More coming of age movies. Films reviewed: Kajillionaire, Summerland, Nadia, Butterfly

Posted in Canada, comedy, Coming of Age, Crime, drugs, Family, Japan, LGBT, Quebec, Road Movie, Sports by CulturalMining.com on September 25, 2020

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

TIFF is over but Toronto’s fall film festival Season has just begun, but with a difference this year. Many of the festivals, here and abroad, that were cancelled in the spring are now popping up in the fall. Look out for Inside Out, The Cannes film fest, SXSW, Toronto’s Japanese film fest, Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Planet in Focus, Rendezvous with Madness, ReelAsian, ImagineNative, Toronto Palestine Film Fest – which is on right now – and many more.

This week, though, I’m looking at three new indie coming-of-age movies. There’s an Olympic athlete who swims the butterfly; a gay virgin playing catfish with a guy he meets online; and a young woman born under the net of a family of grifters.

Kajillionaire

Wri/Dir: Miranda July

Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) is a young woman born into a family of scammers. With her mom and dad (Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins) they plan low-level cons and split the proceeds three ways. Most of it goes to pay for food and rent: they live in an office located directly beneath a bubble factory that extrudes pink foam into their home twice a day. They’re always working; no time wasted on frivolities like holidays, presents or birthday dinners. No phoney-baloney words like “dear” or “hon”. Even her name is a scam: they called her Old Dolio after an elderly homeless guy who won a lottery, in the hope that he would leave her all his money when he died. (He didn’t.)

So Old Dolio grows up emotionally stunted and starved for affection. Now she’s in her early twenties living a loveless and strangely sheltered existence. She’s nervous and introverted. But everything changes when Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) – a voluptuous young woman her parents meet on a plane – says she wants to join their gang and pull off a big con. She’s Dolio’s exact opposite: self-confident, sexy and talkative. Someone she can spend time with. But is she a friend? A rival? A mark? Or something else entirely?

Kajillionaire is a weird and wonderful dark comedy, laden with odd, quirky characters. Evan Rachel Wood is fantastically deadpan as the awkward, stilted Dolio. It’s told in a series of linked tableaus about a strange family of socially inept, but inoffensive, criminals. It’s also a coming-of-age drama about a 26-year-old woman experiencing life away from her domineering parents for the first first time. Great film.

Summerland

Dir: Lankyboy

Bray (Chris Ball) is a naïve gay virgin in love. He met a guy named Shawn on an online, Christian dating site, and now they’re going to meet in person. The planned meeting is at a music festival called Summerland in a southwestern desert. Bray wants to go there with his best friend Oliver (Rory J Saper) – a young guy from London in America on a student visa. They share a house together. Oliver’s dating a beautiful young woman named Stacy (Maddie Phillips) who lives in a mansion but wants to leave it and move in with Oliver. She can’t stand her stepfather. There are three problems: Oliver’s visa has expired so he has to move back to England (but Stacy doesn’t know). Bray has been texting Shawn using Stacy’s selfies. Shawn thinks he’s been communicating with a girl, not a gay guy named Bray. And the car they plan to use has broken down. So Tracy decides to join their road trip to Summerland using her stepdad’s RV.

They set off on a journey down the west coast, passing through Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. Stacy wants to listen to audio books on an ancient Sony Walkman to improve her mind. But Oliver has other plans. He has a briefcase full of strange, new psychedelic drugs for them to sample on their way. Oliver and Stacy are constantly having noisy sex in the RV, while Bray is holding out for his one true love. Will they make it to Summerland? Will Oliver tell Stacy he’s moving back to England? Will Bray ever meet Shawn? And if he does will he admit he’s the one who’s been catfishing him – pretending he’s a woman online – all this time?

Summerland is a simple, endearing road comedy. It’s full of interesting characters they meet on the way, like Oliver’s honey-badger drug dealer, an existential new age philosopher, and a gay black wizard named Khephra who enters Bray’s brain.

Summerland is a funny movie, easy to watch.

