April 20, 2012 Are All Men Cads? Movies Reviewed: The Deep Blue Sea, Damsels in Distress

Posted in comedy, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, Movies, Romance, UK, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on April 24, 2012

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

I’m back again to review some new movies. Are all men cads, heels, users, liars and cheats? How about douches, stalkers, assholes, Tucker Maxes, players, pricks and opportunists, who will say just about anything to get laid? This question is taken up by two films with male directors and writers, but told from the points of view of the female characters. One is a post-war historical melodrama about a married woman who willingly goes astray; the other a contemporary light comedy about a group of college students who risk being led astray.

The Deep Blue Sea

Dir: Terrence Davies

based on the Play by Terrence Rattigan

The war has ended and, Hester (Rachel Weisz), is a beautiful young woman married to a much older man. Sir William Collyer (Simon Russel Beale) is intelligent, kind, upper class and very rich, and he’s also a judge. He loves Hester dearly, but can’t provide for her sexually. Hester is the daughter of a vicar whose life feels like it’s hit a dead end. Then she meets Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), a dashing RAF pilot, a hero in WWII. He’s brash, funny and charming and “makes a pass” at her.

Soon, she’s separated from her husband and trades his mother’s stately home for a dowdy London flat filled with society’s struggling outcasts – like a doctor whose license has been revoked.

The movie opens with Hester’s attempted suicide. The reasons for this, the reactions of her husband and her lover to it, and her final decision, make up the rest of the movie. It’s told through Hester’s flashbacks to the war, her time spent with Freddie and William, and memories of the war. And it tries to explain her strange decision to leave wealth, status and a loving husband for a nonchalant cad.

Davies is an remarkable director for whom what you see, and the music you hear is always as important than the dialogue. He doesn’t tell strict linear narratives, but gives impressions of the thoughts and experiences of the main character. This is adapted from the play by Terrance Rattigan, but Davies uses dialogue sparsely. He hints at what’s going on and is rarely explicit. For example when William discovers the aptly-named Hester’s infidelity, you get a brief glimpse of a punch and judy show going on just outside a door.

Although it’s a melodrama, I found it very moving, visually stunning, with an evocative soundtrack often provided by the characters themselves singing period songs in pubs or bomb shelters. The acting is also great – Rachel Weisz’s first good job in a long time, (I was losing faith in her as an actress) with the exception of one strange shouting scene between Hester and Freddie that seemed a bit clumsy and overdone. Not a conventional movie, but a beautiful and moving one.

Damsels in Distress

Dir: Whit Stillman

Lily (Analeigh Tipton, a Michelle Trachtenberg look-alike) is a university student who transfers to Seven Oaks, a former all-girls college in a small New England town. She is immediately befriended by a clique of discerning, conservative women, and moves in with them. They all have flower names like her. Violet (Greta Gerwig), the obvious ring-leader, thinks men all have “B.O.” She knows aromas and colours are very important. Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), an African-American with a recently acquired impeccable British accent, says men are all players. Along with dumb-as-a-post Heather (Carrie MacLemore), the three have a goal: to rescue the downtrodden and suicidal students on campus by distributing donuts and teaching them… tap dancing!

Violet has a theory – aim for the bottom, and only date guys stupider than she is. So she goes for the frat boys (“They’re not “Greeks” – we only use Roman letters here”) some of whom haven’t even learned the colours yet. But her world is sent off-kilter when Lily proves too popular, and has two romantic and handsome boys chasing her. Will the smart, but inexperienced, Lily choose the suave frenchman Xavier (Hugo Becker), who tells her he’s a member of the Cathars and must follow certain sexual rules? Or the charming and successful businessman Charlie (Adam Brody) who just happens to be on campus? And will she ever see through these guys’ transparent ruses?

Damsels in Distress is a very cute, and very funny, coming-of-age story about life in a sheltered, liberal arts college. This is Whit Stillman’s first movie in a long time, and it’s great, like all his movies. He did The Last Days of Disco, Barcelona, and Metropolitan, all very distinctive portraits of educated, but naïve, upper-middle-class people. This one is done in vignettes, over the course of a year, with a terrific ensemble cast — all new, and all terrific. Admittedly, it has a confusing and cobbled-together-looking finish, that leaves you thinking why was that there? but it was just silly, not bad enough to spoil an otherwise fully enjoyable movie.

The Deep Blue Sea is now playing, and Damsels in Distress opens today (Friday, April 20) in Toronto, check your local listings. The Strawberry Tree is showing tonight (Friday) at the Images festival, and tickets for HotDocs, Toronto’s documentary festival, are available now.

