October 28, 2011. Hallowe’en! Films Reviewed: Paranormal Activity 3, Rabies, Anonymous PLUS Guillermo del Toro’s Devil’s Backbone & Cronos, NFB, Face-Off 40th Anniversary re-release, and Stop Concussions!

Posted in Canada, Darkness, Drama, Dreams, Hockey, Horror, Israel, Mexico, Shakespeare, UK, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on October 30, 2011

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

I’m going to dive right with some movies to watch this Hallowe’en weekend ’cause there’s lots to cover.

Now, I know about the weird phenomenon of Holiday Creep (where one day celebrations get stretched into month-and-a-half long marketing seasons) and that hallowe’en has been totally commercialized and stolen from kids so the grown-ups can have a good time, but I’m not complaining. We get to act like idiots, eat poorly, imbibe substances in excess, and disguise our identities. Anonymity rules the day. So get ready to stuff your faces with peanut-free snacks, put on your zombie blood and stripper outfits, and swarm out, en masse, to some hallowe’en movies. Go with someone who can handle a nails-in-the-palm hand squeeze. Because they’re scary. This week I’m talking about a ghost story caught on tape, a horror story in the woods of Israel, and a historical drama about anonymity and disguise. Plus some movie classics.

Paranormal Activity 3

Dir: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Julie, her two kids, and her boyfriend Dennis have moved into a new suburban, California home. Dennis likes video cameras – he works as a wedding photographer, so he’s always in a room editing VHS tapes. But when they try to film a provate sex tape, something scary appears on the footage. And her youngest daughter Kristie Rey’s imaginary friend Toby… might not be imaginary. So Dennis sets up cameras around the house to try to catch some paranormal activity on tape. But he might uncover some stuff he shouldn’t mess with.

This is the third of the Paranormal seres, and it’s pretty scary, with little surprises, shocks, and lots of red herrings. The idea is, the two little girls will grow up to be the young women of the first two pictures. And that this whole movie is just excerpts of found footage from a box of old 1988 VHS tapes. So it jumps around, sometimes even in mid sentence, to the next tape, or fast forwards in the middle of scene, like we’re watching the private videos but someone else holds the remote control. Lots of things are never explained they’re just there and they’re scary. But, strangely enough, it’s completely understandable, even though it’s all over the place, like watching youtube. It’s the building tension that’s great, and wondering what’s happening just off camera that you can hear but not see. The scenes shot by a camera taped to a slow moving oscillating fan, that pans left and right, left and right, are really good and scary. If you want to have nightmares on Hallowe’en, this is the one to see.

Rabies

Wri/Dir: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado

Two young men in tennis shorts clothes and two women in track suit tops and white skirts drive down some out-of-the-way road as they look for tennis courts. They meet up with a guy named Ofer – after hitting him with their SUV — who is trying to rescue his sister who is trapped in a hole – possibly an animal trap –underground. Meanwhile, a middle- aged forest ranger is out inspecting the reserve when his German Shepard disappears. And a truly sinister killer in a green jumpsuit is doing various bad things.

So the three guys go out to search for the missing girl and the women stay behind to wait for the cops. But one of the cops is a skeeze-bag molester who insists on a full-body search, which puts the girls in a- uncomfortable position. From there, most of the characters end up splitting-up and and gradually either getting killed or doing the killing in various gruesome ways, involving things like bear traps, explosions, knives and rocks. Is it the woods, or the blood, or is it something in the air? I’m not saying. But they all seem driven to extreme behaviour. In between, everyone communicates using static-y walkie-takies, adding to the surreal feel.

The killings are mainly off-camera, but they spare no expense on blood splashes and missing body parts. Afterwards you get to see people so mushed-up they look like extras in a zombie movie… but no zombies here.

Rabies is a comic mystery/horror/ slasher movie, apparently the first of its kind ever made in Israel. Like most horror movies, it’s partly for the thrill and the shock and the tension, and partly just to show attractive, scantily dressed actors running into trouble on screen. It’s more gross than it is scary – but it’s shot in the daytime which gives it a good, creepy and eerie tone. Its great, all-star cast includes Henry David (Restoration) as Ofer, Ania Bukstein (Secrets) as the tough-assed tennis player Adi, and Ran Danker (Eyes Wide Open) as Mikey.

Anonymous

Dir: Roland Emmerich

This movie is about a rich nobleman, Edward De Vere of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (played by Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson as the old and young Queen) who, because of his status, must disguise his writing talent. He gets a commoner, playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), to anonymously mount the plays Edward writes. Johnson, in turn, passes them on to a talentless, greedy, bumbling and illiterate actor named… William Shakespeare!

Edward has to deal with an evil, manipulative father-and-son team of the puritanical and art-hating Cecil family who are the Queen’s closest advisors, and his biggest rivals. IN his youth, he has an affair with the so-called Virgin Queen and unknowingly leaves an illegitimate child. Will a pretender succeed Queen Elizabeth? Will he be able to continue his writing undetected? Or will the Globe theatre be closed down for it’s political plays? And will the nefarious Cecils or the good Edward emerge triumphant?

