Hidden identities. Films reviewed: Made in France, Moonlight, The Handmaiden

Posted in 1930s, 1990s, African-Americans, Crime, Cultural Mining, Drama, France, Korea, LGBT, Sex, Terrorism, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on October 28, 2016

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

Hallowe’en weekend is a time of mysteries and hidden identities. If you want to stay home and shiver, there’s a new movie streaming channel called shudder.com that only does the scary. Everything from Japanese horror, to low budget slashers, to classics like Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu. (And don’t miss The Editor, the hilarious spoof of 1970s Italian giallo horror.) But if you want to head out, there are some great movies opening in Toronto. This Hallowe’en, no monsters; instead I am looking at hidden identities. There’s a shy Korean maid who’s actually a con artist, a French terrorist who’s actually an undercover journalist, and a black kid in 90s Miami, whose sexual identity is a secret… even to himself.

img_3644-640x426Made in France

Dir: Nicolas Boukhrief

Sam (Malik Zidi) is a red-bearded, freelance journalist, the son of an Algerian dad and a French Marxist mom. To research a story, he attends a radical mosque that holds meetings in a metal-gated storage locker. There he meets three other French men. Christophe (Francois Civil) is a rich Catholic guy who sees himself as img_3865-640x426a gangsta, like Tony Montano in Scarface. Driss (Nassim Si Ahmed) is a tough boxer, radicalized while in prison for drug offences. Sidi (Ahmed Drame) is a good son, whose African cousin was killed by French soldiers in Mali. Ironically, only Sam, the undercover journalist, has any religious training or can speak Arabic.

img_8249-640x426They fall under the command of a mysterious man named Hassan (Dimitri Storoge). His motives are a secret. He says he trained at a bootcamp in Pakistan and is in contact with a terrorist group. Sam is married with a kid, and is staying in a flop house to keep them safe. But when he reports his story to the police, they threaten him with prison unless he stays with the cel and finds img_9133-640x426out who their “big boss” is. Can he survive life with this ragtag gang and the sinister Hassan? And will innocent people die in the process?

Made in France is a tight thriller told from the point of view of would-be homegrown terrorists. It has never been screened there, for obvious reasons – it was made just before the terrible Charlie Hebdo shootings and postponed again following the Bataclan massacre. But it still stands up as a good crime thriller.

MoonlightMoonlight

Wri/Dir: Barry Jenkins

Chiron is a small, shy kid who lives in a mainly black neighbourhood in 1990s Miami. He is relentlessly bullied after school, with his crack-head mom never there to defend him. Juan (Mahershala Ali, Luke Cage) comes to his rescue when he sees the kid chased into an abandoned building. He takes him home where his wife feeds and comforts him. But Chiron remains completely silent, not trusting himself to speak. Juan vows to be his protector and Moonlightserves as his mentor, teaching him to swim at the local beach. The boy views him in awe and adulation. Ironically, Juan is the neighbourhood drug kingpin, the one supplying the crack that’s destroying his mother.

Chiron is relentlessly bullied and beaten up. Only one friend, Kevin, shows any affection. He can’t understand why he lets other kids beat him up, and call him the “F” word. He gradually matures, but is always drawn back to that stretch of moonlit beach where he formed and later expressed his sexual identity.

MoonlightMoonlight is a superb coming-of-age drama, portrayed by mainly unknown black actors. It’s moving and surprising. The gradually-paced, subtle story is told in three chapters: as kid, adolescent and adult (wonderfully played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes)

Chiron goes through a troubled childhood, an explosion in high school, adopting an unexpected persona as a grown-up. But in each section he revisits his declining mother, his unreliable best friend Kevin,  and that stretch of moonlit beach. Fantastic film, brilliantly told.

97b32291-67f9-48f7-a0c7-bcf7a46c6544The Handmaiden

Dir: Chan-Wook Park

It’s 1930s Korea. Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-Ri) is a shy handmaiden who lives in a grotesque mansion run by a fabulously rich Japanese baron. Hired for her Japanese ability, she works for an uptight heiress named Lady Hideko (Kim Min-Hee). Imperial Japan annexed Korea in 1910, and is now trying to Japanize the entire country.  When a suitor arrives seeking the Lady’s hand in marriage, Sook-hee serves as her confidant. The 383a2f0a-21c2-41ac-bb80-cc81816180dedashing Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-Woo) has swept her off her feet and promises a wonderful life in Japan. But Sook-Hee seems to have fallen hopelessly in love with her naïve mistress, and wants to school her in the Sapphic arts. This love triangle spells trouble.

