Heavy Hitters. Films Reviewed: Wonder Wheel, Roman J Israel, Esq, The Shape of Water

Posted in African-Americans, Baltimore, Cold War, Drama, Fantasy, L.A., Movies, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 8, 2017

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

It’s December now, and that’s when the movie awards start to pile up. This week I’m looking at some of the hard-hitters — movies with famous directors or stars — that might be up for a prize. There’s a kitchen sink drama in Coney Island, a legal drama in LA, and a romantic drama in a secret Baltimore laboratory.

Wonder Wheel

Wri/Dir: Woody Allen

It’s the 1950s in Coney Island. Humpty and Ginny are a middle aged couple living in a rundown apartment overlooking the ferris wheel. Humpty (Jim Belushi) is an angry drunk, currently on the wagon, who manages the carousel. Ginny (Kate Winslet) is a former actress who is a waitress at the clam shack… or as she puts it, she’s playing the part of “Waitress” in an on-going drama. She has a little kid from her first marriage, Richie, who is a petty thief and an aspiring arsonist, lighting fires wherever he can. Life in this dysfunctional family is far from perfect but at least it’s stable. That is until two things turn their lives upside down.

First Humpty’s estranged daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) shows up out of nowhere. They haven’t spoken for five years, not since she married a racketeer. Now she’s on the lam, a marked woman since she turned canary and sang about the mob to the cops. She moves into their crowded home, working with Ginny at the Clam House. The second thing that happens is Ginny meets Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a lifeguard on the beach. He’s a grad student at NYU and loves the idea of dating a dramatic older woman. Soon they are secretly meeting under the boardwalk for afternoon delights. But then Mickey meets Carolina and everything starts to unravel.

After watching Wonder Wheel, I kept wondering: did I just see a great movie or a terrible one? It’s certainly very different from Woody Allen’s European comedies. It feels more like a stage play, with characters reciting the lines of a script, from Mickey the lifeguard who narrates by speaking directly to the camera, to Ginny who says things like: “I’m consumed with jealousy!” I think that’s intentional.  But I’m not so sure most of the characters wanted to speak exactly like Woody, down to his stammer and pauses. Still, the look of the movie – from the period costumes to the lurid colours of neon lights, and the unexpectedly jarring camerawork – is stunning and surprising. Does this mean Woody Allen is still experimenting?

So is Wonder Wheel a good movie or not? Hmmm… I guess so.

Roman J Israel, Esq.

Wri/Dir: Dan Gilroy

Roman (Denzel Washington) is a defense lawyer in present day LA. He’s a partner in a small law firm – he minds the office while his partner goes to court. He’s an old-fashioned guy. He wears big round glasses and ill-fitting clothes. He rides the bus to an office full of foolscap and post-it notes. He works under the watchful gaze of pictures of Angela Davis and Bayard Rustin. He sacrificed marriage, a social life and material possessions, in exchange for devoting his life to civil rights and equality under the law. That is until his law partner of 30 years has a heart attack. Suddenly Roman finds himself jobless, friendless and nearly homeless.

A slick corporate colleague of his boss named George (Colin Farrell) offers him a low-level job at his firm. He refuses. But when he can’t find paying work, is mocked at a meeting of young activists, and is attacked by a mugger on the way home, he is faced with a tough decision: stay true to his ideals or sell out and enjoy the profits? Only Maya (Carmen Ejogo) – a woman he meets at an NGO – still believes in him. He ends up making an ethically dubious decision, and has to deal with the consequences.

Roman J Israel, Esq. is billed as a thriller – and there are a few tense moments – but it’s basically a character study of a man forced to re-examine his values in a changing world. Denzel Washington is great as Roman – he really gets into the part, portraying him as an oddball but a sympathetic and believable one. The story is very simple, but it’s the details surrounding this fascinating character that keeps you interested.

The Shape of Water

Dir: Guillermo del Toro

It’s Baltimore in 1962. Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is an elegant cleaning woman at a top secret government lab. She loves hard boiled eggs and bathtubs and lives above a movie theatre. She is mute, but communicates with her two friends using sign language. There’s Zelda (Octavia Spence) a talkative woman who translates and covers for her at work; and Giles (Richard Jenkins) a lonely illustrator in his 60s who lives with his cats in the apartment next door.

