October 26, 2012. Halloween Costumes and Disguises. Movies Reviewed: Cloud Atlas, Fun Size

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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Hallowe’en is here. Traditionally, it’s a time of scariness, when the undead walk the earth, and lost souls are the ones in charge after the witching hour. But Hallowe’en has changed. Now it’s more about dressing up in funny costumes, going to wild parties and eating bags full of candy.

So this week, instead if my usual scary hallowe’en pics, I’m talking about two movies about dressing up: one is about teenagers who dress in funny costumes at a Hallowe’en party; the other about actors who dress up in funny costumes to tell a story.

Cloud Atlas

Dir: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Based on the novel by David Mitchell

When Cloud Atlas had its world premier at TIFF, I thought it was going to be awful – it has all the hallmarks of shameless Oscar-bait (Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant) and bad movies (multiple directors). But it was actually surprisingly interesting (though completely confusing). It jumps back and forth among six completely unrelated genres and just barely-related stories, ranging from historical epic, a period drama, a political thriller, contemporary comedy, and two futuristic space stories. Brace yourself, and let me try to explain them without any spoilers:

A 19th century American is in the South Pacific to broker a deal, but is forced to confront a stowaway slave as he sails home; a young, gay composer with a hidden past in 1930s England confronts a famous composer who may be stealing his music; a black, female investigative journalist in San Francisco in the 1970s wants to uncover a nuclear energy scandal; a present-day publisher finds himself a prisoner overnight, locked up in an old folk’s home; identical-looking female cyborg slaves foment a revolution in neo-Seoul, a futuristic Korea 200 years in the future; and a future world where people in Star Trek jump suits try to communicate with cave men speaking unaccented pidgin English like Jar-Jar Binks.

Did you get all that? No, I didn’t think so.

What’s really interesting is that the same actors play multiple roles, changing race, age, and gender from story to story. So you have famous actors in unrecognizable bit parts in one segment who star as the main character in another. Some work some don’t. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry are not known for their skills at accents – they’re not Meryl Streep — so they end up looking ridiculous when they try. But groaners don’t spoil a movie. Even those two end up acting in scenes when you don’t even know they’re there. And much more interesting actors, (people like Ben Whishaw and Doona Bae, among others) more than make up for the missteps.

Cloud Atlas feels like you’re watching six movies at once on TV, but someone else is in charge of the remote control and they keep switching channels.

Is it perfect movie? No, definitely not. But is it worth seeing? Yes, definitely.

Fun Size

Dir: Josh Schwartz

Wren (Victoria Justice) is a high school student with outspoken feminist views — she plans to dress as Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Halloween — but turns to awkward mush whenever she thinks about the most popular boy in school – a Johnny Depp lookalike. Wren lives with her chubby six-year-old brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) who never talks but is fond of practical jokes like cutting out breast holes in her favourite sweaters; and her mom, Joy, who is back in the dating pool since their dad died. So Wren and her best friend April are thrilled when they’re invited to the big party. But mom (Chelsea Handler) tells her that Keevan, the 26 year-old frat boy she’s dating, wants her at his party. (She’s going as Britney Spears.) So Wren is stuck keeping track of the rambunctious little one. But that’s easier said than done.

Little Albert, dressed in a Spidey-suit with a fake arm, ends up leaving a trail of destruction as he travels from party to bar to fast food joint. And it’s up to Wren and her pals – including nerdy Roosevelt (Thomas Mann from Project X) and Fuzzy (Thomas Middleditch) a convenience store clerk who looks a lot like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo — to try to track him down and save him. Will little Albert escape from those meddlesome grown-ups? Will Mom ever act her age? And will Wren find happiness with the most handsome and popular guy in school, or will she choose the earnest but awkward Roosevelt?

Fun Size is a mild, cute screwball comedy, full of disguises, mistaken identities, generational mismatches, bullies, love crushes, and sort-of funny characters. There are lots of lame gags and laff-lines that fall flat, at least to my adult ears. It wavers between Home Alone and Adventures in Babysitting, but is not as funny as either one. Still it’s a fun-ish and cute-ish, if forgettable, kids movie.