Nadia, Butterfly

Wri/Dir: Pascale Plante (Fake Tattoos)

It’s the 2020 Summer Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan. Nadia (Katerine Savard) is an Olympic swimmer from Québec. She’s been training since the age of ten and now, in her early twenties, is one of the fastest butterfly swimmers in the world. She lives a highly regimented life: home schooling, intense training, and a restricted diet. She’s massaged, prodded, tested and poked all day long – her body is a communal effort. But this will be her last competition – she’s retiring from competitive swimming to go back to school. And she leaves on a high note, winning a bronze medal in medley with the other three on her team: bilingual Karen (back stroke), newby Jess (breast), and her best friend Marie Pierre (Ariane Mainville) on freestyle. The two have been training together for a decade; Marie — she’s in her early thirties — is like a big sister to Nadia. And now that their races – and drug tests – are finished, she vows to take Nadia on a blow-out weekend inside the Olympic Village and out and about on the streets of Tokyo. Nadia’s been around the world, but only seen its swimming pools. It’s her first chance to explore on her own, to buy junk food from vending machines, get drunk… and maybe have sex. She meets a Lebanese fencer at a dance party and takes MDMA for the first time. But will she really leave competitive sports in her prime?

Nadia, Butterfly is a coming-of-age drama about a young athlete on the verge of leaving the only life she’s ever known. It covers a three-day period as she struggles over her decision. The film is immersed in the world of competitive sports, both the public side – its anthems, mascots and medals – and its hidden life. The film is saturated with the four colours of flags and uniforms: red, aqua, black and white. It’s a realistic, behind-the-scenes look at the Olympics, from the athletes’ perspectives. While I’m not really an Olympic fan (the movie was shot in Tokyo last summer) it still kept me constantly interested, if not deeply moved. But it’s the great performances of Savard and Mainville (as Nadia and Marie-Pierre) that really make the movie work.

Nadia, Butterfly is now playing in Toronto; check your local listings. Kajillionaire and Summerland open today.

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 Barry Stevens about his new documentary The World’s Biggest Family on CBC Docs POV

Posted in Canada, Corruption, documentary, Family, Secrets, UK by CulturalMining.com on September 25, 2020

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

Did you ever consider you might share ancestry with someone you’ve never met? Now, what if that person that shares your ancestry turns out to be more than just one? Imagine doing a DNA test and finding out you have over 600 half-siblings spread across the Atlantic, and you’re a part of the biggest family in the world?

The World’s Biggest Family is the name of a new documentary. It tells the story of the offspring of an anonymous and unusually prolific sperm donor, and the secrets and lies that surround artificial insemination. The movie’s subject and its director is multiple-award-winning filmmaker Barry Stevens who has worked on films like The Diary of Evelyn Lau, Offspring, Souvenir of Canada and History TV’s War Story.

The World’s Biggest Family premiers on Oct 1 on CBC Docs POV and CBC Gem.

I spoke with Barry Stevens in Toronto via ZOOM.

Questioning Authority. Films reviewed: Beans, Quo Vadis Aïda?, Shorta, New Order, Night of the Kings at #TIFF20!

Posted in Africa, Bosnia, Canada, Denmark, Indigenous, Mexico, Police, Protest, Quebec, Uncategorized, War by CulturalMining.com on September 18, 2020

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

The Toronto International Film Festival has come to a close, and to tell you the truth – considering it was touch and go since the pandemic hit – I’m especiallly impressed by the 50 movies that made it into the festival. There’s a particular appropriateness to the movies they chose, films that capture the current feelings of uncertainty, impending doom, and a general mistrust of authority. So this week I’m, looking at five fantastic TIFF films about the current malaise. And so as not to end on too bleak a note, I’m throwing in a nicer story at the end.

There’s a blockade in Quebec genocide in Bosnia, police violence in Denmark, a class war in Mexico… and story-telling in a prison in Cote’d’Ivoire.

Beans

Dir: Tracey Deer

 

It’s 1995. Beans (Kiawentiio) is an innocent 12-year-old girl who lives in suburban Québec with her Dad, her ambitious mom, and her little sister. She’s into stuffed animals and hair ribbons – her biggest worry is getting into a posh private school. But when the town of Oka tries to grab Mohawk burial grounds to expand a golf course, protests erupt. Beans and her family leave their cushy life to join the Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawá:ke community in the increasingly tense stand-off. They are blockaded and local stores refuse to sell them food, and police and military stand by when her family is attacked by racist locals throwing rocks and breaking windows. Beans, meanwhile feels rejected by the local kids as too soft, so she asks April (Paulina Alexis) an older girl to toughen her up. With the crisis raging all around her, Beans starts to change – but is it for the better?

Based on true events, Beans is a marvelous coming-of-age story of a girl learning about heritage, identity and sexuality, as she gradually gains self-confidence in a frightening time.

Quo Vadis, Aïda?

Wri/Dir: Jasmila Žbanic

It’s 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnia.