So it sounds like a good movie – there are a few good scenes, and I’ll admit, it kept me interested, more or less, for the whole movie. Enough not to walk out. Problem is, it’s just a hard movie to watch. It has flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, with tons of similar-looking characters (the men all seem to have little black van-dyke moustaches) emerging during different time periods, with different actors playing the same role. Especially for a movie about Shakespeare, the lines are not particularly beautiful or clever – they often sounds like ESL; the plot’s muddled, the score is intrusive, the motivations are confusing, and it is one of the gaudiest movies I’ve ever seen: Every pole has a vine around it, every wall has distracting tapestries, every crowd scene has extras in tableaux from Breughel or Hals, every outdoor shot has to have a bit of mist or fog floating past, every chimney has CGI smoke… Give it a rest! It made me long for a scene without neck ruffles and flickering candles. You’ve heard of minimalism? This movie is maximalism.

Anonymous is historically revisionist. It says a common person like Shakeseare could never have been so great — only a member of the nobility. And women in power (even a Queen) were all helpless biddies who can be easily manipulated by men.

It does have some shockingly unexpected plot twists, but not enough. You should leave this movie to an anonymous fate.

The Devil’s Backbone and Cronos

Dir: Guillermo del Toro

In Devil’s Backbone, Carlos, is a kid placed in an old orphanage during the 1930’s Spanish civil war, who meets a strange boy in a closed off part of the building. He might be a ghost who holds the untold secrets of the place, and he caries a warning.

In Cronos, a kindly old antique dealer finds a mechanical gold bug that can bring eternal life, but at a frightening cost – the bug attaches itself to a person and makes him do bad things.

If you’ve seen Pan’s Labrynth, you’ll recognize a lot of the character types from these movie– the stern but beautiful middle-aged woman, the kindly grey-bearded older guy, the cruel but handsome fascist soldier, and the quiet, observant child – a boy in Backbone, a girl in Cronos. I loved both these movie, and they rarely play on the big screen. They’re on Sunday night as a double feature at the Bell Lightbox. Go to tiff.net for details.

Also on, this weekend only, at the NFB is a free animated film show, showing New short cartoons. It’s on everyday this weekend. For more information go to www.onf-nfb.gc.ca.

And coming next week, right after the release of the sequel to Goin’ Down the Road, is the first release on dvd of another Canadian classic, Face-Off, about a small-town player who joins the Maple Leafs. Tagline: He’s a Rookie, She’s a Rocker! It’s especially apropos now with all the controversy about hockey goons and head injuries. The message now is avoid head trauma at all costs. Speaking from personal experience, the last thing you want is to injure your brain in any way. So there’s a special charity screening of this movie next Thursday at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Go to stopconcussions.com for more info.

Paranormal Activity is playing now, Anonymous opens in Toronto today, check your local listings, and Rabies is playing one show only, on Sunday, October 30th at 8pm at Innis College. For more information go to www.tjff.com.

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

October 20, 2011. The Calm Before the Storm. Movies Reviewed: Restoration, Wiebo’s War, 50/50 PLUS ImagineNATIVE

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.

There’s a term “The Calm Before the Storm”, and I’m getting the sensation that we’re there right now. Have you ever felt what it’s like before a tornado hits? It’s uncomfortably still, with a heavy weight in the pit of your stomach, and a strange feeling in the air. No wind. Weird feeling. Last weekend I stopped by the Occupy Toronto protest, where people are talking about how the middle class and poor — in countries like Canada, the US, Germany — have had their incomes go down or stay stangant over the past two decades, while a tiny percentage, that “1%”,  have had the biggest increase in their wealth in a century. Our national wellbeing is not keeping up to the constant rise in GDP.

Before the march, they pointed out the medics, in case people got clubbed or shot, and asked everyone to write down a number to call in case you’re thrown into prison. So there was that nervous sensation, not knowing how the police would react, would they be violent?, and what the potential risks were for marching, even in a democratic country. It turned out to be totally peaceful with a friendly police escort and no bad incidents whatsoever… but you never know.

So, knowing that some countries are on the brink of self-destruction, and (not that the two are comparable) knowing that next week – Hallowe’en – will be marked with deliberate mayhem and confusion, I’ve decided to talk about three movies where people face potential chaos, calamity, and collapse, and the different ways they choose to confront the coming storm.

First is a movie, which played at TIFF, about people confronting personal change and relationships, and trying to avoid a collapse.

Restoration
Dir: Joseph Madmony

Anton (Henry David), a young man and almost a drifter is looking for work in a run-down section of Tel Aviv. He stumbles into an old-school furniture-restoring shop and gets hired immediately by the grizzled and grumpy old carpenter Fidelman (Sasson Gabai). But the childless co-owner of the place dies the next day, and leaves his half not to the carpenter, but to his son.

Fidelman’s broke. And his son, a lawyer, is a bit of a douche, who is glad to be removed from his father’s life as a tradesman. He calls the place a junkyard, and wants to sell the property to build a condo, destroying his own father’s livelihood and forcing him into retirement. But musical Anton, (who has family troubles of his own) vows to learn the trade and tries to find the golden egg that will save the store. If he can only locate the missing piece of a rare antique piano, it will change from a piece of junk to a treasure worth enough money to keep the place open, and evade the impending doom. Anton becomes almost a surrogate son to the carpenter… almost. But it’s complicated when he realizes he may be falling in love with the real son’s pregnant wife.

