More coming of age movies. Films reviewed: Kajillionaire, Summerland, Nadia, Butterfly

Posted in Canada, comedy, Coming of Age, Crime, drugs, Family, Japan, LGBT, Quebec, Road Movie, Sports by CulturalMining.com on September 25, 2020

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

TIFF is over but Toronto’s fall film festival Season has just begun, but with a difference this year. Many of the festivals, here and abroad, that were cancelled in the spring are now popping up in the fall. Look out for Inside Out, The Cannes film fest, SXSW, Toronto’s Japanese film fest, Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Planet in Focus, Rendezvous with Madness, ReelAsian, ImagineNative, Toronto Palestine Film Fest – which is on right now – and many more.

This week, though, I’m looking at three new indie coming-of-age movies. There’s an Olympic athlete who swims the butterfly; a gay virgin playing catfish with a guy he meets online; and a young woman born under the net of a family of grifters.

Kajillionaire

Wri/Dir: Miranda July

Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) is a young woman born into a family of scammers. With her mom and dad (Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins) they plan low-level cons and split the proceeds three ways. Most of it goes to pay for food and rent: they live in an office located directly beneath a bubble factory that extrudes pink foam into their home twice a day. They’re always working; no time wasted on frivolities like holidays, presents or birthday dinners. No phoney-baloney words like “dear” or “hon”. Even her name is a scam: they called her Old Dolio after an elderly homeless guy who won a lottery, in the hope that he would leave her all his money when he died. (He didn’t.)

So Old Dolio grows up emotionally stunted and starved for affection. Now she’s in her early twenties living a loveless and strangely sheltered existence. She’s nervous and introverted. But everything changes when Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) – a voluptuous young woman her parents meet on a plane – says she wants to join their gang and pull off a big con. She’s Dolio’s exact opposite: self-confident, sexy and talkative. Someone she can spend time with. But is she a friend? A rival? A mark? Or something else entirely?

Kajillionaire is a weird and wonderful dark comedy, laden with odd, quirky characters. Evan Rachel Wood is fantastically deadpan as the awkward, stilted Dolio. It’s told in a series of linked tableaus about a strange family of socially inept, but inoffensive, criminals. It’s also a coming-of-age drama about a 26-year-old woman experiencing life away from her domineering parents for the first first time. Great film.

Summerland

Dir: Lankyboy

Bray (Chris Ball) is a naïve gay virgin in love. He met a guy named Shawn on an online, Christian dating site, and now they’re going to meet in person. The planned meeting is at a music festival called Summerland in a southwestern desert. Bray wants to go there with his best friend Oliver (Rory J Saper) – a young guy from London in America on a student visa. They share a house together. Oliver’s dating a beautiful young woman named Stacy (Maddie Phillips) who lives in a mansion but wants to leave it and move in with Oliver. She can’t stand her stepfather. There are three problems: Oliver’s visa has expired so he has to move back to England (but Stacy doesn’t know). Bray has been texting Shawn using Stacy’s selfies. Shawn thinks he’s been communicating with a girl, not a gay guy named Bray. And the car they plan to use has broken down. So Tracy decides to join their road trip to Summerland using her stepdad’s RV.

They set off on a journey down the west coast, passing through Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. Stacy wants to listen to audio books on an ancient Sony Walkman to improve her mind. But Oliver has other plans. He has a briefcase full of strange, new psychedelic drugs for them to sample on their way. Oliver and Stacy are constantly having noisy sex in the RV, while Bray is holding out for his one true love. Will they make it to Summerland? Will Oliver tell Stacy he’s moving back to England? Will Bray ever meet Shawn? And if he does will he admit he’s the one who’s been catfishing him – pretending he’s a woman online – all this time?

Summerland is a simple, endearing road comedy. It’s full of interesting characters they meet on the way, like Oliver’s honey-badger drug dealer, an existential new age philosopher, and a gay black wizard named Khephra who enters Bray’s brain.

Summerland is a funny movie, easy to watch.

Nadia, Butterfly

Wri/Dir: Pascale Plante (Fake Tattoos)

It’s the 2020 Summer Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan. Nadia (Katerine Savard) is an Olympic swimmer from Québec. She’s been training since the age of ten and now, in her early twenties, is one of the fastest butterfly swimmers in the world. She lives a highly regimented life: home schooling, intense training, and a restricted diet. She’s massaged, prodded, tested and poked all day long – her body is a communal effort. But this will be her last competition – she’s retiring from competitive swimming to go back to school. And she leaves on a high note, winning a bronze medal in medley with the other three on her team: bilingual Karen (back stroke), newby Jess (breast), and her best friend Marie Pierre (Ariane Mainville) on freestyle. The two have been training together for a decade; Marie — she’s in her early thirties — is like a big sister to Nadia. And now that their races – and drug tests – are finished, she vows to take Nadia on a blow-out weekend inside the Olympic Village and out and about on the streets of Tokyo. Nadia’s been around the world, but only seen its swimming pools. It’s her first chance to explore on her own, to buy junk food from vending machines, get drunk… and maybe have sex. She meets a Lebanese fencer at a dance party and takes MDMA for the first time. But will she really leave competitive sports in her prime?

