Oscar Redux. Movies reviewed: Girlhood, Duke of Burgundy, Elephant Song

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, Elephants, Experimental Film, France, Gangs, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on February 27, 2015
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Do you have the post-Oscar blues? Tired of the same-old, same-old? We’ve got Boyhood, but what about Girlhood? There’s Birdman, but how about an Elephant Song? And how about 50 Shades of Gray… with an all-female cast? This week I’m looking at three new movies, that provide a twist to some you’re more familiar with. I have a coming of age movie from France, an erotic art-house flick from the UK and a psychological drama from Canada.

a8b59ceb4619ab826971f3dcde96647bElephant Song
Dir: Charles Binamé

It’s a Canadian mental hospital in the 1960s. Michael (Xavier Dolan) a patient there is summoned to a therapy session. but his regular doctor isn’t there — he’s missing. In his place is a new face, a certain Dr Green (Bruce Greenwood). He’s read the files and listened to the reel to reel tapes. Now he’s there to set things straight, and has no time for Elephant Song/Melennypsychological games. But games are exactly what Michael loves.

Dr Green is a greenhorn in that office, but Michael knows every nook and cranny. He decides to take the doctor (and the movie’s audience) on a grand tour of his own life, but on his own Elephant Song/Melennyterms. And just outside the office door, always listening, is Miss Peterson, a nurse (Catherine Keener). He reveals his hidden past – he says he’s the son of a famous opera singer who toured the world as a child. Even as he uncovers hidden treasures around the office, which fit together like the missing pieces from a jigsaw puzzle. These include a stuffed animal, a box of treats, and some hidden photographs – that may be related to the doctor’s disappearance.Elephant Song/Melenny

Dr Green is convinced everything Michael says is a lie. He thinks Michael has alterior motives — possibly an escape plan to escape the high security facility. But what about the doctor’s real reason for this question/answer session? And how does Nurse Peterson fit into this puzzle?

Elephant Song is not bad at all. It’s a genuine psychological drama, a chess game between two equal players — sort of like the movie Sleuth, but shot with a soft focus lens. The acting is credible. But the whole film has a slightly clunky, wooden feel to it. It’s like a stage play still in previews that hasn’t yet found its rhythm.

WnmKlv_girlhood_03_o3_8550274_1424455177Girlhood (Bande de Filles)
Wri/Dir: Céline Sciamma

Marieme (Karidja Touré) is a 15-year-old Parisian schoolgirl. She’s shy, neat and conscientious, making sure her younger sisters are fed and put to bed… and careful not to antagonize her abusive older brother. She likes school, and is on the girls’ tackle football team. She keeps her long braids tied back and wears American Apparel jeans and hoodies. She just wants to live a normal life. But everything changes when her guidance counsellor says she’s being channeled to the vocational stream. But why? She wants her bac, she wants a chance at a better life, not cleaning RgwKrK_girlhood_02_MAIN_o3_8550228_1424455174offices like her mom.

It’s like her life is over. Mortified, she runs out of the building, but is called over by some tough girls cutting class outside the school. Lady, Adiatou and Fily (Assa Sylla, Lindsey Karamoh, Marietou Touré) are not like her. They use lots of makeup, have their hair ironed straight, dress in leather jackets, and carry switch blades. They’re a gang of three and want a fourth member to complete their crew. But she’s not like them… is she?

662xyV_girlhood_01_o3_8550183_1424455173Soon enough she’s shaking down girls for cash, going on trips into the city, away from the desolate banlieus. She goes by the name Vic now, short for Victoire. And they get into fist fights with rival girl gangs. The losers are publicly shamed by getting their clothes pulled off in from of a crowd holding up their cameras. The four friends’ rules? Stand up for yourself, don’t let boys push you around, and only do what you want to do, not what others expect of you. But how much of a future does this gang have? Will she fall into organized crime? Drugs or the sex trade?

This is a great coming-of-age story, told from the viewpoint of a young black Parisian woman living in the suburban public highrises. It’s a slice of life drama, not one with easily solved problems. But the cast – all first time actors — is incredible, and the story touching and realistic.

