European Directors and their Stars. Movies reviewed: Holy Motors, Barbara.

Posted in 1980s, Class, Cold War, Cultural Mining, Disguise, documentary, Drama, France, Germany, Movies, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 29, 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.

Ugh…winter. Bah, humbug. It’s at times like this, when your wastebasket is overflowing with cold-generated used Kleenex, and the streets with knee-deep snowdrifts, it’s at miserable wintery seasons like this that you have to remind yourself about the good parts of city life. And in Toronto, that’s movies.

There’s always something good ouit there, mainstream or obscure, spurred on by local moviegoers and the 70-odd film festivals, from TIFF on down.

So this week I’m looking at two really interesting European movies by great — but not very well-known — directors. These films are also notable in that both directors use actors that were central to earlier films.

Holy Motors, Denis Lavant, Kylie MinogueHoly Motors

Dir: Leos Carax

Oscar (Denis Lavant) gets picked up in the morning by a white stretch limo, driven by a handsome, older woman, Cecile, his chauffeur (chauffeuse?)

He looks at his papers, enjoys the rides, talks on a cel phone. Maybe it’s just a day like any other for a rich businessman… or is it? You soon discover that he’s more than just an average exec. Inside the limo, he has costumes, makeup, spirit gum, wigs and beards, which he dons to become the man he’s supposed to play in each act. So, over the course of a day, he becomes a middle-aged, ruthless businessman, a homeless Eastern-European woman, an assassin, a doting dad, a dying man, Kylie Minogue’sHoly Motors Denis Lavant Monsieur Merde erstwhile lover, and many others. Occasionally, between acts, he’s just Oscar: the man who plays the roles and communicates with Cecile.

In one especially marvelous and shocking sequence he becomes an eccentric street maniac (“M. Merde”) who crawls out of a manhole, pushes his way through a crowd, and stumbles into a fashion shoot in a Parisian cemetery. He violently attacks the photographer’s assistant, biting off her fingers, and smearing the blood over a unflappably blasé supermodel before carrying her off to an underground hideaway to complete an even more shocking and grotesque transformation. (No spoiler here — watch the movie to find out the rest of it.)

Holy Motors monsieur merde denis lavant 3So what’s going on? Is Oscar (which is also the director’s middle name) like the guy in the Truman Show, unknowingly living an artificial life for the delight of viewers? I don’t think so.

Oscar’s doing this for you and me (the moviegoers, as a performer in this movie. The entire movie is his act. It’s all an illusion, but an enjoyable one.

Denis Lavant (who played the male lead, a busker, in his Carax’s amazing love story Les Amant du Pont Neuf) is back in full form – just incredible. His foil, Cecile (played by veteran actress Edith Scob) is also great. This is a truly weird and incredible movie that has to be seen to be believed. While there are a few site gags that don’t seem to match the humour of the rest of the rest of the movie, it doesn’t detract from the film. It’s a great movie, like no movie you’ve ever seen before.

Nina Hoss Barbara_02_HFBarbara

Dir: Christian Petzold

It’s the 1980s in East Germany, and Barbara, a doctor, gets sent down to the countryside for requesting an exit permit.

(A bit of an explanation: after WWII, Germany was divided, with half of it becoming part of the democratic and capitalist West and half a socialist republic siding with the Soviet Bloc. Berlin – once the capital – was also divided into sectors occupied by the military of the allies — the UK, the US, France and the Soviet Union.

In the early 60s they put up a wall to prevent the East Berliners from entering West Berlin. Berlin became a city divided, like the two Germanys.)

Getting back to the movie… Dr Barbara Woolf (Nina Hoss) is a doctor from East Berlin. She’sJasna Fritzi Bauer Barbara_11_HF a stern, punctual no-nonsense professional who can’t stand her new, second-rate provincial hospital. She is also extremely beautiful, given to black eyeliner, her blond hair tightly pulled back. She is stuck in the countryside because she filed a request to move to the West.

