Daniel Garber talks with Justin McConnell and Jack Foley about Lifechanger

Posted in Canada, Crime, Death, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on December 28, 2018

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

It’s Christmastime at a bar in Toronto.

Julia is a young woman sitting in her usual spot, trying to forget her own tragic history. She chats with the usual suspects – strange men trying to hit on her, and women looking for a shoulder to cry on. But what she doesn’t realize is that most of the strangers she talks to each night… are all the same person.

Then there’s Drew. He suffers from a bizarre illness. The only way he can survive is to refresh his body by inhabiting a new one… until the body is worn out and he moves on to the next. Can Drew tell Julia the truth and convince her to accept his unusual lifestyle?

Or is that just too big a life change for either of them to accept?

Lifechanger is a new fantasy/horror movie that will keep you guessing till the end.

It’s written and directed by Justin McConnell (who I interviewed 5 years ago about his documentary Skull World.) Lifechanger has won multiple awards at international film festivals across North America and around the world. It co-stars Jack Foley as the romantic lead… who is also a man with a secret.

The film opens today in Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa.

I spoke with actor Jack Foley and writer/director Justin McConnell in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

Making history. Films reviewed: Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, Goodbye Christopher Robin, BPM (Beats Per Minute)

Posted in 1920s, 1970s, 1990s, France, H.I.V., Kids, LGBT, Poetry, Politics, Pop Culture, Protest, Watergate, WWI by CulturalMining.com on October 13, 2017

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

It’s festival season in Toronto: Reel World film festival brings the world’s untold stories to the big screen; and Toronto After Dark has horror, sci-fi and fantasy pics that make you laugh your ass off or will scare your pants off. Toronto after Dark and Reel World are both on right now.

But this week I’m looking at historical dramas based on real events. We’ve got protests in Paris, politics in Washington, and Pooh in East Sussex.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

Dir: Peter Landesman

It’s June, 1972 in Washington DC. Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) a top-ranked FBI agent, notices something strange: burglars were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel. And they weren’t stealing money, they were looking for files. And the burglars are former Federal agents. Who is behind it all? Felt investigates. The trail leads to the White House where Richard Nixon is running for reelection. But his investigation is stifled by a suspicious political appointee named Gray. He’s the provisional head of the FBI – J. Edgar Hoover just died — and seems to be taking orders from the White House. This is a no-no. And the White House seem to know everything the FBI is doing – is there a leak in the Bureau? So Felt decides to do some leaking himself. He secretly meets with reporters from Time Magazine and the Washington Post to pass on crucial information. Will the truth about Nixon and Watergate come out and can Felt keep his identity a secret?

No spoilers here: you’ve probably heard of the Watergate scandal that brought down Nixon. And about Deep Throat – the mysterious source journalists Woodward and Bernstein used to break their stories. And the Senate Watergate Hearings which investigated it all. This movie, though, looks at it from an entirely new perspective: as a power struggle between the White House and the FBI, personified by Felt a career federal agent.

It’s also about Felt’s private life, with his depressed, alcoholic wife Audrey (Diane Lane), and his hippy daughter who disappears and who Felt thinks is a member of the Weathermen Underground. At its worst, this film seems to paint the FBI – which has plenty of its own skeletons in its closet — as the saviour of a nation. But at its best it captures the mood of a superb thriller, based on a huge, real-life conspiracy.

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Dir: Simon Curtis

A.A. Milne (Domhnal Gleeson) is a popular playwright in London’s west end just back from WWI. On the surface he’s full of witty patter, all whizbang and tiddley poo. But he’s actually he’s shell-shocked: Champagne corks or popping balloons send him diving for cover. He’s so shaken up he moves out to the country where he hopes to write an anti-war book in peace. His flapper wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) makes it clear she would much rather be partying in London. Milne has writer’s block. And the crying baby makes the situation even worse. They hire a nanny, Olive (Kelly Macdonald) to help raise their son Christopher Robin whom they call Billy Moon. But when Daphne moves back to London, and Olive to her dying mother’s bedside, Milne is suddenly left alone with a son he barely knows (Will Tilston). He has to talk to him, cook for him and entertain him.