5309faf2-5d03-4414-981b-7e53495d63acThe Duke of Burgundy
Wri/Dir: Peter Strickland

Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is a single woman who lives on an estate somewhere in Europe, surrounded by fields and trees. She has auburn hair, long eyelashes and a severe demeanor. She’s a lepidopterist, and her mansion is filled with items from her collection: thousands of butterflies and moths – including the Duke of Burgundy – all carefully pinned and mounted 81446793-1628-423e-b85d-9d11a95dfbacin glass-covered wooden cases. She’s a perfectionist. Each day she spends her time drawing precise diagrams on white charts and typing her observations using a manual Underwood typewriter. And every so often she ventures outside on her bicycle to give lectures to row after row of smart looking women in smart dresses.

f05dea49-f6b6-4dab-b557-6ff715419284Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) works for her as a maid. She’s late for work and a bit confused about her duties, but Cynthia doesn’t cut her any slack. She scolds her, and warns her to do what she’s told… or suffer the consequences!

But she’s given strange tasks for a cleaning woman, made to crawl around on her hands and knees, while scrubbing the floor. When she asks for a toilet break, Cynthia cruely says no, not until I say you can. Meanwhile she’s polishing Cynthia’s knee-high black leather boots, kneeling on the floor massaging her feet or washing her 5c01d1ab-d84c-4354-ab08-77064e39e976boss’s undergarments… by hand. Though Evelyn always wears a meek and baffled look on her face, she doesn’t seem bothered by her boss’s eccentricities. She almost seems to want to be punished.

What’s going on? And why is Cynthia guzzling glass after glass of water for some unkown future punishment? Soon we discover its all a fantasy — complete with wigs and costumes — a role-playing exercise between two lovers: dominant Cynthia and submissive Evelyn.

And these scenes, down to the tiniest detail are repeated day after day, as almost an exercise in absurdity. These episodes are alternated with love-making in the bedroom at night, discretely shot reflected in convex mirrors, faded triple exposures or shot through tiny peepholes in closed doors.

Is this a parody of 70s soft core porn? Or an homage to it? I’m not sure which, but a director like Peter Strickland would never include footage just for titillation. He’s somewhere between Quentin Tarantino and Peter Greenaway, with a distinctive 70s style. Duke of Burgundy is beautiful to watch and listen to… but it’s clearly not for everyone.

Elephant Song, the Duke of Burgandy, and Girlhood all open today in Toronto – check your local listings. And this weekend lookout for  the Canadian Screen Awards, our own Oscars.

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

Mommies and Dollies. Films Reviewed: Mommy, Annabelle

Posted in 1960s, Academy Awards, Acting, Canada, Cultural Mining, Family, Horror, Mental Illness, Movies, Quebec by CulturalMining.com on October 3, 2014

ncr_not_criminally_responsible_1Hi, 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.

This week is Mental Health Awareness week – John Kastner’s NFB documentary NCR: Not Criminally Responsible (listen to my interview with John here) is playing at the Bloor Cinema, and Rendezvous the-maze-poster-courtesy-of-nick-youngwith Madness and the Psychiatry Department at U of T is showing William Kurelek’s: the Maze by filmmakers Nick and Zack Young (listen to my interview with Zack Young here), at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

This week, though, I’m talking about innocent-sounding movies about mommies and pretty dollies. But they’re not as innocent as you might think. One’s a Quebec drama about a mother trying to control her ADHD son; the other’s an American chiller about a mother trying to save her baby from an evil doll.

64634-MOMMY_Poster_27x39_EnglishMommy
Dir: Xavier Dolan

Diane (Anne Dorval) is enjoying her life as a single woman in suburban Montreal. Her son’s away at boarding school, she has a steady job, and she’s flirting with that rich lawyer who lives around the corner. She dresses for flash-effect, with lots of shiny and pink. But calamity strikes. Her son Steve is kicked out of school after a violent incident and she loses her job.

Steve-o (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is a foul-mouthed teenager with ADHD. He wears his blond hair in a retro style, with a neck chain, T-shirt and jeans. He’s hyper-sexualized with pale skin and rubbery features. The kind of guy who looks as likely to punch you in the face as to kiss you. He’s a foul-mouthed, socially misfit, sexually charged and violent. But you can see where he 62558-000060890018 MOMMY_AOPilon1-CreditPhoto_Shayne Laverdièregets it from – Diane is as gutter-friendly as he is. It’s up to her to get him to settle down and pass his tests. Trouble is he’s virtually uncontrollable, and she’s not big on parenting skills, so their lessons end up in violent fights.