East Germany is riddled with all-powerful intelligence agents constantly spying on everyone. Life is awful, and everyone wants to get out, to flee to the west for freedom. She thinks Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld) the friendly doctor she works with is spying on her, and she is frequently visited in her crummy apartment by sinister communist intelligence agents looking for clues in her bodily orifices.

Nina Hoss BARBARA  Regie Christian PetzoldAt the hospital, there are constantly patients being dropped into the hospital after being beaten up by police for trying to escape. It’s a building filled with strange creaks, bangs and thuds, and desperate teenaged runaways looking for help She feels for them, especially young Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) a juvie who is abused at her work detail. Meanwhile, with the help of a gallant, handsome lover from the west, she is planning her getaway to freedom. They also meet for secret trysts in the woods and to pass on information.

Everything’s quite cut and dry, right? East is evil, the west is good.

The thing is, it’s not quite so simple. The spies aren’t big time villains, just low-key locals with their own problems. And she’s beginning to like her co-doctor Andre. The western heroes may just be self-centred douches, not lovers of freedom. And Barbara herself, begins to question her own motives. Is her plot to escape just self serving? And who is more important: herself or her patients?

All of the actors, especially Hoss, are great, and fascinating to watch.

This is another great movie by Petzold, a minimalist, formalistic director from the so-called Berlin school. I’ve seen three of his movies now, including Jerichow (also starring Nina Hoss) a sort-of a remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice. All of his movies are terrific, and I believe they are all filmed in the former East Germany, along the distinctive windy, northern coastline.

Holy Motors is playing now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and Barbara opens there today. Check your local listings. If you haven’t seen the beautiful TIFF Bell Lightbox yet – it’s a movie theatre a museum and a restaurant – now’s a good time to drop by and take a look. Also playing this week at HotDocs are two great documentaries about urban America: the Central Park Five and Detropia.

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

Grinch: Please steal some of these. Movies Reviewed: The Impossible, Cirque du Soleil Worlds Away, Jack Reacher

Posted in Canada, Circus, Cultural Mining, Disaster, Drama, Movies, Thriller, UK, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on December 21, 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.

I don’t want to be a Grinch stealing Christmas cheer from moviegoers, but I gotta say, these mainstream December movies are a definite mixed bag. This week I’m looking at a detective action thriller, a disaster melodrama, and … um… a circus.

NAOMI WATTS and TOM HOLLAND star in THE IMPOSSIBLEThe Impossible

Dir: Jack Antonio Bayona

Mom and Dad (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) are spending Christmas at a luxury hotel on a small, tropical Thai island with their three boys. Then a tsunami strikes, and they’re all separated and swept away. The two teams – headed by mom and dad – don’t know if the others are still alive but they hold out hope as they struggle to survive the odds and reunite. Will they all make it? And will they somehow find each other again on this tiny island?

After some wicked disaster special effects, most of the rest of the lines in the movie consist of Mom? … Mom? Lucas? Where are you? HELP! Is that you Dad? where’s Dad – I think I see him over there!? Henry, where are you Henry…? Plus a series of crowd scenes where they can’t quite find each other, other characters lying in hospital beds going I must… hold on… until I see them again… unnngh, and near misses in bus stations.

OK, a lot of people at TIFF just loved this heartfelt movie, so what do I know? But, to me, this was just a gooey, gluey dreadful lump of treacle. Painful to watch.

Cirque du Soleil Worlds Away Zaripov LinzCirque du Soleil: Worlds Away in 3D

Dir: Andrew Adamson

A pretty young woman (Erika Linz) goes to the county fair and makes eyes with a scruffy carnie roustabout. It turns out he’s also an aerialist with the circus. But when she goes to see him perform, the daring young man (Igor Zaripov) falls off his flying trapeze. She runs into the ring to help him but they both get sucked into a rabbit-hole vortex, and she spends the rest of the movie trying to find him. So much for the plot.