The three-year Bosnian civil war is coming to an end, and Aida (Jasna Djuričić) a former high school teacher, is worried. Her former students are fighting on all sides. Ratko Mladić’s soldiers have surrounded the town and the locals have fled to a safety zone run by UN Peace Keepers. Aida is now the official translator, a conduit between the locals, the invaders and the ineffectual, Dutch Blue Helmets. Be calm, they promise, there’s nothing to worry about. But she knows they’re not safe at all. It falls on her shoulders to save them, or at least save her husband and two sons. But can Aida save anyone, even herself?

Quo Vadis, Aida? is a fast, tense and deeply moving depiction of the fear, confusion and helplessness of the days leading up to the genocidal Srebrenica Massacre where over eight thousand Bosnians were murdered in cold blood. Though it doesn’t explicitly show the violent acts themselves, it still leaves the viewer drained and shocked by its enormity.

Shorta

Wri/Dir: Frederik Louis Hviid, Anders Ølholm

Tension is mounting in Svalegården, a highrise housing project in Denmark, after police choke a teenager to death. Two cops are called in to keep the peace. Mike Andersen (Jacob Lohmann) is the bad cop – foul-mouthed, corrupt, out of shape and blatantly racist. Jens Høyer (Simon Sears) is the good cop, fit, clean-cut and by the book. They arrest a local teen, Amos (Tarek Zayat) for a minor infraction. Amos was a promising soccer star but has lost hope after being harassed too often by police. But the three of them are forced to work together – or choose sides – when violence erupts leaving them stranded in a dangerous zone, without a car, and no way out. Can Mike and Jens escape, and can Amos get safely home, before something really bad happens?

Shorta is an action/thriller set within a climate of police violence and corruption. Though at first it seems to be full of anti-immigrant stereotypes, it turns expectations on their head in a series of unexpected and shocking plot turns. An intense thriller.

New Order

Wri/Dir: Michel Franco

Marianne (Naian González Norvind) is a woman in a red dress at her own wedding party. They’re waiting for the judge to arrive to start the ceremony, but she’s tied up. Streets are blocked by demonstrators throwing bright green paint at rich people all across Mexico City, though this exclusive neighbourhood remains untouched. Their faithful servant Marta (Mónica Del Carmen) is working hard to make sure everything’s perfect for the wedding. But when Marianne’s family – who are spending lavishly on the wedding – refuse to help a longtime servant pay an emergency medical bill, Marianne is fed up. She says she’ll drive him to the hospital and pay for it herself. So she sets off in a car with Marta’s brother Cristian (Fernando Cuautle). But while she’s away, mayhem breaks loose. Thieves have infiltrated the wedding party and begin killing people. There’s a military coup and the city is under martial law, shooting civilians at random. And when Marianne is “rescued” by soldiers, she is shocked to discover she’s actually their vicim, a captive held for ransom. Can anyone be trusted?

New Order is an extremely violent, dystopian look at class inequality and the deep corruption permeating Mexican society and government. Be warned, this is not an easy movie to watch.

Night of the Kings

Wri/Dir: Philippe Lacôte

It’s a special day in the huge MACA prison in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in west Africa. A red moon is expected to rise that night, and with it a change of prison government. Not the warden or guards but the real leadership within the prison walls. Barbe Noire/Black Beard (Steve Tientcheu) rules them all. But he’s dying and needs to appoint a successor. First a ritual storytelling must take place. He appoints a new arrival (Koné Bakary) a young newbie arrested that day to be Roman, the storyteller. Roman is baffled – why him? He’s dressed in a shining blue shirt, and given a special potion to drink and a wooden box to stand on. He must tell a constant story, one that never ends or he will be killed and the whole prison will collapse into mayhem. So the story begins.

Night of the Kings is a fantastical prison drama that portrays both the amazing people who live there, and the story he tells. People like a beautiful transwoman who’s also a secret assassin, and wise man with a chicken on his shoulder who poses as a half- wit. That’s within MACA.

Then there’s the story Roman tells. He serves as an impromptu griot, passing on an oral history of a slain local gang leader named Zama King and his ancestors stretching way back in time. There are elephants and armies, queens and magical powers, elaborate costumes and hair styles. And as he tells his story, he’s surrounded by a greek chorus who spontaneously sing, dance and pantomime all around him. Night of the Kings is a fantastic drama, and one of the best films at TIFF this year.

Watch out for it.

Night of the Kings, New Order, Shorta, Quo Vadis Aida?, and Beans all screened at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for more information.