This movie had great acting from the two main characters. On the surface, it’s a “let’s work hard to fix the piano and save the shop!”-type story, but that’s just its superficial structure. It’s actually much more sophisticated. Though drab-looking, Restoration is a bitter-sweet examination of love, duty, families, allegiances, death and inheritance.

Next, a movie, which played at Hotdocs, about a man, his family, and his supporters who take drastic moves to confront what he thinks is a coming disaster.

Wiebo’s War
Dir: David York

Wiebo Ludwig is a devout Christian who lives in a remote, isolated colony with his fellow religious settlers in BC, near Alberta. Their lives are food and energy self-sufficient, but, in the 90’s, things began to go wrong. Goats started having frequent stillbirths, and, when a woman also miscarried, they realized their watershed had been contaminated by natural gas wells built right at the edge of their property.

He was later arrested, tried, and jailed for bombs he had set off at wells and pipelines in that energy-rich Alberta area. This movie follows filmmaker David York who was allowed to film inside their compound.

Is Wiebo a religious nut or a devoted social activist? Well, he’s certainly religious, but he’s crazy like a fox. The movie documents some of Wiebo’s (and those of his fellow settlers’) frequent brushes with the law and the big energy companies. There are run-ins with outwardly conciliatory execs from Encana; pointless, intimidating, and relentless police raids of their homes to test things like how many ball point there are on one floor, and how many cassette tapes are on another; and their increasingly fractious relationship with the nearby town, where they have found themselves local pariahs following the unexplained shooting death of young woman on their property.

Folk hero, or deranged terrorist?

Maybe both. I left the movie even less certain than before as to who’s to blame and what actually happened. While a bit slow-moving, Wiebo’s War gives a first hand look at a legendary Canadian figure (who was sadly diagnosed with cancer just a few days ago), his family and co-religionists, and the unusual junction between Christian fundamentalism and environmental extremism. …an inside look at the calm before the storm.

50/50
Dir: Jonathan Levine

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a shy, quiet, polite and passive guy, with a boorish and boisterous friend named Kyle, a smothering, worrying mom, and a beautiful but shallow girlfriend named Rachael. He’s in his twenties, no car, lives in a tiny red house far from the city of Seattle, and cubicle job at a beautiful public radio station (Support CIUT!) where he’s working on a story about a soon-to-erupt volcano.

But when Adam gets a pain in his belly, his doctor (a man with possibly the worst bedside manner ever) does some tests and tells him he has a rare form of cancer, and a 50% chance of living. He’s sent to a therapist (Anne Hendrick) who’s younger than he is, and is still at the student-teacher stage.

So, how is Adam going to face his situation? How will he deal with his casual girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is suddenly his caregiver? His best friend (Seth Rogen) who just wants to use his cancer buddy as a wing-man chick magnet? And his intrusive worry-wort mother, who is already taking care of his Alzheimer stricken dad? Or even his bumbling but sincere therapist, Katie? What will he do? Can he accept the possibility of death? Who is really important to him?

50/50, based on a true story, is not a bad movie – it’s sweet — but, beware, it’s not the comedy it’s billed as. It’s a drama — even a bit of a weeper — with some needed comic relief. Gordon-Levitt is perfect as Adam, as is Hendrick as Katie, while Seth Rogen – not so funny, a bit too much. But Angelica Huston as the Mother was shockingly good. I mean, she plays to stereotypes, but does it so well, I didn’t figure out it was her playing the part until the final credits!

50/50 is now playing, Wiebo’s War opens in Toronto today, check your local listings, and Restoration is playing one show only next week, on Sunday afternoon, October 30th, as part of the Chai, Tea and a Movie series. Go to tjff.com for details.

Also on right now in Toronto is the wonderful ImagineNATIVE, the world’s largest aboriginal film festival, that explores native film, art and music from Canada and abroad. Great stuff! Many events are free and they’re all open to everyone — go to ImagineNATIVE.org for details.

Next week: Hallowe’en!

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

September 14, 2011. ImagineNATIVE! Movies reviewed: On the Ice, Wapos Bay, Footloose

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 17, 2011

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

Sometimes you have to wonder: News today says it turns out the Canadian Military has been covertly spying on and infiltrating Native communities for “security” reasons. Nice…

But for a much better, and more realistic view of indigenous people the always interesting ImagineNATIVE festival is opening next week and running from the 19th with five days of films, videos, art, sound-art, and live performances by stars like the hiphop group A Tribe Called Red, and the wonderful Buffy Ste Marie.

They’re showing international films from South Africa about the Khoi San people, a visually great Australian movie called Samson and Delilah, an interesting movie in French out of Quebec called Mesnak, and many other Canadian short films, documentaries and features about and by aboriginal filmmakers.

So this week, I’m going to talk about two good movies playing at ImagineNATIVE, and review a 80’s remake.

On the Ice

Dir: Andrew Okpeaha MacLean

Two high school students – Aivaaq and Qalli (Frank Qutuq Irelan and Josiah Patkotak) are best buds. They hang out, rap, play sports and go hunting together. Qalli’s the good boy with the young face, getting set for University in the Fall. He spends time with his grandmother, who only speaks Inuktitut, studies hard, stays out of trouble and doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs.

