Daniel Garber talks with Nyla Innuksuk about Slash/Back

Posted in Aliens, Canada, Horror, Indigenous, Inuit, Nunavut, Science Fiction, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 18, 2022

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

It’s summer solstice in Pangnirtung, on Baffin Island Nunavut where the sun is up all night. But a group of teenaged girls — Maika, Jesse, Leena,  Uki and Maika’s little sister Aju — notice something weird is going on. They see a polar bear acting very un-bearlike; and a fisherman who seems less than human. Their blood is black, their skin seems detached from their bodies, they walk in jerky steps, with creepy tentacles that squirm out to suck your blood. Are they monsters? Aliens? Zombies? Whatever they are they’re killing people, and the grown-ups aren’t around to help — they’re all at an annual dance. But nobody messes with the girls of Pang. So it’s up to them to fight back.

Slash/Back is the name of a new alien horror movie set in the arctic. It interweaves traditional Inuit culture with contemporary genre filmmaking. It features a cast of first-time Inuit actors, set against the stunning ice, sky and ocean landscape of Nunavut. Slash/Back is the work of acclaimed producer, writer and director Nyla Innuksuk, who is well-versed in both the technical and creative sides of film-making. And she’s the only film maker I’ve ever heard of who has also co-created a superhero for Marvel Comics!

I spoke with Nyla in Toronto via Zoom.

Slash/Back opens across Canada on Friday, June 26th.

Mind Games. Films reviewed: Spiderhead, Chess Story, In the Wake

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

Spring film festival continues through June with Toronto’s Japanese Film Festival and the Toronto Jewish Film Festival showing films for another week.  Also on now is the Future of Film Showcase, Canada’s premiere festival for short films. It also has panels, coffee sessions and workshops, covering everything from casting to funding, from locations to issues like equity.  

This week, I’m looking at three new movies about people forced to play games. There’s a prisoner playing chess in WWII Vienna, another prisoner forced to play mind games in a secretive American facility; and a detective playing cat-and-mouse with a murderer… ten years after an earthquake in Japan.

Spiderhead 

Dir: Joseph Kosinski (Top Gun: Maverick) 

Jeff (Miles Teller) is an inmate in a remote, high-security prison. Located inside a brutalist cement building on a placid lake, it can only be reached by boat or pontoon prop plane. But inside it’s a virtual paradise. Doors are kept unlocked, prisoners chat on colourful sofas while eating canapés, and are free to pursue their favourite pastimes. They can even become friends  with other prisoners — like Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett). No violence or distrust here; the benevolent warden Steve (Chris Hemsworth) makes sure of that.

So what’s the catch? 

All prisoners are kept placid by a little gadget attached to their bodies, which — through remote control — releases chemical serums directly into their bloodstreams which controls their moods. They are also forced to attend sessions — controlled by Steve and his assistant behind a glass wall — where they test the potency of their pharmaceuticals. Sometimes it’s as simple as making them laugh at deliberately unfunny jokes. Other times they’re placed in the room with a stranger — a female prisoner in Jeff’s case — to see if drugs can make them so thirsty and the other seem so attractive  (like “beer goggles” times 1000) that they can’t help having sex on the spot. But things take a sinister turn when Jeff is taken behind the glass wall and ordered to remotely inject painful drugs into other prisoners’ bodies. Can Jeff resist the psychological and chemical pressures put on him? What is Chris’s motive behind these experiments? And is there anything Jeff can do to stop him?

Spiderhead — the title is the name of the prison — is a sci-fi psychological thriller,  about the dangers of pharmaceuticals and whether we can resist authority if it goes against our beliefs. The film is partly based on the Milgram experiment of the 1960s, where volunteers behind a glass wall were ordered to send increasingly painful electric shocks to actors pretending to be patients. In Spiderhead it’s taken to even greater extremes.

Is this movie good? It’s not too bad — I actually enjoyed it, loved the location and sets (it’s shot in Australia), the cheesy 1980s soundtrack, and the fun concepts, along with some huge movie stars… but the ending is as predictable as it is implausible. The concept is much better than the story. But if you just want be entertained for a couple hours, you could do worse.

Chess Story (Schachnovelle)

Dir: Philipp Stölzl

It’s 1939 in Vienna, and Josef Bartok (Oliver Masucci) is living the high life. He always dressed in formal black and white, and only the finest scotch and the best cigarettes ever pass through his lips. He loves telling jokes with his friends, and waltzing with his beloved wife Anna. As long as the Viennese keep dancing what could go wrong? But that night German soldiers march into Austria declaring Anschluss; it’s all one Reich now. Jacob springs into action, scanning through his ledgers and memorizing the codes before throwing them into a blazing fire. You see, his job is to keep the riches of the Austrian royalty safe from the Nazis in numbered Swiss bank accounts. Hours later he is arrested, but not killed, by the Gestapo and locked in a hotel room. If he tells them the numbers they say they’ll let him go — they just want the money. But solitary confinement can play tricks on your brain. He stays alive by studying a chess book he smuggled into the room.

Later, he is on a ship with Anna heading to America and freedom. But he can’t resist playing chess against Mirko, an unusual world chess champion, who is illiterate and can barely form a sentence. But as reality begins to warp, he can’t help wonder if he’s on a ship or still a captive of the nazis. And where is this chess game really taking place?

Chess Story is an historical drama based on a story by Stefan Zweig, the last thing he wrote. He died during the war, in Brazil not Austria, but clearly he was damaged before he left. Everything you see in this film is filtered through Josef’s mind, so you’re never quite sure what is real and what is imaginary. Oliver Masucci who plays him is excellent, portraying a man’s descent from carefree joker to broken soul. It feels almost like an episode of The Twilight Zone episode, but with the emphasis on the characters, not on the twist. 

In the Wake (Mamorarenakatta mono tachi e)

Dir: Zeze Takahisa

Det. Tomashino (Abe Hiroshi) is a policeman in northeastern Japan. He is investigating the mysterious death of two middle-aged men, both found starved death in different locations. Is there a serial killer out there, and if so, what are his motives? Turns out they both worked out of the local welfare office. He turns to a young welfare case worker Mikiko (Kiyohara Kaya) to help him put the pieces together. This is also the site of a mammoth earthquake and tsunami,  ten years earlier. The detective remember it well, as he lost both his wife and his young son. Now he’s a loner who has yet to deal with his losses. 

Meanwhile, Tone (Satoh Takeru) a troubled young man, just out of prison for arson, gets a job in a welding factory. And he wants to get in touch with his makeshift family former after the earthquake: a little kid, and an elderly woman  named Kei (Baishô Mitsuko) who cared for the two lost orphans. But things have clearly changed. Could they have driven him… to murder?

In The Wake is a Japanese drama set immediately after an earthquake and a decade later. While it’s ostensibly a police procedural, about a detective trying to catch a killer, it’s also a surprisingly powerful and moving drama, that takes it much deeper than your usual mystery. It shifts back and forth between the two periods, as all the major characters were also survivors of the quake. And it delves into the terrible inadequacies of Japan’s  austerity cutbacks to to their already inadequate welfare state. The movie features Abe Hiroshi, a huge star from Kore-eda’s films;  Baishô Mitsuko , who was in movies by  the most famous Japanese Kurosawa and Imamura; and Satoh Takeru best known for the Rurouni Kenshin series. I was expecting something simple, and lucked into a really good movie instead.

Spiderhead is now streaming on Netflix; Chess Story is now playing digitally at TJFF, The Toronto Jewish Film Festival; and In the Wake is playing at the other TJFF, the Toronto Japanese Film Festival, on one day only, June 25th, at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.

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

 

Science or fiction? Films reviewed: Jurassic World Dominion, Brian and Charles

Posted in Action, Adventure, comedy, Dinosaurs, Disaster, Inventions, Science Fiction, Thriller, Wales by CulturalMining.com on June 11, 2022

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

Spring film festival season continues with many more movies coming your way. The Toronto Jewish Film Festival is on now, with a wide range of movies and docs. Coming soon are Focus on Film, specializing in short subjects; The Toronto Japanese Film Festival with brand new movies from Japan; and the Italian Contemporary Film Fest and the Lavazza Inclucity festival set in the distillery district, both indoors and out, featuring Italian and international movies. 

But this week, I’m looking at two new movies — one big budget, the other a shoestring indie — about the intersection of science and fiction.  There’s an action thriller about a Big Agro conspiracy set among giant dinosaurs; and a quaint comedy about an inventor set among the rolling hills of Wales. 

Jurassic World Dominion 

Co-Wri/Dir: Colin Trevorrow

It’s present day on a rapidly-changing earth, earth. Ever since a dinosaur-based theme park was destroyed by a volcano, dinosaurs have been showing up everywhere scaring or even killing people. But governments are keeping them in check. And a multinational big agro corporation called Syntech, has donated an isolated nature reserve in an Italian  mountain range surrounding their headquarters, where the big dinosaurs can live in peace, with no risk to the outside world. Meanwhile, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) an animal rights activists is freeing small dinosaurs enslaved by cruel owners. She lives in the rockies with Owen (Chris Pratt) a man who can train and domesticate Raptors, and 14 year old Maisie (Isabella Sermon) an Australian whom they protcect from the outside world. Maisie has no friend for schoolmates so she, cautiously plays with a young raptor named Beta. She’s kept isolated because they’re afraid certain criminals want to kidnap Maisie and Beta for unknown purposes. Their fears prove correct.

But that’s not all. A plague of locusts are wreaking havoc across American wheat fields plunging the world into a food crisis. And these are no ordinary locusts; they are the size of small dogs. Strangely, the only things they don’t eat are genetically modified grains. Ellie, a scientist (Laura Dern) suspects Big Agro, specifically SynTech. Are they trying to wipe out all competing grains so they can control the world? Ellie aims to find out, so she sets off with archaeologist Alan (Sam Neill) to visit the company’s HQ to collect a sample that will prove they’re behind the plague. They’re invited by Ian (Jeff Goldblum) who works there now and suspects Ellie is right. Turns out, the corporation may also be involved in Maisie’s kidnapping… but why? It’s up to the three scientists plus Claire and Owen to get what they need from the lab without getting eaten by the giant dinosaurs that surround them.

Jurassic World Dominion is a rollickingly good, non-stop action/adventure/thriller that keeps you interested the whole time. It borrows liberally from past Jurassic movies — Ellie, Alan and Ian were in the Jurassic Park, while Claire and Owen were in Jurassic World — as well as Star Wars and Indiana Jones flicks. There are great chase scenes set in Malta — an entrepôt for trade in exotic dinosaurs — where stars like Omar Sy and Dewanda Wise (as a kick-ass pilot), join the gang. It also has a good dose of humour, with funny “news” clips, and constant gags from Jeff Goldblum. There are some questionable storylines: Is the CIA really a kindly agency dedicated to helping animal rights activists? And why is there so much glorification of American assault weapons, fighter jets, and bazookas? But that aside, I really enjoyed this entertaining, big-budget movie. 

Brian and Charles 

Dir: Jim Archer

Wri: David Earl, Chris Hayward

Brian (David Earl) lives in a remote, ramshackle cottage in Wales. He subsists solely on a diet of cabbages and butter. He’s also a jack-of-all-trades, called into the village to unclog a pipe are fix a wire. But his real profession is inventor — he constantly invents new things that never quite work. Like an egg-belt (to carry raw eggs in your belt,  of course) or a combination water bottle and toilet plunger so you can take a sip while you do your plumbing. But one day, he has a revelation. It starts with finding a mannequin head at the village dump. He combines it with a washing machine, some crossed wires and a glowing electrical ball. He’s created a robot to help him do his chores! Of course it doesn’t work, until… a severe thunderstorm strikes the house, and th enext morning, the robot is walking around, tearing things apart, and most surprising of all, it can talk!Like another eccentric British inventor, Caractacus Potts, Brian has created his own Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He names him Charles. 

Charles is seven feet tall  with a glowing blue eye who wears a bowtie and a deerstalker hat. He has AI — artificial intelligence — and is soon smarter than Brian, but with the temper of a five-year-old.  He wants to go to the village — are we there yet? — he wants to eat more cabbages, and he loves to dance. Brian likes going into town to visit Hazel (Louise Brealey) a shy woman he likes. But he insists Charles stay hidden, or something bad might happen. The bad thing is Eddie (Jamie Michie) (pronounced Mickey) the town bully, who with his suspicious wife and his spoiled twin daughters, shoves around everyone he doesn’t like. Can Brian stand up to the bully? Can he save Charles from destruction? And what about Hazel?

Brian and Charles is an adorably charming comedy about friendship, set among the sheep fields of Wales. Charles talks like a robot — Danger! Danger! — while the rest of the cast members (almost everyone is middle aged or elderly)  behave like kids on a school playground. It’s done documentary style, with the camera as the fourth wall, following Brian around wherever he goes. Brian and Charles are not set in any particular period, but neither is it contemporary — no cel phones, computers or flashy cars. This low-budget, indie movie is simplistic, even child-like at times, but all-around delightful. 

Jurassic World Dominion just opened in Toronto; check your local listings; and look out for Brian and Charles next Friday.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Doron and Yoav Paz about PLAN A at #TJFF

Posted in 1940s, Germany, Holocaust, Israel, Refugees, Revenge, Thriller, TJFF by CulturalMining.com on June 4, 2022

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

It’s 1945, just after WWII in Germany.  Max, a man in his 30s, is wandering through the woods back home hoping to be reunited with his wife and young son. But, to his horror, his house has been taken over by a neighbour, and his wife and child were murdered in mass graves. After surviving a concentration camp, everything Max knew and valued is gone. But he discovers and infiltrates a secret military unit called Nakam, made up of holocaust survivors who were looking for revenge in the killing of millions of Germans. Can Max stop this mass murder before it happens? Or does he want to join in on “Plan A”?

PLAN A is the name of a new movie about a plot to poison millions of people in and around the city of Nuremberg, Germany. This dramatic thriller is based on actual — though little-known — historic events. It’s written and directed The Paz brothers, Doron and Yoav Paz. Critically acclaimed and wildly popular among horror aficionados, their previous films, including Jeruzalem and The Golem, have hit top-ten lists on sites like Netflix.

I spoke with Doron Paz and Yoav Paz via ZOOM. 

PLAN A is having its Ontario premiere on Thursday, June 9th at TJFF. 

Urban chaos. Films reviewed: Crimes of the Future, The Divide

Posted in Art, Canada, Corruption, France, Horror, LGBT, Meltdown, Police, Politics, Protest, Sex, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 4, 2022

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

Spring film festival season continues in June, when the idea of sitting in an air-conditioned movie theatre starts sounding better and better. The Female Eye film fest is on next Thursday through Saturday at the TIFF Bell Lighbox, showing films by female directors. Look out for Go On and Bleed about an American draft-dodger in 1971 — it’s directed by J. Christian Hamilton, host of Dementia 13, playing psychedelic music at this station. And if you’re down California way, catch the 3rd Annual Blue Water Film Festival, celebrating the United Nations World Oceans Day, with movies about Antartica, whales, oceans.

But this week I’m looking at two new movies — both opening this weekend in Toronto — about urban chaos and society in decline. There’s a film from France about an artist and a protester seeking refuge in a hospital; and another one from Canada about an artist who treats radical surgery as performance.

Crimes of the Future

Wri/Dir: David Cronenberg

Picture a future where you don’t just sit in a chair, it latches onto you with grotesque bone-like appendages. It’s a world that diverged away from ours in the 1980s or 90s. People still carry huge clunky portable phones, they keep files in filing cabinets, and everything’s analogue.  But technology has taken an unexpected turn — humans have “evolved”… drastically so. Pain and pleasure sensations have mainly disappeared, so people seeking sexual fulfillment might slice pieces of flesh of their lovers’ bodies… and then snack on it in a non-lethal, cannibalistic orgy.  Government has largely collapsed, and police operate undercover in cels of corruption. 

In this future world, Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Lèa Seydoux) are a celebrity couple known for their artistic performances. Fans flock to events where Caprice records Tenser cutting open his belly to excise fully-grown, tattooed organs from his body, organs that developed spontaneously. Afterwards they visit a clandestine quasi governmental office where two dry bureaucrats Timlin and Wippet (Kristen Stewart and Don McKellar) file their cases in the appropriate folders. 

But there are complications. An undercover cop wants Tenser to be his informant. A young father named Lang (Scott Speedman) is also seeking out Lang and Caprice. He recently lost his son when his ex-wife murdered the boy because she didn’t like the way the boy ate plastic trashcans.  He’s also stalking Tenser; but why?

Crimes of the Future is an extremely strange movie, maybe Cronenberg’s weirdest yet. Its full of sex, art and cringe-worthy gross-outs. Things like after Tenser gets a living-flesh zipper sewn into his belly, Caprice unzips it to performs oral sex on his gaping wound.  It’s grotesque, but I’m not even revealing any of the most crucial horrific scenes. The costumes and special effects are terrific, and the locations (the movie was shot in Greece) are appropriately seedy and falling apart.

Does any of this make sense? Well it does, kinda.

It fools around with our fear of Big Pharma and the physical changes it could make to our bodies. It also deftly satirizes the worlds of art, celebrity and government. There’s an otherworldly feel to the whole movie, the stuff of dreams (or nightmares). It’s slow moving and very creepy but this isn’t a screamer-type horror movie, more of a constant supply of shock and yuck. Viggo Mortensen acts like a vampire or an unwrapped mummy, always shrouded in hoods  and shawls, while Lèa Seydoux as Caprice is equal parts model and body-modification fanatic. Do I like this movie? Not exactly, it creeps me out and occasionally slides into the ludicrous, but I’m glad I saw it — with some of its images permanently burned into my brain’s synapses. 

The Divide (La fracture)

Wri/Dir: Catherine Corsini

Raf (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) is a middle-aged, middle-class liberal cartoonist in Paris.  She’s also a neurotic, relentless  nag, given to sending  countless text messages  at 3 am. The recipient of the texts is her lover Julie (Marina Foïs), an editor and publisher who shares her bed. They live together along with Julie’s teenaged son.  And Julie has had it — she wants to break up. And despite Raf’s pleas, she refuses to budge. They take their fight onto the street, but when Julie stomps away in anger, Raf slips and falls, ending up in hospital. But this is no ordinary day.

It’’s 2019 in Paris, and France is angry. Macron’s corporate and wealth taxes cuts, are making people angry. So are his austerity measures, cutting unemployment insurance and the general social Gas prices are rising, and surveillance cameras are appearing on the streets…So a huge coalition of truckers, precarious workers, and anarchists converge on the Champs Elysée to stop traffic and get noticed.

But the police crack down on the Yellow Vest protesters, sending dozens to hospital. So doctors and nurses are overworked and overwhelmed with patients. One is Yann (Pio Marmaï) a trucker in Paris just for the afternoon to check out the protests. He has shrapnel in his leg, and if he doesn’t get home by morning he’ll lose his job. Kim (Aïssatou Diallo Sagna) is a nurse in the hospital, dealing with the sudden influx of injured patients… and he own baby is not doing well. Meanwhile the police are trying to break in to arrest the injured protesters. And Raf and Julie’s teenaged son — who went to the demonstrations — is still missing. Can the chaos of the hospital bring these very different people together? Or is the divide too great?

The Divide is a terrific, realistic day in the life of a group of Parisians stuck in a crisis. I like the French title, La Fracture better, because it’s about Raf’s broken arm, but also about the huge divisions in French society. In its really warm and quirky view of diametrically opposed people forced to confront one another and work together,  it humanizes all sides of the conflict. And there were lots of revelations — the yellow vests protesters were not right-wing followers of Le Pen… but they were angry at Macron. And while all this is going on, the on again, off again relationship of Raf and Julie, is resolved, one way or another by the end. The direction, script and acting are all just fantastic — Aïssatou Diallo Sagna won a César for best supporting actress and the film won the “Queer Palm” award as well. And after I watched it I remembered I‘ve seen this director’s work before, back in 2015; Summertime (La Belle Saison)  was one of my favourite films that year. Which made me realize that this was no fluke, Corsini is a genius. The Divide is a wonderful warm human drama.

The Divide is playing at the Inside-Out film festival through Sunday; and Crimes of the Future opens this weekend in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

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