But wait! Nothing is quite what it seems. All the players in this drama are actually Korean speakers. Uncle Kouzuki is a nouveau riche 30465dc1-7ad7-4f9f-96c0-809875d0d181Korean robber baron who invested his money in Japanese erotic books. His proper niece reads them aloud to a select crowd of well-paying gentlemen. Meanwhile, both Sook-Hee and the Count belong to a Korean street gang of pickpockets and con artists, who, in a complex scheme,  have infiltrated the mansion to defraud them of their millions. Jealousy, lust romance and deceit swirl around 0981b274-14bd-480d-9e06-5bc5179f5ed7this strange foursome. But who’s fooling whom?

Based on Sarah Waters’ Dickinsian novel, The Handmaiden is a fun, sexual romp relocated from Victorian England to prewar Korea. With trapezes, bondage, marionettes, even tentacles, this movie is a total perv-fest. The story is told and retold from the point of view of the three characters. But far from a lesson in lesbian politics, the movie seems told from a male perspective, its twisted plot serving mainly as a vehicle for the audience’s sexual titillation.

Made in France is playing tonight as part of the Cinefranco International Film Festival. Go to cinefranco.com for details. Moonlight and The Handmaiden both open today in Toronto: 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 with We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice director Alanis Obomsawin

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Indigenous, Interview, Protest by CulturalMining.com on October 21, 2016

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

Should all children in Canada be treated the same and receive the same quality of social services? Of course they should. Then why are the services provided to aboriginal Canadians alanis-obomsawin2living on reserves underfunded, understaffed, or completely unavailable? A documentary film looks at the years-long struggle to get the government to address this problem. It took the form of a human rights complaint filed by the Child wecantmakethesamemistakestwice_02and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations.

This challenge was led by Cindy Blackstock.

A new film called We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice looks at this challenge and the seemingly endless delays, tactics and subterfuge on the part of the federal government, including spying on Blackstock. The movie is the work of thealanis-obomsawin doyenne of Canadian documentary filmmaking, Alanis Obomsawin. Working through the National Film Board, Alanis has pioneered exploring and explaining the ongoing history of First Nations in Canada.

We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice had its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival.  I spoke with Alanis Obomsawin during TIFF in September, 2016, at NFB’s Toronto studios. Her documentary is now playing at the ImagineNative Film Festival.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Journeys. Movies reviewed: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Freightened: The Real Price of Shipping, Tikeq, Qiterleq, Mikileraq, Eqeqqoq

Posted in Action, comedy, documentary, Drama, Environmentalism, Greenland, Indigenous, Inuit, Movies, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on October 21, 2016

1462999738736Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

ImagineNative, the world’s biggest indigenous film festival, is showing 96 fantastic movies including 27 world premiers right now through the weekend. Daytime screenings are free for students, seniors or underemployed. And native elders are available for counselling and smudging. Also on this weekend is Planet in Focus showingnew_pif_logo_gotham docs with an environmental theme.

This week I’m looking at three very different movies about journeys. There are container ships floating around the globe, a fighting hobo hitchhiking across America, and four teens in Greenland who begin their journey in a pile of dirt.

14712970_1102503856464872_860908545792174766_oJack Reacher: Never Go Back

Dir: Edward Zwick

Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is an itinerant army vet, hitching around America carrying just a toothbrush, armed with just his fists. He’s heading to DC to take a woman to dinner. Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) sits at Jack’s old desk, MP in the same division where he once worked. They’ve never met but he likes her voice — she helped him solve a crime by telephone. But things change fast in the army. Today, Turner is in the brig charged with murder, a young woman named Sam claims she’s his daughter, and a professional hitman (Patrick Heusinger) is trying to kill him. He doesn’t knowjack-reacher-gallery-02 why any of this is happening.

He decides to tackle all his problems at once. First he helps Turner escape from prison. She’s a smart but stern woman with straight black hair pulled back. She wants to find out who is behind the case she’s investigating about the unexplained death of two soldiers in Afghanistan. Clearly some sort of conspiracy at work. Sam (Danika Yarosh), his purported daughter, is a lot like Jack – she’s anti-authority and given to petty crime, yet analytic in nature. And she can think on her feet, solving problems on the fly. But Jack has no recollection of ever meeting her mother, never mind sleeping with her. The three of them form a make-shift family jack-reacher-gallery-01as they chase and are chased by armed killers. But who will survive the ultimate showdown?