Aivaaq does. He’s taller, tougher, troubled. They live in a small Inuit town in Alaska. But when the two of them (in their puffy white parkas) go out seal hunting on the ice along with a rival, James, things go wrong. Aivaaq and James get in a fight, and after awhile, James ends up dead. It’s an accident, not murder, but it looks bad. So Qaali and Aivaaq decide to cover it up. They drop James’s body and skidoo into an ice hole.

But people don’t just disappear. What to me looks just like the undifferentiated endless white of snow and tundra is actually a traceable crime scene. James’ girlfriend thinks it’s a suicide. The town cop thinks alcohol is the culprit. Soon the town’s in an uproar, first in a search for James, then in constant questioning and re-questioning of their stories. What about the skidoo tracks – they don’t follow the path the boys were telling them. And why was the ice brushed clean? And what are those drops of blood doing on an animal fur? Qaali wants to keep quiet, but Aivaaq can’t stop telling everyone that he was responsible. As the tension mounts, it’s not clear who, if anyone, will be blamed, and who is really at fault.

On the Ice is a good suspenseful drama about life in the far, far north. It does have an American in-your-face confrontational tone to it that you don’t get in Canadian Native and Inuit movies. Is it a fundamental national-cultural difference, or just a difference in movie styles? Either way, this is a good, icy story.

Wapos Bay: “Long Goodbyes”

Dir: Dennis Jackson

Chief Big Sky comes from Wapos Bay – a bucolic area filled with trees, mountains and streams — and is elected as the National Grand Chief for all of Canada. So he, his colleague Alphonse Merasty and their respective families will be moving away from the village. But first, Wapos Bay has to elect a new Chief.

Jacob (starring the voice of Lorne Cardinal) is the sole candidate running for Chief, but Raven (Raven Brass), a little girl, doesn’t like that. She has a new idea – she’ll manage her Dad Alphonse’s campaign while he’s away, so they’ll have to stay in Wapos Bay. She constructs the election until she becomes a little Karl Rove, complete with attack ads, questionable rumours (about uncle Jacob and a lumber multinational clear-cutting their forest) and dirty tricks. She even gives muffled speeches by telephone, since her dad almost never talks. Soon everyone wants Alphonse to win… everyone, that is, except Alphonse himself, who doesn’t even know he’s running. But Raven’s schemes escalate to such a degree they’re out of control. Raven’s created a monster! (Soon enough Jacob is running through the woods in a red headband chased by taser-happy cops…)

Meanwhile, Devon and his friends want to complete a bucket list before some of them move away, using the fortune that rich Kohkum Mary earned marketing traditional medicines. So there are trips down the rapids, parachute jumps from an airplane, bungee jumping….

Will Raven and company get Alphonse elected before he makes it back to Wapos Bay? Will the real truth about Jacob get out? And will the families adjust to their friends moving down south?

This is a cute, feature-length version of the TV comedy… and it’s animated! It’s beautiful clay stop-motion photography, with lots of quick jokes, one-liners, and some baaad sitcom gags. (And no laughtrack). It’s sort of like the Simpsons only Native, and not quite so frenetic. I’d never seen the TV show before, so I didn’t quite get it at first, but, once you fall into the rhythm, you quickly grow to like the characters. And the world premier will be closing the ImagineNATIVE festival this year.

Footloose

Dir: Craig Brewer

Orphan Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) a high school senior, moves from Boston to small town Bomont down in the Land of Cotton to stay with his relatives. He likes fixin’ cars, listenin’ to loud music, talking back… as well as expressing himself through gymnastics and interpretive dancing. He figures life will be just like back home, only smaller. But he soon learns he’s landed in a town like no other. His new school teaches the three Rs: “reading, writing, and redneckery”. And because there was a car accident that killed five kids including the preacher (Dennis Quaid)’s son, the town has put all the kids under a permanent curfew, and banned music, drinking, lascivious behaviour… and even dancing. He says their children must be protected from a world filled with “evil, temptation and danger”.

But the preacher’s daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough), is a rebel – she hangs out in the bad part of town with drag racer Chuck (or “Lug-Nuts”, as Ren calls him).

The kids get around this ban by breakdancing and making-out behind the town drive-in. You see, they’re just kids. And kids gotta dance.

So Ren decides to take the lead and challenge the anti-dancing law by getting everyone to join in and dance with him. But he faces trouble from all sides. Chuck sneers at Ren’s dancing skills, the town cop keeps harassing him, and the school threatens to expel him.

Will they convince the old fogeys to change their ways? Will Ariel choose to go with badboy Chuck or rebel Ren? And will Ren’s new best friend and town hick Willard ever learn to dance?

A bit of context.

George Carlin wrote about the seven words you could never say on TV, which included the “F” word.

