Stars. Movies Reviewed: A Most Wanted Man, And So It Goes PLUS TIFF 14

Posted in CIA, comedy, Cultural Mining, Germany, Movies, Romantic Comedy, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on July 24, 2014

TIFF14 Press Launch Piers Handling and Cameron BaileyHi, 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.

TIFF announced some of this year’s films to watch out for at a press conference this week. While many of them are blatant Oscar-bait, a few look promising. Lone Schiffrin directs The Riot Club, a story of Oxford toffs – upper-class university students with money, power and prestige – who try to get away with something really bad. Chinese director Zhang Yimou brings us Coming Home, about a relationship torn apart during the Cultural Revolution. German director Christian Petzold’s tries his hand at a post-holocaust, mysterious drama starring his leading lady Nina Hoss. And many more.

So, in deference to the upcoming red carpets, I’m looking at two movies filled with stars. One’s an American rom-com about retired baby boomers; the other’s a thriller set in Hamburg about spies and the War on Terror.

Most Wanted Man Rachel McAdams, Grigoriy Dobrygin courtesy EOne films canadaA Most Wanted Man
Dir: Anton Corbijn (based on the novel by John le Carré)

Hamburg is a huge European port city, where sailors explore shwarma stands and sex shops. It’s where the Beatles played in the early 60s. And it’s where Muhammad Atta, one of the presumed 9/11 conspirators, is said to have joined al-Qaeda. Now it’s a hotspot for American black-ops, surveillance and spies.

So when an unidentified bearded stowaway in a hoodie is spotted arriving by boat, intelligence goes on high alert. Who is he? What is he there for?

Turns out, his name is Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin), the son of a Chechen mother and a Russian military father. He is rescued by a kindly local family and a refugee lawyer, Annabel (Rachel McAdams). He carries no ID except a priceless document – a letter from his dead father to a Hamburg bank. Annabel offers her help – she’ll show it to the bank’s CEO (Willem Defoe) to get Issa back on his feet.

But that could involve a large amount of money. The spies all panic. Is he a terrorist? A lone Most Wanted Man Phillip Seymour Hoffman  courtesy EOne films canadawolf? The intelligence crews swoop down, ready to bring him in. But Annabel manages – for now at least — to keep Issa safe from the team that tries to kidnap him.

Chief among the spies is Gunther (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles) a street-level agent who cultivates local informants. He talks like Winston Churchill nursing a hangover. He tells the American spies and German police not to bring Issa in. Gunther has bigger fish to fry. If they let him expand his mission he promises to bring down an international terrorist financial network. But is Issa really a terrorist? Where did that banker get the money? Can Gunther be trusted? And which spy organization is really pulling those strings?

A most wanted man is a fascinating spy flick. Like most le Carre novels, it has a complicated, and initially confusing plot, involving many players with conflicting motives. It’s this moral ambiguity – who are the bad guys, who are the good guys – that make it so realistic and satisfying. The movie is loaded with European actors: Germans Nina Hoss (star of Christian Petzold’s films) and Daniel Bruhl are almost wasted in their side roles. Russian Grigory Dobrygin is compelling as the presumed terrorist with the secret past. And Hoffman goes out with a bang – he will be missed.

A most Wanted Man is shot in a gritty urban style, filled with heavy industry, shipping containers, and abandoned warehouses.

I like the action and the thrilling plot. But even more I like the sense of unease the movie leaves you with, with its dark, depressing portrayal of excessive surveillance.

VVS_ASIG_poster.inddAnd So it Goes
Dir: Rob Reiner

Oren Little (Michael Douglas) is a retired real estate dealer who lives in a cute rustic home. He calls it his Little Shangri La, but for his tenants who share the building, it’s no paradise. He’s a cranky old man who seems to take pleasure in terrorizing small children, shooting stray dogs with paint guns and stealing parking spaces from pregnant women. He’s a nasty old coot. Apparently he used to be an all-right guy… until his wife died. Now he’s nobody’s friend.

