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

 

The Life and Times of Leos Carax: Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, Mauvais Sang, Pola X, Holy Motors

Posted in Art, Cultural Mining, Dance, Fantasy, France by CulturalMining.com on August 22, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking Boymeetsgirl_photofest_01_mediumat 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.

Leos Carax is a French Director. He’s one of those filmmakers that you may not have heard of, but who, once you see his movies, you’ll be hooked. He’s impossible to categorize, partly because he’s not like any other director, and partly because he’s not even like himself – he’s constantly changing his style and techniques. They shift from absurdist, comic-book-like films, to classic film noir gangster movies, to hyper-realistic semi-documentaries, and then back again. The one constant, in almost all his films, is the actor Denis Lavant.

Loversonthebridge_frl_03_mediumLes Amants du Pont-Neuf

Dir: Leos Carax

The first Leos Carax film I saw was Les Amant du Pont Neuf – Lovers on the Bridge. It’s a simple, — but not simplistic – story of an artist who is going blind (Juliette Binoche) who meets Alex, a street busker (Denis Lavant). They fall in love, sort of, and meet on an ancient Paris bridge that’s under repairs.  With the help of an eccentric, white-bearded hobo named Hans, the two of them try to stay together… but can they?

When I first saw this movie I thought – who the hell is playing this guy, alex? Denis Lavant is an intense performer who uses fire, acrobatics and bodily contortions and fighting as part of his acting. The movie feels like Carax just run into this busker on the street at random, and decided to film him. (That’s not the case, obviously). Oh yeah, and in this movie he doesn’t really speak. He’s an unbreakable but cartoonish figure, while Binoche is a tragic and passionate heroine.

Critics tend to exaggerate the importance of movies, every poster has some critic saying a movie is the best thing ever. Personally, I think hyperbole is the most overated technique in the world – no the universe… But honestly, if you’re a cinephile, if you love movies, you should be required to see Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. It’s that different, that important.

Mauvaissang_photofest_01_mediumMauvais Sang

… was one of Carax’s earliest films, the second one he made. It’s as complex as Pont Neuf is simple. This is about two young lovers, Lise and Alex (played by a teenaged Julie Delpy and Denis Lavant), happy and carefree in the fields of Paris. He is known as a trickster – he picks up extra income doing street scams like three card monte in dark allies. But Alex is pulled away from this life by a pair of aging gangsters.

They know him from working with his late father, and they need Alex – known for his nimble fingers – to help pull off a complicated theft. You see, they owe money to an older American woman, also a gangster; if they pull off the heist, she’ll will cancel their debt. If not… they’re dead meat.

What’s the heist? They have to break into a lab and steal a deadly sexually transmitted virus called STBO, that could kill millions, and whose vaccine would be worth a fortune. (This movie was made in 1986, during the height of the HIV plague).

Alex agrees. He leaves his motorcycle with Lise and flees the city – only to be smitten by the gorgeous Anna (Juliette Binoche) , the mistress of one of the white-haired gangsters. But she rejects him, saying she’s attracted to much older men, bigger men, not to him.

And Lise, meanwhile, won’t let Alex leave her.

Mauvais Sang is a highly-stylized film, filled with peeping toms, bizarre scenes of jumping out of airplanes, staring up at windows, and chase scenes down those long French roads lined with plane trees.

Sometimes it feels like he’s mocking the audience, that it’s all just a big parody; and then it’ll shift into an amazingly passionate and playful scene between Binoche and Lavant and you’re totally caught up in it.

The women in this movie are always smartly dressed and coiffed, while the men, even the older gangsters, seem to walk around semi-clothed, with shirtless chase scenes and shootouts.

In this film, Lavant is still a boy, given to extended shots of him racing down a street, shifting from modern dance to shadow boxing to spontaneous handsprings. Binoche is a pixie with a black, page-boy haircut with flawless, porcelain skin and red lips. The two of them setting up scenes of unrequited love you can follow in Les Amant du Pont- Neuf. Wow – what a movie.

Pola X

…was made in 1999, and it feels different from his other movies. It’s about Pierre (Guillaume Pola X (1999 France)  Directed by Leos Carax Shown: Guillaume DepardieuDepardieu), a young novelist from a very rich family. He wears only white linen and hops in and out of bed with his equally blonde fiancée. His publisher loves his innocence and immaturity. But Pierre  wants to experience reallife. Then his controlling mother (Catherine Deneuve) discovers a secret – some old papers that his late father (a French diplomat who served in Eastern Europe) left behind.