Well, Footloose (along with Fame and Flashdance) was one of the Three “F” movies of the 80’s, the sort of movie no teenage guy could ever openly admit to seeing. Too uncool. But it was part of the Reagan-era zeitgeist, so even if you hadn’t seen them, you knew what they were about. Amidst all the big city violence and change Footloose showed a conservative, 1950’s-style America that supposedly still existed in the 1980’s. The hero (played by Kevin Bacon in the original) was supposedly a rebel, but actually challenged nothing; he only wanted a superficial change. (And it was filled with 80’s mainstream, cheesy MTV pop hits like Holding out for a Hero, Footloose, and Let’s Hear it for the Boy – all of which are kept in the remake.)

But in 2011, it’s a retro-retro-movie, a remake of a movie about a world that never existed, a 2011 version of an 80’s version of a 50’s movie. In this reality, girls only want to dance if asked by boys, and saving one’s virginity is the most important virtue. No kissing even unless they’re in love. And to make it more confusing, it mixes covers of 80’s popnhits, mixed with current bad hip-hop and – that worst of all musical genres – New Country. The dancing spans the genres from breakdancing to line dancing and everything else, like an omnibus audition for one of those TV dance shows. A real mess.

This is a deeply conservative movie, but not unwatchable. It has some dancing, some nostalgic music, and a few fist-fights, and the actors all appear to perform their own dances. So if you like watching actors-playing-teenagers dance, go see Footloose.

Footloose starts today, and On the Ice and Wapos Bay are showing at ImagineNative next week, on the19th and the 25th – check imagineNATIVE.org for all listings and times. Also playing now is Circumstance, a movie I reviewed during the Inside-Out festival. It’s a great, Farsi-language film about two girls struggling to maintain a lesbian relationship within a vibrant but hidden subculture in conservative and oppressive present-day Tehran.

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

October 16, 2011. Toronto. An Interview With Derek Hayes, Author of the New Book “The Maladjusted”

Daniel Garber: I’ve read all of your stories many times, but now I’d like to hear you talk a bit about them. There’s a tone of black humour in this book, Derek, but would you say most of the short stories in your new collection, The Maladjusted (October, 2011, Thistledown Press) are comedies or tragedies… and why?

Derek Hayes: I think they are tragic for some of the characters, but not in any way that matters to anyone but themselves. And for this reason I hope readers will find the stories funny. I’m interested in characters that for their own personal, deeply-rooted reasons have bad habits about how they think about the environment they live in.

I know the title of the book comes from the name of one of the short stories, but is it safe to say that the protagonists in most of them are having trouble fitting in… in social situations, workplaces, or relationships?

Yes, each story has at least one character who has trouble fitting in. I’d also add that it’s not the social situations, workplace or relationship per se that is inherently troublesome, but the characters thinking that is distorted or “off” in some way.

Most of the stories are told through the point of view of the male characters; do you see a bit of yourself in those guys, or is it more often your impressions of people you observe?

I definitely see myself in some of the characters. And others. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise for people close to me to know that I suffer from anxiety sometimes. But the actual details of the stories are madeup. It’s easy to take material from my own life and adjust, exaggerate, fabricate in order to make a narrative that works on its own terms.

A lot of your stories take place overseas — why is that?

About twelve years ago I worked in Istanbul for a year and then Taipei, Taiwan for two years. Three of the most enjoyable years of my life. I met a lot of interesting people and for lack of a better way of saying it, felt “alive” for the first time in a few years.

What’s your favourite story from the collection?

I think most writers of short stories would be reluctant to pick one, or maybe some writers would. I can’t speak for others I guess. I tried to arrange the collection in a way to keep the reader engaged, interspersing the more neurotic of the stories throughout so as not to exhaust readers.

I think some of your characters are just a little bit odd or off, while others are way out there. Which type of personality is harder to capture in writing?

The ‘way out there’ characters are more difficult to capture. Perhaps like the author is trying too hard. For a story to work readers have to feel a connection to a character, and if a character is too strange, readers may feel manipulated or put off. But having said that I’m not so sure I’m thinking about any of this when I’m writing a story.

Congratulations on your first published book, Derek! I know you have some great novels to follow.

Yeah, I have three novels. Mentee is about a struggling teacher. Kadikoy is about expats in Istanbul, and The Streets is about a basketball coach. It’s also about a guy who is looking for his mentally ill brother. All of which, you, Daniel, edited by the way 🙂 And you edited The Maladjusted. I’ll take this opportunity to thank you for that as well.

Thanks Derek, and thanks for the interview.

Derek Hayes will be launching his book across Canada with a series of readings, beginning October 19th in Toronto.

  • October 16: Ottawa, Nicholas Hoare (downtown), 5-7p.m.
  • October 19: Toronto, Type Books on Queen West (near Trinity Bellwoods Park), 7-9p.m.
  • October 23: (with Sean Johnston) Vancouver, Cafe Montmartre (downtown), 7-8p.m.
  • October 29: London, Oxford Books  (Oxford and Richmond), 2:30-4:30p.m.
  • November 20: Edmonton, Thomson/ Wright House, 1-2 p.m.

