Cults and kidnappers. Films reviewed: The Black Phone, One Summer Story

Posted in Animation, Coming of Age, Death, Horror, Japan, Kidnapping, Magic, Manga, Religion, Suspense, Thriller, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on June 25, 2022

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

Spring film festival season continues in Toronto with the Japanese and Jewish film festivals coming to a close, while ICFF — the Italian contemporary film festival — and Lavazza IncluCity are just beginning. The festival features film composer Ennio Morricone, Giuseppe Tornatore (who won an Oscar for Cinema Paradiso), and Allesandro Gassmann, the son of star Vittorio Gassman, and an accomplished actor in his own right. Movies at this festival are being shown both in theatres and outdoors in open air screenings.

This week, I’m looking at two new movies. There’s a thriller-horror about a boy who is kidnapped in 1970s Colorado; and a girl who discovers her biological father was a member of a religious cult in Japan.

The Black Phone

Dir: Scott Derrickson

It’s the late 1970s in Denver, Colorado. Finney (Mason Thames) is a kid in junior high who lives with his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), and their angry and depressed dad, a widower. Finney is into rocket ships and baseball — he’s the pitcher on his team. But he’s bullied at school. Luckily his best friend Robin is always looking out for him.

But all is not well in Denver. Teenagers are disappearing, one by one, with no bodies ever found. But when Robin disappears, he turns to Gwen for help — she has psychic dreams that might tell them where he is. But before they can do anything, Finney finds himself locked in a basement cell, somewhere in the city. theres just a toilet, a mattress, and a barred window way up near the ceiling. And an old black phone mounted on the wall, but with all the wires cut. The guy who kidnapped him — known as the Grabber (Ethan Hawke) — is a freelance magician who always covers his face with hideous masks reflecting changes in his warped psyche.  Before long, Finney is in despair and figures he’s going to be killed soon, just like the other boys before him. Until… the black phone starts to ring! And coming from somewhere is the voice of one of the previous victims, who says he can tell Finney how to escape.

Is this real or just his imagination?  Can the dead really speak? And will Finney ever get out of there?

The Black Phone is a fantastic thriller about a kid vs a deranged serial killer. Though billed as a horror movie,  and there are some very scary scenes here and there, it’s miles ahead above most of the gory schlock passing for horror movies these days.  This one is more about suspense, mystery and adventure than meaningless, gratuitous violence. There is violence, but it fits within the movie. The characters are all well-rounded with complex back stories. There are lots of red herrings to lead you astray, but the whole movie leaves you with a sense of satisfaction, not dread. And it avoids the cheap scares typical of many horror flicks. The film perfectly captures the feel of the 1970s, through the rock soundtrack, costumes and locations. The acting — especially heroes McGraw and Thames, as well as the villains including the creepy killer and the brooding father, and the many school bullies —  is really well done. The Black Phone  is based on a story by Joe Hill, who also wrote the graphic novel the great TV series Locke & Key was based on. He’s an amazing storyteller… who also happens to be Stephen King’s son.  (I mention that because he’s of the same calibre). And writer-director Scott Derickson has done some good stuff himself.

If you don’t want to be scared — stay far away. But if you’re looking for a good chiller-thriller, you’re really gonna like this one.

One Summer Story (Kodomo ha Wakatteagenai)

Dir: Okita Shûichi

It’s present-day Japan. Minami (Kamishiraishi Moka) is a teenaged girl who lives with her Mum, stepfather, and little brother. Backstroke is her thing — she’s on the school swim team. And she’s obsessed with a TV anime series called Koteko, about a Count who is literally a royal sack of cement and his two gloopy sons Concrete and Plaster. One day she’s at a swim practice when she sees something unbelievable on the roof of their school: a boy is painting something on a large easel. could it be true? she runs over to take a look.  A boy is painting a character from her favourite anime series. They hit it iff immediately.

Moji-kun (Chiba Yûdai) comes from a long line of Japanese calligraphers.  But when she visits his home, she sees a paper talisman with the exact writing as one she always carries with her. The words come from an obscure religious cult, a client of Moji’s father. After some investigation, they discover Minami’s birth father is somehow associated with the cult… and perhaps is why she never knew him. So she decides to secretly show up at his door to find out the truth. Will she find out about her missing history? Or is she just opening a can of worms?

One Summer Story is an extremely cute coming-of-age drama about a girl discovering her birth father with unexpected results. Its also about her new friend — and his unusual family — who helps her on her way.

Based on a manga, it also incorporates a non-existent, animated TV show within the story line. Lots of quirky but likeable characters and an unpredictable plot make it a pleasure to watch. And with much of it set at a beachside home or a swimming pool, it gives  off a nice cool energy on a hot summer’s day.

The Black Phone opens this weekend; check your local listings; One Summer Story’s is playing at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival for its Canadian premiere on Sunday, June 26th at 7:00pm, 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.

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.

 

Investigative Journalists. Movies reviewed: The Journalist, The Viewing Booth, The Best is Yet to Come

Posted in 2000s, China, Corruption, Crime, Israel, Japan, Meta, Movies, Palestine, Poverty, Realism, Suspense, Women, 日本映画, 中国电影 by CulturalMining.com on October 16, 2020

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

Is journalism still alive? We seem to have an endless supply of pundits with formulaic political viewpoints, but true investigative journalism is hard to find. But it’s still there – you just have to know where to look. So this week I’m talking about three new movies (two dramas and a doc) about journalists and the media. There’s a die-hard journalist in Tokyo looking for the truth; a cub reporter in Beijing looking for his first big story; and a documentary-maker in the US looking at how viewers interpret the news.

