Movies Made by Women. Films reviewed: What Will People Say?, Zama

Posted in 1500s, Argentina, Clash of Cultures, Drama, Family, Indigenous, Kidnapping, Norway, Slavery, Spain, Women by CulturalMining.com on April 20, 2018

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

Spring festival season is on right now, with two or three new ones popping up each week. There are established festivals like Hot Docs, celebrating its 25th anniversary, as well as some new ones. Reelabilities is only in its third year, but already programs a full international slate of dramas and docs – and even a comedy night — for and about people with deafness, mental illness, autism, down’s syndrome, and many others. And they’re dealing with important topics like sexuality and disabilities and disability rights. This week I’m looking at two movies directed by women and that played film festivals in Toronto (TIFF, Human Rights Watch Film Fest). There’s a coming-of-age drama about a Norwegian schoolgirl whose parents come from Pakistan, and an historical drama about a colonial Argentine whose ancestors came from Spain.

What Will People Say?

Dir: Iram Haq

Nisha (Maria Mozdah)is a high school student living in a snow-swept Oslo housing project. She has beautiful long hair, dark eyes and a shy but winning smile. Nisha is a typical Norwegian girl. She hangs with a tight-knit group of friends for partying, listening to music, texting. At night, though, she’s the grudgingly loyal daughter to her traditional Pakistani parents. She is the apple of her fathers eye. Mirza (Adil Hussein) piles money and gifts on his smart and beautiful daughter whom he dreams of becoming a doctor or an engineer. But Her mother is more strict, always wondering what other people – meaning people from Pakistan – will say, if they see Nisha doing outrageous things like… dancing? Little does she know. she’s dating a guy named Daniel who looks like Archie Andrews. But when her dad catches them in her bedroom, flirting, all hell breaks loose.

Before she knows what’s happening she’s on a plane to Pakistan on her way to a relative’s home in a remote town. They take away her phone, burn her passport, and forbid her from using the internet. Mirza says he’s doing it for her own good, but Nisha feels betrayed, lost and abandoned. And then there’s the physical dangers. She can’t just put on a hoodie and explore the streets alone like she did in Norway. Only a young cousin who idolizes her, and Amir, a boy she likes, make her life worth living. But her eyes and tastebuds are awakening to new sights and flavours she never encountered in cold, grey Norway.  She gradually adapts to her new home…. until a big change threatens her life and her future. Will she ever regain her old life and friends? Can she achieve success as a woman? And will she and her family learn to accept each other?

What Will People Say is a great coming-of-age drama that’s a bit of a thriller, too. It gives a multi-faceted look at a teenaged girl, partly self-centred and spoiled, partly facing a miserable life not of her own making. Pakistan is portrayed as a scary and violent place but also a vibrant and beautiful one, filled with both kindness and terror. The director (herself of Pakistani/ Norwegian background) eschews what could have been a one-sided kidnapping thriller in favour of a realistic and touching drama. She avoids easy stereotypes opting instead for a nuanced and loving look.

Zama

Wri/Dir: Lucrecia Martel

It’s 300 years ago in imperial Spain in South America.

Don Diego Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is a low- level magistrate decked out in a white wig and three cornered hat, with a bright reddish jacket and a shiny sword. He’s there to provide justice and compassion in disputes among the colonists, their slaves and the indigenous peoples in the remote colony of Asunción. But he soon discovers his rulings are ignored, his requests disregarded, and his status questioned. He’s far from his wife in Buenos Aires, and his native mistress in Asunción doesn’t like him much, even after she gives birth to his son.

His life depends on the indulgences of a king in far off Spain, and a corrupt and decadent local Governor who spends most of his time gambling to win obscene tokens of power. He covets worthless geodes and decrepit ears sliced off a dead convict’s head. Colonial landholders slaughter Indios with impunity. As his life gets worse and worse, Zama feels trapped in a cesspit he can’t climb out of.

He finally gets his chance by joining a posse searching for Vicuña Porto (Matheus Nachtergaele) a villainous criminal terrorizing the locals. But his search seems equally pointless and circuitous, achieving nothing, waiting for a Godot who may never arrive.

On his journey he faces dangers and fascinations both real and imagineary: small boys with psychic abilities, hidden ghosts and potergeists infecting his lodges. People appear and disappear, seamingly at random, dying and coming back to life, in a colourful whirlwind of unexplained phenomena.

Zama is a fantastic, non-linear adventure based on an Argentinian novel. It explores name and identity, position and class, and race and ethnicity in Colonial Spain. Indigenous languages are spoken without subtitles – we hear it all through Zama’s ears.

I’m not going to pretend I completely understood this movie, but like Embrace of the Serpent (which I reviewed here), the images and exotic scenes in Zama are so engrossing I didn’t worry too much about the plot. Picture a group of women on a riverbank covering their naked bodies with thick brown mud. And the scenery in Argentina’s northeast Formosa province — green moss, sweeping hills, twisting rivers and impossibly tall bare tree trunks — is like seeing those Dr Seuss books I read as a kid again but in real life.

What a great movie.

Zama opens today in Toronto. check your local listings.What will people say is playing at Human Rights Watch film fest.  This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Is VR the New 3D? Movies reviewed: Ben Hur, Truman PLUS POP 03

Posted in Argentina, Barcelona, Bible, Cultural Mining, Family, melodrama, Movies by CulturalMining.com on August 19, 2016

Pop 03Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Does the future of cinema lie in virtual reality? Not yet, but it’s starting to make inroads in all movie forms. VR gives you a more experiential viewing experience than anything we’ve seen so far, expanding the margins to 360 degrees. A pop-up exhibition at TIFF (called POP 03) explores VR in the context of experimental and avant POP 03garde short films and experiential games.

Inverse Dollhouse puts you inside a virtual dollhouse. Floating hands move giant tables and enormous couches all around you. It’s terrifying!  A Viceland documentary takes you on a ride-along in a pickup truck with Justin Trudeau. He’s visiting Shoal Lake, a First Nation reserve entirely lacking in drinkable water. There’s Food Fight, trippy Exploding Fractals morphing all around you, Guy Maddin’s psychedelic Seances, and lots more. It’s put on by the National Film Board and TIFF, and you can see it through Sunday. I saw it just an hour ago and still digesting it. Amazing stuff.

This week, I’m looking at a 3-D reboot of a sword-and-sandal classic about brotherhood and faith; and a European drama about friendship and loss.

13641025_314903598841395_8827590151682346834_oBen Hur

Dir: Timur Bekmambetov

It’s around 30 AD in Jerusalem. They’re under Roman rule, but bands of zealots are trying to drive them out. But oblivious to all these troubles are brothers Judah and Messala. Judah Ben Hur (Jack Huston) is Jewish royalty and lives a life of luxury. His brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebell) was a Roman orphan adopted by Judah’s family as a child, but keeps Ben Hurhis Roman name religion and identity. The two of them love escaping to the desert to race on horseback. Messala, who is not of royal blood, feels the need to justify his existence. So he leaves his family to prove his strength on the battlefield, and returns home to Jerusalem triumphant.

