May 25, 2012. Rescue Me! Movies Reviewed: Chernobyl Diaries, Hysteria, Where Do We Go Now? PLUS Inside-Out

Posted in Cold War, comedy, Cultural Mining, Disaster, Drama, Feminism, Horror, Sex, Thriller, UK, Ukraine, Uncategorized, US, Women by on May 27, 2012

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

Toronto’s spring film festivals are full speed ahead now. Inside out, Toronto’s great LGBT film festival is on through Sunday, featuring a Women’s Spotlight evening tonight, including the Toronto premiere of Cloudburst, Thom Fitzgerald’s new movie starring Olympia Dukakis. And coming soon are the Toronto Japanese Film Festival, The CFC Short Film Festival, and NXNE.

Festivals are a chance to see on a big screen foreign, indie, niche, low-budget, or experimental movies, the kind that never make it to your movieplex. But at a recent screening at Inside Out, one of the directors said something that struck me. Ira Sachs, (director of Keep the Lights On) made the point that, were it not for the support they receive from these film festivals, many of these movies could never have been made in the first place. All the more reason to see movies at film festivals.

So this week I‘m looking at a horror movie about jaded tourists who want to ogle technological excess; an historical comic-drama about how technology can make women happy; and a drama about how how the women in a Lebanese village try to stop a war.

Chernobyl Diaries
Dir: Bradley Parker

A group of Americans backpackers are relaxing in Ukraine where one of them has an apartment, when one of them announces a change of plans: Instead of Moscow, let’s try extreme tourism – a daytrip in and out of Chernobyl! That’s the uninhabited site of the nuclear disaster back in the 1980’s. It’s a post-apocalyptic time capsule – all the workers at the plant only had minutes to flee the village, leaving half-eaten sandwiches and family photos behind. With its abandoned classrooms and peeling communist murals, it’s a modern-day Pompeii. And nature has reclaimed the town of Pripyat, with feral animals and plants running wild. So it’s a creepy thrill for the travellers to explore, and their guide Uri carries a Geiger counter to warn them if the radiation level gets too high.

But when Uri disappears, possibly attacked by wild dogs, and the van they came in stops working, they are forced to find their own way out. Can they survive the radiation, the wild animals, and… maybe, the people who never escaped the place? Sounds like something scary is about to happen…

I spoke with its writer and producer Oren Peli this week, the creator of the classic Paranormal Activity series. He said “there are moments where you don’t see anything but you hear a noise far away, you don’t know what the noise is, but just the fact that the noise exists that you are hearing something cluttering in an apartment nearby when there is not supposed to be anyone else there, that can be really scary.” And he’s right — the soundtrack really is scary and the images and the mood are perfect.

But what about the movie? The title is somewhat misleading. It’s not a found footage film like the Paranormal Activity series; it’s more of a conventional horror movie, (one without the camera as a character) with lots of constant suspense, shocks and boos. But the story itself lacked much humour, sympathy for the characters, or surprising plot turns… and it didn’t quite make sense to me. It was just a lot of panicky people screaming and shouting as they run around, randomly chased and knocked off (as tends to happen in horror movies) by mysterious, and possibly zombie-like bad guys. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s not as scary as Paranormal Activity.

Dir: Tanya Wexler

(I saw this one at last year’s TIFF, and it’s just delightful.)

It’s Victorian London, and earnest and handsome young Dr Granville (Hugh Dancy) is trying without luck to help people stay clean and healthy while remaining loyal to the ideals of Lister, and modern medicine. He is hired by a psychiatrist, Dr Dalyrimple, who gives special treatments to rich, society women suffering from the blanket ailment “hysteria”. Women who were designated frigid, or nymphomaniacal, or moody, or argumentative – well, they’re all “hysterical”, so the problem must be in their uterus (and hysterectomies were sometimes considered a “cure”). Treatment consists of manual genital massages behind discretely mounted miniature red velvet curtains.

He’s engages to marry the Dalyrimple’s porcelain-skinned but conservative daughter Emily (Felicity Jones); she’s a pianist and an phrenologist: Oh, Dr Granville, your thrombus is rigid and jutting! she says after feeling the bumps on his head. But he always seems to be in arguments with the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall) a suffragette and social worker who runs a settlement house in the impoverished East End. And poor Granville might lose his job because of the repetitive stress injury in his right hand. But, together with his gay-ish best friend and steampunk inventor (Rupert Everett) he just might have the solution to eveyone’s problems– a new machine that may permanently cure hysteria.

