Daniel Garber interviews Kore-eda Hirokazu about his new film Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる)

Posted in Cultural Mining, Denial, Drama, Family, Interview, Japan, Kids, Movies, Uncategorized, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on March 7, 2014

Kore-eda Hirokazu, Toronto TIFF13 photo © 2013 by Daniel GarberHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

What would you do if your discovered you’re not the father of your child? Not adopted father, not step-father, not foster-father… What if you discovered the actual child your wife gave birth to isn’t the one you’re raising?

A new movie called Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる) looks at a married couple in Tokyo who discover their six-year-old son, Keita, was switched at birth in a rural hospital with another Masaharu Fukuyama in Like Father, Like Son. © 2013 FUJI TELEVISION NETWORK, INC.:AMUSE INC.:GAGA CORPORATION. All rights reserved.baby named Ryusei.

Noted director and festival favourite Kore-eda Hirokazu has won countless awards for his poignant, realistic social dramas. His subtle new drama deals with issues of blood, patrimony, family, children, class, names and identity. Like Father, Like Son opens today in Toronto.

I spoke with him at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, 2013.

Sex vs Love. Movies Reviewed: The Past, The Stranger by the Lake, C*cksucker Blues

Posted in Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Family, France, Gay, Movies, Mystery, Sex, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on January 17, 2014

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.

Can there be love without sex… and sex without love? These movies say yes. This week I’m looking at a French drama about love tempered by divorce; another French drama about lust tinged with death; and a rarely-seen American doc about sex and drugs and rock and roll.

Ali Mosaffa as Ahmad Photo by Carole Bethuel © 2013, Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsThe Past (Le Passe)

Dir: Asghar Farhadi

Ahmad (Ali Mossafa) is an extremely  gentle, middle-aged guy – a French-speaking Iranian. He has an intellectual beard and wears a jaunty scarf around his neck. Ahmad is met at the airport in Paris by his beautiful French wife, Marie (Bérénice Bejo). She’s in a foul mood. She asked him back to Paris to finalize their divorce. They’ve been living in two different countries since Ahmad moved back to Iran years ago.

Their relationship is finished… or is it? For some reason, she wants him to stay in her home, despite his request for a hotel room. He’s glad to see Bejo Mosaffa The Pasttheir two girls again. But then she makes him sleep in a kid’s bunk bed along with a bratty boy he’s never seen before. Hmmm…

That’s when the little boy’s father enters the picture. Samir (Tahar Rahim) is a smaller, less mature version of Ahmed. He’s a successful bearded small businessman who owns a dry cleaner. His wife recently died and it looks like Marie and Samir now want to get married. But Marie’s older daughter is going through a crisis, Samir’s son is upset about something else, and there’s  big trouble at work. And Ahmad and Samir have to work together with Marie holding all the cards.

Bérénice Bejo as Marie and Tahar Rahim as Samir Photo by Carole Bethuel © 2013, Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsThis movie tells its story in a fascinating way. At first you think it’s about Ahmad – but it’s not. The point of view shifts from scene to scene, character to character, as the past is gradually revealed. Whose kids are whose? Why did Samir’s wife die? And what are all these unspoken secrets?

The Past is a fantastically subtle movie. It’s low-key, yet powerful (if that makes sense). It doesn’t shove the big revelations in your face; it lets them out slowly, gradually, over the course of a conversation. The three stars are all great – you may have seen Bejo in the French silent movie The Artist, and Rahim in the prison drama A Prophet (both of which won Best Foreign Film Oscars). I’m less familiar with Mossafa, but he’s also outstanding. (And director Farhadi also won for A Separation). The Past is a family drama well worth seeing.

strangerbythelake_04Stranger by the Lake

Dir: Alain Guiardie

Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a young guy who hangs out at a gay nude beach. It’s a rocky lake surrounded by trees where men go for sex breaks. He makes friends with a shy, potato-faced man named Henri. Henri is confused about the whole place. He’s sure all the men there are cheating on their wives. He’s never heard of the concept of “full-time gays”. They chat about the sea monsters in the water and the guys on the beach.  Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao) can tell Franck is attracted to a particular fit man with a Marlboro mustache – the stranger by the lake. And maybe that attraction is mutual. strangerbythelake_02But Franck knows Marlboro Man is taken – he has a beach buddy.

But one night Franck sees the two of them frolicking out in the lake. The beach buddy goes down under water… and doesn’t come back up again. Is he dead? Did Marlboro man kill him?

Franck starts hanging with Marlboro Man – who he discovered is named Michel (Christof Paou). They tan together, have sex together… but only by the lake. At night Michel drives to somewhere mysterious – and he won’t say where.

strangerbythelake_05When a body is found, a police inspector (Jérôme Chappatte) starts snooping around the beach. (He looks like Lt Colombo dying of cancer.) Franck is caught between lust and fear: is his mysterious lover also a serial killer?

This is a weird, eerie, almost surreal movie about casual sex, death and (in what might be an unspoken reference to HIV) the connection between the two. It’s sexually explicit but not always erotic. Stranger by the Lake is an excellent French art film.