He’s trying to sell his family mansion for eight million dollars – not six! – so he can move away, but keeps alienating potential buyers with snarky attitude. And suddenly someone appears to upset his apple cart. It’s his estranged, middle aged son. Dad hasn’t seen him since the boy was a junky. Now he’s a middle aged man about to serve time in prison for some unknown crime. And the son has a cute, 10-year-old daughter Sarah (Sterling Jerrins) that he wants his Dad to take care of.

Selfish Oren wants nothing to do with the kid. He dumps her on his neighbour Leah (Diane ASIG_03862.NEFKeaton) in the adjoining apartment. Leah is an underemployed lounge singer. She is as nice as Oren is mean – and she needs the money – so she agrees. Then thing start to change: despite their initial rocky start, Oren and Leah find they have something in common – could it be love? And will the adorable little granddaughter melt her cruel grandpa’s heart?

I wasn’t crazy about this movie. The father runs into trouble searching his son’s friends and the kid’s mother. They’re.. poor! (Which ASIG_02615.NEFmeans they’re all ugly, dirty, drug addicts.) Not like the nice, rich people he wants to talk to. It also tries for laughs with Oren’s racist remarks, but assumes the audience is familiar with his ethnic stereotypes. (I honestly didn’t get these “jokes”. Are Latinos in the US assumed to be gardeners?)

Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton seem to be playing slightly exaggerated versions of themselves: arrogant ass meets flibberty-gibbets. It’s not that this is a terrible movie, it’s more just disappointing that the director who has chronicled American baby boomers for decades, should fall back to weak rom-coms rather than gems like Spinal Tap, Misery and Princess Bride.

A Most Wanted Man and And So It Goes open today. 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

Daniel Garber talks to Rachel Beth Anderson and Tim Grucza about their new doc FIRST TO FALL

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Libya, Movies, Uncategorized, War by CulturalMining.com on July 10, 2014

Tim Grucza First to FallHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmiming.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

During the short-lived Arab Spring, idealists returned to the middle east and North Africa, to Egypt,Tunisia, Bahrain, to usher in a new era of democracy. Many were sorely disappointed by the aftermath. That led to mass arrests, coups and crackdowns.

Nowadays, there are new,shocking stories torn from the headlines. We read about young men from France, the UK, or the US suddenly appearing on youtube pledging their loyalty Rachel Anderson First to Fallto previously unheard of rebellious armies Think of  ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Al-Shabaab in Kenya. Are they fanatics? Or patriots?

Hamid and Tarek are two ordinary guys, students in their twenties in Montreal, originally sent to Canada by their families in Libya. But they too hear the call when civil war breaks out.

Best friends, they rush over to join the rebellion against
military dictator Moammar Gadaffi. But once there they face the very real death, destruction and horror that war brings.

First to FallTheir story is told in a brand new documentary called FIRST TO FALL that premiered at the  Human Rughts Watch Film Festival in New York City a few weeks ago. It closely follows the two men from Canada to the front lines in Libya. The filmmakers, director Rachel Beth Anderson and Tim Grucza, were there in the midst of it all documenting their stories. I reached them  by telephone in New York City.

Putting Together, Tearing Apart. Movies Reviewed: Earth to Echo, It’s only Make Believe, Borgman

Posted in Belgium, Coming of Age, Crime, Cultural Mining, Disguise, Fairytales, Horror, Movies, Norway, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on July 5, 2014

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.

Does your life ever feel like a never ending battle between order and chaos? This week I’m looking at three movies that explore this theme. There’s an American sci-fi adventure about kids trying to put the metal pieces of an extraterrestrial back together; a Norwegian drama about an ex-con trying to put her family life back together; and a Flemish movie about a mysterious visitor trying to tear a family apart.

Earth To EchoEarth to Echo
Dir: Dave Green

Three best friends — Munch, Tuck and Alex — go to Junior High together in Nevada. Munch (Reese Hartwig) is a chubby blond kid with with glasses. He’s the kind of boy who has to line up his ketchup packets, just so. He’s OCD. He’s also an electronics whiz. Alex (Teo Halm) is a tough talking foster child whose worst nightmare is being abandoned by his family. And Tuck (TV rapper Astro) is the leader of the group – he’s smart, but ignored by his parents and cooler, Earth To Echoolder brother.