And that’s when some serious father-son bonding kicks in. They go on adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood, climb trees, make up stories and play with Billy Moon’s stuffed animals – a teddy bear, a piglet, and a donkey. He invites his friend — an illustrator — to draw pictures of it all. And Milne begins to write poems. He sends one, Vespers, about their son praying before bed, to Daphne in London to show her he’s writing again. She submits it to Vanity Fair and soon it’s a huge hit. Milne publishes his poems and stories and, suddenly, his son and the toys he plays with – Winnie the Pooh, and Kanga and Roo – become celebrities, famous around the world. The boy is dressed up and trotted out for book tours and toy stores and radio interviews. And this upsets him. Strangers know everything about his private life and his imaginary inventions. They think he’s a fictional character come to life, but he’s not Christopher Robin. He’s Billy Moon. Can the family stop this tide of fame before their lives are ruined?

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a touching story about the reality behind the beloved childrens’ books. It’s also the contrast between the British stiff upper lip – no touching or showing emotion – and all the humour and imagination yearning to escape. The movie is a bit slow in parts, and sometimes succombs to nostalgia and sentimentality, but I liked it anyway. And it also has beautiful locations and great costumes.

BPM (Beats Per Minute)

Dir: Robin Campillo

It’s the early 1990s in Paris, AIDS is at its peak and people are in a panic. The government makes speeches but does nothing and big pharma is sitting on crucial medication. Meanwhile, people are dying every day. So a group of activists launch a protest group called Act Up Paris (after its US counterpart) and spring into action.

They storm into government meetings and pharmaceutical offices, throwing plastic sacs of fake blood at the walls. Then they stage mass die-ins, falling to the floor until they’re dragged away by police. They meet in university lecture halls to hash out their disagreements: men and women of all ages and sexualities. But will their actions fall on deaf ears?

BPM is a story about the group, but especially two of its members, Sean –a scrawny, cynical latino (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart ) and Nathan, a student from a small town (Arnaud Valois). After a spontaneous first kiss – when they take over a high school to teach safe sex – they move in together: Sean is HIV positive, Nathan negative. Their relationship is intense and passionate, partly because Sean might die at any moment. BPM is a long and detailed – but very moving – look at a civil disobedience movement. It captures the fluidity and uncertainty of life and love in the midst of a crisis.

BPM, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House and Goodbye Christopher Robin 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.

Halloween Mansions. Movies reviewed: Jem and the Holograms, Crimson Peak, The Hexecutioners

Posted in Canada, Gothic, Halloween, Horror, L.A., Movies, Music, UK, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 23, 2015

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

Hallowe’en is a time of ghosts, ghouls and the walking dead. But it’s also a time for costumes, wigs and other disguises. This week I’m looking at three movies. There’s a gothic-horror melodrama about a woman trapped in a haunted mansion in England; another scary pic about two women trapped in a haunted mansion in Ontario; and a kids’ movie about four sisters who form a rock band in disguise and move to a mansion in L.A.

tumblr_nr8saftnQK1tv61rvo1_1280Jem and the Holograms
Dir: John M. Chu

When Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples) was just a little girl, her dad, an inventor in Los Angeles, died. All he left her was his final invention, a mysterious, white contraption. Now she and her sister Kimber (Stephanie Scott) live in a small town with her two half-sisters, and her aunt (Molly Ringwald). This mix-and-match family gets along swimmingly — no evil step-sisters here. tumblr_nr8sg2DJX41tv61rvo1_1280They’re into fashion, music and social networking online. They make their own music, too, but Jerrica is too shy to show her talents to the world. But she records a private tape as “Jem” using a fake wig with pink stripes painted on her face. Kimber posts the tape online, and Jem is suddenly web-famous.

