Daniel Garber talks with Kevin Hegge about his new film SHE SAID BOOM: THE STORY OF FIFTH COLUMN

Posted in 1980s, Bruce Labruce, Cultural Mining, documentary, Feminism, Punk, Queer, Toronto, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 17, 2012

Can a band be bigger than its largest audience? Can its name live on past any hummable tune they might record? And can its legacy, its legend and its influence extend beyond its lifespan, without any drug overdoses or suicides?

Well, Fifth Column, Toronto’s legendary underground all-female postpunk band lives up to all of that, and is the subject of a new documentary called SHE SAID BOOM: The Story of Fifth Column, playing at Toronto’s Inside-Out film festival on Sunday at 5 pm.

Here I speak with the film’s director, KEVIN HEGGE about Fifth Column’s legacy, Queercore, JDs, G.B. Jones, Caroline Azar, Beverly Breckenridge, Bruce Labruce, feminism, post-punk music, zines, cassette tapes and more…

Daniel Garber talks with Kevin Hegge about TRAMPS!

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, Canada, documentary, Fashion, Interview, LGBT, Music, UK, Underground by CulturalMining.com on May 21, 2022

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

Photo by Jeff Harris.

It’s the late 1970s in a Covent Garden, London nightclub with an exclusive policy. To get in you have to look amazing in some way. An older man in blue jeans gets turned away at the door. The man is Mick Jagger, the place is Bowie Night at the Blitz Club and the doorman and organizer is Steve Strange. And so a new movement, born out of the ashes of punk, is dubbed the New Romantics by the mainstream press. But who were these tramps, really?

Tramps! Is a new documentary that looks in depth at East London in the early 1980s, along with the art, fashion, film, music, hats, makeup, hair, magazines, sexualities, aesthetics  and lifestyles that grew out of it. It’s a stunningly beautiful kaleidoscope of colour, a collection of period photos and footage combined with new interviews with the main players. And it talks about the celebrities who emerged from it, like Boy George, Leigh Bowery, Derek Jarman, Phillip Sallon, Judy Blame, and many others.

Tramps is the work of award-winning Toronto filmmaker Kevin Hegge, whom I last interviewed on this show back in 2012 about  his documentary She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column.

I spoke with Kevin Hegge in Toronto, via Zoom.

Tramps! is premiering in Toronto at the Inside Out film festival on May 31st, 7 pm, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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.

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Chase Joynt about Framing Agnes at Hot Docs

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, documentary, L.A., LGBT, Mystery, Queer, Secrets, Trans, UCLA by CulturalMining.com on April 23, 2022

Garber-April-23-22-interview

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

Photos by Jeff Harris.

It’s the late 1950s in Los Angeles. While the world’s attention is on Christina Jorgensen, the charismatic transgendered celebrity who flew back from Copenhagen as a new woman, a much quieter clinic at UCLA was also conducting treatment and surgery of transgendered patients. And into this office stepped a young woman named Agnes who said despite being a cis male she grew breasts spontaneously upon reaching puberty — a celebrated case. But later Agnes admitted she made it all up so she would qualify for gender reassignment surgery. Why did Agnes have to lie to get much-needed treatment?

Framing Agnes is a new and unusual documentary based on newly uncovered medical files that look at Agnes and her other unsung contemporaries from that era. Made in the style of a 1950s talk show, it includes reenactments, off-screen conversations, period footage as seen through a present-day filter. Using trans actors, it meticilously presents interviews as “real”, immediately followed by footage showing that they’re only acting. It deals with hot topics, ranging from gender, sexuality and identity, to trans youth, and visibility vs invisibility. This first feature is the work of  prize-winning writer and filmmaker Chase Joynt, who co-directed No Ordinary Man, about jazz musician Billy Tipton, and co-authored You Only Live Twice with Toronto artist Mike Holboom.

I spoke with Chase Joynt in Chicago, via Zoom.

Framing Agnes is premiering in Toronto at Hot Docs on Sunday, May 1, 8:30pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. 

Against the Grain. Films reviewed: Judy vs Capitalism, Monkey Beach, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Posted in 1960s, Canada, Depression, documentary, drugs, Ghosts, Indigenous, Magic, Police, Politics, Poverty, Protest, Resistance, Trial, War by CulturalMining.com on October 23, 2020

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

Toronto’s Fall Film Festival Season continues with ImagineNative Film + Media Arts Festival, the world’s largets indigenous film festival, and Rendezvous with Madness, the first and largest arts and mental health festival in the world, both running through Sunday, the 25th.

This week I’m talking about three new movies – a doc, a drama and a courtroom pic – about people who go against the grain. There’s a young woman resisting ghosts, another woman fighting anti-abortion activists; and boomers protesting the war in Vietnam.

