December 30, 2011, More Xmas Movies. Movies Reviewed: The Artist, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close PLUS My Choice of 2011 Best Eleven Movies

Posted in Academy Awards, Acting, Cultural Mining, Dance, Death, Denial, Disabilities, Drama, Hollywood, Manhattan, Movies, Music, Terrorism, TIFF, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 31, 2011

Hi, this 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.

Well, here it is, a day away from New Year’s eve, so I guess I’d better tell you my choice for the best movies of 2011.

But first, let me tell you about two more Christmas-y movies that opened this week, one about a kid with a key after the fall of the World Trade Centre, the other about an actor and an actress after the fall of the silent movie.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Dir: Stephen Daldry

Oskar (Thomas Horn) is a little kid in Manhattan who’s a bit neurotic, a bit bratty, pretty smart, a little autistic-y, and prone to temper tantrums. Not that different from a lot of kids. Then his dad (Tom Hanks) just happens to be visiting the twin towers on September 11th. So… the kid is left without his dad, and Oskar becomes more and more sketchy. He communicates with his grandmother by walkie-talkie (she’s in the apartment across the courtyard), and ignores his mom. All that’s left of his dad are the voicemail messages he recorded on an answering machine before the towers collapsed. Oskar sets up a secret shrine to his dead father, and, when going through his father’s things, he discovers a key in an envelope with the name “Black” written on it.

Oskar divides the whole city into small quadrants on a paper map and decides to knock on the door of every family named Black in the city to see if they have the lock that his father’s key will open. One day he meets his grandmother’s reclusive tenant (Max von Sydow) for the first time, even though he’s shared her apartment since after WWII. The tenant is an old German man who will not (or cannot) speak, but communicates by writing little notes in his moleskine with a sharpie and tearing out the pages. Oskar sets out with him on a search for his father’s hidden secrets. With the old man‘s help, maybe he can face his worst fears and reach closure with his dad’s death.

Unfortunately, this is a dreadful movie. It rests on the shoulders of a first-time child actor, who is just not very good. (Apparently, they cast him after he enchanted audiences on Kids’ Jeopardy). We’re supposed to find his Asberger-like behaviour fascinating – it’s not – and his precociousness awe-inspiring – also not. Then there’s Sandra Bullock’s awfulness as the weepy, suffering mother. (Go away, Sandra Bullock — I don’t want to watch your movies anymore.) Only the always-dependable Max von Sydow, and Viola Davis (in a small part as one of the hundereds of people named “Black”) partly redeem the scenes they’re in. Other than that, it’s a non-stop yuck-fest of forced-sentimental pseudo-patriotism with the aim of bestowing sainthood on an entire city because of 9-11. Give it a rest… I would avoid this movie at all costs.

The Artist

Dir: Michel Hazanavicius

George Valentin, (Jean Dujardin) is a movie star of the Silent Screen, the darling of his fans, rich, successful. He can do anything, even question the decisions of the Sam Goldwyn–type movie moghul at Kinograph Studios (John Goodman). It’s just him, his stodgy wife, and his cute little doggy. One night at a reception he runs into a pretty young flapper who catches his eye, and gets her face on the cover of Variety: Who’s That Girl? it asks. Why, it’s an unknown, new starlet, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo)! And just like that, a star is born… but as she rises, he falls. And when talkies are introduced, he soon finds himself poor, jobless, homeless, and single again. Will Peppy Miller make it big? Will Valentin ever have his comeback? And will his cute and faithful dog (Uggie) and his chauffeur (James Cromwell) stay by his side?

What’s the twist? Well, the whole movie is filmed in the style of a silent movie, with no spoken dialogue. So what? you may be thinking. And my answer would be: indeed.

Doing a silent movie that’s also about silent movies shows an incredible lack of imagination. There’s nothing especially new or interesting in this film. I mean, it’s visually pleasing, a fun re-enactment of old movies, a nice diversion… but nothing more. The score – which is so important in silent films — was underwhelming; and the story held almost no surprises, except an especially lame ending. The costumes and the camera work, though, were both incredible; and I thought the acting was great – for what it’s worth (it seemed more like a pantomime to me.)