Cloud Atlas and Fun Size open today in Toronto, check your local listings. For scary found footage movies, check out Paranormal Activity 4, now playing, and V/H/S which played at Toronto After Dark and opens tonight. Festivals going strong in the city this weekend Ekran.ca the new Polish film festival showing avant- garde and mainstream movies from Europe.

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

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Daniel Garber talks to writer/director Eileen Thalenberg about her new doc BABIES: BORN TO BE GOOD

Posted in Canada, China, documentary, Morality, Psychology, Science, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 19, 2012

Hi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for Cultural Mining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

A baby’s mind is a tabula rasa, a blank slate waiting to learn what’s right and what’s wrong, what actions are good or bad… at least that’s what we thought.

But a new documentary called Babies: Born to be Good, (to be broadcast on CBC’s The Nature of Things on October 25, 2012), says that’s not necessarily so: humans are born with an innate sense of good and bad, fair play, honesty, and right and wrong, and it takes years of learned behaviour to change these thoughts. Here to explain more about this interesting topic is writer/director Eileen Thalenberg.

Oct 19, 2012. Imaginative ImagineNATIVE. Movies Reviewed: Charlie Zone, We Were Children

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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Earlier this week, I found myself munching some bannock and wild rice in a packed hall on Spadina to witness the opening ceremony of one of the warmest and friendliest film festivals I’ve seen in Toronto. ImagineNATIVE is a celebration of indigenous film, video and art in Canada and around the world and it’s on right now, and open to everyone.

There are free short film screenings tonight at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, art installations around the downtown, and films, parties, concerts and lots of great movies to see. So check it out. This week I’m reviewing two Canadian movies playing at ImagineNATIVE, both with aboriginal topics and actors, and both about people trapped far away from their homes.

Charlie Zone

Dir: Michael Melski

Avery (Glen Gould) is the strong silent-type, a tough Native guy who did time and never shies from a fistfight. Now he just wants to earn some good money so he takes on a sketchy job. He has to find a young woman in Montreal, abduct her, and drive her back to her parents. Easy, no?

No.

She’s an angry junkie who doesn’t trust anyone, and will do anything not to go home again – ever. Turns out, Jan (Amanda Crew) was adopted and now feels adrift – she doesn’t even know who she really is. It’s up to Avery to get her there safely. But things start to change.

There’s an extremely violent Quebec biker gang chasing the two of them, two young gangsters who think of Jan as their property, and a shady, secretive businesswoman orchestrating the whole deal by telephone for unstated reasons. And Avery is stuck in the middle of it — a thug magnet – but won’t give up on her. Are Jan and Avery enemies or allies? And will either of them ever connect with the people they really want to find?

Charlie Zone is partly an action-packed violent crime movie about the seedier side, partly a heartfelt drama about rural life, loves lost and families torn apart. Glen Gould and Amanda Crew make a good pair, (though without any sexual spark between them) and the plot-driven story keeps you guessing till the end.

UPDATE: This year’s ImagineNative Best Dramatic Feature award went to Charlie Zone: Producer, Hank White.

We Were Children

Dir: Tim Wolochatiuk

For over a hundred years, but especially from the 1930s to the 80s, 150,000 native children were taken from their families and sent to residential schools to learn English and French and trade skills, and to be assimilated into the dominant Canadian culture. Most of them were run by churches, and the children often treated as inmates not students. Harsh corporal punishments were common, as was malnutrition, and, shockingly, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of the boys and girls sent there.

We Were Children is a powerful film that combines a documentary history of two kids Lyna and Glen (now adults) who lived through this in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and a shocking dramatization of what it was like. Glen is locked in a dungeon room by an abusive priest and Lyna, who initially spoke no English was physically punished just for speaking her native tongue. Although they want to go home, they are prevented from leaving and treated like escaped prisoners if they run away. Not a one-sided film at all, it takes pains to show some positive characters at the schools, like a nun who helps the girls when they are hungry. This film is an eye-opening look at a shameful chapter of Canadian history and the attempts at cultural genocide forced upon First Nations children, scarring families for generations.