Cocksucker Blues (1972)

Dir: Robert Frank

cocksuckerblues_01Robert Frank is a documentary photographer who was commissioned by the Rolling Stones to do a behind the scenes real-life documentary of their tour in 1972. He came up with this – a record of everything that happened – using small, hand-held cameras. You get to travel on board their private plane where everyone’s having sex, rolling around in the aisles. You get to see the hippy soundman giving Frank the hairy-eyeball every time he turns the camera toward him. Later you see the same guy shooting heroin.

You follow the entire entourage it takes to put on a show. Mick and Keith hunt for authenticity in the South. Groupies, hangers-on, bouncers, the make-up guy, the hair guy, the costume guy holding a single red rose. And the baby boomer fans are in clover and everywhere. The band bounces around the stage singing duets with Stevie Wonder. This is early behind-the-scenes celebrity culture, before it even had a name. Mick Jagger squeezing into his performance pantsuits. Andy Warhol and Truman Capote partying.  Tina Turner showing off her voice. The unbelievably beautiful Bianca Jagger throwing shade at the camera…

In the end, the film was banned — the Stones thought the raw sex and drugs interfered with their rock star image – but it’s playing in Toronto, just once, as part of a Robert Frank retrospective called Hold Still.

Stranger by the Lake opens today, Cocksucker Blues has a free screening on the Free Screen tonight (but you have to pick up a ticket: go to tiff.net for details) and The Past opens next Friday (Jan 24).

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

Everything. Films Reviewed: 12 Years a Slave, The Motherload, Starred up.

Posted in African-Americans, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Family, Feminism, Movies, Prison, Slavery, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 2, 2014

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.

Welcome to an icy cold 2014! People tend to think in big terms with the New Year. They hope everything will improve. So, this week I’m looking at an historical drama about a man who loses everything, a documentary about women who want everything, and a prison drama about a guy with nothing to lose.

DF_02828.CR212 Years a Slave

Dir: Steve McQueen

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a nice, middle-class guy in mid-nineteenth century America. He’s a professional (plays the violin) owns a home, is married with children and is an upstanding member of his community in New York state. And he’s black.

So when he’s offered a well-paying gig in Washington DC, he can’t resist and follows the recruiters south. But soon after, he finds himself kidnapped, thrown into a bare cell and beaten. His captors strip him of his fine clothes, his family, his dignity, his status, and even his name. Based solely on the colour of his skin, he’s sold as a slave. A slave!

He’s no longer considered a human being, now he’s just chattel.DF-02238.CR2

And so begins his nightmare. The movie follows the next twelve years (it’s based on Northup’s own memoirs) as he is sold to various southern plantation owners. Some are relatively kind and humane, some monstrously cruel, but none consider that it is fundamentally wrong for one man to own another. He sees slaves being beaten, tortured, raped or even murdered at their owner’s whim. None of this is against the law. They have no rights, no legal standing, no recourse to justice.

On the way, he acquires a violin (from a kindly slave owner). But far from lightening his burden, music is shown as part of the whole slave system. Slaves driven to sing to a pounding drum as they pick cotton. And in one of the most painful scenes in the movie, he has to play ditties on his fiddle as the others are forced to perform grotesque high-stepping cake-walks to entertainer the planters.

Work is a constant danger. If he politely corrects an error or suggests a more efficient alternative he risks being beaten or lynched.

DF-03057.CR2 DF-03057.CR2At a cotton plantation he meets a pretty young woman named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). She is the fastest worker in the cotton fields (most of the rest got flogged each day for not picking enough). She’s also a “favourite” of Epps, a cruel plantation owner (Michael Fassbender) and a captive to his wishes. But Patsey has to fear equally Epp’s, wife who has it in for her. Solomon observes it all.

Gradually they grind down his pride until he too walks hunched over, never looking a white man in the eyes. Will Solomon ever escape from this hell? And if so, how? And can he grant Patsey request to save her from her hopeless existence?

This is a great film, and you should definitely see it if you haven’t already. It’s painful, shocking, realistic and explicit. It gives a new visual meaning to slavery in most people’s minds. It’s also a tense but satisfying thriller about rescue and escape. Ejiofor and N’yongo are both amazing, as is director McQueen’s usual leading man Fassbender. It won the TIFF People’s Choice award and hopefully many others.

motherload_2The Motherload

Dir: Cornelia Principe

Some recent books and articles ask “why can’t women have it all?” The “all” being a top job combined with raising kids. Anne-Marie Slaughter (policy advisor to Hillary Clinton) and Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook, COO) both wondered if woman can achieve both of these goals. Why aren’t women allowed the same opportunities to succeed as men?

These works received a lot of criticism. Is evening-out  the playing field in the top 1%  really the goal of feminism? And why should success be viewed in an acquisitive context of greed and possessiveness?

motherload slaughter-4

This documentary avoids some of these problems by looking at a broader range of subjects. In addition to the super-rich and powerful, it also shows middle-class women and one single mother with two jobs. It points out that paternity leave (in Canada, it’s routine only in Quebec) would help even out the discrepancies in the division of work by sex. And it shows how some motherload_1families are thinking about redistributing roles.