Nadia, Butterfly is a coming-of-age drama about a young athlete on the verge of leaving the only life she’s ever known. It covers a three-day period as she struggles over her decision. The film is immersed in the world of competitive sports, both the public side – its anthems, mascots and medals – and its hidden life. The film is saturated with the four colours of flags and uniforms: red, aqua, black and white. It’s a realistic, behind-the-scenes look at the Olympics, from the athletes’ perspectives. While I’m not really an Olympic fan (the movie was shot in Tokyo last summer) it still kept me constantly interested, if not deeply moved. But it’s the great performances of Savard and Mainville (as Nadia and Marie-Pierre) that really make the movie work.

Nadia, Butterfly is now playing in Toronto; check your local listings. Kajillionaire and Summerland open today.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Barry Stevens about his new documentary The World’s Biggest Family on CBC Docs POV

Posted in Canada, Corruption, documentary, Family, Secrets, UK by CulturalMining.com on September 25, 2020

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

Did you ever consider you might share ancestry with someone you’ve never met? Now, what if that person that shares your ancestry turns out to be more than just one? Imagine doing a DNA test and finding out you have over 600 half-siblings spread across the Atlantic, and you’re a part of the biggest family in the world?

The World’s Biggest Family is the name of a new documentary. It tells the story of the offspring of an anonymous and unusually prolific sperm donor, and the secrets and lies that surround artificial insemination. The movie’s subject and its director is multiple-award-winning filmmaker Barry Stevens who has worked on films like The Diary of Evelyn Lau, Offspring, Souvenir of Canada and History TV’s War Story.

The World’s Biggest Family premiers on Oct 1 on CBC Docs POV and CBC Gem.

I spoke with Barry Stevens in Toronto via ZOOM.

Questioning Authority. Films reviewed: Beans, Quo Vadis Aïda?, Shorta, New Order, Night of the Kings at #TIFF20!

Posted in Africa, Bosnia, Canada, Denmark, Indigenous, Mexico, Police, Protest, Quebec, Uncategorized, War by CulturalMining.com on September 18, 2020

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

The Toronto International Film Festival has come to a close, and to tell you the truth – considering it was touch and go since the pandemic hit – I’m especiallly impressed by the 50 movies that made it into the festival. There’s a particular appropriateness to the movies they chose, films that capture the current feelings of uncertainty, impending doom, and a general mistrust of authority. So this week I’m, looking at five fantastic TIFF films about the current malaise. And so as not to end on too bleak a note, I’m throwing in a nicer story at the end.

There’s a blockade in Quebec genocide in Bosnia, police violence in Denmark, a class war in Mexico… and story-telling in a prison in Cote’d’Ivoire.

Beans

Dir: Tracey Deer

 

It’s 1995. Beans (Kiawentiio) is an innocent 12-year-old girl who lives in suburban Québec with her Dad, her ambitious mom, and her little sister. She’s into stuffed animals and hair ribbons – her biggest worry is getting into a posh private school. But when the town of Oka tries to grab Mohawk burial grounds to expand a golf course, protests erupt. Beans and her family leave their cushy life to join the Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawá:ke community in the increasingly tense stand-off. They are blockaded and local stores refuse to sell them food, and police and military stand by when her family is attacked by racist locals throwing rocks and breaking windows. Beans, meanwhile feels rejected by the local kids as too soft, so she asks April (Paulina Alexis) an older girl to toughen her up. With the crisis raging all around her, Beans starts to change – but is it for the better?

Based on true events, Beans is a marvelous coming-of-age story of a girl learning about heritage, identity and sexuality, as she gradually gains self-confidence in a frightening time.

Quo Vadis, Aïda?

Wri/Dir: Jasmila Žbanic

It’s 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnia.

The three-year Bosnian civil war is coming to an end, and Aida (Jasna Djuričić) a former high school teacher, is worried. Her former students are fighting on all sides. Ratko Mladić’s soldiers have surrounded the town and the locals have fled to a safety zone run by UN Peace Keepers. Aida is now the official translator, a conduit between the locals, the invaders and the ineffectual, Dutch Blue Helmets. Be calm, they promise, there’s nothing to worry about. But she knows they’re not safe at all. It falls on her shoulders to save them, or at least save her husband and two sons. But can Aida save anyone, even herself?

Quo Vadis, Aida? is a fast, tense and deeply moving depiction of the fear, confusion and helplessness of the days leading up to the genocidal Srebrenica Massacre where over eight thousand Bosnians were murdered in cold blood. Though it doesn’t explicitly show the violent acts themselves, it still leaves the viewer drained and shocked by its enormity.