For show times of Charlie Zone, We Were Children and more, go to ImagineNATIVE.org . Other festivals in the city this weekend include the very scary Toronto After Dark, Ekran.ca the new Polish film festival (starting next week), and Brazilfilmfest.net for movies and music from Brazil.

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

Love and Other Addictions. Movies Reviewed: Smashed, Keep the Lights On.

Posted in Addiction, Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, L.A., LGBT, Manhattan, Movies, Queer, Romance by CulturalMining.com on October 19, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, and I’m back with more movie reviews…

I’m going to briefly talk about two new movies about love and addiction.

Smashed

Dir: James Ponsoldt

Kate and Charlie (Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Aaron Paul: Breaking Bad) are a married couple in LA who love falling asleep drunk and waking up for some sloppy morning sex. He’s a writer with rich parents in the movie industry, while she’s a school teacher from a less privileged background. One day she shows up drunk for her public school class and ends up puking in the trash can. This starts a rumour that she’s pregnant, and she doesn’t want to tell the less dramatic truth. She lies to the weepy Principal (Meghan Mulhally)

Eventually the fit hits the shan and she has to come clean. She loses her job, and succumbs to despair. But when a fellow teacher, Vice-Principal Dave who has a crush on her, brings her to a 12 step group she begins her slow struggle to get rid of her alcoholism. Dependable but jolly sponsors like Jenny (Octavia Spenser) are there to help her recover. Will she make it and can she get her husband to join her in sobriety?

Keep The Lights On

Dir: Ira Sachs

…has a similar theme.

Erik (Thule Lindhardt: Brotherhood) is a Danish filmmaker living in Manhattan in the late 90’s. He likes art and jogging and is prone to making animal sounds when he is surprised. He also enjoys hooking up with other men by telephone for casual sex. He meets the young professional Paul, a lawyer (Zachary Booth), and despite a rocky start, they end up falling for one another. But theirs is a difficult, co-dependant relationship, fraught with trouble. As Erik rises up in the indie film world, the much richer Paul is sliding into an awful chain of crack addiction, isolation, recovery and then back again. Their relationship takes on weird dimensions involving sex and destruction, and despite Erik’s repeated interventions and stints of rehab, Paul keeps going back to drugs. Will they end up together again? Or will Erik go with his friends’ opinions and dump the guy already?

Both of these movies explain the long slog in and out of addictions and how they can be conquered (or not). Smashed is the lighter one, with humour and more engaging characters. But it also has an earnest, lesson-learned, movie-of-the-week feel to it. Leave the Lights On is longer, darker, and harder to take. It’s also given to relentless speeches about what relationships mean and what went wrong, wringing still more lessons out of this endless spiral of trouble with drug addiction. The acting in both movies was good, especially Lindhardt in KTLO and Winstead in Smashed.

Still, I didn’t love either of these movies, possibly because I’m not a fan of the sub-genre: addictions plus relationships. I feel for the suffering people in the relationship, but I don’t want to go to a movie only to end up as the shoulder the filmmaker wants to cry on.

Ira Sach’s Keep the Lights On, (which played at Inside-out) is now playing in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox; Smashed (which played at TIFF) opens next week In Toronto; check your local listings.

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

October 5, 2012. Daniel Garber Interviews Amy Miller by telephone about her new documentary Carbon Rush playing at Planet in Focus

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Environmentalism, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 13, 2012

Hi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for Cultural Mining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The Kyoto Accord was the good one, right?

The one that was going to help slow down climate change by stopping the huge increase in carbon emissions… Through a system of cap and trade, carbon would remain steady around the world by carbon consumers offsetting their excess through the purchase of carbon credits elsewhere.

So what’s wrong with cap and trade?
Everything.

Amy Miller, whose new documentary called THE CARBON RUSH is having its Toronto premier at the PLANET IN FOCUS film festival, explains why.