He is asked by his commander to ensure safe passage through the city for Ben Hur paramount pictures 3Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate is the prefect of Judea for Rome, who struts around in foppish fur coats. The Zealots despise him. So when the procession passes the Ben Hur home, a zealot hiding there, shoots an arrow and misses. Ben Hur is blamed for this by his own brother, his family is crucified, and he is turned into a galley slave, rowing Roman warships 24/7. Years later, the ship is sunk and he washes up on shore. He is taken in by a chariot race entrepreneur (Morgan Freeman, in grey dreads!) and made into a charioteer. But so has his brother, Messala Severus, who is the Ben Hur Paramount Pictureschampion Roman chariot driver. A big race is coming soon, and Ben Hur wants revenge. Which of the brothers will triumph and which one will die?

This is a remake (in 3-D) of the 1959 movie, starring Charlton Heston, made during the heyday of sword-and-sandal Roman movies. It’s two hours long, but keep in mind the original was 3½ hours long! This is like the condensed version. Lots of royal Ben Hur Paramount Pictiures2politics, family rivalries and revenge. The whole movie is overlaid with a religious story. Jesus of Nazareth regularly appears on the streets of Jerusalem, preaching to the people to love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek… sort of a gospel greatest hits. The third part is the chariot race itself: exciting and gripping – very well done. Ben Hur may feel old fashioned, too long, too religious, and holding few surprises (if you’ve seen the original) but I still liked it.

13062552_1086121168113471_3948824687084435207_nTruman

Dir: Cesc Gay

Julian and Tomas have been best friends since their schooldays in Argentina. Nut now they live continents apart. Julian (Ricardo Darin) is an actor who lives in Madrid now, performing on stage, in wigs and costumes, in plays by Moilere. He’s divorced, with a grown son, with just his enormous dog Truman to keep him company. Tomas (Javier Cámara) is married to a Canadian woman with two small children and lives in Montreal. He works as an engineer f533ed07c49781675cdeab50a5b2e9bcspecializing in robotics. The two friends have an impromptu reunion — after many years apart – when he shows up, without notice, at Julian’s door, in Spain.

Why did he come from such a distance. Well, he’s heard the news.

12764515_1047339855324936_818289815822313283_oThe news is Julian is dying of cancer. Julian’s cousin Paula (Dolores Fonzi), another Argentinian living in Spain, told him all about it. So Tomas is there to spend a few days with him and help him out – as a friend should do.

Even though they’ve been apart for many years, they’re able to jump right back into their friendship, including the running jokes, wordplay and petty grudges. In the presence of a third person they can pick up on subtle clues and cover for each other. Doesn’t matter that Julian is a habitual liar who finds it hard to 13147317_1096737100385211_3584199723351401637_oface the truth. He wants to tie up loose ends, say goodbye to his family and friends, and find a new home for his dog Truman. And to face his own mortality.

This is a great movie. The story is as simple and straightforward as the performances are nuanced and complex. It’s sad and funny and quite touching. I haven’t seen many movies from Argentina, but it’s funny that I remember all of these actors from previous roles. Great actors leave a lasting 12314287_998340066891582_7019787486162808839_oimpression. Ricardo Darin is one of the best Argentine actors around. From Oscar winning films like The Secret in their Eyes, and Wild Tales. Meanwhile you may have seen Javier Cámara in lots of number of Almadovar movies – a good comic actor. I even remember the beautiful Dolores Fonzi from EL Critico a few years back. Great acting in the main and all the side roles. Even the dog is well-cast. Truman is definitely worth seeing.

Ben Hur and Truman both open today in Toronto: check your local listings. The POP 03 is on this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. 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

Action, Anarchy and Audacity. Films reviewed: Kanto Wanderer, Tokyo Drifter, 10 Cloverfield Lane

Posted in 1960s, Crime, Cultural Mining, Japan, Kidnapping, Psychological Thriller, Science Fiction, Yakuza by CulturalMining.com on March 11, 2016

RgKr3w_Kanto_Wanderer_2_o3_8897472_1450193360Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Suzuki Seijun is a great Japanese director who made his mark in the 1960s as a b-movie director at Nikkatsu, specializing in low-budget yakuza “B” movies. Still directing movies, he’s known for his stylized images and experimental takes on traditional themes. A retrospective of his work — Action, Anarchy and Audacity — is now playing at TIFF. This week I’m going to talk about two of Suzuki’s early Yakuza films, as well as a psychological thriller from the US.

644613_1140220552677881_5773406903098755507_n10 Cloverfield Lane
Dir: Dan Trachtenberg

It’s a present-day city in the Gulf Coast. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is an aspiring young fashion designer with dark hair and a determined look. She’s leaving her husband and driving she knows not where. But out on the highway there’s a sudden boom! and her car rolls over into a field. She wakes up in a cell, cuffed to a metal bed in a cell. What happened? What was she doing there?

And there’s a young guy in the next room. Is this some sort of prison? She stages an 12804810_1136381339728469_8736079247145773773_nelaborate escape only to discover she’s deep underground, in a hermetically-sealed bunker. It’s the home of Howard (John Goodman) a huge man with a child-like demeanour. He’s no kidnapper, he says; he’s a DIY survivalist. Apparently one with a “black belt in conspiracy theories”. He found her on the road and saved her life. There’s no reason to go back outside since everyone’s dead and the air is filled with poison gas. Emmet (the guy in the next room) says he helped build the place and he isn’t a prisoner — he fought his way *into* the cell when the invasion started.

They form an odd trio. Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr) who regrets not tattooing YOLO on his forehead; Howard, a budding dictator who loves being isolated with a young woman; and our resourceful heroin, Michelle. Is it safer inside or out? Can Howard be trusted? And are they really under attack, or is this just one of Howard’s fantasies?

10 Cloverfield Lane is a follow-up to Cloverfield but completely different. I’m not sure if it’s a sequel, a prequel, or an e-quel (a word I just made up meaning it takes place at the same time as the original). Cloverfield was a found-footage Sci-Fi thriller shot on a hand-held video camera. This one feels more like a stage play on a small set: part horror, part psychological thriller. Excellent acting with an interesting story but one that sometimes meanders. Not perfect but totally watchable.

oYn9wY_Kanto_Wanderer_4_o3_8897506_1450193380Kanto Wanderer (1963)

Dir: Suzuki Seijun

It’s the 1960s in Tokyo. Three high school girls – one the daughter of a Yakuza godfather — are thrilled and fascinated when handsome Katsuta (Akira Kobayashi) a young bodyguard notices them. The three sneak into a shop to ogle another Yakuza j2gVp4_Kanto_Wanderer_3_o3_8897489_1450193370enduring the painful, but exotic practice of tattooing. It’s Diamond Fuyu, (Hirata Daizaburo) from a rival gang. These short encounters help trigger a series of events of rivalry and revenge within the two groups. One of the young women – the one Fuyu likes —  is determined to see the world, falls for a hood from Katsuta’s gang, who secretly sells her to a pimp.