This is sort of a K-Tel medley of all the Cirque du Soleil shows floating around the Las Vegases of the world. The acts range from extremely cool – people climbing around on a swinging, giant boat suspended in midair — to pervy Mongolian contortionists forming weird, soft-core kamasutra-like body formations. The stage suddenly tilts and everyone slides off in a flood of sand… groups of gymnasts form Busby Berkeley square formations in the water… synchronized swimming…flying carousel horses…Cirque du Soleil Worlds Away -contortionists

Most of this movie is completely incomprehensible. Why is a yakuza with Kabuki face makeup brandishing a metal hotpot as he sadistically tortures a chained athlete? I haven’t a clue. And why, why, why are people in top hats swarming in rhythm across the stage to the recorded sounds of Paul McCartney singing Mr Kite? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. Shoot me now.

This movie feels a lot like a classic Broadway musical, but without the singing, dancing, acting… or plot.

Seriously, the whole movie is a non-stop, 3-D IMAX spectacle culminating in periodic, orgasmic fountain bursts and fireworks. I guess it’s meant for people who have seen and love the stage acts. They intentionally keep all the wires and cables visible, so you know they’re really doing these tricks – no special effects. And they’ve added faint canned applause between acts, along with a multi-bowed curtain call at the end, so the movie theatre audience can know exactly when to spring to their feet and cheer at the screen. I just don’t get it.

It sounds like I hated it – I didn’t. It’s got lots of watchable eye-candy. It just didn’t do it for me.

Jack Reacher Rosamund Pike Tom CruiseJack Reacher

Dir: Christopher McQuarrie

Jack Reacher is a hobo. He drifts, aimlessly, across America with just the shirt on his back. He’s cold, emotionless, and physically indestructible. So what’s he doing in Pittsburg? He’s there to right a wrong.

You see, he used to be in the army where he was a police detective who always caught his suspects by use of his perfect memory, dogged persistence, and attention to minute details. And some crazed army sniper he remembers from his time in Iraq is in the news now: he shot some random strangers.

But he is hired by the defense attorney (!) an equally stubborn young lawyer to investigate the case. Did he really do it, and why? Or could this be another “grassy knoll” conspiracy? It’s up to Jack to connect the dots, fight the shady figures conspiring behind the scenes – a cyborg-like killer (Jai Courtney), a shady, Siberian cipher, a hidden mole – physically fend off the thugs hired to stop him, and protect and save the Zatoichi Monogatariinnocent.

Okay, I read the whole airport paperback series, all 16 of ‘em. (Jack Reacher’s like another unofficial detective, Zatoichi, the Japanese blind swordsman, who travels from town to town not looking for trouble, but always ending up in the middle of it, and always beating the bad guys.) The books are interesting, violent mystery-thrillers about this super-hero-like character who is physically huge, 6’6” –Jack Reacher Jai Courtney– an intimidating, Schwartzeneggar- type. And I wanted to see how badly Tom Cruise (at least a foot shorter with a squeaky, high-pitched voice) would blow it.

But he didn’t blow it — he pulled it off. The movie is good, interesting and suspenseful, with excellent car chases, shoot-outs, and some not-bad fistfights. I could do without the weird scene of Tom Cruise taking his shirt off and posing for the camera, and an insipid segment with him punching out five guys in an alley, but other than that, it works.

The international supporting cast – Brits Rosamund Pike as the lawyer, David Oyelowo as the cop, Aussie Jai Courtney who is terrific as the psychopathic killer, and even Werner Herzog! — were all fantastic.

The question is, what’s with all these nutbars and their gun culture? And will people want to see a violent Jack Reacher Tom Cruise with Riflemovie about a random sniper just a week after the terrible killings in Newtown, Connecticut? We’ll soon find out.

The Impossible, Jack Reacher, and Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away all open today. Check your local listings. Also opening today is the great French drama Rust and Bone – don’t miss it.

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

Movies about Sex and Disabilities. Films reviewed: Hyde Park on the Hudson, Rust and Bone PLUS Morgan, Beeswax.