This is a good action thriller, the latest in a series based on Lee Child’s novels. It has a complex plot, salted with lots of chases, explosions, and shootouts. And interesting characters, at least the good guys. The villains, though, are basically robotic, dull killers, dangerous but entirely unsympathetic. To enjoy a Jack Reacher novel you have to suspend your moral disbelief, and embrace his caveman-like brutality: Kill the bad guys, save the good guys and maim any neutrals who get in your way. The character depends on his intimidating looks. And there lies the problem: Tom Cruise can’t do intimidating. He’s too nice.

But despite all this — and the extreme violence — I still enjoyed the movie.

poster-91816Freightened: The Real Price of Shipping

Dir: Denis Delestrac

You know that cool H&M T-shirt you just bought on sale for three bucks? It may say Made in Bangladesh on the label, but it’s actually been around the world a few times, with buttons from Vietnam, plastic from Europe, American cotton, and Indian dye. And it travels in uniform containers aboard one of the 60,000 ships plying freightened4the seas. This documentary looks at the underside of the shipping industry and the hidden environmental damage it inflicts in exchange for the low, low prices we all enjoy.

For example, the stinky sodium oxide belched from a freightenedsingle ship is equivalent to that of fifty million cars. (There are no international emission standards at sea.) And the ballast — the water a ship might take on in one ocean and expel in another — is a leading cause of invasive species, the displaced plants and animals that are killing off native sea life. Flying flags of convenience, ship owners are rarely fined for their frequent accidents and spills, while international environmental organizations largely ignore shipping altogether.

Freightened is an information-packed documentary, with lots of stuff I didn’t know. It alternates between talking-head experts and beautiful, Burtynsky-like vistas of mammoth container ships in port and at sea.

tikeq1Tikeq, Qiterleq, Mikileraq, Eqeqqoq (Fore Finger, Middle Finger, Ring Finger, Little Finger)

Dir: Ujarneq Fleischer

Four teenaged boys live in Sisimiut, western Greenland. Their mission? To be the coolest crew in town. They excel at skating, biking, playing cards and goofing off to imported pop music. In the community centre they rule. But then a stranger shows up from Nuuk who says he’ll show them things they’ve never seen, and reveal secrets they’ve never heard. He leads them to a pile of dirt with a tiny wooden door. Inside is an enormous world almost exactly like the one they came from.

Next they go on a journey in the mountains searching for a white box with a tupilaq — a monster totem – lying on top. Inside is a message written in the old language telling them what to do. It’s up to them to find love, honesty, and politeness, in this coming-of-age drama.

Fingers is a comedy adventure about preserving traditional culture in modern Inuit tikeq-qiterleq-mikileraq-eqeqqoqGreenland. It’s also the first feature film ever coming out of Greenland. Made on a micro-budget with a DIY feel, it’s basically four guys with a video camera, with no costumes and just plastic bags as props. It’s also my first exposure to indigenous culture from Greenland… and it’s really good. It incorporates traditional storytelling with contemporary pop culture and all-around goofiness.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; Tikeq, Qiterleq, Mikileraq, Eqeqqoq (Fore Finger, Middle Finger, Ring Finger, Little Finger) is playing today at 2:00 pm at ImagineNATIVE at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Go to Imaginenative.org for details. And for Freightened showtimes, go to planetinfocus.org.

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

Old Flames. Movies reviewed: Blue Jay, Complete Unknown

Posted in Cultural Mining, Depression, Drama, Movies, Psychology, Romance, US by CulturalMining.com on October 14, 2016

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

Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you had stayed with your first true love — that summer love or high school sweetheart? What would you two be doing now? And would it have lasted?

This week I’m looking two indie movies about old flames. There’s a chance meeting in small town California, and a planned encounter in New York City.

14520498_1170812952980711_4802563027156445665_nBlue Jay

Dir: Alexandre Lehmann

Jim is blue. He’s sad because his mother died; that’s why he’s back in his hometown in northern California after many years in LA. He’s back at his childhood home, going through old boxes, deciding what to keep and what to give away. And reconsidering the house itself – he works in home reno.

Amanda (Sarah Paulson) is also back in town, helping out her pregnant sister. She’s beautiful, glamorous and dressed for success with perfect hair and clothes. Jim (Mark Duplass) is a scruffy, bearded guy, dressed for work, not for company. When they bump into each other in a grocery aisle, awkward doesn’t begin to describe their emotions. A second meeting in the parking lot screams karma. They take it over to the Blue Jay Café, to catch up on old times.bluejay_03

Turns out, they once had a serious relationship in high school, full of love and commitment. But when something happened it ended abruptly with no further contact. Jim is now depressed, jobless and single. Amanda is in a much better situation, but, she admits, her life just isn’t fun anymore. So they buy some beer and head on back to his family home, perhaps to recover the past.

