Films Reviewed: Best of Enemies, Amar, Akbar & Tony PLUS TIFF40 International Launch

Posted in Clash of Cultures, comedy, Conservativism, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Movies, TV, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on July 31, 2015

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

Biko Squares at KulturaI said before there are no summer festivals, but thats not exactly true. There are plays of course, cultural festivals like Caribana and a Filipino festival called, fittingly enough. Kultura. They’re showcasing Filipino arts and culture and serving new riffs on traditional cuisine. And the Mosaic South Asian film fest in Mississauga features films from India, Canada and around the world.

This week I’m looking at two movies. A UK comedy/drama about three devoted friends, and an American documentary about two sworn enemies. But before that a preview of movies coming to TIFF this fall.

8qWV3l_1507-TIFF40-8484_o3_8663841_1436473920TIFF40 International Launch

The Toronto International Film Festival, one of the world’s preeminent film festivals, just released the names of some of the international films premiering there in September. I can’t recommend anything yet since I haven’t seen them, but here are a few that night be really good.dda510_dff5c81b3edb4224a5d9c9b301be2a56.jpeg_srb_p_439_293_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpeg_srb

Trumbo, directed by Jay Roach, tells the story of famed Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston). He famous for classics like Spartacus, Exodus, and Roman Holiday. But he was blacklisted as one of the Hollywood 10, who 830701-D-9880W-001refused to testify at HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Where to Invade Next is Michael Moore’s latest tongue-in-cheek documentary where he tells the Pentagon to relax, he’ll take over the job choosing IMG_0214.CR2America’s next war.

And, at last, some good news out of Greece: there’s a new movie called The Lobster by the always bizarre social satirist Yorgos Lanthimos. In some future world it’s singles who face g5MLJ9_legend_01_o3_8694644_1438110470the most severe austerity laws: anyone who doesn’t hook up with a mate in 6 weeks is turned into an animal.

Finally I can’t wait to see Tom Hardy in the biopic Legend about Reggie and Ronnie Kray the violent and sexually audacious identical-twin London gangsters. Hardy plays both brothers.

William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal in BEST OF ENEMIES, a Video Services Corp. release. Photo courtesy of Video Services Corp.Best of Enemies
Dir: Robert Gordon & Morgan Neville

In 1968, ABC TV, the third-ranked US network, tried something new and audacious. They put two men on live TV to comment on the Democratic and Republican primaries leading up to the election. What they didn’t know is the degree if vitriol the meeting would spark. William F Buckley was a right-wing intellectual who wrote for the National Review. He was a free trader who feared the communists. Gore Vidal was a successful novelist and an avowed liberal who embodied the sexual revolution. He William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal in BEST OF ENEMIES, a Video Services Corp. Photo courtesy of Video Services Corp.was gay and wrote satirical books with transgendered heroines. In 1968 the nation was torn apart by the War in Vietnam. But the thing is, superficially at least, they were extremely similar. They both came from prosperous New England families and hob-nobbed with celebrities. They both were accomplished wordsmiths who loved and respected a good turn of phrase. They both spoke with an upper-class, mid-Atlantic Brahmin accent. And they hated each other’s guts. Eventually their conversation deteriorated into a spat with Buckley called a crypto-Nazi and Vidal the “F word” slur for gay men.

While there are some contemporary interviews, the best parts of this amazing documentary come from the actual of the debates. A great and very entertaining historical document.

1245_RosarioAmar, Akbar and Tony
Wri/Dir: Atul Malhotra

Amar, Akbar and Tony are best buddies in a South Asian West London neighbourhood. Amar (Rez Kempton) is a serious Sikh, engaged to be married and about to start his first job as a lawyer. Akbar (Sam Vincenti), of Muslim South Asian background is an overly self-confident entrepreneur. And Tony (Martin Delaney) who works at his Irish mom’s corner store, is romantically obsessed with a particularly comely Indian lass. She’s the one, he says, so his friends vow to help him meet her. But when her violently protective brother enters the fray, trouble follows, and Amar ends up in jail, his life ruined. The story picks up again after his jail term, where the three mates vow to rekindle their friendship. But can they overcome the heavy social pressures and their own 0600_AA&T_25May13misgivings?