Shorta

Wri/Dir: Frederik Louis Hviid, Anders Ølholm

Tension is mounting in Svalegården, a highrise housing project in Denmark, after police choke a teenager to death. Two cops are called in to keep the peace. Mike Andersen (Jacob Lohmann) is the bad cop – foul-mouthed, corrupt, out of shape and blatantly racist. Jens Høyer (Simon Sears) is the good cop, fit, clean-cut and by the book. They arrest a local teen, Amos (Tarek Zayat) for a minor infraction. Amos was a promising soccer star but has lost hope after being harassed too often by police. But the three of them are forced to work together – or choose sides – when violence erupts leaving them stranded in a dangerous zone, without a car, and no way out. Can Mike and Jens escape, and can Amos get safely home, before something really bad happens?

Shorta is an action/thriller set within a climate of police violence and corruption. Though at first it seems to be full of anti-immigrant stereotypes, it turns expectations on their head in a series of unexpected and shocking plot turns. An intense thriller.

New Order

Wri/Dir: Michel Franco

Marianne (Naian González Norvind) is a woman in a red dress at her own wedding party. They’re waiting for the judge to arrive to start the ceremony, but she’s tied up. Streets are blocked by demonstrators throwing bright green paint at rich people all across Mexico City, though this exclusive neighbourhood remains untouched. Their faithful servant Marta (Mónica Del Carmen) is working hard to make sure everything’s perfect for the wedding. But when Marianne’s family – who are spending lavishly on the wedding – refuse to help a longtime servant pay an emergency medical bill, Marianne is fed up. She says she’ll drive him to the hospital and pay for it herself. So she sets off in a car with Marta’s brother Cristian (Fernando Cuautle). But while she’s away, mayhem breaks loose. Thieves have infiltrated the wedding party and begin killing people. There’s a military coup and the city is under martial law, shooting civilians at random. And when Marianne is “rescued” by soldiers, she is shocked to discover she’s actually their vicim, a captive held for ransom. Can anyone be trusted?

New Order is an extremely violent, dystopian look at class inequality and the deep corruption permeating Mexican society and government. Be warned, this is not an easy movie to watch.

Night of the Kings

Wri/Dir: Philippe Lacôte

It’s a special day in the huge MACA prison in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in west Africa. A red moon is expected to rise that night, and with it a change of prison government. Not the warden or guards but the real leadership within the prison walls. Barbe Noire/Black Beard (Steve Tientcheu) rules them all. But he’s dying and needs to appoint a successor. First a ritual storytelling must take place. He appoints a new arrival (Koné Bakary) a young newbie arrested that day to be Roman, the storyteller. Roman is baffled – why him? He’s dressed in a shining blue shirt, and given a special potion to drink and a wooden box to stand on. He must tell a constant story, one that never ends or he will be killed and the whole prison will collapse into mayhem. So the story begins.

Night of the Kings is a fantastical prison drama that portrays both the amazing people who live there, and the story he tells. People like a beautiful transwoman who’s also a secret assassin, and wise man with a chicken on his shoulder who poses as a half- wit. That’s within MACA.

Then there’s the story Roman tells. He serves as an impromptu griot, passing on an oral history of a slain local gang leader named Zama King and his ancestors stretching way back in time. There are elephants and armies, queens and magical powers, elaborate costumes and hair styles. And as he tells his story, he’s surrounded by a greek chorus who spontaneously sing, dance and pantomime all around him. Night of the Kings is a fantastic drama, and one of the best films at TIFF this year.

Watch out for it.

Night of the Kings, New Order, Shorta, Quo Vadis Aida?, and Beans all screened at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for more information.

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

More dysfunctional families. Films reviewed: Blackbird, The Ties PLUS #TIFF20

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2020

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

The Toronto International Film Festival has begun, but with a twist. It’s #TIFF20 meets COVID19. Gone are celebrities, autograph hounds? Gone. Thousands of volunteers?  Countless parties? Gone, gone, gone. The press corps is cut by 2/3 with feature films chopped from 300 to 50. Indoor movies are few and far between, sparse and spaced, but you can watch the movies at home instead. Normally, I’d have viewed two dozen movies before the festival starts, but this year less than five. This week, I’m reviewing two movies about dysfunctional families, one from Italy and one from the US.

But first I’m talking about TIFF films I haven’t yet seen… bear with me.

#TIFF20: unseen recommendations

Here are a few movies playing at TIFF that caught my eye.

Idris Elba stars in Concrete Cowboy, as a man who rides horses dressed in hat, boots and spurs in North Philadelphia. The film’s about him and his estranged teenaged son who comes to live with him.

Beans (Dir: Tracey Deer) is about the 1990s stand-off between Mohawk communities and the Quebec town of Oka who wanted to expand their golf course onto indigenous land. It’s told through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl named Beans.