I was expecting nothing from a movie about the invention of the vibrator, but it was a real treat – a romance, a comedy, an historical drama, an old-fashioned Hollywood-style movie, along with a taboo twist. I think this is a great movie!

Where Do We Go Now?
Dir: Nadine Labaki

This movie was the surprise winner of the people’s choice award at last years’ Toronto Film Festival, and Director and star Labaki was the first woman to win it.

The movie takes place in a small village, a town divided equally between Muslims and Catholics. It’s surrounded by landmines, and all too often, people get shot or blown up. Up at the top of a hill is the graveyard where women dressed in black from both sides meet to bury the dead. The town itself is peaceful, and after some brave kids weather the landmines to set up an antenna, the mayor declares it’s TV night in the town square, and everyone gathers to watch the blurry movie.

The danger, though, is that the fragile peace will break, and the men will start killing each other again in reprisals. So the women of the village formulate a plan: anytime news about violence reaches the village, they will hide it or distract the men. Gradually — with the cooperation of the Priest and the Imam — their plans escalate and their schemes get more and more elaborate. They stage religious miracles, and even secretly bring in Eastern European strippers – anything to hide the fact that someone in the village was killed in an incident.

Will it work? Can they create an island of piece in turbulent Lebanon? And will their final, shocking surprise serve to jolt the men away from their never-ending violence?

I thought the movie has an extremely slow beginning, with a low-budget, handmade feel to it. Not promising at all. But the pace picks up and gets much better in the second half. And the ending is just great – clever and imaginative, leaving you with a much better feeling.

Chernobyl Diaries, Hysteria, and Where Do We Go Now open this weekend in Toronto, check your local listings, and Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Festival continues through Sunday: go to for more info.

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

May 17, 2012 Inside Out and Upside Down. Movies Reviewed: The Dictator, The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche, Bullhead PLUS CFC Short Film Fest

Posted in Belgium, Books, CIA, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Denial, Steroids, Toronto, Uncategorized, violence by on May 17, 2012

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

The Festivals continue in Toronto, and coming on June 5th is the CFC Short Film Festival, which proves once and for all, it’s not the size (of movies) it’s the motion. Or something like that… You know all those Oscars for sort films , but never get a chance to see them? Well these are the ones that might be nominated for next year’s awards. There are movies featuring celebs like Michael Fassbender, David Duchovny, Charlotte Rampling and Anna Paquin. In short films! And they’re all grouped in categories like “Homeland Security”, “Indie Comedy Showcase”, and “The Night Shift” – which will be showing at late hours, soft of a Midnight Madness Mini-me… It all sponsored by the Canadian Film Centre, and it starts on June 5th

And NXNE, where music conquers all – and that includes their movies – is coming on June 11th. But right now, starting last night, it’s time for the friendly and fascinating LGBT Film Festival, Toronto’s own Inside Out. And if you think its all rainbow ring necklaces and coming-out stories, well, you’re wrong. It’s a very diverse, multi-genre collection of movies, some of which push the limits of the conventional. There are movies from Canada, and around the world: Scandinavia, the US, even Vietnam. Comedies, dramas, romance, documentaries, and lots of sex, of course. Something to satisfy every sexuality and interest. I’m talking about a couple movies today, a Belgian one about cows, and a Canadian one about white oak trees…! But first, a new comedy, you may have heard about.

The Dictator
Dir: Larry Charles

Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) is the military dictator of a North African kingdom. He’s cruel and unpredictable, quietly sentencing to death anyone who disagrees with him. Like Saddam Hussein he has a series of identical doubles to take the bullets from any assassin out to get him, and a Gaddafi- style band of beautiful women soldiers to protect him. He’s a world pariah, and like Kim Jong-il is set to test-launch a nuclear WMD. But what he doesn’t know is that his trusted Tamir (Ben Kingsley) is the one trying to depose him and make his homeland a pseudo-democracy controlled by big oil.

So, on a trip to NYC to speak before the UN, he is kidnapped by a racist American torturer, until he manages to escape… but without his trademark beard and clothing he is just another man. So in a bid to seize back his country at a UN meeting, he falls in with a hippy named Zoey (Anna Faris) who works in an organic food co-op.