The Journalist (新聞記者)

Dir: Fujii Michihito (Based on the novel by Mochizuki Isoko)

Erika Yoshioka (Eun-kyung Shim) is a young reporter at Tôto, a medium-sized Tokyo newspaper. One day she receives an anonymous fax with a cartoon of a sheep drawn on the first page. Inside are government plans to open a medical researchlab in a backwater town. is it a prank? Evidence of a boondoggle? Or something more? She decides to investigate. But she has to be careful; her own father was a freelance journalist based in New York who ended up dead from suicide after revealing another storyl.

Meanwhile, in a different part of Tokyo, a young government bureaucrat named Takumi Sugihara (Tôri Matsuzaka) gets an unusual call from Kanzaki, his former boss from five years earlier. He wants to meet for a talk. Sugihara used to work for Gaimushô, Japan’s foreign service, but switched to his current job after Kanzaki took the fall for a scandal at the Beijing Embassy where they both worked. Sugihara now works for Naicho, the secretive intelligence unit that operates out of the PMO. Rumour has it Naicho is used to surveil and plot against opponents to the ruling political leaders. Kanzaki wants to tell him something, but they both end up getting drunk instead. And not long after, he jumps off a building. His death brings together the dogged journalist Erika and the loyal bureaucrat Sugihara both of whom want to find out exactly what happened. What was Kanzaki’s secret and why is it so dangerous? Is it related to the sheep cartoon Erika received? Who else knows? And what will happen to the two of them if the scandal reaches the papers?

The Journalist is a tense, captivating story of deep-state corruption and sinister plots. The action alternates between Erika’s bright and crowded newsroom and the cold empty halls of Naicho where Sugihara reports to an evil and powerful boss. Korean actress Shim Eun-kyung is perfect as Erika in her unwavering search for the truth – she totally deserves the Japanese Academy award she won for this performance. The Journalist is a terrific movie.

The Viewing Booth

Dir: Ra’anan Alexandrowicz

This documentary asks: can news viewers, like you and me, ever change our political views because of politically-charged videos we watch on sites like youtube?  It follows a subject named Maya at an American university by filming her face has she watches a selection of 40 short news videos. The camera captures her comments and facial expressions, moment by moment, as she wavers between acceptance and rejection of what she’s watching, sorting them mentally according to whether or not they fit her outlook. She asks aloud: Is this footage real? Is it convincing? Is it biased? Does she believe it? And what does it mean?

She’s brought back six months later, this time viewing the same videos, right beside footage of herself from the first session. She observes herself observing videos (it gets super-meta here.) The videos in the doc are all from the occupied Palestinian territories and they range from innocuous to disturbing, showing settlers, Israeli soldiers, and Palestinians. (She concentrates on one video where soldiers dressed in large military masks walk into a home in the middle of the night, wake up small children,  ask each child their name, photograph each child’s face, then leaving without explanation.) Half the clips are from B’Tselem, a human rights group opposed to the occupation, and the other half were posted by various right-wing groups. The documentary tries to see whether exposure to opposing viewpoints can change a viewer’s mind or if it merely enforces the beliefs she already holds. Here’s the thing: it’s not a scientific study despite its clinical trappings; rather, The Viewing Booth is more of a meditation, the filmmaker’s personal reflection on the biases news viewers hold. Is it universally applicable or just about that single subject? I don’t know, but it is interesting – and unsettling – to watch.

The Best is Yet to Come (不止不休)

Dir: Wang Jing

It’s 2003. Han Dong (Bai Ke) is a would-be journalist in Beijing. Originally from northeastern China, he’s a high school drop-out who quit his steady job back home at a chemical factory to go for broke in the big city. But so far no luck. His girlfriend Xiaozhu (Miao Miao: Youth) who also worked at the factory lives in even worse conditions. But he keeps going to job fairs to try to get hired by a newspaper. And they keep rejecting him as unqualified, until… opportunity knocks when he visits a newspaper to pick up a minuscule 100 yuan paycheque for a short piece they published. He catches the attention of a veteran journo there takes him on as an intern, right beside college grads brandishing journalism degrees from prestigious schools like Bei Da. And he passes his first test, getting a scoop at the site of a coal mine disaster. But his next story could be a whopper.

He goes undercover taking a job at a sketchy medical clinic that pays cash for blood. No they’re not vampires. Rather they provide forged blood samples for applicants to jobs. Why? Because anyone who tests positive for Hepatitis B is categorically rejected. This effects maybe 100 million people for a disease that is not even contagious. It’s a crooked company that breaks the law. But is the law fair? Should he cover the story… or cover it up?

The Best is Yet to Come (based on a true story) shows how a self-taught, print journalist breaks into the big leagues despite all the odds against him. Its exciting plot keeps you questioning all the way through. This is Wang Jing’s first feature – he was assistant director to the great Jia Zhang-ke (Ash is Purest White, Touch of Sin) but with a very different style. It’s told in a straightforward chronological manner, no tricks or fancy camerawork. Great acting and story, The Best is Yet to Come gives an unusual look at both investigative journalism and a glimpse into real-life China – the grime and grit, the dark alleys, crowded tenements and poverty. And it leaves on a hopeful note: if you try hard and don’t give up, you can change the world.

The Best is Yet to Come played at #TIFF20, The Viewing Booth is showing at Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival on now through the weekend, and The Journalist is available for streaming at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival through October 21st.