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

More dysfunctional families. Films reviewed: Blackbird, The Ties PLUS #TIFF20

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2020

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

The Toronto International Film Festival has begun, but with a twist. It’s #TIFF20 meets COVID19. Gone are celebrities, autograph hounds? Gone. Thousands of volunteers?  Countless parties? Gone, gone, gone. The press corps is cut by 2/3 with feature films chopped from 300 to 50. Indoor movies are few and far between, sparse and spaced, but you can watch the movies at home instead. Normally, I’d have viewed two dozen movies before the festival starts, but this year less than five. This week, I’m reviewing two movies about dysfunctional families, one from Italy and one from the US.

But first I’m talking about TIFF films I haven’t yet seen… bear with me.

#TIFF20: unseen recommendations

Here are a few movies playing at TIFF that caught my eye.

Idris Elba stars in Concrete Cowboy, as a man who rides horses dressed in hat, boots and spurs in North Philadelphia. The film’s about him and his estranged teenaged son who comes to live with him.

Beans (Dir: Tracey Deer) is about the 1990s stand-off between Mohawk communities and the Quebec town of Oka who wanted to expand their golf course onto indigenous land. It’s told through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl named Beans.

Summer of 85 (Dir: Francois Ozon: Frantz, Young and Beautiful, The New Girlfriend) is about a summer love affair on the beaches of Normandy between a young man who almost drowns and the 20 year-old guy who saves him. It’s like Call me By Your Name, but with a sinister undertone.

Quo Vadis, Aïda? is about a journalist trying to save her husband and son in the Bosnian genocide. After seeing Jasmila Žbanic’s first film, the stunning Grbavica 12 years ago, I’m dying to see what she’s up to now.

And finally Night of The Kings about a man in a Cote d’Ivoire prison in Abidjan forced to tell his epic story until the sun rises. Philippe Lacôte’s first film, Run, was brilliant which is why this one looks so good.

These are just a few of the films opening at TIFF.

Blackbird

Dir: Robert Michell

Paul (Sam Neill) and Lily (Susan Sarandon) are a happily married couple. They live in a beautiful wood and glass home, a short stroll to the Pacific ocean. Lily is retired but Paul still practices medicine. They’re getting ready for a big party with family and friends. Her uptight daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet) is coming, along with her nerdy husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) with his requisite bowties, and their teenage son Jonathan (Anson Boon). Her other daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska), excentric and needy might also show up, along with her non-binary partner Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus). And Lily’s best friend Liz who she’s known since childhood. The presents are wrapped, the cake is baked and Lily is wearing her favourite dress. Is it her birthday? Chistmas perhaps? A special anniversary?

No. It’s a deathday party. Lily is terminally ill and this is her goodbye celebration before her assisted suicide the next day. But once the liquor is poured and the joints are lit, the guests loosen up, and family secrets and rivalries are revealed. Will Lily go through with her plan? And will her family and friends accept her decision or try to stop it

Based on a Danish film from 2014, Blackbird is a low-key look at a family’s reaction to an important issuet. It’s slow moving but well-acted, like a traditional drawing room comedy, with a serious subtext. But I’m bothered by Lily’s reasoning. Here’s an example. At one point she breaks a glass and says “When you have to drink chablis from a paper cup, you know it’s time.” Really? She walks unassisted and dresses herself, largely free of pain. To me – if there’s ever a time – this seems way to early. But, like I said, Blackbird is a well-made movie and one that makes you think.

The Ties (Lacci)

Dir: Daniele Luchetti

It’s the 1980s in Naples, Italy. Aldo (Luigi Locascio) is a happily-married, bearded man with two kids, Anna and Sandro. They love the stories he tells them in his “radio voice”. He works as a literary critic and announcer at RAI radio – Italy’s CBC — at their headquarters in Rome, where he keeps an apartment. He’s a bit of a celebrity; “an ordinary man who says clever things”. Vanda (Alba Rohrbacher – she starred in this) his wife, has curly blonde hair. She’s a part-time school teacher and takes care of their kids on her own while he’s in Rome on weekdays. All is going great, until one day he confesses he slept with another woman. What he doesn’t tell her, but she suspects, is he’s having a long term affair in Rome with Lidia (Laura Morante) his beautiful co-announcer on their radio show. She kicks him out for the night, but it turns into a long-term separation, punctuated with arguments and fights – always initiated by Vanda. Aldo just passively takes it all in and does nothing but never taking responsibility for his actions. This leaves the kids floundering for attention from their dad, which they rarely get. Can this relationship ever be saved?