Posted in 1930s, Action, Cultural Mining, Depression, Disabilities, Drama, Fighting, France, Inside Out, Marineland, Movies, Orca, Sex, TIFF, UFC, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on December 17, 2012

rust and bone audiard directs cotillardHi, 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.

In movies, disabilities were traditionally there to provide tragedy and pathos. People have an accident and end up in a wheelchair or a bed… my life is over, I will never work again, so sad. Or else they were a signal of great personal triumph. Look ma, I survived! Occasionally, you’d have the villain in horror movie, bitter, evil, deformed, taking out his pain on other people. Witches with canes, super-villains in wheelchairs…

Then came the movie-of-the-week disabled person as the frail victim, the pitied, while their counterpart character is the strong, powerful, and privileged one. They either die or “get better”.

We haven’t even reached the point where disabled people become the equivalent of the token black neighbour or gay best degrassifriend. (exceptions: Drake on Degrassi).

That’s why it’s neat to have two new movies with normal, fascinating, multidimensional, central characters who have, but aren’t defined by, their disability. The disability is part of the plot but not the central reason for the character. And, most important, people with disabilities are shown to be sexual.

This week I’m looking at two new movies, both romantic dramas, one light, one powerful — where one of the two main characters – the one with more education, wealth and power – has a disability.

Bill Murray as FDR in a wheelchair

Bill Murray as FDR in a wheelchair

Hyde Park on the Hudson

Dir: Andrew Michel

It’s the 1930s, the Great Depression, and Daisy (Laura Linney) has fallen into hard times. So she likes it when she gets summoned to visit a distant relative Franklin (Bill Murray) who is doing much better. He’s a stamp collector — he’s staying at his mother’s estate in the Hudson Valley in Western NY. Oh yeah… and he’s the President. FDR to be exact. Well they get along famously and one day he takes her for a drive into the hills, leaving his Secret Service agents behind. And what happens at the top of the hill? (Cover your ears, kiddies…) She gives him a handjob.

And so begins their long-term relationship. He builds a secret house for their trysts – he’s married to Eleanor Roosevelt – and they form a warm and loving special relationship. But the movie also focuses on another special relationship: One crucial weekend, when King George and Queen Elizabeth – in sort of a prequel to The King’s Speech – are visiting the states to get them to get on board in the soon-to-come war against Hitler.

The Queen (the current Queen’s mother) is portrayed as a shrewish manipulator with the young, stammering George as a weakling, prey to her machinations. What are hot dogs and why are they asking us to eat? Why did they put political cartoons of George III on the wall? They’re insulting us!

Then there’s Roosevelt — he had polio as a kid. At the time, in official photos, his disability was always hidden, never hyde park on the hudsonspoken of, never photographed. But as this a backstage view of his life, he’s constantly being lifted from room to room or moving about in a specially-designed wheelchair. The same is true of their relationship:

I liked it. It feels like a PBS Masterpiece Theatre episode, complete with stately homes and royalty, but with stupendous acting and subtle writing. This is actually a good, touching movie, an historical drama based on newly discovered material about a person – Daisy – who is largely unknown. Some historical details seem questionable – were his servants really white not black? – and some are surprising – The Canadian PM William Lyon Mackenzie King was the one who brought George and Elizabeth to meet FDR that weekend, yet he was nowhere to be seen. (As usual, Canada is erased from the picture.)

The acting is great, both Bill Murray and Laura Linney are fantastic. The casting didn’t worry too much about looking like the real thing – Eleanor Roosevelt as a very beautiful woman? She was known for her inner beauty more than her movie-star good looks – it was more about conveying their personalities. While the characters’ feelings are kept largely opaque, it still conveys the story.

rust and bone schoenaerts and cotillardRust and Bone

Dir: Jacques Audiard

Ali is a ne’er-do-well single dad and fighter from Belgium. He has to take his cute kid Sam to the south of France to stay with his sister when his wife, a junkie, ends up in jail. He’s a terrible father, self-centred and irresponsible, a negative role-model. His sister, and her husband, a trucker are responsible and take on the child-rearing responsibilities.

But Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is Sam’s dad, so he takes care of him as much as he can, which isn‘t much.

He’s irresponsible but also totally spontaneous. He sees a woman he likes, sleeps with her, moves on, no strings. If they’re free – they text they’re “OP” (operational) and they meet.

He has no job experience but is good fighter, so he lands a job as a bouncer at a nightclub. There he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) an older woman, very beautiful, who works as an orca trainer (!) at Marineland. She’s not there for a rust and bone cotillard schoenaertspick-up; she just wants to be the object of desire by others.

Ali helps her when a fight breaks out and treats her with respect… even though he always says the wrong thing (he’s a Flemish speaker.)

Then Stephanie has a serious accident at work with the orcas, and her life changes. She’s caught in a funk of self-pity and hatred. Ali, meanwhile is moving up to sketchy work as a security guard and open air Mixed martial arts fights where he gets a cut of the bets in the fight.

So depressed Steph calls him up – maybe this odd couple can get together and help each other survive? Will he bring her back to life? Will she teach him to behave in a civilized way? Will he take responsibility as a father? Will they ever have an actual relationship?

rust and bone schoenaertsI don’t want to give away any more of the story – and it’s a terrific story! – but suffice it to say, it’s a deeply moving romance, a drama, a family story, a boxing movie, and lots more. The director, Audiard – he made A Prophet, another great movie — is fantastic, all the supporting actors (especially Corrinne Maseiro as Ali’s sister and Armand Verdure as Sam, his son) are amazing. But the two main leads Schoenaerts and Cotillard – are powerfully perfect in their roles.

Morgan

Dir: Michael D. Akers

Also worth mentioning is the low-budget drama Morgan (Dir: Michael D. Akers) that was screened at this year’s Inside-Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto. In this film, Morgan (Leo Minaya), a competitive bike racer is disabled in an accident on a steep hill in Central Park, which is on the very path of the tournament he wants to win. After a struggle, and with the help of a caring boyfriend Dean (Jack Kesy) who he first meets on a basketball court, he Morgandecides to tackle the race once again, this time using a bike adjusted to fit his disability. This movie sensitively shows how partners can learn to treat a disability as a normal, erotic part of their sex lives.

Beeswax

Dir: Andrew Bujalski

And the realistic film Beeswax, from two years ago, also doesn’t shy away from sex involving a person with a disability. A nice, comfortable film, Beeswax is about the secrets and tensions shared by two sisters (played by real-life twins Tilly Hatcher, Maggie Hatcher), one of whom uses a wheelchair.

beeswaxHyde Park on the Hudson opens today, and Rust and Bone opens next Friday, Dec 21st. I don’t reveal my top ten movies of the year until the end of the month, but I guarantee Rust and Bone will be in that list. Also now playing is the very cute Korean romance A Werewolf Boy, which played at TIFF this year, about a boy raised by wolves, the girl who dog-trained him to behave like a person, and the romance that grew between them.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Paul Emile d’Entremont about his new NFB documentary LAST CHANCE

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Human Rights, Lesbian, LGBT, Queer, Refugees, Trans, Uncategorized, United Nations by CulturalMining.com on December 8, 2012

Hi Paul Emile d'Entremont Last ChanceThis is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CulturalMining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Canada has long been known as a safe haven for refugees from around the world who come here to escape persecution or physical danger in their home countries. A new documentary from the National Film Board, LAST CHANCE, looks at five members of a “particular Trudi last chancesocial group” as covered in the 1952 UN Charter. These five people — from Jamaica, Egypt, Lebanon, Colombia and Nicaragua — are all LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered) refugees.

The film’s director, Paul Emile d’Entremont spent more than three years and travelled to five countries and across Canada to capture their stories. The film follows the subjects as they struggle to escape physical and Last Chance 2emotional persecution and achieve refugee status in their new country of safe haven.

Paul Emile, speaking by telephone from Halifax, Nova Scotia, explains the special obstacles they face, why one man had his sexuality questioned, what particular dangers refugees can encounter even in so-called “safe” nations, how a series of upcoming legal changes — based on Bill C-31 — could impact potential refugees, and more.