October 12, 2012. Interview: Daniel Garber talks to founders Ned Loach and Robert Gontier about 360 Screenings

Posted in Acting, Canada, Cultural Mining, Halloween, Immersive Cinema, Movies, Theatre, Toronto, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 13, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

What would you do if you found yourself immersed in a movie — a movie you didn’t know you were going to see, surrounded by like-minded people who might be strangers, in a place you’ve never been? And what if it turns out to be not just a movie but an entirely new experience, a combination social event, live theatre, and film? And what if you’re not just a viewer, but immersed in a show and a participant in an interactive evening?

I interview the founders of 360 Screenings, Ned Loach and Robert Gontier, who tell us all about ghosts, bruises, black clothing, heritage buildings in Toronto’s downtown, interlocking stories, and their Hallowe’en screening that’s coming up later this month.

October 12, 2012. Revisionist History? Films reviewed: Argo, Stories We Tell

Posted in 1980s, Canada, CIA, Clash of Cultures, Diplomacy, documentary, Drama, Espionage, Family, Iran, Thriller, TIFF, Toronto, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on October 13, 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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

History is always changing: it depends a lot on who the storyteller is. And, often, the most recent storyteller owns the story, for the moment at least, and controls that history. This week I’m looking at two movies that retell events in Canadian history. One’s a thriller that retools a famous story of Canadian heroism in Iran; the other is a personal story about a woman who wants to find out what happened when her mother went to Montreal… in order to be in Toronto.

Argo

Dir: Ben Affleck

It’s late 1979 – the Shah of Iran who fled the country, has been allowed into the US, and, because of this, back in Tehran, angry, anti-American demos are in full swing. Furious students storm the walls of the American Embassy even while the staff on the inside are busy shredding all the files. A few manage to escape through a side street and are secretly rescued by Ken Taylor, the Canadian Ambassador, but the rest are all held as hostages inside the occupied US Embassy. The escaped six are safe in the basement of the Canadian diplomat’s home, but for how long? Meanwhile, those darn hostage-takers are sorting through the shredded documents and will eventually discover that there are six missing diplos hiding somewhere, and what they look like.

Meanwhile, back in the States, a young CIA agent named Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with a plan to get them out of Iran – he’ll pretend they are Canadian filmmakers! So he goes to Hollywood and arranges the whole thing with the help of funny and obnoxious industry-types (John Goodman and Alan Arkin), then flies off to Iran with Canadian passports to save his countrymen. Will they pass as Canadians? Will they be able to leave the country? And will the whole Hollywood back-story hold up before the Revolutionary Guards?

Argo is a fun, exciting movie with a cool, unbelievable plot, and lots of thrills and suspense to keep you captive. Audiences were cheering when I saw it at TIFF, and I left feeling good. The acting is fine, the early 80’s look of the film is cool (though I doubt conservative diplomats were dressed like San Franciscans) and the story is exciting.

(Personal connection: in an earlier TV version of the Canadian Caper starring Gordon Pinsent as Ken Taylor they used Toronto’s Polish Cultural Centre on Beverley Street — just down the street from where I lived at the time — as the stand-in for the Canadian Embassy in Tehran.)

It has a few problems though. It makes the CIA into the heroes! Remember, they’re the ones who overthrew the democratically-elected PM Mossadegh in the 50’s when he nationalized their oil industry. They also helped found the Shah’s dreaded SAVAK – whose torturous methods was one of the biggest reasons for the demonstrations and hostage-taking. The movie never makes clear the CIA the skullduggery that led to this crisis.

Second, it falsely makes Ken Taylor and Canada in general into a funny side-kick to the supposed heroism of a low ranked CIA agent (though I understand they’ve changed the very offensive final titles from the version I saw.) Anyway, I shrugged that off when I saw it – it’s just a movie.

But most of all I was disturbed by the way it made all Iranians in 1979 look like evil villains out to destroy a besieged America – a hell of an image to present in an election year when there’s a big political push to bomb that country.

But… whatever, it’s a good movie anyway, well worth seeing.