Summer of 85 (Dir: Francois Ozon: Frantz, Young and Beautiful, The New Girlfriend) is about a summer love affair on the beaches of Normandy between a young man who almost drowns and the 20 year-old guy who saves him. It’s like Call me By Your Name, but with a sinister undertone.

Quo Vadis, Aïda? is about a journalist trying to save her husband and son in the Bosnian genocide. After seeing Jasmila Žbanic’s first film, the stunning Grbavica 12 years ago, I’m dying to see what she’s up to now.

And finally Night of The Kings about a man in a Cote d’Ivoire prison in Abidjan forced to tell his epic story until the sun rises. Philippe Lacôte’s first film, Run, was brilliant which is why this one looks so good.

These are just a few of the films opening at TIFF.

Blackbird

Dir: Robert Michell

Paul (Sam Neill) and Lily (Susan Sarandon) are a happily married couple. They live in a beautiful wood and glass home, a short stroll to the Pacific ocean. Lily is retired but Paul still practices medicine. They’re getting ready for a big party with family and friends. Her uptight daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet) is coming, along with her nerdy husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) with his requisite bowties, and their teenage son Jonathan (Anson Boon). Her other daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska), excentric and needy might also show up, along with her non-binary partner Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus). And Lily’s best friend Liz who she’s known since childhood. The presents are wrapped, the cake is baked and Lily is wearing her favourite dress. Is it her birthday? Chistmas perhaps? A special anniversary?

No. It’s a deathday party. Lily is terminally ill and this is her goodbye celebration before her assisted suicide the next day. But once the liquor is poured and the joints are lit, the guests loosen up, and family secrets and rivalries are revealed. Will Lily go through with her plan? And will her family and friends accept her decision or try to stop it

Based on a Danish film from 2014, Blackbird is a low-key look at a family’s reaction to an important issuet. It’s slow moving but well-acted, like a traditional drawing room comedy, with a serious subtext. But I’m bothered by Lily’s reasoning. Here’s an example. At one point she breaks a glass and says “When you have to drink chablis from a paper cup, you know it’s time.” Really? She walks unassisted and dresses herself, largely free of pain. To me – if there’s ever a time – this seems way to early. But, like I said, Blackbird is a well-made movie and one that makes you think.

The Ties (Lacci)

Dir: Daniele Luchetti

It’s the 1980s in Naples, Italy. Aldo (Luigi Locascio) is a happily-married, bearded man with two kids, Anna and Sandro. They love the stories he tells them in his “radio voice”. He works as a literary critic and announcer at RAI radio – Italy’s CBC — at their headquarters in Rome, where he keeps an apartment. He’s a bit of a celebrity; “an ordinary man who says clever things”. Vanda (Alba Rohrbacher – she starred in this) his wife, has curly blonde hair. She’s a part-time school teacher and takes care of their kids on her own while he’s in Rome on weekdays. All is going great, until one day he confesses he slept with another woman. What he doesn’t tell her, but she suspects, is he’s having a long term affair in Rome with Lidia (Laura Morante) his beautiful co-announcer on their radio show. She kicks him out for the night, but it turns into a long-term separation, punctuated with arguments and fights – always initiated by Vanda. Aldo just passively takes it all in and does nothing but never taking responsibility for his actions. This leaves the kids floundering for attention from their dad, which they rarely get. Can this relationship ever be saved?

The Ties – the title refers to the family ties he has in Naples and the no-strings relationship he desires in rome – is a beautiful crafted look at a fractured family. It jumps back and forth, sometimes second by second, from the 80s to the present day, where Aldo and Vanda are elderly and the kids middle aged, still holding grudges against their Mom and Dad. I love Daniele Luchetti’s work – I always catch his films at TIFF – which is why I made sure to watch this one. He crafts great silent scenes, like behind the glass in a recording booth – and the costumes, set, cinematography are very pretty and cozy. But – like Aldo – the film is more passive than passionate, observing instead of delving deep into his mind. It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed The Ties.

Blackbird opens next week on VOD across Canada, The Ties is screening at TIFF as Industry Selects and premiered at Venice. Go to tiff.net for tickets and info on festival films.

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

Daniel Garber talks with co-directors Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan about The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2020

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

Corporations were once thought of as benign entities that employed workers, produced goods, sold them in the market place and paid taxes on their profits. But certain things have changed. CEOs now earn salaries a thousand times higher than some full-time employees.

Lobbyists pour huge donations to politicians to change the laws in their favour. Environmental catastrophe is green-washed by fossil fuel corporations. Indigenous lands are seized by big agro, mining and oil companies. Pharmaceutical corporations promote opiates which now kill more people than illegal drugs. And they don’t even pay taxes anymore. Meanwhile their power and wealth grows exponentially, eclipsing national governments and international organizations, privatizing public housing, schools, prisons and hospitals. Is there anything we can do to stop the psychopathic behavior of some of these New Corporations?