Who is this mysterious songster, viewers want to know? Within days top LA record exec Erika Raymond (Juliette Lewis) is knocking at her door, ready to sign her to her label. But not without the rest of my band Jem, insists. Jem packs up her father’s tumblr_nr8sfdJW7c1tv61rvo1_1280invention and the four of them relocate to an LA mansion under the care of Rio (Ryan Guzman), Erika’s son.

They perform at key locations to adoring crowds, even as they follow the clues her dad’s invention provides her. Will the band survive success? Can record exec Erika be trusted? Will Jem get a swelled head as the leader of the band? And is something tumblr_nr8scclpo41tv61rvo1_1280happening between pretty Jem and handsome Rio?

Jem and the Holograms is a movie for teen girls, based on a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1980s. On the plus side, it gives girls a chance to dream of becoming rockstars not just princesses. And the songs are catchy. But for grown-ups like me, the story is hackneyed and predictable, with not much to offer aside from a chance to see 80s and 90s stars Juliette Lewis and Molly Ringwald have it out.

cpt_photo_0Crimson Peak
Dir: Guillermo del Toro

It’s turn of the 19th Century in boomtown Buffalo, NY. Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is a free-thinker and the heiress to a fortune.  She lives with her protective father and is visited by her late mother in the form of a dark wraith warning of future perils: Beware the Crimson Peak! Lovely Edith wears angelic dresses with winglike shoulder pads, and her pale blonde hair falls in ringlets on her face. She wants to becpt_photo_12 a professional writer and hones her skills at the local press. And she is relentlessly courted by the dependable Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam).

But then a stranger appears in town with his sister. Lucille and Thomas Sharpe (Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston) are baronets, here to raise money. Thomas has cpt_photo_2invented a steampunk contraption that mines clay for bricks, a sought-after commodity. Edith’s father turns him down, but Edith, is drawn into his air of mystery. And after a romantic waltz they fall hopelessly in love, marry, and head off to his mansion in the English moors.

But all is not well. Her father dies in mysterious circumstances. Thomascpt_photo_5 seems to spend more time with his sister than with her, and they have yet to consummate their marriage. And Edith is growing steadily weaker and more tired, her face becoming pale with dark circles under her eyes. But she can still see the ghosts haunting the cpt_photo_15strange mansion, and she is shocked to discover the secrets the haunted mansion holds.

I liked this gothic melodrama. It follows Guillermo del Toro’s usual pattern of young women discovering ghosts hiding in draughty haunted mansions. Though this one seems a bit campier than usual. The look is amazing, especially the scarlet clay that bleeds through the white snow around the mansion. It has its cheesy parts, for sure, and Jessica Chastain, as the scheming sister, isn’t as good as the other three. But a good watch if you like period gothic horror.

Liv Collins as Malison McCourt in The HexecutionersThe Hexecutioners
Dir: Jesse Thomas Cook

Malison (Liv Collins) is a prim and proper career woman who lives in a threadbare apartment with just her cat to keep her company. Her neighbour Mr Poole (Walter Borden) is her landlord, a bible thumper who curses her name. She works for a euthanasia corporation assisting voluntary suicides since they changed the laws a few years earlier. But her first assignment goes terribly wrong, so she is sent on her next job with an old pro. Olivia (Sarah Power) is a vamp in black stockings who smokes, drinks, cusses and carries a sixgun. Nudity and death don’t faze her.

They arrive at a spooky, three-storey mansion lit by candles and 24347_320_470heated by a blazing fire. It’s surrounded by a foreboding hedge maze filled with hideous statues. They have to spend three nights there, until their assignment is complete. The house has a single servant, Edgar (Wil Burd), a creepy and skinny man with a shock of long black hair. His hobby is strangling pregnant possoms. And their client is an old man with a terribly deformed face. He wants to die, but in a very specific way. Mal begins to suffer night terrors – a common symptom of this job – and has a recurrent nightmare. She keeps seeing a strange, suicidal ritual repeated by a death cult wearing hideous masks. Then she begins to see them even when she’s awake! Are these hauntings related to the house — or are the two women to blame for their appearance?