A very different kind of revisionist history is

Stories We Tell

Dir: Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley’s wild, blonde actress mother Diane died when she was a child, so she was raised by her kindly, stiff-upper-lip dad, Michael. So to find out more about her past and that of her mother, she enlists her brothers, sisters, family friends and relations to tell their versions of their past, and illustrates it all with found Super-8 footage from her dad’s collection. He narrates the story from a recording booth and Sarah documents her own search for history. But… during this search she discovers that, not long before she was conceived, her mother went away to Montreal to act in a play there called “Toronto” (by David Fennario). And while she was there, rumour has it, had an affair with someone from the cast – maybe Sarah’s father isn’t her biological parent!

I am not going to give away Sarah Polley’s family secrets – but, that’s just part of what makes the film so fascinating.

This is an amazing family story told by an unreliable narrator and with lots of misleading half-truths, myths, lies and legends. One of the characters produced the classic Canadian film “Lies My Father Told Me” which sort of sets the tone for this doc. What’s real? What’s a trick? You discover that the big happy family you assume you’re watching at first never really exists as a single unit. Off-the-cuff narration is gently exposed as scripted and directed. And even the found footage is revealed as part genuine, part manufactured.

This is a fantastic blend of truth and re-creation that Sarah Polley keeps small. She does everything right: stays largely off-camera and concentrates on the story. And she’s carefully to occasionally expose the artifice of filmmaking, including docs. This isn’t one of those awful celeb stories with teary revelations and maudlin music. It’s a clever and funny — but still very touching — meditation on Canada, Sarah’s history and the meaning of family.

Great doc!

Argo and Stories We Tell both played at TIFF and are opening tonight in Toronto. Also opening this week is Ira Sach’s Keep the Lights On, an epic drama of love, addiction and gay life in Manhattan.

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

October 5, 2012. Just Beneath the Ground. Movies Reviewed: Semper Fi: Always Faithful, As Above, So Below PLUS Planet in Focus

Posted in Conspiracy Theory, Cultural Mining, Docudrama, Environmentalism, Garbage, Movies, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on October 13, 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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Like you, I know my way around the basic environmental issues…

Climate change: stop it

Veg: good

Organic: better

Local: best

Genetically modified food: potentially scary

Baby Seals: club them

Endangered species: save them

Bitumen pipeline: gonna spill

Water: most important

Toxins: avoid them

(Just kidding about the seals)

But when I go beyond the basics, that’s where I run into trouble. So that’s why the Planet in Focus environmental film festival (Oct 10-14) is so useful. It lets you see the various environmental issues laid out by experts with Q&As, world premiers, and some really great examples of filmmaking.

So this week I’m looking at two environmental documentaries that differ greatly in look, tone, aim and content. One’s a heartfelt look at US Marines looking for justice after a long-hidden crisis; the other’s a meditation on how we view the garbage and waste hidden beneath the ground.

Semper Fi: Always Faithful

Dir: Rachel Libert, Tony Hardman

Jerry Ensminger, a long-time Master Sgt at the Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, is hit by devastating news: his young daughter Janey has cancer. But when he digs around to find out why, he discovers some shocking facts.

The drinking water at the camp is horribly contaminated with chemical toxins, like TCEs and PCBs. And he finds out he isn’t the only one affected by these poisons. Young male marines who passed through the camp are getting breast cancer – yes, male breast cancer – and others are getting hepatic cancer and other rare diseases at alarmingly high rates.

Because military bases and bootcamps are known for their constant turnover, it was difficult to keep track of who had been there. And cancers are slow to develop, usually long after they move away from the source of contamination. This made it especially difficult to prove.

The Camp LeJeune toxin crisis is as big as the Love Canal contamination in Niagara Falls NY, or the Minimata mercury poisoning in Japan.

But the problem are threefold. The chemical companies are lobbying to keep the toxins off the list of dangerous chemicals; the military is denying and burying info at every level; and the vets keep developing cancer but their insurers refuse to pay for expensive medical treatment or to grant them disability payments for injuries contracted on duty.

It’s up to the victims and their families to dig up the truth, appear before the Senate, and to do all they can to bring to light this monumental environmental disaster. The movie traces the story and the struggle. Semper Fi is a moving documentary, straightforward and traditional in its presentation of the facts. It’s less of an exciting or cinematic movie, more of a sentimental but informative TV-style doc.