Meanwhile, Pierre discovers that a scruffy, dark-haired street woman is following him – who is she? Listen to her story: (clip)

When he discovers that she may be his blood sister, he throws away his best friend, his fiancé, his family and wealth and plunges into her life of danger and poverty… and possibly, love.

Were this by any other director, I’d say, wow, cool, passionate drama – but it feels like something’s missing. While it has a lot of Carax’s touches – it feels like his most main-stream or conventional film. What’s missing is Denis Lavant. Lavant is a very unusual-looking movie star – he has a compact muscular body, a flattened nose, gap-teeth, scarred skin. He can also do just about anything – magic, acrobatics, dance… anything. In comparison, the late Depardieu (he tragically died from an infection) while compelling, just doesn’t seem to match the greatness and strangeness of someone like Lavant.

Finally,

holymotors_wildbunch_02_mediumHoly Motors

…which just came out last year.

Oscar (Denis Lavant) gets picked up in the morning by a white stretch limo, driven by a handsome, older chauffeur named Cecile.

Maybe it’s just a day like any other for a rich businessman… or is it? You soon discover that inside the limo he has costumes, makeup, spirit gum, wigs and beards. He turns into the man or woman he plays in each act. So, over the course of a day, he becomes a middle-aged, ruthless businessman, a homeless Eastern-European woman, an assassin, a doting dad, a dying man, and Kylie Minogue’s lover. Occasionally, between acts, he’s just Oscar: the man in the car.

In one especially marvellous and shocking sequence he becomes an eccentric street maniac (“M. Merde”) who crawls out of a manhole, pushes his way through a crowd, and stumbles into a fashion shoot in a Parisian cemetery. He violently attacks the photographer’s assistant, biting off her fingers, and smearing the blood all over an unflappably blasé supermodel… before carrying her off to an underground hideaway for a bizarre sexual encounter and another shocking transformation. (No spoilers here — watch the movie to find out the rest of it.)

So what’s going on? Is Oscar (which is also the director’s middle name) like the guy in the Truman Show, unknowingly living an artificial life for the delight of viewers? Or is Oscar doing this for you and me (the moviegoers) playing his role in the cosmic scheme of things — the entire movie is his act. Life’s an illusion, but an enjoyable one, and Denis (with Edith Skob as the driver) have never been better.

Modern Love – The Films of Leos Carax, curated by James Quandt,  is being screened in Toronto beginning this weekend, with the director speaking at some of the shows. Go to tiff.net for details. And the funny road comedy I reviewed last week, We’re The Millers, opens today – 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

Run Silent, Run Deep? Movies Reviewed: La Pirogue, Lovelace

Posted in Africa, Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, Migrants, Movies, Penis, Porn, Psychology, Refugees by CulturalMining.com on August 18, 2013

Hi, 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.

People leave their homes for different reasons. Some people are tied down by their pasts, held back by their parents. They’ll never succeed unless they can break free. Others are content, but feel they’ll missing out on something better, their destinies unfulfilled, unless they move away. But the grass isn’t always greener…

This week, I’m looking at two movies about people who go out into the world to seek a better life, but find their new world may be worse than what they left behind. One’s a realistic drama from Senegal about a journey across deep waters; the other’s a US biopic, about a movie called Deep Throatthe

Lapirogue_ArtMattanProductions_01_mediumLa Pirogue

Dir: Moussa Touré

Baye Laye (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye) is a fisherman who plies the waters off Senegal looking for the next catch. He has a pretty good life, with a beautiful wife, and a nice home. He even dabbles in sponsoring fighters at public matches. He goes on fishing trips for weeks at a time in his long, wooden boat. But there’s hasn’t been a good catch for ages.

In walks a sleazy, but rich, local entrepreneur. He needs a ship captain to ferry a fishing boat to the coast of Spain. It’ll only take a week – much shorter than his normal trips. But this is no pleasure cruise. Baye’s pirogue – a deep, wooden canoe – won’t be hauling seafood. The cargo will be two dozen hopeful migrants.

He refuses. It’s illegal, dangerous, and immoral. But there are crowds of men in aA scene from THE PIROGUE, directed by Moussa Touré. Courtesy o corrugated shack on the beach, all waiting for him to take them to Europe. Young men want to experience western culture, up close. Join a world cup football team, or just buy an iPhone. A disabled man needs to buy a prosthetic limb Others have family, lovers or jobs waiting for them there. He finally agrees, when he discovers that his fishing navigator — and even his own brother – are going to Spain the next day, with or without him. And so begins the journey.