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

Caught up. Movies Reviewed: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, Leviathan

Posted in Corruption, Cultural Mining, Farsi, Movies, Russia, Uncategorized, Vampires, Yakuza, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on January 22, 2015

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

There aren’t many blockbusters released in January, so it’s a good time to catch up on less commercial films. So this week I’m looking at movies about people caught in a bad place: an art-house indie horror,  an over-the-top comedy/horror/musical, and a serious drama.  There’s an Iranian guy caught between a drug dealer and a vampire, a Japanese filmmaker caught between rival yakuza gangs, and a Russian caught by corrupt politicans.

A_Girl_6A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Dir: Ana Lily Amirpour

Bad City is a place for lost souls. It’s a desert town filled with oil rigs and refineries, separated from the rest of the world by a row of distant mountains. The streets are deserted except for a few people. Arash (Arash Marandi) is a Persian James Dean, who works as a gardener at a rich woman’s mansion. And at home he takes care of his dad, Hossain. Hossein (Marshall Mannesh) is depressed and slowly committing suicide by using drugs. Then there’s the track-suited, A_Girl_2tattooed drug dealer and all-around asshole; the sex worker who peddles her wares in dark alleys, and a little kid with a skateboard who observes it all. And finally there’s a girl who walks home alone at night (Sheila Vand).

A_Girl_1The girl – who is kept nameless – wears the conservative Iranian chador – an outfit that covers her head and body in an unbroken shroud. But hidden underneath the chador she’s like Marjane Satrapi in the graphic novel Persepolis, with black eye liner and a striped French jersey. She dances to Emo dirges at home, and only ventures outside at night to wander the dark streets… and look for human blood to drink. She’s a vampire.

Arash owns nothing but his treasured sports car and loses that to the thug. But due to a strange turn of events he suddenly finds himself A_Girl_4surrounded by money, power and drugs. He ends up at a costume party dressed in the cape and collar of Dracula. And in an ecstasy-induced haze he encounters the nameless girl who walks home alone at night. Is it true love? Or will she eat him?

This is a cool — though somewhat opaque — indie film, shot in beautiful black and white. It’s filled with sex, drugs, rock and roll – all in farsi. It takes place in a limbo world caught somewhere between the American Southwest and Iranian oil fields. It’s a slow moving mood piece, like Jim Jarmusch directing a Becket play, but from a feminine perspective. Interesting movie.

47_jigoku_sub3_5MBWhy Don’t You Play in Hell? (地獄でなぜ悪い)
Dir: Sono Sion

A team of aspiring college film geeks called the “F*ck Bombers” vow to make a real movie, starring one of their own – a Bruce Lee lookalike. But 10 years pass and still no luck. Meanwhile, two rival yakuza gangs are in a permanent state of war. The Muto gang dress in Godfather suits and carry guns, while the Ikegami gang wear classic kimono, armed with genuine Samurai swords.

Teenaged Mitsuko – the daughter of the Muto gang boss — is famous 49_jigoku_sub5_5MBfor a jingle she sang as a child on a TV toothpaste ad. And the Ikegami boss still has a deeply-buried crush on her (they met in a bloodbath 10 years earlier). Her yakuza dad is bankrolling a film starring his reluctant daughter. But things start to unravel when the famous director quits in disgust. Who can make a movie produced by organized criminals? Especially when a gang war is about to erupt. Confusion, violence and mayhem ensues.

46_jigoku_sub2_5MBIn walks the Movie Club members to the rescue… maybe they could take over the movie? But would rival gangs ever agree to let film geeks record a bloody and violent showdown on 35 mm film… as it happens?

My bare-bones description does not do justice to this fantastic musical45_jigoku_sub1_3M comedy – including an unbelievably blood-drenched, 30-minute-long battle scene. It has to be seen to be believed, and the film is finally opening on the big screen in Toronto. Sono Sion is one of my favourite Japanese directors. His movies are outrageous and shockingly violent but also amazingly sentimental, earnest and goofy at the same time: an odd, but oddly pleasing combination.

05ff2dc3-382c-446d-93f1-6646a6b29db8Leviathan
Dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev

Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov) is a mechanic who lives in northern Russia by the sea. His family has lived there for three generations and Kolya built his home with his own two hands. His son Roma is a bit spoiled but doing OK at school, and his beautiful second wife works at the fish cannery. Their marriage is going well.

But there’s trouble at City Hall. They want to seize his house and land6002bf07-aaaf-4f30-8420-9d038fba9d3f to build something… municipal. Kolya is furious and he’s not going to take this lying down. He’s a real hothead. He’s sure the Mayor is up to no good – just wants to build himself a mansion. So Kolya calls his army buddy in Moscow to give him a hand. Dima (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov) is a lawyer. He comes to town fully loaded with files on the very corrupt mayor Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF FileVadim. The man has “blood on his hands” he says, and he has the documents to prove it. This should stop the mayor in his tracks.

So things are looking up. The trial looks promising, and if not, he can always file an appeal. And there’s a picnic and shooting party to look forward to. A local cop has invited the whole gang, family and friends, to head out to the cliffs to shoot a few bottles with their rifles and AK47s. And boy do these guys have a lot of empty vodka bottles to 2e8da8fe-7cf4-40ce-a66f-5252e16ad79dshoot!

Meanwhile Vadim, the criminal mayor (Roman Madyanov) is plotting Kolya’s downfall. He’s an incredibly arrogant, abusive and greedy politician, a raging alcoholic, and he doesn’t care who knows it. He has the judges, the police, even the local church on his side. This sets off a series of unforeseen events that turn Kolya’s life into a Jobean ordeal of despair.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF FileLeviathan is a fantastic movie, a slice-of-life look at modern Russia. Breathtaking, stark scenery, really great acting. But it’s also a devastating indictment of corruption and how it affects regular people there. The story starts slow, but gradually grows, driving toward an unexpectedly powerful finish. It’s also relevant: It’s nominated for an Oscar – best foreign film – but just last week Russia’s Culture Ministry threatened to censor this movie. That would be a real shame, because it’s a great film.