Amar Akbar and Tony is an English film but seems to be aimed toward the Desi community. In some ways, it’s iconoclastic, showing how traditional families choose to deal with social taboos. I liked that. The humour, on the other hand was definitely hit and miss. A white guy with brown shoe polish on his face pretending to be Asian – can that ever be funny? Other scenes are more clever: like when Akbar, dating a Baby Spice-lookalike, is asked by her parents to declare his stand on terrorism.

Best of Enemies opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; Amar Akbar and Tony are among many movies having their North American premier at the 2015 Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival (MISAFF15) August 6-9 at Cineplex Mississauga and The Living Arts Centre. Go to misaff.com for details. And for info about TIFF go to tiff.net.

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

Summer in Sicily. Films reviewed: The Fiances, Seduced and Abandoned, Mafioso, PLUS Irrational Man

Posted in 1960s, Clash of Cultures, College, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Drama, Italy, Neorealism, Romance by CulturalMining.com on July 24, 2015

BgOEWJ_195_image_1_o3_8634060_1432140720Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Sicily is a part of Italy, but separate from it. It’s that huge island in the Mediterranean, influenced at times by Greece, Rome, Spain, or as an independent kingdom. This gives it a rich culture, dialect and customs that leaves most outsiders baffled. The island went through a slow economic downturn, but Italy’s postwar industrial boom eventually affected Sicily as well. Thousands of continentals were sent down to work there for the first time.

TIFF Cinematheque is running a series now called Summer in Italy, with many of the films set in Sicily. This week, I’m looking at three 1960s films about life on the island; and a contemporary American drama set on a campus in Rhode Island.

105d2bce69c2c4e128deaf78a84e82e5The Fiances (I Fidanzati, 1963)

Dir: Ermanno Olmi

A working class couple in northern Italy meet once a week at a formal dance hall. Giovanni and Liliana (Carlo Cabrini, Anna Canzi) are passionate lovers but their relationship is put on hold when he is sent by his factory to work in Sicily. Carlo feels lost and rootless in the very different world. But he’s also intrigued by their bizarre festivals, especially one where strangers can meet in the town square, their faces hidden by masks. Liliana El1Q5N_195_image_3_o3_8634118_1432140524meanwhile, feels abandoned and alone and wonders whether they are still together. Telephone calls are short and perfunctory, but can their love letters rekindle what they had?

The Fiances is a beautiful and deceptively simple black and white movie. It combines neorealism — documentary-style footage of Sicily with its beaches and dusty roads — with an experimental style. Past and present scenes are cut and pasted without explanation so it’s a bit hard at first to understand, but it looks amazingly contemporary in its form.

El1XNK_Seduced2_o3_8636418_1432140796Seduced and Abandoned (Sedotta e abbandonata, 1964)

Dir: Pietro Germi

Don Vincenzo (Saro Urzi) rules his family home with an iron fist. Honour is paramount, and a loss of face could ruin a family’s reputation. So he reads every letter sent to his many daughters, just in case there is something lusty in them. He even checks underneath the postage stamps! Life is communal: multiple-generations all live under the same roof, so there’s a total lack of privacy. But they all manage to communicate using hidden notes and listening to sounds through pipes and vents. Peppino, a student (Aldo Puglisi) is welcomed as almost a family member since he is engaged to the clueless Matilde. But one evening, everything changes when he RgkK20_Seduced3_LEAD_o3_8636472_1432140806sneaks a kiss behind a curtain with the younger and prettier Agnese (Stefania Sandrelli). Sex follows and Agnese is in love. But Peppino, realizing what he’s done, stops coming by – he says has to study for exams. Agnese is mortified. And Peppino hypocritically says he wants nothing to do with a “despoiled woman” – even though he’s the only one who’s slept with her!

Eventually Don Vincenzo puts two and two together. He banishes Agnese to her room and decides that Peppino must marry his daughter… or die! Soon enough the police, lawyers, judges, a toothless aristocrat, a priest and the unruly mob on the street are all a part of this dispute. Will Peppino marry Agnese? Will Agnese agree even to see him again? And can Don Vincenzo rescue his family’s reputation?

This is a very funny comedy looking at virginity, family, honour and hypocrisy played out in a traditional Sicilian style.