But there’s trouble from the start. A stowaway leads to talk of mutiny. And ethnic tensions emerge: There are national splits – with Fulani refugees from Guinea who have never been the ocean; battling ethnic groups who don’t speak a common language; and devout Muslims – contrasted with their sophisticated, hard-drinking cousins. The pirogue itself is built for piles of fish not crowds of people.

A scene from THE PIROGUE, directed by Moussa Touré. Courtesy oAs tension builds, they gag a panic-stricken man with only a chicken to keep him company. Someone breaks the ceremonial bottle. And another pirogue they encounter in the ocean does not bode well for their future. Things reach a crisis after a big storm washes away the GPS and disables one of the engines. Without much fuel, or even drinking water left, they are faced with a dilemma. Do they continue toward Spain? Or do they let the tides take them to Brazil?

La Pirogue is a good story, well told and nicely shot.  For once, there’s a movie told by the migrants themselves. Director Toure takes a few stylistic leaps, everything from the excellent opening in a public square, to an unusual (and oddly mannered) sex scene. And I love the complex rhythms of Salam Diallo’s music. Worth seeing.

lovelaceLovelace

Dir: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

It’s the early 70s in Florida. The sex and drug revolution is happening, man! Everyone wears loud clothes and listens to wooka-wooka music. Men battle each other for the worst facial hair combos and the biggest collars. Even the fonts are fat. (In the opening credits, the movie title gets an erection.) In the midst of all this is young Linda (Amanda Seyfried), a cute, freckled girl with dark curls. Her conservative and Catholic parents (Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick), had whisked Linda down south to hide her pregnancy. They want to bring her up right and whip her back into shape. She just wants a tan.

Soon enough, Linda meets the much older Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard) a bartender with ambition. They marry, and before you know it, Linda is Linda Lovelace, the star of Deep Throat. This is a porn movie about a woman who can only reach an orgasm by giving head who meets a man with a large penis. All these topics were very taboo at the time – oral sex was never openly discussed. Suddenly, the film is a crossover hit  (this is when porn was still watched in movie theatres) a blockbuster, a cultural meme before the term existed. Even the Watergate whistleblower – the man who brought down the Nixon government – called himself “Deep Throat”.

She rises to the top, with instant stardom and notoriety. There are scenes of lovelace d1 _155.NEFporn in-production, meeting celebs like Hugh Heffner, and the glamour of talk shows and Hollywood life. It’s a campy, over-the-top look at those wacky, zany days of porn. Except it’s not.

Halfway through, the movie does a complete about face. Suddenly it’s a deadly serious drama, based on Lovelace’s autobiography: how she was raped at gun point, forced to do abominable things, kept under close watch by her evil husband Chuck. She does an extended tell-all to daytime TV host Phil Donohue.

So does it work? Combining these two very different feelings within one movie? In a word, no! In fact it fails miserably. This is one of the worst movies of the year, a painfully awful mistake.

How could so many famous stars – Adam Brody, James Franco, Hank Azaria, Eric Roberts, Juno Temple – make such a monstrously bad movie? Seyfried plays Lovelace well, and doesn’t lose her way, but Sarsgaard is unbelievably bad as Chuck. Just dreadful. (And what’s with actors throwing phones? Denzel in “Flight”, Sarsgaard in this movie? – it’s a sure sign an actor is losing it and the movie is going to suck.) Even the directors – who made that excellent documentary bio of Harvey Milk – what were they thinking?

Lovelace is like a two course meal – first a stale Hostess Twinkie… closely followed by a plate of excrement. It’s like a slapstick look at the Rwanda massacre. Watch it at your own risk.

Lovelace is playing now, and La Pirogue opens today at the TIFF Bell Light Box 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

Blood Bros. Movies Reviewed: Only God Forgives, Rufus PLUS TIFF13

Posted in Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Death, Drama, Dreams, Movies, Thailand, Torture, Uncategorized, Vampires, Vengeance, violence by CulturalMining.com on July 25, 2013

Hi, 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.

