Daniel Garber speaks with musicians Volker Goetze and Ablaye Cissoko about Volker’s new documentary GRIOT

Posted in Africa, Cultural Mining, documentary, Movies, Music, Senegal, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 24, 2013
photoHi! This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining,com and CIUT 89.54 FM.
In West Africa — in countries like Senegal,  Gambia, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinee, Niger, and parts of Nigeria —
every village traditionally had a town speaker or storyteller. They announce special occasions like births, weddings, and even wars and battles. They tell fables and tales, parables and jokes, lore that was passed on from generation to generation.
The storyteller is known as the griot (or griotte) and is the subject of a new documentary. It looks at theAmanke_Dionti_COVER griot in Senegal, including Ablaye Cissoko, a hereditary griot and a musician who plays the kora.
Griot is both a fascinating subject and a beautifully musical film to look at and listen to.
I speak with director/musician Volker Goetze and griot/musician Ablaye Cissoko about the role of the griot (Volker provides the translations). The film opens today, as does their musical tour of Canada.

Halloween! Movies Reviewed: Superstitious Minds, Ginger Snaps, Bounty Killer

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Mexico, Movies, post-apocalypse, Supernatural, TV, Uncategorized, violence, Werewolves, Western by CulturalMining.com on October 24, 2013

Halloween_1 Superstitious MindsHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.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 – it’s the scariest night of the year! And things are getting scarier and scarier. CSEC: The Communications Security Establishment Canada – this country’s own NSA. Did you know they’re allowed to spy on Canadians, as long as you’re speaking to someone outside the country? And with no watchdog, no judicial control? They’re free to do whatever they want with no one watching them! Scary…! Maybe you’re a Bell Canada customer? Beginning two weeks after Hallowe’en they want to keep a record of every web page you visit, every call you make, every TV show you watch, and every place you visit carrying your cell phone! Scarrry!!!!

Yes, it’s a very scary time of year.


So in honour of this frightening holiday, I’m looking at some very halloweeny things. There’s a documentary on superstition, a classic horror film about sisters in suburbia, and a post-apocalyptic action/western about a futuristic world.

Superstitious Minds SkullsSuperstitious Minds

Dir: Adrian Wills and Kenneth Hirsch

Are we all superstitious? I’m pretty careful about spilling salt. And are we becoming more or less so in an increasingly scientific world? Well, according to a new documentary, we are as superstitious as we’ve ever been, maybe more so, with people under thirty the most superstitious of all. It’s what keeps us grounded and gives us control in facing an uncertain, unpredictable world.

This documentary covers international phenomena like Mexico’s Day of the Dead, Feng Shui in Hong Kong, and the rituals and taboos Newfoundland fishermen stick to to keep from being lost at sea. As well as small things we notice everyday, like the rituals of everyone from sports fans to Shakespearean actors.Dia_de_muertos Superstitious Minds

One example: the strange jagged angles of the Bank of China building in Hong Kong led to widespread worry that it was upsetting their economy with it’s intrusive, knife-like nature. So HSBC – that’s the Hong King Shanghai Bank of Commerce – actually put metal cannons on the roof of their sky scraper to shoot all that bad energy back at the Bank of China, thus neutering it’s negative charms.

This is an interesting documentary, with lots of colourful vignettes talking heads, and some reenacted montages about superstition. (I just wish it dealt less with the psychology of it, and more with the magic.)

gingersnaps_01Ginger Snaps (2000)

Dir: John Fawcett

The Fitzgerald sisters, have been BFFs since they were 8. They signed a pact to be dead before they’re 16. In the midst of all the suburban conformity, Ginger and Brigitte (Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins) wear saggy cardigans, thrift store kilts and messy hair. They resist the bullies and jerks in their high school and revel in the depressing-ness of it all. Their only hobby? Acting out elaborate fake-suicides they save on Polaroid photos.

Life in the suburbs is predictable, except that all the neighbourhood dogs are turning up dead. Who is doing ths? But one night, on a full moon, Ginger feels different. She gets scratched by a wild dog, right when she’s having her first period… and things start to change.

She becomes, aggressive, erratic and highly sexualized. She starts wearing plunging necklines to school. And what about those scratches on her body? They’re starting to gingersnaps_02change too. She feels hairier, bloodier… meaner.