I mean, people like Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati made great silent movies long after talkies were well established, but they were good because they were original, funny and surprising. This one isn’t – there’s not an original moment in the entire film, just the re-hashing of things that were once original moments in silent movies. (There are a few hahaha parts, but no real gut busters.) They seem to forget that silent movies were actual movies. This one is more concerned with replicating the surface of silent movies – or how people today look back at them — than making a good movie, period. The Artist is a film for movie collectors not for moviegoers.

Here’s my top eleven movies of 2011. I only included movies that played commercially during that year, so I had to leave out terrific ones that only played in festivals – like Hysteria and Himizu at TIFF, and The Evening Dress at Inside-out. And I don’t include the many amazing documentaries, like Resurrect Dead: the Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles that played at HotDocs; or Page One: Inside the New York Times. I also try to include both mainstream and independent or avant-garde movies. And I haven’t seen every movie from this past year, so I may have missed some gems. OK, here goes, in alphabetical order:

Quadraplegic amputee “war god” returns to his Japanese village:

Caterpillar

Lesbian romance in Tehran:

Circumstance

Danish L.A. film noir thriller:

Drive

Bizarre Polish art film about CIA black sites in Europe:

Essential Killing

Poor, black maids and rich white housewives in 1960’s Mississippi:

The Help

Women leading a wagon train through Oregon

Meek’s Cutoff

The apes are revolting:

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Kids shooting a super 8 film uncover a dangerous mystery:

Super 8

A mentally ill husband dreams of coming disaster:

Take Shelter

Cold War thriller about a possible mole within the high-ranks of MI6:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

A horse seeks his boy in the trenches of WWI:

War Horse

Runners-up:

Names of Love (le Nom des gens)

Submarine

Incendie

Attack the Block

The Artist and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close are now playing in Toronto (check your local listings). War Horse, Tinker Tailor…, Take Shelter and Drive are also playing in some theatres.

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

December 9, 2011. Daniel Garber speaking with Nelson George about his new documentary “Brooklyn Boheme”

Posted in African-Americans, Brooklyn, Cultural Mining, documentary, Spike Lee, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 24, 2011

Daniel Garber interviews writer, columnist, novelist, filmmaker Nelson George about a new documentary “Brooklyn Boheme”. The documentary is about a Brooklyn neighbourhood — Fort Greene and Clinton Hill  — that in the 80’s and 90’s reached a critical mass of great African-American art, jazz music, movies, plays, poetry that some say was comparable to the Harlem Renaissance. In the interview, Nelson George talks of the many people who lived and worked there, what made them choose this place, how it has changed, and where Brooklyn’s young, black creative class is now.

December 23, 2011 Christmas Flicks. Movies Reviewed: The Adventures of Tintin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse

Posted in 1970s, Drama, Espionage, Family, Horses, Steven Spielberg, Tintin, UK, Uncategorized, US, WWI by CulturalMining.com on December 22, 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.

It’s holiday time once again, and there are lots of good movies out there to see. I’m just going to tell you about three of them, all period movies – one set in the 1910’s, one in the fifties, or thereabouts, and one In the 70’s — all with mainly British casts, and two out of three, directed by the same guy – Steven Spielberg.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Dir: Tomas Alfredson

It’s the 1970’s, in the middle of the Cold War between the Soviet Bloc and the West, when a British agent is shot in Budapest in a failed mission. Why? Because, says a young agent, there’s a mole somewhere in the highest ranks of The Circus (as the agents refer to MI6 headquarters). The wife of an enemy general told him. So they let the disgraced spy, George Smiley — John Le Carre’s most famous character — to come back in to find the leak.

This is an amazingly complex spy movie, with three or four plots going on simultaneously, along with various flashbacks gradually filling in the missing details. (I gave only the most bare-bones details, so as not to spoil the film.) Some of the scenes are fantastic – like an insiders’ view of the spy division’s office Christmas party, where the agents sing out songs from the various nations they are spying on as they guzzle vodka-stoked punch. It’s also a visually stupendous movie, with period costumes, and lighting that somehow makes all the sombre faces look like chiseled (or grizzled!) stone statues.

The acting is all-around amazing, with Gary Oldman as Smiley, and especially the less well-known actors like Mark Strong, Kathy Burke, and Tom Hardy. Warning – this is not a high-concept film like a 007 action movie. It’s not so easy film to absorb: you have to think about it as you watch. But it’s very satisfying to see.