Different in every way is:

As Above, So Below

Dir: Sarah J. Christman

This documentary follows a series of peripherally-related stories of people talking about garbage and waste from the past. One is a woman (the filmmaker, with her mother) who describes dealing with the death if her father and her family going through the things he left behind. She decides to turn his ashes into an artificial diamond, as a way of remembering him.

Another is an anthropologist working for the sanitation department who talks about the history of a landfill near NYC. The ominously-named Fresh Kills area has been a landfill for decades and holds completely intact records of the wastes of everyone who ever lived in that area. Robert Moses dug up some dirt in Staten Island to use in a parkway. It left behind a temporary hole to be filled with the city’s garbage, but it ended up being dumped in for decades. It’s now been covered and turned into a park, but one with all its intact history settling and burbling just below surface.

This movie is not a conventional collection of talking heads telling of random reminiscences and historical facts. Your ears hear speakers describe a moving personal remembrance or a shocking historical record; but your eyes see unsynchronized images of nature, like the long lost flotsam and jetsam on a beach called Dead Horse Bay (where the bodies of workhorses used to be rendered), or white plastic garbage bags and ice snow, or quivering winter twigs against an overcast sky.

As Above, So Below is an absolutely stunning and subtle artistic meditation on waste, consumption, death, loss and memory. It’s also the most gorgeous depiction of garbage you’ll ever see. Somehow, the editing, the photography and the whole movie’s context packs a personal wallop with an aesthetic sensibility that you rarely see in one movie.

As Above, So Below, and Semper Fi are both playing at Toronto’s Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival running from Oct 10-14. both open today – go to planetinfocus.org for more information. Coming soon, the ImagineNative indigenous peoples’ film and media arts festival, and the Ekran film festival (Ekran is the Polish word for screen). And don’t miss the amazing documentary Detropia, opening tonight at the Bloor.

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

September 28, 2012. Intractable Situations. Movies Reviewed: Arbitrage, Looper.

Posted in Cultural Mining, Movies, Science Fiction, Telekinesis, Thriller, TIFF, Time Travel, Uncategorized, US, Wall Street by CulturalMining.com on October 6, 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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

The summer blockbusters are over now — it’s fall season, where they start playing real movies they hope will win academy awards. And TIFF has ushered in Toronto’s fall festival season, as well. Toronto’s Palestine Film Festival starts tomorrow, followed quickly by Planet in Focus (environmental films), ReelAsian, ImagineNative, European (sponsored by EU embassies), Rendezvous with Madness (about addiction and mental health), and some new ones like Ekran – a Polish movie festival. So, boys and girls, hold onto your hats in the weeks to come for more info about those.

In the mean time, I’m looking at two American thrillers, both about men caught in seemingly intractable situations. One’s a dramatic thriller set in the world of high finance, the other’s a futuristic action thriller about time travel… and murder!

Arbitrage

Dir: Nicholas Jarecki

Robert (Richard Gere) in the financial sector, who runs a gazillion dollar Wall Street investment firm. He has a beautiful French artist as a mistress, a dignified philanthropist wife (Susan Sarandon) at home in the mansion, and a daughter who works for the company. He drives the right car, wears the perfect suit, perfect hair – c’mon, he’s Richard Gere — and he looks like a big financier. Anyway, he’s ready to retire, so he’s going to sell the firm. But… he has to borrow a bit of money (like a few hundred mil) just for a couple weeks, while the independent auditor goes through his books. But his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) notices something fishy in the books, the other wall street dude who lent him the money wants it back, his wife suspects there might be a mistress… and then, to top it all off, this one-percenter gets in a Chappaquiddick-type accident on a country road with his mistress who doesn’t survive. Any legal investigation could spoil his deal, reveal his questionable business, and maybe even send him to jail for murder! So in a panic, he decides to keep it all hush-hush Luckily he gets help from a mysterious young black guy, Jimmy (Nate Parker) to help him out of this mess. Jimmy drives him out of there before the detectives show up. Then the movie flips into an investigation that could lead to a murder trial, even as the financial deal is pending.