Judy vs Capitalism

Dir: Mike Holboom

Judy Rebick is a well-known activist and writer in Toronto. As a former Trotskyite revolutionary turned writer and TV commentator, she’s a pro-choice feminist and socialist known for slogans like “Radical is Practical”. She can be seen everywhere, from CBC panels to tent-city protests. A new documentary looking at her life divides it into six stages: Family – her dad was a baseball player quick to pick fights; Weight – she says she has a pair of hips “like two battleships”; Feminism – women’s bodies and the violence they face; Abortion – her hands-on role in legalizing reproductive rights in Canada; Others – her struggles with depression and mental health; and End Notes – her views on various political topics, like the rise of neo-liberalism, the war in Gaza, and as head of NAC, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.

Did you know she single-handedly fought off a man trying to stab Dr Henry Morgantaler with a pair of garden shears? This film includes footage of that in slow motion. Each section begins with a speech – some mundane talks in lecture halls, others shouted through a bullhorn at a rally. Judy vs Capitalism is directed by artist/filmmaker Mike Holboom in his patented style: clear sound and straightforward narration, combined with avant-garde images: slow motion, high speed, underwater photography, blurred and melting visuals, random faces… basically Holboom’s interpretations of Rebick’s moods, memories, thoughts and ideas rather than the typical clips you might expect in a conventional biography.  Judy vs Capitalism is an experimental look at a Canadian icon.

Monkey Beach

Dir: Loretta Todd (Based on the novel by Eden Robinson)

Lisa (Grace Dove) is a young woman who lives in East Vancouver. She’s been there for the past two years with nothing to show for it but a bad hangover. Till her friend Tab tells her it’s time to go home, back to her family in the Haisla community in Kitimat. So she does. Her family is shocked but delighted to to see her – they weren’t even sure she was still alive. There’s her mom and dad, her little brother Jimmy (Joel Oulette) a swimming champ, and her Uncle Mick (Adam Beach) who told her at an early age to say “f*ck the oppressors!” Then there’s her grandma Ma-Ma-Oo (Tina Lameman) who taught Lisa everything she knows… including things she doesn’t want to know. Like why a little man with red hair keeps appearing. A crow talks to her, and ghosts (people who should be dead) appear to her in real, human form. (Tab, for example, was murdered but she’s still around.) Worst of all are the dreams and premonitions she keeps having – that her brother Jimmy, the swimmer – is going to drown. Are her powers a gift or a curse? Can she ever live normally? And can she keep Jimmy out of the water?

Monkey Beach is a good YA drama filmed in the gorgeous forests and waters of Kitimat in the pacific northwest, with a uniformly good indigenous cast. It incorporates traditional Haisla culture and practices with contemporary, realistic social problems, sprinkled with the supernatural. And it flashes back and forth between the present day and Lisa’s childhood. I like this movie but I can’t help but compare it to the CBC TV series Trickster, which is edgier, faster-moving and more complex. They’re both based on Eden Robinson’s novels – Monkey Beach was her first, showing many of the themes later explored in Son of a Trickster. That said, if you’re a fan of Trickster, you’ll want to see Monkey Beach, too.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Wri/Dir: Aaron Sorkin

It’s the summer of ‘68 in the USA, and the youth are restless. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King had just been killed, with demonstrations springing up across the country. The US is embroiled in an increasingly senseless war in Vietnam and it’s an election year. So droves of young people converge on the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, to have their voices heard. The protests are brutally crushed by police and state troopers. Nixon is elected in November, and the protest leaders, known as the Chicago 7, are arrested and put on trial. The defendants are from the SDS – Students for a Democratic Society, a radical group that sprung out of the labour movement – led by Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp); the Yippies, founded by Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin who use performance and pranks to forward their agenda; anti-war activist David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch);  and Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) co-founder of the Black Panther Party, known both for its militant image and progressive social programs. The charge? Conspiracy, even though these group leaders had never met one other.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is two-hour film that manages to condense hundreds of days of testimony into a few key scenes. This includes a shocking re-enactment of the binding and gagging of Bobby Seale in the courtroom. The script’s pace is fast, the production values excellent, and the acting is superb, especially Baron-Cohen in an unusual funny-serious role, Mark Rylance as their lawyer, William Kunstler, Frank Langella as the unjust judge Julius Hoffman, and Lynch as the veteran pacifist. Women are invisible in this film, except as receptionists, wives-of and one undercover FBI agent. I was glued to the screen the entire time. Still, it leaves me with an uneasy feeling Aaron Sorkin has done some subtle, historic slight of hand. He portrays the anti-war movement as mainly about honouring and saving the lives of American soldiers, not Vietnamese civilians. It buries the aims of the defendants beneath petty squabbles. And somehow he takes a protest aimed squarely at Democratic politicians — the hawks and conservative Democrats in a city and state run by that party — into a Democrats vs Republican division…!

Hmm…

Judy vs Capitalism is at Rendezvous with Madness; Monkey Beach is at ImagineNative, both through Sunday; and The Trial of the Chicago 7 is now streaming on Netflix.