The Motherload is an interesting doc dealing with a broad topic in less than an hour. And director Principe, who also produced the fantastic doc The World Before Her, clearly knows her stuff. Still, I’m a bit surprised that it never even touches on the issue of public daycare. While perhaps not an issue for CEOs, isn’t affordable daycare the crucial step in allowing mothers to work and raise children simultaneously?

And finally, I want to mention a fantastic movie — a sleeper that played at TIFF13 – that I really hope will open later this year in Canada. It’s called

starredup_01Starred Up

Dir: David MacKenzie

Eric (Jack O’Connell) is an 18 year old who’s been “starred up”. That means he’s sent direct from juvie to a real, live adult prison. He seems at first like a vulnerable kid who’s going to die on his first day there. But things aren’t what they seem. His street smarts and prison savvy keep him safe but his high starredup_04threshold for brutal violence and volatile temper could prove to be his undoing. So he joins a special therapy group within the prison walls to help him handle his anger. But he keeps running into trouble with an older, “head” prisoner called Neville (played by Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn). Neville keeps taking charge, instead of discussing and compromising. And here’s the twist – Neville is Eric’s real-live father serving a life sentence! O’Connell and Mendelsohn give unbelievably dynamic performances as the fractious father and son. This is a fantastic movie – look out for it.

12 Years a Slave is now playing in Toronto, The Motherload will air on CBC TV’s Doc Zone next Thursday, and Starred Up should open in 2014. 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

Daniel Garber talks with Swedish director Gabriela Pichler about her new film EAT SLEEP DIE (Äta Sova Dö)

Posted in Cultural Mining, Migrants, Movies, Sweden, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 23, 2013

Gabriela Pichler. Foto: Claudio Bresciani

Sverigesradio foto Gabriela PichlerHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Raša (Nermina Lukač) is a young Swedish woman, a Muslim born in Montenegro. She lives with her Dad in a small town near Gothenburg and works in a produce-packing factory. She’s a damned good employee — the type who can tell the exact weight of a handful of lettuce.

But when she and some others are laid off by the company, she finds herself suddenly rudderless, adrift. And, when her ailing father is forced to look for work in Norway, she has nothing to do and no one to do it with. All her friends were at the factory — her life was there, too. Is she “Swedish” enough to find a new job in her home town?
A new movie, a realistic drama, looks at small-town life in Sweden through the eyes of an assimilated, working class immigrant. It deals with questions of identity, community and exclusion.
This award-winning film is called EAT SLEEP DIE and played at the the Venice, Busan and Toronto film festivals. It is screening at the EU Film Festival in Toronto.Eat Sleep Die 06
I speak — by telephone from Gothenburg, Sweden — with the film’s writer/director, Gabriela Pichler. She talks about immigrants in Sweden, making her film and the personal connection she has with the story.

Tough Times. Films reviewed: Alien Boy, The Book Thief, When Jews Were Funny

Posted in 1940s, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, Death, Depression, documentary, Drama, Movies, Uncategorized, WWII by CulturalMining.com on November 15, 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.

Life isn’t always rainbows and lollipops. There are tough times out there: violence, war, death. But tough times can make for good movies, better drama and funnier jokes… if done right. This week I’m looking at a documentary about a police assault on a man with schizophrenia; a literary, historical drama about a little girl living in Nazi Germany, and — to end on a lighter note — a documentary about Jewish comedians.

Alien Boy James Chasse Oregon_OrganizmAlien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse

Dir: Brian Lindstrom

James Chasse grew up in Portland Oregon along with the early punk scene. Jim-Jim was into groups like the Wipers and in his own band. He loved comics, drew one-copy zines, believed in ghosts and werewolves. He even had a song recorded about him.

Flash forward: he’s an adult living with schizophrenia and he isn’t doing that well. He becomes increasingly isolated, grows a scraggly beard and wears ragged clothes. He’s also had a bad run-in with the police, making him wary of future encounters. And he finds being physically touched abhorrent. So, one day, when a policeman calls him over, he runs away instead. What happens next is just horrifying.Alien Boy James Chasse Group_home

He is chased, and brutally thrown to the sidewalk under the full weight of police twice his size. They tell passersby — concerned at James’s calls for help — that he is carrying a bag of drugs (which is actually bread crumbs). And that he is a transient – though his home is only a few blocks away – and that he has a long arrest record: also not true. They tase him. Repeatedly. And while he’s lying there, unconscious on the sidewalk, they stand beside him, unconcerned, sipping Starbucks. Despite his calls for help, they take him not to the hospital but to the police station.

They put this horrible clear plastic thing called a spit mask (I’ve never seen anything like it before this film) over his head. He’s treated like a dog… or worse. And then he’s dead at the hands of the police.