In walks the psychologically-damaged ex-school teacher who lives next door. Kyla (Suzanne Clement) is shy, withdrawn and speaks with a severe stammer due to something bad in her past. Her husband’s a dull computer programmer, her daughter equally reserved. But she soon finds her place as the 65106-ADorval1 MOMMY_ADorval1_CreditPhoto_Shayne Laverdièrethird element in Diane and Steve’s dysfunctional family. She becomes his teacher and dog trainer. But can the fragile bonds holding them together last?

Mommy is a reworking of Xavier Dolan’s simple, perfect, and highly personal first film J’ai Tue Ma Mere, made when he was still a teenager. Four films later, Mommy is far more sophisticated and complex in plot, script and character. Dorval replays the mother, but in a performance that is more three-dimensional, less camp. Dolan was sympathetic playing a bullied gay teen, but, with Pillon as the teenager, we get a kid who is as much misunderstood victim as bully. I get the feeling Dolan the director (necessarily) restrains Dolan the actor, but when he’s just behind the camera, he can let his characters loose. Steve is free to forge forth, like a river bursting a dam. This movie has dynamic, shocking and hilarious performances from all three actors. It’s a great film.

Mommy is Canada’s choice for Best Foreign Language movie at the Oscars, and I hope it wins — it really deserves it.

Annabelle-movie-posterAnnabelle
Dir: John R. Leonetti

It’s the late 1960s in central California. Mia and John (Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton) are a perfect-looking, church-going blond couple. New home, new car, he’s finishing medical school, she’s expecting their baby really soon. Mia collects antique dolls, so John buys her one to complete her set. And everything is just perfect, until…

…their lives are shockingly disrupted by an unexpected visit by Annabelle, their next door neighbours’ daughter. Anabelle ran away from home and joined a Charles Manson-style satanic cult. After that horrific incident, Mia says she tumblr_naxuq2kn0J1tgg8wlo1_500no longer feels safe there with the new baby. And the huge doll she used to like so much is creeping her out. Strange things start to happen around it, involving a sewing machine, a rocking chair, and a package of jiffy pop. So they move out of the suburbs and into a downtown apartment.

Hubby is away most of the time, so he’s oblivious but accommodating. He thinks his wife’s gone whack from post-partum depression, but Mia knows there’s evil tumblr_nckmr45Wtb1tgg8wlo1_1280around her. And it wants her baby. She sees scary things everywhere: strange noises… the sign of the bull… a girl in a white nightgown… a rocking chair… an old-fashioned elevator… and that damned doll that keeps coming back! It seems to turn everything bad, somehow. So she turns for advice to kindly Father Perez (Tony Amendola) and Evelyn, a mysterious bookstore owner, with a penchant for the occult (Alfre Woodard). But are they all too late? And is Mia strong enough to overcome the evil forces that have invaded her once-happy life?tumblr_ncs2p2jlcH1tgg8wlo1_1280

I saw this movie because it’s a prequel to The Conjuring, a movie that scared my pants off last year. So how does it copmpare? Not as scary, the acting not as compelling, the plot has lots of holes in it, and the script is weak with some unintentionally awful lines. It has few visual effects (though the sound effects are fantastic, one of the scariest things about the movie). And the story is a bit too Jesus-y for my taste. But is Annabelle scary? You bet it is.

Annabel Wallis is good as Mia — picture Madmen, but from Betty Draper’s point-of-view – beautiful but suspicious, lonely, paranoid and petulant. Annabelle is not perfect, but it works as a good and scary chiller-thriller — perfect for a late-night date.

sam-coleman-and-jennifer-grausman-1-art-and-craft-interview-daniel-garber-c2a9-jeff-harrisMommy and Annabelle both open today in Toronto – check your local listings. Also opening is the wonderful documentary Art and Craft about an eccentric art forger who gives his paintings away. (You can listen to my interview with filmmakers Sam Coleman and Jennifer Grausman here).

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

Stars as Commodities. Film Reviewed: The Congress PLUS TIFF14 Whiplash, Mommy, Heartbeat

Posted in Animation, Canada, Cultural Mining, LGBT, Mental Illness, Movies, Pop Art, Quebec, Queer, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on August 28, 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.