O7LX7R_hd_021bw_LEAD_o3_8634669_1432140667Mafioso (Mafiosi, 1962)

Dir: Alberto Lattuada

Nino (Alberto Sordi) is a manager at an ultra-modern car factory in Milan. He is known for his punctuality and exactness. With a nuclear family — his wife Marta (Norma Bengell) and their two little girls — he seems to be a true northerner. But he’s a Sicilian at heart. After decades of work he finally gets a chance to visit his hometown so his wife and kids can meet his parents.Alberto Sordi (R.) in Mafioso. Photo courtesy Rialto Pictures

And as a favour to his boss – an Italian- American from New Jersey — he agrees to carry an important package to Don Vincenzo (another Don Vincenzo!) in his hometown. Once there, the family shares meals, goes to the beach and meets old friends. And while the in-laws are busy adjusting to the clash of cultures, the naïve Nino doesn’t realize he’s about to face a different problem. As a teenager, before he moved north, he worked as an errand boy for Don Vincenzo (the “mafioso” of the title). And now he’s calling in a favour. How much can a man’s life change in a 12 day visit back home? This is an excellent dark comedy exposing the sinister presence of organized crime in Sicilian life.

f9529958-a5d1-4b6a-be73-9e0bc77dc846Irrational Man

Dir: Woody Allen

Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a new philosophy prof at a college in Rhode Island. He specializes in existentialism, frequently dropping quotes by Kierkegard, Nietsche and Heideggar. It’s his first term there, but his reputation precedes him. His tales of derring-do and personal loss – concerning his best friend who was killed by a land mine, and his wife – give him an almost mythical status. He’s an existential nihilist, always ready for an impromptu round of Russian roulette. He goes by what his guts tell him. And by “guts” he means his prominent potbelly that he frequently rubs when WASP_DAY_05-0137.CR2pondering questions of morality and ethics.

Women seem to find him romantic and attractive. Rita (Parker Posey) is a sexy and sultry chemistry prof. The fact that she’s married doesn’t even slow her down – she wants to bed him. Eventually she hopes to ditch her husband altogether and move somewhere romantic with Abe – like Spain. Then there’s Jill (Emma Stone). She’s an undergrad in a committed relationship. Her boyfriend is nice, but wasp_day_27-0147.CR2a bit dull. She wants to spend time with Abe, but she keeps their relationship platonic. They both know it’s against the rules for students and profs to sleep together.

Unfortunately, Abe is depressed and brooding, his life at a standstill. Despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, he’s useless in bed. This isn’t help by the fact he’s an alcoholic, constantly swigging bourbon from a pocket flask. But one day, at a local diner with Jill overhear a conversation. A divorced woman at the next booth is in tears because she is about to lose custody over her kid. Why? It’s all because of the machinations of a horrible judge.

Something clicks in Abe’s brain: he makes a decision. He will murder a stranger (the judge) for the sake of another stranger (the woman). This will lead to a betterWASP_DAY_13-176.CR2 world, he thinks. Now he has a reason for living, and his sexual drive and exuberance come back. But will he actually commit this “perfect crime”?

I have mixed feelings about this strange movie. On the one hand, its gripping story held my attention to the very (abrupt) end. But it also feels oddly hollow. It’s not a bad movie, just not as deep as it pretends to be.

Irrational Man opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and The Summer in Italy series is on now at TIFF Cinematheque through September 5. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Commitment. Movies reviewed: Jimmy’s Hall, The Tribe, PLUS It Comes in Waves

Posted in Canada, Catholicism, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Ireland, Politics, Sign Language, UK, Ukraine by CulturalMining.com on July 17, 2015

Stephen O’Connell in It Comes in Waves. Photo by Jeremy MimnaghHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Most forms of entertainment ask for little commitment from their viewers: just sit there and take it all in. But sometimes they demand a little bit more.

I just saw a production — a combination of theatrical drama, 11709591_1024415027582463_3885855130064308103_nmusic, modern dance and exercise — called It Comes in Waves (Jordan Tannahill, bluemouth inc., and Necessary Angel). The audience actually rows canoes to a remote part of Toronto Island, in a Heart of Darkness journey past wild egrets and tame swans. Once there, expect to catch a trumpet 11745530_1024414667582499_268456507655648282_nand snare drum drifting past in a rowboat, Naked Guy running across a field, voices singing in the woods, campfires, Celtic dances and a Waiting for Godot-style surprise party (where the audience — us — are the guests). You walk down the beach carrying lanterns as an ethereal angel dances half a mile away. It’s a play that completely eliminates the proscenium arch, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

But what about movies? This week I’m looking at two films that require if not participation, at least commitment. There’s a historical political drama from Ireland that stimulates intellectual rigour, and a crime drama from the Ukraine that activates creative vigour.