Alien Boy Marquez_PhotoIt makes my blood boil.

Alien Boy is a collective, oral history of James Chasse. His mother, friends, lovers, acquaintances and strangers all tell about his life and what happened. The second half follows the court case in Portland, about whether or not the police who killed him will be held responsible.

Very sad, very moving story about an interesting man, his tragic fate, and what happens afterwards.

This is an important topic, that deserves to be seen, especially now, especially in Toronto. In fact, an inquest started just this week into the deaths of Michael Eligon, Sylvia Klibingaitis and Reyal Jardine-Douglas. All three killed by police, all three mentally ill.

the-book-thief-poster1-401x600The Book Thief

Dir: Brian Percival

From the novel by Markus Zusak

Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) is a young girl in Nazi Germany, before WWII. When things are getting treacherous, she’s sent to live with a foster Mother and Father. Loving Papa and mean Mama (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) are her new parents. He calls her “Your Highness” because of her regal bearing. Liesel is illiterate, but her toughness and independent spirit stops any bullying in its tracks. She quickly learns to read, and makes friends with Rudy, the boy next door.

But her life changes when a young man, Max, who is Jewish, moves into the house with Book Thief1 gofobothem. They hide him in the basement to keep him out of sight. Liesel and Max become very close. Meanwhile, newly literate, Liesel is shocked when she sees her beloved books being burned in a public square. She makes friends with the Burgermeister’s wife who invites her to read in her library. But when she is discovered and barred from the house, she becomes the “book thief” of the title, borrowing other people’s books to keep Max’s spirit up.

They all face not just the cruelty of the Nazi war machine, but also the Allies, who are frequently bombing their homes.

Book Thief 2 gofoboWho will live through the war? And who will die? The movie is narrated by a passionless angel of death, who takes away both the good and the bad.

I like the story, its tender drama and fairytale-like tone. Quebecoise Sophie Nelisse is terrific as Leisel, as are many of the supporting cast. But it didn’t quite work for me. Certain things are really annoying. Why does everyone speak English with a fake German accent? It’s an American movie about Germans in Germany speaking German. We just “hear” them in English. They should sound like native speakers.

And the omniscient, impassive narrator keeps pulling you back from the characters. It makes it harder to care about them if it’s just a fable.

When Jews Were Funny

Dir: Allan Zweig

*Winner TIFF13 Best Canadian Feature prize

Berman_BW

Is there a specific type of humour, that can be called Jewish humour? And if so, is it – or was it – a central part of stand-up comedy? And are the new comics as funny as ones from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s? In this great and funny documentary, Director Allan Zweig asks Jewish stand-up comics these questions. Zweig thinks the dry wit of the old guys eating soup in the delis of his childhood were much funnier than today’s stand-up comics. Is he right?

Listen to this very old joke about a man asking a grocer if he has any salt: (audio clip from film: Shelley Berman)

When Jews Were Funny and The Book Thief both open today (check your local listings), and Alien Boy plays at Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival tonight. Also on right now is Toronto’s Polish Film Festival: go to ekran.ca for more info.

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

Daniel Garber talks with JIA ZHANG-KE and ZHAO TAO about his new film TOUCH OF SIN

IMG_0714

Hi — This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s contemporary China — people are facing abuse from their employers,  corrupt local politicians, gangsters… Life is a struggle, and anger just roils up inside, until it bursts forth, with alarming consequences.

In a series of linked stories, a fantastic new film from China treads new ground in Chinese cinema. It’s called A TOUCH OF SIN and played at the Toronto International Film Festival.

I spoke with director Jia Zhangke and his muse Zhao Tao on site during TIFF13. Jia is one of China’s best known contemporary filmmakers, who uses art to bring the underside of current issues to the forefront. Zhao is his lead a touch of sin_01_mediumactress and appears in many of his films.

Known for films like Platform, The World and Still Life, Jia Zhang-Ke’s newest one outdoes them all.

A Touch of Sin opens today in Toronto.

October Film Fests. Movies Reviewed: Fresh Meat, Los Wild Ones, The Fifth Estate

Posted in Biopic, Cannibalism, Cultural Mining, documentary, Horror by CulturalMining.com on October 18, 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.

Fall film festivals are as common as falling leaves, but there are some that shouldn’t be missed. Toronto After Dark is a neat place to catch up on all the latest horror, science fiction and some just plain strange movies. ImagineNative is a celebration of aboriginal art, music and film, both from first nations artist and filmmakers, as well as many more from abroad. And there’s a brand new festival, Reel Indie, showing new movies about indie music.

So today I’m looking at an unusual movie from New Zealand which says “you are what you eat”;  a music doc that says rock ‘n’ roll is a Mexican thang; and a biopic that opened TIFF this year that says leaks make the world go round.

Fresh Meat posterFresh Meat

Dir: Danny Mulheron

Rina (Hanna Tevita) is heading home from the Maori School for Girls. She likes it there, but misses her family and friends.