The Adventures of Tintin

Dir: Steven Spielberg

Based on comics by Herge

Tintin is a young journalist who travels around the world with his dog Snowy. When his model ship is stolen, he discovers a secret message left behind, and vows to track down the other clues. But he’s being chased by a mean man with a sweet-sounding name — Sakharine. Tintin is shanghaied, and on board the cargo ship he meets Captain Haddock, a drunk who also has a connection to the missing model ship, the Unicorn. Together, they set out on an orientalist journey to a North African sheikhdom – travelling by plane, boat and on foot — to find the secret message, solve the mystery, and catch the evil villain. Part of the puzzle is written down, but part is lost somewhere in Haddock’s hazy memory – the only way to find the treasure of the villainous pirate Red Rackham is for Captan Haddock to remember the story. Billions of blue bilious blistering Barnacles!

Tintin and Snowy are Herge’s beloved characters who travelled around the world, speaking the same language as everyone he met, and always doing the right thing. I loved reading those comics. Never mind that Herge continued to publish during the Nazi occupation, affably drawing his villains evil Jews; never mind that he used racist caricatures in depictions of the Congo (where, ironically, it was Belgium’s King Leopold who had slaughtered millions as he plundered their wealth). These things are all Herge’s faults, not Tintin’s. He is always true, brave, clever, kind hearted, and adventurous.

I always loved the clear detailed lines, the amazing adventures, and the exotic locales of Herge’s comics. But some of it’s lost on the big screen. The 3-D movie version is shot in my least favourite type of animation: Motion Capture. This is the type where actors move around with little cameras hanging all over them, to give a combination of live action but animated characters and background. But it’s uglier and less elegant than the original, simpler versions. This one gives Tintin a sort of a globe head with fuzzy hair (could you imagine someone doing a motion capture movie, of, say Charlie Brown and giving him a bulbous head and one giant curled hair?) And the clips of ocean waves and fire look totally out if place – they don’t match the rest of the images. Some scenes are perfect – like Haddock drinking blobs of floating alcohol on board a prop plane. But the sword fights are way too long; the opera singer, Bianca Castafiore, is given a beautiful voice (instead of a terrible one). And worst of all, they hijacked a Tintin story and almost turned it into a Haddock story. Great Snakes! Tintin and a sidekick? You can’t do that…

The voices – Andy Bell and Andrew Sirkis as Tintin and Cap’t Haddock – are great, no problems there. Anyway, it’s a fun adventurous drama… but it left me hollow — not with the great thrill I felt reading the comics gave me.

War Horse

Dir: by Steven Spielberg

Albie, a poor farmer’s kid in the rolling hills of Devon, trains and raises his beautiful colt Joey. They grow up together, but when his father is close to losing the farm on the eve of WWI, he sells the horse to an officer to use in the war. Albie is heartbroken, but ties his dad’s regimental flag from the Boer War to Joey’s bridle to remember him.

This is where the focus shifts from the kid, to the horse himself! Horses played a vital part in WWI, and Joey the horse finds itself drifting across battle lines in France, between the British and the Germans. He’s taken in by German soldiers who also recognize his strength and beauty. Later he’s found by a young French girl who wants to hide him from the soldiers. And he makes friends with a bigger, black horse. But it’s a war, and Joey is sent back to the front lines, back to the trenches, facing death as a dray horse. Will he make it through the war? And will he ever get back to Albert and his peaceful farm in Devon?

When I heard about this movie, I put a giant X across it, and said BLLLLEEEEAAAAAAGGGHHH! I am not watching a movie about a horse! NO WAY! That’s a definite. But you know what? I went, I saw it, and… oh my God! It turned out to be an amazingly touching movie: Sentimental but not smarmy, unorthodox, exciting, unusual, and a total tear-jerker – at least three genuine sob-scenes. OK, it’s partly formulaic – everyone likes kids and animals – but it’s so much more than that. It avoids anthropomorphizing the animals – they are horses not people. Spielberg also shows war as a cruel and bad place, with the Germans and the British equally suffering.

Acting was great, the cinematography looks like an old Hollywood western, and even the somewhat cloying music rarely spoiled the feel.