Leviathan, Why Don’t You Play in Hell, and a Girl Walks Home Alone at Night all open today in Toronto: check your local listings. Also opening is Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore as a professor with early-onset Alzheimers – I’ll talk about this next week – and the 50 Year Argument, a documentary about the New York Review of Books.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Sono Sion and Young Dais about Tokyo Tribe at TIFF14

Posted in Cultural Mining, Gangs, Hiphop, Japan, Manga, Movies, Musical, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on September 19, 2014

_MG_9585 Sono Sion Young Dais Tokyo Tribe TIFF14 photo © Jeff HarrisHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Imagine a dystopian future, where Tokyo is divided up into neighbourhoods ruled by rival gangs, that jealously guard their borders. Follow the  train up the east side of the city and you’ll hit places like Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, and further out Musashino and Nerima.lOpKoJ__tokyotribe_01_o3__8260247__1406658260

Musashino is peace and love; the character Kai just wants to hang with his bros at the local Denny’s (aka Penny’s). But ‘Bukuro is a land of brothels, gangsters, kidnappers and cannibals. Nera, a ‘Bukuro blonde muscleman has it in for Kai. Will this lead to all out war between the Tokyo Tribes?

Z4Wl12__tokyotribe_04_o3__8260377__1406658263Tokyo Tribe is the name of a new movie based on the manga by Inoue Santa. It’s a fantastical epic shot as a hip-hop musical, full of crowds, choreographed fights, a constant beat and more flashing lights than a pachinko parlour. It’s directed by Sono Sion, known for Guilty of Romance, Cold Fish, and Why Don’t You Play in Hell?. He’s always testing the limits of what can be shown in a film… and then _MG_9603 Sono sion and Young Dais Tokyo Tribe TIFF14 photo © Jeff Harrisgoing beyond that limitation. The movie stars Young Dais, well-known Japanese rapper, doing double-duty as a movie star. It opened at The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF14), as part of Midnight Madness. I spoke with director Sono Sion and rapper Young Dais at the Royal York Hotel.

Intensity. Films reviewed: River of Fundament, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, All Cheerleaders Die

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.

What makes a movie “intense”? Do you squirm in your seat, look away from the screen, maybe shout cries of indignation. Or is it the depth and breadth, the intensity of the images, sounds and story? This week I’m looking at intense movies. There’s an epic art film about rival Egyptian gods in modern day America; a crime action/ comedy/musical about rival Yakuza gangs; and a comedy/horror about football players vs bloodsucking cheerleaders.

Luminato2014_River of Fundament_Photo by Hugo Glendinning_001River of Fundament
Dir: Matthew Barney; Music: Jonathan Bepler

In a house, floating down the Hudson river near Manhattan is a wake for the late author Norman Mailer, attended by various literati. Also attending are a series of people – seemingly invisible to the crowd – dripping with human feces. They are the reincarnation of various ancient Egyptian gods – like Osiris, Hathferiti, Horus, and Set – who come back to life after swimming across the river of excrement. Mailer, who wrote the potboiler set in Ancient Egypt the movie is based on, also shows up as a ghost (played by his son, John Buffalo Mailer). Simultaneously, a marching band in LA is sanctifying a holy Chrysler car dealership. And in Detroit, a golden Trans-Am (with a phoenix tattooed across its hood) is being destroyed with a man in a golden straitjacket inside. And a CSI-team riding motorboats examines the wreckage. And an army of spectators descends into an empty reservoir for the showdown between two Egyptian deities as two women caress their pregnant bellies. Death, destruction, reincarnation and rebirth; gold leaf and brown feces; opulent banquets crawling with worms and maggots, all existing together as the rivers flow slowly downstream.

OK, that’s the condensed version. The actual movie is six bloody hours long (including two River of Fundament Photo Chris Wingetintermissions.) Six hours! And a lot of it seems to involve vomit, feces, urine, diarrhea, and bodily organs being pulled out of animal carcasses. Perhaps I exaggerate – maybe only, say, two of the six hours was disgusting, and four hours were astonishingly beautiful. It is an overwhelming experience, a movie done in English in the style of a classic opera, including libretto. And it’s filmed in enormous and spectacular locations, with aerial views of flames shooting from industrial towers; musicians playing and choirs singing simultaneously on motorboats speeding down rivers. Or shirtless trumpet players marching among parked cars; or a nude, Amazonian pornstar, her arms stretched overhead, holding her sex partner (a tiny bearded man) lying horizontally above her.

I hated and loved this movie swearing I’d walk out a dozen times, but always drawn back to see what happens next. Unbelievable.

地獄でなぜ悪い2Why Don’t You Play in Hell?
Dir: Shion Sono

A team of aspiring college film geeks form a club inside a decaying old movie theatre. They call themselves the “F*ck Bombers”. And when they find a potential star – a brawling Bruce Lee lookalike high school student – they are consumed by a desire to make a real movie. But 10 years pass and still no luck. Meanwhile, two rival yakuza gangs are in a permanent state of war. The Muto gang dress in Godfather suits and carry guns, while the Ikegami gang wear classic kimono, armed with Samurai swords. Teenaged Mitsuko – the daughter of the Muto gang boss — is still famous for the jingle she sang as a child on a toothpaste TV ad. And the Ikegami boss still has a deeply-buried crush on the girl whom he met a decade earlier in a brief, blood-drenched encounter. Now, her gangster dad is turning to the movie business and bankrolls a film, that, he says, must star his reluctant daughter. But when a famous director quits, he pulls a random guy off the street to direct it instead. This while a gang war is about to erupt with many innocents caught in the 地獄でなぜ悪い 1middle.