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

Behind the Camera. Films reviewed: Cameraperson, Harry Benson: Shoot First

Posted in 1960s, Beauty, Class, Death, documentary, Politics, War, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 16, 2016

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

Every film is actually just a series of still images, sped up to appear to be moving. We don’t see the still shots only their motion. But did you ever wonder who is behind the camera, who is taking these pictures? This week I’m looking at two new documentaries about life behind the camera. There’s a celebrity photographer who always pulls out his camera in the right place at the right time; and a documentary cinematographer who captures war and death, but is affected by what she sees.

1476907888851Cameraperson
Dir: Kirsten Johnson

What would you do if…

A baby is delivered by a midwife in a hospital in Kenya. She leaves the room, but the filmmakers are still there… and the baby doesn’t seem to be moving.  Should they just observe? Or run after the midwife to save the baby’s life?

In the aftermath of the war in Bosnia, an elderly woman in Foča refuses to tell American reporters about the rapes and massacres: nothing happened, she says. But earlier another woman described what happened to four young women who talked to a reporter in the sports stadium where they were interred. They were taken away and never heard from again. Should all journalists bear responsibility for deaths caused by one reporter?

A boxer in blue shorts, storms out of the ring, furious after losing a match. He is followed down the halls by a camera that catches him punching at walls, storming past people, knocking over tables. Then he turns to face the cameraperson with fire in his eyes. Should the cameraperson keep shooting,  or should she run for her life?

These are just some of the dilemmas and dangers faced by a cinematographerbts1-cameraperson-kirsten-johnson-cr-majlinda-hoxha shooting real-life events, things that she caused or what shooting the documentaries did to her. This film follows seemingly random shots taken from films that cinematographer Kirsten Johnson – the cameraperson of the title — has worked on. These include Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour, Johanna Hamilton’s 1971, and Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War. But don’t expect a conventional “greatest hits” collection of scenes from famous docs. This is an arthouse flick and much subtler than that. It differs from the usual fly-on-the-wall style of filmmaking by bringing the cameraperson into the story.

The clips you see are made of footage that usually ends up on the cutting room floor. The wobbly camera before it is fixed, the setting of the shots before they bts3-cameraperson-kirsten-johnson-cr-janus-filmsdecide on the framing. They don’t show Johnson herself, but you get to hear her voice and reactions before they get edited out. She gasps when there’s a sudden lightning bolt striking across a field. And she starts to cry when a young boy tells what happened when a bomb hit his brother… even though he she doesn’t speak his language or understand what he said (the subtitles are added much later.)

This is a beautiful and powerful film about how a photographer affects what she sees, and how it haunts her long after the film is made. It’s quirky and spontaneous, with lots of unexpected turns. (Like a filmmaker who loses it on camera, just as a tiny avalanche of snow off the roof falls outside the window behind her.)  Through clever editing, seemingly unrelated events are tied together, with athletes and abstract modern dancers followed by rows of gravestones in Bosnia or prison tents at Guantanamo Bay. It has striking scenes that seem to come out of nowhere, like the unexplained jerky movements and bizarre facial contortions of (what appears to be) dancers in Uganda. What does it mean? (Who knows?) But just like the rest of Cameraperson, the photography and its consequences stay with you long after it’s finished.

14691165_1155188961244083_8145693863171075297_oHarry Benson: Shoot First
Dir: Justin Bare, Matthew Miele

Harry Benson is a famous photographer born to a working class family in Glasgow, Scotland. He makes his way to Fleet Street in London – and the fiercely competitive world of gutter journalism – to work as a news photographer. But he catches his big break in 1964. He is sent to Paris to follow the Beatles just before they hit it big. He is with them, 14568083_1145147232248256_3937976388731490458_nshooting their famous hotel room pillow fight, the moment they receive word they are headed to America to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. And he is going with them. He never looks back. He continues his winning streak 15002305_1183935851702727_2037230550259169653_oby always being right there in the nick of time. He chronicles youth culture and the baby boomers as they gradually age against the background of rapidly changing world events. Some examples: Harry goes camping with Bobby Kennedy’s family… and is right beside them when RFK is murdered in Los Angeles by Sirhan Sirhan. He was the one with the camera even as Ethel Kennedy tries to shoo him away: shoot first (think later). He is there in Memphis the day Matin Luther King is shot, and is invited into Richard Nixon’s home when he resigns in shame.

After the early seventies, Benson is famous enough to concentrate on celebrity pics. For some reason, even thedonald-trump-harry-benson most reclusive and private figures seem to trust him. He is allowed to photograph football star Joe Namath’s in his secret bachelor pad, OJ Simpson naked in the shower, and Bobby Fisher with a white horse in Iceland. By the 1980s, he is part and parcel of the Reagan Era’s glitz and glamour, a time of Vanity Fair and Ralph Lauren. His photos are geared more toward People Magazine than LIFE. But his eye for beauty — even in tragic circumstances – is why the rich, famous and powerful let him into their inner sanctums: he always makes them look fantastic.

the-clintons-harry-bensonIs he to blame for the glamorization of politics — the film shows his photos of both First Lady Hillary snuggling up with Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump snuggling up with a million dollars in cash — and our obsession with celebrity culture? Probably.