I thought they couldn’t make great G-rated movies anymore, just Chipmunk Squeakquels… but they can. This is a wonderful, beautiful, tear-wrenching, and exciting movie.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy is now playing, The Adventures of Tintin just opened, and War Horse on Christmas Day. Check you local listings.

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

December 16, 2011. Resolutions. Movies reviewed: Young Adult, Margin Call, Always: Sunset on Third Street 2

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 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.

In a couple of weeks it’s the New Year. Just another date, actually, one day out of 365, but people feel the need to mark it with a vow or a promise or a resolution. (I like to name the 10 best movies of the year – I could just as easily do it on May 19th or something, but, you know, it’s the new year.) Similarly, a good friend of mine had one of those monumental life-changing birthdays recently, and because it’s a big symmetrical number he is trying to figure out what to do with the next decade – or 120 months if you like – of his life.

It’s something to think about…So, to fit with that theme, I’m reviewing three movies where people resolve to make some major changes: a Japanese movie about a writer who decides to win a contest so he can keep his son; a movie about financial firm having to decide whether to keep or sell their stock; and a comedy/drama about a woman who decides to win back her highschool sweetheart, whatever the consequences.

Margin Call

Dir: JC Chandor

Soon after a crash and burn lay-off at an investment brokerage when most of the middle-management are instantly made redundant and marched out the door, a young analyst, Peter (Zachary Quinto) discovers a discrepancy in the firm’s figures. Their vaunted foolproof logorhythm that calculates risk is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing, and there may be big trouble up ahead. All the upper-ups zoom in by helicopter to analyze the situation. Is there any value in their trillions of dollars of leveraged investments? Or is it all, as the CEO John (Jeremy Irons) says, just a bag of excrement? So, there’s a mad scramble to deal with the problem, before anyone else on Wall Street finds out the truth.

While billed as a thriller, it’s not. What it is is a very taut, tense drama about the financial world’s recent meltdown, told from the inside. The characters are portrayed as smart, rich, callous and competitive, rather than stupid, douchey, arrogant fratboys, but aside from a few – like Stanley Tucci’s hard-working Eric – they are hard to sympathize with. It’s mainly headbutting between the many brokers in the house. Great, very large cast, interesting story, high-level stress on an important topic, a disturbing movie, just not a moving movie.

Young Adult

Dir: Jason Reitman

Wri: Diablo Cody

Mavis (Charlize Theron) is a recently-divorced, big city writer in the “mini-apple”, the author of a series of adolescent romance novels. She’s shallow, egotistical and vain. She mopes around her high-rise apartment watching reality TV, sleeping with hook-ups, and waking up each morning in a drunken stupor in her Hello Kitty T-shirt. So, for some reason, she decides to change her life – to go back to her small town and win back her High School sweetheart Buddy (Patrick Wilson) whom she left 20 years earlier. So she grabs her little yappy dog Dolce and her mixed cassette tapes, hops into her little red car, and drives off to Mercury Minnesota.

But things aren’t what she hoped. Town folk refer to her as the Psychotic Prom Queen Bitch, her ex-boyfriend is married with a baby, and everyone in town knows exactly what she’s doing, where she’s going, and who she is. Only Matt (Patton Oswalt) — a short, fat, and nerdy boy who had had a crush on her back then, only to be gay-bashed nearly to death (even though he wasn’t gay) – has time for her. But things are looking up when Buddy starts saying romantic things and she steals a drunken kiss one night on his doorstep.

Young Adult is a pretty good movie — funny without resorting gross-outs or slapstick – and Charlize Theron is great as the faded, though still beautiful, middle-aged woman trying to reclaim her High School glory. The climax Is predictable but suitably discomforting. It’s also interestingly shot, with extreme close ups of her daily life – seeing countless mani-pedis with 40-foot high toenails is disconcerting. Diablo Cody’s dialogue is much better, more restrained, than in her last movie Juno. On the other hand, many of the other characters are boring – except a few like a hilarious motel clerk, and the movie is so saturated with product placement that it begins to grate. And like Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air, it seems to rehash the stereotype that urban life is flashy but hollow, while smalltown life is dull but real. Still, Young Adult is a good funny-depressing movie, worth seeing.