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

April 20, 2012. Interview: Sylvia Caminer talks to Daniel Garber about “An Affair of the Heart” her new documentary on Rick Springfield and his devoted fans

Posted in 1980s, Acting, Cultural Mining, documentary, Hotdocs, Movies, Music, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on April 16, 2012


You might remember pop-rock star Rick Springfield’s hit Jesse’s Girl, and you may have seen him on General Hospital. But a new documentary, An Affair of the Heart (that’s premiering at HotDocs on April 29th), shows a little known aspect of the pop star’s life: his relationship with his devoted fans. Sylvia tells about making the film, an odd trip to  Sweden, and what celebrity fandom’s all about….

April 13, 2012. Interview: Simone Rapisarda Casanova talks to Daniel Garber about his film The Strawberry Tree at Images Festival

Posted in Animals, Art, Canada, Cuba, Cultural Mining, documentary, Images Festival, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on April 16, 2012

Simone Rapisarda Casanova talks about The Strawberry Tree, a film he shot in a remote fishing village in Cuba that was later flattened by a hurricane. Simone shares his thoughts on the Three Utopias, the relationship of the artist and his subjects, honesty, class, and shooting a film looking up from the floor.

April 7, 2012. Interview. Filmmaker Nisha Pahuja talks to Daniel Garber about her new documentary The World Before Her

Posted in Canada, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Hotdocs, India, Movies, Spirituality, TV, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on April 16, 2012

Religious fundamentalism is triggering violence, riots and even wars across the globe, and is frequently in the news. But what about Hindu fundamentalism?

A new Canadian documentary takes you inside a bootcamp where teenaged girls are trained and indoctrinated into the violent Durgha Vahini movement. The documentary, The World Before Her, Directed by Nisha Pahuja, will have its Canadian premier at HotDocs in Toronto and opens on April 19th at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

It follows two young women. Ruhi is a westernized contestant in the MIss India beauty pageant in Bombay; Prachi Trivedi is a hardline, Hindu fundamentalist and rising political activist who has attended these camps since she was a small child.

We talk about making her new film; westernization vs modernization; the causes and dangers of fundamentalism and extreme nationalism; and the state of women in contemporary India.

UPDATE: Nisha Pahuja’s new film The World Before Her has just won the BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE award at the Tribeca Film festival! Congratulations, Nisha!

Awards Announced: 2012 Tribeca Film Festival:

By Kristin McCracken

“Winner receives $25,000 and the art award “An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters, 2010” by Kara Walker; courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

“Jury Comments: “With unprecedented access, great compassion, and a keen eye for the universal, this year’s winner takes a hard and clear-eyed look at the trials of growing up female in today’s fast-changing world. Following young women who have taken diametrically opposed decisions on how to tackle the influence of global forces in their communities, the filmmaker takes us on a journey to examine how the pressures of faith, fashion, and family are bringing up a generation of women who are desperately searching for meaning amidst a reality of few real choices.”

Cabins in the Woods. Movies Reviewed: Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, The Hunter, The Cabin in the Woods

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 back again, and I’m reviewing three good movies opening this weekend, that are all about the hunters and the hunted in their cabins in the woods. There’s a documentary about a Siberian trapper in the Taiga; a drama about a hunter looking for a tiger; and a horror/ comedy about five college students trapped in a cabin by a hunter zombie.

Happy People. A Year in the Taiga

Dir: Werner Herzog, Dimitry Vasyukov

Genady is an enigmatic, bearded trapper and hunter who lives in Bakhtia, Siberia, in a town reachable only by boat (or helicopter). He sets handmade wooden sable traps over an area so enormous it would take a day and a half to cross by skidoo. He builds a series of little wooden huts across his trapping territory and the camera is there to show it. This is the Taiga, the boreal forest south of the Tundra that looks a lot like most of northern Canada. (Actually, Siberia is bigger than all of Canada.)

The directors follow Genady and other fur trappers for a year, showing the cycle of the seasons, the holidays, the intimate relationship between a hunter and his dogs, and the happy time when they’re welcomed back home for the new year.

You watch him carve skis from a living tree, using just a hatchet and wooden wedges, and some moose fur. He does the same thing people there have been doing there for centuries.

Everything is just how it always was… except maybe an occasional chainsaw, and a few skidoos whizzing across the crusty snow, past some wolves or a stumbling moose.

This is a low-key, educational documentary that gives a realistic and fascinating look at trappers in Siberia, filled with rot-gut vodka, fluffy white animals, frozen fish, and grizzled neighbours wearing black toques or flowery headscarves. Some of the scenes of river vistas, huge clouds and vast frozen tracts are truly beautiful. It’s not quite as funny or shocking as some of Herzog’s other documentaries, but it’s still good, and his deadpan narration is delightful, as always. My one complaint is, whenever anyone starts speaking Russian, instead of subtitles we get English voiceovers. (This is the theatrical version of a four hour German TV series.)