Jimmy’s Hall
Dir: Ken Loach

Jimmys HallJames Gralton (Barry Ward) witnessed the roaring twenties in NY. 10 years later, it’s the Great Depression and he’s back home in County Leitrim, Ireland. He’s there to take care of his aging mother (Aileen Henry). He’s keeping a low profile, having been kicked out after the Irish Civil War. He’s back to work digging up peat. But no sooner does he get there than he sees kids from the town dancing the jig on a country road. Is this a local custom? No. They just have nowhere else to go. A decade earlier he had built and opened a community centre on his land, where people would sing songs, write poetry, draw, study literature, dance to jazz music, practice boxing… but the hall was closed and he was kicked out.

Now that he’s back, he’s surrounded by locals imploring him toJimmys Hall reopen Jimmy’s Hall, a place where they can enjoy life. Is there anyone, anywhere who could oppose such a thing? You bet there is. Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) the top local priest. If it isn’t run by the church, it is, by definition, no good. “He’s a communist and plays jungle music!” says the good Father.

And a high-ranked official also loathes Jimmy for his left-wing politics. His daughter, though, can’t wait to join the club. And Jimmys HallJimmy’s lost love Oonagh (Simone Kirby) is glad to see him back

But local incidents can lead to national repercussions. With Catholic and Protestant labourers striking together in Belfast the Powers That Be feared what James Gralton might inspire. As tensions escalate, who will triumph? Father Sheridan and his supporters? Or Jimmy?

Based on a true story, Jimmy’s Hall is a typical Ken Loach movie. Its politics are decidedly left-wing, but the characters and the ideologies they espouse are never cut-and-dry. For every right-wing Father Sheridan, there’s a younger priest urging compromise. And like Loach’s other historical dramas (The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Land and Freedom), it has scenes with long  — though never boring — political discussions. Not for everyone, but I liked this film a lot. Well-acted and nicely shot, it filled in a period of Irish history — leftist politics in the 1930s — that I knew nothing about.

THETRIBE_PressPhoto_04The Tribe (Plemya)
Dir: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky

It’s present-day Ukraine. A nondescript kid named Sergey (Grigory Fesenko) arrives at his new home, a boarding school for deaf kids. It’s a typical school, the classrooms and dorms flavoured by drab Soviet austerity.

Sergey is honest, polite and naïve. And he suffers like any newbie: he’s at the bottom of every possible totem pole at the school. Even a boy with Down Syndrome nonchalantly steals his lunch. Almost immediately, he’s guided by a weasely fast-talker to meet his new boss, a no-nonsense older student. Higher-ranked bullies confiscate his money, and he’s put right THETRIBE_PressPhoto_03to work.

He’s thrown out of bed on his first night and sent out to a truck stop along with two young women from the school. Anna (Yana Novikova) is a flirty, pale blond, her dark haired coworker is bigger and bossier. They ply their trade by knocking on parked truck windows, and Sergey pimps them out and collects the money. This is just part of a complex criminal gang operating out of the school.

The Tribe by the Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav SlaboshpytskiyThey sneak out at night to mug pensioners and steal their groceries. They also send young kids to ply ugly little plush toys on commuter trains, a front for unlawful behavior. They’re looking for charity donations but are just as willing to beat up reluctant donors.

His status begins to rise when he fends off four guys in a no-rules fight. He becomes a tough enforcer: he shakes down little kids for their pocket change. Literally! He holds them upside-down by their feet until their money falls out of their pockets.

Eventually he hooks up with Anna in a paid encounter, and they become a couple. But her main goal is to get the hell out of there with an exit visa to Western Europe. And as he becomes more experienced his personality is transformed.Will the moral Sergey ever come back to the surface?

The Tribe is a fantastic movie. And – get this — all dialogue is THETRIBE_PressPhoto_01in sign language – with not a word spoken in the entire movie… and no subtitles either. But it’s completely clear what they are saying. The actors are all hearing-impaired and express themselves beautifully. Each scene is shot in a single take, with one camera constantly moving down halls, around corners, and into rooms. Explicit sex scenes, violent fights… everything happens right in your face.

The Tribe and Jimmy’s Hall open today in Toronto; check your local listings. It Comes in Waves is now playing as part of Panamania, the cultural side of the Pan Am games. For more information go to toronto2015.org/panamania.