TIFF13 Press ConferenceTIFF is coming! At the big press launch they released the names of some of the movies playing this year. Haven’t seen any yet, but a few caught my eye. The opening movie is the Julian Assange and Wikileaks story, and it’s called The Fifth Estate. Very interested in seeing which side Hollywood takes in this – but it’s cool just seeing it on the screen while Assange is still holed up in the Ecuador embassy. And then there’s Bradley Manning… Another movie that looks good is wikileaks_2459774bBurning Bush, by the great Polish director Agnieszka Holland. It’s about the self-immolation of a Prague Spring protester in the 60s. And I really want to see Prisoners, a thriller about a missing girl’s father, who kidnaps a man he thinks is the criminal. Denis Villeneuve is the Quebec director of Incendie.

Lots of crime and violence… so keeping in the same vein, this week I’m looking at two movies about brooding young men embroiled in circumstances beyond their control. There’s a violent drama about a man caught between a rock and a hard place — his mom and the Angel of Death — in Bangkok; and a Canadian drama about a boy with strange attributes who just wants to fit in.

Ryan Gosling Only God ForgivesOnly God Forgives

Dir: Nicolas Wilding-Refn

Julian (Ryan Gosling) is a hardworking, honest American who lives in Bangkok. He runs a kickboxing gym paid for by family money. But this money is tainted. One day, something sets his older brother off on a rampage that leaves a young girl dead.

A local police detective named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) hears about the brutal rape and murder, and brings the dead girl’s father to the blood-drenched scene of the crime – a seedy hotel room.  Julian’s brother is still there. Chang hands the dad a baseball bat and locks the door. An eye for an eye.

Kristin Scott Thomas Only God ForgivesJulian feels judgement has been done, and doesn’t retaliate against the man who killed his brother. But his mother is a different story. Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), it turns out, is the family kingpin (or queen pin?) in the drug trade. She’s a cruel, bleached-blond harridan with dramatic eye-makeup. She kills with impunity, and gets off by watching bodybuilders pose on a stage. She flies into Bangkok specifically to kill whoever killed her son.

Chang, the cop, appears to be a soft-spoken, unassuming, middle-aged guy who likes to sing Karaoke. But in fact he is a dark avenger, an angel of death. He acts as judge, jury and executioner, carrying a square-tipped sword strapped to his back. He decides, on the spot, whether a crime deserves just the loss of a limb or two… or a death sentence. And – chop-chop-chop – case closed.

So the two sides, Chang and Crystal, are headed for an inexorable showdown, with Julian caught between them.

Vithaya Pansringarn Only God ForgivesOnly God Forgives has a strange dream-like quality that feels like something by David Lynch. It’s hard to tell if you’re watching what is actually happening, or what Julian thinks will happen. It’s also highly stylized, with the characters posing in mannered tableaux. Most of the scenes are gushing with red and black: gaudy, flocked wallpaper, red glass beads, glowing paper lanterns. And blood… everywhere. I knew this movie was going to be violent, but it’s gruesome, gory.

The movie is fun, in a way. There’s this incredible, over-the-top monologue that Kristin Scott-Thomas has in a Meet the Fokkers scene. Amazing. Ryan Gosling, on the other hand, has almost no lines in the entire movie even though he’s on-screen most of the time. The thing is, he’s not a hero, he’s not an anti-hero — he’s just there. And that’s the problem with this movie: too much gore, too simplistic a plot, and Ryan Gosling is too blah.

Rufus

Dir: Dave Schultz

Rory Saper RUFUSRufus (Rory J Saper) is a shy, misunderstood teenager with lank hair, pale features and an English accent. He arrives in a small town with a very old woman who makes him promise to make friends and blend in. Soon enough, she’s dead, and he’s taken in by the chief of police and his wife, who see him as a replacement for their own son who died a few years earlier. But Rufus is different.

He doesn’t really eat at all, except for really, really fresh meat. Bloody meat. He can lie under water for long periods of time without breathing. His body temperature is 20 – 30 degrees below normal. And did I mention he likes to drink blood? I’m not saying he’s a vampire or anything, but… he is different.

Rufus 2So he naively makes friends with Tracy (Merritt Patterson), a neighbouring girl who says she’s slept with half the town. And there’s Clay (Richard Harmon), the high school jock and bully who first attacks him, but later attempts to befriend him. He falls into a sort of normal life – a home at last. He plays catch-ball with his new dad, makes angels in the snow, sleeps in a real bedroom, eats with a real family.

But then a mysterious man who works for Big Pharma comes to town. He says Rufus can’t live in the outside world and wants to take him away. He seems to know something about Rufus’s past, and that of the old woman he came with.