The Hexecutioners is a good example of a slow-build horror. It’s more spooky than scary for most of the film. Its not perfect: some scenes felt repetitive, and I wasn’t crazy about the music-video-style montages that pop up here and there. But the small cast is uniformly excellent,  and it’s great to see a home- grown horror movie that harkens back to early Cronenberg.

Crimson Peak is playing now, The Hexecutioners premiered at Toronto After Dark, a festival of horror, action, fantasy and sci-fi movies, that continues through tonight; and Jem and the Holograms open today. Check your local listings. Also opening is Room, a fantastic movie about a mom and her little boy who live together in a hidden room. I reviewed Room during TIFF, and it’s a must-see. Don’t miss it.

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

Zaniness. Movies reviewed: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, God Help the Girl PLUS October Film Festivals!

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Espionage, Movies, Music, Musical, Scotland, Screwball Comedy, Sex, Sweden, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 9, 2014

estdocs14_program_coverHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking site_brafft_2404_02at 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.

Get ready: it’s fall film festival season in Toronto. Coming next week are: BRAFFTV, the Brazilian festival of film and television; Estdocs, the Estonian 10694407_10152448582230345_7331007994192021518_oDocumentary Festival; and RIFF, the Reel Indie Film Festival – featuring music-themed films. These festivals are packed with hidden treasures. Followed by Toronto after Dark for horror, sci-fi, action and cult: perfect for October. And ImagineNative, the film and media arts festival celebrating works by indigenous artists and filmmakers from toronto after darkaround the world.

Lots of festivals – don’t they make you want to get out, see the world? (Lame segue?) Well, this week I’m looking at two movies about people who climb out their windows! One’s a musical drama about a beautiful, young woman in Glasgow, Scotland who just wants to make music; the other’s a screwball comedy about an extremely old man in Sweden who just wants to blow something up.

b48f5837-54f2-45dd-a3b0-fac80378d0e4The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann)
Dir: Felix Herngren

It’s Allan Karlsson’s 100th birthday at his old-age home in small-town Sweden, but Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) isn’t interested. So he climbs out his 1st floor window and buys a bus ticket to the nearest town (population:1). But before he leaves he is ambushed by 95d73836-4233-4b79-b1b7-24cbda8a2bb8a motorcycle gang skinhead carrying a large metal suitcase. Somehow, Karlsson ends up on the bus with the suitcase… but no skinhead. And so begins his journey ec907bb3-1c24-414f-9ba5-fa36be388d40with the guy in the next village, a perpetual student they meet hitchhiking, an animal rights activist, and the circus elephant she liberated. And they’re being chased by the local police who think Karlsson was kidnapped, and the gangsters who want that suitcase back – and the millions of krona stuffed inside it. But that’s just half the story.444ba775-568a-4cae-b037-a2a4410500cf

The other half is all about how the 100-year-old man has lived his life: as a demolition expert – a guy who blows things up. You may be thinking: Bombs? In Sweden? But yeah! The Swede’s seem to have a knack for it, what with Alfred Nobel’s dynamite, Ivar Kreuger (the Match King), and the country’s enormous weapon industry. Karlsson’s expertise leads him to repeated brushes with famous leaders. From Franco to Stalin, from Truman to Reagan, somehow he’s there (like a Zelig or a Forrest Gump) at all the crucial moments.

Not a deep movie, but a totally zany, screwball-comedy look at the 20th century through the eyes of a hapless demolition expert. The 100-Year-Old Man is engaging, very entertaining and great fun.

GodHelptheGirlFestivalStill1God Help the Girl
Dir: Stuart Murdoch

Eve (Emily Browning) is a young Australian woman who lives in a Glasgow mental hospital. She spends her time lying in bed listening to radio DJs. She is waif-like with pale skin, auburn hair and huge eyes. Quite beautiful but quite depressed. She has songs to sing and GHTG_Tartan1words to express, but no one to hear them. So, one day she just climbs out the window and walks away, singing.