The film LAST CHANCE is available for free viewing this weekend (Dec 7-9, 2012) in honour of International Human Rights Day.

Dry Steak or Juicy Burger? Movies reviewed: Killing Them Softly, Sushi Girl PLUS Exile

Posted in Breasts, Crime, Cultural Mining, Death, Drama, Movies, Thriller, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on December 7, 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.

It used to be easy to tell a high-brow movie from a low-brow movie. B-movies followed certain genres, used B-grade stars, and had a specific look, a “cheaper” style to them. They mainly went for laughs and gore, titillation, exploitation, and easy thrills. But what happens when the border between the two starts to blur?

This week I’m looking at two similar American crime movies about hold-ups going wrong: a high-brow drama and an unapologetically low-brow thriller.

sushi girl poster 2Sushi Girl

Dir: Kern Saxton

Six years after a diamond heist, the hoods who pulled it off are meeting in an abandoned Chinese restaurant to welcome back their heist-mate Fish (Noah Hathaway). He took the fall for the group and is just out of prison. His co-conspirators at the dinner include a crazed, bearded maniac named Max (Andy Mckenzie), a dwarfish, acerbic blond called Crow (Mark Hammil – yes, that Mark Hammil!) Francis (James Duval), a cleancut, young family dude, and the tall, scheming, black gang leader, Duke (Tony Todd).

It turns out that the diamonds from the heist are all missing, and someone (in the room) must have them. Since the only one out of circulation for six years was Fish, the ex-con, they decide he’s to blame. They tie him to a chair (a la Reservoir Dogs), and Duke pulls out a wind-up egg timer. In a bizarre game, Crow and Max take turns horribly torturing Fish as they trade barbs with each other, as Duke keeps time. It doesn’t really matter if the poor guy knows anything, since both his torturers are sadists. Each time he loses consciousness, we get to see a bit more of what happened the day of the heist in his flashback dreams.

And the title? Oh yeah, I forgot about her. Right in the middle of the torture room, all through the evening, lies a beautiful woman (Cortney Palm) on her back, totally naked. Pieces of sushi are artistically (dare I say gingerly?) arrayed all over her breasts and body. She’s been warned not to move a muscle or react… no matter what she sees.

sushi-girlWill Fish tell them what they want before he dies? Who really holds the loot? Who will survive the violence? What’s the twist? The unexpected ending? I’m not telling…

OK, it’s a total B-grade movie, overflowing with Tarantino touches (especially Reservoir Dogs): retro sound track, extended torture, snappy, occasionally witty dialogue, cameo appearances by stars (like Sonny Chiba as the sushi chef, and the perpetually-macheted Danny Trejo as Schlomo the diamond dealer). It’s shlock and kitsch and low-budget dreck — intentionally so — but it does have all the humour, suspense and twists it needs.

Then there’s…

KILLING THEM SOFTLY POSTERKilling them Softly

Dir: Andrew Dominik

It’s four years ago, in a post-Katrina New Orleans, on the eve of the US presidential election. Apparently high hurricane winds have purged the city of all its women and African-Americans, leaving only white Mafiosi and their customers. Times are tough. Frankie (Scoot McNairy) a low-life hood, and his best pal Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) an Aussie junkie (who makes Frankie look positively genteel in comparison) are hired by a sleazy dry cleaner to pull of the perfect heist. All they have to do is knock over a gangster-run poker game and steal all the cash. Everyone will blame Trattman, the poker game chief (Ray Liotta) since he is known to have robbed his own game years back.

Killing Them SoftlyNaturally, things go wrong. A corporate-type gang leader (Richard Jenkins) brings in a known hitman (Brad Pitt) to kill everyone involved. He subcontracts the hit to a depressed, over the hill killer named Frankie (James Gandolfini from The Sopranos). But, for some reason, Frankie just want to get drunk and laid in his hotel room, not kill people – imagine that. So Brad Pitt might have to hunt them all down and kill them himself.

