Daniel Garber talks with Zhang Yimou about his new film Coming Home at #TIFF14

Posted in 1960s, Class, Communism, Cultural Mining, Denial, Drama, Morality, Movies, Prison by CulturalMining.com on October 2, 2015

_MG_9568Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s China’s cultural revolution. A jailed intellectual escapes from prison to see his wife, but they are prevented from meeting by a political bargain set up by someone he should trust. And in the scuffle his wife suffers a brain injury. Years later, after the cultural revolution, he returns home… only to find his wife doesn’t 676e8779-1a75-47db-9a86-ccc0604f9061recognize him, and his daughter, a ballet student, has been kicked out of their home. So a family has been split in three as a result of his coming home.

COMING HOME is also the name of a film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. It stars _MG_9561Gong Li as the mother. It was directed by Chinese master filmmaker Zhang Yimou, known, over the past three decades, for movies like Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers, and Hero. As a Chinese director he is rare indeed as one who is commercially successful, critically acclaimed and acceptable to the government. I spoke to him at TIFF in September, 2014.  Coming Home opens today in Toronto.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Ordinary People. Movies Reviewed: Survivor, Big Muddy, Fourth Man Out

Posted in Action, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, Gay, Saskatchewan, Terrorism, UK, US, Western by CulturalMining.com on May 29, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.CGBlzj6WoAAwm_l-1

Where is cinema going? I went to the Parkdale Film Festival — it features short documentaries, dramas and animation. So what’s special about it? The films were all made by high school students. This means independent, ordinary people — with access to the technology — can make real movies.

This week, I’m looking at ordinary people and where they’re going. There’s a small town mechanic coming out, a single mom in Saskatchewan hiding out, and a passport clerk in London heading out… to catch the bad guys.

10509527_841186499227517_3517642369132729401_nSurvivor

Dir: James McTeigue

The smart and beautiful Kate Abbot (Milla Jovovich) likes her job at the US embassy in London where she handles passport and visas. She a rising star who speaks a half dozen languages and has extensive training in intelligence. So when her boss Sam (Dylan McDermott) says they should be on the lookout for potential terrorists, she takes it very seriously. She and her coworkers start scrutinizing passports, and she flags a suspicious-looking Romanian scientist. Maybe he has access to Weapons of Mass Destruction! Good work says the Ambassador (Angela Bassett). But Kate is dressed down by a high-ranked UK agent Paul (James D’Arcy). He tells her to stop all her meddling – the man she flagged is associated with higher-ups. Those snooty Englishmen – why are they always stopping freedom-loving Americans from doing what they have to do?

Kate is sure there’s a secret cabal of terrorists dying to set foot in America so they can kill everybody. Only she – and her coworkers — can stop them from getting those coveted visas.

But when disaster strikes London, she’s left alone. Worse than that, she’s caught holding a smoking gun beside a dying man! Now everyone thinks she’s the terrorist not the hero. Says the ambassador, shoot her now before more people die. Only a few people still believe in her. And when she sees an expert hitman known only as The Watchmaker (Pierce Brosnan) setting off a bomb, he makes it his personal goal to see her dead, since she’s the only one who knows what he looks like. But can she stop the terrorists before they blow up America?

Survivor is a fun, fast-moving action/thriller with a great star. It’s also ridiculous, ludicrous, unbelievable and politically out to lunch view of terrorism. It’s full of plot holes: when she’s caught on celphones at the scene of a crime by a dozen onlookers, her image goes viral. But when the real killer shows up mere seconds later and steals an ID from the victim – the cameras have all been turned off, and his identity is kept secret. And when Kate is on the run, she doesn’t even bother wearing dark glasses or a baseball cap, she just forges on ahead, . One part of my brain says Nooo… I can’t take any more of this deeply stupid movie! But the other part says duh… I like stupid movies.

y87o1V_bigmuddy_01_LEAD_o3_8613213_1431025964-1Big Muddy

Wri/Dir: Jefferson Moneo

Martha (Nadia Litz) is a single mother in modern-day, rural Saskatchewan. She’s had a few men in her past and, boy, she sure knows how to pick ’em. One’s a very sketchy horse trader Buford (James Le

Gros) who’s made it big, the other a sweetheart (David La Haye) who ran afoul with the law. Now she’s going three for the win, a real lowlife named Tommy (Rossif Sutherland). The two of them make a living as a hold-up team. Her innocent teenaged son Andy (Justin Kelly) VmovO9_bigmuddy_04_o3_8613329_1431025972is the only good things she’s managed to hold on to.

Then some things happen. A man escapes from a Qu’Appelle Valley prison, and shoots a cop. Then Buford shows up at the racetrack, Andy gets hold of a gun, and Boom! everything falls apart. Mom and boy hightail it out to Big Muddy in the 8qW3q5_bigmuddy_05_o3_8613385_1431025973-1badlands, the desolate home she thought she was finally through with. But outsiders and former locals are all converging on the same spot. Can Martha survive this mess and will Andy discover his unknown past and who is his real father?

This movie has a good cast and an interesting plot. My only problem is with the pacing. Is it a crime drama or a family story? Whenever the tension is building, the danger spiraling, the movie is heading for a big showdown… it weirdly segues back into a slow-moving family drama, destroying the excitement. Even so, Big Muddy is a rare thing: a genuine Canadian western, complete with outlaws, horses, sheriffs, blackhats, shootouts and hideaways.