She wanders into a Glasgow concert hall and there she meets James, a guitarist in a fistfight with his obnoxious drummer. Glasgow is run by NEDs (non-educated delinquents) he says. James (Olly Alexander) is a skinny, wimpy guitar player with curly hair and glasses – a Scottish Michael Cera.

He works as a lifeguard but has “the constitution of an abandoned rabbit.” Eve tells him she’ll find him again at the pool. Could it be love?

Back at the mental hospital, her doctor tells her that she needs support – a home, food, a job and friends – and good health before she can worry about less important things like her music. But for Eve, music is everything. She sneaks out GHTGfilmstillto play the piano and compose songs. And she manages to record her music on a cassette tape.

She gives the tape to Anton (Pierre Boulanger), a tall, dark and handsome French rock musician she meets. They make out and she instructs him to pass it on to the radio DJs. He is impressed by her beauty. “You have exquisite breasts” he tells her.

James, meanwhile, is impressed by her talent – Eve can compose GHTG_glassessongs spontaneously, based on the thoughts in her head. And she has such a pleasing and rich voice that she could sing a diner menu and people would still listen. (In fact, Eve gets a job as a waitress.)

He takes her meet to Cassie, his music student. Cassie (Hannah Murray – who also played a Cassie in Skins) is a free spirit who wants to learn to play the guitar and write songs. Eve wants people to hear her music. James wants to cut a record. Hey, let’s form a band!  So they do.

They write some catchy tunes – in the style of sixties pop — and sing and dance and pose. But what will the future bring?

Will the DJs ever listen to her tape? Will Eve and James ever realize their true love? Will James ever see his dream of recording a record? And will the band ever perform?

This is a cute refreshing musical written and composed by Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian fame. It’s full of songs and dances that pop up after each serious event. But it leaves you thinking: is the movie a series of music videos linked by a storyline? Or a drama with a bunch of highly-stylized musical performances popping up? Either way, I enjoyed it a lot.

The Hundred Year Old Man and God Help the Girl both open today. Check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5

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

July 8, 2011. Films Without Superheroes. Movies Reviewed: The Tree of Life, Blank City PLUS Shinsedai, Toronto After Dark, HotDocs

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, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

Some people wonder, aren’t there any movies that aren’t about cartoon characters, superheroes, guns or toys? What are adults supposed to watch in the summertime? Well, don’t worry, there are films out there for everyone’s taste. This week, I’m looking at two examples of films that exist outside, or alongside, the summer blockbusters. One is an unconventional movie that some people like and some people hate; and another is an up-coming documentary about the no-wave film movement in the post-punk era of downtown New York City  in the 80’s.

But first… some news about the movie scene in Toronto.

Art films are great, but genre films are fun too. And there’s a small but amazingly entertaining film festival in the fall that shows genre movies: Horror, Supernatural, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Animation, Crime, Action, Thriller, Suspense, Cult, and Bizarre. Well, if you are (or know of) a filmmaker who has made a genre film — the kinds of moviesI just mentioned – The Toronto After Dark film festival is open for submissions, worldwide. But better send it fast: the deadline is July 22. For more information go to torontoafterdark.com

Also, the venerable Bloor Cinema, that great reparatory cinema at Bathurst and Bloor st. is about to undergo a big change. You may have noticed that it’s not showing movies right now. They’re doing much-needed renovations, but that’s not all: when it re-opens in the fall, it looks like it’s going to be the headquarters of HotDocs – the documentary film festival. Does that means we’re going to have a nice, downtown movie theatre that only shows documentary movies, all year round? We shall see… but it does mean the Bloor Cinema isn’t disappearing – it’s just taking a short rest.

And coming up later this month is the Shinsedai Film Festival, a chance to see a wide range of contemporary movies coming out of Japan, and too meet some of the filmmakers who will be speaking at the screenings. It’s at the JCCC – the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, up near Don Mills and Eglinton from the 21st to the 24th. For more information go to jccc.on.ca .