The school nurse explains it’s just puberty, but they both know the change means something more. And the two sisters find their relationship is fraying at the edges. Brigette likes the old Ginger, but her sister wants her to change like she did. Ignoring the nurse’s advice, Ginger has unprotect sex with a stoner at her high school – and seems to have passed the strange virus on.

People to start to die in mysterious circumstances….

It’s up to Brigitte to find a cure and bring her back to normal before she kills everybody.  She turns to Sam (Kris Lemche) for help. Sure he’s the local pot dealer, but he’s also the only one besides Brigitte who believes in Lycanthropia – he ran over a werewolf once in his delivery van. But will they get to Ginger before she snaps?  Before she makes the complete transformation to wolfdom?

Ginger Snaps was made in 2000 and I think it’s fair to say it’s attained classic Halloween movie status, along with more famous pics like the Shining, the Exorcist, and Videodrome. It’s distinctly Canadian… with street hockey, grow-ops, sex-ed and roadkill, but without that uncomfortable earnestness that mars some Canadian movies. It also avoids the puritanical nature of mainstream American horror movies, the ones that kill off characters that have sex or take drugs. And it has a refreshingly subversive subtext: Ginger Snaps is a feminist monster movie where the sisters are doing it for themselves.

This is not a special effects-driven movie — it depends on its great story, acting and originality, instead.

Bounty Killer PosterBounty Killer

Dir: Henry Saine

It’s some point far in the future. Corporations have taken over the world with governments withering away. But horrible wars between companies fighting for market share have left the US a wasteland. Now bounty hunters are celebrities followed by papparazzi for their brave exploits. They seek out the outlaws – all of whom now wear suits and ties (the business execs who ruined everything).

The champ hunter, Drifter (Matthew Marsden) brings in the bodies of every outlaw he can find. He’s as rootless as tumbleweed and mean as a rattler. But has a new competitor Catherine (Kristanna Loken), as ruthless as she is beautiful. She rides fancy sports cars and wears knee-high white boots. They are all old friends, lovers and sometime enemies. But when Drifter’s face appears on a wanted poster, Katherine vows to hunt him down. Can Drifter (and his gun-caddy side-kick) cross the badlands, avoid the bands of so-called gypsies in the desert, and make it Bounty Killer 391804_231827040231097_18835298_nto the council building to clear his name? On the way he has to escape the face-painted warriors and ride in things like a camper fan pulled by two Harleys – like an old west horse and carriage. (Great image!)

Bounty Killers is a western but the cowboys drive choppers through the desert, not horses. It’s got the brothels, the ghost towns, the angry mob, the outlaws and the sheriffs. And it all feels like a live-action graphic novel – mainly cause that’s what it is. A comic written for the big screen.

Marsden Bounty KillerI liked this movie – super low budget but punchy, slick and fast moving. Lots of hilarious side characters – all based on movie clichés but different enough and funny enough to keep you glued to the screen.

Ginger Snaps is playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Halloween night (tiff.net), Superstitious Minds is airing on CBC TV on Doc Zone (also on Halloween night), and Bounty Killers played at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, which is screening its closing films tonight.

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 JIA ZHANG-KE and ZHAO TAO about his new film TOUCH OF SIN


Hi — This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s contemporary China — people are facing abuse from their employers,  corrupt local politicians, gangsters… Life is a struggle, and anger just roils up inside, until it bursts forth, with alarming consequences.

In a series of linked stories, a fantastic new film from China treads new ground in Chinese cinema. It’s called A TOUCH OF SIN and played at the Toronto International Film Festival.

I spoke with director Jia Zhangke and his muse Zhao Tao on site during TIFF13. Jia is one of China’s best known contemporary filmmakers, who uses art to bring the underside of current issues to the forefront. Zhao is his lead a touch of sin_01_mediumactress and appears in many of his films.

Known for films like Platform, The World and Still Life, Jia Zhang-Ke’s newest one outdoes them all.

A Touch of Sin opens today in Toronto.

October Film Fests. Movies Reviewed: Fresh Meat, Los Wild Ones, The Fifth Estate

Posted in Biopic, Cannibalism, Cultural Mining, documentary, Horror by CulturalMining.com on October 18, 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.

Fall film festivals are as common as falling leaves, but there are some that shouldn’t be missed. Toronto After Dark is a neat place to catch up on all the latest horror, science fiction and some just plain strange movies. ImagineNative is a celebration of aboriginal art, music and film, both from first nations artist and filmmakers, as well as many more from abroad. And there’s a brand new festival, Reel Indie, showing new movies about indie music.