FourthManOutFourth Man Out

Dir: Andrew Nackman

Adam (Evan Todd) is a small-town auto mechanic in his twenties. He likes beer, steak and sports, and can take an engine apart (and put it back together again) with his own two hands. He’s a man’s man. After work he spends time with his three best buds, handsome Chris, goofy Ortu and hipster-ish Nick (Parker Young, Jon Gabrus, Chord Overstreet). They usually sit in a basement watching TV, smoking pot or going out for a drink. But when they go to pick-up bars, why is it that Adam always ends up the wingman for Chris’s attempts to meet women? The answer is simple but unexpected. He’s gay and his life-long best friends don’t know it.

So he decides enough is enough, it’s time to spill the beans. They can’t believe him at first (…but he 1140_fourthmaneats steak!), but then a strange tone creeps into their friendship. It’s up to the four of them to smooth out the tension and restore the feeling they used to have. Can the four friends find a suitable boyfriend for the inexperienced Adam? Easier said than done. And can they help Chris get together with Tracy (Jennifer Damiano) a real girlfriend, instead of the casual pickups he usually ends with? And will they get it all done in time for the annual 4th of July barbecue?

Fourth Man Out is a cute, gentle buddy-comedy / male rom-com. Nothing too challenging or shocking in this mainstream movie, no gross-outs, no “weird” stuff, just likeable, white, working class guys adjusting to one of them coming out.

Survivor and Muddy Bottom open today, check your local listings; Fourth Man Out premiered at Inside-Out LGBT film fest. The festival continues through Sunday. Go to insideout.ca for times.

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

Bittersweet love. Films Reviewed: Spring, Wet Bum, Dancing Arabs

Posted in Clash of Cultures, Coming of Age, Horror, Israel, Italy, Palestine, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 15, 2015

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

Love brings happiness but also complications. This week I’m looking at three dramas with bittersweet love stories. There’s love and identity in Jerusalem, coming of age in small-town Ontario, and sex with a tinge of horror on the Italian coast.

Spring afficheSpring
Dir: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead

For Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) life’s a bitch. Right after his Dad and Mom die, a bag of dirt picks a fight with him at the dive bar where he works as a cook. He pummels the guy. Now he’s jobless, the guy he punched says he’s gonna kill him, and the cops are after him. So he stuffs some clothes in a knapsack, jumps on a plane and ends up in Italy, in an ancient, picturesque town. He gets a job taking care of an old man’s olive trees in exchange for a bed.

And then one day he meets a beautiful, aggressive and sexually charged woman named Louise (Nadia Hilker). She’s not like the women he knows back home. She’s brilliant, is fluent in half a dozen languages. She has eyes of two different colours and smouldering good looks — flowers seem to bloom all around her. More to the point, she seems to like Evan. In fact, she wants to sleep with him, ASAP. He 10848793_1016148661747544_5693812469889098714_oholds back; he’s not looking for a one-night stand. She might be his one true love. But he doesn’t realize she’s more than she pretends to be. As in someone or something who eats flesh, drinks blood, and grows sharp fangs as hideous appendages shoot out of her body. But that’s only once in a while, when he’s not looking. Will he discover her true nature. What is she anyway? A werewolf? A vampire? A demon? …or something entirely different?

Spring is a strange genre mashup. It’s a combination supernatural romantic drama, mixed with a good dose of mystery/horror. Lou Taylor Pucci is good as a tough but naïve guy in his twenties, and Nadia Hilker, with an unidentifiable European accent, is credible as a cosmopolitan world-weary woman… with something extra. I thought the movie should have stuck closer to horror than romance, but it‘s a fun romp, nevertheless.

Z4p3w5_wetbum_01_o3_8596277_1425487944Wet Bum
Dir: Lindsay Mackay

Sam (Julia Sarah Stone) is a shy and skinny 14-year-old girl living in small-town Ontario. It’s some point in the past, before people have cellphones and back when everyone is white. Her life is very fixed. Afterschool, she takes lifeguard classes at the indoor pool with her best friend Molly. She loves swimming underwater.

Afterwards she has a part-time job cleaning rooms at an old-age home where her mean Mom (Leah Pinsent) is the manager. She is mystifiedNxpNWp_wetbum_04_o3_8596468_1425487970 by the elderly residents, especially two of them. Ed (Kenneth Welsh) is an angry and bitter old man who misses his wife. He can be found wandering the highway late at night, trying to hitch a ride. Judith (Diana Leblanc) is quiet and never speaks, just stares out the window… but she seems to like Sam. NxpN16_wetbum_05_o3_8596524_1425487976But this world is all new to her.

She’s at that point in her life where everything is changing really fast, and it disturbs her. So she tries to keep things just as they are. She avoids the locker room altogether going to her job with her swimsuit still under her clothes (hence the name of the movie: Wet Bum). But she’s mercilessly bullied by the other girls at the pool, including Molly (who has her eyes on pg7E7N_wetbum_03_o3_8596407_1425487964Sam’s big brother). The lifeguard Luke (Craig Arnold) is a nice guy, a few years older and goes to her highschool. She has a crush on him, and fantasizes about kissing him. He starts to give her rides to work… but can he be trusted?

Wet Bum is a funny and gentle coming-of-age story about a girl encountering sex and death, as she learns to look out for herself in a cruel and confusing world.  Julia Sarah Stone is especially noteworthy for her realistic performance as the awkward adolescent girl trying to fit in.