Always: Sunset on Third Street: 2

Dir: Takashi Yamazaki

In a little corner of Tokyo right near the newly built Tokyo Tower, two families are trying to make their way after WWII. The Suzuki’s run an auto repair shop, with the help of Mutsuko, a young female mechanic from a small town up north. They are forced to take in a spoiled rich girl from a relative who’s fallen on hard times. And across the street is a struggling writer, Chagawa, poor but educated, who takes care of the runaway boy Jun’nosuke as if he’s his own son. He also hopes to gain back his beautiful girlfriend – who’s now working as a stripper — and form a family of three. She’s afraid she’s not sophisticated enough for him, he’s afraid he’s too wimpy for her. But the illegitimate boy’s father, an extremely wealthy company president, wants to take the kid back. Chagawa has to do something dramatic if he’s to hold onto his fragile family. So he vows to write a great short story and win the prestigious Akutagawa prize. With the help of all his neighbours, he might have a chance.

This is a sequel to the one that the Japan Foundation showed last year to give a taste of Japan, and continues the characters’ stories. Based on the popular Manga series by Ryohei Saigan it has the many long, varied and twisting plotlines you need in that genre, with recurring characters, betrayals, secrets, tragedy, romance forgiveness, coincidences and surprises. Though extremely sentimental, nostalgic and cliched, occasionally even unbearabley maudlin, it’s also fun and satisfying to watch. Either you like it or you don’t, but I’m a sucker for plot-driven period dramas like this one.

Margin Call is now playing, Young Adult opens today, and Always 2 played at the Japan Foundation film festival last week – you can borrow many movies and comics like this one from jftor.org/library for information.

Also playing right now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox is a retrospective of Roman Polanski’s movies, including Knife in the Water, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, and his latest movie Carnage, a good social comedy based on a stageplay about two adult couples – strangers – fighting like kids over something one couple’s son did to the other couple’s kid.

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

December 9, 2011. Couples. Movies Reviewed: Shame, Salsa Tel Aviv, Carnage

Posted in 1980s, Catholicism, comedy, Cultural Mining, Dance, Drama, Family, Israel, Mexico, Penis, Porn, Sex, Sex Trade, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 8, 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.

Couples. I think you know that phenomenon – all these people you used to know as individuals who suddenly turn into half of a couple, beginning right about now. They are easily spotted, what with their matching Christmas sweaters and pompom-ed toques. Who start talking in the We form instead of the I? I’m sure you know some of these “couples”.

Well this week I’m reviewing three films — three case studies — that deal this strange anthropological phenomenon – couples – at various stage of their development, their habitat, their migratory patterns, and their means of reproduction. One where the a camera was placed inside a nest and all coupling was filmed in detail — and their state of coupling is continual, but short, efficient, and then it’s gone; another where a member of the species migrates from Mexico, and accidentally inhabits another couple’s nest; and a movie where a couple of couples initially peacefully coexist, but soon run the danger of tearing one other’s heads off.

Shame

Dir: Steve McQueen

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a successful, young-ish ad exec who lives in a swank New York apartment. He can pick up women without even trying, and seems to have an insatiable need to sleep with a different woman each night. His extremely douche-y boss (James Badge Dale) known for his awful old pick-up lines, takes him along as a wing-man to pick up bars using awful pick-up lines, but Brandon is always the one who gets the lucky. And if not, there’s always prostitutes or porn. The one thing he can’t have, though, is any commitment or responsibility – they’re an instant killer, and he’ll do anything to avoid them.

Well in comes his estranged and needy younger sister, Sissie (Carey Muligan), who totally messes up his desired (though shallow and meaningless) lifestyle when she moves into his shag-pad. Her presence unnerves him, and sends him on a increasingly desperate cycle of depravity in his relentless quest for sexual and emotional satisfaction. Will it lead to some (pardon the expression) climactic event? Although they seem to have some kind of ominous backstory from their childhood making them so screwed up, it’s their present-day lives that are crucial.

Shame is a disappointing movie. It seems to be a moralistic look at sexual depravity and its consequences, but where it doesn’t even seem all that depraved. None of the characters are very likeable. And while there’s almost constant full frontal (and back-al) nudity, it’s not very erotic, more detached, mechanical, cold. While aesthetically and visually it’s great, with its long takes, off-centre and partially obscured close-ups, and while it’s a generally watchable – I didn’t want to walk out or anything – it left me as cold as the characters seem to be, with an implied moral tsk-tsk about the consequences of sexual indulgences.