Here’s an excerpt from Derek Hayes’s The Maladjusted:

I climb out of my fourth floor window and onto the fire escape landing, where I look down the alley for Ming. Spring has come and it’s starting to warm up a little. I’m wearing a white robe and flip-flops, and carrying a basket that is attached to a long rope. Inside the basket is the exact amount of money for a medium vegetarian pizza, a bottle of Pepsi and a side order of garlic bread. This is the special from Tony’s. Like an old house-ridden Middle Eastern woman, I lower down the basket of money to Ming, who is standing below the fire escape. Ming is non-judgmental, waiting patiently on the ground, as if all his customers order in this way. He takes the money and places the food into the basket. I carefully pull my dinner towards the fourth floor, stopping just before it reaches the metal landing. I remove the box of pizza and bottle of Pepsi and the garlic bread and yank the basket over the rail. I lie down on the cool surface of the fire escape landing and rest my arm on the warm pizza box.

For the first fifteen days of each month I order a pizza from Tony’s. Then I run out of money. Until the end of the month I live on crackers, canned tuna and tomatoes, which I buy in bulk. My belly fluctuates in size according to the time of month, just as a python’s shape changes depending on what it has eaten.

I’ve got to find somewhere else to buy my groceries. Three weeks ago, as I was leaving Value Mart, I said goodbye to two men, probably fathers, who were waiting for a taxi. They gave me a look, from which I inferred that they thought this was strange. So I told them that I have a mental illness. They said that they were sorry. I refuse to go back there.

I don’t watch TV. I have nothing in common with Chandler, Joey or Ross. My alley’s good for entertainment. My fire escape is on the fourth floor and, because of some creepers – really weeds that I’ve tended that have climbed up from some dirt in three mouldy flowerpots – I am afforded some camouflage, allowing me to watch while being unobserved. The alley teems with life, with meth-heads providing the main drama. Look at them now. The one with the stringy blonde hair, all ninety pounds of him, has picked up a dead mouse and is holding it by its tail. The other has a garbage can lid, thrust out as a shield. He’s trying to knock the rodent from the other kid’s hand, his head craned back in revulsion.

October 7, 2011. Changes? Solar Taxi, Waking the Green Tiger, Restless, PLUS Planet in Focus.

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 what the difference is.

You’re listening to this on Friday morning but I recorded this on Wednesday, so I’m taking an intentionally neutral tone – I don’t know yet what changes the election has brought. Are people saying: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose? Or: hooray! Change at last! Right to strike and no more diesel fumes! Or maybe: Hallellujah! Our prayers have brought the Tea Party to Canada with no more of them-there sexiness kidnapping our babies away and stealing our tax breaks! Or even, OMG – Look! There’s a triple rainbow, halley’s comet, a total eclipse… and hell just froze over! …if you’re a faithful Green Party supporter.

Like I said, I don’t know… But I do know that change is happening on a global scale and we ignore these changes at our own risk. So this week, I’m going to look at two informative documentaries playing at the Planet in Focus festival, and also review a new, offbeat romance film that played at TIFF.

So, what is Planet in Focus? Well, it’s an annual Toronto event that brings together video and filmmakers, environmental experts, and activists from around the world for a week-long look at what’s happening to our planet. It’s a good place for youth and adults to learn more about the environment and what to do about it.

There are some big documentaries opening and closing the festival – one, called Revenge of the Electric Car (Narrated by Tim Robbins), and another called The Whale, narrated by Ryan Reynolds about an Orca named Luna separated from his family off the coast of Vancouver.

First let’s look at the movie

Solartaxi: Around the World with the Sun.

Dir: Erik Schmitt

Louis us a Swiss-German school teacher who loves cars but doesn’t like what they’re doing to the planet, with all their inefficient carbon-burning engines, and the disgusting and dangerous emissions that come out the back end. And ever since he was a kid, he dreamed of going around the world by a sort of a race-car. So how does he reconcile his diametrically opposed goals? Well, he manages to find sponsors, battery manufacturers, a mechanic, and a builder to make him the car of his dreams. It’s a cute, low-rolling, blue-and-white three-wheeler that he hopes will carry him out of the Swiss Alps and across many continents.

And behind it is a flatbed covered in solar panels. He dubs the whole thing his “Solar Taxi” and wants to bring it to the world’s attention, that not just hybrids, but purely electric cars really do work. Here’s the thing – the solar panels being made today, aren’t strong enough to power a two-person car. But his home back in Switzerland has a lot more solar panels that feed into the power grid, so he juices up with more power on the way, but never more than he’s actually producing.

Louis has a weedy moustache and rectangular wire-rimmed glasses and a bit politically naïve; but he does manage to take it across Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, giving rides to local politicians, celebrities and movie stars along the way as he spreads the news about his car. The movie shows mainly touristy sights – like snake charmers in India, kangaroos in Australia, and TV celebs in America – but it’s a fun trip. And in China, he sees countless electric mopeds, solar panels on every roof, and even gets a red carpet laid down for his car to drive on!

Which brings us to the next movie:

Waking the Green Tiger

Dir: Gary Marcuse

Is China a green paradise? Or an environmental nightmare? I think the answer’s somewhere in between. This movie gives the issue a balanced look.