So today I’m looking at an unusual movie from New Zealand which says “you are what you eat”;  a music doc that says rock ‘n’ roll is a Mexican thang; and a biopic that opened TIFF this year that says leaks make the world go round.

Fresh Meat posterFresh Meat

Dir: Danny Mulheron

Rina (Hanna Tevita) is heading home from the Maori School for Girls. She likes it there, but misses her family and friends.

There’s Margaret, her mom (Nicola Kawana), who’s a chef on TV and author of a popular cooking guide for university students. Dad (Temuera Morrison) is a prof who likes instilling Maori pride in her ancestral language, religion and culture. (Rina thinks it’s all silly.) There’s her pesky little brother and even the neighbourhood paper boy who crushing heavily on her. And, as he says, her “newly grown bosoms”.

But it’s not just her figure that has changed since her last visit. It seems her parents have taken up a strange religious practice from the Solomon Islands. Hmmm…

Meanwhile, a ruthless gang is on the prowl. They are looking for a place to hide from the cops after their latest prison break. There’s Tan, a cokehead in a tracksuit who thinks he’s Bruce Lee, and Gigi (Kate Elliot), a cruel Bettie Page lookalike. So where do they seek asylum? Yup — in Rina’s suburban home.

They have guns and they know how to use them. What will happen to this poor, innocent family at the hands of FreshMeat1these sinister hoods? Well, not what you first think. Mom and dad are on their own mission: to Solomonize the world, reviving ancient practices that they believe can lead to immortality. And that involves eating the raw hearts and livers of their enemies. To them, everyone is either an ally that must be “solomonized” – convinced to become a cannibal —  or someone who can supply them with fresh meat.

Who will survive – the good guys, the bad guys, or the cannibals? Is there a spark of love between Gigi and Rina? And are they Maori cannibals… or cannibals who just happen to be Maori?

This is a horror/comedy, full of excessive killing, gore, brutality and loads of gratuitous sexual innuendo. It’s also got a lot of Maori lore, humour and language (real or fake, I have no idea, but it looks pretty authentic) and a largely indigenous cast. If you’re in the mood for some low-brow dark humour and lots of red blood and body parts, check this one out.

Marlene Perez Rhythm Shakers Los Wild Ones RIFFLos Wild Ones

Dir: Elise Salomon

Did you know there’s a burgeoning rockabilly scene in L.A.? Well there is. This documentary follows Reb, a Dublin-born rocker and his label Wild records, as they tap into the world of Mexican-American rockabilly. There’s sharp concert shots and lots of music. The guys all have bryll cream quiffs, bowling shirts and tattoos of the ace of spades. The girls use red lipstick and wear skirts. And they all look like they were drawn by  Jaime Hernandez in Love and Rockets.

Their lives are all filled with auditions, nightclub performances, rehearsals and radio shows, salted with swigs of raw gin and some first rate bass-slapping. This documentary is mainly just a slice of that music scene and an homage to the label – not too exciting or eventful, but pleasant to look at and a pleasure to listen to.


Dir: Richard Condon

I bet you’ve heard of Wikileaks. Wikileaks is a website that reveals documents and communications leaked by whistle blowers from the powerful halls of business, finance and government. It was founded by Julian Assange, an Australian currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. How did he get there and why are foreign governments out to get him? Well, it was wikileaks, along with three news outlets (the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Speigel) that revealed the quarter of a million cables and documents that fed the headlines for the past few years (pre-Snowden). They were leaked by US Pvt. Manning directly to Assange.

This movie, The Fifth Estate, tells one version of this story. Julian (Benedict Cumberbatch) is portrayed as an Australian guy trying to change the world but who carries with him the baggage of a troubled childhood. His membership, as a child, in a religious cult left him psychologically scarred and suspicious.  As an adult he is a deranged, possibly psychotic, egotist determined to open everything he receives on his website to all the world… whether or not blood is spilled on the way. He enlists the bland, but techno-savvy, computer geek Danile Berg (Daniel Bruhl) to join his legions of supporters and volunteers. But he eventually reveals that there is no one else – just the two of them. Together they reveal death squads in Kenya, scandal in a Swiss bank, and eventually warcrimes like the US massacre of civilians in Iraq using an Apache helicopter. There work is done with reporters from the Guardian and elsewhere scrambling to keep up with them. And Assange’s sinister and bombastic attitude sours their friendship, leading to a falling out of the two fast friends, and a collapse of the site itself.