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel is a new Canadian documentary, a follow-up to the smash hit doc The Corporation from 2003. It combines shocking stats with cool animation, news footage and new interviews with activists and intellectuals, from AOC to Robert Reich and Diane Ravitch – and the corporate CEOs themselves. The film is co-directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Jennifer Abbott and UBC law professor Joel Bakan who wrote the original book. (They both worked on the first film as well.)

I spoke with Jennifer and Joel via ZOOM.

The New Corporation is having its world premier at TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, on Sunday, September 13th at 9 pm.

Daniel Garber talks with director Michelle Latimer about Trickster and The Inconvenient Indian

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2020

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

Photos of Michelle Latimer by Jeff Harris.

Jarrod is a highschool kid in Kitimat BC. He works at a fast-food drive through and does double duty peddling the happy pills he makes in a cabin in the woods. His mom is a party animal who is shacked up with a tattooed pot dealer and his divorced dad’s girlfriend is preggers. He ends up acting the adult in his family. But when he reconnects with his best friend, and a new girl with purple hair moves in across the street, things seem to be looking up. That is until weird things start happening. He’s chased by his doppelganger at a party. A crow seems to talk to him. And a strange man comes to town to tell him he’s his actual father. Are these things real or just drug-induced halucinations? And can that strange man be believed, or is he just a trickster?

Trickster is a new, slow-burn TV drama starting this fall that combines ordinary lives with mystery and magic told within the cloak of indigenaity. It has its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, along with a documentary called The Inconvenient Indian. Inspired by Thomas King’s book, the doc exposes the erasure of history while celebrating a vibrant living culture. Both Trickster and The Inconvenient Indian are directed by the award-winning Michelle Latimer who is also known for documenting the Standing Rock protests at the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016. Michelle splits her time between Toronto and Treaty 9 territory.

The Inconvenient Indian will have its world premier at TIFF on September 12, 2020, with Trickster premiering on September 15.

I spoke with Michelle Latimer in person, in her Toronto home (two metres apart).

Torn from the Headlines. Films reviewed: Feels Good Man, Biohackers, Tenet

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 4, 2020

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

This week I’m looking at three new movies torn from the headlines, dealing with pandemics, the rise of the alt right and international intelligence. There’s a student searching for genetic data, a spy looking for quantum physics clues, and a cartoonist forced to dissect his favourite frog.

Feels Good Man

Dir: Arthur Jones

It’s 2005, in the early days of social networks, and MySpace is king. Matt Furie is an indie cartoonist who draws Boy’s Club, a comic about four slackers (in animal form) in their twenties who share a house. One image he drew goes viral: it’s Pepe the Frog peeing in a toilet while standing up with his pants pulled down, saying, in explanation, “feels good, man”. Somehow it captures the mood of the time. It spreads to 4chan – a non-commercial, anonymous comment board started by a 14-year-old – where it’s adopted as a meme, and repeated endlessly online. Soon Pepe the Frog turns into Sad Pepe, Smug Pepe, Screaming Pepe – his images are everywhere. A decade later though it’s co-opted by the nascent Alt-Right: Pepe with a Donald Trump wig, Pepe on a neo-nazi flag. Meanwhile, Matt Furie, is still just a comicbook artist, not a superstar like his character. And his beloved pepe is toxic. It’s declared an official symbol of hate by ADL (The Anti-Defamation League). What can a small time cartoonist do?

Feels Good Man is a brilliant documentary that follows the rise and fall of an internet meme. It also touches on crypto currencies, Incels, “punch-a-naziRichard Spencer, Hillary Clinton, Fox News… basically everything important from the past 15 years is somehow related to Pepe the Frog. It’s narrated by the people involved – on myspace, 4chan and elsewhere – as well as Furie’s fight to reclaim his character using pro bono lawsuits. (Good luck with that – there are 160 million unique Pepe images floating around online.)

And the film also features beautiful psychedelic, animation of Pepe and his friends – total eye candy. Loved it.

Tenet

Dir: Christopher Nolan

An American special ops soldier (John David Washington) wakes up after taking a poison pill to find out he’s still alive. He was captured by the enemy after trying to stop Chechen terrorists in a Ukraine Opera House. Turns out the pill was a fake, a test to prove his loyalty. And now the CIA sends on a special mission spanning continents. His goal? They don’t say. But it involves seducing the wife (Elizabeth Debicki) of a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) using a forged painting in order to uncover a secret weapon. But first, he and his accomplice (Robert Pattinson) must break into an impregnable tower in Mumbai to uncover information held by an international arms dealer named Priya (Dimple Kapadia). But wait – there’s more. A lab-coated scientist tells him powerful forces of quantan physics are at work: as he movies forward, other people and things are moving backwards through time. While we are shooting bullets they catching the same bullets in their guns, as they progress to the past. And unless he completes his mission the whole world will cease to exist.