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

Finished. Movies Reviewed: Amy, Self/Less, Big Game

dd21159d-2ec4-4d3b-9897-8ee5302d052bHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

People talk about closure as if finishing is always a good thing. But is it? This week I’m looking three movies. There’s a documentary about a young singer whose life came to an untimely finish; an action/thriller about a rich man who wants to delay his ultimate finish; and an action/adventure about a President in trouble who seeks help from a boy… who is Finnish.

Amy

Dir: Asif Kapadia

Amy Winehouse was a soulful jazz singer with an incredible voice. She was4318843f-61a8-446d-921a-ccc683cf9ac1 born in North London and dead by the age of 27. This was just four years ago. A new documentary fills in the missing years of her heartbreaking story. It concentrates on her music, her family, her friends and her lovers.

Amy was the daughter of a cabby and a pharmacist who divorced when she was still young. Extremely talented, she was sent to a prestigious music academy but was kicked out by age 16. She recorded her first album by age 20. Her voice was a throwback to some of the great American Jazz singers. Her look was also retro – dramatic and sensuous, with big hair, heavy black eyeliner. And she had an outspoken manner and working class accent, which set her apart from the carefully groomed and managed commercial bands.

33063f6d-9987-4fc2-806b-518679da09cbAccording to the film, she behaved sexually “like a man” – had lots of lovers and did it for the pleasure of it. She experimented with drugs while hanging in Camden nightclubs. At one of these clubs – prophetically called “Trash” — she first met Blake. He became her on-again, off-again lover and future husband, and many blame him for her growing dependence on drugs. . And while all this was going on her career was taking off. Her albums went multi-platinum in the UK and around the world.

Her instant stardom brought the bad side, too. The London press is notorious for its voracious appetite; it chews up the newly famous, and spits out their husks. The paparazzi follow their every move pasting lurid and intensely personal pics on the front pages of tabloids. She was in and out of ef490e32-30fb-44cc-b875-0b93ceca52d6rehab clinics, after collapsing onstage. And eventually it all proved too much and her body just gave out. (Doctors blame bulimia with excessive alcohol.)

This is a great, heartbreaking and extremely intimate documentary, shot with cel phones, voice mail recordings and tons of archival grainy photos and footage. And it features her music, along with the lyrics projected on the screen. It’s accessible both to die-hard fans and the merely curious. But is this film as exploitative as the tabloids it documents? No. Even though it shows Amy’s good and bad sides, it is sympathetic not accusatory..

Still10Self/Less

Dir: Tarsem Singh

Damian (Ben Kingsley) is a self-made real estate kingpin in New York City. He thinks money can buy anything, and he lives a life of luxury: a penthouse suite with elaborate, gold-inlaid doors and massive wooden furniture. When there’s a difficult situation, he just pulls out a wad of cash. But he has a problem that money can’t solve: he’s dying. And then he discovers a secret corporation where a Still7scientist, Dr Albright (Matthew Goode: “Finn” from The Good Wife) promises him immortality, in exchange for Big Bucks. The only catch? He has to pretend to die, leaving his old life behind. In exchange, they’ll give him a brand new – and much younger – body, freshly-made in a laboratory tank.

He agrees, and before you know it, Ben Kingskey’s soul passes into Ryan Reynolds’ body. And his past self — his heavy New York accent, his mannerisms, his personality — all disappear. Now he has a new home in

S_05989-2.cr2New Orleans, flashy clothes, a new best friend, and more beautiful women than he can shake a stick at. But there’s a problem.  Turns out, his body wasn’t made in a laboratory at all, it’s a real person! And the body’s memories keep coming back to life. So Damian investigates, and meets up with his body’s wife Marguerite  (Natalie Martinez) and a daughter.

But as soon as the lab folks find out he knows their secret — despite the millions Damian paid them — they all have to die. Luckily his body still remembers its special ops fight skills — it’s up to him to fight for strangers Still9who knew the body he’s living in. Who will win the ultimate  showdown – Damian? Or the laboratory?

This movie makes no sense at all. It starts out good, but soon loses its point, and reports to shootouts and showdowns to keep you interested.