OK, this is a new type of movie for Sacha Baron Cohen – different from Borat and Bruno. Instead of getting its laughs in fake documentaries by forcing unsuspecting ordinary people into embarrassing encounters with an invented character, this one has a script by a four-person writing team, music, other actors, old-school film plots and special effects. Presumably it’s because too many people recognize him to trick anyone. So he’s abandoned his revolutionary style of youtube filmmaking for an ordinary comedy. But does it work? I have to admit, at times, flashbacks of those awful, fish-out-of-water comedies with Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler at their worst popped into my mind… but it was better than those, because he’s a good actor, and funnier, wittier, and, even now, more subversive with his parodies of both the rabid right and the flaky left. He stays with the simultaneously self-centred — but somehow self-deprecating — nature of his over-the-top characters. Comic actress Anna Faris was great as his “straight-man” foil.

And, except for a few painfully awful sequences, I thought it was funny. It kept me laughing – or at least smiling — for most of the movie.

The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche
Dir: Maya Gallus

Jalna, a book about a rich family won the Atlantic prize for best novel in the 20s, propelling its unknown author to international fame and fortune and dozens of bestsellers about this patrician, horsey collection of matriarchs and patriarchs, grandmothers, lovers and cruel siblings, a sort of an on-going saga at the Whiteoaks mansion. But what’s interesting about it is the hidden life of the Canadian author Mazo de la Roche.

Mazo de la Roche (born, in Newmarket as the decidedly unglamorous Masie Roach) created a persona for herself woven with false stories and mythical status. And even more interesting was her “Boston Marriage” to a woman, Caroline Clement, her adopted sister. Together they adopted two children and ran a novelistic empire. In an era when homosexuality was both illegal, and taboo, her lesbian readers saw her disguised subtexts of relationships and exalted in her hidden codes.

Her story is told half as a conventional documentary with talking heads, and half as a theatrical, dramatic reading of Mazo and Caroline’s life, played by two actors.

The movie brings in her descendents, old photos, and great Canadian novelists like Marie-Claire Blais and Susan Swan to comment on the influence these largely forgotten novels had on her readers.

This is a good, entertaining NFB documentary, and it’s made by a great director, Maya Gallus, who does amazing documentaries about women that always grab you – like last year’s Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service.

Bullhead (Rundskop)
Dir: Michael R. Roskam

Jackie (Mattias Schoenaerts) is a Flemish cattle farmer in Belgium. He’s big and built, partly from heavy work, and partly from his steroid injections. He’s generally brooding but gentle, but on occasion loses it, in a rush of roid-rage. Like cows, like people. To speed up the growth rate of his cattle, he gets involved in the illegal purchase of growth hormones.

Flashback to two decades earlier, we watch him and his best friend Diederik, spotting a pretty girl on a French-speaking Walloon farm. Jackie keeps wanting to go back so he can talk to her again, and Diederik tags along. But on one of those visits he’s caught by a crazed bully, her big brother, who brutally attacks little Jackie… smashing his balls with a huge rock. I kid you not. Diderik doesn’t come to his defense and then is prevented from testifying against the bully who permanently injured his best friend.

Now, back in the present, Jackie is still taking the testosterone that let him grow to manhood, and he and Diederik are working together again, buying steroids. And Jackie is trying to talk one more time to the girl from that fatal day, who now works in a perfume shop in the French part of Belgium. And Diederik, meanwhile, has a bro-crush on his ball-less boyhood buddy, even as the police are looking for people to blame for a shooting, perhaps tied to the hormone trafficking.

This is a great movie, if a long one. It’s one of those slow-build dramas, where for the frst half you barely know what’s going on, but by the second hour it becomes gripping, filled with tension – sexual courtship, criminals vs cops, gay and straight, Male Female, French and Dutch, all in a hugely complicated but moving drama. Bullhead was the Belgian entry for Academy award for Best Foreign Language Picture, and it’s having its Toronto debut at Inside Out.

The Dictator just opened, check your local listings, and Bullhead, The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche, She Said Boom and many more great movies are playing at the Inside Out Festival: go to for more info.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Kevin Hegge about his new film SHE SAID BOOM: THE STORY OF FIFTH COLUMN

Posted in 1980s, Bruce Labruce, Cultural Mining, documentary, Feminism, Punk, Queer, Toronto, Uncategorized, Women by on May 17, 2012

Can a band be bigger than its largest audience? Can its name live on past any hummable tune they might record? And can its legacy, its legend and its influence extend beyond its lifespan, without any drug overdoses or suicides?