Salsa Tel Aviv

Dir: Jorge Weller

Yoni (Angel Bonani), a bumbling botany professor who acts like a young Cary Grant, meets an equally awkward novice nun, “Victoria” (Angelica Vale) at a Mexican airport. They end up sharing a hotel room when a flight is cancelled. Afterwards, they find themselves together again on a flight to Tel Aviv (he’s heading home, she abroad). A Spanish speaker, he helps her through customs. Later his uptight fiancée Dafna (who won’t even kiss him unless he’s sucking a mint) takes him to a Salsa studio where she takes dance lessons. There he meets Vicki who seems very familiar to him. The nun’s habit was just a disguise. She used it to sneak into the country and meet her macho, deadbeat, salsa-dancing boyfriend who left her behind in Mexico with their kid. Vicki/Victoria and Yoni end up in a series of increasingly suggestive situations. She knows about his fiancée, but he knows nothing about her life. Is a romance developing between Vicki and Yoni? Or will they each stick with their respective mates?

Salsa Tel Aviv is a light rom-com about culture-crossed relationships. It’s 90% Spanish, 10% Hebrew, with the main roles — and the director as well — originally from Latin America. Uruguayan-Israeli Bonani, a former model, looks the part, but seems to be just starting in his acting career. Vale, a telenovela superstar in Mexico, is right in her element, doing lots of physical comedy (usually sleepy, drunk, confused or tongue-tied) as well as a competent romantic lead. Nothing spectacular, nothing very original, just a cute, classic romantic comedy.

Carnage

Dir: Roman Polanski

Penelope and Michael (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) invite Nancy and Alan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) to have a talk. You see, their 12 year old sons got in a fight, with one of them hit the other with a stick, so they decide have a civil, community-minded discussion, outside of lawsuits and recriminations. They’re all educated, sophisticated and rich professionals in NY City.

Penelope is committed to resolving the issue; Nancy as well, but she’s feeling sick; Michael is taking the easy way out, avoiding confrontation; while Alan, a corporate lawyer, is barely there – spending most of his time sending messages and talking loudly into his cell. When caffeine and alcohol are added to the mix, things begin to degenerate. What starts as a nice talk (filled with mildly hidden feelings of antipathy) gradually unravels into a psychological cesspool of anger, spite, and bitterness. Like in Luis Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel, they can’t seem to leave that apartment – they seem psychologically trapped in their escalating fights.

This short film (79 minutes), a drawing-room comedy based on a one-act play by Yasmina Reza, is a very funny and acerbic look at how grown-ups act and what lies just beneath its surface. It doesn’t do much that a live play can’t, except maybe close-ups — It’s basically a filmed play — but who doesn’t want to see an entertaining play with four famous actors they like?

Shame is now playing, Salsa Tel Aviv is on for one show only this Sunday afternoon as part of the Chai, Tea and a Movie series at the Sheppard Cinema, check TJFF.com for details; and Polanski’s Carnage opens in two weeks — check your local listings.

Also opening this weekend: Paul Goodman Changed my Life, a new documentary about the influential counterculture figure of the 60’s — a bisexual, anarchist, writer, philosopher — starts tonight at the Royal; Brooklyn Boheme plays tonight at Toronto Underground cinema; and some really fun Japanese movies, including Linda Linda Linda about a highschool girls’ rock band, and Always: Sunset on 3rd St. 2, a nostalgic sequel to last year’s flic about the residents of a struggling postwar Tokyo neighbourhood are playing for free at the Royal this weekend, courtesy of Toronto’s Japan Foundation.

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

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Dec 2, 2011 Fox Movies vs Hedgehog Movies. Films Reviewed: Surviving Progress, The Descendants PLUS VTape

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Death, Denial, Drama, Environmentalism, Gas, Hawaii, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on December 3, 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.