Will the detective (Tim Roth) nail him in court? Will Robert end up as a Bernie Madoff or a Warren Buffet: will he sell the company or will it all collapse like a house of cards? And who is this Jimmy guy anyway, and what’s his connection with Robert, and what will he do if the pressure comes down on him?

This is a good, simple thriller with lots of twists and an excellent cast. Most of the characters range from detestable to not very nice (except Jimmy, who it’s easier to sympathize with). And it’s the 25 year old director’s first movie, which is pretty impressive. It doesn’t have any moral story or political points or special dramatic elements… it’s just a financial thriller, but that’s good enough for me. So if you liked last year’s Margin Call, you might like this one, too.

Looper (Opening Night Film at TIFF)

Dir: Rian Johnson

It’s 50 years into the future – people still live in farmhouses on cornfields, and organized crime is all-powerful in a somewhat familiar distopia. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is learning French for a future retirement near the Eiffel Tower. But he’s not such a nice guy: he’s a hitman who shoots people for a living with his blunderbuss gun in a cornfield beside an old-school diner. His victims are all men sent back in time from the future – no evidence – and he keeps the silver bars taped to their vests as payment. But then one day they send him… himself! Well, his old self (Bruce Willis) and Old Joe is packed with gold bars – sort of severance pay. It also means Joe’s a looper who’s out of the loop, stuck in the past. Old Joe escapes and is intent on tracking down “the Rainmaker” an X-Men type child with special powers who could grow up into the cruel crime boss that ordered him killed. Get it? It’s up to young Joe to kill his old self and to save the child. He’s staying in a nearby farmhouse with a mom (a thoroughly convincing Emily Blunt as the middle-America farmer) and a little kid who or may not be the kid he’s looking for. So who will win this fight: Old Joe, young Joe, farm wife, angry little X-Men child or the future gangsters?

Looper is directed by Rian Johnson who did that cool low-budget film-noir-in-highschool detective movie called Brick, and the truly awful The Brothers Bloom. This one’s a good action/thriller with some interesting time-warp twists. Like to send an instant message to your future self you have to cut-up your arm with a knife – since the scar will remain there for decades. And there’s the run-of-the- mill telekinesis stuff. But here’s the big problem (or at least what bugs me): Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are supposed to be the same person, so they constructed weirdly prosthetic facial features that will make them look similar. Why did they have to be so literal? Why couldn’t they just say: This guy’s thirty years older than his other self is – but that’s how he’ll look in the future. Would that be so hard? Whatever happened to the suspension of disbelief? Anyway, it means you have to watch two otherwise appealing actors with weirdly deformed faces for the entire length of the film. Still, not a bad science fiction film.

Looper and Arbitrage both open today – check your local listings. And two good movies that I recently reviewed, Lawrence Anyways and Rebelle — both from Quebec — are now playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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

September 21, 2012. TIFF Round-up. Movies Reviewed: Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence, Anyways + TIFF12 awards

Posted in Cultural Mining, Dance, Drama, Football, Mental Illness, Movies, Quebec, Queer, Trans, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on October 6, 2012

Photographs by Jeff Harris

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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
Xavier Dolan TIFF12 awards Photo by Jeff Harris

TIFF is over for the year. I feel like a kid who was left, unsupervised at an all-you-can-eat buffet with no one to tell me to stop stuffing my face. I ended up seeing 53 TIFF movies (if including the 17 press screenings I saw in the weeks before the festival started), and liking about 2/3 of them. I ran on adrenaline — not food, sleep, or exercise — for the length of it, turning my eyes red, my body to mush, and my brain to putty. Luckily I kept good notes.

The winners were announced on Sunday, with the Blackberry People’s Choice going to Silver Linings Playbook, the Midnight Madness award to the very funny Seven Psychopaths, the NETPAC award to Sion Sono’s excellent Land of Hope, a look at the Japanese nuclear meltdown, and the City of Toronto award to Laurence, Anyways. The Canadian first feature prize was split between Jason Buxton’s excellent Blackbird, for its authenticity and social conscience, and Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral for its sophisticated visuals and plot. So this week, I’ll take a look at two of these winners, both of which deal with odd couples and mental illness.