Well, Fifth Column, Toronto’s legendary underground all-female postpunk band lives up to all of that, and is the subject of a new documentary called SHE SAID BOOM: The Story of Fifth Column, playing at Toronto’s Inside-Out film festival on Sunday at 5 pm.

Here I speak with the film’s director, KEVIN HEGGE about Fifth Column’s legacy, Queercore, JDs, G.B. Jones, Caroline Azar, Beverly Breckenridge, Bruce Labruce, feminism, post-punk music, zines, cassette tapes and more…

May 11, 2012. European Jewish Cinema at the TJFF. Movies Reviewed: Simon and the Oaks, My Best Enemy, My Dad is Barishnikov, Let My People Go! PLUS Cabaret-Berlin

Posted in 1940s, 1980s, Austria, Berlin, comedy, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Dance, Drama, Family, Fighting, Judaism, Sex, Sweden, TJFF, Uncategorized by on May 11, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for 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 this week I’m gong to talk about some of the new European movies now playing at TJFF, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. There are two historical dramas about best friends, one from Sweden, and one from Austria; and two very different light comedies, one, in Russian, about the Soviet Union in the 80’s, and another set in present-day Finland and France.

Simon and the Oaks
Dir: Lisa Ohlin
Based on the novel by Marrianne Fredriksson

It’s WWII in neutral Sweden, in Gothenburg. Two boys, Simon Larsson and Isak Lentov, become close friends at a private school: Isak fled Berlin as an infant with his terrified mother and bookseller dad; Simon lives with his parents outside the city. But when Mrs Lentov has a nervous breakdown (after Germany invades the rest of Scandinavia), Isak moves in with the Larssons.

The Larsson and Lentov families grow very close, with Simon leaning toward the Lentov father Ruben’s intellectual world and its joy of music, while Isak heads back to the land, using his hands to make things, as taught by the Larsson father, Erik. For Simon, music affects him in an unusual way: it unlocks memories of his childhood involving an old oak tree in his garden, and leads him to a secret letter his parents have never told him about.

Simon and the Oaks is a beautiful, novelistic story that follows the families over two decades as the boys come of age, the country’s mood changes, and the multifaceted relationships that develop within the extended families. This is a fascinating, character and plot-driven film that manages to convey Simon’s inner feelings visually, without resorting to explicit narration or explanation. All of the acting, including the actors playing the young and adult Simons and Isaks, and the story is compelling. I liked this movie a lot.

My Best Enemy
Dir: Wolfgang Murnberger

It’s 1938 in post Anschluss Vienna. Victor (Moritz Bleibtreu) is the son of a prominent art gallery owner and his lifelong best friend is Rudi (Georg Friedrich). Rudi was born into the family structure – he’s the son of the housekeeper – but outside Victor’s privileged status. But the tables are turned when Rudi becomes a Nazi, while Victor’s Jewish family loses its art and its home and is sent to concentration camps. But still missing is a reputed drawing by Michaelangelo, that may be part of their family art collection. High-ranking Nazis need it to appease their fascist Italian allies.

So Victor is temporarily released from the camp, so that Rudi can discover the location of the hidden work of art. But in a strange reversal, they end up swapping identities! It remains to be seen whether Victor can escape to Switzerland, and if Rudi will get his just desserts… And will that Michelangelo drawing ever be found?

Despite its setting, My Best Enemy is not a Holocaust movie at all – it’s more of a caper-style movie, set during WWII, about two former best friends, now rivals, and their long-term competition over art, love, status and power. It has lots of unexpected twists, but, because of the camera work and style of music it seems less cinematic, and more like a BBC mystery movie. That’s not criticism, per se – I love TV mysteries – just don’t expect a Haneke film.