Katsuta, meanwhile, still crushes on Fuyu’s sister, who’s a con artist married to a much older cheater at cards. In this world, Yakuza members are told they should “only wear red or white”: Red means a prison uniforms, white means a corpse. What will Katsuta end up wearing?

JZK2n2_tokyodrifter3_o3_8899020_1450193455Tokyo Drifter (1966)

Dir: Suzuki Seijun

Tetsuya (Watari Tetsuya) is a yakuza hood who protects and reveres the gang’s leader who owns a Tokyo nightclub. His gang is falling on hard times. He’s in love with Chiharu (Chieko Matsubara) a high-class singer. But when a rival gang try to takeover the club ownership, it leads to a gun battle. Someone dies. Tetsuya takes the fall for his boss. He and decides to “drift”, a modern-day ronin without ties to his gang. HE’s forced to flee to the southern city of Sasebo (a zm4Egm_tokyodrifter2_o3_8898958_1450193442major US navy base). But chased by the cops and rival gangs, he’s a marked man: he’s going to die. Will he fight to the end or die quietly? And who sold him out?

There’s also a “meta” dimension to this movie. The title of the film is also the title of a song sung by the Chiharu the nightclub singer. The song is about a Tokyo drifter, just like Tetsuya.  And in a crucial scene, he whistles that song about himself and about the movie he doesn’t know he’s in!

MjKmym_Kanto_Wanderer_5_o3_8897523_1450193349Kanto Wanderer and Tokyo Drifter are similar movies, both about yakuza members who are criminals, but also good, true and above all loyal to their boss. And they both have bosses who are corrupt, selfish and venal. Are they spending their lives defending men who don’t deserve to be defended?

The two films were made 3 years apart but what an incredible difference. Many people say the Tokyo Olympics (1964) was a turning point in modernizing Japan. Kanto Wanderer could be a traditional Samurai period piece with Katsuta  wearing kimono and carrying a sword. His gamblers play traditional card games, with nothing modern about it.
Tetsuya, in contrast, is totally modern, western, dressed in a pale blue suit, and lives in aqjprn0_tokyodrifter1_o3_8898896_1450193481 world of pop art nightclubs with glass walls and yellow halls.

Following Suzuki’s films is like watching the stages of Picasso, developing from realistic to interpretive to almost cubistic.  He hints at his future style in Kanto Wanderer in a scene where the backdrop turns instantly to an intense red the moment Katsuta commits a bloody crime. But by the time we reach Tokyo Drifter, the characters dress in pale blue or bright red, and most scenes are shot on enormous soundtages with vibrant yellow or snowy white backdrops and stairways going nowhere. Suzuki’s movies are a pleasure to watch and you should see them on the big screen while you have a chance.

10 Cloverdale Lane opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. And Action, Anarchy and Audacity: A Seijun Suzuki Retrospective is now playing; go to tiff.net for times.

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

Álex de la Iglesia: Dancing with the Devil. Dying of Laughter, A Ferpect Crime, Witching and Bitching PLUS ’71

Posted in comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Horror, Movies, Spain, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 13, 2015

Q153nG_lastcircus_o3_8514727_1421789020Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Alex de la Iglesia is a Spanish director known for his dark, violent comedies, many with a hint of horror and the supernatural. The battles of the sexes is his bread and butter, his stories filled with arrogant, strutting men cut down to size by cruel women. Rivalry, lust, fear and vengeance are the emotions, all seen against the setting of contemporary Spain. And the scary parts? Witches, ghosts, killer… and clowns. Hideous, scary clowns!

Álex de la Iglesia: Dancing with the Devil, a retrospective of his films is showing now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. This week I’m talking about some of his films, looking at the rise of themes like sexual conflict and the supernatural over the course of his career. Plus a new action-thriller about The Troubles in Belfast.

Q15VQq_Dying_of_Laughter_col_slide_3_o3_8514371_1421789008Dying of Laughter
(Muertos de Risa)

… is an early film of his where the war between the sexes is played out, in proxy, by an odd couple.

Nino and Bruno (Santiago Segura, El Gran Wyoming) are like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis – a two-man comedy team. Their act is simple: fast-talking Bruno provides the chatter, until it comes time for chubby Nino to respond. Struck with perpetual stage-fright he just stares straight ahead, unable to speak. And then comes the punchline: Bruno slaps Nino’s face. That’s their shtick and it never fails to have the audience rolling in the aisles. They vg9OWg_Dying_of_Laughter_col_slide_1_o3_8514310_1421789002don’t change the act, just the silly costumes they wear. (Nino insists on always wearing the same pair of socks – never washed – for good luck.) They become stars, rich and famous, and build their homes right beside each other.

The problem? They hate each other’s guts! They are consumed with rage and jealousy, each thinking the other is more talented and more attracted to women. They concoct elaborate schemes to ruin their partners and the source of their fame and fortune. And they just might die of laughter…

A bit more supernatural, and heavier on the man vs woman theme is

Vm08Po_Ferpectcrime07_o3_8514673_1421789014A Ferpect Crime
(El Crimen Ferpecto)

Raf (Guillermo Toledo) is the best salesman at the Yeyo department store. He was actually born there, and knows every nook and cranny. He treats it like his personal fiefdom – the silk bathrobes, the lobster and champagne, and kingsize beds. Loaded with self-confidence, he can charm the pants off any woman he meets – and he’s met a lot of them. He’s always surrounded by beautiful saleswomen who want to sleep him, and men who want to be him. Raf’s life is dedicated to high aesthetic values: beauty, quality and prestige. He is opposed on principle to marriage, families and suburban living. But his job and his future are in danger when, in a scuffle after closing, GZQPZ5_Ferpectcrime05_o3_8514619_1421789007his rival, Don Antonio, ends up dead.

The death is witnessed by Lourdes (Mónica Cervera) an unattractive and shy saleswoman. She’s also the only woman he refuses to sleep with on aesthetic grounds. But she’s not as dumb as she looks. After she helps him dispose of the body (she is a former butcher) he is forced to give in to her desire… maybe even marry her. The greenish ghost of Don Antonio warns Raf of her treachery. He will need a perfect crime to get rid of her once and for all… but who will win?

These themes, plus a mammoth dose of the supernatural come to a head in one of his most recent films

2R1nrJ_witchingbitching_09_o3_8515335_1421789031Witching and Bitching
(Las brujas de Zugarramurdi)

Jose and Antonio – a divorced misogynist and a dumb jock — have a perfect plan. Dressed as a silver Jesus and a green plastic soldier, they knock over a pawn shop. They grab a taxi and escape with a bag of loot – thousands of abandoned wedding rings – and the divorced man’s 10 year old son. But he is hotly pursued by his fuming ex-wife and the police tracking her. After an exciting chase the motley crew – the gangsters and the people in the cab — land up a small Basque town lOMK66_witchingbitching_01_o3_8515203_1421789033country named Zugarramurdi. A town run by witches, who view men as fodder for their evil spells.