Once there, they eat, drink and smoke some weed and sing along to corny tunes. Rummaging through old boxes, they dig up some bluejay_01items of special significance: a cassette tape and a sealed envelope. The tape is a game they used to play, pretending to be an old married couple, with kids, house, car, and job. (“Old” meaning their ages now.) Wouldn’t it be fun to play that game again, twenty years later? Then there’s the letter written by Jim to Amanda but never sent. What does it say? And would things have ended differently if she had read the letter back then?

Blue Jay is an engaging, low-budget look at a lost relationship. Beatifully shot in black and white with just two actors, it explores the “what ifs” of high school love and its consequences. The whole movie is done very simply, with just a few plot ideas and lots of dialogue and emotions. But the results are marvelous. Paulson and Duplass are great as bittersweet Amanda and weepy Jim. It feels like an improvised movie, but one that keeps only the best parts.

tumblr_static_dr6vjgh8d28g088oo0g8c8wcgComplete Unknown

Dir: Joshua Marston

Tom (Michael Shannon) is a committed contrarian who works at a methodical job for an environmental NGO. He’s preparing for a presentation before a committee about cattle. He lives with his wife, Ramina, who designs jewelry.

It’s his birthday, and some of his closest friends are coming for dinner. It’s also when Ramina brings up a life-changing decision.

Alice (Rachel Weisz) is an American scientist who made her fame in Tasmania studying frog calls. She shows up at the party as an impromptu date of Clyde, Tom’s lumpy coworker. At first she’s COMPLETE UNKNOWNthe hit of the party, with her erudite knowledge and socially engaging manner. But soon she lets out that this isn’t her first job. She has also worked as an ER nurse in Africa, a concert pianist, and a magician’s assistant in China (“He sawed me in half!”). She admits she enjoys reinventing herself from scratch every few years with a new name, place and specialty. Is she a genius… or a con artist?

The guests turn on her – she’s clearly a sociopath and a compulsive liar. They shame her out of the bar when they go dancing. But Tom wants to hear 1471969439688more. He follows her onto the street.

You see, he knew her, intimately, when they were both students. And then one day she just disappeared. Until now, Tom thought she was dead or missing. And her showing up that day wasn’t a coincidence;  she wanted to see Tom again,  someone she knew before she started her adventure. She invites him to join her at playing her game, even if only for one night. But is he willing to join her thrilling life of reinvention? And can he embrace sudden change?

Complete Unknown has an interesting story about a strange and exciting woman (well-played by Rachel Weisz). Michael Shannon is intense as Tom, a grumpy and suspiciuous office geek. Aside from flashbacks and few set-up scenes, it all takes place over one night. But we never really make it past the concept of Alice’s various, changing identities.  I enjoyed the film but it didn’t move me. It felt more like a hokusai_c0611TV pilot for Orphan Black than a drama or a love story.

Complete Unknown opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. Blue Jay is now playing on video on demand. Also opening today is Miss Hokusai, an animated adult drama about the floating world of an Ukiyo-e artist in Edo, Japan.

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 Shoot the Messenger’s creator Jennifer Holness, and star Lyriq Bent

Posted in Action, Canada, Clash of Cultures, Corruption, Crime, Journalism, Politics, Romance, Somali, Thriller, Toronto, TV by CulturalMining.com on October 7, 2016

Jennifer Holness, Lyriq BentHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Daisy is a cub reporter at the Toronto Gazette. She’s interrupted from a roll in the hay with her lover by a mysterious phone call – a source! She rushes to meet him only to see a young Somali man gunned down in cold blood. And which police detective Jennifer Holness, Lyriq Bent, Shoot the Messengeris investigating the case? It’s her lover, Kevin. Now the police, the news media, and the government are all trying to find out who shot the messenger?

Shoot the Messenger is also the name of a dramatic new series premiering on CBC TV next week (Oct. 10). Jennifer Holness, Lyriq Bent, Shoot the MessengerIt looks at how a city copes with street-level crime… and high-level corruption. Created by husband-and-wife team Jennifer Holness and Sudz Sutherland, it stars Lyriq Bent and Elise Levesque as Kevin and Daisy.

I spoke to Jennifer Holness and Lyriq Bent in studio at CIUT.