My Dad is Barishnikov
Dir: Dimitry Povolotsky

Boris Michaelovich Fishkin is a horny, nerdy Soviet adolescent studying at a famous ballet school in the 80’s. He wants to be a great dancer, but he’s no Billy Eliot. He’s awkward, small, and clumsy, and the bigger kids bully and tease him relentlessly. So when his bleached-blonde single mom gives him a tape of the great Barishnikov – the Russian dancer who defected to the west – and drops hints that he may have been his missing father, Boris finds new confidence and inspiration. Soon all the school is whispering about their own little Barishnikov. His trademark pirouettes improve and his Bolshoi bows amuse the ballet experts. But in order to keep his status, he resorts to trading on the black market for luxuries like Levis and bananas. Will he be the next ballet superstar? Will he ever meet his dad? And will his name ever appear on a banner at the Bolshoi?

My Dad is Barishnikov is a cute, light Russian comedy – a coming-of-age memoir, just as the country itself was growing up. It’s filled with references to the era’s line-ups for meat, the cramped apartments, the underground economy, and the subservience to party hierarchy, stuff you don’t see often in movies. It also has great lines, like when the school disciplinarian pulls Boris out of the cafeteria and then announces: “Continue food consumption!”

Let My People Go!
Dir: Mikael Buch

Ruben (Nicolas Maury) is a postman who lives in a log cabin in a Finnish village with his blond boyfriend Teemu. Squeaky-voiced Ruben looks like a gay, French, Peewee Herman riding around on his bike. But one day, when he delivers a package filled with cash to an old man, it’s shoved back at him: “You take it — I don’t want it” and in the struggle, the guy drops dead, and Ruben’s left holding the 200 thousand Euros. But when he tries to explain it all to Teemu, they have a fight,  and Ruben flees home to France. There he’s forced to re-enter his French family life – a passive-oppressive mother (Almodovar’s great Carmen Maura), a milquetoast dad with a secret, a macho brother, and a self-centred sister, – a life he thought he’d escaped forever in his Finnish cabin in the woods.

This is a very funny, cute comedy contrasting a kooky, storybook Finland with the tangled and messed-up world of a French-Jewish family at Passover. It’s full of all sorts of offensively funny ethnic stereotypes played out for full effect.

And well worth seeing this weekend is Cabaret-Berlin: The Wild Scene a marvelous and fast-moving cabaret documentary about Berlin in the 20’s, composed entirely of black and white movie clips, set to recorded German music from that era. You can catch all of these movies — including Simon and the Oaks, Let my People Go, My Best Enemy, and My Dad is Barishnikov — this weekend: go to for details. Also playing is How To Re-establish A Vodka Empire ( at the Bloor Cinema on Sunday at 4:30pm… complete with a vodka tasting! And starting next week is Inside-Out, Toronto’s LGBT Film Festival.

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

May 3, 2012 More Hotdocs! We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, Black Block, Tchoupitoulis

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Italy, Music, New Orleans, Uncategorized, US by on May 9, 2012

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

Toronto is right in the middle of spring festival season. Starting today it’s TJFF – the Toronto Jewish Film Festival – which runs through next weekend, screening movies both downtown and north of Toronto. There are cool documentaries like Cabaret Berlin the Wild scene, and A People Uncounted about the genocide of Roma and Sinta people; comedies like the funny and quirky French Let My People Go; and coming-of-age dramas like “My Australia”. And there’s also a unique sidebar series this year called ‘The Sound of Movies” that’s screening classic films like Planet of the Apes, Coppola’s The Conversation, and the seldom seen indie flick “Something Wild” specifically highlighting their musical scores, by composers like Aaron Copeland, and Lalo Schiffrin. And free rush tickets are available for students, right before all the screenings. So check it out (

And Hotdocs, Toronto’s documentary film festival is still going strong, with almost all titles showing again this weekend. Here are some documentaries you might not have heard about.

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists

Dir: Brian Knappenberger

Who are the web-based activists group Anonymous? Well, they’re not exactly a “group”. This excellent documentary clears up the oft-repeated mainstream media misconceptions using uncensored interviews with some of its members and other online pundits.

It all started with the inventive and disgusting posters on the site 4chan — those kind souls who gave us lolcats and other online memes and detritus. Whenever they put up their chat comments without a nickname they were automatically labeled “anonymous”. But after years of competitive trolling, they encountered the Scientologists who were using their power to silence online criticism.