It ends up as a face off between the whole panoply of male vs women: On the men’s side are the selfish boy, the sex-crazed guy, the bitter divorced man, the wary cab driver, and the clueless, detached older guy. But they are no match for three generations of witches, plus a furious ex-wife. Only the rebel biker granddaughter witch, who’d rather sleep with men than torture and eat them, provides a chink in the armour. But can they escape the world’s largest coven and the Great Satan himself?

The films of Alex de la Iglesia provide just the right balance between sex, violence and gross-outs —  and giddy laughs. They’re not for everyone, but I really like his horror-comedy combinations.

10960424_308995695976723_8427525493433940388_o‘71
Dir: Yann Demange

It’s 1971, and Gary (Jack O’Connell: Skins, Starred Up, Unbreakable) wants to learn a skill and see the world. He hugs his little brother goodbye and sets off with the British Army for his first foreign posting. But he doesn’t get further than Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The city is in the midst of The Troubles and is divided on religious and political grounds. The IRA unionists are Catholic – they want to join the Republic to the south. The protestant loyalists want to stay within the UK. And within these groups, on both sides, 10868016_293166914226268_8893011712378773515_nthere are militants (like the Provisional IRA and the Ulster Volunteers) who seem to relish the idea of killing some people on the way. So the streets of that city are divided by walls and twisting allies, punctuated by Molotov cocktails and ticking time bombs. And fresh out of boot camp is Jack’s squad, plunked down onto the mean streets on his very first day. As luck would have it – bad luck – his army buddy gets shot in the head and he sees the shooters’ faces. But he gets separated from his unit. So he’s all alone in this hellhole. He meets a guide – a tough, wee lad — who 10352272_288200604722899_1580563761024035270_ntakes him in an out of windows and down deserted allies – and a father and daughter who help him hide. But both sides, and perhaps even elements of the army, want him dead. He’s seen too much.

This is a great, exciting action-thriller about a sympathetic young man who catches the brunt of horrific violence… and realizes he’s part of the forces causing all the trouble. ’71 is a war movie, but not a pro-war movie.

’71 opens today in Toronto, check your local listings, and the Álex de la Iglesia retrospective continues through March. Go to tiff.net for details. Also opening today is Harold Crook’s great documentary The Price We Pay, about off-shore banking and what it does to our economy. I interviewed him last December.

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

Daniel Garber talks to Bruce LaBruce about Skin Flicks, the film retrospective now playing at TIFF

Posted in Bruce Labruce, Canada, Cultural Mining, Movies, Punk, Queer, Satire, Sex, Skinhead, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on June 25, 2014

Bruce Labruce 53This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

Should homosexuality connote homogeneity?

Toronto filmmaker, artist and personality BRUCE LaBRUCE would give a resounding NO. From homocore zine pioneer, to Super-8 punk filmmaker, to reluctant pornographer, his influence has spread to Bruce Labruce8the art scene, fashion, pop culture and of course movies. His work uniquely combines a rough-hewn DIY quality with a punk aesthetic; controversial politics with avant-garde art; and explicit gay sex.

Skin Flicks: The films of Bruce LaBruce is playing now through July 5th at the TIFF Bell Light Box as part of the BENT LENS series. I spoke with BLaB, in studio, about cinematic critique, art, zines, skinheads, blood, sex, aesthetics, romance, gerontophilia, Nazis, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, … and more.

Pier Paolo Pasolini: the Poet of Contamination. Movies Reviewed: The Canterbury Tales, The Decameron, The Arabian Nights

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, Adventure, Catholicism, Communism, Cultural Mining, Disease, Dreams, Fantasy, Italy, Joy, Magic, Movies, Rome, Sex, Short Stories, Slavery, Women by CulturalMining.com on March 15, 2014

The Decameron Pier Paolo PasoliniHi, 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.

Pier Paolo Pasolini: You may have heard his name, but not know why. He was an Italian novelist, poet, artist and director, born in Bologna. He got his start in movies writing screenplays (including Fellini’s La Dolce Vita) before directing his own films. His films – he directed movies from the 1960s until the mid 70s, when he was murdered – celebrate the poor, The Decameron Pasolini 2 TIFFthe outcasts, the people in the margins. They dig at the complacent middle-class, and the oppressive and corrupt church and nobilitiy. He cast non-professionals in his films for their looks and attitude – he wanted his actors natural not contrived. Naturalism was all-important.

Pasolini was in the Italian Communist Party but was kicked out for his criminal activity. His crime? Being gay. So Pasolini embraced his status as sexual outlaw.

All of these elements – politics and sexuality shown in literature and art – come together in his movies: beautiful to watch, full of laughter, but with a rough and tragic streak running through them.

Pier Paolo Pasolini: the Poet of Contamination is a retrospective of his films now playing at TIFF. This week, I’m going to tell you about three of his movies, often called a trilogy, all based on Medieval stories. They are extraordinarily beautiful films and you should see them on the big screen while you can. There’s an English romp, an Italian comedy, and tales of middle-eastern magic.

Pasolini Canterbury Tales 2 TIFFCanterbury Tales (1972)

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is the classic collection of stories told by religious pilgrims on the road to Canterbury. Set in 14thcentury England, it’s filled with monastic robes, pious nuns, Oxford students, religious pilgrims. But it’s also a world full of shouting and drunkenness, farts and belches. The old are missing teeth, fat and ugly, and prone to violence. The young, though still beautiful, are selfish and arrogant. And everyone’s apt to break into raucous, unscripted laughter as they do medieval things like milling corn or polishing eggs.

But what do they all desire? Sex (and money). They come up with complex schemes to cheat on their husbands and wives. This movie is very bawdy.

But it has a dark side too. One of the earliest scenes shows a man being burned to death in the market Pasolini Canterbury tales 1 TIFFsquare: he was caught having sex with another man, but was too poor to bribe the police.

Religion and the supernatural are omnipresent. Angels, devils and wood spirits are as likely as a passing neighbour to appear outside a window. A widow wears out a succession of husbands by being too good in bed. An arrogant student fools his mentor into thinking a great flood is coming. Three brothers go from cavorting in a brothel to plotting dangerous and murderous schemes. And a bright red devil shoots the black-clothed sinners of hell out of his ass!

Most of all, it’s a place where large-breasted women and plain-faced men stand around staring… naturally, naked.