Now some reviews.

First, the movie I said some people like and some people hate:

The Tree of Life

Dir: Terrance Mallick

(SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to talk about the entire movie. But I don’t think this is a movie that can be spoiled by understanding what it’s about.)

This is a movie about an American family – a mother, a father, and three sons – back in the late 1950’s. They live in a wooden house in Waco, Texas. The father (Brad Pitt), an inventor, is having trouble getting ahead. He sees the world as cruel, rough, and competitive, and wants to make his sons into tough fighters who survive against all odds. The mother (Jessica Chastain) is deeply religious, a spiritual, charitable and nurturing protector. And the eldest son, Jack, (Hunter McCracken) takes it all in, but since he’s a kid, it all gets messed up in his head. He decides his father hates him and wants him dead, while he’s sexually excited by his beautiful mother – with all the guilt and shame that entails. Oedipus, anyone?

At the very beginning of the movie, we discover that one of the three sons has died. So the rest of the film shows us the memories, whispered thoughts and fantasies of all the other characters thinking back from the present to earlier times.

The story seems mainly to be told through Jack’s eyes, but the voices and thoughts of other characters weave in and out, too. When he wants to remember his now dead brother — whose faintly glowing soul appears at the start of every section of the movie — he thinks back to the very beginning – I mean the very, very beginning. At this point, the movie goes off on an unusual, but pleasant detour, back to the creation of the earth, with volcanoes, lava, ice, and water everywhere. Spiro gyra swim in the primordial ooze, and gradually cells separate, merge and evolve. It looks like an old NFB or Birth-Of-An-Island clip, or a grade 8 film strip. Only so much better.

All to the sounds of Smetana and Mahler. Water crashes down over cliffs, and cute, fuzzy dinosaurs appear until they’re all wiped out by an asteroid. And then a baby – one of the brothers — is born.

Aside from that — and a mega-FAIL yucky beach montage toward the end — the movie is mainly about a few years in the young family’s life as the kids grow up alongside a sapling in their yard – the tree of life – that turns into a huge, twisted and towering tree by the end. The very long memory scenes are book-ended by the eldest son looking back from the present day.

Is it a good movie? I thought it was great! But it’s an art film drama – don’t go if you’re looking for a mainstream conventional Brad Pitt love story. There’s not much dialogue, and the storytelling is a bit more subtle than formulaic dramas. But it’s not a low-budget run-off either; it’s a sumptuous, beautiful, and moving story of the confused memories of one boy’s childhood in Texas.

A totally different type of movie, but also experimental is a documentary about the indie movie scene in NY City in the late seventies and early eighties.

Blank City

Dir: Celine Danhier

Before the real estate explosion, manhattan was a gritty, edgy place filled with crumbling tenements, lurking muggers, and random shootings.

Artists, writers and musicians fled from small towns and suburbs across the country to live in a more dangerous, more exciting world. They shared a feeling of nihilism, living as if the world was about to be obliterated by late-cold

-war atomic bombs blowing up across the planet. Large parts of the Lower East Side and Alphabet city were completely uninhabitable and bombed out, with broken windows, and missing doors. Nina, a Yugoslavian woman I used to know, lived on 3rd and B, and you had to walk over a giant piece of wood nailed halfway across the door of her closet-like apartment even to get inside. She was squatting there since no one anted to go near those buildings anyway.

Now, of course, Manhattan is a giant shopping mall, with Times Square – formerly the place for runaways, hustlers, porn, prostitutes, pot dealers, and petty crime – now features tourist traps like the Disney princess store, and the M&Ms gift shop.

Against the post-apocalyptic look of Dangerous Manhattan arose the No Wave movement, where filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, Lizzie Borden, Susan Seidelman, and Richard Kern used their super-8 black and white cameras to create transgressive, sexually explicit, short films. Part of the coolness was to be poor, on the edge, anti-corporate, shocking, and completely divorced from conventional life. In order to appear as the absolute antithesis of slick and plastic hollywood movies, they went the opposite direction with unrehearsed, raw (if stilted) dialogue, rough editing, and scratchy sound. John Lurie says he had to hide his skill as a trained musician – you had to be unskilled and amateur to be accepted as “real”.