Have you ever heard of “Foxes vs Hedgehogs”? Isaiah Berlin (in a famous essay about Tolstoy) wrote that writers and intellectuals were all either foxes or hedgehogs. Hedgehogs know one big thing, while foxes know many things. (He’s talking about expertise in a field versus generalists.) But I wonder if this can be applied to movies? Are their fox movies and hedgehog movies? I don’t know — all movies are collaborations of dozens or even hundreds of people… but they usual seem to be about one big thing. Fox movies (I don’t mean 20th Century Fox) might be ones like Enter the Void, or You are Here, or Magnolia; while hedgehogs are Remains of the Day or Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Then there are most movies which have a concept but where there’s no idea at all. I guess they’re neither foxes nor hedgehogs.

So this week I’m talking about two movies, a documentary about everything, and a humorous drama about a family facing a whole lot of problems all at once.

Surviving Progress

Dir: Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks

You’ve probably heard of “peak oil”: that’s the point where the oil yet to come out of the ground is less than what we’ve already extracted, so we’ve already used most of it up. People say we reached peak oil about 8 years ago, most of the found reserves are drying out, and that’s why they’re trying to get oil out of the tar sands and digging in remote areas to find whatever’s left.

But what if it’s not just peak oil? What if it’s peak everything? What if we’re using up all the credit we possibly could in the drive toward over- consumption; all the forests, the water, arable land is approaching point zero; what if the financial sector, with its rapacious, slash-and-burn attitude toward company takeovers in search of the next 10% profit rate…

This new documentary (based on Ronald Wright’s book “A short history of progress) poses a really interesting situation. Progress is defined as a technological advance that takes us out of each successive crisis and saves us. But what if these advances in technology or progress are the cause of these crises?

It uses the example of the mammoth. When the cavemen – who are basically us, genetically – used to go out and chase after woolly elephants, they’d kill one ot two every so often and eat them. But when someone came up with the new idea, the technology, that let them round up a whole herd and chase them off a cliff… well that was that. Peak Mammoth.

So the current financial crisis, the environmental crisis, the water, oil, shortages… maybe all our new ideas aren’t progress at all, but the start of disaster?

This is a really interesting idea, and a fascinating documentary. The movie consists mainly of talking head interviews by lots of famous experts like Vaclav Smil, Jane Goodall and Steven Hawking taking all sides of the argument. Personally, I would have liked more shots of apes playing with blocks or wooly mammoths falling off cliffs, and less long, talking-head interviews… but it’s still a really interesting topic.

(Definitely a fox movie, not a hedgehog, though, talking about everything and its opposite, to cover all points of view – it left me a bit overwhelmed by all it covered, and at a loss as to what the movie says we should do to solve the problem.)

The Descendants

Dir: Alexander Payne

Matt King (George Clooney) is a middle aged corporate lawyer in Hawai’i, who, along with all his cousins, is apparently descended way back from a Hawaiian princess, but looks, sounds and acts like a rich white guy, a haoli. He’s in charge of the family trust for a land grant of untouched beaches and forests left by that Hawaiian royal family a century ago, and suddenly they have to sell it off to developers to make condos and golf courses before they lose it. Then, all of the sudden, everything hits him all at once. His wife is in hospital in a coma, so, for the first time he has to take care of his two daughters, Scottie and Alex (Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley), who are a handful. And if that’s not enough, the doctors say his wife may not survive – her friends, his in-laws, and everyone close need to be told. And his daughter Alex chooses this point to tell him some shocking news about his wife – something he never knew. So now it’s up to the three of them, plus Alex’s boyfriend Sid the pool boy, to journey around the islands to try to tie up the loose ends, and face their upcoming losses.

So it deals with a load of plot lines that are all over the place, like the scattered Hawaiian islands, but it’s held together with traditional Hawaiian music, scenery and style. This is a very sweet and interesting movie about a father and his family facing up to a whole bunch of problems all at once. The cast is great, the acting, the look and feel, the story too. I didn’t leave the theatre thinking “this is a deep movie” – it’s not – but it’s a good movie. It felt like the pilot for a really good HBO TV series. What’s this family’s next adventure? I want to find out!

Surviving Progress opens today in Toronto, and The Descendants is playing now, check your local listings.

Also check out VTape’s program this Saturday, a very foxy movie program, where the staff at this experimental art-video space has selected a special, eclectic program, CARRIED AWAY, which they describe as “a sampler box of chocolates” including “mash-ups, tender meditations, and animations, both precise and apocalyptic”. That’s on this Saturday, Dec 9. Go to www.vtape.org for more information

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

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