Decameron, Il (1971) aka The Decameron Directed by Pier Paolo PasoliniThe Decameron (1971)

Based on 14th century writer Boccacio’s sexual comedy, these piqaresque stories centre on Naples and other medieval Italian cities. Women are tricksters who fool hapless travelers, while sinners look for sex. It’s a comedy about sex, thumbing its nose at church-mandated restrictions.

Here’s a typical story. A nunnery is off limits to all men but the elderly. A young guy, sensing opportunity, pulls his hat down low – like Bob and Doug McKenzie — and pretends to be a deaf-mute simpleton. He gets hired as a gardner. Soon enough, all the nuns are sneaking out to the shed for their daily roll in the hay. But what happens when the mother superior gets her turn? He tells her he’s had enough. He can Pasolini's The Decameron 3 TIFFspeak! It’s a miracle!

This is an amazing movie (I liked it even better than Canterbury Tales) shot around ancient castles and down narrow allies.

Arabian Nights (1974)

The 1001 Nights is the famous collection of intertwined stories-within-stories across the Arab world. Pasolini skips the tale of the Persian Scheherazade as the storyteller, and instead uses a loving Ines Pellegrini in Pasolini's Arabian Nightsrelationship between a wise and beautiful slave-girl named Zummarud, and her young master. She’s smarter than all the men she encounters, and somehow manages to snub potential buyers at her own auction — rich old men who won’t satisfy her sexually – in favour of love at first site. But she is kidnapped by a spurned buyer. This launches a series of journeys as she outsmarts the men she meets and eventually – disguised as a man – rises to the level of king. And all the way her lover, Nur ed-Din tries to find her.

She’s played by Ines Pellegrini, an Italian woman of Eritrean background, and he’s Franco Merli, a Pasolini's The Arabian Nightsteenaged boy Pasolini apparently spotted pumping gas.

Pasolini skips the most famous stories – the Ali Babas, Alladins, and Sinbads – and instead adapts less-well-known ones. Especially the sexy parts.

Like Canterbury Tales and the Decameron, The Arabian Nights was rated “X” when it first came out. Though it includes a lot of nudity, it’s very tame, sweet and almost naïve, by present-day standards. Some of the same actors show up in all of these films. Franco Citti (usually with bright red hair) plays the devil in Canterbury, an unrepentant sinner and homosexual in Decameron and a magical demon in Arabian Nights. Ninneto Davoli (Pasolini’s former lover), is the toothy, curly-haired clown who bursts into tears or laughter, or else stares, dumbfounded, at new things he encounters. Pasolini himself also appears in small — but central — roles arabian-nightsin his own movies — as Chaucer in Canterbury Tales, or as a master painter in The Decameron, who says his art is never as good as what appears in his dreams.

Arabian Nights was shot in Ethiopia, Yemen, Iran and Nepal, and to say the locations are breathtakingly beautiful doesn’t do them justice. It’s mind-boggling, ranging from lunar landscapes and strange curved mud homes, to cavernous, white-and-blue tiled cathedrals, and ancient wooden Nepali shrines. And the faces of the local actors and extras add still more beauty and authenticity to the locations. (A collection of still photos from this film by Roberto Villa is on display now at the Italian Cultural Institute in Toronto.)

Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Poet of Contamination is playing now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox; details on tiff.net. Beginning next Thursday is the CFF a festival of low-budget and independent Canadian films at the Royal:  go to canfilmfest.ca for more information. And cult favourite The Room is playing at the Carlton starting tonight.

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

Flesh + Blood. The Dutch films of Paul Verhoeven: Turkish Delight, Soldier of Fortune, Spetters, The Fourth Man

Posted in Cultural Mining, Movies, Netherlands, Psychological Thriller, Sex, Uncategorized, violence, WWII by CulturalMining.com on January 30, 2014

fourthman_02Hi, 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.

Paul Verhoeven. You’ve probably seen some of his Hollywood movies — Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, Showgirls. He’s known for his shocking nudity, brutal sex and stylized violence. Popular movies, but unpopular with most critics. They saw him as a misogynist, a schlockmeister and a fascist. None of this is true. He’s actually a great director.

The critical tide seems to be turning. His films are now being revisited in a TIFF Netherlandsretrospective. This week, I’m looking at the less-well-known, but fantastic films he made in the Netherlands in the 1970’s and 80s before going to Hollywood.

In some ways Verhoeven’s early films were totally Hollywood. His men (Rutger Hauer, Jeroen Krabbe) are lantern-jawed and lusty; his women (Renee Soutendijk, Monique Van den Ven) are petite beauties… and as independent and blatantly sexual as the men. His movies are filled with full frontal nudity (both male and female) explicit sex, and brutal violence, often with a queer twist. And a constant undercurrent of anti-authoritarianism.

They explore the postwar world of the baby boom and its sexual revolution in the glory days between the pill and AIDS.

Rutger Hauer Turkish DelightTurkish Delight (1973)

Erik (Rutger Hauer) is a sculptor in a small city. He has long blond hair and aviator sunglasses. He’s the kind of guy who takes whatever he wants – an old lady’s fur coat, a stranger’s ice cream cone. This applies to women as well – he’s a champion pick-up artist.

But he bristles at the old guard – the uptight shopkeepers and burgermeisters– and despises their hypocrisy. Erik’s sculpture of Lazarus (the biblical character who comes back to life), gets him in trouble – the town fathers don’t like the worms and maggots eating Lazarus’s flesh. But Erik revels in them.

Verhoeven also piles on the shocks. The decay and rot of old ideas are turkish_delight_02everywhere: clean, orderly Netherlands is shown as a country full of worms, feces, garbage and vomit. Old people have cancer and dementia; their sex is furtive and hidden. Erik wants sex to be free, open and everywhere.

So he heads off to Amsterdam, but is picked up by a beautiful young woman, Olga (Monique Van de Ven) on the way. Olga is voluptuous and impetuous; they leap into bed in bloodsoaked sexual abandon. But is their marriage a flash in the pan or everlasting love? Olga is the woman of Eric’s dreams… but she’s still young. She grows bored with him and the constant sex. Can he  ever get her back?

Turkish Delight is a delightful sex comedy.

soldieroforange_01Soldier of Orange (1977)

Leiden University in 1938. War is looming, but the upper-class frat boys are more concerned with hazing, songs, tennis and drinking. They’re apolitical toffs who swear loyalty for life. Erik and Guus (Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Krabbe) become fast friends. But then, the Germans invade, Queen Willhemina flees to Britain, and the Netherlands is under Nazi occupation. Suddenly everything changes. Friends fight friends.