Rufus can kill if crossed, but he also powers to heal. Who or what is he? A vampire, a werewolf or an immortal soul? And can a boy who is different, especially one with special powers, live a normal life in a small town?

Rufus 1Rufus is interesting as an idea. I liked the concept, but it feels more like a pilot for a TV show than a movie. The acting is good, and I like the feel of the whole thing, but the story just meanders along… there’s just not enough clear plot to satisfy you.

Only God Forgives is playing now, and Rufus opens today (check your local listings.) And to find out about what’s playing at TIFF and how to score tickets – check out the daytime passes — go to tiff.net

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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Not-So-Mellow Melodramas. Films Reviewed: Une Chambre en Ville, Byzantium

Posted in Cultural Mining, Goth, Horror, melodrama, Movies, Protest, Secrets, UK, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on July 12, 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.

Melodrama has a bad rep: corny, overacted, fake-y, too emotional… People think of swooning and fainting women batting their eyelashes. These stories are not hip enough, and cynical viewers feel obliged to roll their eyes in disgust. But they’re wrong. A good melodrama, done right, can be moving, exciting and memorable. So this week I’m looking at two women-centred melodramatic movies. One’s a classic look back to love and loss in postwar France in the 1950’s; the other’s a contemporary look at some women holed up in a ramshackle hotel who may have been alive in the 18th century.

Chambreenville_frl_01_mediumUne Chambre en Ville

Dir: Jacques Demy

It’s 1955, in the French industrial city of Nantes. Francois (Richard Berry) is a tool-and-die maker who rents a room – the chamber en ville mentioned in the title. It’s in the home of a stuck-up, but faded, bourgeois widow (Danielle Darieux). Francois calls her the Baroness. Her husband, a Colonel, died in Indochina – France’s Vietnam war — so she needs a tenant to help pay her bills.

Francois has a beautiful, working-class girlfriend. The fresh-faced Violette adores him, but une-chambre-en-ville-poster2.jpdark-and-brooding Francois finds her too ordinary.

Meanwhile, the Baroness’s daughter Edith (Dominique Sanda) is married to a much older man Edmond (Michel Picolli). He’s pulling in the francs, hand over fist, selling these new things called TV sets to eager buyers. She likes the mink coats he buys her but he’s a dud in bed. Edith’s a sexual animal who turns for sex outside their marriage. Edmond is intensely jealous and prone to threatening her with a straight razor.

Well, somehow, Edith and Francois meet and sparks fly. They end up sleeping together, une chambre en villeanonymously, with neither knowing their connection: that he actually lives with her mother in Edith’s old room! But what are the consequences of their newfiound connection?

But wait — there’s more! I should mention that, while it’s not exactly a musical, the entire movie is sung… sort of like the libretto in an opera. Listen. (on MP3: Francois and Violette having an argument)

This is all set against a background of a city strike, with the strikers and protesters standing on one side of the main street, and the riot police facing them, shouting orders just outside Eugene DelacroixFrancois’s window. In scenes that look uncannily like a Delacroix painting  (or anything from Les Miserables) you have strikers waving red flags as they march by the barricades for the ultimate confrontation.

This is a really good movie, with shocking plot turns, secrets and retribution. It’s seldom seen – it’s been a few decades since last shown in Toronto – and this is a new colour print. Jacques Demy (he was married to director Agnes Varda, and died in 1990) is a director who deserves to be seen by more people. Although he’s better known for his song-and-dance musicals in the 60s, in films like Les demoiselles de Rochefort, Une Chambre en Ville shows a lesser-known side of his work.

Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley, Uri Gavriel, Thure Lindhardt Photo Patrick RedmondByzantium

Dir: Neil Jordan

Eleanor and Clara (Saorise Ronan and Gemma Arterton) are two young women who share a council flat. Porcelain-featured Eleanor is an innocent-seeming teenaged schoolgirl. She likes sitting in a garret dropping her scribbled writing out the window. Clara wears scarlet lipstick and is tough as nails, and works as a prostitute to support them. It’s the classic dual stereotypes of women: the virgin and the whore. They’re forced to flee the city, leaving dead bodies in their wake, when they’re discovered by some mysterious detectives. They end up in a remote coastal town, bunking down in a seedy, rundown hotel called the Byzantium. (MoreByzantium Saoirse Ronan Photo Christopher Raphael flocked wallpaper and fringed lampshades than you can shake a stick at.) Clara smells cash to be made and immediately sets up a brothel while Eleanor wistfully plays the piano. But all is not what it appears to be.