That’s basically the movie – no suspense, no twists and turns, no thrills, no sex, and no humour. Just a bunch of criminals trudging through their gory, pointless workdays. Oh yeah, and lots and lots of dull business discussions about who gets paid what, who kills whom, and how they should reach their demise. And the occasional gratuitous — but oh-so-tasteful — slo-mo death scenes.brad-pitt-richard-jenkins-killing-them-softly

OK – great movie stars, incredible art direction, sound, and editing, and social relevance: lots of supposed reference to Bush-era economic malaise, political disappointment, alienation – all the stuff high-brow, festival-type movies thrive on. And yet, despite these fancy trappings, it would be harder to find a duller, more pointless movie than this one. A thriller it ain’t.

So, which would you rather have? A hundred dollar piece of Kobe beef (unsalted, lukewarm, overcooked) or a fresh, hot and juicy burger (of questionable origin) on a wonderbread bun?

Killing Them Softly is playing now, and Sushi Girl opens today. Also opening is Exile, an archaeological and historical documentary about the myth of the exile of the Jews from the Holy Land and how it was reinterpreted by Imperial Rome, early Christianity, rabbinic Judaism, and modern-day Israelis and Palestinians, each with their own point of view. Check your local listings for details. And it’s a busy weekend with Monsters and Martians film fest and free Japanese movies sponsored by the Japan Foundation.

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

Backstory. Movies Reviewed: Bones Brigade An Autobiography, A Late Quartet PLUS Monsters and Martians

Posted in 1980s, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Monsters, Movies, Music, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 1, 2012

Bones_Brigade_An_Autobiography_1.470x264Hi, 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.

Backstory

You probably hear the term “backstory” a lot when people are talking about books or movies. A backstory is the background, the things that happen before the main story begins. It’s usually not the main part of the story, but more likely one of the crucial elements that fuel a plot. It also makes you think about the choices we make in our lives and the effects it leads to later on.

So this week I’m talking about two movies that deal explicitly with their backstory. They’re both American movies – one’s a documentary about a some guys who find themselves becoming professional athletes at a very young age, the other one’s a light drama about four professional musicians who find themselves linked, potentially for the rest of their lives.

Bones-Brigade-posterBones Brigade: an Autobiography

Dir: Stacy Peralta

First the backstory: Dog Town and Z-Boys was a fantastic documentary about kids who elevated skateboards to the level of coolness their older brothers had reached with their surfboards. They took over the empty swimming pools in Southern California to skate in, and it was all captured on film by Stacy Peralta.

In this new movie, Peralta continues the story from the early 80s by following one group or team, the Bones Brigade, as skating shifted from being an underground phenomenon to a huge international business.

The Bones Brigade was a group of skaters notable for their youth – some started as pre-teens — their skill, and their unusual lack of drugginess. Some of them would just hang out and eventually become part of the group, while others were nurtured or sought out in remote parts of the country as the next big thing. And they started to win competitions, which led to sponsorship… which led to sales and labels and fame and international renown, until they became superstars, almost (it seems) by accident.

Crucially, they recorded everything they did (on videotape, film and stills) which made its way to skate videos, magazines and print ads. They bucked the trend of selling products and glamourizing skate stars in their ads. Instead, they marketed its cachet and uniqueness with weird random images — like bizarre, staged fires and explosions — without ever emphasizing the skateboards themselves, just the mindset. They wavered from bones-brigade-bros-2010-330x340supremely goofy dorkiness to unreachable levels of casual hipness, without ever defining which they end of the scale they fell on. Sort of a Mickey Mouse Club for skaters. But they were just unknown teenagers who were good with the board.

It traces the story of the six guys — in detail – who turn legends as they invent new moves (like the ollie) and styles that become the standard of competitive meets. Peralta also talks to their former rivals, and the contemporary artists and musicians who helped fuel the phenomenon. It’s an “autobiography” because it combines period footage with the same six people two decades later who tell what happened to them over two decades.