In the early days of the People’s Republic, environmentalism didn’t exist. Any potential problem could be solved by the peasants and the workers putting their efforts together and working with all their might. Except… it didn’t always work. In the early 60’s Mao declared there was a shortage of steel, and no factory’s big enough to smelt all the iron the country needed. So they said if collective farm made their own little factory they could all work together and make it happen. Unfortunately, most of the stuff it produced was unusable. And when they decided that the sparrows were eating too much grain they told all the farmers to clap their hands and shake their trees until all the sparrows fell to the ground. Well, they did manage to tire out and kill all the sparrows, but without birds eating the insects there was a horrible plague of locusts that destroyed that year’s crop. So perhaps good intentions, but horribly environmentally unsound practices.

So this movie traces that period to the present, and how the growing awareness of environmental and cultural destruction taking place is awakening a huge number of people as to what’s going on and what they can do to change it. There are thousands of environmental NGO’s in China, some maverick journalists and filmmakers showing the country what’s behind the curtain, and local activists who are fighting the huge corporations and government entities there building dams, mines and rerouting lakes and rivers.

It focuses on the Salween or Nu River and in particular the Tiger Leap gorge, a dramatically beautiful canyon where they might be building a series of dams, and moving out the people who live around there. The Salween river is one of the world’s biggest free-flowing rivers, surrounded by unusual monkeys, diverse wildlife and ecosystems, and unique languages and cultures that exist only there. So, a filmmaker, Shi Lihong, took some of the Salween villagers in a bus across the country to talk to a similar place on the Mekong river. When they saw and spoke to the people there, how they were living now, (compared to what their lives were like before they were evicted) they were horrified and galvanized to take action back home. And the documentary itself, along with a series of newspaper articles, captured the interest of many people across China who also felt it would be an environmental disaster.

This is a great documentary showing the grass-roots environmental campaigns and public reactions in a vast country we know very little about. Using archival footage, great Mao-era propaganda posters and photos, and interviews with contemporary journalists and government officials, it goves a good overview of what’s happening right now in China, and what people are doing about it.

Next, here’s another movie about people who are restless… but in a different way.

Restless

Dir: Gus van Sant

Enoch (Henry Hopper) is a teenaged boy who only wears black and white, and hides his emotions. He talks, plays battleship, and seeks advice from Hiroshi, the ghost of a WWII kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase). He lives with an aunt since his parents died, never going to school, and trying never to show emotions. For some reason, he enjoys going to funerals and memorial services. Well at one of these funerals he’s caught by pretty Annabelle, (Mia Wasikowska). Although an odd match, they eventually hit it off. But here’s the catch – and maybe there’s another funeral to crash on the horizon. You see, Annabelle has cancer and her future does not look great.

Can the two cute blond High Schoolers make a morbid but happy life together – dressing in funny 1920’s era costumes, walking around cemeteries, and acting out potentially romantic death scenes? Or will sad, real life disturb their fantasies?

This is a nice little romantic drama, and a bit of a tear-jerker. I thought she was much more convincing than he was – she’s a much better actor – she lights up the screen, while he seems to drag it down a little. The whole movie feels like any Japanese girl’s manga: a good place to moon over sad, sad love with some witty humour, a lot of posturing and pretty costumes thrown in. I admit it did make me cry — it was touching — but it didn’t seem up to the level of most Gus Van Sant movies.

Restless is now playing, and Planet in Focus starts next Wednesday – check planetinfocus.org for listings and times. And look out for the ImagineNative festival, coming soon!

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

September 30, 2011. Palestine. Films Reviewed: (No) Laughing Matter, Children of the Revolution, Pomegranates and Myrrh PLUS TPFF, We Were Here, Resurrect Dead

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

It’s fall now — the days are getting shorter and nights are getting colder, and the leaves are starting to turn yellow and red. And the governments might be changing soon, too. There are provincial elections happening across the country, with the Ontario elections happening on October 6th – that’s next Thursday. On a larger scale, there’s another vote coming up in the United Nations’ General Assembly – whether to admit Palestine as a full member state. Well, if you’re curious about the issue and want to know what is being discussed, there’s a film festival on, starting tonight, called the Toronto Palestine Film Festival. The TPFF presents a largely secular, political look at the Israel/Palestine conflict from the Palestinian point of view in a series of movies.

So this week I’m going to look at three movies from that festival – two documentaries and one drama – about terrorism, humour and love; and also talk briefly about two more docs opening in Toronto.

(No) Laughing Matter

Dir: Vanessa Rousselot

Rousselot, a French-Palestinian filmmaker, wants to know if the people in Palestine ever smile, laugh or tell jokes. So she sets out in a car with a camera to try to capture some of the humour — mainly dark humour — that Palestinians (in the West Bank in Jenin, Hebron, Bethlehem, and in Israel In Haifa) use. Is there a particularly style of joke that could be called distinctly Palestinian?

She discovers a few interesting things. First, that the people of Hebron seems to serve as their Newfies or Belgians — the naïve, butt-ends of local jokes. Second, she discovers an elderly man who, at the time of the First Intifada, set about recording and categorizing thousands of local jokes on index cards, which he produces and reads for the camera. The hour-long TV documentary gives a glimpse of everyday people — laughing school girls, a stand-up comic, a shop keeper, a Catholic priest, some angry young men in a coffee house — and how they express themselves, and sometimes use humour as a survival tactic.