Silver Linings Playbook

Dir: David O. Russell

When Pat Jr (Bradley Cooper), a schoolteacher from suburban Philadelphia, is let out of a me­ntal hospital he vows to make his life better. He’ll get back in shape, re-connect with his estranged wife, Nikki, and stop all the negativity in his mind. He’s going to look at the silver linings in his life, not the dark clouds. But the dark clouds keep coming back. He has moved back in with his mom and dad, and Pat Sr. (Robert de Niro) is an abusive, obsessive-compulsive bookie. Pat Sr wants his whole family to base their lives on his obscure patterns and lucky shirts so he can bring the Eagles football team to NFL victory.

Meanwhile, Pat Jr will do anything to get a letter to Nikki, and he finds out the way to do that, when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), an extremely intelligent and beautiful young woman who stalks him during his morning jogs.

She’s the only one who can see through his BS without being afraid of his odd behaviour. Tiffany understands what he’s going through – since she’s had her own episodes and sexual compulsions. So if Pat agrees to be her dancing partner in a contest, she’ll help him get his wife back. But is that what she really wants?

Silver Linings Playbook is a fun, crowd-pleaser that presents mental illness as a palatable, fascinating, and easy-to-understand difficulty that people can overcome with hard work, the right attitude, and a bit if help from friends and family. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are a nice couple, and De Niro is finally acting again, not just mugging for the camera. I have absolutely no interest in Philadelphia’s football scene, or Dancing With the Stars, but the fact that the story depended on those two subjects didn’t make it ay less interesting.

Laurence, Anyways

Dir: Xavier Dolan

Laurence Alia (French actor Melville Poupaud) is a slim prof with a black buzzcut living in Montreal in the late 80’s. He’s in love with his fiery, beautiful and passionate girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clement). She’s gaining fame as an assistant director while he’s fighting off the adoring looks of the pretty girls in his lectures on Celine. And the two of them are trying for a baby. But one day, in the middle of having sex he confesses he’s about to die. The old Laurence of the past three decades was all a façade which he is now throwing away to make way for the real Laurence: a woman! Fred is shocked and their relationship teeters on the brink.

As Laurence embarks on her transition, she loses her job, and since she can’t easily “pass” in public, she faces physical danger and derision from strangers. When Lawrence is bashed in a bar she is given refuge by an unusual family – the Five Roses. He awakens in a palatial building filled with the actual tabernacles, chalices, hostiesand ciboires that Fred curses about in one of her rants — a sort of a cathedral of transsexuality, a Quebecois Notre Dame des Fleurs.

Fred, meanwhile, is left to deal with her bipolar episodes on her own, as Laurence is more busy with her own changes than that of her lover. As the decade passes, Fred retreats to Trois Rivieres with a handsome but bland husband, while Laurence, with a new blond girlfriend, publishes her poems in Europe. Will the troubles that tore them apart bring them back together?

Laurence, Anyways is a long, complicated melodrama of mismatched lovers immersed in  Quebec’s cultural life even while facing their personal trials alone and together over the course of a decade.

Poupaud and Clement are great as the lovers, and Monia Chokri (as Fred’s acerbic and offensive sister Stephanie) steals every scene she’s in. This is not a perfect movie: it’s longer than it needs to be, the story has some confusing omissions which leave me unsatisfied, and some of the montages — which look like 80’s music videos — while a welcome break, are a bit jarring. (They feel like the director is intruding into his characters’ story).

This is how I felt watching it. But an amazing thing happens: in the very last, short scene, it all ties together with a masterful ending. This is Dolan’s most challenging and sophisticated  movie so far.

They’re both good, enjoyable movies, touching similar topics.

Laurence, Anyways is less commercial than Silver Linings, the mentally ill characters are less delightful, but it feels more passionate and heartfelt, and less calculated and Oscar-hungry.

Silver Linings Playbook and Lawrence Anyways both won major awards at TIFF. Laurence opens this weekend and Playbook will be released later this fall. And don’t miss the fantastic documentary opening soon at the Bloor, Detropia – a look at the collapse and possible revival of the rapidly shrinking city of Detroit.

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

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