Some – like one student whose mother is German —  drift toward Nazi collaboration; others join the Resistance. They send out furtive messages to London by wireless, but the Germans – riding on bicycles with detectors around their necks – uncover the operation. They arrest most of the conspirators and use them to unwittingly spread false rumours. Some remain loyal till death, other’s crack under torture and switch sides. A few dozen men escape, including Erik and Guus. They climb onto a Swiss ship and make it to London. There, in the name of the Queen, they operate air raids and launch undercover missions. Based on a true story, this epic is a fantastic, wartime look at the few and the brave.

spetters_eyefilm_02_mediumSpetters (1980)

Three best friends in their twenties, one redhead, one dark and one blond.  Rien,  Eef and Hans (Hans van Tongeren, Toon Agterberg, Marten Spanjer) work together at a mechanic shop: Rien drives a dirt bike and Eef can take one apart and put it back together… blindfolded! They love to race and ride at local events and they all idolize the the champ — their hero Gerrit (Rutger Hauer).

They all end up crushing on the same  carney Fientje (Renee Soutendijk) who runs a fry and croquette truck with her brother. Fientje is older and tougher than the boys. She has curly blonde hair but is no pushover – she’s ambitious. She’s quick with her pot of boiling oil against any guy trying to steal from the chip wagon. The spetters_eyefilm_01_mediumthree guys decide the best endowed will get to date her – but she has other ideas; she chooses the redhead Rien – the only one with a girlfriend. She gets him a sponsor and an expensive bike; she hopes her star will rise with his. (But will he make it as a champion?)

Next comes the dark-haired Eef, a farmers son with a homophobic streak: he bashes gays and steals their money. He uses the cash to buy one-way tickets to Canada for Fientje and himself so he can escape his abusive home… but is he sexually compatible with her?

The blond, Hans, is the third in line, with nothing to recommend him. He too wants to be the next champ but faces a cynical, exploitative world… can he win her heart? 

Spetters is a great coming-of-age story about where fate takes one woman… and the three young men who want her.

fourthman_01The Fourth Man (1983)

A Psychological Thriller.

Gerard (Jeroen Krabbe) is a novelist in Amsterdam with a vivid imagination. He likes to “lie the truth”. He sees signs, symbols and omens everywhere: the number four, the virgin Mary, a detached eyeball. He’s Catholic – but more into the spooky gothic icons than the sinning and repenting. He’s also a red-blooded gay man. So when he spots a young guy at a newsstand near the train station he is in love. (Well, in lust). He chases him but misses the train.

Soon, he finds himself in a small town doing a book reading. Christine (Renee Soutendijk), a stunning blonde widow in a red dress, 1940s-style is filming him in super-8. They end up in bed, but he fourthman_03awakens from a bizarre castration nightmare involving Christine and a pair of scissors. (She owns a beauty salon called Sphinx.)

Going through her letters when she’s out of the room, Gerard discovers a photo of her boyfriend Herman (Thom Hoffman). It’s the same man he saw at the train station! So he fakes a psychic vision and convinces her to invite her macho and jealous lover to come stay with her. He aims to seduce Herman. But he discovers that MBDFOMA EC004Christine has a secret history of her own. Will this sexual triangle end in love… or death?

I recommend all four of these films. Turkish Delight, Soldier of Orange,  Spetters and The Fourth Man are all part of Flesh + Blood, the Paul Verhoeven Retrospective at the TIFF Bell Lightbox now through April. 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

Bette Davis, The Hard Way. Movies reviewed: Jezebel, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, All About Eve

Posted in 1930s, Cultural Mining, Hollywood, Movies, New Orleans, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on November 22, 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.

jezebell_01I see hundreds of movies a year, and I think I have a pretty good grasp of current cinema. But what do I know about old Hollywood? Next to nothing. So when I heard that TIFF was running a retrospective of a famous star through December, I thought I’d finally take a look at what all the fuss is about. I had always avoided these movies, so this really is the first time I’m watching her movies.

That actress is Bette Davis, and they’re playing a selection of her films in a series called The Hard Way. She’s unusual looking — huge round eyes, a narrow nose, not conventionally beautiful but quite distinctive, especially her voice. I’m starting to understand her fame. She plays strong – often tyrannical – women, but ones who don’t necessarily end up getting what they want. She conveys her meaning with a grand gesture, a cruel slap or a dismissive flick of her fingers.

This week I’m looking at three of her movies, one from each stage of her long career. First, from her days as a huge star in the late 1930s, a romantic drama set in the Old South;  in her comeback in the early 1950s, in an amazing drama set amidst Broadway theatre; and, with her second comeback, a dramatic horror movie set in Hollywood in the early 1960s.

jezebell_03Jezebel (1938)

Dir: William Wyler

It’s antebellum New Orleans, a land of strange customs. Chivalry prevails: a gentleman can be challenged to a duel at dawn merely for besmirching a woman’s name. But, at the same time, half the people there are enslaved to the other half. In the middle of this world is Julie (Bette Davis), a strong-willed southern belle living on a halcyon plantation. She loves one man only, a businessman named Pres Dillard (Henry Fonda). But she also loves her freedom: riding horses and asserting her own opinions, damn the rest. But she commits a social faux pas at the ball by appearing in a red dress, not the requisite white one. What a Jezebel! The audacity! The horror! Pres heads up north without asking her hand in marriage.

He returns a few years later a changed man. Julie – struck by melancholy — is sure he’s jezebell_02come back for her. But has he? When the plot turns, she sets in motion a series of intricate revenge plots among her friends, schemes that could lead to death. This is all done in the midst of a plague of yellow fever among the swamps, a symbol of the putrefaction of the entire pre-war south. Will Julie change her ways and feel regret? And will Pres ever love her again, or at least respect her?

This movie is an interesting look at another era, but it was so removed from now that it was hard for me to sympathize. A red dress? Honour? Chivalry? Jezebel is not a pro-slavery movie; it shows the pre-Civil-War south as a decadent, outdated culture on the verge of collapse. But how can you take a movie like this seriously after seeing Twelve Years a Slave, one that takes place during the same time period, but about the people who were really oppressed? Still (not a spoiler), the closing scenes in Jezebel do provide a suitably dramatic conclusion to this epic drama.

babyjane_01What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)

Dir: Robert Aldrich

Baby Jane Hudson is a tap-dancing child star of vaudeville, known for her blonde bologna curls and frilly white dresses. Her father flogs life-sized Baby Jane dolls at every performance. Her plain sister Blanche depends on her income. But with the dawn of the talkies, Blanche’s Hollywood star rises even while Jane’s falls. But when Blanche is crippled after a deliberate car crash, Jane becomes her nursemaid out of guilt.

Now, it’s the early 1960s, and they still live in the same rat-infested old Hollywood mansion. The adult Jane (Bette Davis) still has her blonde curls, but she’s an old woman now with inches of white pancake makeup slapped on her cheeks, and grotesque black eyeliner and misshapen lipstick. Blanche (Joan Crawford), in a wheelchair, is isolated in a room upstairs and can’t come down. They exist in a sort of a truce. But when Blanche’s old movies are revived on TV, Jane is overcome by jealousy and anger. She should be famous. She should have a comeback, not her sister. She becomes increasingly unhinged, flashing from 10-year-old girl to her hideous and cruel self. Can Blanche escape this hell-hole of Hollywood torture and decay? Two aging cinematic icons playing themselves, battle it out to the end.