Elisa lives a routine life, until something strange shows up in a glass tank! Like The Creature from the Black Lagoon, he’s part human, part fish. Elisa is scared but intrigued. She offers him hard boiled eggs which he scarfs down. Gradually she teaches him to communicate through sign language, and exposes him to music, art and human emotions. Could this be love? If only life were so simple. The creature arrived with Strickland (Michael Shannon) the agent in charge of the project. He’s a racist misogynist who takes sadistic pleasure in torturing the creature with a cattle prod. He plans to kill him and take him apart to study. And lurking in the shadows at the lab is a soviet spy who observes everything – including Elisa communicating with the creature. Can their love survive?

The Shape of Water is an amazing movie, modelled on classic Hollywood films. I’ve seen it twice now, and it didn’t drag for a moment. It’s funny, romantic, surprising, violent, and exciting. The music, the art direction, the singing and dancing, the dream sequences, the surreal sex scenes, the Cold War/cloak-and-dagger feel…. this movie has just about everything. Sally Hawkins is an unusual romantic lead, but she’s perfect as Elisa. Shannon is a hateable — but understandable — villain. Spence and Jenkins as, respectively, her comic and melancholy sidekick, are both spot on.

This is a wonderful movie: I recommend it.

Roman J. Israel, Esquire is now playing. Wonder Wheel and The Shape of Water 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.

At a Crossroad. Films reviewed: The Seventh Fire, Cafe Society, Phantom Boy

Posted in 1930s, Animation, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, First Nations, France, Hollywood, Kids, Movies by CulturalMining.com on July 29, 2016

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

Your life may seem to follow a straight path, but at some point we all face a crossroads. This week I’m looking at movies about points of change. There’s a man in Minnesota heading to prison, a boy from the Bronx heading to Hollywood, and a flying boy with cancer heading toward the stars.

SeventhFireThe Seventh Fire

Dir: Jack Pettibone-Riccobono

Rob is an Anishnaabe man in his 30s who lives near Pine Point. It’s a small town on a reserve in rural Minnesota. He’s spending his last week as a free man, before he is sent back to prison. He turned himself in. He is giving up a thriving business with lots of eager customers. He makes a dry pink powder, adding things like laxatives to his meth to add a more dramatic finish, he says.11217577_1605152963073483_2635420771054583365_o

It’s a life of bingo games and gang tats, burning sofas and leach traps. House parties turn to coke fests and fistfights. But, Pine Point is his home. Now he has to leave it pay for his past and live with his legacy – and what it did to his community.

This film follows three people: Rob, a young man looking to leave the state, and a young pregnant woman, as they decide where to take their lives. Their voices, on- and off-screen, narrate the story. This verite documentary shows a bleak — if realistic – slice of life on an impoverished reserve (and in a prison). But it’s visualized amidst striking scenic beauty, along with occasional whimsy and hope.

wasp2015_day_05-0081.CR2Café Society

Wri/Dir: Woody Allen

It’s the 1930s, the Great Depression. Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is nebbishy kid who lives with his parents in the Bronx. He has two older brothers. One is a communist intellectual, the other, Ben (Corey Stoll) is a gangster. Bobby heads west to find his own fortune. He shows up at his uncle’s office. Phil (Steve Carell) is a Hollywood bigwig, a shaker and mover. An agent to the stars, wasp2015_day_40-0442.CR2he is seen with his wife at all the best pool parties and cocktail lounges in town. Bobby is pasty and pale, dressed in a woolen suit amidst suntanned beauties — a real greenhorn. He gets to meet socialites by the dozen, including Rad Taylor (Parker Posey) who promises to show him the highlife if he ever goes back to NY. But when Bobby asks his uncle for an actual job, Phil balks. He says there aren’t any. Instead he gets his secretary, Vonnie, to show Bobby around.

wasp2015_day_38-0177.CR2Vonnie (Kristin Stewart) is a charming, plainspoken woman from Nebraska. She doesn’t mince words. When Bobby senses some mutual attraction, Vonnie nips it in the bud. I have a boyfriend, she says. Little does Bobby know, her boyfriend is his Uncle Phil – and Vonnie is his mistress. Which one will she choose? Young Bobby or established (but married) Phil?