Here’s a typical joke from the movie:

A world leader dies and goes to heaven. He is matched up with an old and plain woman. Then he sees Yassir Arafat cuddling a beautiful Marilyn Monroe. He tells God, “Hey that’s not fair! How come you rewarded Arafat over me?” God says, “I’m not rewarding Arafat… I’m punishing Marilyn Monroe.”

Children of the Revolution

Dir: Shane O’Sullivan

This documentary traces the lives of two hugely important radical terrorists/ activists/ revolutionaries – whichever way you choose to label them – who grew up in the two defeated nations from WWII: Japan and Germany. These two notorious figures – Ulrike Meinhof, of the German “Red Army Faction”, and Shigenobu Fusako of the “Japan Red Army” – were even more remarkable in that they were both women. This movie tells their history, as seen through the eyes of their young daughters. The kids were pulled into this turbulent world by their mothers, giving an immediacy rarely seen in movies about such highly-charged controversial figures.

In the late 60’s, their conservative, middle-class societies were suddenly turned upside down. With the convergence of the US Vietnam war and the anti-war movement, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and unrest in Latin American countries, the new heroes became Mao, Marx and Che. Meinhof worked for a communist-funded tabloid called Konkret and became a part of the radical society that was shaking up Europe. Shigenobu, the granddaughter of a radical right-wing activist, joined the leftist student uprisings that totally changed the power-dynamic in Japanese society (at least temporarily).

Both of these figures fled to Beirut and from there to Syria after meeting with a Palestinian revolutionary. From there, these two women and their contemporaries, on behalf of the Peoples’ Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), committed a series of hijackings, kidnappings, shootings, bank robberies and bombings, that held the world rapt in the late sixties and seventies. They hijacked planes to North Korea, bombed a jet in Cairo, and led a horrific attack shooting dozens of civilians at Lod Airport in Tel Aviv. It also brought the causes they were advocating to the front page. Markedly different from today’s terrorists, they said they committed their acts for a worldwide revolution, not for their own nation’s or group’s interests.

Through a kid’s eyes their situation was both fascinating and scary. Meinhof’s daughter talks of seeing kids playing on the street when she was little — their game wasn’t Cops and Robbers, but Bader and Meinhof.

Shigenobu’s daughter remembers that kids she knew in the Palestinian refugee camps all wanted to grow up as either doctors, nurses, or fedayeen (guerrillas).

This is a fascinating story, illustrated with countless, vivid B&W snapshots, TV and news clips. Although portrayed in dramatic form in two recent movies (The Bader-Meinhof Complex — about the RAF and United Japan Army about the JRA), this is the first documentary I’ve seen that combines the two. Equally surprising is that it takes a largely sympathetic stance toward the hijackers.

And opening the festival with a screening tonight is:

Pomegranates and Myrrh

Dir: Najwar Najjar

A good-looking, young Christian couple, Kamar and Zaid (Yasmine Elmasri and Ashraf Farah), travel from the West Bank to Jerusalem for a happy wedding party. Zaid’s family are farmers who have an olive grove, and it’s time for the harvest and olive oil press. Meanwhile, Kamar is a modern dancer, whose group is preparing to meet a Palestinian choreographer, Kais (Ali Suliman), who is visiting from Lebanon. They’re preparing a performance of traditional (stomp, stomp, clap, clap) folk dances called Pomegranates and Myrrh.

But things start to go wrong when a happy nighttime picnic in the olive grove is interrupted by Israeli helicopters carrying young soldiers. Zaid is put into a detention center, ostensibly for hitting a soldier, and his family’s olive farm is in danger of being confiscated for “security reasons”.

Now it’s up to the new bride to try to free her husband and at the same time, to stand up to the authorities and hold onto the family land. They hire a sympathetic Israeli lawyer to help them keep the army and encroaching settlers away. But for how long? Will Zaid admit to a lesser charge so he can save his land? Will they manage to get the olive harvest in and pressed on time? And what is Kamar up to with that scarf-wearing choreographer and his trust exercises – does he have designs on her while her husband is in jail?

Pommegranites and Myrrh is a bittersweet drama about love in a time of conflict, beautifully shot, with (sometimes) poetic dialogue. With warm and loving families resisting shadowy settler-terrorists, and faceless, shouting Israeli soldiers chasing after playful children, I thought the movie comes across as somewhat heavy-handed, but it does give a largely unseen look at life — with its very real crises and dangers — through Palestinian eyes.

Also playing this weekend are the great documentaries We Were Here, and Resurrect Dead. We Were Here is a very moving oral history of the AIDS outbreak in the 80’s remembered by some of the people in San Francisco who lived through it. That opens today.

Ressurect Dead is a really unusual documentary about the strange unidentified man who has been leaving tiled messages in the tarmac of city streets across the continent, with a crypto-religious message about the planet Jupiter, historian Toynbee, and Stanley Kubrick. What makes the movie so unique, is that it was made on zero budget by a group of marginal detectives and conspiracy theorists who use things like ham radio to try to find out the messages’ origins, but who are as fascinating as the man they’re trying to find. That’s called Resurrect Dead.

Check local listings for We Were Here and Resurrect Dead, and for more information about the Toronto Palestine Film Festival go to tpff.ca.

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

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