526d4379-3e57-403b-bbab-134065ecd76bDancing Arabs
Dir: Eran Riklis,Wri: Sayed Kashua

It’s Israel in the 1980s. Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom) is a child prodigy from a small village in the Galilee. He can calculate numbers in his head and answer impossible-to-solve riddles. His Dad was also a genius, but got kicked out of school in the 60s accused of being a terrorist because he was a communist and a member of the outlawed 74dba53b-c4fc-4a28-8d7c-1eacee5b8989PLO. Now he picks fruit. Eyad’s family wants a better world for him, so they do the unthinkable – he applies to an elite academic private school, the best in the country. And he gets in! But Eyad is a Palestinian Arab and the students there are all Jews. The only other Arab is the school janitor.

b8c16e54-db98-4d8b-a6ec-e247d3ee62c4At school, Eyad meets a nice girl named Naomi (Danielle Kitzis), and they hit it off immediately. She helps him navigate the baffling cultural differences. He loses his Arabic accent, the B’s and the P’s, and gradually blends in. The two of them fall in love. Eyad is also a volunteer tutor for a local highchool kid in a wheelchair named Yonathan (Michael Moshonov). He has an incurable, debilitating disease, which helps explain his ironic humour and musical tastes. At first Eyad is baffled and offended by his insults and jokes, but he gradually understands him and learns about Rock, punk and Joy Division. They form a close friendship as two outcastes, 5cf7281f-569d-4750-baee-4d4995c63736under the loving hand of Jonathan’s mom (Yael Abekassis).

Outside the school Eyad is constantly reminded he is the Other, bullied by rough teenagers, or asked for ID by border police if he is heard speaking Arabic. At the school he is accepted and lauded, but sometimes feels like a circus clown. He and Naomi are in love, but her mother forbids her crossing this cultural divide, so he begins to hide his identity to smooth things out. Eyad slowly assimilates, erasing his culture, religion, language and history, until he only has his name and his sense of self to keep him grounded. And even that may be at risk.

Dancing Arabs is a very good, funny and sad movie about love, friendship, identity and politics. It’s told from the point of view of a Palestinian-Israeli, a largely invisible group.

Spring, Wet Bum, and Dancing Arabs all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Off the Beaten Track. Movies Reviewed: Serena, Gemma Bovery, Corner Gas: the Movie

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, Books, Canada, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, France, Horses, Movies, Satire by CulturalMining.com on December 5, 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.

Urban life getting you down? Here are three movies set in small towns. A gothic drama in the Smoky Mountains of Carolina; a comedy in a Saskatchewan town where there’s not a whole lot going on; and a comic drama in Normandy… with a literary twist.

67934-SERENA_D1-190_R_CROPSerena
Dir: Susanne Bier

George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) is a lumber baron in the roaring 20s. He’s also a big-game hunter, searching for the elusive panther. He dreams of clear-cutting the smoky mountains of North Carolina, and, with the profits, expanding into the rain forests of Brazil. But he’s a good guy — you can tell because he chops his own wood and saves his workers’ lives. There would be no SERENA_D11-2819.CR2problems at all, if it weren’t for those meddling government types. They want to make it into a national park, just because of its breathtaking scenic beauty, and the rare flora and fauna living in those foggy, tree-covered mountains.

But everything changes when he spots a blonde woman at a horse show. Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) is a strong and independent woman from out west and born to the wood. Beautiful, glamorous and tough as nails, she’s as comfortable in an evening gown as she is on horseback. She can SERENA_D18-4906._R_CROPjpgkill a rattler with an axe from across a field and is handy with a rifle. He proposes on the spot and makes her a full partner in his business… to the chagrin of his male colleagues. But Wall Street crashes and tough times follow. Things start to fray at the edges. There’s Galloway (Rhys Ifans) a sketchy ex-con with “the sight”: Serena once appeared in a vision so he’ll protect her to the death. And there’s talk George might have an illegitimate son in the village. And his partners are losing faith in the business. Can Serena and George find happiness in a lumber camp? Or will it drag them into a spiral of jealousy, revenge and madness?

Susanne Bier is a well-known Danish director, and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence scored in two big hits: Silver Lining Playbook and American Hustle. Is this three for the win? Not a chance. It’s a clunky potboiler with a confusing and messy story, and extremely uneven acting. Lawrence plays it to the hilt as a deranged, screeching devil-woman, while Cooper sticks to the single-emotion style of acting. Whether it’s shock, lust, anger, or bewilderment, he just stares off into space with his mouth slightly open. Serena is not awful, it kept me watching and interested, but it’s just not very good.

GEMMA BOVERYRéalisé par Anne FontaineGemma Bovery
Dir: Anne Fontaine

Martin (Fabrice Luchini) is an intellectual from Paris. He moves to small-town Normandy, near Rouen, to take over his dad’s bakery. He likes kneading dough and pondering great literature. His wife is a world-weary realist, and his teenaged son prefers Call of Duty to French culture. But dad’s thoughts are still filled with the 19th century novels of Flaubert. So imagine his surprise when a young English couple that moves into the dilapidated house next door, shares the names of the characters in Madame Bovery! Down-to-earth Charles repairs furniture, while his bored wife Gemma (Gemma Atherton) decorates homes with trompe d’oeil to make them appear older. And just like Madame Bovery, she craves a more exciting GEMMA BOVERYRéalisé par Anne Fontainelife.

Martin, though, knows the book well and feels he can predict every thought they will have and every word they will say. Soon enough, he sees her making eyes at the town rake, handsome Hervé (Niels Schneider: J’ai tué ma mère, Les amours imaginaires) a local squire living in a nearby castle. Don’t go with him, it can only lead to ruin! Martin thinks. In his mind he sees them in period costume, dancing in the ballroom. In reality, the quaint town, including the aristocracy, is crumbling all around him. Martin tries to manipulate the local characters – using secret methods – to save them from their novelistic fates. But will it work?

GEMMA BOVERYRéalisé par Anne FontaineThe entire film is narrated, at times directly to the camera, by Martin himself. He takes us through the story, mainly to the various dinner parties, where people speak fractured English and French. He is especially incensed by a nouveau riche couple, an English/French marriage who see French culture as merely wine and Camembert.