Years later, Bobby finds great success in Manhattan. He hosts a popular nightclub – that’s the café society of the title – that his gangster brother snatched from a competitor. Bobby hobnobs with the in crowd, but he still seems lonely. wasp2015_day_39-0199.CR2Has he made the right decisions in his life?

Woody Allen narrates Café Society as a bittersweet look back to the 1930s, loaded with period costumes and music. Even so, it felt like a mishmash more than a movie. In only 90 minutes, it goes off on side plots and tangents about crime and family differences, high society and black jazz clubs, NY and LA. There’s even a painfully laborious scene about Bobby’s misadventures with a Hollywood prostitute – but why? Is it even from the same movie? What does it have to do with the love of Vonnie and Bobby?

Jesse Eisenberg and Christen Stewart also co-starred in last year’s American Ultra, (a stoner-comedy/action-thriller) but don’t have nearly the chemistry as they had in that one. Eisenberg is excellent as a surrogate Woody Allen, he has the accent and hesitation down pat, while Kristen seems honest and likeable as Vonnie. While Cafe Society does have a good finish, it’s clearly not one of his best.

phantomboy_04Phantom Boy

Dir: Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol

Leo lives in New York with his parents and little sister. He’s a gawky kid in a baseball cap and a smiley-face shirt who is crazy about mysteries, especially detective stories. He’s in hospital now, undergoing chemotherapy. But he has a secret power: while he sleeps his phantom self can leave his body and float through walls, high in the sky, all around the city.

Detective Tanner is a great cop, singlehandedly stopping criminals, solving crimes and saving lives. He meets Mary Delaney, a prize-winning investigative journalist, when he stops two men robbing a grocery store phantomboy_01they’re both shopping at. But his captain regards him as a pain in the ass — too much paperwork. So he gets assigned to a crime-free zone, patrolling the docks.

Meanwhile, an ingenious master criminal is terrorizing the city. He looks like a Picasso painting… but from his cubist period. His face is a patchwork of bright colours. He plunges the city into darkness, until he’s thwarted by Detective Tanner who spots him on the docks. But he escapes capture and Tanner ends up in hospital with a broken leg. While unconscious he encounters Leo, or Phantom Boy. Phantom Leo is only visible to injured or dying people while they are dreaming.

phantomboy_03But somehow, the detective remembers his dream and recognizes Leo when he’s awake. But he can’t leave the hospital with his broken leg. Leo says he can help him catch the criminal. Here’s how: when Leo is semi-conscious his phantom self can float around the city, while the corporeal Leo, though asleep, can murmur to the cop what he sees. And Mary the journalist can investigate it all on foot.

But can they beat the master criminal, or will he kill them all.

This is a terrific animated kids movie. I saw this one last year – the original French version – last year and I loved it. Beautiful, classic animation, simple lines, elegant design. The one opening today is the English dubbed version, also great, but sounds a bit cornier to my English speaking ear. In any case, it still brought tears to my eyes. Wonderful music, great story, beautifully done.

The Seventh Fire, Café Society, and Phantom Boy 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

Summer in Sicily. Films reviewed: The Fiances, Seduced and Abandoned, Mafioso, PLUS Irrational Man

Posted in 1960s, Clash of Cultures, College, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Drama, Italy, Neorealism, Romance by CulturalMining.com on July 24, 2015

BgOEWJ_195_image_1_o3_8634060_1432140720Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Sicily is a part of Italy, but separate from it. It’s that huge island in the Mediterranean, influenced at times by Greece, Rome, Spain, or as an independent kingdom. This gives it a rich culture, dialect and customs that leaves most outsiders baffled. The island went through a slow economic downturn, but Italy’s postwar industrial boom eventually affected Sicily as well. Thousands of continentals were sent down to work there for the first time.

TIFF Cinematheque is running a series now called Summer in Italy, with many of the films set in Sicily. This week, I’m looking at three 1960s films about life on the island; and a contemporary American drama set on a campus in Rhode Island.