But no one tells a troll-hacker to shut up, so the apolitical peeps on 4chan fought back and the “capital A” Anonymous was born. They were represented online using the Guy Fawkes masks from the comic book and movie V is for Vendetta. Soon, diverse hackers across the globe were lending their anonymous power to international political activism, shutting down sites like paypal, who were trying to isolate and silence Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Along with the suave and brilliant Lulzsec, they’ve become a third, major player in the online political sphere, formerly completely controlled by vast government and corporate interests. This is a great movie.

(One thing puzzled me — the filmmaker chooses to include images of bandana-ed Black Block activists alongside the Anonymous masked protesters as if they were one and the same.)

Who are the Black Block? Where did they come from? Are they ust a bunch of violent kids breaking windows? Another movie…

Black Block

Dir: Carlo A. Bachschmidt

…talks about one such group and what happened to them.

In 2001, political, environmental and other activists from across Europe gathered for what they thought would be peaceful protests and marches at the 2001 Genoa G8 conference. That didn’t happen. The police reacted in an unexpectedly violent way, shooting protester Carlo Giuliani point blank in the face, killing him instantly.

The police left a trail of blood across the city. The marchers ran in fear, disbanded and bunked in an empty building – the Diaz School. This filmmaker got the protesters – from Germany, Spain, Holland, France and the UK – who were there to give their account of what happened. And it’s really shocking and upsetting to hear. The police broke in, dragged sleeping women down hallways by their hair, punched, kicked, bludgeoned and beat the kids nearly to death, threw them down staircases, stripped them naked… the riot police even formed a line to spit on them.

This movie uses period news footage, and videos by the protesters to show what happened to them. It’s very shocking.This was possibly the worst police violence directed at protesters in contemporary European history.

I was expecting a normal documentary. It was not. This one is a testimonial history told plainly, unembellished, by the protesters themselves. And it’s devastating.

So, isn’t it time for something… nice?


Dir: Bill & Turner Ross

… follows three young brothers for the night in New Orleans. They walk past strip bars and gay bars, hiphop bars and jazz bars, blues singers and street performers. With their dog Buttercup they explore the lanes and alleys, wide-eyed, taking it all in, talking abut their dreams. But they miss the last ferry back to Algiers, so they’re there for the night. Walking through the empty city. The camera stays back, occasionally taking detours into the places the kids can’t go. With a non-stop, seamless  blend of music and singing, flutes and jazz, bass and drums meld from one song to the next, all shot in an early-70’s style of unbelievable coolness. The whole movie feels like an early Sesame Street episode, without muppets: kids living in a safe, adventurous unvarnished urban space. They talk about their wishes, feelings and dreams as they wander in and out of abandoned boats and empty alleys. It’s all totally contemporary but somehow nostalgic. I love this low-key but exciting movie and want to see and listen to it and experience it again and again. Tchoupitoulas!

All the movies I mentioned — Tchoupitoulas, Black Block and We Are Legion: the Story of the Hacktivists — are all playing at Hotdocs through the weekend.

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

April 28, 2012. High and Low. Hotdocs Films Reviewed: Finding North, Off Label, The Queen of Versailles

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Hotdocs, Movies, Poverty, Uncategorized, US by on May 9, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for 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 a few of the many documentaries playing at Hotdocs, Toronto’s documentary mega-festival that opened yesterday. I used to think that documentaries were boring movies that you had to watch when nothing good was on TV. Then I went to Hotdocs.

It shows you what ideas, concepts, problems, and trends are hot right now it’s an amazingly diverse, fascinating platform for everything you’re going to find out about over the next year, pushed in your face all at once right now. It’s filled with good causes, jaw-droppers, shocking strange people, local heroes, and places you never knew about. And stories that are often better than the ones you see in regular mainstream movies.

You get hear new words like Tchoupitoulis (a fascinating trip through New Orleans at night) and Buzkashi! (a Tajik horseback sport.) See celebs like Rick Springfield; and hear about issues like Hindu Fundamentalism (the World before her) , and about Invisible Wars. And hotdocs offers free admission, daytime, if you have a student or seniors’ card. Don’t miss it.

So, this week, I’m talking about three American documentaries about lives at the bottom and at the top.

Finding North

Dir: Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson

This movie asks the simple question – how can so many Americans go hungry? And at the same time… be so fat? 50 million Americans are food insecure in oine of the world’s biggest food producers.