There’s Margaret, her mom (Nicola Kawana), who’s a chef on TV and author of a popular cooking guide for university students. Dad (Temuera Morrison) is a prof who likes instilling Maori pride in her ancestral language, religion and culture. (Rina thinks it’s all silly.) There’s her pesky little brother and even the neighbourhood paper boy who crushing heavily on her. And, as he says, her “newly grown bosoms”.

But it’s not just her figure that has changed since her last visit. It seems her parents have taken up a strange religious practice from the Solomon Islands. Hmmm…

Meanwhile, a ruthless gang is on the prowl. They are looking for a place to hide from the cops after their latest prison break. There’s Tan, a cokehead in a tracksuit who thinks he’s Bruce Lee, and Gigi (Kate Elliot), a cruel Bettie Page lookalike. So where do they seek asylum? Yup — in Rina’s suburban home.

They have guns and they know how to use them. What will happen to this poor, innocent family at the hands of FreshMeat1these sinister hoods? Well, not what you first think. Mom and dad are on their own mission: to Solomonize the world, reviving ancient practices that they believe can lead to immortality. And that involves eating the raw hearts and livers of their enemies. To them, everyone is either an ally that must be “solomonized” – convinced to become a cannibal —  or someone who can supply them with fresh meat.

Who will survive – the good guys, the bad guys, or the cannibals? Is there a spark of love between Gigi and Rina? And are they Maori cannibals… or cannibals who just happen to be Maori?

This is a horror/comedy, full of excessive killing, gore, brutality and loads of gratuitous sexual innuendo. It’s also got a lot of Maori lore, humour and language (real or fake, I have no idea, but it looks pretty authentic) and a largely indigenous cast. If you’re in the mood for some low-brow dark humour and lots of red blood and body parts, check this one out.

Marlene Perez Rhythm Shakers Los Wild Ones RIFFLos Wild Ones

Dir: Elise Salomon

Did you know there’s a burgeoning rockabilly scene in L.A.? Well there is. This documentary follows Reb, a Dublin-born rocker and his label Wild records, as they tap into the world of Mexican-American rockabilly. There’s sharp concert shots and lots of music. The guys all have bryll cream quiffs, bowling shirts and tattoos of the ace of spades. The girls use red lipstick and wear skirts. And they all look like they were drawn by  Jaime Hernandez in Love and Rockets.

Their lives are all filled with auditions, nightclub performances, rehearsals and radio shows, salted with swigs of raw gin and some first rate bass-slapping. This documentary is mainly just a slice of that music scene and an homage to the label – not too exciting or eventful, but pleasant to look at and a pleasure to listen to.

THE FIFTH ESTATEThe Fifth Estate

Dir: Richard Condon

I bet you’ve heard of Wikileaks. Wikileaks is a website that reveals documents and communications leaked by whistle blowers from the powerful halls of business, finance and government. It was founded by Julian Assange, an Australian currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. How did he get there and why are foreign governments out to get him? Well, it was wikileaks, along with three news outlets (the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Speigel) that revealed the quarter of a million cables and documents that fed the headlines for the past few years (pre-Snowden). They were leaked by US Pvt. Manning directly to Assange.

This movie, The Fifth Estate, tells one version of this story. Julian (Benedict Cumberbatch) is portrayed as an Australian guy trying to change the world but who carries with him the baggage of a troubled childhood. His membership, as a child, in a religious cult left him psychologically scarred and suspicious.  As an adult he is a deranged, possibly psychotic, egotist determined to open everything he receives on his website to all the world… whether or not blood is spilled on the way. He enlists the bland, but techno-savvy, computer geek Danile Berg (Daniel Bruhl) to join his legions of supporters and volunteers. But he eventually reveals that there is no one else – just the two of them. Together they reveal death squads in Kenya, scandal in a Swiss bank, and eventually warcrimes like the US massacre of civilians in Iraq using an Apache helicopter. There work is done with reporters from the Guardian and elsewhere scrambling to keep up with them. And Assange’s sinister and bombastic attitude sours their friendship, leading to a falling out of the two fast friends, and a collapse of the site itself.

Oh yeah — in the background, is a hands-off US government (personified by Laura Linney as a foreign affairs official) who just wants to rescue their agents in the middle east  put in danger by Wikileaks’ exposure.

I find the story fascinating, with the twisted Assange character fun to watch (less so the bland Daniel Berg character.) And there are loads of real-life reporter-characters portrayed with various degrees of accuracy. And there’s a slew of great European actors – people like Carice van Houten, Moritz Bleibtreu, and David Thewlis — who are a joy to watch. But politically, this movie seems out to lunch. Are we supposed to believe – especially since the NSA revelations — that the US government was just a side-player in this whole affair? (The movie glosses over Manning’s treatment in solitary confinement and his excessive sentence.) It’s also ambiguous on the steps Wikileaks took to protect the names of translators and agents at risk. It completely skips the fact that sites like Paypal and the major credit cards — under government pressure — blocked donations; as well as any mention of Anonymous and similar groups who came to Wikileaks’ aid. Finally, the movie seems to be a full-scale character-assassination of Julian Assange (as his character states in the movie), based mainly on Berg’s book; painting him as a self-centred lunatic, while minimizing the significance of the leaks he and the website have provided to the world. The multiple plots, countless characters and frequent shifts in international locations make the movie hard to follow.