105d2bce69c2c4e128deaf78a84e82e5The Fiances (I Fidanzati, 1963)

Dir: Ermanno Olmi

A working class couple in northern Italy meet once a week at a formal dance hall. Giovanni and Liliana (Carlo Cabrini, Anna Canzi) are passionate lovers but their relationship is put on hold when he is sent by his factory to work in Sicily. Carlo feels lost and rootless in the very different world. But he’s also intrigued by their bizarre festivals, especially one where strangers can meet in the town square, their faces hidden by masks. Liliana El1Q5N_195_image_3_o3_8634118_1432140524meanwhile, feels abandoned and alone and wonders whether they are still together. Telephone calls are short and perfunctory, but can their love letters rekindle what they had?

The Fiances is a beautiful and deceptively simple black and white movie. It combines neorealism — documentary-style footage of Sicily with its beaches and dusty roads — with an experimental style. Past and present scenes are cut and pasted without explanation so it’s a bit hard at first to understand, but it looks amazingly contemporary in its form.

El1XNK_Seduced2_o3_8636418_1432140796Seduced and Abandoned (Sedotta e abbandonata, 1964)

Dir: Pietro Germi

Don Vincenzo (Saro Urzi) rules his family home with an iron fist. Honour is paramount, and a loss of face could ruin a family’s reputation. So he reads every letter sent to his many daughters, just in case there is something lusty in them. He even checks underneath the postage stamps! Life is communal: multiple-generations all live under the same roof, so there’s a total lack of privacy. But they all manage to communicate using hidden notes and listening to sounds through pipes and vents. Peppino, a student (Aldo Puglisi) is welcomed as almost a family member since he is engaged to the clueless Matilde. But one evening, everything changes when he RgkK20_Seduced3_LEAD_o3_8636472_1432140806sneaks a kiss behind a curtain with the younger and prettier Agnese (Stefania Sandrelli). Sex follows and Agnese is in love. But Peppino, realizing what he’s done, stops coming by – he says has to study for exams. Agnese is mortified. And Peppino hypocritically says he wants nothing to do with a “despoiled woman” – even though he’s the only one who’s slept with her!

Eventually Don Vincenzo puts two and two together. He banishes Agnese to her room and decides that Peppino must marry his daughter… or die! Soon enough the police, lawyers, judges, a toothless aristocrat, a priest and the unruly mob on the street are all a part of this dispute. Will Peppino marry Agnese? Will Agnese agree even to see him again? And can Don Vincenzo rescue his family’s reputation?

This is a very funny comedy looking at virginity, family, honour and hypocrisy played out in a traditional Sicilian style.

O7LX7R_hd_021bw_LEAD_o3_8634669_1432140667Mafioso (Mafiosi, 1962)

Dir: Alberto Lattuada

Nino (Alberto Sordi) is a manager at an ultra-modern car factory in Milan. He is known for his punctuality and exactness. With a nuclear family — his wife Marta (Norma Bengell) and their two little girls — he seems to be a true northerner. But he’s a Sicilian at heart. After decades of work he finally gets a chance to visit his hometown so his wife and kids can meet his parents.Alberto Sordi (R.) in Mafioso. Photo courtesy Rialto Pictures

And as a favour to his boss – an Italian- American from New Jersey — he agrees to carry an important package to Don Vincenzo (another Don Vincenzo!) in his hometown. Once there, the family shares meals, goes to the beach and meets old friends. And while the in-laws are busy adjusting to the clash of cultures, the naïve Nino doesn’t realize he’s about to face a different problem. As a teenager, before he moved north, he worked as an errand boy for Don Vincenzo (the “mafioso” of the title). And now he’s calling in a favour. How much can a man’s life change in a 12 day visit back home? This is an excellent dark comedy exposing the sinister presence of organized crime in Sicilian life.

f9529958-a5d1-4b6a-be73-9e0bc77dc846Irrational Man

Dir: Woody Allen

Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a new philosophy prof at a college in Rhode Island. He specializes in existentialism, frequently dropping quotes by Kierkegard, Nietsche and Heideggar. It’s his first term there, but his reputation precedes him. His tales of derring-do and personal loss – concerning his best friend who was killed by a land mine, and his wife – give him an almost mythical status. He’s an existential nihilist, always ready for an impromptu round of Russian roulette. He goes by what his guts tell him. And by “guts” he means his prominent potbelly that he frequently rubs when WASP_DAY_05-0137.CR2pondering questions of morality and ethics.

