There’s a real war going on between two gangs, the Trojans and the Spartans. Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) lives with Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) who wears the gang’s colours, while Irene (Jennifer Hudson) hangs with Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) their rivals. Fighting escalates until two things happen. An innocent schoolgirl is gunned down by a stray bullet and Lysistrata’s home is firebombed. Her neighbor, Miss Helen (the amazing Angela Bassett), grudgingly offers shelter and someChi-Raq sage advice. Stop all this killing. The plan is for all the women in both gangs, in fact all the women in Chicago — even the sex workers — to say no more sex until you lose the guns. Or as they say in the movie:

No Peace, No Pussy.

This becomes an all-out protest that grinds the city to a halt, with women occupying a military base. But can they teach the men to put down their guns, take responsibility and do the right thing?

Chi-RaqDoes this story sound familiar? It should. It’s based on 2,400-year-old drama by Aristophenes. And like the original, it’s spoken in rhyme (this time in rap or in song with elaborate dance numbers) And there’s an omniscient, anansi-like narrator (Samuel L Jackson). It’s also a bit antediluvian. Is a woman’s primary role to provide sex for their male partners? Really? This is 2016.  And the film could use an edit – it’s too long. Still, I quite liked Chi-Raq. A first-rate cast, with the spark of Spike Lee’s earlier films, missing for years.

IMG_0214.CR2The Lobster

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

It’s the future. Things are a lot like now except in this world two is good, one is bad. Loners – single people — are sent to an austere sanitorium where they have 45 days to couple up. Couples are given special privileges while singles are punished and humiliated. Anyone caught having “loner sex” must wear a chastity belt. And anyone still single 97e790bc-95e5-46c5-8fe1-2911423c562dafter 45 days is transformed into an animal and let loose in the nearby forest. But the forest is also filled with runaway loner, humans who have escaped.

The movie follows the latest batch of woebegone singles all frantically searching for their perfect mate. It’s speed-dating hell. And they’re all insecure. The women are bossy or shy, the men walk with a limp IMG_3703.CR2or talk with a lisp. And everyone behaves like 12-year-old wallflowers at their first school dance. David (Colin Farrell) is a typical desperate single – he goes so far as to pretend he’s an A-type sadist just to attract a certain woman.

Things go wrong, and later he finds himself in the woods (as a human, not a lobster). He meets another runaway, a nearsighted woman (Rachel Weisz). The laws in the forest, laid down by their leader (Lea Seydoux), are a topsy-turvy version of the IMG_2135.CR2mainstream: only singles allowed with couples are absolutely forbidden. But what happens if you fall in love?

Lobster is a terrific off-beat comedy. I’ve been following Yorgos Lanthimos since meeting him when his second film, Dogtooth played at TIFF. His films are all highly stylized and uncomfortable satires. Characters speak like they’re reciting lines in a school play, and dress in dated and awkward clothes and hair. I loved his Greek movies but wondered if they would work in English. Not to worry. The Lobster is weird and quirky but totally accessible. You don’t need training in avant garde film to appreciate it. I recommend this movie.

Boris sans Beatrice and Chi-Raq open today in Toronto, check your local listings; and The Lobster starts next Friday.

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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