Bones Brigade is long and detailed, but of great interest and historical value and fun to watch. I thought it concentrated a bit too much on the less interesting aspects – sales, ownership, advertising, corporate infighting – and, (at least in the version I saw at hotdocs early this year) it had lost some of the free feelings that Dogtown and Z-Boys inspired. It’s also a lot longer than most big screen documentaries – it felt more like a two-part TV doc. Even so, it’s the definitive history of skating in the 80s and 90s.

ALateQuartet_Poster_smA Late Quartet

Dir: Yaron Zilberman

Backstory: a famous cellist pulls together three young musicians – one directly out of music school – to form a string quartet that lead to great success.

The Fugue Quartet is getting together again for a triumphant 25th annual tour. The lead violinist, Daniel (Mark Ivanir), is a moody and intense perfectionist, who writes detailed notes on his score and follows them to a T. Robert (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a petulant and sulky second violinist – he wants to be free and chafes under Daniel’s demands; Juliette is the violist (the marvelous Katherine Keener) — the stable core. And Peter the Cellist (Christopher Walken) is the founder and eminence gris. They function as a perfectly-tuned contraption, beloved around the world.

But, out of the blue, the cellist discovers his hands aren’t functioning quite right. Peter is messing up. So, as he seeks a medical explanation he puts the quartet on hold… temporarily. That’s when things start falling apart. Robert who goes jogging around Central Park with a much younger Spanish musician (Liraz Charhi) loves her praise, Last Quartet Mark Ivanir Philip Seymour Hoffman_ Catherine Keener_ Christopher Walken Photo courtesy of Opening Night Productionsbut takes her off-hand comments too sriously – she wonders why he’s not the first violin. Suddenly he decides he’s tired of being second fiddle and wants to share the lead part. (What?!)

Meanwhile, his marriage – with Juliette – falters. And Alexandra (Imogen Poots), has personal ties to all four members: Peter teaches her class at music school, Daniel is her coach, and Robert and Juliette her parents. As the ultimate wildcard she further disrupts the quartet’s equilibrium with a shocking revelation.

Soon everything just falls apart like a house of cards.

Will they ever play together again? Will Juliette and Robert get back together? Can they work with Daniel? Will Peter recover or can he be replaced if he doesn’t? And will they still exist as a group?

A classical musician told me the rivalry between 1st and 2nd violin was ridiculous and clichéd, that actors don’t understand musical instruments. All true I’m sure, but I’m a movie critic, not a musician. I thought it was a good, low-key drama about music and relationships and the first feature film by a documentary director. Good acting – all four of them, with nice plot, fun characters, nice soundtrack. I enjoyed it.

the_call_of_cthulhu_dvd_coverBones Brigade: an Autobiography and a Late Quartet both open today. Coming next week is the first annual Monsters & Martians International Film Festival in Toronto which will be showing wacky and weird science fiction flics, involving Chinese speaking space aliens in Rome; a new film by Kevin Smith; and evidence that Cthulhu is replacing werewolves, vampires and Zombies as the hottest monster.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Darcy Michael about his new movie Lloyd the Conquerer

Posted in Acting, Adventure, Calgary, Canada, College, comedy, Comics, Cultural Mining, Uncategorized, Unicorns by CulturalMining.com on December 1, 2012

darcy-and-harland-williams-filming-l-nquerorHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

There’s a malevolent presence in South Calgary that threatens the peace, order and good government
of the people playing there. No, I’m not talking about Harper, this is a new Canadian comedy movie about LARPers.

Comedian, actor and Vancouver-based all-around celeb

Lloyd The Conquerer illustrations by Evan Williams

Lloyd The Conquerer illustrations by Evan Williams

Darcy Michael tells me

about this film, the life of a stand-up comic, and his own personal ups and downs.

Poster: Lloyd the ConquererHe’s performing in Toronto at Yuk Yuk’s this weekend, at Massey Hall on New Year’s Eve; Lloyd the Conquerer opens today.

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