Are movies and movie stars and their images commodities? Things that can be bought sold and traded, just like stocks and bond, like bitcoins and pork belly futures? In some ways, they are. International film festivals — like TIFF, which opens in Toronto in less than a week — are partly there to put films on the market. This week I’m going to talk about an unusual new film about movie stars as commodities, and, first, three must-see films coming to TIFF.

One movie that jumped out at me and slapped me in the face is

282f0eaa028d2851cd1689724e8a76deWhiplash
Dir: Damien Chazelle

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a 19-year-old drummer just starting at a prestigious music conservatory who is spotted by Fletcher a music teacher (JK Simmonds). He’s allowed to audition for their award- winning jazz band, and feels everything is turning out great. But he soon discovers that Fletcher is a cruel and twisted perfectionist, who brings his players up to the top, and then has them crash down into the dirt again. He treats them worse than the toughest marine sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. The acting, the passion and the relentless tension in this movie is just incredible… you gotta see it. Don’t want to say Oscar bells are already ringing, but… Whiplash definitely deserves one.

434c654375241fb0e9419d0e7af58f03Mommy

(Dir) Xavier Dolan

Another great movie is Quebecois director Xavier Dolan’s latest, Mommy. It’s a reworking of his first film J’ai Tue Ma Mere, but takes it to a new level. Steve-o (Antoine Olivier-Pilon) is a working-class, foul-mouthed teenager with ADHD. He’s kicked out of boarding school and sent home to his single mom Diane (Anne Dorval) who is as gutter-friendly, violent and sexually charged as her boy. It’s up to Kyla, the psychologically-damaged ex-school teacher next door, to try to fix things and keep Steve from being locked up. Dynamic, shocking and hilarious performances from all three actors, Mommy is not to be missed.

Also catch a gentle, quirky, musical story called

ad8a5b8174106f7e916e8a3c98a356afHeartbeat
Dir: Andrea Dorfman

Justine (Tanya Davis) is a creative soul trapped in a boring cubicle job in Halifax. Her best friend is in babyland, her artist-boyfriend-with-benefits Ben has dumped her, and she dresses in her late grandma’s wardrobe. But when she starts jamming with Ruby (Stephanie Clattenburg) she met in a music store window, things begin tot look up. Justine starts to Esty-fy her wardrobe and arts-and-crafts her love life. Heartbeat starts slowly but toasts like a marshmallow on a stick, ending strangely shaped, but crispy, gooey, warm and delicious.

Look out for Heartbeat, Whiplash and Mommy at TIFF.
Robin Wright Congress Affiche
The Congress
Dir: Ari Forman

Robin Wright (Robin Wright) is an over-the-hill movie star who just ekes out a living. She lives beside desert airport with her jaded hollywood daughter Sarah and her innocent but ill son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McFee). She needs money to keep him safe. One day her agent (Harveyt Keitel) makes her an offer she can’t refuse.

A studio wants to buy her name, face, image, voice… basically everything, to turn her back  into a superstar. And theyre giving her a huge contract and a starring role in countless big budget action movies. The catch? She’s not allowed to act or appear in public ever again. Huh?

You see, they want to scan her to make a CGI image that will take her place in all 1233023_407824875984836_624904373_ofuture roles. A star who never ages, never gets into scandals, and never has tantrums on-set. It’s all digital.

Will she do it? 20 years in the future, they up the ante.

They invite her to give a speech at a mysterious Congress, where she — like everyone else — exists only as an animated image of herself. Sort of a Second Life only more so. With the help of Dylan (Jon Hamm), a handsome cartoon character 1048616_380428355391155_743806434_owho created her image himself, she tries to escape from this strange psychedelic cartoon version of her world, and maybe save her now-adult son.

This is a super-bizarre movie, filled with glorious animation modeled on Max Fleischer-type characters from the 1920s and 30s mixed with 1960s psychedelia. At parts I’m totally into it, but other parts have dismally awful lines. Its flawed, not perfect, but worth seeing if your into mind-stretching and super-weird fantasy epics.

The Congress opens today, check your local listings, and Heartbeat, Mommy, and Whiplash are all playing at TIFF which starts up next Thursday. Details at tiff.net.