Confusion, violence mayhem… But what about that amateur movie club – could they somehow take over the movie? To do so they’d have to convince the rival gangs to let them record – on 35 mm film – a bloody and violent showdown involving the two sides.

My bare-bones description does not do justice to this fantastic musical comedy – including an unbelievably bloody, 30-minute-long climactic battle scene. It has to be seen to be believed. Shion Sono is one of my favourite Japanese directors. His movies are outrageous and shockingly violent but also amazingly sentimental, earnest and goofy at the same time: an odd, but oddly pleasing combination.

Reanin Johannink in All Cheerleaders DieAll Cheerleaders Die
Wri/Dir: Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson

Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) is suspicious of the cock-of-the-walk football captain at Blackfoot High. For Terry (Tom Williamson) his boys are dogs and the cheerleaders are bitches who he uses and abuses. So to get back at him – for what he’s done – she joins the cheerleaders squad. But she leaves her shy and goth-y BFF Leena behind. Leena (Aussie actress Sianoa Smit-McPhee) is an active wiccan, who practices necromancy using glowing crystals she Brooke Butler in All Cheerleaders Diecarries in a leather pouch. Well, at a beach party things go wrong. A mighty rift develops between the football players and the cheerleaders, which ends up with the girls’ car spinning off the highway into a ravine, killing all on board. Luckily, it’s Leena to the rescue. She mixes their blood with the crystals, and they all come back to life. They’re just like they used to be – Caitlin Stasey in All Cheerleaders Diewell sort of. Now they’re the living dead, functioning like an interconnected hive of bees. And, periodically, they have to suck blood to survive. When they’re not cutting class, making out in the handicapped washroom, or smoking up in the pot van.

Who will survive the longest? The vampiric cheerleaders or the abusive football jocks? This movie is not so intense, though quite bloody and violent. It’s your typical comedy horror with a good dose of Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style supernatural fun thrown in. I thought it was lots of fun – and a good date movie.

All Cheerleaders Die opens in Toronto today, check your local listings, The River Fundament played at Toronto’s Luminato – go to Luminato.com for more of Matthew Barney’s films; and Why Don’t You Play in Hell is showing next week at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival: go to jccc.on.ca for tickets. And look out for the Niagara Integrated & Italian Contemporary Film Festivals: coming soon!

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

Daniel Garber interviews Kore-eda Hirokazu about his new film Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる)

Posted in Cultural Mining, Denial, Drama, Family, Interview, Japan, Kids, Movies, Uncategorized, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on March 7, 2014

Kore-eda Hirokazu, Toronto TIFF13 photo © 2013 by Daniel GarberHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

What would you do if your discovered you’re not the father of your child? Not adopted father, not step-father, not foster-father… What if you discovered the actual child your wife gave birth to isn’t the one you’re raising?

A new movie called Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる) looks at a married couple in Tokyo who discover their six-year-old son, Keita, was switched at birth in a rural hospital with another Masaharu Fukuyama in Like Father, Like Son. © 2013 FUJI TELEVISION NETWORK, INC.:AMUSE INC.:GAGA CORPORATION. All rights reserved.baby named Ryusei.

Noted director and festival favourite Kore-eda Hirokazu has won countless awards for his poignant, realistic social dramas. His subtle new drama deals with issues of blood, patrimony, family, children, class, names and identity. Like Father, Like Son opens today in Toronto.

I spoke with him at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, 2013.

Group Efforts. Movies Reviewed: Bombay Talkies, The Great Passage, Broken Circle Breakdown PLUS Reel Asian

Posted in Belgium, Cultural Mining, Drama, India, Japan, Movies, Uncategorized, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on November 7, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.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.

I was speaking with a movie producer recently who wonders why do I interview directors. Why are they called the filmmakers, not producers? he wanted to know. They’re the ones who really make the film happen. I said, well, it’s the director who puts his personal stamp on a movie. But he’s right.  It’s never just a one-person show. Ensemble pieces need great actors who work well together. The screenwriter is the one who makes the story: crucial. Never mind the necessities of music, wardrobe, hair and makeup, lighting and sound mixing. – it takes a veritable movie village.

This week I’m talking about group efforts to get things done… and the troubles they face. There’s a film from India about Bollywood that has four directors; a gentle drama from Japan about a man at a publisher who wants to collect every single word; and a passionate romance from Belgium about a man and a woman in a band who are trying to raise a child.

Bombay_Talkies3Bombay Talkies

Dir: Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap

What’s the biggest centre in the world for film production? That’s Bombay not Hollywood. And it’s 100 years old, so they created this tribute to Bollywood which also opened Toronto’s Reel Asian Film Festival.

Thisis actually four complete short films, all of which touch on the same theme. One follows a gay man who discovers his female boss’s handsome husband shares his passion for old Bollywood singers. But do they share something else too? The second one is about a little boy who wants to dance. Then there’s a dad who fails at all his ventures, whether it’s a get-rich-quick involving emu’s to years of effort to make it as an actor. But fortune smiles on him when he’s pulled onto a set to INDIA-ENTERTAINMENT-BOLLYWOODplay a part in a film. And finally there’s a man sent on a holy pilgrimage from a small town to Bombay. His mission? To get a movie god to take a bite of his mother’s famous sweet. Just a bite.