A doctrine, known as the Cinema of Transgression, served as their guide to subvert… well, everything. The movies themselves were just as likely end up being shown at a punk club as in a movie theatre.

This documentary, Blank City, is a visual explosion of countless short clips of those films, alternated with present day interviews with some of the actors, musicians, artists and filmmakers of the period.

So you see Debbie Harry popping up almost everywhere, people dressed like RAF terrorists blowing up buildings, and lots of weird, semi-out-of-focus sex and violence. All with punk, new wave, early hip-hop and experimental music. This is a great movie that captures that short, explosive period of wide-open but underground filmmaking in the 80’s.

Tree of Life is now playing, and Blank City starts next Friday, July 15 at the Royal: check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, CulturalMining.com.  

Folk Heroes. Movies reviewed: Soul Kitchen, Mesrine: Killer Instinct, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, plus Joan Rivers A Piece of Work, and Toronto After Dark Festival

We’re at the hottest time of the year, the dog days of summer, and, with all the sticky, sultry weather, some people get boiled into limp submission… and others just boil over. This week, there was a Johnny Paycheck at Jet Blue Airlines, who’d had it. After being bonked on the head by a falling piece of luggage, he took to the airplane mike, and mouthed the equivalent of the old ’70’s country song “Take this job and shove it, I ain’t workin’ any more”. The flight attendant, Steven Slater, activated the airplane emergency slide, grabbed a couple cans of beer, and slid away. They’re already calling him a folk hero – someone who went with his feelings.

Well, there are some movies opening this weekend, with some very different takes on what to do with your life, including its anger and frustration. And one of them is about an actual folk hero.

Soul Kitchen

Dir: Fatih Akin

This movie is about Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos), a German-Greek guy from Hamburg who owns a rundown diner in an old warehouse. One day, he’s with his rich girlfriend at a big family dinner, when something happens. A customer has complained that his soup is cold. No big deal. Except… the soup is cold gazpacho. So when the customer demands he heat it up in the microwave, the chef goes ballistic and comes out of te kitchen brandishing a cleaver.

Zinos witnesses all this and hires him on as a diner chef. The movie –aside from all the great food shots of chopping and stirring, is really about poor Zinos’s misadventures as he tries to get his restaurant and his life back in order. He has to deal with his icy girlfriend who has relocated to Shanghai; his brother, a thief and gambler on day parole who wants a job but doesn’t want to work; Socrates, an old bearded guy in a Greek fisherman’s cap who’s building a wooden boat behind the restaurant; and the various city zoning officials and real-estate speculators who seem to be teaming up to make his life miserable. And then there’s his bad back…

It’s unusual to see German movies with multi-ethnic casts and storylines – that’s an interesting change. And this cute, light German comedy has lots of scenes of diverse characters rolling with the punches, and eventually exploding. It’s an OK movie, (not a great one) with lots of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Actually, “Soul Kitchen” feels most like a TV sitcom pilot: Introducing all the madcap friends of the beleaguered main character who you can enjoy watching in his crazy musical restaurant, week after week…

The next movie, a biopic, is a lot more powerful.

“Mesrine: Killer Instinct”

Dir: Jean-Francois Richet

Screenplay: Abdel Raouf Dafri (who wrote last year’s amazing prison gangster flick Un Prophete / A Prophet).

Jacques Mesrine, not so well known here, is a full-fledged folk hero in France, and maybe in Quebec. After serving his term with the French army in Algeria (France’s “Vietnam”) he has to move back in with his parents. His mother is demanding, his father is conciliatory and he hates them both. Jacques (or Jacky) wants pride, he wants glory.