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

TIFF 13: Sex + Violence. Movies Reviewed: Tom on the Farm, R100, Moebius

Posted in Canada, Cross-dressing, Depression, Disguise, Drama, Japan, Korea, Psychological Thriller, Quebec, Sex, SMBD, Torture, Uncategorized, Vengeance, violence by CulturalMining.com on September 12, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.comand 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.

Hollywood knows: sex and violence = bums in seats. But they also know that you have to keep it fresh and new. So this week I’m talking about three movies that, in very different ways, explore topics of sex, violence and the power dynamic between the two.

I’m looking at three movies playing at TIFF, one from Quebec, one from Japan, and one from Korea. One’s about a city boy who falls prey to an domineering farmer; one’s a businessman who falls prey to a gang of dominatrices; and one’s a family who fall prey to their own morass of escalating horribleness.

tomatthefarm_01Tom at the Farm

Dir: Xavier Dolan

When Tom (Xavier Dolan) drives out to the country to read a eulogy for his young lover, Guy, he thinks he’ll be gone after the funeral. He agrees to spend the night at his mother’s house, even sleeping in his bedroom. But, in the middle of the night, he is attacked by a mysterious man. It’s Frank (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), the homophobic older brother of his late lover. He threatens Tom if he tells Agathe, his mother (Lise Roy), that Guy was gay, or that he was his lover. Tom is forced to pretend Guy had a girlfriend, thus erasing his own status. But it doesn’t stop there.

Frank is a domineering, abusive bully. He’s also much bigger and stronger than the diminutive Tom. Soon, Tom is put to work milking cows, dressed in Guy’s old clothes. Frank dismantles his car, and chases him down when he tries to run away. He’s trapped. Tom finds himself falling into the role of Frank’s submissive younger brother, regularly punched, kicked and threatened with death. Sexually frustrated Frank channels all blame onto Tom. And Tom has a mental shift where he finds himself sexually attracted to Frank and accepts any physical and mental abuse as his own fault.

What is Frank’s problem anyway? Why doesn’t he have any friends? What’s his hidden secret? And will Tom ever come to his senses and get the hell out of there?

This is Xavier Dolan’s 4th film, and the first one based on someone else’s play. This one’s a weird, captive-of-a-redneck horror story, with lots of pyscho-sexual overtones. I like it.  It’s not perfect: Tom’s sudden transformation from city boy to hick seems too abrupt; and if he really feels threatened, why doesn’t he just call 911? But Frank and Tom’s abusive relationship – the core of the movie — seems disturbingly real. And Dolan’s careful filmmaking and precise editing leaves you with a chilling feeling at the end. It reverberates in the windmills of your mind long after it’s over.

r100_03R100

Dir: Matsumoto Hitoshi

Katayama (Omori Nao) is a shy milquetoast guy who sells mattresses for a living. His wife’s in a coma, so he takes care if his six year old son. He wants nothing more than to listen to Beethoven’s 9thSymphony. But, to escape from his daily stresses, he turns to leather- clad dominatrix for temporary relief. But his life changes dramatically when he signs an unbreakable one- year contract. He will experience the ultimate thrill – never knowing when or where a dominatrix will appear to shock and humiliate him. In his workplace bathroom, on the street, in front if his kid.

Soon enough, it has taken over his life, with hitherto unknown sexual kinks inflicted on him. There’s the Queen of Voices who terrifies Takayama by perfectly imitating his comatose wife’s voice at inopportune moments. And even a queen of spit, who orchestrates elaborate performances punctuated by huge amounts of saliva, shot at r100_05him from across the room.

Can he escape from all this craziness? And does he really want to? You can tell when he reaches a new level of submission and humiliation when his face is distorted and animated ripples of contentedness flow outward from his mind.

Meanwhile, every so often, the movie switches to the dull people producing this film, sort of a meta-movie-subplot, trying to make a movie with the ultimate restricted rating. R14, R20, refers to the age when you can view a film. This movie, they say is so dirty you have to be R100 to watch it.

I dunno. It has its funny parts – very funny parts — but it gets more and more extreme in its absurdity, as the movie goes on, until it really make no coherent sense whatsoever. It’s just a shaggy dog story, with a ridiculous — but still funny —  ending.