Women seem to find him romantic and attractive. Rita (Parker Posey) is a sexy and sultry chemistry prof. The fact that she’s married doesn’t even slow her down – she wants to bed him. Eventually she hopes to ditch her husband altogether and move somewhere romantic with Abe – like Spain. Then there’s Jill (Emma Stone). She’s an undergrad in a committed relationship. Her boyfriend is nice, but wasp_day_27-0147.CR2a bit dull. She wants to spend time with Abe, but she keeps their relationship platonic. They both know it’s against the rules for students and profs to sleep together.

Unfortunately, Abe is depressed and brooding, his life at a standstill. Despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, he’s useless in bed. This isn’t help by the fact he’s an alcoholic, constantly swigging bourbon from a pocket flask. But one day, at a local diner with Jill overhear a conversation. A divorced woman at the next booth is in tears because she is about to lose custody over her kid. Why? It’s all because of the machinations of a horrible judge.

Something clicks in Abe’s brain: he makes a decision. He will murder a stranger (the judge) for the sake of another stranger (the woman). This will lead to a betterWASP_DAY_13-176.CR2 world, he thinks. Now he has a reason for living, and his sexual drive and exuberance come back. But will he actually commit this “perfect crime”?

I have mixed feelings about this strange movie. On the one hand, its gripping story held my attention to the very (abrupt) end. But it also feels oddly hollow. It’s not a bad movie, just not as deep as it pretends to be.

Irrational Man opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and The Summer in Italy series is on now at TIFF Cinematheque through September 5. 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

Tricksters. Movies Reviewed: Let’s Be Cops, Magic in the Moonlight

Posted in Action, comedy, Cultural Mining, France, Movies, Romantic Comedy, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on August 1, 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.

Is a simple change of clothes enough to convince a casual observer you are someone you’re not? Can a thump on a table at a seance make people think you can talk with the dead?

This week I’m looking at two movies about fraudsters, tricksters, and those who want to expose them.

There’s an action/comedy about two ordinary guys in LA who disguise themselves as cops; and a comedy about a magician in the Cote d’Azur who wants to unveil a false psychic.

lets be cops affiche 1545916_864025440291520_7986492045948420855_nLet’s Be Cops
Dir: Luke Greenfield

Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson (from New Girl with Zooey Deschanel) play best buds and roommates living in LA. They like karaoke and nightclubs but they get snubbed by women, disrespected by tough gangster types, and made to stand in long line-ups. They went to the same college, joined the same frat, and left Ohio with big ambitions. But O’Malley’s (Johnson) pro football career tanked before it started. Now he’s a kids’ football coach.

Damon’s character is doing a bit better – he’s following his passion: video game design. He puts together an elaborate pitch to his work team about his latest project, a police-action-type game. But they trash it before they even play with it. “You need zombies” they tell him. He goes home with his tail between his legs, lets be cops, wayans, johnson 10275539_890798457614218_681345999746128683_ocarrying the pair of police uniforms he had planned to use in his pitch.

But he finds a good use for them after all. The two of them wear the uniforms to a costume party that night. And, to their amazement, on their way home, they are mistaken for the real thing. This being LA, immediately a parade of beautiful women ogle them and then smother them with hugs and kisses, because, well, they’re cops.

They also get the respect they miss in their real lives. Strangers listen to them and do what they say. They can walk to the front of the line of any nightclub. And, at the diner they frequent, the cute waitress (Nina Dobrev) suddenly says she likes “Chang” (that’s the name on Damon’s police uniform, and the one he goes by for most of the movie). Their scam starts to escalate. Damon wants to call it quits – it’s totally against the law to impersonate a cop. But O’Malley doesn’t see it that way – he takes it all very seriously. He gets hold of a police car, and starts studying official codes and techniques on-line. Soon enough, they’re behaving like real cops.

Lets be Cops 10543517_886078598086204_5874267812085220254_oThey go doubly undercover – now they’re civilians disguised as police disguised as civilians. They become in involved with real police work, alongside local police (Rob Riggle) who take their outfits at face value. Will their plans fall apart when they face real danger, and organized crime? And will Chang’s budding love affair fall apart if his girlfriend ever finds out he’s not a cop?