He becomes a burglar and a thief of some renown. He can talk himself out of trouble, no prison can hold him. He’s quick with a gun, and a even quicker when there’s a chance of meeting a pretty girl. He rides sports cars, dresses in suits, and keeps a narrow military moustache. When his beautiful and fiery-tempered Spanish wife Sofia leaves him after a violent incident, he takes off for greener pastures. Soon, he’s in Montreal in the late 60’s, with a new Bonnie to his Clyde: Jeanne Schneider. And he shares Molson Ex stubbies and bottles of Canadian Club with his new best buddy, Jean-Paul Mercier from the FLQ. And when they end up in a horrific Quebec penitentiary, they vow: dehors ou mort — to get out or die trying.

“Mesrine: Killer Instinct” is extremely rich, and epic in its scope. From the slick, period scenes of the Parisian demimonde of the 60’s, to the vast hyper-realism of Montreal – forests, bridges, ship yards, and apartment complexes — it all rings true.

The acting – especially the wiry, charismatic star Vincent Cassel, who’s made a career playing fighters and anti-heroes – is absolutely amazing. Gerard Depardieu as his gangster boss, Roy Dupuis as his Quebec friend; and the two female leads, Cecile de France, and Elena Anaya as two of his lovers — they’re all just perfect.

This is a great look at an extremely violent gangster who captured the imaginations of a generation. The movie also gives, for the first time, a stark look at the Canadian prison system in the 1970’s. Really shocking. I do recommend this movie, just be aware it’s quite violent, and it only covers the first part of Mesrine’s life. (“Mesrine: Public Enemy No.1” is coming soon.)

“The Disappearance of Alice Creed”

Dir: J Blakeson

Also opening this weekend, is a thriller I saw last year at the Toronto Film Festival.

Alice Creed is a young woman woman who is kidnapped, bound, gagged and tied to a bed by two masked men. They have a foolproof plan — to hide her in a high rise apartment, without her ever knowing who they are. Their plan is flawless… until it begins to fall apart.

Is she really a total stranger? How

can these two men trust each other? And how innocent a victim is the young woman?

As the three players in this intrigue shift alliance, blame, and loyalty, the power equation constantly changes.

Eventually it all breaks down to who gets the satchel of cash. But isn’t there some sort of unwritten rule for movies — that there can only be so many plot twists before it completely loses its point?

Spindly plot legs can’t support a story with too many heavy plot reversals, and this one has more than you can count. I liked the fact that it has a tiny cast — just the three of them — and I liked seeing Eddie Marsan (the loopy driving teacher from “Happy-Go-Lucky”: En! Ra! Ha!) in another unusual role. But the acting is better than the story. This is not terrible, but not a great one either.

And if these three movies aren’t enough, there’s a fourth one opening this weekend: “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” (directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg) a tell-all documentary about the famous stand-up comic and talk-show host.

This is a really funny movie, with lots of the comedian’s offensive one-liners. You also get to see her behind the scenes reconstructing her face and body for the audiences; and her personal struggles with her husband, daughter, agent and career. As someone who is not a fan of Joan Rivers, and had never actually seen her perform before, even on a talk show, the movie was surprisingly entertaining. I don’t like celebrity culture at all, but this is one good, funny documentary. I don’t know if Joan Rivers can ever be called a folk hero, but she’s a real piece of work.

Finally, for people who love horror, cult, action and science fiction movies, you’re in for a treat. It’s time again for the Toronto After Dark festival.

One full week of al the ninjas, zombies, aliens, robots and monsters you can stand. I haven’t seen any of the movies playing, but the titles say it all: “RoboGeisha”; “Alien vs Ninja”; “The Human Centipede”; and a new remake of the revenge classic “I Spit on your Grave”. Whoa! More scary B-movies than you can shake a stick at. And there’s a special appearance by none other than Eli Roth (who directed “Hostel” and acted in “Inglourious Basterds”) along with the cast of his latest production, “The Last Exorcism”. After Dark is also the kind of festival that attaches short films before the main feature, something that should be done more often.

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