Omori Nao is excellent as the nerdy anti-hero. Director Matsumoto Hitoshi is a dry, stand-up comic, part of the Japanese duo Downtown. If you’re into cheap-and-silly Japanese BDSM/leather/comedy, then this is the movie for you. Otherwise…

moebius_02Moebius

Dir: Kim Ki-duk

A father, a mother and their teenage son live in South Korea. Dad has an affair with a woman who has a small convenience store down the street. Mom (and son) find out. Mom goes ballistic, and grabs a dagger she keeps hidden beneath a heavy Buddha’s head. Dad fights her off, so she breaks into her son’s room instead, and cuts off his penis. When he tries to get it back, she swallows it, and runs away. (That all happens in the first few minutes of this movie.)

Husband and son are forced to live without a Mom, and without one penis. Dad researches the internet for bizarre ways to help his son achieve orgasm, including rubbing a a pumice rock on your foot until it bleeds. Will dad cut off his own penis to give to his son for a penis transplant? Or will the son chop one off a random moebius_01stranger? Who deserves Dad’s ex-girlfriend? Father, son or both? And will they learn to accept being stabbed in the back… literally? (I really do mean literally.)

OK, this is one of the weirdest movies around. It’s filled with rape, incest, violence, alterna-sex, repeated dismemberment (of a particular member – that one), and more. It’s told as a sort of a pantomime: no one speaks throughout the whole film. But its set up like a fable or a storybook, with each scene passing swiftly to the next. It deals with revenge, retribution, repentance but in a very simplistic way. Also interesting is the mother and lover are played by the same actress wearing different wigs and makeup. It’s not funny or cute, just non-stop, extremely repetitive violence. But, I have to say, it was really well made for what it is.

But what is it? Apparently, Kim Kiduk the director, felt his scripts had been stolen by his interns. I’m guessing here, but maybe the whole movie was his thumb in the nose to the powers-that-be in the Korean film industry. Who knows? Am I glad I saw it? I guess I am – it is unique and unusual (although, structurally, it’s like all his movies with a simple, symmetrical, yin-and-yang plot).

I saw R100 at TIFF, immediately – I mean immediately, five minutes later — followed by Moebius, a double- feature like no other. See these two if you dare. You will never forget them.

Tom at the Farm, R100, and Moebius are all playing at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for tickets.

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

September 21, 2012. TIFF Round-up. Movies Reviewed: Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence, Anyways + TIFF12 awards

Posted in Cultural Mining, Dance, Drama, Football, Mental Illness, Movies, Quebec, Queer, Trans, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on October 6, 2012

Photographs by Jeff Harris

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.
Xavier Dolan TIFF12 awards Photo by Jeff Harris

TIFF is over for the year. I feel like a kid who was left, unsupervised at an all-you-can-eat buffet with no one to tell me to stop stuffing my face. I ended up seeing 53 TIFF movies (if including the 17 press screenings I saw in the weeks before the festival started), and liking about 2/3 of them. I ran on adrenaline — not food, sleep, or exercise — for the length of it, turning my eyes red, my body to mush, and my brain to putty. Luckily I kept good notes.

The winners were announced on Sunday, with the Blackberry People’s Choice going to Silver Linings Playbook, the Midnight Madness award to the very funny Seven Psychopaths, the NETPAC award to Sion Sono’s excellent Land of Hope, a look at the Japanese nuclear meltdown, and the City of Toronto award to Laurence, Anyways. The Canadian first feature prize was split between Jason Buxton’s excellent Blackbird, for its authenticity and social conscience, and Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral for its sophisticated visuals and plot. So this week, I’ll take a look at two of these winners, both of which deal with odd couples and mental illness.

Silver Linings Playbook

Dir: David O. Russell

When Pat Jr (Bradley Cooper), a schoolteacher from suburban Philadelphia, is let out of a me­ntal hospital he vows to make his life better. He’ll get back in shape, re-connect with his estranged wife, Nikki, and stop all the negativity in his mind. He’s going to look at the silver linings in his life, not the dark clouds. But the dark clouds keep coming back. He has moved back in with his mom and dad, and Pat Sr. (Robert de Niro) is an abusive, obsessive-compulsive bookie. Pat Sr wants his whole family to base their lives on his obscure patterns and lucky shirts so he can bring the Eagles football team to NFL victory.