I had never heard of Harry Benson before this film, but I sure knew his pictures – they’re everywhere, engrained in the collective unconscious. If you like glamour and celebrity caught in unusual ways at the cusp of history – this is a the film for you:  it’ss hocking, exciting and amazing.

The documentaries Cameraperson and Harry Benson: Shoot First 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

Ordinary People. Movies Reviewed: Survivor, Big Muddy, Fourth Man Out

Posted in Action, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, Gay, Saskatchewan, Terrorism, UK, US, Western by CulturalMining.com on May 29, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.CGBlzj6WoAAwm_l-1

Where is cinema going? I went to the Parkdale Film Festival — it features short documentaries, dramas and animation. So what’s special about it? The films were all made by high school students. This means independent, ordinary people — with access to the technology — can make real movies.

This week, I’m looking at ordinary people and where they’re going. There’s a small town mechanic coming out, a single mom in Saskatchewan hiding out, and a passport clerk in London heading out… to catch the bad guys.

10509527_841186499227517_3517642369132729401_nSurvivor

Dir: James McTeigue

The smart and beautiful Kate Abbot (Milla Jovovich) likes her job at the US embassy in London where she handles passport and visas. She a rising star who speaks a half dozen languages and has extensive training in intelligence. So when her boss Sam (Dylan McDermott) says they should be on the lookout for potential terrorists, she takes it very seriously. She and her coworkers start scrutinizing passports, and she flags a suspicious-looking Romanian scientist. Maybe he has access to Weapons of Mass Destruction! Good work says the Ambassador (Angela Bassett). But Kate is dressed down by a high-ranked UK agent Paul (James D’Arcy). He tells her to stop all her meddling – the man she flagged is associated with higher-ups. Those snooty Englishmen – why are they always stopping freedom-loving Americans from doing what they have to do?

Kate is sure there’s a secret cabal of terrorists dying to set foot in America so they can kill everybody. Only she – and her coworkers — can stop them from getting those coveted visas.

But when disaster strikes London, she’s left alone. Worse than that, she’s caught holding a smoking gun beside a dying man! Now everyone thinks she’s the terrorist not the hero. Says the ambassador, shoot her now before more people die. Only a few people still believe in her. And when she sees an expert hitman known only as The Watchmaker (Pierce Brosnan) setting off a bomb, he makes it his personal goal to see her dead, since she’s the only one who knows what he looks like. But can she stop the terrorists before they blow up America?

Survivor is a fun, fast-moving action/thriller with a great star. It’s also ridiculous, ludicrous, unbelievable and politically out to lunch view of terrorism. It’s full of plot holes: when she’s caught on celphones at the scene of a crime by a dozen onlookers, her image goes viral. But when the real killer shows up mere seconds later and steals an ID from the victim – the cameras have all been turned off, and his identity is kept secret. And when Kate is on the run, she doesn’t even bother wearing dark glasses or a baseball cap, she just forges on ahead, . One part of my brain says Nooo… I can’t take any more of this deeply stupid movie! But the other part says duh… I like stupid movies.

y87o1V_bigmuddy_01_LEAD_o3_8613213_1431025964-1Big Muddy

Wri/Dir: Jefferson Moneo

Martha (Nadia Litz) is a single mother in modern-day, rural Saskatchewan. She’s had a few men in her past and, boy, she sure knows how to pick ’em. One’s a very sketchy horse trader Buford (James Le

Gros) who’s made it big, the other a sweetheart (David La Haye) who ran afoul with the law. Now she’s going three for the win, a real lowlife named Tommy (Rossif Sutherland). The two of them make a living as a hold-up team. Her innocent teenaged son Andy (Justin Kelly) VmovO9_bigmuddy_04_o3_8613329_1431025972is the only good things she’s managed to hold on to.

Then some things happen. A man escapes from a Qu’Appelle Valley prison, and shoots a cop. Then Buford shows up at the racetrack, Andy gets hold of a gun, and Boom! everything falls apart. Mom and boy hightail it out to Big Muddy in the 8qW3q5_bigmuddy_05_o3_8613385_1431025973-1badlands, the desolate home she thought she was finally through with. But outsiders and former locals are all converging on the same spot. Can Martha survive this mess and will Andy discover his unknown past and who is his real father?

This movie has a good cast and an interesting plot. My only problem is with the pacing. Is it a crime drama or a family story? Whenever the tension is building, the danger spiraling, the movie is heading for a big showdown… it weirdly segues back into a slow-moving family drama, destroying the excitement. Even so, Big Muddy is a rare thing: a genuine Canadian western, complete with outlaws, horses, sheriffs, blackhats, shootouts and hideaways.