Nazi trials. Films reviewed: Denial, The People vs Fritz Bauer

Posted in 1950s, Cultural Mining, Drama, Germany, Movies, Nazi, Trial, UK by CulturalMining.com on October 7, 2016

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

The Nuremberg trials were held by the Allies immediately after WWII. They publically exposed, tried, and punished the leaders of Nazi Germany for their war crimes and crimes against humanity. But relatively few were actually put on trial. And old ideologies live on. This week I’m looking at two historical dramas about lesser-known cases. There’s a German attorney in the 1950s stymied in his attempt to prosecute war criminals; and an American holocaust historian, sued for libel by a man who denies it ever took place.

DENIALDenial

Dir: Mick Jackson

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is a university professor at a Georgia university. She specializes in Holocaust studies, the history of genocide under Nazi Germany. She has a special interest in holocaust deniers, writers from the extreme right who claim the holocaust never happened, any deaths were incidental, and there were no gas chambers. She says she won’t debate ahistorical demagogues but she does provide ample academic data verifying her work. So she is surprised one day when a strange man appears, uninvited, in her classroom, shouting accusations at her, all recorded with a video camera. It’s David Irving (Timothy Spall), a DENIALUK author and a great fan of Hitler and Naziism. She has mentioned him in one of her books on Holocaust deniers.

Not long after, she receives a legal notice: David Irving is suing her for libel. Her book, he says, has damaged his credibility as a historian. If she settles out of court he will appear to be justified. But if she loses the case it could serve as a triumph for neo-nazis and white supremacists across Europe. So, in an odd judicial quirk,  it’s up to her to prove (before a disinterested judge) that the holocaust took place.

With the help of well-known barristers and solicitors (played, respectively, by a cold Tom Wilkinson and a sly Andrew Scott) she pleads her case in court. DENIALWho will win the case?

Denial is principally a courtroom drama. Rachel Weiss is believable, with an excellent New York accent (she is British), but she is stifled by the role. Because her lawyers tell her not to testify, so she can’t speak in court. Instead, she spends much of the movie making gestures and sighs of anger, shock or frustration. Timothy Spall has more latitude. He plays a lawyer defending himself. Irving comes across as a self-important but wormy man who, deep down, just wants respect and love. He gets neither. So, while this is an exciting topic,  the movie itself comes across as plodding and a bit dull.

fritz_webthumb2_f7b15d1f-9b46-4fcc-a888-c18f2d668345_smThe People vs Fritz Bauer (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer)

Wri/Dir: Lars Kraume

It’s the late 1950s in cold war West Germany. Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaußner: Goodbye Lenin, The White Ribbon) is a State Attorney General in Frankfurt. The country is economically booming but politically moribund. It still holds many laws enacted under Nazi rule, and the civil service is riddled with former party members. Bauer takes it upon himself to expose war criminals and bring them to trial. But he is stymied at every turn.

Before WWII, at age 30, he had been the youngest judge ever, but was jailed by the Nazis when they took power. He tpvfb_still1_lgsurvived the war in Denmark and Sweden, and later came back to Germany to continue his work. But he has few allies there. He has three strikes against him: Jewish ancestry, Socialist politics, and he is secretly gay, still illegal in Germany at the time.

Karl Angermann (Ronald Zehrfeld: Phoenix, Barbara) is a young prosecutor fresh out of law school with a young wife and a conservative family. He’s handsome, idealistic and devoted to the cause, with secrets of his own. And like many younger Germans, he feels alienated from his own country. He finds harsh laws punishing consensual sex to be cruel and outdated. Unlike most of his office, he finds Bauer an inspiration, a reason to strive for a tpvfb_still2_lgnew, progressive and democratic Germany.

Bauer receives a letter from a German in Argentina who says Adolph Eichmann is still alive, living nearby in plain sight. Eichmann is the notorious Nazi leader responsible for transporting millions to death camps. Bauer contacts Interpol and the German government, but they brush him off: We don’t pursue political crimes. Bauer’s one wish is to try war criminals like Eichmann under German Law, and within German courtrooms.

Can Bauer and Angermann shake up the establishment, reform its laws, and bring war criminals to justice? Or will tpvfb_still3_lgthe network of Nazis still in power stop them from their goals?

The People vs Fritz Bauer is a really interesting biopic and drama about a fascinating character. It has intrigue, suspense, and a few surprise twists. Klaußner plays Bauer as a hotheaded idealistic loner fighting the establishment, like Bill Murray playing Barney Frank. And Angermann is great as his conflicted devotee (with a secret lover). The movie is based on records released many years after these events. And it’s a great follow-up to 2014’s Labyrinth of Lies, another German movie that picks up where this one ends.

Denial opens today; check you local listings. The People vs Fritz Bauer starts in Toronto on Oct 21. Also opening today is The Stairs, a great documentary about Toronto’s Regent Park.

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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