Meanwhile, Pat Jr will do anything to get a letter to Nikki, and he finds out the way to do that, when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), an extremely intelligent and beautiful young woman who stalks him during his morning jogs.

She’s the only one who can see through his BS without being afraid of his odd behaviour. Tiffany understands what he’s going through – since she’s had her own episodes and sexual compulsions. So if Pat agrees to be her dancing partner in a contest, she’ll help him get his wife back. But is that what she really wants?

Silver Linings Playbook is a fun, crowd-pleaser that presents mental illness as a palatable, fascinating, and easy-to-understand difficulty that people can overcome with hard work, the right attitude, and a bit if help from friends and family. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are a nice couple, and De Niro is finally acting again, not just mugging for the camera. I have absolutely no interest in Philadelphia’s football scene, or Dancing With the Stars, but the fact that the story depended on those two subjects didn’t make it ay less interesting.

Laurence, Anyways

Dir: Xavier Dolan

Laurence Alia (French actor Melville Poupaud) is a slim prof with a black buzzcut living in Montreal in the late 80’s. He’s in love with his fiery, beautiful and passionate girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clement). She’s gaining fame as an assistant director while he’s fighting off the adoring looks of the pretty girls in his lectures on Celine. And the two of them are trying for a baby. But one day, in the middle of having sex he confesses he’s about to die. The old Laurence of the past three decades was all a façade which he is now throwing away to make way for the real Laurence: a woman! Fred is shocked and their relationship teeters on the brink.

As Laurence embarks on her transition, she loses her job, and since she can’t easily “pass” in public, she faces physical danger and derision from strangers. When Lawrence is bashed in a bar she is given refuge by an unusual family – the Five Roses. He awakens in a palatial building filled with the actual tabernacles, chalices, hostiesand ciboires that Fred curses about in one of her rants — a sort of a cathedral of transsexuality, a Quebecois Notre Dame des Fleurs.

Fred, meanwhile, is left to deal with her bipolar episodes on her own, as Laurence is more busy with her own changes than that of her lover. As the decade passes, Fred retreats to Trois Rivieres with a handsome but bland husband, while Laurence, with a new blond girlfriend, publishes her poems in Europe. Will the troubles that tore them apart bring them back together?

Laurence, Anyways is a long, complicated melodrama of mismatched lovers immersed in  Quebec’s cultural life even while facing their personal trials alone and together over the course of a decade.

Poupaud and Clement are great as the lovers, and Monia Chokri (as Fred’s acerbic and offensive sister Stephanie) steals every scene she’s in. This is not a perfect movie: it’s longer than it needs to be, the story has some confusing omissions which leave me unsatisfied, and some of the montages — which look like 80’s music videos — while a welcome break, are a bit jarring. (They feel like the director is intruding into his characters’ story).

This is how I felt watching it. But an amazing thing happens: in the very last, short scene, it all ties together with a masterful ending. This is Dolan’s most challenging and sophisticated  movie so far.

They’re both good, enjoyable movies, touching similar topics.

Laurence, Anyways is less commercial than Silver Linings, the mentally ill characters are less delightful, but it feels more passionate and heartfelt, and less calculated and Oscar-hungry.

Silver Linings Playbook and Lawrence Anyways both won major awards at TIFF. Laurence opens this weekend and Playbook will be released later this fall. And don’t miss the fantastic documentary opening soon at the Bloor, Detropia – a look at the collapse and possible revival of the rapidly shrinking city of Detroit.

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

Toronto Film Festival Photo Gallery 2012

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Jeff Harris, Movies, Photo Gallery, TIFF, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on September 17, 2012

Comments Off on Toronto Film Festival Photo Gallery 2012

Short reviews of movies now playing: J’ai Tue Ma Mere, Polytechnique, Police: Adjective, Revanche

Posted in Austria, Canada, Communism, Crime, Drama, Feminism, Movies, Quebec, Romania, TIFF, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on January 25, 2010

There are some good movies now playing that you should try to catch. TIFF Cinematheque Ontario, in Toronto, is running a series of good movies this coming week, including the top 10 Canadian movies made last year. Not surprisingly some of the most interesting ones are from Quebec.