Gemma Bovery is two movies in one. There’s Flaubert’s novel reenacted in Martin’s head, and there’s a satirical look at contemporary France. Because of the meta- aspects of the film, you don’t feel as deeply invested in the characters’ lives; you’re always a step away from what’s happening. But it more than makes up for that with its cleverness. And because it’s an Anne Fontaine movie, it carries that sensual, erotic tone she’s so good at.  And the actors, especially the beautiful Gemma Atherton, are a joy to watch. I like this movie.

CGTM_100_Brent Butt (as Brent Leroy). Photo by Steve WilkieCorner Gas: The Movie
Dir: Brent Butt

If you’ve ever watched Canadian TV, you’re probably familiar with Dog River, Saskatchewan. It’s an uneventful prairie town known mainly for its gas station, its coffee shoCGTM_109_Fred Ewanuick (as Hank Yarbo). Photo by Steve Wilkiep, and its wise-cracking locals. There’s dry Brent at the gas station (Brent Butt), his dad and mum — cranky Oscar and rational Emma (Eric Peterson, Janet Wright), pretty Lacey at the coffee shop (Gabrielle Miller), and the local police. CGTM_113_Janet Wright (as Emma Leroy). Photo by Steve WilkieThen there’s the incorrigible Hank (Fred Ewanuick) and the trickster Wanda (the very hilarious Nancy Robertson).

Nothing ever happens there, right? Wrong! To turn a sitcom into a feature film, you need an epic plot. In this film the town goes bankrupt, the people run amok, and Tim Horton’s starts sniffing at the real estate. Their only hope? A Toronto contest looking for the quaintest town in Canada. Can they pull it all together in time? Not bloody likely… it’s aCGTM_117_Nancy Robertson (as Wanda Dollard). Photo by Steve Wilkie comedy, folks.

Believe it or not, I only saw the TV show once. It felt too slow paced, so I couldn’t get into it. Clearly, I’m not one of its fans (who are legion). But the movie? It was surprisingly funny. There are corny parts and some gags fall flat of course, but on the whole the humour is clever, inventive, ironic… even subversive. And it does all this without any potty laughs, frat boy nudges, boobies, four-letter words, dumb blondes, racial and ethnic stereotypes or fat jokes. Not a small accomplishment.

So if you’re looking for Canadian humour, here it is, and then some.

spiceworld_imageGemma Bovery and Serena both open today in Toronto. Check your local listings. And Corner Gas: the Movie is playing now through the weekend. Also in Toronto,  look out for the MUFF society — specializing in girl-tastic pics for women —  kicks off their monthly series with Spice World (yes, I do mean that Spice Girl movie) only at the Royal. And First to Fall – a documentary about two students in Canada who volunteered to fight with the rebels in Libya — is finally screening in Toronto, tonight at the Jayu Human Rights Film Festival at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  I interviewed the directors last summer.

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

Going, Going, Gone. Movies Reviewed: Wolf, Before I Go to Sleep, Force Majeure

Posted in Boxing, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Family, Netherlands, Psychological Thriller, Sweden, UK by CulturalMining.com on October 31, 2014

Toronto Toronto Zombie Walk Burger King ZombieHi, 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, Toronto Zombie Walk Ronald McDmovies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

It’s Halloween – you can tell by all the zombies on the street. But if you’re too old for trick-or-treating, there are some grown-up movies to watch. This week I’m looking at a Dutch gangster flick about a man who doesn’t know where he’s going, a Swedish comedy about a man who doesn’t know where his marriage is going, and an English psychological thriller about a woman who doesn’t know where her memories have gone.

WolfPosterWolf

Dir: Jim Taihuttu

Majid (Marwan Kenzari) is a kickboxer who lives in an ethnic enclave in suburban Netherlands. The son of Moroccan immigrants, he still shares a room with his little brother in his parents’ desolate, high-rise flat. He works at the same place his dad spent 30 years in unrelenting dedication. It’s a quintessentially Dutch job – he drives a forklift at the flower auction held each morning near Schipol airport. He doesn’t like the job – it’s boring. He’d rather be out on the streets with his weasely best friend, Adil (Chemseddine Amar), or training at kickboxing. But he’s wolf5forced to work there because he’s on parole. He dabbles in snatch-and-grabs for extra cash.

He’s the black sheep in the family. His educated brother Hamza (who is dying of cancer) is his parents’ darling. The one thing Majid is good at is fighting, and a kickboxing win could generate some much-needed cash. But he messes up his first fight by ignoring the ref, and clobbering his opponent, nearly to death.

wolf1Watching the fight was a gangster kingpin, a successful Turkish immigrant named Hakan (Cahit Olmuz). He hires Majid as a backup heavy for a high-level drug deal. It seems Majid has other skills – he can think on his feet and is quick with a gun. And he understands Arabic, something the Turkish gangsters can’t. The job goes great, and he is rapidly promoted. He has a meteoric rise, but how long can it last? Will it interfere with his true ambition – his boxing career? And will his father ever bewolf3 proud of him?

Shot in stunning, sharp black and white, Wolf is an interesting look at the gangster world, sympathetically told through the eyes of second-generation immigrants. It shows the racism they face, as well as friction among various immigrant groups. And how the lure of money and power drags some people into a life of organized crime. The movie covers a lot of ground, and leaves some of the stories incomplete, dangling. It’s also one of those movies where female characters are incidental, confined to a stoic mom and a breasty girlfriend. But Kenzari has a dynamite screen presence, and Olmuz as the crime boss and Amar as his shifty best friend round out the cast nicely. Wolf is worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of gangster dramas.