Tenet is an action thriller about a Black American 007 with a bit of sci-fi jibber-jabber thrown in to make it more interesting. It’s visually stunning, full of brutalist architecture, stark railway tracks and brilliant birds-eye shots of vast industrial wastelands like an Edward Burtynsky photograph. And the special effects are great too, with airplanes plowing into airport terminals, and ingenious fist fights between someone travelling forward in time and someone going backwards. On the other hand, the story is as pointless as it sexless, the characters are dull and opaque, and – despite claims to the contrary – is very old fashioned in its outlook. Men fight while women scheme. Anglo-American spies are the good guys, the world’s policemen, while Russians are the villains. The script is full of fake profundities – “we live in a twilight world” – the plot follows a formulaic uncovering of clues, although with the time/space continuum to keep you interested.

Is Tenet a good movie? No, not really, but after going seven months without a single big-budget new release, seeing this one in an actual theatre (with physical distancing, of course) left me totally satisfied.

Biohackers

Created by Christian Ditter

Mia Ackerland (Luna Wedler) is a young medical student at German University. She lives with three geeky housemates: Chen-Lu (Jing Xiang), a fast-talking science nerd into gene splicing, Ole (Sebastian Jakob Doppelbauer), a socially inept inventor looking for friends; and Lotta (Caro Cult), a rich student who likes sex, drugs and parties. Mia enrolls in a biology class taught by prize winning Prof Lorenz (Jessica Schwarz) and her T.A. Jasper (Adrian Julius Tillmann). She quickly distinguishes herself, starts dating Jasper, and works her wat into the professor’s elite lab. But when she’s asked to supply a DNA sample she panics. What is Mia hiding? What does she hope to discover? What are the professsor’s motives? And can Mia depend on her bio-hacker roommates to join her mission?

Biohackers is a six-part science-thriller TV show about a young student looking for the truth. There are frequent flashbacks to a young girl and her twin brother who died in hospital as a child, giving clues to Mia’s motivation. It starts with a teaser – a mass pandemic aboard a passenger train where everyone collapses with a strange virus… except Mia. Which makes it especially relevant during he COVID crisis. (And the rivalry between her and the professor is like Glenn Close and Rose Byrnn in the TV show Damages.) Biohackers makes for a great binge-watch during a quarantine.

Tenet is now playing in theatres across Canada, Biohackers is streaming on Netflix, and Feels Good Man opens today on VOD. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com.

 

Do opposites attract? Films reviewed: Tito, Uncle Peckerhead, My Days of Mercy

Posted in Canada, Cannibalism, Class, comedy, Horror, Lesbian, LGBT, Music, Prison, Punk, Romance, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 28, 2020

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

Do opposites attract? This week I’m looking at three new indie movies about odd combinations. There’s an introvert confronting an aggressive frat boy; a law-and-order lawyer vs an activist opposed to capital punishment; and a punk band with a hillbilly roadie… who’s also a cannibal!

Tito

Wri/Dir: Grace Glowicki

Tito (Grace Glowicki) is a young guy who lives alone in an empty wooden house. He’s tall and gangly, dressed in black with heavy brow and sideburns, and straight hair tucked behind his ears. He always carries a red plastic whistle around his neck, to scare way the baddies. And they’re everywhere, banging at the doors, scratching at the windows or just roaring and howling inside his head. He’s very hungry – down to just pickle brine in the fridge – but he’s too scared to go outside.

Everything changes when he wakes up to find a strange man in his kitchen, cooking breakfast. Who is he? John (Ben Petrie) says he’s there to lend a hand and make a friend. Tito is petrified and repulsed by this invasion, but he joins him at the table. John is the yin to Tito’s yang. He’s a frat boy bro who gesticulates with grand gestures and talks and shouts non-stop; while the introverted Tito can barely choke out a syllable. But when he passes Tito a joint, the voices in his head turn to music, and he even lets John take him for a walk. Can Tito emerge from his shell? Can this odd couple become friends? Or will it lead to trouble?

Tito is a stylized and impressionistic character study, a look inside an introvert’s brain. Sort of a cross between acting, modern dance and pantomime. Petrie is great as John, the self-declared “pussy-hound”. He’s loud, manipulative and bursting with barely-controlled aggression. And Glowicki perfectly conveys a young man’s paranoia with a hunched-over walk, pulled inward and cringing at the slightest provocation. Tito isn’t your usual comedy, drama or art house film, but is fascinating and watchable nonetheless.