I thought this movie was a lot of fun. It started as a one-joke comedy – Let’s be Cops, but it gets carried through quite nicely, turning into a good action flick along the way. Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. are really funny (except for the offensive Chinese accent) keeping their characters believable without overly mugging to the camera. I liked this movie.

Magic in the Moonlight
Wri/Dir: Woody Allen

Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie Photo by Jack English © 2014 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics 99d6670f-43c4-439a-8115-c5f4401e534cIt’s the late 1920’s (before the Great Depression). Stanley (Colin Firth) is a professional magician, touring continental Europe. He performs in a riot of chinoiserie under the stage name Wei-ling Soo. He makes elephants disappear and saws women in half. He’s also a rude and snobby egotist. So sure is he of his expertise, that he will gladly debunk any mystic he encounters. So he gladly takes up on a friend’s offer of a vacation in the south of France. Once there, he promises to expose a young psychic operating out of a villa owned by millionaire American industrialists.

But he is surprised to meet the adorable Sophie (Emma Stone), a plain-spoken and pretty young woman from Wisconsin. She doesn’t seem like a charlatan; just a simple girl who falls into momentary fogs… and comes back with uncanny visions. Even Stanley is surprised by how much she knows about him.

He still vows to expose her. But during a séance he is shocked to see what appears to be _DSF0054.RAFreal magic: a floating candle with no strings attached. How does she do it? he wonders. His beliefs are further called into question when they visit his maiden aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) at her villa in Provence.

Meanwhile, Sophie is being wooed, relentlessly, by the heir to a fortune. Brice (Hamish Linklater) plays the ukulele and croons off key to Sophie, telling her if she marries him she’ll live in luxury. He is young, handsome and loaded. The much older Stanley is already engaged to a upper-class, educated Englishwoman. And yet, despite their adversarial stance – of a psychic and a magician sworn to expose her tricks — there seems to be an attraction growing between Stanley and Sophie. And when they are caught in a rainstorm on a country road, they share an intimate DSCF9804.RAFconversation by moonlight. But can it last? And will it stand up to scrutiny?

Magic in Moonlight is just delightful. It’s the first of a long stream of annoying movies Woody Allen made in Europe that actually works. Well-written, perfectly executed, great acting, beautiful scenery and period costumes, nice music… And Colin Firth and Emma Stone have great chemistry. It’s not a deep movie with any subtle subtext, but it is a very cute romantic comedy, in the best sense of the word.

Magic in the Moonlight starts today, and Let’s Be Cops opens in Toronto on August 13th. Check your local listings. Also look out for An Honest Liar, a wonderful documentary about another magician who exposes fake psychics. It’s playing at the HotDocs theatre in a week. And Toronto’s Palestinian Film Festival has an outdoor screening and party in Christie Pits on August 8th. Go to TPFF.ca for details.

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

Interview: Daniel Garber talks to Monica Nappo about her new films Kryptonite and To Rome With Love

Posted in 1970s, Acting, comedy, Cultural Mining, Italy, Movies, UK by CulturalMining.com on July 5, 2012

Toronto’s recent Italian Contemporary Film Festival showed a number of notable films including its opening night feature, Ivan Cotroneo’s Kryptonite!, and its closing film, Woody Allen’s To Rome, with Love.

But only one person appears in both of those films — noted Naples-born, London-based Italian film and theatrical actress Monica Nappo. I spoke with her by telephone in Toronto about working with two very different directors, the parts she plays in both movies, her acting style, her influences, her background as a stand up comic… and her experience with butoh!

July 6 2012. July Getaways. Movies Reviewed: To Make a Farm, To Rome with Love

Posted in Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Italy, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on July 5, 2012

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, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

When the days turn as swelteringly hot as they’ve been the past few days, you have to get somewhere cool. And what place is better than a movie theatre? So in the spirit of getaways, this week I’m talking about a Canadian documentary about urban and suburbanites heading back to the land; and an American comedy about tourists escaping to a nostalgic view of a mythical Europe.