IMG_7072.CR2Before I Go to Sleep

Dir: Rowan Joffe

Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up in a strange bed with a strange man, thinking: Where am I? What did I do last night, how did I meet this guy? He soon sets her straight. He’s her husband, a patient, kindly schoolteacher. Ben (Colin Firth) is there each morning to help her recover. Recover from what? From total amnesia – she suffered a nasty bump on the head, which wiped her memory clean. IMG_0096.CR2And each night, when she falls asleep, she forgets anything she learned that day.

To combat this and to try to recover her memories, she also meets the secretive Dr Nasch (Mark Strong). He’s a neuropsychologist. With his help – and unbeknownst to her husband, she records a video each night as a letter to herself the next day. She discovers the amnesia came from a terrible beating. But who did it? And she’s haunted by images of a IMG_0053.CR2third man with a scar on his face. Lovely Christine is caught between the intensely handsome doctor and the comforting and patient husband. Both of whom seem to be hiding something from her. Which one can she trust? Or should she only trust herself?

This is a good, tight psychological thriller that keeps you guessing. It’s angsty and scary. You feel for poor Christine as she gradually recovers her past, and the pain and regret the memories bring her. The three main actors, Kidman, Strong and Firth, are all good in their respective roles. Before I Go To Sleep is a good, tense thriller. The problem? After it’s over, if you think about it too hard, the plot falls apart like a house of cards. None of it makes any sense.

Force Majeure

Dirstacks_image_236: Ruben Östlund

Tomas and Ebba (Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli) are a happily married Swedish couple. With their two cute kids, Vera and Harry (Clara and Vincent Wettergren) they take a much-needed vacation in the French Alps. Tomas spends too much time at work or on his smartphone, so this is where family bonding and quality time should kick in. And it seems to be working. They pose for pictures, ski down slopes… they even wear matching pale blue long underwear. But one day, at an open-air restaurant on the chalet roof, something terrible happens. A fierce avalanche sends tons of snow thundering down the stunning peaks, covering them in a white cloud. In a moment of panic, Tomas grabs his phone and runs away — leaving his wife and kids cowering beneath the table. Moments later he realizes it was a false alarm. He FORCEMAJEURE_03creeps back as if nothing has happened. But the seeds are planted. When it comes up in conversations with other tourists Tomas pretends it never happened. His kids are furious, and Ebba is flabbergasted. If Dad won’t protect them or even admit to his failings, how can they ever trust him?

Ebba tries to talk with Swedish women she meets at the hotel, but they all seem to be having casual sex behind closed chalet doors. Will no one uphold the sanctity of marriage? Does it mean anything anymore?

Later they encounters a bearded hipster travelling with a much younger woman. The two end up joining them in discussions of the dilemma of what Tomas should do, even holding impromptu marriage counselling. What are bravery, morality, FORCEMAJEURE_02masculinity, honesty? And what would you do facing a real disaster?

Force Majeure is both a brilliant comedy, and a clever social satire. It’s told against the background of a futuristic/minimalist chalet: all blonde wood, clanking ski lifts, moving sidewalks, and toy drones. And in the distance, loud cannons add a sinister tone of impending doom to what should be a normal ski trip. Great movie!

Before I Go to Sleep and Force Majeure open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Wolf is released on November 4th on DVD. And look out for the Kubrick exhibition, opening today at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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

Peter Pan Syndrome. Movies Reviewed: Whiplash, Laggies, What We Do in the Shadows PLUS ImagineNATIVE

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Indigenous, Movies, Music, New Zealand, Supernatural, Vampires by CulturalMining.com on October 23, 2014

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

ImagineNative Film and Media Arts Festival started with a blast on Wednesday night. Two women read aloud the Sami Declaration of Indigenous Cinema. It declares that the oral tradition of native cultures must be preserved through storytelling on the screen. That sums up what this festival brings us – international views and culture, respecting the indigenous creators.

This week, I’m looking at three very different, but very good movies. There’s a thrilling drama about a young musician who won’t give up; a comedy about a woman who won’t grow up; and a mockumentary from New Zealand about vampires who won’t grow old.

Whiplash-5547.cr2Whiplash
Dir: Damien Chazelle

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a 19-year-old music student. Pale-cheeked and dark haired, he lives in a New York City apartment with his single father (Paul Reiser). He plays the drums with a driven passion, and he’s just starting at a prestigious music conservatory. He finds an unused drum set in a dusty school room and plunges right in. Drummer’s heaven. And who walks by and hears him but Fletcher (JK Simmonds). He’s a bald, acerbic music teacher who is also the head of the school’s elite, prize-winning jazz band. And he pulls Andrew out of Whiplash-2598.cr2class to audition for the band. This is rare, since the band members are much older and more accomplished.

He realizes something big is happening – his talent is finally being recognized! His life is going great, and he even gets the confidence to ask a girl he sees at the local rep cinema on a date.

But, what he doesn’t know is that Fletcher is also a perfectionist who demands top Whiplash-3326.cr2performances from his players, even during rehearsal times. That’s good, right? No! Fletcher is a cruel and twisted megalomaniac, who loves nothing more than driving his music students to tears. Every position in the band is tenuous, at best, subject to Fletchers’ whims. Now you’re in, now you’re out. And he elevates the importance of the band to mythic proportions.

Andrew soon realizes that he has to devote every waking moment of his life to reaching absolute, synchonistic perfection in his drumming if he wants to stay in the band. And Fletcher seems to have singled him out as the victim he can elevate Whiplash-5301.cr2and then crush. Who will triumph in this battle of minds? Sensitive young Andrew? Or the fascistic Fletcher?