Oh yeah — in the background, is a hands-off US government (personified by Laura Linney as a foreign affairs official) who just wants to rescue their agents in the middle east  put in danger by Wikileaks’ exposure.

I find the story fascinating, with the twisted Assange character fun to watch (less so the bland Daniel Berg character.) And there are loads of real-life reporter-characters portrayed with various degrees of accuracy. And there’s a slew of great European actors – people like Carice van Houten, Moritz Bleibtreu, and David Thewlis — who are a joy to watch. But politically, this movie seems out to lunch. Are we supposed to believe – especially since the NSA revelations — that the US government was just a side-player in this whole affair? (The movie glosses over Manning’s treatment in solitary confinement and his excessive sentence.) It’s also ambiguous on the steps Wikileaks took to protect the names of translators and agents at risk. It completely skips the fact that sites like Paypal and the major credit cards — under government pressure — blocked donations; as well as any mention of Anonymous and similar groups who came to Wikileaks’ aid. Finally, the movie seems to be a full-scale character-assassination of Julian Assange (as his character states in the movie), based mainly on Berg’s book; painting him as a self-centred lunatic, while minimizing the significance of the leaks he and the website have provided to the world. The multiple plots, countless characters and frequent shifts in international locations make the movie hard to follow.

Still, I think this movie is worth seeing, because it’s such an interesting topic. But take it with a grain of salt; think of it as “inspired by a true story”.

The Fifth Estate opens today, and Los Wild Ones and Fresh Meat are playing, respectively, as part of the Reel Indie Film Fest and ImagineNative which run through this weekend. And T.A.D. continues for a week.

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

Past, Present and Future. Movies reviewed: Muscle Shoals, The Dirties, Gravity

Posted in Bullying, Cultural Mining, documentary, Music, Science Fiction, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 4, 2013

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

Toronto is a city overflowing with film festivals, and fall high-season is upon us. Coming soon are the BRAFFTV Brazilian film fest, Toronto After Dark (for horror, science fiction and cult), ImagineNative for aboriginal film and art, Planet in Focus for environmental documentaries, Realasian – films from Asia and the Asian diaspora, and Rendezvous with Madness about addiction and mental health… to name just a few.

So this week I’m looking at three movies (opening today) that originally played at Toronto festivals: Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark and TIFF. These movies are set in the past, the present and the future.

10272_JJ_WilsonPickettSessionMuscle Shoals

Dir: Greg “Freddy” Camalier

Alabama. In the 1960s, it was still the land of cotton, and old times there were not forgotten. Die-hard Segregationist George Wallace was Governor, and Alabama had also been the sites of sit-ins, boycotts and protests — a centre of the civil rights movement. So Alabama was very much in people’s minds in the 1960s. But there’s also a small town in northern Alabama, population 12,000, called Muscle Shoals. Ever heard of it? Me neither.

But people who really know about music know about Muscle Shoals.10438_JJSkynyrdat361417

Mick Jagger knew it. And Bob Dylan. And Jimmy Cliff. The Stones’ Brown Sugar was recorded there. Later, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Allman Brothers. Most important, powerful music producer Jerry Wexler – the man from Atlantic records who coined the term R&B – knew about it in the 1960s and started bringing his singers down south to record there. Soon Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Wilson Picket and countless others were heading down to get a slice of that Muscle Shoals Sound.

The heavy, powerful Muscle Shoals sound — described as a punch in the gut that sends shivers down your spine — was made by the Swampers, a team of (mainly white) back-up musicians at studios like Fame and Muscle Shoals. They jammed ArethaFranklinaway on their electric organ, drum, bass and guitar sweetened with background horns. These free sessions, just some music and words, gave them a looseness, a funkyness, a dirty sound so different from the highly-produced, precisely composed pop songs coming out up north.

At their peak in the 1970s, they were cutting 50 albums a year, shifting from R&B to that country-influenced rock, reggae and pop. This film looks at all the musicians, the singers and the local producers who used or were influenced by Muscle Shoals. They have amazing footage from the recording sessions with new interviews with the big names (Bono, Aretha Franklin, Keith Richards).  Very informative documentary – beautifully shot —  that told me everything about where this music comes from. I’m not enough of a “history of rock” devotee that I care about all the infighting and production rivalry. But it’s the music – even those overplayed staples like Brown Sugar and Mustang Sally – that makes it so good.