And the final scene is just amazing.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, though a schlocky, much-imitated horror movie, did work as a comeback for Bette Davis, who carved out a new career as the queen of fear.

allabouteve_01All About Eve (1950)

Dir: Joseph L Mankiewicz.

Margo (Bette Davis) is a great broadway actress at the peak of her career. Eve (Ann Baxter) is a superfan. She shows up at every single performance in a trenchcoat and a crumpled Tilley hat. When they actually meet, Eve’s earnest story of love and loss entrances Margo and all her friends with her freshness, innocence and sincerity. Margo gives her a room in her home and Eve becomes a combination maid, confidant and personal assistant. But Margo gradually becomes suspicious when she sees Eve studiously imitating her every move. She’s not worshipping her… she’s trying to become her! Margo’s friends dismiss her fears as an aging actress’s egotitistic paranoia.

Soon Eve becomes Margo’s actual understudy and, due to some manipulation by Margo’s friends, Eve wows the critics, especially the all-powerful and all-knowing theatre critic Addison Dewitt (George Sanders).

Is Eve the ingénue she pretends to be — or an ambitious psychopath? All About Eve won a slew of Academy Awards, and, far from feeling dated, it really is a masterpiece, showing the pettiness, deception, artifice and manipulation in the dog-eat-dog world of theatre, and by extension, Hollywood. Perfect script, fantastic acting, flawless direction.

All About Eve, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane and Jezebel are part of TIFF’s program The Hard Way: the Films of Bette Davis, curated by James Quandt. Go to tiff.net for listings. Also opening today is Empire of Dirt a Canadian drama about three generations of stubborn, first nations women, who are thrown together for the first time.

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

 

Halloween! Movies Reviewed: Superstitious Minds, Ginger Snaps, Bounty Killer

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Mexico, Movies, post-apocalypse, Supernatural, TV, Uncategorized, violence, Werewolves, Western by CulturalMining.com on October 24, 2013

Halloween_1 Superstitious MindsHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.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.

Hallowe’en – it’s the scariest night of the year! And things are getting scarier and scarier. CSEC: The Communications Security Establishment Canada – this country’s own NSA. Did you know they’re allowed to spy on Canadians, as long as you’re speaking to someone outside the country? And with no watchdog, no judicial control? They’re free to do whatever they want with no one watching them! Scary…! Maybe you’re a Bell Canada customer? Beginning two weeks after Hallowe’en they want to keep a record of every web page you visit, every call you make, every TV show you watch, and every place you visit carrying your cell phone! Scarrry!!!!

Yes, it’s a very scary time of year.

Awooooooooo!

So in honour of this frightening holiday, I’m looking at some very halloweeny things. There’s a documentary on superstition, a classic horror film about sisters in suburbia, and a post-apocalyptic action/western about a futuristic world.

Superstitious Minds SkullsSuperstitious Minds

Dir: Adrian Wills and Kenneth Hirsch

Are we all superstitious? I’m pretty careful about spilling salt. And are we becoming more or less so in an increasingly scientific world? Well, according to a new documentary, we are as superstitious as we’ve ever been, maybe more so, with people under thirty the most superstitious of all. It’s what keeps us grounded and gives us control in facing an uncertain, unpredictable world.

This documentary covers international phenomena like Mexico’s Day of the Dead, Feng Shui in Hong Kong, and the rituals and taboos Newfoundland fishermen stick to to keep from being lost at sea. As well as small things we notice everyday, like the rituals of everyone from sports fans to Shakespearean actors.Dia_de_muertos Superstitious Minds

One example: the strange jagged angles of the Bank of China building in Hong Kong led to widespread worry that it was upsetting their economy with it’s intrusive, knife-like nature. So HSBC – that’s the Hong King Shanghai Bank of Commerce – actually put metal cannons on the roof of their sky scraper to shoot all that bad energy back at the Bank of China, thus neutering it’s negative charms.

This is an interesting documentary, with lots of colourful vignettes talking heads, and some reenacted montages about superstition. (I just wish it dealt less with the psychology of it, and more with the magic.)

gingersnaps_01Ginger Snaps (2000)

Dir: John Fawcett

The Fitzgerald sisters, have been BFFs since they were 8. They signed a pact to be dead before they’re 16. In the midst of all the suburban conformity, Ginger and Brigitte (Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins) wear saggy cardigans, thrift store kilts and messy hair. They resist the bullies and jerks in their high school and revel in the depressing-ness of it all. Their only hobby? Acting out elaborate fake-suicides they save on Polaroid photos.

Life in the suburbs is predictable, except that all the neighbourhood dogs are turning up dead. Who is doing ths? But one night, on a full moon, Ginger feels different. She gets scratched by a wild dog, right when she’s having her first period… and things start to change.

She becomes, aggressive, erratic and highly sexualized. She starts wearing plunging necklines to school. And what about those scratches on her body? They’re starting to gingersnaps_02change too. She feels hairier, bloodier… meaner.

The school nurse explains it’s just puberty, but they both know the change means something more. And the two sisters find their relationship is fraying at the edges. Brigette likes the old Ginger, but her sister wants her to change like she did. Ignoring the nurse’s advice, Ginger has unprotect sex with a stoner at her high school – and seems to have passed the strange virus on.

People to start to die in mysterious circumstances….

It’s up to Brigitte to find a cure and bring her back to normal before she kills everybody.  She turns to Sam (Kris Lemche) for help. Sure he’s the local pot dealer, but he’s also the only one besides Brigitte who believes in Lycanthropia – he ran over a werewolf once in his delivery van. But will they get to Ginger before she snaps?  Before she makes the complete transformation to wolfdom?

Ginger Snaps was made in 2000 and I think it’s fair to say it’s attained classic Halloween movie status, along with more famous pics like the Shining, the Exorcist, and Videodrome. It’s distinctly Canadian… with street hockey, grow-ops, sex-ed and roadkill, but without that uncomfortable earnestness that mars some Canadian movies. It also avoids the puritanical nature of mainstream American horror movies, the ones that kill off characters that have sex or take drugs. And it has a refreshingly subversive subtext: Ginger Snaps is a feminist monster movie where the sisters are doing it for themselves.

This is not a special effects-driven movie — it depends on its great story, acting and originality, instead.

Bounty Killer PosterBounty Killer

Dir: Henry Saine

It’s some point far in the future. Corporations have taken over the world with governments withering away. But horrible wars between companies fighting for market share have left the US a wasteland. Now bounty hunters are celebrities followed by papparazzi for their brave exploits. They seek out the outlaws – all of whom now wear suits and ties (the business execs who ruined everything).