FourthManOutFourth Man Out

Dir: Andrew Nackman

Adam (Evan Todd) is a small-town auto mechanic in his twenties. He likes beer, steak and sports, and can take an engine apart (and put it back together again) with his own two hands. He’s a man’s man. After work he spends time with his three best buds, handsome Chris, goofy Ortu and hipster-ish Nick (Parker Young, Jon Gabrus, Chord Overstreet). They usually sit in a basement watching TV, smoking pot or going out for a drink. But when they go to pick-up bars, why is it that Adam always ends up the wingman for Chris’s attempts to meet women? The answer is simple but unexpected. He’s gay and his life-long best friends don’t know it.

So he decides enough is enough, it’s time to spill the beans. They can’t believe him at first (…but he 1140_fourthmaneats steak!), but then a strange tone creeps into their friendship. It’s up to the four of them to smooth out the tension and restore the feeling they used to have. Can the four friends find a suitable boyfriend for the inexperienced Adam? Easier said than done. And can they help Chris get together with Tracy (Jennifer Damiano) a real girlfriend, instead of the casual pickups he usually ends with? And will they get it all done in time for the annual 4th of July barbecue?

Fourth Man Out is a cute, gentle buddy-comedy / male rom-com. Nothing too challenging or shocking in this mainstream movie, no gross-outs, no “weird” stuff, just likeable, white, working class guys adjusting to one of them coming out.

Survivor and Muddy Bottom open today, check your local listings; Fourth Man Out premiered at Inside-Out LGBT film fest. The festival continues through Sunday. Go to insideout.ca for times.

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

Stars. Movies Reviewed: A Most Wanted Man, And So It Goes PLUS TIFF 14

Posted in CIA, comedy, Cultural Mining, Germany, Movies, Romantic Comedy, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on July 24, 2014

TIFF14 Press Launch Piers Handling and Cameron BaileyHi, 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.

TIFF announced some of this year’s films to watch out for at a press conference this week. While many of them are blatant Oscar-bait, a few look promising. Lone Schiffrin directs The Riot Club, a story of Oxford toffs – upper-class university students with money, power and prestige – who try to get away with something really bad. Chinese director Zhang Yimou brings us Coming Home, about a relationship torn apart during the Cultural Revolution. German director Christian Petzold’s tries his hand at a post-holocaust, mysterious drama starring his leading lady Nina Hoss. And many more.

So, in deference to the upcoming red carpets, I’m looking at two movies filled with stars. One’s an American rom-com about retired baby boomers; the other’s a thriller set in Hamburg about spies and the War on Terror.

Most Wanted Man Rachel McAdams, Grigoriy Dobrygin courtesy EOne films canadaA Most Wanted Man
Dir: Anton Corbijn (based on the novel by John le Carré)

Hamburg is a huge European port city, where sailors explore shwarma stands and sex shops. It’s where the Beatles played in the early 60s. And it’s where Muhammad Atta, one of the presumed 9/11 conspirators, is said to have joined al-Qaeda. Now it’s a hotspot for American black-ops, surveillance and spies.

So when an unidentified bearded stowaway in a hoodie is spotted arriving by boat, intelligence goes on high alert. Who is he? What is he there for?

Turns out, his name is Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin), the son of a Chechen mother and a Russian military father. He is rescued by a kindly local family and a refugee lawyer, Annabel (Rachel McAdams). He carries no ID except a priceless document – a letter from his dead father to a Hamburg bank. Annabel offers her help – she’ll show it to the bank’s CEO (Willem Defoe) to get Issa back on his feet.

But that could involve a large amount of money. The spies all panic. Is he a terrorist? A lone Most Wanted Man Phillip Seymour Hoffman  courtesy EOne films canadawolf? The intelligence crews swoop down, ready to bring him in. But Annabel manages – for now at least — to keep Issa safe from the team that tries to kidnap him.

Chief among the spies is Gunther (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles) a street-level agent who cultivates local informants. He talks like Winston Churchill nursing a hangover. He tells the American spies and German police not to bring Issa in. Gunther has bigger fish to fry. If they let him expand his mission he promises to bring down an international terrorist financial network. But is Issa really a terrorist? Where did that banker get the money? Can Gunther be trusted? And which spy organization is really pulling those strings?

A most wanted man is a fascinating spy flick. Like most le Carre novels, it has a complicated, and initially confusing plot, involving many players with conflicting motives. It’s this moral ambiguity – who are the bad guys, who are the good guys – that make it so realistic and satisfying. The movie is loaded with European actors: Germans Nina Hoss (star of Christian Petzold’s films) and Daniel Bruhl are almost wasted in their side roles. Russian Grigory Dobrygin is compelling as the presumed terrorist with the secret past. And Hoffman goes out with a bang – he will be missed.