412715_402768383177285_547971069_oThe Dirties

Dir: Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson and Owen Williams (played by Matthew Johnson, Owen Williams) are movie geeks at a Toronto high school. Matt is pudgy and flamboyant while Owen is shy and introverted. They’re best friends, almost by default, since they are two of the school’s most-picked-on kids. Not a day passes without a confrontation in the halls, a punch, or a rock in the head. They hear that perennial bully F-word more than their own real names.

They’re taking a movie-making course, and Matt is totally into it. He plunders old movies for lines, scenes and costumes to make them their own. They film it on school property. But while directors like Tarantino rely on old B-movies, Matt and Owen take it one step further, plundering equally from revenge pics and 1262545_435128609941262_422010104_onews accounts of real-life crimes.

The movie they’re making is about two tough guys (played by them) who get back at the bullies who persecute them – the guys they call the Dirties – in a great, long gun shoot-down. Their “making-of” is documented by unseen cameramen – that’s the film we’re watching.

The teacher doesn’t approve of the director’s cut, so the class just sees an embarrassing mess

So Matt has taken to carrying around copies of Catcher in the Rye (like Mark David Chapman) and is brushing up on details from books about the Columbine shootings. He wants to get the character (an insane high school spree shooter) just right. Owen is more interested in pursuing Chrissy (Krista Madison) a girl he’s crushing on heavily. Matt seems to be blurring things between the film they’re making and real life. Is Matt a psychopath? And is he just a movie copycat… or a copy-cat killer?

13010_430143987106391_924165995_nThe Dirties is so meta it’s astounding. The conversations and incidents in The Dirties we’re watching, are edited, over the course iof the movie, into The Dirties that he’s making. The viewer never knows for sure whether it’s a comedy/drama, a documentary, or just found footage of a horror movie. This film is unclassifiable and uncategorizable.

The Dirties is excellent, low budget and local, a movie that can shift from hilarious to quite disturbing in a flash. It’s easier to watch than it is to describe… so watch it!


Dir: Alfonso Cuaron

Three astronauts are floating around admiring the beauty of outer space. Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on her first space mission, so she’s very meticulous about fixing some machinery. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is a veteran space guy, a regular Buzz Lightyear. He’s using his jet pack to fly in circles around their space station. Wheee! Look at me – I’m an astronaut… wheeee! A warning comes from Houston: there’s been trouble with a Russian satellite, and its debris is heading their way. Nothing dangerous, they say.

And then it hits! They’re cut off from Houston and their lives are in danger. Dr Stone starts to panic – oh no… what can she do? It seems like yesterday she was in her safe, suburban home worrying about PTA meetings. She’s just a soccer mom – not an astronaut-man. Unless Kowalski can calm her down, she’s going to use up all her oxygen.

The two of them must get to a safe space ship, somewhere with oxygen and protection from the elements. Hopefully she can learn to drive one of these crazy foreign spaceships with all their gibberish controls! Maybe if she pushes buttons at random she’ll be fine. Oh, I’m such a klutz!  Will Sandra Bullock and George Clooney – oops, I mean their characters – ever make it back to earth?

Gravity lets you experience what it’s like to be an astronaut, and it is quite an experience. The special effects are flawless. But, I suppose because it needs someone we can identify with, it gives us Dr Stone as a bumbling everywoman who has to overcome her fears. I get it. But it made her the antithesis of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien. This makes women look helpless without a man there to save them.

The Earth spins round and round like a topGravity isn’t a movie, it’s a ride. I saw it in 3-D and Ultra AVX. There’s a 20-minute-long scene where you’re spinning and spinning and spinning around in 3-D space. It made me physically ill. I didn’t actually throw up, but it was horrible, like when too many tequila shots kick in all at once. If you like experiencing the spins, or want to go on a midway ride for half an hour, then this is the movie for you. Otherwise, I can’t think of why you’d want to watch this simplistic, boring and sick-making film.

The Dirties, Gravity, and Muscle Shoals all open today in Toronto – check your local listings. Also opening is the cute, Saudi-made movie Wadjda I reviewed last week, and 15 Reasons To Live by Toronto documentarian Alan Zweig. I spoke with him last spring about this heart-warming, quirky film.

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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