All four were very different but all cute. They’re followed by a song-and-dance starring the biggest names and faces in Bollywood. I knew they were big because the audience was gasping, laughing and cheering as they appeared one by one, but I only recognized one or two faces.

What’s most interesting is this tribute to Bollywood chooses to use a western-style movie structure. You can see the actors dying to jump up and sing and dance and emote whenever there was a dramatic pause… but they can’t, because of the nature of this film. But it kept the melodrama, the humour, and the acting (and occasional overacting – to my western eyes) distinctive to this genre. A good intro to Bollywood for those – like me – not in the know.

The_Great_PassageThe Great Passage

Dir: Ishii Yuuya

It’s the 1990s. The editor at a major Japanese publishing house wants to produce a new kind of Japanese dictionary, one that includes all words – including ones they hear on the street: slang, contractions, new terms just catching on. It’s a huge, all encompassing project they think will take more than 20 years to complete. And it may not make money in these troubled economic times. And then the editor quits, so the search is on for a new editor, someone young enough to follow it through but with a true love of words. Their ultimate choice is shy, non-communicative young nerd from the sales department. He’s a dreadful salesman… but a traditionalist when it comes to words, definitions and precision. Even his name — Majime — means serious and hard-working. But his personal and home life is dismal. Majime (Matsuda Ryuhei) never talks to women – actually he never talks to anyone except his elderly landlady and his cat named Tora (Japanese for tiger).

But then he meets his pretty neighbor Kaguya (Miyazaki Aoi), a young woman in training as a sushi chef, who is as expressive in speaking as she is with a knife. Will a painful courtship lead to true love?

The film watches him bloom even as the dictionary (called Daidoukai) passes through its great passage. It comes to life from index cards to piles of manuscripts — proofread five times. But will it ever be published in a country turning digital?

The Great Passage is an odd little movie about a huge, multigenerational project and the ordinary but quirky people who make it happen. I love its attention to words, sounds and details. Although the structure is like any movie about a group trying to accomplish something great despite the odds against them, it’s nice to see it not about a baseball game for a change.

Broken Circle Breakdown 6 -topshotonbedBroken Circle Breakdown

Dir: Felix van Groeningen

It’s Bush-era Belgium. Didier and Elise are lovers (Johann Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens). She’s a tattoo artist, petite with blonde hair and symbolic images of all over her body. They used to be pictures of ex-lovers, but when breaks up she redraws the images into something new. He’s a burly bearded fellow with crooked teeth and a huge beard. He sings and plays the banjo in a bluegrass band filled with other bearded Flemish cowboys… and Elise. Their country life centres on music, their friends, and the great sex. Passionate sex, angry sex, comfort sex, make-up sex.

This also brings them adorable little Maybelle. She likes TV girl superheroes dancing and running around. Maybelle sees a bird die when it crashes into their glass veranda. She’s upset by the unfairness of it all. The parents reveal their fundamentally different philosophies. Didier thinks it’s all part of the long process of evolution: birds as a species must learn about clear glass and adapt. Elise thinks problems should be changedpragmatically, by fixing or covering up past mistakes. Redraw a tattoo. Put a picture of a hawk on the glass. She sees the bird’s sudden appearance as a sign or an omen.

Maybelle develops leukaemia and has to undergo radical chemo with a low chance of survival.the broken circle breakdown _still_03_band

While this sounds like a mainstream sick girl / concerned parents movie, it’s not told that way at all. The plot is cut up style – flashbacks and flashforwards all pasted back together, jumping back and forth seamlessly between ordinary life and trauma, the happy and the sad. The story is subtly narrated by songs sung by the bearded Greek chorus (the band at the bluegrass club). The film touches on death, religion, music, God and politics, punctuated by extended musical and a capella sequences.

The Broken Circle Breakdown is a passionate and moving drama – I really liked this one.

The Great Passage and Bombay Talkies are both playing at the Reel Asian Film Festival (reelasian.com ): and Broken Circle Breakdown opens today at the TIFF Bell Light Box in Toronto (tiff.net) . Rendezvous with Madness starts Monday: go to rwmff.com for details. Also opening soon is Ekran, Toronto’s Polish film festival, and Monsters and Martians festival. And check out another passionate – and highly explicit — three-hour-long sexual romance called Blue is the Warmest Colour.

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

 

HIgh School Confidential. Movies Reviewed: Geography Club, Schoolgirl Complex, Animals PLUS Epic and Inside Out

Posted in Bullying, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, High School, Japan, LGBT, Spain, Uncategorized, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on May 24, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and ZulmaCIUT 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.

High school often plays a central role in coming-of-age dramas, (since that’s where teenagers spend most of their time). It’s the place where people become aware of their sexual identities, their desires, their genders. And often, it’s not a lot of fun. Throw in some bullying, suicide, peer pressure, sex, university applications and young love, and you’ve got a boiling cauldron of teenage trouble waiting to overflow (at least in the movies).

So this week I’m looking at three such movies, all playing at Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival a place to see mainstream and experimental films by and about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people from around the world. It’s the third biggest such festival, and it’s also a great place to meet people and experience a different aspect of movies — one that is often swept under the carpet.