Eleanor is convinced she’s immortal, over 200 years old. She’ll tell you her story if you want to listen. And she’ll suck your blood afterwards — consensually, of course, and only if you’re ready to die. She has no fangs, just a sharp fingernail, but she’s still pretty vampiric.

Then Eleanor meets an anaemic, ginger-haired boy named Frank (played by the leonine Caleb Landry Jones). He loves her music and wants to hear her life story. Through a series of flashbacks she tells her story: her time in an orphanage, her rescue, a horrific incident that changed her life… and the part Clara played in all of this. Will Frank believe her stories? Will the Byzantium_ Caleb Landry Jones Photo Patrick Redmondtwo women outrun their dark stalkers? And what is the real story of Clara and Eleanor’s relationship?

Byzantium is a beautifully-shot, dark gothic drama. It alternates between historical drama, roiling romance, and contemporary sexual noir. It looks like that, too, with scenes of Spartan orphanages and horses on the beach sharing screentime with heavy industrial hallways and endless tunnels to nowhere. I was expecting a sequel to Neil Jordan’s painfully awful Interview with a Vampire (starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise) from a few years ago, but this one is much, much better.

Byzantium opens today, and Une Chambre en Ville is playing on July 15th at 6:30 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, as part of Bitter/Sweet, the amazing Jacques Demy retrospective. Also opening today is the absolutely fantastic Danish drama The Hunt, directed by Thomas Vinterberg. It’s about a divorced small town teacher (Mads Mikkelson) who wants to take his son for his ritual coming-of-age hunting trip, but finds himself the object of a different kind of hunt when he is accused of an unspeakable crime.  I reviewed this during TIFF last fall, and it’s finally being released – fantastic movie!

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

Reality in Italy. Movies reviewed: Reality, Diaz: Don’t Clean Up this Blood

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Italy, Politics, Protest, Psychology, Reality, TV, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 28, 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.

Canada PostSummer is here — makes you want to get out of the sun and sit in a nice, air-conditioned movie theatre, maybe curl up with some popcorn and a warm body or two. Or maybe just stay outside all night long. Well, for the outside crowd, Secret-Disco-Revolution-Postermovies are popping up everywhere. Every Tuesday they’re showing free outdoor movies once the sun sets at the Yonge-Dundas Square. Crowd pleasers like Edward Scissorshands, Napoleon Dynamite, and this coming week Sam Raimi’s classic Army of Darkness starring Bruce Campbell and a chainsaw. Or check out the Toronto Palestine Film Fest’s outdoor screening of TIFF Demy umbrellas of cherbourgthe popular Checkpoint Rock at the Christie Pits on July 15th – also completely free!

It’s also Canada Day weekend – but what if it rains? Check out the Umbrellas of Cherbourg on Saturday night at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, as part of a bitter-sweet Jacques Demy retrospective. And it’s also Pride Day weekend; if you want to shake your booty, don’t miss the throbbing beat in Jamie Kastner’s new tongue-in-cheek documentary The Secret Disco Revolution.

icff squarewhitelogoAnd finally, Toronto’s Italian Contemporary Film Festival is open now (downtown and up in Vaughan), So this week I’m looking at two very different dramas about life in recent Italy under right-wing media mogul Berlusconi. One’s a dark comedy about a man in Naples who will do anything to be on a reality TV show; the other a historical drama about a group of protesters in Genoa who want to escape their own grim reality.

reality_02_mediumReality

Dir: Matteo Garrone

What is reality? A new film by the Neapolitan director of the great gangster movie Gomorra asks that question. The movie starts with a golden, horse-drawn carriage arriving at a lavish rococo palace. A well-dressed couple runs through the gilt-lined hallways to prepare for a big event. Who are these rich powerful people? Royalty? CEOs? Celebrities? Nope…it’s all artifice. They’re just guests at a wedding.

Luciano (Aniello Arena) is a well-liked fishmonger in modern-day Naples. He’s a fast talker with a sense of humour – a born entertainer. Muscular and tattooed, he has a fish stall in the marketplace and knows everybody. His time is filled with his job, his family, and his wife Maria (Loredana Simioli). They’re also involved in a complicated scam involving white- elephant robots that make pasta. Surrounded by his odd-looking extended family in the ruins of Naples, he manages to eke out a living.