The Ties – the title refers to the family ties he has in Naples and the no-strings relationship he desires in rome – is a beautiful crafted look at a fractured family. It jumps back and forth, sometimes second by second, from the 80s to the present day, where Aldo and Vanda are elderly and the kids middle aged, still holding grudges against their Mom and Dad. I love Daniele Luchetti’s work – I always catch his films at TIFF – which is why I made sure to watch this one. He crafts great silent scenes, like behind the glass in a recording booth – and the costumes, set, cinematography are very pretty and cozy. But – like Aldo – the film is more passive than passionate, observing instead of delving deep into his mind. It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed The Ties.

Blackbird opens next week on VOD across Canada, The Ties is screening at TIFF as Industry Selects and premiered at Venice. Go to tiff.net for tickets and info on festival films.

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 co-directors Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan about The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2020

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

Corporations were once thought of as benign entities that employed workers, produced goods, sold them in the market place and paid taxes on their profits. But certain things have changed. CEOs now earn salaries a thousand times higher than some full-time employees.

Lobbyists pour huge donations to politicians to change the laws in their favour. Environmental catastrophe is green-washed by fossil fuel corporations. Indigenous lands are seized by big agro, mining and oil companies. Pharmaceutical corporations promote opiates which now kill more people than illegal drugs. And they don’t even pay taxes anymore. Meanwhile their power and wealth grows exponentially, eclipsing national governments and international organizations, privatizing public housing, schools, prisons and hospitals. Is there anything we can do to stop the psychopathic behavior of some of these New Corporations?

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel is a new Canadian documentary, a follow-up to the smash hit doc The Corporation from 2003. It combines shocking stats with cool animation, news footage and new interviews with activists and intellectuals, from AOC to Robert Reich and Diane Ravitch – and the corporate CEOs themselves. The film is co-directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Jennifer Abbott and UBC law professor Joel Bakan who wrote the original book. (They both worked on the first film as well.)

I spoke with Jennifer and Joel via ZOOM.

The New Corporation is having its world premier at TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, on Sunday, September 13th at 9 pm.

Daniel Garber talks with director Michelle Latimer about Trickster and The Inconvenient Indian

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2020

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

Photos of Michelle Latimer by Jeff Harris.

Jarrod is a highschool kid in Kitimat BC. He works at a fast-food drive through and does double duty peddling the happy pills he makes in a cabin in the woods. His mom is a party animal who is shacked up with a tattooed pot dealer and his divorced dad’s girlfriend is preggers. He ends up acting the adult in his family. But when he reconnects with his best friend, and a new girl with purple hair moves in across the street, things seem to be looking up. That is until weird things start happening. He’s chased by his doppelganger at a party. A crow seems to talk to him. And a strange man comes to town to tell him he’s his actual father. Are these things real or just drug-induced halucinations? And can that strange man be believed, or is he just a trickster?

Trickster is a new, slow-burn TV drama starting this fall that combines ordinary lives with mystery and magic told within the cloak of indigenaity. It has its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, along with a documentary called The Inconvenient Indian. Inspired by Thomas King’s book, the doc exposes the erasure of history while celebrating a vibrant living culture. Both Trickster and The Inconvenient Indian are directed by the award-winning Michelle Latimer who is also known for documenting the Standing Rock protests at the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016. Michelle splits her time between Toronto and Treaty 9 territory.

The Inconvenient Indian will have its world premier at TIFF on September 12, 2020, with Trickster premiering on September 15.

I spoke with Michelle Latimer in person, in her Toronto home (two metres apart).

Torn from the Headlines. Films reviewed: Feels Good Man, Biohackers, Tenet

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 4, 2020

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

This week I’m looking at three new movies torn from the headlines, dealing with pandemics, the rise of the alt right and international intelligence. There’s a student searching for genetic data, a spy looking for quantum physics clues, and a cartoonist forced to dissect his favourite frog.

Feels Good Man

Dir: Arthur Jones

It’s 2005, in the early days of social networks, and MySpace is king. Matt Furie is an indie cartoonist who draws Boy’s Club, a comic about four slackers (in animal form) in their twenties who share a house. One image he drew goes viral: it’s Pepe the Frog peeing in a toilet while standing up with his pants pulled down, saying, in explanation, “feels good, man”. Somehow it captures the mood of the time. It spreads to 4chan – a non-commercial, anonymous comment board started by a 14-year-old – where it’s adopted as a meme, and repeated endlessly online. Soon Pepe the Frog turns into Sad Pepe, Smug Pepe, Screaming Pepe – his images are everywhere. A decade later though it’s co-opted by the nascent Alt-Right: Pepe with a Donald Trump wig, Pepe on a neo-nazi flag. Meanwhile, Matt Furie, is still just a comicbook artist, not a superstar like his character. And his beloved pepe is toxic. It’s declared an official symbol of hate by ADL (The Anti-Defamation League). What can a small time cartoonist do?

Feels Good Man is a brilliant documentary that follows the rise and fall of an internet meme. It also touches on crypto currencies, Incels, “punch-a-naziRichard Spencer, Hillary Clinton, Fox News… basically everything important from the past 15 years is somehow related to Pepe the Frog. It’s narrated by the people involved – on myspace, 4chan and elsewhere – as well as Furie’s fight to reclaim his character using pro bono lawsuits. (Good luck with that – there are 160 million unique Pepe images floating around online.)

And the film also features beautiful psychedelic, animation of Pepe and his friends – total eye candy. Loved it.

Tenet

Dir: Christopher Nolan

An American special ops soldier (John David Washington) wakes up after taking a poison pill to find out he’s still alive. He was captured by the enemy after trying to stop Chechen terrorists in a Ukraine Opera House. Turns out the pill was a fake, a test to prove his loyalty. And now the CIA sends on a special mission spanning continents. His goal? They don’t say. But it involves seducing the wife (Elizabeth Debicki) of a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) using a forged painting in order to uncover a secret weapon. But first, he and his accomplice (Robert Pattinson) must break into an impregnable tower in Mumbai to uncover information held by an international arms dealer named Priya (Dimple Kapadia). But wait – there’s more. A lab-coated scientist tells him powerful forces of quantan physics are at work: as he movies forward, other people and things are moving backwards through time. While we are shooting bullets they catching the same bullets in their guns, as they progress to the past. And unless he completes his mission the whole world will cease to exist.

Tenet is an action thriller about a Black American 007 with a bit of sci-fi jibber-jabber thrown in to make it more interesting. It’s visually stunning, full of brutalist architecture, stark railway tracks and brilliant birds-eye shots of vast industrial wastelands like an Edward Burtynsky photograph. And the special effects are great too, with airplanes plowing into airport terminals, and ingenious fist fights between someone travelling forward in time and someone going backwards. On the other hand, the story is as pointless as it sexless, the characters are dull and opaque, and – despite claims to the contrary – is very old fashioned in its outlook. Men fight while women scheme. Anglo-American spies are the good guys, the world’s policemen, while Russians are the villains. The script is full of fake profundities – “we live in a twilight world” – the plot follows a formulaic uncovering of clues, although with the time/space continuum to keep you interested.

Is Tenet a good movie? No, not really, but after going seven months without a single big-budget new release, seeing this one in an actual theatre (with physical distancing, of course) left me totally satisfied.

Biohackers

Created by Christian Ditter

Mia Ackerland (Luna Wedler) is a young medical student at German University. She lives with three geeky housemates: Chen-Lu (Jing Xiang), a fast-talking science nerd into gene splicing, Ole (Sebastian Jakob Doppelbauer), a socially inept inventor looking for friends; and Lotta (Caro Cult), a rich student who likes sex, drugs and parties. Mia enrolls in a biology class taught by prize winning Prof Lorenz (Jessica Schwarz) and her T.A. Jasper (Adrian Julius Tillmann). She quickly distinguishes herself, starts dating Jasper, and works her wat into the professor’s elite lab. But when she’s asked to supply a DNA sample she panics. What is Mia hiding? What does she hope to discover? What are the professsor’s motives? And can Mia depend on her bio-hacker roommates to join her mission?

Biohackers is a six-part science-thriller TV show about a young student looking for the truth. There are frequent flashbacks to a young girl and her twin brother who died in hospital as a child, giving clues to Mia’s motivation. It starts with a teaser – a mass pandemic aboard a passenger train where everyone collapses with a strange virus… except Mia. Which makes it especially relevant during he COVID crisis. (And the rivalry between her and the professor is like Glenn Close and Rose Byrnn in the TV show Damages.) Biohackers makes for a great binge-watch during a quarantine.

Tenet is now playing in theatres across Canada, Biohackers is streaming on Netflix, and Feels Good Man opens today on VOD. 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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