Women vs Tentpoles. Films Reviewed: Frances Ha, Fill the Void, World War Z

Posted in comedy, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Dance, Depression, Drama, Family, Israel, Movies, Uncategorized, Zombie by CulturalMining.com on June 22, 2013

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.

Where is cinema heading? Steven Spielberg and George Lucas recently gave a speech at USC. They said the movie industry is about to implode.  It will split into two halves: big-budget, well-promoted potential blockbusters; and personal, smaller projects. The big movies, the “tent poles” are supposed to keep the money flowing, while the indie movies bring in the film buffs and adults. They say these indies will be relegated to Pay-on-Demand apps on your iPad, while movie theatre movies will be the equivalent of going to a Cirque du Soleil performance.

I can’t predict the future, but for now, at least, there are still lots of small movies on the big screen. And there are many other indie (or semi independent) movies being made and shown. Lots of them, not just the “tentpole” movies. And they are all playing on the big screen.

This week I’m looking at two polished, low-budget movies about women, and one Tent Pole behemoth about zombies – all of which can be seen in movie theatres, starting today.

FRANCES HA Greta Gerwig, Mickey SumnerFrances Ha

Dir: Noah Baumbach

Frances and Sophie (Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner) are best friends. They went to a liberal arts university together and now they’re roommates in Manhattan, pursuing their dreams. Frances likes to dance – maybe she’ll become a choreographer — while Sophie is in the publishing world. They do everything together; they say they’re like an old lesbian couple… except no sex.

But their best friendship starts to crumble when Sophie moves in with her dull boyfriend, Punch, leaving Frances with nowhere to live. And her dance ambitions are tanking. She starts couch surfing with friends of friends, looking for work.

Great Gerwig is perfect as the gangly and awkward but pretty Frances. Going through FRANCES HA Greta Gerwig, Michael Zegen, Adam Driverpostpartum depression from losing her best friend, she becomes aware of her dismal life: she’s in the arts, she’s poor, and — as Benji (Michael Zegen) one of the guys she sublets a room from, keeps telling her — “undateable”.

Will Frances find success, sex, love or maybe an apartment? And can she find a new best friend? Frances Ha, shot in glorious black and white, is a fun, light social comedy looking at the lives of smart, white, urban women in their twenties. It’s basically identical to the TV show Girls, even sharing some of the same faces (like Adam Driver). If you like “Girls” (I do) you’ll like this movie, too.

Fill The Void

Wri/Dir: Rama Burshtein

Enter the Void Hadas Yaron, Renana Raz,  Irit Sheleg, Razia Israeli Photo by Karin BarShira (Hadas Yaron) is an ultra-orthodox young Jewish woman in Tel Aviv. She plays the accordion. Her aunt is acting as match maker spying on potential grooms without them noticing. “He’s in the dairy section” she tells her in a supermarket. But when Shira’s sister dies in childbirth, she steps in to help her brother-in- law Yochay (Yiftach Klein) with the baby. Soon a plan is hatched to get teenaged Shira to marry the much older Yochay, her own family. She doesn’t want to. A family rivalry erupts in her family between the disabled Aunt and the other matriarchs. It spreads quietly to the whole community, over marriages, responsibilities and obligations. Who will Enter the Voidmake the sacrifice? Will Yochay move to Europe? And will Shira defy her elders?

Directed by an ultra-orthodox woman, Fill the Void gives a peak at a largely insular world, rarely seen in mainstream films, and almost never from the point of view of women. Despite all its religious trappings, much of the film is actually about the relationships and customs in the completely non-religious, day-to-day life of these women. Fill the Void is a very good, subtle drama.


Dir: Marc Forster

Gerry (Brad Pitt) is a former UN civil servant who lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two daughters. One day they go for a drive and get caught up in a massive traffic jam. Something is causing major gridlock. It turns out there are fast-running zombie-like people throwing themselves off of the roofs of buildings, and wildly attacking cars and people. The disease is spreading and it seems to be infecting everyone. Ten seconds after you’re scratched by zombies, you twitch, your eyeballs cloud up, and boom – you’re a zombie too!

The family escapes to Newark where the human looters – even the cops –are running WORLD WAR Zwild. Confusion, fear, panic, mayhem. Somehow, due to Gerry’s status, the family gets picked up by helicopters and sent to somewhere safe – an aircraft carrier in the mid-Atlantic.

The UN Secretary General asks Gerry to save the day. He’s a Jack Bauer with a hotline to the top brass. He flies off – with some Navy Seals to guard him — to find Patient Zero, and somehow stop this zombie apocalypse. It morphs into a military PR movie, as he flies around the world to military bases. It’s sort of a Zombie Dark Thirty (with monsters replacing terrorists).

This is where the best special effects come in. The zombies turn into a human wave, splashing against walls and careening down city streets, like they’re running the bulls of Pamplona. Really amazing.

Then it changes into a We Are the World, Hurrah for the U.N.! -type movie. He meets Segen (Daniella Kertesz) a strikingly beautiful female Israeli soldier with a buzz cut. She joins him in a UN sponsored quest to cure Zombie-ism. Gerry is the smartest agent in the world, but one that constantly forgets to turn his cell phone to vibrate (so as not to wake the dormant zombies). And, oh yeah, he seems to think wrapping magazines around his forearms are better protection than, say, the bulletproof vests he could have easily got from the military.

This is a weird, confused movie. I was quite disappointed. It looks like it’s going to be another zombie/horror movie, but it is missing the gore, the blood and the cannibalism. These zombies don’t eat brains. They don’t seem driven by hunger, and don’t do anything except run around and infect other people. There’s no blood, no sex, no real romance either. World War Z is a dull, family-style contagious disease drama… with excellent special effects.

Me the Bees and Cancer John Board PosterFrances Ha, Fill the Void and World War Z, all open today, check your local listings. Coming next week is the Italian Contemporary Film Festival; and to see a truly low-budget film, check out one from the 1000 dollar movie challenge: Me, the Bees and Cancer (John Board’s personal look alternative medicine) is playing tonight at the Royal Cinema to benefit the Actor’s Fund of Canada.

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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