Whiplash is a fantastic and tense thrilling movie. Director Chazelle manages to portray a music academy as a boot camp or a boxing match. Andrew’s not a musician but an athlete, and one who drums until he bleeds. Miles Teller as the kid and JK Simmonds (Law & Order) as the teacher perfectly play the two sides of this violent duet. The acting, the passion and the relentless tension in this movie is just incredible… you gotta see it. Whiplash was the first movie I saw at press previews at TIFF back in August and and it became the standard against which I measured every movie after it.

g5xVwr__laggies_01_o3_8301300__8301300__1407811900-1Laggies
Dir: Lynn Shelton

Megan (Keira Knightly) is a happily unmarried slacker in her late twenties. OK, her post-graduate school career hasn’t exactly taken off, but she still has her loving dad, her high school friends and Anthony, the longtime boyfriend she lives with. But at a wedding, she discovers maybe her Dad’s not so great, and her best friends aren’t. And when Anthony proposes marriage (and a quicky wedding in Las Vegas) Megan panics. She flees the wedding.

She ends up hanging with some teenagers she meets at a strip mall liquor store. She identifies with them, especially Annika (Chloe Grace Moritz). She was like her in high school…. Which wasn’t that long ago. They become friends. And this new friendship also gives her a chance to get away from her own life. She secretly movesMjEmRm__laggies_03_o3_8301367__8301367__1407811900 in with her new best bud for an extended sleepover party. But Craig, Annika’s single dad (Sam Rockwell) discovers his daughter’s new best friend… is a grown up. They have a long talk. Does Megan see herself more as an adult like Craig, or a kid like Annika? Or is she somewhere in between? And how would their relationship change if she dated her dad?

Laggies is a cute, funny romantic comedy about the maturing of a young woman in her twenties. Director Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister, Humpday) comes from the Seattle low-budget indie scene, and this is her first one with big name stars. And she pulls it off. Keira Knightly and Chloe Moritz are great as the mismatched friends. (My only question? Is “single dad” a new movie trend?)

mwElYp__whatwedointheshadows_05_o3__8261204__1406658669What We Do in the Shadows.
Dir: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

Four guys with an unusual sense of fashion share a house in downtown Wellington, New Zealand. There’s the flamboyant and sensitive, pirate-shirted Viago (Taika Waititi) who pines for his lost love Katherine. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) sticks to clandestine orgies behind his velvet drapes. And ex-nazi Deacon (Jonathan Y6Mo7p__whatwedointheshadows_03_o3__8261132__1406658667Brugh) can often be found hanging upside down like a bat. They have regular house meetings, complete with job wheels. And of course they love a good night out. Why? So they can find some virgins and suck their blood. They’re vampires, of course! When they say “clean up the bloody dishes” they mean it literally.

And they’re part of the underground – if somewhat cheesy — supernatural subculture GZ9yR0__whatwedointheshadows_04_o3__8261163__1406658668we’re told exists in Wellington, complete with zombies, witches and werewolves. As vampires they can fly around and sleep in coffins. But they don’t know how to use facebook or take selfies. So, with the help of regular not-dead guy Stu, they try to adjust to modern life and avoid spilling blood everywhere.

What we do in the Shadows is a hilarious character-driven fake documentary aboutj2n7Z5__whatwedointheshadows_01_o3__8261101__1406658665 the lives of oddballs in New Zealand. It opened ImagineNative not for its topic, but for the filmmakers, producer and stars of the movie

All three movies played at TIFF this year. Laggies and Whiplash both open commercially today, check your local listings. What We Do in the Shadows opened at ImagineNative – which continues through October 26th featuring Australian movies and many gallery installations. Free before 6:00 pm for students, seniors and underemployed. Go to imaginenative.org for more info.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Sono Sion and Young Dais about Tokyo Tribe at TIFF14

Posted in Cultural Mining, Gangs, Hiphop, Japan, Manga, Movies, Musical, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on September 19, 2014

_MG_9585 Sono Sion Young Dais Tokyo Tribe TIFF14 photo © Jeff HarrisHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Imagine a dystopian future, where Tokyo is divided up into neighbourhoods ruled by rival gangs, that jealously guard their borders. Follow the  train up the east side of the city and you’ll hit places like Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, and further out Musashino and Nerima.lOpKoJ__tokyotribe_01_o3__8260247__1406658260

Musashino is peace and love; the character Kai just wants to hang with his bros at the local Denny’s (aka Penny’s). But ‘Bukuro is a land of brothels, gangsters, kidnappers and cannibals. Nera, a ‘Bukuro blonde muscleman has it in for Kai. Will this lead to all out war between the Tokyo Tribes?

Z4Wl12__tokyotribe_04_o3__8260377__1406658263Tokyo Tribe is the name of a new movie based on the manga by Inoue Santa. It’s a fantastical epic shot as a hip-hop musical, full of crowds, choreographed fights, a constant beat and more flashing lights than a pachinko parlour. It’s directed by Sono Sion, known for Guilty of Romance, Cold Fish, and Why Don’t You Play in Hell?. He’s always testing the limits of what can be shown in a film… and then _MG_9603 Sono sion and Young Dais Tokyo Tribe TIFF14 photo © Jeff Harrisgoing beyond that limitation. The movie stars Young Dais, well-known Japanese rapper, doing double-duty as a movie star. It opened at The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF14), as part of Midnight Madness. I spoke with director Sono Sion and rapper Young Dais at the Royal York Hotel.

People’s Choice. Movies Reviewed: The Imitation Game, Honeymoon

Posted in 1940s, Academy Awards, Biopic, Computers, Cultural Mining, Horror, Movies, UK, WWII by CulturalMining.com on September 19, 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.

_MG_1251TIFF – the Toronto Interntional Film Festival – is over for the year. The klieg lights are dimmed, the red carpets rolled up.  It’s like a carnival sideshow leaving town, with celebrities and their droves of fans replacing the bearded ladies and tattooed men of yore. And the hundreds of members of the media, myself included, are forced to look elsewhere for the Next Big Movie.