The Hunter

Dir: Daniel Nettheim

Willem Dafoe plays Martin, a cold, mercenary shootist, hired by a military bio- medical conglomerate to track down and kill the Tasmanian tiger, a rare animal in a remote island state in Australia. He is an anal, precision-obsessed anti-social pro, who is friendless — and likes it that way. He’s a loner. But when he arrives, he finds the rustic, wooden house he’s supposed to stay at is filthy, dysfunctional, and falling apart… and occupied by a family.

The father is missing, the mother (Frances O’Connor) is in a perpetual prescription-drug-induced stupor, and the kids run wild, climbing naked into the bathtub with him as he tries to get clean. He brushes them all off, as well as his local guide, Jack (Sam Neill) – he just wants to catch the Tazzie tiger.

But, gradually he adjusts to family life. He helps the mom detox, and starts to spend time with the kids. And, it turns out that the son, a tiny tyke, had accompanied his missing father on a similar tiger hunt. So he has first-hand experience and his drawings could help Martin in his search. But, as his heart warms up, his conscience begins to bother him: should he be killing the last member of a species? And can he survive the barren life in the bush, the xenophobic, redneck townies, the crusading “greenies” (enviro-activists), and the sinister corporation itself?

This is a good, tense drama – not an action movie, despite the way it’s being advertised – that shows Martin stalking the Tiger and resisting the deadly attacks from his rivals. This has good acting, spectacular and unusual scenery, a moving story, and an interesting plot.

Cabin in the Woods

Dir: Drew Goddard

Five college students head off for a fun weekend at a cottage in the woods, where they plan to hang out, maybe have sex, get drunk, and take drugs. It looks like it’ll be fun, despite the warnings of a crusty, tobacco-chewing local who predicts their demise. The five of them — Jules (Anna Hutchison), the newly-blonde party girl, Curt (Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) the “dumb” jock, Dana (Kristen Connolly) the shy, good girl, and Holden (Jesse Williams) the nice-guy nerd — just want to have a good time, and enjoy a game of truth or dare.

Only Marty (Fran “Dollhouse” Kranz) the stoner, suspects something is up:  why are the very smart students behaving like celebutantes and french-kissing wolf heads? It doesn’t make sense. And when the game leads them down to the basement, why do they accidentally summon redneck killer zombies from the grave by reading a spell they find in an old diary? Whatever the reason is, they find themselves fighting for their lives against an endless series of scary, trap-and-chain wielding hunter zombis. Just what you’d expect from a horror movie.

Except… this isn’t a conventional slasher story. It’s a meta-meta-meta movie, more layers than you can shake a stick at. You see, they don’t realize it, but it’s all been a set-up by technicians in a laboratory somewhere who have made their own hunger games inside and around the cottage, complete with little cameras hidden everywhere. It’s total manipulation and mind control! To get them to act sexier, they spray pheremones into the building. And when they try to escape, they discover they’re trapped in what may be something like a movie set (which eventually morphs into an extended version of Vincenzo Natali’s “Cube”…) Is there any way to escape?

The movie switches back and forth between the boring, white-jacketed, middle-aged pocket-protector guys in the lab causing all the trouble (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and the perennial lab-geek Amy Acker, from Whedon’s Angel and Dollhouse), and the teens in the cabin running for their lives.

It’s a matter of taste, of course, but I just loved this comedy-horror movie by first-time director Goddard who previously wrote Cloverfield; and written by Joss Whedon, the man whose series Buffy the Vampire Slayer inspired more PhD theses than Jane Austin. The best way to understand it is to compare it to a one season (BTVS) story arc, building from an innocuous start, through a twisted plot, and with a grand finale where everyone runs amok. Of course, the lines are hilarious, and the violence is scary, extreme and bloody.

Cabin in the Woods, and The Hunter open today in Toronto, Check your local listings; Happy People: a Year in the Taiga, opens at the TIFF Bell Light Box. The Images festival is on now. Also opening is Gus Madden’s long-awaited Keyhole; the wonderful, heart-wrenching drama, The Deep Blue Sea, (which I’ll talk about next week); and the slapstick meat puppets of The Three Stooges. And tickets for HotDocs, Toronto’s documentary festival, are now on sale.

And if you like what you hear, be sure to support CIUT in its membership drive, on now!

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

April 6, 2012. The Dispassionate Eye. Movies Reviewed: Images Festival, Strawberry Tree, The Pettifogger PLUS Bully v. Fightville

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 back again with some movie reviews. As I’ve said, springtime is film festival time. You can catch the Toronto Film Society’s “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” weekend at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto starting on May 11th, for a chance to see B&W film noir and other classics from the 1940’s, like Suspicion, The Big Sleep, The Glass Key and Double Indemnity.