A most Wanted Man is shot in a gritty urban style, filled with heavy industry, shipping containers, and abandoned warehouses.

I like the action and the thrilling plot. But even more I like the sense of unease the movie leaves you with, with its dark, depressing portrayal of excessive surveillance.

VVS_ASIG_poster.inddAnd So it Goes
Dir: Rob Reiner

Oren Little (Michael Douglas) is a retired real estate dealer who lives in a cute rustic home. He calls it his Little Shangri La, but for his tenants who share the building, it’s no paradise. He’s a cranky old man who seems to take pleasure in terrorizing small children, shooting stray dogs with paint guns and stealing parking spaces from pregnant women. He’s a nasty old coot. Apparently he used to be an all-right guy… until his wife died. Now he’s nobody’s friend.

He’s trying to sell his family mansion for eight million dollars – not six! – so he can move away, but keeps alienating potential buyers with snarky attitude. And suddenly someone appears to upset his apple cart. It’s his estranged, middle aged son. Dad hasn’t seen him since the boy was a junky. Now he’s a middle aged man about to serve time in prison for some unknown crime. And the son has a cute, 10-year-old daughter Sarah (Sterling Jerrins) that he wants his Dad to take care of.

Selfish Oren wants nothing to do with the kid. He dumps her on his neighbour Leah (Diane ASIG_03862.NEFKeaton) in the adjoining apartment. Leah is an underemployed lounge singer. She is as nice as Oren is mean – and she needs the money – so she agrees. Then thing start to change: despite their initial rocky start, Oren and Leah find they have something in common – could it be love? And will the adorable little granddaughter melt her cruel grandpa’s heart?

I wasn’t crazy about this movie. The father runs into trouble searching his son’s friends and the kid’s mother. They’re.. poor! (Which ASIG_02615.NEFmeans they’re all ugly, dirty, drug addicts.) Not like the nice, rich people he wants to talk to. It also tries for laughs with Oren’s racist remarks, but assumes the audience is familiar with his ethnic stereotypes. (I honestly didn’t get these “jokes”. Are Latinos in the US assumed to be gardeners?)

Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton seem to be playing slightly exaggerated versions of themselves: arrogant ass meets flibberty-gibbets. It’s not that this is a terrible movie, it’s more just disappointing that the director who has chronicled American baby boomers for decades, should fall back to weak rom-coms rather than gems like Spinal Tap, Misery and Princess Bride.

A Most Wanted Man and And So It Goes open today. 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

Women vs Tentpoles. Films Reviewed: Frances Ha, Fill the Void, World War Z

Posted in comedy, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Dance, Depression, Drama, Family, Israel, Movies, Uncategorized, Zombie by CulturalMining.com on June 22, 2013

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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Where is cinema heading? Steven Spielberg and George Lucas recently gave a speech at USC. They said the movie industry is about to implode.  It will split into two halves: big-budget, well-promoted potential blockbusters; and personal, smaller projects. The big movies, the “tent poles” are supposed to keep the money flowing, while the indie movies bring in the film buffs and adults. They say these indies will be relegated to Pay-on-Demand apps on your iPad, while movie theatre movies will be the equivalent of going to a Cirque du Soleil performance.

I can’t predict the future, but for now, at least, there are still lots of small movies on the big screen. And there are many other indie (or semi independent) movies being made and shown. Lots of them, not just the “tentpole” movies. And they are all playing on the big screen.

This week I’m looking at two polished, low-budget movies about women, and one Tent Pole behemoth about zombies – all of which can be seen in movie theatres, starting today.

FRANCES HA Greta Gerwig, Mickey SumnerFrances Ha

Dir: Noah Baumbach

Frances and Sophie (Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner) are best friends. They went to a liberal arts university together and now they’re roommates in Manhattan, pursuing their dreams. Frances likes to dance – maybe she’ll become a choreographer — while Sophie is in the publishing world. They do everything together; they say they’re like an old lesbian couple… except no sex.

But their best friendship starts to crumble when Sophie moves in with her dull boyfriend, Punch, leaving Frances with nowhere to live. And her dance ambitions are tanking. She starts couch surfing with friends of friends, looking for work.

Great Gerwig is perfect as the gangly and awkward but pretty Frances. Going through FRANCES HA Greta Gerwig, Michael Zegen, Adam Driverpostpartum depression from losing her best friend, she becomes aware of her dismal life: she’s in the arts, she’s poor, and — as Benji (Michael Zegen) one of the guys she sublets a room from, keeps telling her — “undateable”.

Will Frances find success, sex, love or maybe an apartment? And can she find a new best friend? Frances Ha, shot in glorious black and white, is a fun, light social comedy looking at the lives of smart, white, urban women in their twenties. It’s basically identical to the TV show Girls, even sharing some of the same faces (like Adam Driver). If you like “Girls” (I do) you’ll like this movie, too.