Uncle Peckerhead

Wri/Dir: Matthew John Lawrence

Judy (Chet Siegel) is a happy-go-lucky musician in her thirties whose dream is finally coming true. Her punk band – called Duh – is going on their first tour! They make a good trio: Mel (Ruby McCollister) on drums is a ginger-haired nihilist, Max (Jeff Riddle) on bass and vocals is a friendly chowderhead, bald and bearded; and Judy – skinny with long black-hair, who plays bass and lead vocals – keeps the group running. She has everything ready – demo tapes, T shirts, a full roster of music, and clubs booked to play it in. There’s only thing missing: money – barely two coins to rub together. They’ve already quit their day jobs and they’re being kicked out of their apartment. But when their van gets repossessed, they’re really in trouble. How can they go on tour without wheels?

Luckily they meet a polite and friendly man with a van (David Littleton) who offers to be their roadie. He’ll drive and do the heavy lifting in exchange for meals and gas money. It’s a deal! And what’s his name? “My dad always called me Peckerhead, but you can call me Peck.” They’re all set… except for one problem. At midnight, Peck changes in strange ways, and a hidden evil beast emerges. And pretty soon they’re leaving a pile of half-eaten mutilated corpses wherever they go.

Uncle Peckerhead is a horror/comedy road movie, about the usual aspects a touring band faces – pretentious musicans, unscrupulous managers, adoring fans – combined with hilarious extreme violence and gore. It starts out quirky and funny, but gradually builds to an over-the-top, blood-drenched finish. Fun music, silly characters, unexpected situations and lots of splashing blood. Siegel is great as Judy and Littleton steals the show as the aw-shucks, cannibal yokel.

My Days of Mercy

Dir: Tali Shalom-Ezer (Princess)

Lucy (Ellen Page) is a woman in her twenties who lives in a small Ohio town with her older sister Martha (Amy Seimetz) and her little brother Ben (Charlie Shotwell). The three of them drive their camper across the country to protest capital punishment in front of prisons where an execution is about to take place. She’s part of a large community of protesters that regularly meet and comfort one other. At one such demo she shares a cigarette with a woman named Mercy (Kate Mara). The two are quite different – Mara is a well-dressed lawyer with neatly cut blond hair from Illinois, while Lucy is working class, in jeans and T-shirt – but something clicks. When the two meet again they become friends, and ther friendship leads to a relationship. Soon they’re meeting in motels, the RV or in Lucy’s home for passionate sex.

But something keeps them apart. Mercy’s father is a cop whose partner was killed. She’s at the demos to support the executions. While Lucy is there because her dad is on death row, blamed for the murder of her mom. She, Martha and Ben have spent the past six years devoting their lives to save him. Can Lucy and Mercy overcome the political and family divisions that keep them on opposing sides? Or is their romance doomed from the start?

My Days of Mercy is a great Romeo and Juliet (or Juliet and Juliet?) romantic drama, tender and moving, and starkly told. Each episode is set outside a different prison, punctuated by a still shot of a dying prisoner’s last meal. Their romance is erotic, the sex scenes tastefully done, though surprisingly vanilla (were Lucy and Mercy both raised by missionaries?) It’s beautifully shot in a realistically rendered working-class home and the insides of actual prisons. Ellen Page and Kate Mara are full of passion and pathos as the star-crossed lovers, their story skillfully told. It’s a real tear-jerker – I cried at least twice – both for the couple and the horrors of executions. I recommend this one.

Tito and Uncle Peckerhead are now playing digitally and VOD and My Days of Mercy starts today.

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

Lost Boys. Films reviewed: Stage Mother, Summerland

Posted in 1940s, Adoption, Canada, comedy, Gay, Lesbian, LGBT, Music, Romance, UK, WWII by CulturalMining.com on August 21, 2020

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

This week I’m looking at two new movies – a comedy and an historical drama. There’s a Texas mom who inherits a San Francisco drag bar from her late son; and a reclusive Englishwoman during WWII dragged out of isolation to care for someone else’s son.

Stage Mother

Dir: Thom Fitzgerald (Cloudburst)

It’s a conservative small town in Texas. Maybelline (Jacki Weaver: Animal Kingdom) is a woman in her 70s who lives with her husband Jeb, a good ol’ boy. She spends most of her time as the choirmaster at a local Baptist church, or sharing gossip with her sister Babette. One day, her quiet life is disrupted by a phone call from San Francisco. Their adult son Ricky is dead. So she hops on a plane to attend the funeral and sort out his affairs. They’ve been estranged for many years but she’s still the next of kin. But when she visits his apartment an angry man named Nathan (Adrian Grenier: Entourage) slams the door in her face. And the funeral service itself is full of salacious double-entendres and drag queens vamping on the church stage. What’s going on?

Luckily, she meets Sienna (Lucy Liu: Kill Bill) a bleach-blonde single mom with a cute little baby who was Ricky’s friend (the baby was named after him) She explains it all to Maybelline: Ricky was not just gay, but also a drag performer who owned a bar in the Castro district called Pandora’s Box. Nathan was his lover, and the club’s manager, but since they weren’t married he’s left high and dry. Hence his anger and bitterness. So she visits the club to see what’s what. It’s a sad, depressing place with few patrons. And the lipsynch act is tired. She decides to turn the business around as a tribute to her late son.