On the last day of the festival, this past Sunday, they announced the winning films in Cumberbatch signs autographs at TIFF Jeff Harriscompetition. Unlike most major film festivals which use panels of critics and filmmakers as judges, TIFF relies on moviegoers to vote for the most important prize, the People’s Choice award. They say Torontonians are a good barometer of what kind of movies appeal to the public these days. The proof is in the pudding; People’s Choice winners, more often than not, become next year’s Oscar winners: the wonderful Slumdog Millionaire, the moving Twelve Years a Slave, the pandering King’s Speech, and the so-so Silver Linings Playbook.

So this week, I’m going to tell you about the TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice award winner, and a low-budget horror movie opening in Toronto.

THE IMITATION GAMEThe Imitation Game
Dir: Morten Tyldum

It’s the dawn of WWII. The British have captured Enigma, one of Nazi Germany’s secret devices. All their military messages use that encryption machine. Cracking it could mean an early end to the war and countless millions saved. Alan Turing — a shy, super-intelligent mathematician and Cambridge – is asked to visit the Bletchley Radio works – actually a branch of MI6. They need him to join the team and solve the puzzle.

Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) probably got an “F” as a child  in the “plays well with others” category. Instead of working with the other recruits, notably his supervisor Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) he decides that cracking codes, one by one, is a waste of time. Instead he sets about creating one of the world’s first computers. He names the giant wall of wires and THE IMITATION GAMEspinning discs “Christopher”, after his first gay crush.

He quickly alienates Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), his boss, who decides to get rid of him. Will he succeed? In a compromise, Turing decides to recruit ordinary people with extraordinary minds to work on his project, using a hard-to-solve cryptic newspaper crossword puzzle to locate his geniuses. Smartest of all is a woman, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). Together they try to crack the code and win the war. But will they succeed? Will Joan and Alan fall in love? And what will happen after the war?

_MG_0467The story jumps back and forth from his time as a wistful schoolboy, to the thrill and excitement of wartime, to the dark period afterwards, where he is persecuted by the police as a gay man. The Imitation Game tells a fantastic, true story of unrequited love, action and adventure, and the dark politics of postwar Britain. While it’s skimpy on the sex – as in, none at all – it is still a wonderful story, miles above most biopics. Benedict Cumberbatch plays another irritating and emotionally-stunted Sherlock, but he does it so well, conveying his thoughts through a twitch of an eye. Many critics deride Keira Knightley as a one-dimensional movie star, but I found her great in this one. In fact all the cast, including supporting characters, are wonderful. Though patently Oscar-bait (wartime, British costume drama, no yuck factor) it’s wonderful Oscar-bait. I strongly recommend this movie.

Honeymoon
Dir: Leigh Janiak

Leslie Rose as Bea in the HoneymoonPaul and Bea are up in cottage country to celebrate their marriage. Bea (Rose Leslie: Game of Thones) is big-boned and robust with a winning smile. Paul (Harry Treadaway: Fishtank, Cockneys vs Zombies) is naïve, boyish and fragile. Rose’s childhood summer home is filled with wooden ducks and a giant bearskin covering one wall. They intend to skinny dip in the lake, make pancakes at noon, and spend the rest of the day in bed, screwing like rabbits.

All goes well, until they encounter Will – Bea’s  ex – and his disturbed wife Annie. Something is wrong with those two. And they seem to have affected Bea. Is she cheating on him? Paul finds her sleepwalking in the woods at night. Light beams shine through the window. Strange Harry Treadaway as Paul in Honeymoonmarks appear on her thighs – just mosquito bites, she tells him. And strangest of all, he catches her memorizing basic phrases like “My name is Bea… my husband is Paul… we’re married”. Is she really Bea? Or an eerie imposter? Or has she gone completely mad?

Honeymoon – a horror movie with a female director: quite rare! – has great acting and an interesting premise. It starts out like a dull love story, but starts to pick up after the first 20 minutes. It has me going for a while, but eventually falls prey to some awful, endlessly repeated lines that take the zing away. Honeymoon is a good try, but doesn’t quite do it for me.

The Imitation Game is coming this fall, and Honeymoon starts today in Toronto: check your local listings.

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

Dark Humour at TIFF14. Films reviewed: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch…, The Editor, Wild Tales, Magical Girl

Posted in Argentina, Canada, comedy, Corruption, Crime, Cultural Mining, Death, Drama, Movies, Satire, Spain, Sweden by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 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.

It’s the final weekend at TIFF, with the hits rolling out…  There are amazing biopics, like The PHOENIXImitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing;  period romantic drama’s like Christian Petzold’s stunning Phoenix, starring Nina Hoss, and the dramatic drama from Ukraine called The Tribe — told entirely in sign-language, no subtitles! — about a boy at a school for the deaf who is pulled into a criminal gang. All fantastic films.

But these are all opening this fall, so I’d like to talk about the kind of festival movie that’s harder to categorize, harder to grasp. This week I’m going to look at the some unusual films from Sweden, Argentina, Canada and Spain. What do they have in common?  Dark humour, whether used ironically, absurdly or for its camp.

MjED0B__pigeonsatonabranch_01-TEMPORARY_o3__8264667__1406644686A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Dir: Roy Andersson

A pair of morose salesmen ply the streets of Gothenberg, Sweden. demonstrating their wares. They sell entertaining novelties. A rubber mask, vampire teeth, Bag o’ Laffs. One is always angry, the other one depressed. Needless to say, they don’t sell many novelties. They rent sterile, windowless rooms in a boarding house, and frequent Limp-Leg Lotta’s — once a boisterous bar, but now filled with sad, old men sitting alone. At some point, they wander off-map into a sort of a time warp, where an 18th Century gay Swedish king – followed by dozens and dozens of soldiers in three-cornered hats – marches through a modern-day bar on horseback. Sweden is preparing for battle with Russia.