Well, the country is filled with food deserts — places where there is no affordable fresh food available in your neighbourhood. These are amazingly common, even In big cities. Junk food, on the other hand, is everywhere, and affordable, though entirely without food value. How did this happen? Facing North explains. The US government subsidizes big agriculture, to the tune of trillions of dollars (cumulatively speaking). It originally went to local small farmers, but now almost all of it goes to corporaRTE agriculture. So corn wheat and soy — and the cattle and pigs its fed to — are artificially cheap, while fruits and vegetables keep rising in price. The subsidies all go to make hi-fructose corn syrup and deep-fried pork rinds, while only one percent of the whole subsidy budget helps out fruit and vegetable growers. Even people in the movie (it follows families in the west the north east and the deep south) on food stamps or receiving food bank donations are trapped in a world of canned ravioli, chips and pop — fresh fruit and vegetables are way out of reach.

But some people are trying to break free. There’s a terrific scene where a school teacher In Mississippi introduces her class to a honeydew melon, many of whom look they’d never seen one before. This movie movie is a must-see for people concerned with food, nutrition and its effect on poverty.

So what else can you do if you’re just scraping by? The next movie shows one route desperate people are taking.

Off Label

Dir: Michael Palmieri, and Donal Mosher

The drug industry – I’m talking about the legal one here – is enormous. Doctors prescribe drugs for everything, and it generates phenomenal amounts of money. But the one of the big growth areas is off label prescriptions, which means using drugs that prevent epileptic seizures or combat psychotic mood swings for other purposes – like weight loss, calm feelings or just a good night’s sleep, mood stabilizers.

This drug testing used to be done on guinea pigs and caged monkeys, but they really want are human bodies – living ones – to test on. The movie shows the prisoners who used to be tested on for a few bucks – they were told it was just Johnson and Johnson’s bubble bath — until that got outlawed. Now they use, well, poor people. Human guinea pigs who are fed noxious chemicals in strange combinations, and are tested for their side effects. Some of them enjoy it, some not so much, but they all do it for the money.

Often the tests are to see how different drugs react with one another, since so many people have multiple prescriptions at the same time. Polypharmaculture – multiple drugs at once – is one of the biggest potential problems and is becoming ubiquitous despite their unknown side effects.

The movie also deals with the case of a doctor who pushed his patient, who was mentally ill, into double-blind testing of new drugs, even when there’s a clear conflict of interest – the doctor is involved in the study of drug interactions.

This has one of those OMG moments where you just stare at the screen with your mouth hanging open. Its not what you see, but rather, what a subject of the movie tells in graphic detail about what she’s been through. Absolutely shocking. Off label is a very good, very informative and eye-opening movie.

The Queen of Versailles

Dir: Lauren Greenfield

Just in case you’re saying “I don’t want to see any more poor people… they’re yucky” well here’s a documentary about a woman who finds herself super rich. Jackie is in her forties, a former beauty queen with an engineering degree from western New York who set her sites on a big-bucks hubbie. The first one didn’t fly, but with the second one she hit the jackpot. He’s a Yertle the Turtle (30 years her senior) balanced at the top of a time share empire, with properties in Florida and Las Vegas. She has 8 kids – she only planned to have a couple, but once she discovered the concept of nannies she just kept popping them out, cause you don’t have to do anything once they’re born. Jackie’s an impossibly aerodynamically-breasted, smart floozie, whose biggest problem is deciding if it’s a purple zebra or a hot pink cheetah (tank top) day. They fly around in private jets, and are so excited when they see the Palace of Versailles, that they decide to build their own, the biggest house in America, right in the Everglades, complete with a bowling alley, a sushi bar and a health spa, and Italian marble floors. It’s going to be a rococo kitsch-fest, and it’s going up.

And then… the stock market collapses, the real estate bubble pops, and suddenly they’re not so rich, the kids have to go to public school, and most of the servants get fired so there’s no one to clean up after Jackie’s yappy long-haired dogs anymore.

The Queen of Versailles is a hilarious look at the lives of a mega-rich family in America as they weather the economic downturn.

You can see The Queen of Versailles, Off Label, and Finding North – along with many many other great documentaries, like The World Before Her, – right now at Hotdocs. Also opening today is a delightful and funny claymation kids movie called PIRATES! It was made by the same people who did Wallace and Grommit, and I thought this one was almost as good. It’s playing now, check your local listings. Also stay tuned, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, and the Inside-out LGBT Film Festival are both just around the corner.

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

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