I love the “body swap” genre – films like Freaky Friday, All of Me and  Face/Off. Even The Change Up, (Reynolds’ comedy from last year) wasn’t bad. Alas, in this one, Reynolds is bland, generic and unadventurous. He doesn’t even pretend to show the enormous gaps between Ben Kingsley’s Damian and himself.

He may be nice-looking and likeable, but he’s just a meat puppet.

Big Game_00200.NEFBig Game

Dir: Jalmari Helander

Oskari (Onni Tommila) is a 13-year-old in Northern Finland. As part of the Sami coming-of-age ritual (the Sami are an indigenous people living in Europe’s Far North) he has 24 hours to prove his manhood as a hunter and bring back a reindeer. He’s a brave kid but he’s unskilled with his bow and arrow and doubts his own self-worth.

But in the woods after an explosion he comes across a metal space pod. And inside is the US president (Samuel L Jackson)! An evil billionaire terrorist, with the help of some White House insiders, has shot down Air Force 1. He did it as a lark, not for any ideological reason. And now he’s Big Game_00181.NEFout hunting “big game” — the President himself. So young Oskari has to prove his mettle by guiding him to safety and fending off all the bad guys in the process.

Believe it or not, this kids’ movie is really good. It’s quirky, surprising and funny. I had zero expectations coming in, but something clicked when I realized this is another film by Finnish Director Helander (Rare Exports about Santa Big Game - Onni Tommila (Oskari) and Samuel L. Jackson (the President) in Big GameClause as a primeval demon), which also starred Tommila). It’s not disneyish at all. Big Game has blood and guts, a gritty feel and a twisted sensibility, all of which make it delightful.

Self/Less, Big Game and Amy all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Also opening tonight is Tangerine with a special screening with Trans Pride activist Christin Milloy and sex work activist Catherine Brockhurst to lead a discussion. Also  on now is the Buster Keaton festival, with a live piano player. Go to robertbrucemusic.com for more information.

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

Scoundrels, Nazis and Pimps — the world’s worst lovers. Movies reviewed: Tangerine, Madame Bovary, Suite Française

Posted in 1940s, African-Americans, Cultural Mining, Drama, France, L.A., Romance, Sex Trade, Trans, WWII by CulturalMining.com on July 3, 2015

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

Some relationships just don’t work – you look back and wonder what possessed you. But then there are the ones that everyone knows should never have happened. This week I’m looking at new movies about women who make terrible choices in lovers. There’s a middle-class woman in 19th century France who falls for rich scoundrels; a woman in 1940s France who falls for a Nazi, and a woman in contemporary LA who falls for a pimp.

Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in TANGERINE, a Video Services Corp release. Photo courtesy of Video Services Corp.Tangerine
Dir: Sean Baker

It’s Christmas Eve in LA. Sin-Dee and Alexandra (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor)
are best friends who work in the sex trade on the streets of Hollywood. Alexandra wants to be a professional singer, while Sin-Dee (short for Cinderella) just wants her Prince Charming. But Chester (James Ransone) is hardly a prince. He’s a white pimp/ drug dealer in an electric blue hoody, as skeezy as theyMickey O’Hagan and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in TANGERINE, a Video Services Corp release. Photo courtesy of Video Services Corp. come. But he says he’ll marry her. So she is not a happy camper when she hears he’s been sleeping with another woman. And not just any woman –one who’s white and cis-female (both Sin-Dee and Alexandra are black and transgender). So she heads out to find Dinah, the strung-out blonde (Mickey O’Hagen) and set her straight.

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in TANGERINE, a Video Services Corp release. Photo courtesy of Video Services Corp.Meanwhile, Razmik (Karren Karagulian) is an Armenian cab driver who frequents the same hood. He’s married with a kid, but would rather spend Christmas with people like Sin-Dee and Alexandra. His wife doesn’t care, but his mother-in-law suspects something is up. So she heads out to catch Razmik  in the act. Things come to a head when all the characters converge on a Hollywood donut shop.Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, James Ransone and Mya Taylor in TANGERINE, a Video Services Corp. release. Photo courtesy of Video Services Corp. Will the cheaters come clean and the liars tell the truth?

Tangerine is a low-key, low-budget indie look at the streets of LA. It concentrates on the funnier aspects but doesn’t shirk on the grittiness and precariousness of people’s lives. The cast is uniformly good, especially stately, elegant Mya Taylor and wild-child Kitana Kiki Roidriguez. Does Tangerine perpetuate negative stereotypes of transwomen? Perhaps, but since the performances are so sympathetic and well-rounded it feels real, not exploitative. This is a good one.