Simultaneously, a large flamenco teacher keeps groping her male student, and a school for kids with Down’s Syndrome is putting in a show.

These are just a few of the story lines and gags that fill this strange but hilariously sad movie. It’s set in a timeless era, maybe retro, maybe present day. the movie’s like a series of New Yorker cartoons brought to life. It’s shot in sepia tones, and the actors all look like they’ve come back from the dead, with pale, powdered fleshy faces and beige clothing. The title “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” suggests the thoughts Roy Andersson imagined while viewing a diorama of a bird behind glass in a museum. It’s depressing, it’s funny, it’s uncategorizable – and it’s a comment on life, existence and man’s inhumanity to man. Seriously. You’ve got to see it – great movie, and it just won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival

ElZxkN__editor_01_o3__8277762__1407351475The Editor
Dir: Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy

It’s a dangerous time at a 1970s Italian movie studio. They’re shooting a sexy horror film, but someone keeps stabbing the stars. Luckily, Ciso, the one-handed, master film editor, is there to rework the scenes and save the footage. But Detective Porfiry thinks Ciso is the killer – and he’s gonna take him down once he finds the evidence. But he has to navigate round a suddenly blinded wife, devious movie stars, and a razor in a black-gloved hand. Oh yeah, and there’s the catholic priest warning him not to deal in the black arts or he might open the door to hell itself.

OK, that’s the barebones plot. But what The Editor really is, is a combination parody and homage to 70s-era Giallo movies – the sexy, bloody genre made by directors like Dario Argento. That means spooky music, gushing blood, dark shadows, screaming starlets, and blurry, soft-Wnwq44__editor_06_o3__8277930__1407351499core sex scenes. Throw in insanity, lust and suspicion, and you’re all set.

This parody goes out of its way to be authentic – things like characters who say lines, even though their lips aren’t moving.

This one had me laughing very loudly through much of the film, partly because it’s perfectly ridiculous. To say it’s full of gratuitous nudity and gore is like saying a musical is full of music. Of course there’s a lot of it, and in a normal movie it might be excessive, but in a movie like this, it’s not gratuitous, it’s essential to the genre. The movie stars the two directors in lead roles, blond Conor Sweeney as a sexually confused actor, and the marvellous Pas de la Huerta rounding off the cast. Made for drive-ins and Midnight madness. And to think they made it all in Winnipeg.

BgnDyY__wildtales_01_o3__8254116__1406599920Wild Tales
Dir: Damian Szifron

A demolitions expert is furious when his car is towed from a valid parking spot. A waitress in a small town diner discovers the man she’s serving is the gangster who drove her father to suicide. A bride at a Jewish wedding suspects her new husband is already having an affair. A macho douche in a Lamborghini locks horns with a redneck thug in a junk heap on a rural highway. What do these short dramas all share?

They’re all ripping stories — almost urban legends — about ordinary people vowing revenge and retribution. Each of the six, separate segments in Wild Tales functions as its own short film. It starts with a small incident or conversation, but gradually escalates into something huge and potentially disastrous. Some of the characters are sympathetic, you can understand why they’re acting this way, even if you wouldn’t yourself. But it’s not just a random grouping of short films, shot like hollywood features. No. In Wild Tales the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. The tension grows as the movie rolls on to a series of amazing climaxes. Wild Tales is a compilation of funny, absurd looks at extreme consequences caused by small actions.

P1MR0y_magicalgirl_03_o3_8343970_1408453081Magical Girl
Dir: Carlos Vermut

Luis, an out of work professor, is trying to take care of his young daughter. Alicia is into ramen, manga and anime. She says she and her friends go by Japanese names. But the girl is also dying of cancer. Luis will do anything for her. So in an effort to grant what he believes is her last wish, Luis decide to get her the dress the Magical Girl wears in her series. In desperation he decides to commit burglary, but is stopped by a strange coincidence that introduces her to Barbara (Barbara Lennie.)

Barbara is a beautiful woman married to a rich but domineering psychologist, who decides LgA62A_magicalgirl_01_o3_8348922_1408453230what she can do, who she can talk to and what meds to take. Luis ends up sleeping with her, but then turns to blackmail to get the money for his daughter’s dress. Now Barbara must decide whether or not to return to a previous secret life. But will that lead to unpredictable consequences both for her and Luis?

This is a combination comedy, tragedy and drama. It feels like an O Henry short story brought to the screen.The audience poured out of the theatre in droves as soon as it was over, because they all found it disturbing — it is disturbing. But in a disturbingly good way.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, The Editor, Wild Tales, and Magical Girl are all playing at TIFF through this weekend. 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.

Daniel Garber talks to Albert Shim and Igor Drljaca about their new film In Her Place at TIFF14

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Depression, Drama, Korea, Movies, Women by CulturalMining.com on September 5, 2014

Albert Shim and Igor Drljaca In Her Place © Daniel Garber

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

Three women come together in a run-down farm in rural South Korea: A beleaguered single mother struggling financially; a troubled daughter with an unwanted pregnancy; and a rich woman from Seoul. She’s moving in with them for awhile. And what brings them together? The unborn foetus. The mother wants it to go away. The daughter is struggling with internal conflicts. And the rich woman wants to take the future baby In Her Place.

IN HER PLACE is also the name of a new dramatic feature about family, names, order and IN_HER_PLACE_-_STILL_4_-_300dpi1chaos, gain and loss. It’s made by Toronto writer/director Albert Shim and producer and collaborator Igor Drljaca. Their films have played internationally and garnered awards and critical praise. This movie is having its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. I spoke with Albert and Igor, in studio, to find out more.

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