Fill The Void

Wri/Dir: Rama Burshtein

Enter the Void Hadas Yaron, Renana Raz,  Irit Sheleg, Razia Israeli Photo by Karin BarShira (Hadas Yaron) is an ultra-orthodox young Jewish woman in Tel Aviv. She plays the accordion. Her aunt is acting as match maker spying on potential grooms without them noticing. “He’s in the dairy section” she tells her in a supermarket. But when Shira’s sister dies in childbirth, she steps in to help her brother-in- law Yochay (Yiftach Klein) with the baby. Soon a plan is hatched to get teenaged Shira to marry the much older Yochay, her own family. She doesn’t want to. A family rivalry erupts in her family between the disabled Aunt and the other matriarchs. It spreads quietly to the whole community, over marriages, responsibilities and obligations. Who will Enter the Voidmake the sacrifice? Will Yochay move to Europe? And will Shira defy her elders?

Directed by an ultra-orthodox woman, Fill the Void gives a peak at a largely insular world, rarely seen in mainstream films, and almost never from the point of view of women. Despite all its religious trappings, much of the film is actually about the relationships and customs in the completely non-religious, day-to-day life of these women. Fill the Void is a very good, subtle drama.

WORLD WAR ZWorld War Z

Dir: Marc Forster

Gerry (Brad Pitt) is a former UN civil servant who lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two daughters. One day they go for a drive and get caught up in a massive traffic jam. Something is causing major gridlock. It turns out there are fast-running zombie-like people throwing themselves off of the roofs of buildings, and wildly attacking cars and people. The disease is spreading and it seems to be infecting everyone. Ten seconds after you’re scratched by zombies, you twitch, your eyeballs cloud up, and boom – you’re a zombie too!

The family escapes to Newark where the human looters – even the cops –are running WORLD WAR Zwild. Confusion, fear, panic, mayhem. Somehow, due to Gerry’s status, the family gets picked up by helicopters and sent to somewhere safe – an aircraft carrier in the mid-Atlantic.

The UN Secretary General asks Gerry to save the day. He’s a Jack Bauer with a hotline to the top brass. He flies off – with some Navy Seals to guard him — to find Patient Zero, and somehow stop this zombie apocalypse. It morphs into a military PR movie, as he flies around the world to military bases. It’s sort of a Zombie Dark Thirty (with monsters replacing terrorists).

This is where the best special effects come in. The zombies turn into a human wave, splashing against walls and careening down city streets, like they’re running the bulls of Pamplona. Really amazing.

Then it changes into a We Are the World, Hurrah for the U.N.! -type movie. He meets Segen (Daniella Kertesz) a strikingly beautiful female Israeli soldier with a buzz cut. She joins him in a UN sponsored quest to cure Zombie-ism. Gerry is the smartest agent in the world, but one that constantly forgets to turn his cell phone to vibrate (so as not to wake the dormant zombies). And, oh yeah, he seems to think wrapping magazines around his forearms are better protection than, say, the bulletproof vests he could have easily got from the military.

This is a weird, confused movie. I was quite disappointed. It looks like it’s going to be another zombie/horror movie, but it is missing the gore, the blood and the cannibalism. These zombies don’t eat brains. They don’t seem driven by hunger, and don’t do anything except run around and infect other people. There’s no blood, no sex, no real romance either. World War Z is a dull, family-style contagious disease drama… with excellent special effects.

Me the Bees and Cancer John Board PosterFrances Ha, Fill the Void and World War Z, all open today, check your local listings. Coming next week is the Italian Contemporary Film Festival; and to see a truly low-budget film, check out one from the 1000 dollar movie challenge: Me, the Bees and Cancer (John Board’s personal look alternative medicine) is playing tonight at the Royal Cinema to benefit the Actor’s Fund of Canada.

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

July 28, 2011 Multiculturalism Not Dead! Movies Reviewed: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Rocksteady: the Roots of Reggae

Posted in Canada, China, Cultural Mining, documentary, Foot Binding, Jamaica, Movies, Queer, Reggae, Romance, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on July 31, 2011

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, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

Last week — when the biggest worry seemed to be how hot the weather is, where to go for summer vacation, or how to fill one’s time without school – came a piece of news out of Europe shattering the calm and quiet. Someone had set off a car bomb outside government buildings on the ordinarily peaceful streets of Oslo, Norway. And, as the story developed, there was someone shooting people – kids! – at a summer camp nearby.

Who could it be? The usual suspects? Must be those “Islamists”! the newswires were saying. Immigrants were angry about being deported, online sites said. Or it must be because of those political cartoons: Denmark and Norway are both Scandinavian, after all. But why were they bombing buildings of the current left-of-centre government? And why had the chosen a summer camp for the same youth wing of the very same party?

It turns out, it wasn’t Al Qaeda after all. It wasn’t a home-grown muslim sleeper cell. It wasn’t an eco-terrorist, or a black bloc anarchist.