The champ hunter, Drifter (Matthew Marsden) brings in the bodies of every outlaw he can find. He’s as rootless as tumbleweed and mean as a rattler. But has a new competitor Catherine (Kristanna Loken), as ruthless as she is beautiful. She rides fancy sports cars and wears knee-high white boots. They are all old friends, lovers and sometime enemies. But when Drifter’s face appears on a wanted poster, Katherine vows to hunt him down. Can Drifter (and his gun-caddy side-kick) cross the badlands, avoid the bands of so-called gypsies in the desert, and make it Bounty Killer 391804_231827040231097_18835298_nto the council building to clear his name? On the way he has to escape the face-painted warriors and ride in things like a camper fan pulled by two Harleys – like an old west horse and carriage. (Great image!)

Bounty Killers is a western but the cowboys drive choppers through the desert, not horses. It’s got the brothels, the ghost towns, the angry mob, the outlaws and the sheriffs. And it all feels like a live-action graphic novel – mainly cause that’s what it is. A comic written for the big screen.

Marsden Bounty KillerI liked this movie – super low budget but punchy, slick and fast moving. Lots of hilarious side characters – all based on movie clichés but different enough and funny enough to keep you glued to the screen.

Ginger Snaps is playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Halloween night (tiff.net), Superstitious Minds is airing on CBC TV on Doc Zone (also on Halloween night), and Bounty Killers played at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, which is screening its closing films tonight.

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

TIFF13: Films About Women. Movies Reviewed: Empire of Dirt, Blue is the Warmest Colour, Young and Beautiful, The Lunchbox

Posted in Canada, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, France, India, Movies, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on September 6, 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.

When an entity with the mammoth, the monumental proportions of TIFF comes to town, it cannot help but affect the city. Shopping, books, music, art, parties… It bleeds far beyond the boundaries of the cinema screens. I’ve noticed pubic libraries cross the city with displays of movie related books. The department stores and boutiques dress up their windows to bring in the movies. There’s a Young Lions Music Club party on Friday all about Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange. There’s a major art launch at MOCCA and the TIFF Bell Lightbox show of art related David Cronenberg. The Cronenberg Project that promises a digital-experience extension! And I’d be very surprised not to see a new type of TIIF-themed poutine or burger somewhere in this city.

This week I’m looking at some more movies coming to TIFF. I’m going to concentrate on movies about women from Canada, France and India. One’s a long-distance romance between strangers; one’s a family reunion involving strangers; one’s a passionate coming-of-age drama; and one’s a dispassionate coming-of-age drama

empireofdirt_01Empire of Dirt

Dir: Peter Stebbings

Lena (Cara Gee) is a beautiful young woman with a rebellious teenage daughter in downtown Toronto. A former model, she cleans houses for a living. She devotes herself to the native circle she runs at a community centre. But her own home life is a shambles. She worries when her daughter Peeka (Shay Eyre) gets kicked out of school and starts hanging with a bad crowd. But when Peeka OD’s huffing spray paint, mom is shocked. She grabs her daughter and heads due north. Peeka knows nothing about her mom’s past, but she discovers she’s from a reserve. She has a gruff, widowed grandmother (Jennifer Podemsky) who sells fishing bait, and possibly even a father somewhere.

Will Lena and her mom learn to love one another? Can Peeka adjust to life up north? Will she embrace her native heritage? And will the ghosts of Lena’s past force her out again? Or will three generations of strong stubborn women manage to co-exist? A nice, touching movie, Empire of Dirt is part family drama, part rural romance. It lets three actresses explore and expand on their characters — of kid, mom and grandmother – to make something bigger than the sum of the parts.

blueisthewarmestcolor_01Blue is the Warmest Colour

Dir: Abdellatif Kechiche

Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is an ordinary French girl, finishing high school in Lille. She likes spaghetti, reading books and hanging with her friends. She doesn’t know how beautiful she is with strands of hair falling over her face. But on a first date with some guy, it’s a woman –with punky looks and blue hair – who catches her eye in a random glance. She is smitten. Soon enough, she meets gap-toothed Emma (Léa Seydoux), a fine arts student at the local university.  They become first flirty friends, then torrid, romantic lovers. Emma has high ambitions: she aims for success as a realist painter; she sketches Adele’s nude body obsessively. Can working-class Adele survive such a highly sexualized life and Emma’s sometimes cruel, domineering nature?

This is a three-hour-long look at Adele’s transition from highschool to adulthood. It’s full of explicit, extended sex scenes – and I don’t mean rolling around in dark shadows behind lacy curtains. It’s not porn but there is a lot of sex. Their romance is very dramatic: Adele’s passionate and obsessive first love. (I just wish they didn’t have quite so much of the colour blue, blue, blue popping up in every scene; it gets distracting.)

youngandbeautiful_02Jeune et Jolie (Young and Beautiful)

Dir: Francois Ozon

Isabelle (Marine Vacth) is teenaged girl from a middle class family. She loses her virginity to a boy she meets on a summer seaside holiday. But the sex is not good. She feels detached, literally, from the experience. Back in the city, she decides to explore that mental split. In the fall, she creates a nighttime personality – with a different makeup, clothes and hairstyle – and sets up an online presence.  Her nighttime persona secretly works in the sex trade, meeting much older men in posh hotels. Sometimes dangerous, sometimes eye-opening, occasionally an emotional connection. She doesn’t spend the money. Only her gay-ish little brother suspects something is up. Her daytime-self goes to school studies, chats with her friends about dates. But come wintertime, she is shocked by an unexpected turn of events. Can Isabelle’s emotional maturity ever catch up to her sexual maturity?youngandbeautiful_01

Young and Beautiful follows the two sides of the model-like Isabelle as she navigates growing up and her troubled relationship with her own mom. Simple in form – it’s divided into four parts, following the four seasons – the movie is psychologically and emotionally complex.

Finally, I cannot not mention:

The Lunchbox

Dir: Ritesh Batra

lunchbox_02Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a young Bombay housewife whose marriage is not going well – he doesn’t eat her food, and they have little connection in bed. To spark things up, she decides to make her husband a delicious lunch. It’s sent out each day, along with millions of others, by a complex hand-delivery system connecting her kitchen to her husband’s desk. So she gets her upstair’s neighbour “Auntie” to shout down cooking advice based on what spices she smells through the window. (You never actually see her neighbour.) Later, it comes back completely empty – he loves it! But her husband doesn’t mention anything. Didn’t he like it? He says the cauliflower was good. But she didn’t make cauliflower. So begins a complicated relationship long-distance with a Saajan Fernandez (Irrfan Khan), an unknown, older man, somewhere in Bombay, who loves her cooking. They exchange handwritten messages back and forth under the chapattis in the metal stacked lunch box. Will they meet? Are they meant for each other? Or will Ilo’s husband learn to love his young wife?

The Lunch Box is a must-see, a simple, perfect film.

Empire of Dirt, Blue is the Warmest Colour, Young and Beautiful, and the Lunchbox are all showing at TIFF, and will be released in Canada over the next year. Go to tiff.net for tickets.

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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