September 14, 2012. “This is a BIG festival…” Movies reviewed: Spring Breakers, Kon-Tiki, Blancanieves

Posted in 1920s, Adventure, Cultural Mining, drugs, Fairytales, Movies, Norway, Polynesia, Spain, Uncategorized, US by on September 14, 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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Spring Breakers photo by Jeff Harris

TIFF is monumental, vast and confusing. Three critics I spoke to this week – onefrom NY, one from L.A. and one from Australia – all said Toronto isn’t like the other film festivals they go to – it’s a “really big one”. And all the huge-ness that goes with it.

Let me give you an example: a weird thing that happened to me. Picture a floor-to-ceiling, black-velvet curtain. At TIFF they have a photo-op area right beside the press conference area, but they’re separated by that black curtain. I was on the press side, so I could hear everything happening but not see it. Basically, when the celebs show up there’s a frenzy of rabid shouting photographers snapping pics like crazy and shouting out their names. So you can see a non-stop barrage of flashes on the ceiling above the curtain and hear what sounds like vicious digs tearing a famous actor apart and then eating him alive. Very weird. Then, one minute later, they cross to the press side, and quietly sit down at the table on the stage.

The press conference where I witnessed this was for Harmony Korine’s new movie called Spring Breakers as in SPRING BREAK FOREVAH… Bitches! (the movie’s catchphrase)

It’s an impressionistic look at a fantasy version of the annual florida bacchanalia where college students get drink, have sex, and gather in huge numbers. It’s full of the glowing neon and pastels, jiggling bodies, vespa scooters, red camaros and white baby grands. Into this fiesta are three blond university students — Candy, Cotty and Brittney (Ashley Benson, Vannessa Hudgons, Rachel Korine) who want to go wild, and their God-fearing friend Faith (Selena Gomez) who tries to stay the path to the straight and narrow. Then Candy and Brit rob a chicken shack to pay for their trip, and soon the four of them fall under the sway of Alien (James Franco) a white stoner gangsta rapper living the life of riley with his club-kid, identical twin sidekicks in his drug fueled beach-side mansion. The three bad girls take to him like honey, don matching pink balaclavas and wave their heavy-duty machine guns in the air in Pussy-Riotous triumph.

The movie is less about story than impression, with lots of improvised lines, repetition, and a constant background beat. It’s mainly about bodies in the sun and guns at night… a satirical, fantastical college collage. I love this like I love all of Harmony Korine’s movies. This is his most accessible one and feels like lying in the sand while reading a glossy fashion magazine with a great ipod mix in your ears. Spring Break…!

Anyway, there are hundreds of movies at TIFF this year, but I thought I’d tell you about a few that really struck my fancy, for very different reasons. One’s about a boat trip to the South Pacific, another about  fighting bulls in Seville.


Dir: Joachim Rønning

It’s after WWII and Thor Heyerdahl wants to test his theories about Polynesia where he had lived for a decade with his wife, Liv. The polynesians say their ancesters followed the winds and the tides from the east (South America), not from the West (Asia). So he vows to make the crossing in the same way to prove it was possible. Without funding or academic backing, he gathers together four more men — an anthropologist with a movie camera, an engineer who was a fridge salesman, a sexton operator who knows his directions, and a morse code radio operator — and they all set off from Peru.

The movie follows the adventurers across an ocean, their encounters with glowing creatures, dangerous sharks, and whales, all beneath their balsa-wood raft and moved by Tiki himself, the god’s image painted on the canvas sail. They set out in suits and ties, but gradually pare down to saggy long underwear. These five sun-burned and blonde-bearded buddies are always growling on the verge of a fight, but without a hint of macho. It’s up to Thor to keep the faith, follow the sun god’s path and be true to Tiki. Will they all survive and can they make it all the way?

This is a really fantastic family movie, thrilling, funny, scary and exciting. It’s by the director of Max Manus, another Boy’s Own style adventure about WWII resistance fighters. Joachim Rønning is the Norwegian Spielberg and gets all the cliff-hangers, shocks, and special effects dead-on. There must be some CGIs involved but it really felt like you were out in the Pacific ocean with them battling the elements. I loved this movie, too.


Dir: Pablo Berger

It’s Seville in the 1920’s, a city of long narrow alleys and whitewashed houses, black-laced flamenco dancers and massive crowds at the bullfights. But when the great Matador Antonio is felled by a satanic bull just as his wife Carmen is giving birth to their child, Carmencita, the baby, loses her parents. A sinister nurse Encana connives to take over the matador’s wealth, power and riches. When young Carmen finally moves in with her pet chicken Pepe, she is made into a Cinderella and only sees her father on the sly. He teaches her how to be a matadora from his wheelchair, careful to avoid the wrath of the evil stepmother. Will she escape from her evil clutches? Later, she is found in the woods by a handsome dwarf who takes her in with his travelling circus troupe. She has amnesia and can only remember how to raise the cape and to keep her eye on a bull. So they rename her Blancanieves — Snow White. Will she ever remember her past? Will she become a Matadora in the ring? What about Encana? Who will triumph – the innocent Snow White or the closet dominatrix? And who will be her handsome prince?

This is an unbelievably beautiful retelling of the Snow White story in glorious black and white. It’s done in the old style of a silent movie, with lush music and occasional cards to show dialogue. Maribel Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Pan’s Labarynth) is fantastic as always, this time with a pale face,  black hair, dark lips, and the high collar of the Walt Disney Queen. Newcomer Macarena Garcia is just as beautiful and steals the screen. Even though I knew (more or less) what would happen in this dark retelling of a well-known fairytale in a 1920’s Seville, it didn’t matter; it left me feeling shocked, thrilled and passionately moved. It’s a magnificent-looking film.

All of these films are playing at TIFF. Log on to at 7 am to get new tickets on sale for the day.

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

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  1. […] director Roy Andersson’s ethereal and melancholy About Endlessness;  the splendid Spanish film Blancanieves, a silent movie from 2012 in gorgeous black and white that retells the story of Snow White as a […]


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