J’ai Tue Ma Mere (in French)
Dir Xavier Dolan

If you have the chance, try to catch J’ai Tue ma Mere, (I Killed My Mother) a coming of age comic-drama about a gay teenager and his troubles with his gauche and difficult, but loving mother. Hubert (Xavier Dolan) doesn’t get along with his mother. He’s smart and well-read, but he isn’t doing well in school. He’d rather spend time with his boyfriend Antonin than in his own home. Hubert and his mother, played, perfectly by Anne Dorval, each try to win one another’s affections but things always devolve into shouting fights between mother and son, until he is forced to move out.

It’s a low-budget movie, but really well done, with believable characters, funny lines, interesting story, good acting. And, amazingly, this semi-auto-biographical film was directed and written by the same 19-year-old (Xavier Dolan) who plays the main character. And it’s a good movie, not just because it was directed by a kid.

Polytechnique (In French)
Dir: Denis Villeneuve

Another Quebec film, beautifully done, but not as successful in my eyes, was Polytechnique, (directed by Denis Villeneuve) a fictionalized version of the 1989 massacre of 14 women at Ecole Polytechnique, the engineering school at the University of Montreal. It’s very similar to Elephant, Gus Van Sant’s great movie Elephant (from 2003), about the killings at Columbine, but Polytechnique was shot in black and white. It is an upsetting and moving period drama of that horrible massacre, in which a crazed gunman shot as many women as he could because they were “feminists”. Which brings me to my beef with this movie.

Like so many other movies, this one feels like it just can’t bare to tell a story through the point of view of a woman. The director gives us the killer’s private thoughts (Maxim Gaudette) as well as some of the victims (in other words, all of the women – but especially Valerie played by Karine Vannasse) but then feels obliged to create a heroic male counterpart to the villain (Sebastien Huberdeaux). So we get something that feels a bit like the old silent movies where a Dudley Do-right rides in to try to rescue the Damsel in Distress from the bad guy. Since it’s a made-up dramatization, would it have been so difficult to make the fictional, tragic hero a woman instead of a man? Especially in a movie about a massacre of women killed for daring to be the equals of men.

Anyway, as I said it’s beautifully shot movie, black and white, set in a wintery Montreal. It’s visually great, and (except for my problem with the film itself) is a good telling of this tragedy.

Also opening very soon are two European movies, one from Romania and one from Austria, both good.


Police: Adjective (in Romanian)
Dir: Corneliu Porumboiu

This movie is about a cop, Cristi, living in a modern, small city in present-day Romania, where people have the trappings of western Europe and modernity, but with the pedantic, rule obsessed absurdity of the communist Ceausescu still strong.

Cristi is asked to launch a sting operation on a high school kid who smokes pot with his friends. Cristi doesn’t think it’s fair so refuses to do so, but is pressured by his boss. His tension at the absurdity of the issue continues in his apartment as he tries to understand the reasoning behind it. His wife/girlfriend, a school teacher, doesn’t help with her own obsession with an awful Eurovision-type song that she tries to analyse (in one of the funniest scenes in the movie.)

This is a very slow-paced “art” film, but I enjoyed it’s off-beat sensibility in its realistic-seeming (at times, maybe, too realistic) depiction of daily life in Romania. Don’t see it expecting another 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (a drama about a Ceausescu-era woman trying to get an illegal abortion). It doesn’t have the narrative drive and tension of that great movie. But it is still very good.


Revanche (in German)
Dir: Gotz Spielmann

Alex a strong ex-con and his beautiful Ukrainian girlfriend Tamara both work at a brothel, Irina in a bedroom, Alex moving boxes in the basement. They sneak away for athletic love-making in his apartment as she tries to teach him Ukrainian. They want to escape the sleazy life of Vienna’s demi-monde and head somewhere warm away from her increasingly sketchy pimp. But they need money,

Alex comes up with a foolproof plan to hold up a bank not far from his estranged grandfather’s country homestead. But things don’t go as planned when a wimpy local cop happens upon the robbery. Alex is forced to hide out at his grandfather’s home. Tension grows as he contemplates revenge – hence the title – and chops away, violently, at a pile of firewood…

This is a great movie that I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival over two years ago but still remember very clearly. When a film resonates for so long it’s a good sign that it’s worth seeing. This is an excellent, moving film, beautifully shot. Alex (Johannes Krisch) and his grandfather (Johannes Thanheiser) are especially good.

– Daniel Garber, January 13, 2009

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