So… back to these troubled teens. This week I’m looking at a US movie about a club hidden in plain sight, one from Japan about a club on a roof, and one from Spain about people who would never join a club.

lg_geographyclubGeography Club

Dir: Gary Entin (based on the popular young adult novel by Brent Hartinger)

Russell and Kevin (Cameron Deane Stewart, Justin Deeley) are both in their senior year, but may as well live in separate universes. Russell’s the brain – his parents have already decided he’s going to Yale, and he’s wearing a sweatshirt to prove it. Kevin’s the jock, the quarterback of the football team, the cock of the walk. He’s going for a football scholarship. They’re both gay, and they end up meeting — anonymously, online — even though they see each other in the hallway at school. Secret passion ensues… until a girl sees them kissing on a school trip. They both find a hand-written note in their lockers the next day: go to room 327. What is it? Blackmail? Will their reputations be ruined?

Turns out, this is the site of an unofficial club where closeted LGBT kids can talkZPxLTD9g2pDGh32T_9MdWYmS-MxIJD-o1sAUnyvupCI,Q9GgDboopGMH38UWb-WfQiffwoBjAX8T4DhlBqLknxA openly with one another. But to keep their sexuality secret they call it the Geography Club, a club so boring, they think, that no one would accidentally wander into it. Russell joins up, but Kevin is too afraid he’ll lose his jock status (and potential scholarship). He wants Russell as his boyfriend but kept on a Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell basis. And when the club threatens to go official, as a Gay/Straight Alliance, Russell and Kevin have to make a decision: come out together or stop seeing each other. Which will they choose?

The Geography Club is a very mainstream, easy to follow, after-school-special-type movie. Still, it deals with very real topics, like bullying, sexual identity, and the lives of closeted kids who are forced (by peer pressure) to conform. It’s told as a light drama, but with GSAs a hot issue in Ontario Catholic schools right now, it may just open some eyes and change some minds.

27xZGiNQa8vEEubHIuVthvQLa9WbHf8qTB00Cadk9Zc,UInHtw6sjnrewhzSuGJv0pRS562nDD1H8raPHQWTf8ESchoolgirl Complex (スクールガール・コンプレックス~放送部篇)

Dir: Yuichi Onuma

It’s an all-girl high school in Japan. They dress in crisp white shirts and plaid skirts with floppy red bows around their necks. (No sailor suits here.) Everyone joins clubs. Even more than classes, clubs are the source of their identity and friendships. One such group is the Broadcast Club, for people who like the sound of their own voices. They meet each day on the roof of the school to practice elocution, random syllables, and nonsensical rhymes to perfect their radio Japanese, and lose any trace of a regional accent.

nv1IMtM_XvPUV1JGpsp7ZsGv7-QbyXl5wkXcRT1rFPsYou can hear them taking turns at making announcements over the school PA system, waxing lyrical on subjects like The Importance of Japanese Curry. It’s the end of the year and the broadcast club will do a reading for the whole school of Schoolgirl, a story by 20th century novelist Osamu Dazai (太宰 治). But whose voice will they use?

Group leader Manami (Aoi Morikawa) is naïve and kind, with a high forehead and pale skin. Until now, she spends most of her time hanging with her best friend Ai, eating red bean pies with mayonnaise. But when the older and wiser Mitsuzaka (Mugi Kadowaki) visits her at the school sick bed and gives her some caramels, Manami’s world is shaken. Who is this worldy woman with tousled hair and sensuous features? Is it love, lust or just a crush?

Manami puts all her faith in Mitsuzaka (an absentee member of the club), and gives her the lead role. But will Mitsuzaka even show up for the reading?

Schoolgirl Complex looks at hidden loves and crushes, at passionate obsessions and tearful confessions. This is a gentle, bittersweet story of the power dynamics of teenaged girls.

Animals 7Animals

Dir: Marçal Forés

Pol (Oriol Pla) is a student at a British-style school in Catalonia. He’s always up for sharing a smoke with his beautiful, sort-of girlfriend Laia (Roser Tapias), or his bitterly funny gay chum, the curly-haired Mark (Dimitri Leonidas). But his real best friend, the one he can always count on in times of trouble, is the cute Deerhoof. He gives Pol advice, accompanies his punk guitar-playing on the drums, and is generally just there for a hug whenever he needs him. That means a lot: Pol is lonely with his parents gone, and only his brother Lorenc, a cop, to look after him. Thing is, Deerhoof is actually a teddy bear! (Pol’s a bit whacko.)

Then a new kid, Ikari (Augustus Prew), comes to the school, and he brings Animals 1trouble. He’s into bigger things, mature things, sexual adult things. And things like cutting your wrists, watching it bleed. Pol doesn’t like the cutting but he really likes the sex and love part. He decides to let go of his childhood crutches and enter the real world. He buries the past, metaphorically… and literally (but will it stay buried?)

Does Ikari (like Icarus) fly too close to the sun, and will Pol fall to the ground in a tailspin? And will the whole school explode in chaos? Animals is a really great, nihilistic high school movie with a punk sensibility. I’d rank it up there with Heathers, River’s Edge, and Donnie Darko for its dark humour, great acting, music and story.

June 3,  2013:  ANIMALS, directed by Marçal Forés (Spain) has won the Bill Sherwood Award for Best First Feature at Toronto’s Inside-Out Film Festival. ANIMALS is awarded this prize for its accomplished and assured filmmaking and the promise the jury sees in Forés future work.

Animals, Geography Club and Schoolgirl Complex are all playing at the Inside Out festival in Toronto: go to insideout.ca for showtimes. Also opening today is another story, Epic, about a high school girl who discovers a whole other Epickingdom in the woods behind her father’s house when she is shrunk down to a tiny size. She has to help the leaf men — soldiers who fight the evil, rotten types on the backs of hummingbirds — to save the pod (a single lotus seed) on this special day, to allow a new Beyonce-voiced queen to be born. It’s animated, 3-D and it’s not Disney, not Dreamworks, but 20th Century Fox’s try at animation. I enjoyed it a lot, even though it’s basically Arriety meets Camelot.