To Make a Farm
Dir: Steve Suderman

A lot of people are feeling alienated and unfulfilled by life in the suburbs. There’s no there there. So a bunch of them from Ontario and Manitoba, after attending organic farms to learn the trade, set off on their own or in pairs to make a go of it in the countryside. Wes decides to build himself a place from scratch, look for a source of water and start growing stuff. Jeff and Leslie want to grow vegetables for subscribers who buy shares in their plot of land. Tarah branches out into animal-rearing.

“The food in a supermarket isnt vibrant, It’s uniform but it’s not gorgeous…” says one of the back-to-the-land farmers, reveling in the colourful mounds of just washed produce.

The farmers meet with varying degrees of success over the course of the year the film was shot, but they really seem to love it. Born into suburban homes they finally feel they’re actually at home, something they created and tended to.

They plow the fields, herd ducks, chickes and sheep, without sheepdogs or giant shepherd’s staffs; they really get into the whole thing. Of course, they’re funded by people who want the organic ir fresh-grown food but don’t have time t0 make it themselves.

Not everything works out right – they’re afflicted with late growth, potato blight, sick birds, flooding… but none of this seems to bother them – it’s live and learn. In To Make a Farm you get to see what it’s like to go back to the land.

There are some amazing scenes, like Tarah who is, how can I put it, in love with the pigs on her farm. I mean physically (though not sexually, of course) in love with them. Which makes you wonder what’s going to happen when they turn them into bacon…

It’s a slow paced but beautifully shot movie, so you almost feel you’re there, but without the 4 am wake-ups.

To Rome with Love
Dir: Woody Allen

To Rome With Love follows four separate storylines about how American concepts of success or fame — in movies, music, or financial world – are played out daily in Rome.

Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) is an unsuccessful and underpaid office worker who lives a dull life with his wife (Monica Nappo) and kids. But for unknown reasons he suddenly finds himself a celebrity with rabid paparazzi chasing him and observing the minute details of his life. He trades the water cooler for the red carpet and finds he’s suddenly considered attractive to beautiful young women. Can he survive his taste of La Dolce Vita?

Meanwhile, a retired American music exec (Woody Allen) and his wife fly off to Rome to meet the parents of their daughter’s new Italian boyfriend – who met her on the Spanish Steps. But Dad is soon entranced when he hears his daughter’s prospective father in law singing opera in the shower. Can he make the undertaker into an Italian Susan Boyle?

And a successful American architect (Alec Baldwin) thinking back to his student days in Rome 30 years earlier, runs into a budding architect (Jesse Eisenberg) living just as he remembers it. As an older and wiser man, he feels compelled to try to rewrite history and help his younger version avoid the mistakes he’d made – an ill-founded infatuation with a superficial actress (Ellen Page).

And finally, a naïve, young couple travelling from a small town to Rome to make connections with his relatives and set up his career, fall into trouble. She stumbles onto a movie set and falls into the arms of a star; while he is caught with his pants down in the arms of a voluptuous prostitute (Penelope Cruz) by his relatives and is forced to carry on the charade that she’s actually his new bride. Will they emerge unscathed from their screwball comic mix-ups?

Although this comedy’s cute and enjoyable, there’s something strange and unsatisfying about it. First, the four stories never interact – they merely cut from one story to the next then back again – some seemingly taking a few hours, others a week or two. I was expecting to see a clever story that somehow tied the four stories together, even tangentially, but was sadly disappointed. The Rome he shows is supposed to be the Rome of today – but where are all the West Africans, the Ethiopians, the Tunisians, the Albanians…? This version of Rome looks like a time warp to me.

But most disappointing of all, was, despite the big-name American and Italian cast and a few genuinely funny scenes, it just like a remake of a second-rate TV show from the 50’s or 60’s – without an original image or an up-to-date topic to be found amongst them.

To Rome, With Love, and To Make a Farm, both open this weekend in Toronto; Toronto After Dark is showing some eerie found-footage films next Wednesday, TAAFI, Toronto’s animated arts festival international, and the First Peoples cinema series – films about first nations, inuit and aboriginal peoples around the world — are both playing right now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, with podcasts and complete reviews available on my web site CulturalMining. com.

%d bloggers like this: