May 17, 2012 Inside Out and Upside Down. Movies Reviewed: The Dictator, The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche, Bullhead PLUS CFC Short Film Fest

Posted in Belgium, Books, CIA, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Denial, Steroids, Toronto, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on May 17, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

The Festivals continue in Toronto, and coming on June 5th is the CFC Short Film Festival, which proves once and for all, it’s not the size (of movies) it’s the motion. Or something like that… You know all those Oscars for sort films , but never get a chance to see them? Well these are the ones that might be nominated for next year’s awards. There are movies featuring celebs like Michael Fassbender, David Duchovny, Charlotte Rampling and Anna Paquin. In short films! And they’re all grouped in categories like “Homeland Security”, “Indie Comedy Showcase”, and “The Night Shift” – which will be showing at late hours, soft of a Midnight Madness Mini-me… It all sponsored by the Canadian Film Centre, and it starts on June 5th

And NXNE, where music conquers all – and that includes their movies – is coming on June 11th. But right now, starting last night, it’s time for the friendly and fascinating LGBT Film Festival, Toronto’s own Inside Out. And if you think its all rainbow ring necklaces and coming-out stories, well, you’re wrong. It’s a very diverse, multi-genre collection of movies, some of which push the limits of the conventional. There are movies from Canada, and around the world: Scandinavia, the US, even Vietnam. Comedies, dramas, romance, documentaries, and lots of sex, of course. Something to satisfy every sexuality and interest. I’m talking about a couple movies today, a Belgian one about cows, and a Canadian one about white oak trees…! But first, a new comedy, you may have heard about.

The Dictator
Dir: Larry Charles

Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) is the military dictator of a North African kingdom. He’s cruel and unpredictable, quietly sentencing to death anyone who disagrees with him. Like Saddam Hussein he has a series of identical doubles to take the bullets from any assassin out to get him, and a Gaddafi- style band of beautiful women soldiers to protect him. He’s a world pariah, and like Kim Jong-il is set to test-launch a nuclear WMD. But what he doesn’t know is that his trusted Tamir (Ben Kingsley) is the one trying to depose him and make his homeland a pseudo-democracy controlled by big oil.

So, on a trip to NYC to speak before the UN, he is kidnapped by a racist American torturer, until he manages to escape… but without his trademark beard and clothing he is just another man. So in a bid to seize back his country at a UN meeting, he falls in with a hippy named Zoey (Anna Faris) who works in an organic food co-op.

OK, this is a new type of movie for Sacha Baron Cohen – different from Borat and Bruno. Instead of getting its laughs in fake documentaries by forcing unsuspecting ordinary people into embarrassing encounters with an invented character, this one has a script by a four-person writing team, music, other actors, old-school film plots and special effects. Presumably it’s because too many people recognize him to trick anyone. So he’s abandoned his revolutionary style of youtube filmmaking for an ordinary comedy. But does it work? I have to admit, at times, flashbacks of those awful, fish-out-of-water comedies with Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler at their worst popped into my mind… but it was better than those, because he’s a good actor, and funnier, wittier, and, even now, more subversive with his parodies of both the rabid right and the flaky left. He stays with the simultaneously self-centred — but somehow self-deprecating — nature of his over-the-top characters. Comic actress Anna Faris was great as his “straight-man” foil.

And, except for a few painfully awful sequences, I thought it was funny. It kept me laughing – or at least smiling — for most of the movie.

The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche
Dir: Maya Gallus

Jalna, a book about a rich family won the Atlantic prize for best novel in the 20s, propelling its unknown author to international fame and fortune and dozens of bestsellers about this patrician, horsey collection of matriarchs and patriarchs, grandmothers, lovers and cruel siblings, a sort of an on-going saga at the Whiteoaks mansion. But what’s interesting about it is the hidden life of the Canadian author Mazo de la Roche.

Mazo de la Roche (born, in Newmarket as the decidedly unglamorous Masie Roach) created a persona for herself woven with false stories and mythical status. And even more interesting was her “Boston Marriage” to a woman, Caroline Clement, her adopted sister. Together they adopted two children and ran a novelistic empire. In an era when homosexuality was both illegal, and taboo, her lesbian readers saw her disguised subtexts of relationships and exalted in her hidden codes.

Her story is told half as a conventional documentary with talking heads, and half as a theatrical, dramatic reading of Mazo and Caroline’s life, played by two actors.

The movie brings in her descendents, old photos, and great Canadian novelists like Marie-Claire Blais and Susan Swan to comment on the influence these largely forgotten novels had on her readers.

This is a good, entertaining NFB documentary, and it’s made by a great director, Maya Gallus, who does amazing documentaries about women that always grab you – like last year’s Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service.

Bullhead (Rundskop)
Dir: Michael R. Roskam

Jackie (Mattias Schoenaerts) is a Flemish cattle farmer in Belgium. He’s big and built, partly from heavy work, and partly from his steroid injections. He’s generally brooding but gentle, but on occasion loses it, in a rush of roid-rage. Like cows, like people. To speed up the growth rate of his cattle, he gets involved in the illegal purchase of growth hormones.

Flashback to two decades earlier, we watch him and his best friend Diederik, spotting a pretty girl on a French-speaking Walloon farm. Jackie keeps wanting to go back so he can talk to her again, and Diederik tags along. But on one of those visits he’s caught by a crazed bully, her big brother, who brutally attacks little Jackie… smashing his balls with a huge rock. I kid you not. Diderik doesn’t come to his defense and then is prevented from testifying against the bully who permanently injured his best friend.

Now, back in the present, Jackie is still taking the testosterone that let him grow to manhood, and he and Diederik are working together again, buying steroids. And Jackie is trying to talk one more time to the girl from that fatal day, who now works in a perfume shop in the French part of Belgium. And Diederik, meanwhile, has a bro-crush on his ball-less boyhood buddy, even as the police are looking for people to blame for a shooting, perhaps tied to the hormone trafficking.

This is a great movie, if a long one. It’s one of those slow-build dramas, where for the frst half you barely know what’s going on, but by the second hour it becomes gripping, filled with tension – sexual courtship, criminals vs cops, gay and straight, Male Female, French and Dutch, all in a hugely complicated but moving drama. Bullhead was the Belgian entry for Academy award for Best Foreign Language Picture, and it’s having its Toronto debut at Inside Out.

The Dictator just opened, check your local listings, and Bullhead, The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche, She Said Boom and many more great movies are playing at the Inside Out Festival: go to insideout.ca for more info.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

Movies about Sex and Disabilities. Films reviewed: Hyde Park on the Hudson, Rust and Bone PLUS Morgan, Beeswax.

Posted in 1930s, Action, Cultural Mining, Depression, Disabilities, Drama, Fighting, France, Inside Out, Marineland, Movies, Orca, Sex, TIFF, UFC, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on December 17, 2012

rust and bone audiard directs cotillardHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

In movies, disabilities were traditionally there to provide tragedy and pathos. People have an accident and end up in a wheelchair or a bed… my life is over, I will never work again, so sad. Or else they were a signal of great personal triumph. Look ma, I survived! Occasionally, you’d have the villain in horror movie, bitter, evil, deformed, taking out his pain on other people. Witches with canes, super-villains in wheelchairs…

Then came the movie-of-the-week disabled person as the frail victim, the pitied, while their counterpart character is the strong, powerful, and privileged one. They either die or “get better”.

We haven’t even reached the point where disabled people become the equivalent of the token black neighbour or gay best degrassifriend. (exceptions: Drake on Degrassi).

That’s why it’s neat to have two new movies with normal, fascinating, multidimensional, central characters who have, but aren’t defined by, their disability. The disability is part of the plot but not the central reason for the character. And, most important, people with disabilities are shown to be sexual.

This week I’m looking at two new movies, both romantic dramas, one light, one powerful — where one of the two main characters – the one with more education, wealth and power – has a disability.

Bill Murray as FDR in a wheelchair

Bill Murray as FDR in a wheelchair

Hyde Park on the Hudson

Dir: Andrew Michel

It’s the 1930s, the Great Depression, and Daisy (Laura Linney) has fallen into hard times. So she likes it when she gets summoned to visit a distant relative Franklin (Bill Murray) who is doing much better. He’s a stamp collector — he’s staying at his mother’s estate in the Hudson Valley in Western NY. Oh yeah… and he’s the President. FDR to be exact. Well they get along famously and one day he takes her for a drive into the hills, leaving his Secret Service agents behind. And what happens at the top of the hill? (Cover your ears, kiddies…) She gives him a handjob.

And so begins their long-term relationship. He builds a secret house for their trysts – he’s married to Eleanor Roosevelt – and they form a warm and loving special relationship. But the movie also focuses on another special relationship: One crucial weekend, when King George and Queen Elizabeth – in sort of a prequel to The King’s Speech – are visiting the states to get them to get on board in the soon-to-come war against Hitler.

The Queen (the current Queen’s mother) is portrayed as a shrewish manipulator with the young, stammering George as a weakling, prey to her machinations. What are hot dogs and why are they asking us to eat? Why did they put political cartoons of George III on the wall? They’re insulting us!

Then there’s Roosevelt — he had polio as a kid. At the time, in official photos, his disability was always hidden, never hyde park on the hudsonspoken of, never photographed. But as this a backstage view of his life, he’s constantly being lifted from room to room or moving about in a specially-designed wheelchair. The same is true of their relationship:

I liked it. It feels like a PBS Masterpiece Theatre episode, complete with stately homes and royalty, but with stupendous acting and subtle writing. This is actually a good, touching movie, an historical drama based on newly discovered material about a person – Daisy – who is largely unknown. Some historical details seem questionable – were his servants really white not black? – and some are surprising – The Canadian PM William Lyon Mackenzie King was the one who brought George and Elizabeth to meet FDR that weekend, yet he was nowhere to be seen. (As usual, Canada is erased from the picture.)

The acting is great, both Bill Murray and Laura Linney are fantastic. The casting didn’t worry too much about looking like the real thing – Eleanor Roosevelt as a very beautiful woman? She was known for her inner beauty more than her movie-star good looks – it was more about conveying their personalities. While the characters’ feelings are kept largely opaque, it still conveys the story.

rust and bone schoenaerts and cotillardRust and Bone

Dir: Jacques Audiard

Ali is a ne’er-do-well single dad and fighter from Belgium. He has to take his cute kid Sam to the south of France to stay with his sister when his wife, a junkie, ends up in jail. He’s a terrible father, self-centred and irresponsible, a negative role-model. His sister, and her husband, a trucker are responsible and take on the child-rearing responsibilities.

But Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is Sam’s dad, so he takes care of him as much as he can, which isn‘t much.

He’s irresponsible but also totally spontaneous. He sees a woman he likes, sleeps with her, moves on, no strings. If they’re free – they text they’re “OP” (operational) and they meet.

He has no job experience but is good fighter, so he lands a job as a bouncer at a nightclub. There he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) an older woman, very beautiful, who works as an orca trainer (!) at Marineland. She’s not there for a rust and bone cotillard schoenaertspick-up; she just wants to be the object of desire by others.

Ali helps her when a fight breaks out and treats her with respect… even though he always says the wrong thing (he’s a Flemish speaker.)

Then Stephanie has a serious accident at work with the orcas, and her life changes. She’s caught in a funk of self-pity and hatred. Ali, meanwhile is moving up to sketchy work as a security guard and open air Mixed martial arts fights where he gets a cut of the bets in the fight.

So depressed Steph calls him up – maybe this odd couple can get together and help each other survive? Will he bring her back to life? Will she teach him to behave in a civilized way? Will he take responsibility as a father? Will they ever have an actual relationship?

rust and bone schoenaertsI don’t want to give away any more of the story – and it’s a terrific story! – but suffice it to say, it’s a deeply moving romance, a drama, a family story, a boxing movie, and lots more. The director, Audiard – he made A Prophet, another great movie — is fantastic, all the supporting actors (especially Corrinne Maseiro as Ali’s sister and Armand Verdure as Sam, his son) are amazing. But the two main leads Schoenaerts and Cotillard – are powerfully perfect in their roles.

Morgan

Dir: Michael D. Akers

Also worth mentioning is the low-budget drama Morgan (Dir: Michael D. Akers) that was screened at this year’s Inside-Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto. In this film, Morgan (Leo Minaya), a competitive bike racer is disabled in an accident on a steep hill in Central Park, which is on the very path of the tournament he wants to win. After a struggle, and with the help of a caring boyfriend Dean (Jack Kesy) who he first meets on a basketball court, he Morgandecides to tackle the race once again, this time using a bike adjusted to fit his disability. This movie sensitively shows how partners can learn to treat a disability as a normal, erotic part of their sex lives.

Beeswax

Dir: Andrew Bujalski

And the realistic film Beeswax, from two years ago, also doesn’t shy away from sex involving a person with a disability. A nice, comfortable film, Beeswax is about the secrets and tensions shared by two sisters (played by real-life twins Tilly Hatcher, Maggie Hatcher), one of whom uses a wheelchair.

beeswaxHyde Park on the Hudson opens today, and Rust and Bone opens next Friday, Dec 21st. I don’t reveal my top ten movies of the year until the end of the month, but I guarantee Rust and Bone will be in that list. Also now playing is the very cute Korean romance A Werewolf Boy, which played at TIFF this year, about a boy raised by wolves, the girl who dog-trained him to behave like a person, and the romance that grew between them.

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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