She’s used to dealing with divas and wigs at her Baptist church choir; how different can this be? So she takes the three drag queens – Joan of Arkansas (Alister MacDonald), Cherry (Mya Taylor: she was amazing in Tangerine), and Tequila Mockingbird (Oscar Moreno) under her wing to teach them how to sing for real. Turns out they all have great voices. But each has baggage to sort out. Joan has a drug problem, Cherry is dealing with her transition, and Tequila has been rejected by his family. Meanwhile, Maybelline meets a man in a hotel who is everything her husband Jeb is not – kind, elegant and sophisticated. What should she do? Can she save the bar and turn her own life around? Or will she just give it all up and move back to Texas?

Stage Mother is a musical/comedy about an older woman who finds her new mission in a San Francisco drag bar. It’s a very camp romp, cute but not so funny, and extremely predictable. About a third of the film consists of the traditional drag performances themselves, with all the songs, dances, and lipsynching, as well as the elaborate costumes and makeup, the torch songs and jokes… everything you want if you’re into drag. Australian actress Jacki Weaver makes for a great Texas mom, Lucy Liu is almost unrecognizable as Sienna, and the drag trio – Cherry, Joan and Tequila – are totally believable as performers. Drag is very popular these days, with lots of TV shows devoted to it, so if that’s your thing and you can’t get enough of it, you’ll probably like Stage Mother.

But it didn’t do much for me.

Summerland

Wri/Dir: Jessica Swale

It’s WWII in Kent County, England. German bombs are falling on the big cities, but it’s peaceful in the countryside. Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton: Byzantium; Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters) is a recluse who lives alone in a cliffside house. Locals call her a witch and schoolkids torment her with practical jokes. She’s a writer, not a witch, and earns her living researching folktales and magic from a scientific bias. She’s currently obsessed with Fata Morgana – mirages of ships or castles that sometimes appear over the ocean. She’s been living on her own since a painful breakup in university.

But her solitude is broken when a boy is left at her door. Frank (Lucas Bond) is an evacuee, the child of an unnamed airforce pilot and a government bureaucrat sent to the town to escape the Blitz. He’s a sociable boy who likes playing and asking questions. It’s hate at first sight. She rejects him categorically, but is forced to take care of him for a week, until they find somewhere else to place him. Can Alice and Frank somehow learn to get along?

Summerland is an elegantly constructed and touching film about people forced to live together in extreme times. The main storyline alternates with flashbacks to Alice’s passionate love affair with a woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw: Free State of Jones) that left her with a broken heart. It also looks at Frank’s growing friendship at school with a free-spirited girl (Dixie Egerickx: The Secret Garden) who lives with her grandmother in the town. The backstories of all these characters are gradually revealed, along with a few unexpected, exciting twists. There have been so many movies about life in WWII that references here can be reduced to quick tropes – a toy airplane, a burning building – without seeming clichéd. The acting is good, the characters endearing, and the beautiful scenery and wardrobe make it a pleasure to watch. I cried at least twice over the course of the movie.

So if you’re looking for a romantic historical drama, artfully told, this is one for you.

Summerland and Stage Mother both open today digitally and VOD.

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

Daniel Garber talks with director Warren P. Sonoda and actor/musicians Max and Theo Aoki about Things I Do For Money

Posted in Art, Canada, comedy, Crime, Drama, Japanese Candians, Movies, Music by CulturalMining.com on August 14, 2020

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

Nick and Eli Yaguchi are brothers who play the cello together. They’re working toward a joint audition for the Banff Arts Centre. They live in an industrial neighbourhood in Hamilton. Eli is a naïve highschool nerd who is crushing on a figure-skating girl named Laura. Nick is older, self-confident and chill – he plays in a band and works at a dive bar. As their audition date approaches, Eli finally meets Laura and things are going well, until… they witness a crime and find a satchel of cash that could solve all their problems. But it turns out both Laura’s and Eli’s families have ties to organized crime! Can they pursue their artistic goals without breaking the law or getting killed? And what things will they do for money?

Things I Do For Money is a new Canadian crime-dramedy about family ties and dark secrets, music and art. It stars the real-life cellists Max and Theo Aoki, and is co-written and directed by Warren P. Sonoda. Theo and Max are prize-winning musicians known on stage as VersaCello. They play Max and Eli, and wrote and performed the music that’s used in this film. Warren is a multi-award winner in TV and film, directing episodes of Trailer Park Boys, Murdoch Mysteries and This Hour Has 22 Minutes.

I spoke with Warren, Max and Theo via Zoom.

Things I Do for Money is now playing digitally across Canada.

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