Still, I think this movie is worth seeing, because it’s such an interesting topic. But take it with a grain of salt; think of it as “inspired by a true story”.

The Fifth Estate opens today, and Los Wild Ones and Fresh Meat are playing, respectively, as part of the Reel Indie Film Fest and ImagineNative which run through this weekend. And T.A.D. continues for a week.

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 Russian director Aleksey Uchitel at TIFF13 about his new film Break Loose

Posted in Action, Crime, Cultural Mining, Drama, Movies, Romance, Russia, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 28, 2013

Aleksey Uchitel TIFF13 photo by Jeff Harris IMG_0407

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

It’s the end of the millennium, downtown Leningrad, a drunken Boris Yeltsin babbling on the TV.

Law and order has collapsed, giving way to rule of strongest. The oligarchs are taking over — factory workers don’t get paid. Instead, gangsters and an untrained paramilitary beat them into submission.

Thrust into this world are four young toughs, best friends, fearless and nihilistic. They work for OMON, the corrupt local police. They cruise along the city’s grand boulevards in a broken down jalopy.

One of them falls in love with a beautiful woman dressed in white at a local night club. But his easy life of drunken brawls is heading for disaster when he discovers his dream girl is the girlfriend of a gangster boss.

I’m talking about BREAK LOOSE, a new movie that had it’s world Aleksey Uchitel TIFF13 photo by Jeff Harris IMG_0400premier at the Toronto International Film Festival last night. I caught up with Alexey Uchilev — the well-known Russian filmmaker famous for epics like THE EDGE — at TIFF13.

He talks about changes to Russia, fatalism, censorship, A Clockwork Orange, and more.

Arab Women Directors. Movies Reviewed: The Square, Wadjda, When I Saw You PLUS TIFF13, TPFF

Posted in Arab Spring, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Islam, John Greyson, Movies, Refugees, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 27, 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.

carpetCloaked in mystery and sensuality, western views of an oil-rich but treacherous “orient” dominated our image of the middle east for decades. Orientalism ruled. More recently, the narrative has shifted to that of an aggressive, terrorist super-villain poised to take over Europe and North America.

We hear news, daily, about Arab countries, but rarely do we hear voices from them. Arab voices are muffled or silenced in Western media. And Arab women are said to be stifled within these cultures. But is this the case? This week I’m talking about three movies, all in Arabic, and all from female filmmakers who prove to be anything but silent.

There’s an up-to-the-minute documentary about the protests at Cairo’s Tahrir Square; a sweet drama about a contemporary Saudi girl; and a historical drama about a Palestinian boy and his mom, refugees in Jordan immediately after the 1967 war.

thesquare_00The Square

Dir: Jehane Noujaim

What you’re hearing (on the podcast version) are the voices of protesters in Tahrir Square in 2011. They’re calling for Mubarek – a dictator for three decades – to step down. What’s unique about these protesters is how inclusive they were. Muslims and Copts, religious and secular, artists, academic and revolutionaries, young and old. They all come together around a small patch of Cairo green. With sound of fireworks bursting overhead, they force Mubarek to step down, the military to bring in a new constitution, and hold Egypt’s first national democratic election.

The Muslim Brotherhood — a fundamentalist political party that had been jailed and persecuted for decades by the military — arises as the only large-scale organized group. They distribute oil and food to potential voters and win the election by  close margin. But soon enough, Morsi begins to act much in the same way as Mubarek had done, gathering power for his own faction not for the country as a whole.

This exciting documentary combines brand-new footage taking us from thethesquare_01 first demos to Morsi’s fall this summer. What’s really special about it, though, is how the doc follows a half-dozen of the protesters – from all of the groups involved – who personify the demonstrations. An actor, a student, an activist, a graffiti artist, a member of the Brotherhood, they represent all Egyptians. This is raw, frontline footage: some of the protesters get brutally beaten or imprisoned, others run for their lives during a chaotic government crackdown.

Most chilling of all are the one-on-one interviews (in a chauffeured limousine) with an all-powerful military officer. He dismisses the demonstrators, the constitution and democracy itself as trivial events in his machiavellian view of Egypt.  Sadly, it is the military running that country again.

Waad Mohammed (Wadjda) Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsWadjda

Dir: Haifaa Al Mansour

Wadjda (Waad Mohamed) is a rebellious girl who lives with her mom. She’s into black Converse running shoes, blue jeans, mixed cassette tapes and soccer… and she’s intrigued by the concept of blue nail polish. She’s not much interested in religion, school or traditional women’s roles. And she lets people know when they’re pissing her off. So when she meets a kid named Abdullah who beats her in a race (her on foot, him on a bike) she decides to get a bike of her own so she can beat him. The thing is, Wadjda lives in Saudi Arabia and her school is a madrassa! And, she is told,  girls shouldn’t ride bikes in Saudi Arabia.