They’re about to tear down their neighbourhood to build a freeway, so it’s the three boys’ last day together.. That’s when they discover something strange – cryptic messages coming through their cellphones that point to a place in the desert. They hop on their bikes and head out on an adventure.

Earth To EchoThis leads them to find a rusty hunk of junk… which turns out to be a living, sentient being of some kind. It’s a palm-sized metallic ET: an owl with awesome magnetic powers. Joined by a smart girl, they name the metal thing Echo and decide to help him find his spaceship to take him back to… well, wherever he came from. But can they EARTH TO ECHOoutsmart all the meddling grown-ups, and scary government agents, who might mess it all up?

Earth to Echo is a fun, kids’ movie, totally enjoyable by adults. It’s all about found footage and jiggly, handheld cellphone cameras. Obviously it harkens back to ET, with its Spielbergian feel, but it’s very much a contemporary story. More Super 8 than ET. No stars, simple dialogue, but very engaging characters, and awesome special effects involving pieces of metal coming together in midair. I liked this one.

1897928_707411882624939_320300712_nIt’s Only Make Believe
Dir: Arild Østin Ommundsen

Frank and Jenny are young lovers who do casual work together in small town Norway. That work involves petty crime, and they dress the part, with matching leather jackets and blonde hair. On their way to a small job, Jenny (Silje Solomonsen) tells him she’s pregnant. He’s elated, gives her a stolen engagement ring, and vows to stay together forever. But the simple job goes wrong and someone is killed. Ten years later, Jenny is out of prison, ready to start a new life. A childhood schoolmate, Gary, who works at a bank, wants to date her. But she has no money, just an old, broken down 14703_504149072951222_172066000_nhome. Fiance Frank is quadriplegic and comatose. Their daughter, Marete, born after Jenny was in prison, has a stepmother of her own. She’s into crazy dancing and horse riding. And, to 1239409_625710790795049_1287033371_nJenny’s dismay, the dark figures from her past – drug dealers and thugs — start to pop up again, trying to drag her back to a life of crime. Can she shrug off the old and start anew?

This movie is hard to categorize. One scene is a happy montage of playing with her 10-year-old daughter, and renovating her house. The next will be sinister encounters with violent criminals. Then more happy montage with pop/folk music… then more violence. Is it a family drama or a crime thriller? I have no idea. But the acting is good, the main star, Solomonsen, is easy to watch, and the story keeps you interested.

Borgman Poster236Borgman
Dir: Alex Van Warmerdam

Richard and Marina (Jeroen Perceval and Hadewych Minis) are a successful couple who live in a mansion surrounded by woods. He’s an arrogant but successful executive,
while Marina is a compassionate but bored and naïve housewife. A Danish nanny named Stine cares for their three perfect children.

But into this world comes Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) a borgman_20000188_st_4_s-highcombination magician, tramp, fantabulist, storyteller and demon. . He has long hair, a beard, and looks like he just stepped out of a Rembrandt painting. He, and his confreres Ludwig and Pascal, live like hobbits in borgman_20000188_st_1_s-highunderground houses connected by twisted tunnels. Rounding out their team are two deadly, female hitmen, and a pair of elegant race dogs.

They gradually work their way into the family and strange things begin to happen. Camiel tells strange old fairytales to the kids, indicting them into his view of the world. People start dying and disappearing. Richard notices an X mark tattooed onto his shoulder. And at night Camiel climbs onto Marina’s sleeping body like a succubus, implanting scary dreams into her thoughts.
Borgman_still_01-1
Borgman is a very strange, dark comedy, a combination fairytale, fantasy, horror movie and family drama. It remind me of French director Leos Carax, but with that distinctively cold northern European deadpan feel. Really weird, cool movie.

Earth to Echo is now playing and Borgman, and It’s Only Make Believe open today in Toronto. Check your local listings. Also opening today is Gerontophilia, from director Bruce La Bruce.

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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