It’s a self-described conservative Christian Norwegian man who is trying to foment a right-wing revolution across Europe. Shocking! And what is his enemy, what is it he’s fighting against? Listen closely, Canadians, because this is for us: The ideology he says he fighting is…

Multiculturalism.

WHAT?

He chooses the most innocuous of all things Canadian as his bete noir? That’s like saying he’s setting off bombs because he doesn’t like poutine, or butter tarts, or Hockey Night in Canada, or dragon boat races or double-doubles, or smoked meat, or two-fours. He’s murdering children to protest against puppies, or mittens, or Banff, or the smell of coriander.

He claims multiculturalism is to blame for all the world’s problems. I strongly disagree: it’s what makes Canada a great country.

So, this week — in part to protest against right-wing villains like Anders Behring Breivik and their xenophobic hatred and fear of all things different or foreign — I’m looking at a couple movies about important aspects of Canada’s diverse culture: a drama about Chinese women, and a documentary about Jamaican music.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Dir: Wayne Wang

Snow Flower (Gianna Jun) is a young girl in 19th century Hunan, China whose mother binds her feet in order to marry her out to a good husband. You can hear the bones of her toes breaking, one by one. Tiny feet were the only path to class mobility, for a poor girl. And her feet make her suitable for a rich husband. But she’s surprised when her matchmaker also sets her up with a young woman as her Laotong – her BFF in modern language. She signs a contract and is more-or-less married to her as well, as a lifelong friend and confidant.

She and Lily (Li Bingbing) learn a secret language written in a Chinese script called “Nvshu” or women’s writing. Even after they are married – poor Lily weds a rich but loveless foot-fetishist, the formerly wealthy Snow Flower meets a boorish butcher – they continue to communicate via secret messages written in poetry on folding fans.

Flashforward to present day, sophisticated Shanghai. Now Lily’s descendent, Nina, lies in a coma after an accident, and her modern day laotong, Sophia, wants to find out what happened to her, and why they were no longer the best friends they were as teenagers.

The movie cuts back and forth between the parallel stories, as women’s past and present-day lives (played by the same two actresses) and status are compared. Nina’s fan-messages, that were saved over the centuries, provide Sophia the clues as to what really happened back then, and possibly what was happening between the two friends now.

The acting was good, and I thought the movie was pretty interesting and told me a lot that I wouldn’t otherwise know. But it was also sort of messy and confusing and meandering. The weaker, modern day scenes were less interesting than the hostrical ones, except for the scenes with the always entertaining Vivian Wu as a tragic Shanghai Auntie.

While not perfect, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a very rare thing: a Hollywood-style movie, with an all-Asian cast (from China and Korea), in Chinese, about a relationship between two women.

Now another movie about an important part of Canadian culture.

Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae
Dir: Stascha Bader

What is rocksteady music? Where did it come from? And what does it mean?

Rocksteady is ska… slowed down; it comes Jamaica, from an island of 2 1/2 million people that has recorded over 300,000 songs; and there’s a movie that explains it all for you.

The movie documents the big Rocksteady reunion that took place recently in Kingston, Jamaica when all the legendary musicians, many of whom hadn’t seen each other in 4 decades, got together to recreate the sixties sound. Sly Dunbar, Rita Marley, Leroy Sibbles, the Tamlins, U-Roy, Marcia Griffiths all talk to the camera and perform their music in studio.

This movie gives brief biographies of all the men and women in the rocksteady movement in Jamaica in the 60’s. Better than that is the rerecording of all the great songs from that era that every Canadian would recognize, songs like The Tide is High, You Don’t Love Me, No No No, By the Rivers of Babylon, and others.

What’s really interesting about the movie is the way the musicians explain the meanings of the songs, their contexts. I grew up hearing a lot of these songs — especially the soundtracks of The Harder They Come, and Rockers – liking the music without knowing what they were singing about. This documentary lets the songs original musicians explain what they meant.

For example, when Jamaica got its independence from Britain in 1962, it started to boom, with lots of construction, investment and industry in Kingston. But along with the economic boom there was a big influx of people from small towns into the capital, and not everyone got jobs. So some of the young men, jobless in the shantytowns and cut off from their families, became rude boys – the gangsters that terrorized the rest of Kingston. Hence Desmond Decker’s song Shanty Town.

And the people pouring into the city by train looking for jobs? Stop That Train….

Historical scenes are illustrated by black and white newspaper photos, record covers, and film and TV clips from the period, accompanied by new recordings by the original artists. Rocksteady is an enjoyable, nostalgic look at the golden age of reggae music in Jamaica.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is playing now, and Rocksteady is playing for free as part of this weekend’s Irie Music Festival. It’s playing under the stars on Sunday, July 31st at 9:30 p.m. There are also sound stages set up for concerts at Queens Park and Dundas square. For more information look at http://www.iriemusicfestival.com

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.

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