But, after a brief encounter with Enzo, a minor TV celebrity at the wedding, he decides to go to a local audition for Big Brother. Big Brother is a grotesque reality show, popular in Europe, where contestants give up all privacy to live together in a glass house filled with cameras and microphones. Their day-to-day lives are edited and broadcast to the adoring but cruel public.

The audition goes well and he gets sent to Rome for the second round. But when reality_03_mediumLuciano gets a first-hand glimpse of fame and adulation, it turns on a switch in his head that he can’t turn off.

As time passes, and he still hasn’t received the call, he decides to follow Enzo’s vapid catch phrase: Never give up! He becomes convinced that he’s being spied on – just like on the show – by TV executives from Rome who are judging his character. He abandons his parsimonious ways, and becomes lavishly generous to everyone he knows… even to strangers.

Luciano’s character becomes more and more erratic and nonsensical as his obsession with TV takes over his life. Is it all an illusion? Or will Luciano actually become a part of the surreal world of reality TV?

I enjoyed Reality – it’s a good absurdist take on the effects of mass media. As in Gomorra, Garonne casts strange, interesting locals for many of the supporting roles and shoots it in locations all around Naples. But this dark, absurdist comedy — with none of shocking violence and tension of Gamorra — leaves you feeling the emptiness of mass media, as detached as the character Luciano.

Diaz5Diaz: Don’t Clean Up This Blood

Dir: Daniele Vicari

In 2001, the G8 summit in Genoa, hosted by then Prime Minister Berlusconi, attracted protesters from across Europe. What happened there is the subject of this truly shocking historical drama.

Street protesters became angry after a local student, 23-year-old Carlo Giuliani, was shot dead by the Carabiniere (military police). Protesters threw beer bottles while police used tear gas. Then came the incident which the movie concentrates on. Many activists, students and protesters – as well as all of the reporters covering them – are camped out in the empty Armando Diaz schoolhouse.

A huge number of police, many brought in from outside areas, descend on the school in the middle of the night. They attack students and journalists alike, men and women lying in their sleeping bags. They go wild, breaking bones, cracking skulls, kicking, and clubbing everyone they see. Dragged down stairways, herded Diaz 1into vans they are brought, en masse, to police stations. The least lucky are sent to the now infamous town of Bolzaneto, where they are subject to humiliation and torture. Women are stripped naked, men chained up and treated like dogs.

This is an extremely shocking drama, based entirely on existing footage and first person testimony given afterwards. Although different in style, it evokes scenes from Pier Paolo Pasolini’sSalo: 100 days of Sodom, Denis Villeneuve’sPolytechnique or even the infamous photos from Abu Ghraib.

Diaz 15The movie is presented as a drama. You get to meet some of the individuals: a young female protester from Germany, a French journalist, a sympathetic local policeman who hears screams through the bathroom pipes, a local conservative reporter caught up in the attack. This makes it easier to identify with what happens to them, and all the more moving. But most of the film is a record of the harrowing incidents themselves and their effect on the participants. (And it makes you wonder: far from being held up as an unmitigated disaster, police seem to be intentionally repeating the techniques of Genoa like clockwork at each successive G8 summit, ensuring mass arrests and horrible violence.)  Diaz is not a fun movie to watch, but it is an important one and a real eye-opener. (I reviewed an Italian documentary on the same topic last year: Black Block).

Reality and Diaz are both playing at Toronto’s Italian Contemporary Film Festival (go to icff.ca for details). And the Bitter/Sweet Jacques Demy retrospective and The Secret Disco Revolution are both on now.

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 Chen Kaige about Yellow Earth, Farewell My Concubine, and Caught in the Web

Posted in 1930s, China, Cross-dressing, Cultural Mining, Movies, Music, Politics, Poverty, Uncategorized, 中国电影 by CulturalMining.com on June 7, 2013

Chen KaigeHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto is launching a Century of Chinese Cinema, a mammoth series that runs all summer. As part of this series, New Waves looks at the Fifth Generation directors in post-Mao China in the eighties.

One director’s work stands out, spanning the eighties to the present day and including such crucial Chinese films as Yellow Earth and Farewell My Concubine. In this interview, director CHEN KAIGE tells about Yellow Earth CREDIT FRL_mediummaking films in the 1980s, the 1990s and today, and talks about traditional culture, Chinese politics, whether Chinese films should “serve the people”, social networking, and more.

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