She decides to enter and win a Koran recital contest so she can buy the Waad Mohammed as Wadjda Photo Tobias Kownatzki  Razor Film, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classicsbike with the prize money. Has she suddenly become religious, and changed her attitude? (That’s what the school principal wants to happen.) Are they wearing her down? Or will she stick to her principles? And will she and her mother be relegated to side roles if her dad marries a second wife?

Wadjda is a fascinating look at the lives of girls and women in Saudi Arabia. This filmmaker is no softie; she shows a realistic view of both the oppression of women, as well as their everyday lives. Girls are taught never to laugh out loud, lest it distract nearby men; to cover their faces if a man comes into view; and they need a male driver to get anywhere (driving a car is still illegal for women in Saudi Arabia). It’s a country of religious rules and special permits, with South Asian workers doing the less desirable service roles.

But it’s also a country full of ordinary people doing ordinary things – yes, just like anywhere else. As a movie, Wadjda is a real delight. A simple story, but one that rings true.

When I Saw You

Dir: Annemarie Jacir

wisy32Tarek is Palestinian boy who likes math and hates slimy food. But immediately after the 1967 war, he and his mom suddenly find themselves in a refugee camp in Jordan. He doesn’t like it there. Where’s his teacher? Where’s his dad? Where’s his home, his bed, his indoor toilet? And how come they don’t let him go to school?

He knows he’ll be going home soon, he’s not that far away. But he grows disheartened when he meets an old woman who says she’s been in the camp… since 1948! Refugees are treated terribly by urban Jordanians, but the newest refugees are treated worst of all. One day, he sees Yassir Arafat on TV saying the world is about to see a new kind of Palestinian — helpless Saw-Yourefugees no more.

So Tarek runs away from the camp, away from his mother. He’s found in the desert by a bearded guy who had recently left the camp to become a fedayeen – a revolutionary fighter.

He finds himself in a secret war camp: it’s 1967. No prayers, just long hair and hippy beards, and women with ponytails. They all sing wistful songs around a campfire. No Koran in sight, just a copy wisy18of Mao’s Little Red Book. From each according to his means, to each according to his needs…

The boot camp is led by a older man with the war nickname Abu Akram. He wants Tarek to go back to the refugee camp – but the kid is stubborn, and eventually wins him over. And when his mother catches up with them, she sets up camp there too.

Will Tarek and his mom make it back to their village, just across the newly-fenced border?

When I Saw You is a revelatory film; the roots of the post-1967 situation of Palestinian refugees as seen through one determined boy’s eyes. It gives a completely different view — I’d say a completely opposite view — of the fedayeen. Known for decades in North America as the “Palestinian terrorists”, they are portrayed here as freedom fighters who just want their homes back. When I Saw You provides a singularly different historical narrative from the one you’re used to.

A good, fascinating film.

screen-shot-2013-09-05-at-10-42-11-amThe Square premiered at TIFF13, Wadjda opens next week in Toronto, check your local listings, and When I Saw You opens the Toronto Palestine Film Festival on Sept 28 at 6:30 (go to tpff.ca for details). And Toronto filmmaker John Greyson and Dr Tarek Loubani are still being held in an Egyptian prison. They are now on a hunger strike — go to tarekandjohn.com to find out more.

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

Eastern Europe at TIFF13. Films reviewed: The Burning Bush, Ida, Le Grand Cahier

Posted in Communism, Cultural Mining, Czech Republic, Drama, Hungary, Movies, Nazi, Nun, Poland, Prague Spring, TIFF, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 20, 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.

Eastern Europe used to have a specific meaning — not so much geographical as political. It meant the countries cossacksbehind the iron curtain. Western Europe was allied with the US, Eastern Europe with the Soviet Union. And it meant the barrier to those scary “Asiatic” hordes waiting to swarm, en masse, across Western Europe to enslave us all.

Now, though, there is no eastern Europe anymore. Just Europe. Maybe mittel-Europe if you want to be fancy about it. But the old Eastern Europe lives on in the minds and films of the countries that suffered the brunt of two World Wars, and both Nazi and Stalinist occupations.

So, this week I’m looking at some really good movies, all from Eastern Europe, all from TIFF. They come from the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary: all historical dramas, two set in the 1960s and one in 1944.

TIFF Burning Bush1The Burning Bush

Dir: Agnieszka Holland

In January, 1969, Jan Palach – a history student at Prague’s Charles University – walks into Wenceslaus square with a bucket. He pours the liquid all over himself then sets himself on fire. He’s rushed to a hospital to treat his burns, but is barely alive. He immediately becomes a symbol of Czech opposition to the invasion of the country by Russian tanks to crush the short-lived Prague Spring.