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

November 9th, 2012. Blind Dates? Movies Reviewed: Unconditional, Wolf Children PLUS ReelAsian, Rendezvous with Madness

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.

Have you ever been on a date that doesn’t turn out quite the way you expected? What if you’re in a relationship that requires accommodation… but only on one side? This week I’m looking at two movies – both dramas — about people asked to completely change their lifestyles due to an unexpected aspect of their relationship.

Wolf Children (おおかみこどもの雨と雪)

Wri/Dir: Hosoda Mamoru

Hana is a university student who sees a guy hanging around campus. There’s a definite attraction. But there’s something…. unusual about the guy. Not his looks, not his attitude, nothing like that…Turns out he’s descended from the now-extinct Japanese timber wolf! And every so often he slips back into wolfdom and goes out hunting.

But Hana says, OK, he’s a wolf, but, hey, I can handle that. They move in together and have two kids – Yuki and Ame, named after the snow and the rain. But then Hana is left alone to take care of them with no husband. And then… she discovers that both her kids regularly turn into baby wolves and back again! Yuki is wild, runs around, chases cats and howls to the moon. Her little brother Ame is more withdrawn. Hana doesn’t know what to do, and her neighbours accuse her of secretly having a dog in her pet-free apartment building. So she flees off to the countryside with her kids, where she thinks she can raise them on a farm without any interference from nosey neighbours.

This animated Japanese feature – playing at the ReelAsian Film Festival – is a cool story about the domestic life and coming of age of two werewolf kids, Yuki and Ame, and their devoted mother. What it’s not is a horror movie about werewolves. And that’s OK with me.

It’s also about urbanites moving back to the land, adjusting to life in an area where there are no young families, only elderly farmers still holding on to their patch of land.

Can poor Hana take care of two wolfish kids and try to run a farm with no experience? Can the kids learn to interact with other people without revealing their other lives? (Yuki demands to let her go to school – she promises not to turn into a wolf at school.) And as Yuki and Ame grow older, will they choose to live as humans, as wolves, or somewhere in between?

Wolf Children is a neat look at family life, non-conformity, and the socialization of wild girls and boys within the strict Japanese social system.

Unconditional

Dir: Bryn Higgins

Kristen and Owen are twin teenagers in England who take care of their poor, bedridden mum. Lonely, blond bro Owen (Harry McIntire) says he doesn’t really care what he wears – jeans, trainers and toques with earflaps are good enough for him. He just wants friends – there’s no one to go to the pub with him. But raven-haired sis Kristen is furious she doesn’t have enough money to buy new clothes, so she borrows some cash from a local loan shark, Liam (Christian Cooke). She likes Liam, and he seems to like her, too.

But one day, when Kristen’s not around, Liam takes him for a spin in his car and then to a pub to play snooker. Owen is thrilled to have someone pay attention to him for once. And after more drinks at Liam’s swank flat, he asks Owen if he wants to see something funny, something good for a laugh. The “laugh” turns out to be dressing in women’s clothing, complete with makeup and a dark wig. Liam has all the stuff put away in his closet. Hmmm… OK, I get it. Liam is transsexual, right?

Nope – that’s not it at all.

So Owen puts on the stuff and… whoa, he makes a very pretty woman! And Liam – who is straight – says he wants to be lovers, but with Kristen, not with Owen.

Liam is a guy who is only turned on by cross-dressers. So you have this strange situation. Shy Owen wants to be the centre of attention. He loves being the object of affection from a good-looking older, rich and successful guy – but Owen has no gender issues. He’s just a bloke. Meanwhile Liam wants Owen to disappear so he can date “Kristen” – not the sister, but the neo-sister. That’s the one he’s attracted to. And if Owen so much as shows his real face or takes off his wig Liam flies into a rage. He has “anger issues” you see. He says he adores his girlfriend but wants nothing to do with this Owen character who keeps popping up at all the wrong times. He demands “unconditional love” – but the accommodations are all on Owen’s side, not his. Then there’s sister Kristen (Madeleine Clark) who started the whole thing – she thought Liam was into her. And who’s taking care of poor Mum?

Unconditional (playing at the Rendezvous with Madness film festival) is an interesting, quirky movie. I just want to point out it’s not a psychological thriller — though there are some scary moments – and certainly not a rom-com. It’s a psychological drama about a troubled guy with unusual ideas, and his lover who is forced, against his better judgement, into a difficult situation. I enjoyed the movie, with its good, convincing acting (especially Henry McIntire) and unusual plot.

But you can’t stop thinking — aren’t there enough willing cross-dressers out there so that Liam could have a happy life? Why does he have to force it on an impressionable 17 year old? Or does Owen actually like it, he just doesn’t want it all the time? Hmmm… In any case, it’s a strange but interesting movie.

The animated feature Wolf Children is playing downtown this weekend at Toronto’s ReelAsian Film Festival; the festival continues next week in Richmond Hill. Go to reelasian.com for times and details. And you can see Unconditional at Rendezvous with Madness a festival about movies about addiction and mental health issues. It’s opening tonight at the TIFF Bell Lighbox and continues all week through next weekend.

And don’t miss the excellent, award-winning documentary The World Before Her about the contrasting lives of two young women in India – a westernized model and a Hindu fundamentalist militant! – which opens at the Bloor next week. (I interviewed the Canadian director, Nisha Pahuja at HotDocs last spring.)

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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