X6qlRg_madamebovary_03_o3_8649075_1434144833Madame Bovary
Dir: Sophie Barthes

19th century Normandy, near Rouen. Beautiful but naïve Emma (Mia Wasikowska) is a woman raised in a convent who is married to a simple country doctor. He’s boring, unambitious and a bit of a prig. He says beds are for patients, not doctors. And Emma soon discovers that means beds are for sleeping, not for good sex. So she’s left alone all day with nothing to do.

Soon enough there is a parade of men at her door promising a better life. vgRvz5_madamebovary_02_o3_8649010_1434144830Monsieur Lhereux (Rhys Ifans) is an oleaginous salesman who tempts her with Parisian fashions and golden candlesticks. She has to look good if she wants her life to improve. And never mind the cost – she can buy whatever she wants on credit! Uh oh…Leon (Ezra Miller) is the last romantic, an aesthete with delicate features. Won’t she go for a walk with him? Cynical Homais (Paul Giamatti) says he will help them climb the ladder to success, if they just take some risks. Then there’s the Marquis 58V4EY_madamebovary_01_o3_8648982_1434144827(Logan Marshall Green), a local rake who takes her for hunting, with horn and hound. He sends her love letters and says she can run off and live in his castle. Will Madame Bovary find her true love? Or will she succumb to trickery… and inescapable debt?

Madame Bovary – based on the famous novel by Flaubert — is a cautionary tale about the dangers of upward mobility. This film is a straightforward retelling of the story. But it reveals the tragic ending in the very first scene. I guess the director assumes everyone knows the story already so it can’t be a spoiler… but at least she should pretend to be interested. As it is, this movie is devoid of suspense, humour and passion. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters – they aren’t even particularly likeable. Though visually stunning and rich in detail (it’s like a work of art to watch), this movie doesn’t have much else going for it.

(L-R) MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS and MICHELLE WILLIAMS star in SUITE FRANÇAISE

(L-R) MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS and MICHELLE WILLIAMS star in SUITE FRANÇAISE

Suite Française
Dir: Saul Dibb

It’s France in the 1940s, right after the German invasion. Pretty, young Lucille (Michelle Williams) lives in Bussy, a suburban town just east of Paris. She barely knew her husband Gaston before he was sent off to fight in the war. Now she lives with her unfriendly mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas), a prosperous landholder, on her country estate. And – despite the refugees pouring out of Paris, scared for their lives – Lucille’s mother-in-law is doing quite nicely, thank you. She has even raised the rent of her long-time tenant farmers, even pushing them out of their homes to make room for desperate refugees with more money. But when the Germans arrive, everything changes. They are forced to share their home with Lieutenant Bruno, a handsome aristocrat (Matthias Schoenarts). He seems like a nice man, fond of classical piano music. He plays one song – the Suite Française of the title – that she’s never heard before. (Lucille studied music before the war.) She is forbidden to speak with him… but sharing intimate quarters leads to an increasing familiarity between the two.

MICHELLE WILLIAMS stars in SUITE FRANÇAIS

MICHELLE WILLIAMS stars in SUITE FRANÇAISE

Meanwhile, farmers Madeleine and Benoit (Ruth Wilson, Sam Riley) are forced to accommodate their own lieutenant, the cruel and vindictive Kurt (Tom Schilling). Benoit wasn’t drafted because he walks with a limp, but he hates the Germans with a passion. And when he sees the officer making passes at his own wife, he’s furious. He locates a hidden rifle, and sets out to defend both his honour and his country.

And as the story develops, the true nature of the characters reveal themselves, and we begin to question our first impressions of who is good and who is bad.

The film is an adaptation of the novel by Irene Nemirovsky written while the war was still going on. She was killed in a Nazi concentration camp but the manuscript was hidden for 60 years. It was rediscovered and published as a bestseller just ten years ago. It makes an engrossing romantic historical drama. The acting is terrific, especially Kristin Scott Thomas as the mother-in-law, as well as the farm family.  It’s a rare look at the war seen while it was taking place. I liked this film a lot.

Madame Bovary and Suite Française starts today in Toronto, check your local listings; Tangerine opens next Friday. Also now playing is the documentary Deep Web, about the dark side, online. I interviewed director Alex Winter during Hot Docs.

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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