The Party overlords want his story silenced, or the narrative stripped of any political significance. The Czech investigator looking into the case doesn’t want the Russians to impose martial law. His political allies at the university – students and some professors – want his story told. And his family – his older brother and his mother, the ticket seller at a remote train station – are devastated when they discover what happens.

burningbush_04

But when a privileged party hack makes the papers when he states Jan Palach not only was working for the west, but never intended to burn himself alive. Jan’s steadfast mother decides to sue the man who made the speech, with the help of a sympathetic lawyer, a woman, and a young idealistic university student. But the wrath of the party is let loose all around the main characters, with midnight phone calls, men in black cars parked outside their homes, and mysterious disappearances.

The Burning Bush is an epic, four-hour-long story, (originally made as a Czech mini-series, in four, one-hour parts.) It has many diverse plot lines and dozens of characters. It alternates between the hope Jan Palach’s action inspired, and the dread of authoritarian rule that fought against him and his allies.

But it stands up beautifully all-together. The director, the renowned Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, Olivier Olivier, In Darkness) follows this gripping story all the way through. It had me glued to the screen.

Ida_01_mediumIda

Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski

Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) was an orphaned baby in WWII Poland, left at a nunnery near Lodz. She wears a plain grey dress and covers her hair. She’s quiet and obedient. Now 16, she’s ready to take her vows, become a nun, but Mother Superior insists first she speak to her only known relative, her aunt Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza). But why?

Wanda is a woman of the world. She wears lipstick, smokes cigarettes and listens to jazz.

And she sleeps with younger men she picks up in bars. She’s cold, cynical and bitter. She used to be a high-ranked communist party prosecutor, though she seems to have lost her status. And she’s Jewish.

Anna discovers she is too, and her real name is Ida. Wanda advises herida_04

Ida wants to see her parents’ grave. Wanda laughs: Jews who died in the war have no graves! But the two of them head out to the small town. The family that took over their home stonewalls them and says Jews never lived there. But does he know what happened to her parents? Never heard of them.

Wanda delves deeper. Ida starts to discover her own hidden history. Wanda warms toward her – Ida is just like her sister, with her red hair, and three dimples when she smiles. Ida dips her toe into the real world (jazz, alcohol, cigarettes, men). She has to decide between cosmopolitan urban Poland and a cloistered life behind the walls.

Ida is beautifully shot in black and white on a 4×3 frame (not widescreen) like old TV shows.  Each scene stylized. It’s only 80 minutes long, but has everything it needs. It’s subtle, compact, minimalist. The two actresses – the two Agatas – as the naïve teen and her world-weary aunt are both fantastic, with fine rapport as their relationship gradually changes. This is a great movie – beautiful to look at, moving to watch.

Le Grand Cahier PosterLe Grand Cahier (A Nagy Füzet)

Dir: János Szász (based on the novel by Agota Kristov)

A soldier and his wife live in a big city (Budapest?) with their twin boys (András and László Gyémánt). Life is beautiful. Then suddenly, boom! it’s 1944, and the Germans are moving in, taking over Hungary. So they send the twins off to stay with the wife’s estranged mother in a remote farm, to keep them safe. It’s wartime, their dad says, everything’s different. He gives the a big black ledger – the Grand Cahier of the title – and they promise to record everything that happens.

Grandmother – fat, gruff, unmannered – is known as the witch by the locals. She has no friends, and takes care of the farm all by herself. “I’ll put them to work – they don’t eat for free.” The twins – dressed in navy peacoats and clean white shirts — are terrified by the evil witch. They have one book to read – the bible – but they use it for memorization and grammar skills not for prayers.

The boys decide in order to survive the war they have to be impervious to pain, hunger, and remorse. They refuse food from Grandmother, and take turns punching and hitting each other to see who can endure the most.

They start to meet people. There’s a girl they call harelip (Orsolya Tóth) — who teaches them how to steal. A kindly Jewish shoemaker gives them boots. Then there’s the corrupt deacon at the church and his lascivious secretary – she introduces them to the adult world but they recoil from her black heart. And a gay Nazi officer, fascinated when he sees the twins punching each other. The twins record it all, good and bad.

They witness the wartime atrocities and start to kill: first insects, le grand cahier_01_mediumworking their way up the food chain. Will they become killers themselves, just like the people around them? Or will they retain a sense of morality?

Le Grand Cahier is an amazing, rich, and disturbing coming-of-age story, told through the twins’ eyes.  The two boys — undifferentiated, nameless —  give a mythical, novelistic view of wartime life under the Nazi occupation. The movie follows them until the end of the war, in a gripping unexpected adventure. You should see this one when it comes out.

The Burning Bush, Ida, and Le Grand Cahier, all played at TIFF13 – keep an eye open for these three films. Also worth mentioning are two movies whose titles are self-explanatory. A documentary about a dissident theatrical troop that uses its performances to challenge the authoritarian Belarus government: Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus (Madeleine Sackler); and a drama about an Australian woman who discovers the hotel in Serbian Bosnia she slept in was the site of unspeakable war crimes: For Those Who Can Tell no Tales,  (Jasmila Zbanic, who previously directed the excellent Grbavica (2006).)

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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