And starting this Wednesday is the unique and amazing Images Media Arts Festival. Images is North America’s biggest festival of art-driven film and videos, including live performances, gallery installations, and, of course, movies. It’s their 25th anniversary, so you can see new and innovative work, as well as work shown their first year, way back in the 80’s. The Festival opens with John Akomfrah’s The Nine Muses, and closes with a live performance by Yo La Tenga.

The Strawberry Tree

Dir: Simone Rapisarda Casanova

This film is filled with mundane but lovely composed views of life in a small, Cuban fishing village. Scenes range from repairing fishing nets, and fish teeming underwater, and the slaughter of a goat in real time, to a woman peeling plantains, or  a man performing card tricks at a kids’ party.

The director’s camera is an unmoving, dispassionate observer set up on the floor, usually at a distance from the people he’s filming. But the posture of an artist’s indifference is challenged and exposed by the constant patter of the film’s subjects: sexual banter, casual insults, joking stories and comments often involving the artist by name. They talk about his jewelry, make fun of his accent, his attitude, his looks, his wealth, and the way they think his life must like in Canada. And they talk about the film itself and how it distorts – positively or negatively — the way it makes them look.

The calm beauty of the film is balanced with the knowledge (from the very first frame) that everything we see was later wiped away by a hurricane that flattened the village after the film was made.

This is a gorgeous and often funny impression of small town life in Cuba.

To get in the mood for the festival, on Wednesday, the day before Images begins, there’s an amazing free screening of:

The Pettifogger

Dir: Lewis Klahr

This is kind of an art-film, kind of a mood-narrative, about an early sixties gambler. It’s filled with noir-ish newspaper comics, film stills, and found objects like buttons, poker chips, and plastic sword-shaped toothpicks. Everything leads back to hardboiled tough guys — men who wear hats — and their femmes fatales. Using cut-out style animation, Klahr manipulates the collage images across the screen in jerky jumps.

So suspicious comic-strip detectives can be seen peeking through the glassine windows of manila envelopes. Two jacks from a  poker deck do an angry, sullen standoff before skulking off screen again. And everywhere are the bright, coloured icons of that Man’s World: cigarettes, mickeys of scotch, license plates, greenbacks, with hearts and spades, all floating around on the screen. The “bars” of the one armed bandits detach themselves and become coloured bars blocking or censoring the stories he tells… and in the background, sounds of traffic, thunderstorms and ever-suspicious dialogue from radio potboilers.

Check out The Strawberry Tree and Pettifogger at Images, all starting next week.

Last week, I left this studio and saw, a stone’s throw away at Queen’s Park, a protest against bullying. That’s nice, I thought, They’re against teenaged bullying. Until I got closer — it was a pro-bullying demonstration! A what? That’s like a protest against puppies! Apparently, fundamentalist, right wing religious groups object to the new anti-bullying law because it involves teaching about sexuality in public high schools, and calls for allowing “gay-straight alliance” support groups to be started in government-funded schools — in order to help many of the kids who are being driven to suicide by this very bullying. It seems there are people who want to keep bullying just as it is now…

Which brings me  two documentaries opening this weekend, Bully (dir: Lee Hirsch), which is getting a lot of attention, and Fightville (dir: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker), both of which I saw at last year’s HotDocs.

Bully is about bullying, Fightville is about Mixed Martial Arts.

So which is the better documentary?

It’s hard to admit, but Fightville is just a much better doc. Although it’s much more commercial in its style, its characters are more interesting, it’s camera work more pleasing, the storyline (two young fighters trying to become pros vs. five high school students who get bullied) more engaging and dynamic. The problem is Bully, which follows five bullied kids around for a year, has the feeling of a fundraiser, a charity infomercial  (the sort of thing you find yourself watching on cable TV at 5 am on a Sunday morning.) It’s bland and it’s slow and it’s a little bit boring. It doesn’t really offer many solutions. And I was left with the impression that the filmmaker intentionally tried to make one poor kid, Alex, (who has a slightly “unusual”-looking face from certain angles), look odder than he really was. Which in my mind is “movie bullying”.

Does this mean bullying (as an issue) is less important than a bloody, competitive sport? Of course not! It’s just that Fightville is a better film than Bully. I often talk about movies with “good taste” versus movies that “taste good”.  But it looks like I’ve been neglecting a third category. Bully is “good for you”. Like brussels sprouts.

Opening this weekend are Lovers in a Dangerous Time, a low budget, pretty, romantic Canadian drama; Pettifogger and the Strawberry Tree (go to Imagesfestival.com) and the docs Fightville and Bully.

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

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