Indigenous films at TIFF22. Movies reviewed: Ever Deadly, We Are Still Here

Posted in Australia, Canada, documentary, Drama, History, Indigenous, Inuit, New Zealand, Nunavut by CulturalMining.com on September 10, 2022

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

TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival is back again with guns ablazin’, after a two-year hiatus. Yes, TIFF didn’t actually stop over the past two years — there were some great films online in 2020 and some in-person shows during last-year’s hybrid version, but very few people were in actual attendance. No celebs, no parties, no volunteers, no lineups, and no red carpets. When the anti-piracy laws popped up on your home screen, there was no crowd there to say Grrrrr. You couldn’t turn to the stranger sitting beside you and ask what did you think of this movie. It felt more like a simulacrum than an actual event.

Well, this year it’s on again, 

They’re sticking a toe in the water to see how it feels. It’s called the TIFF Experience (whatever that means) and you can experience it right now, if you go down to King Street West in Toronto, between Peter and University. Even if you’re not up to going indoors yet, they’re showing outdoor screenings of classic movies. On stage, there are free concerts, and there are always sponsors handing out free samples to munch on, street performers, people dressed up, fans waiting to photograph arriving celebrities, the whole kit and kaboodle. This is pre-recorded so I can’t promise that’s what it will be but that’s prediction. It’s actually fun. That’s just on this weekend, so if you’re in Toronto, you should drop by.

This week I’m talking about two new movies playing at TIFF, both on indigenous peoples in the two antipodes. There’s throat singing in the far north and a new telling of history,  far, far south of the equator.

But first here are a few other TIFF movies I can’t wait to see. 

MOVIES AT TIFF

Chevalier (Stephen Williams) is about a little-known Guadaloupe-born composer in Paris during Mozart’s era. I want see it because it stars Kelvin Harrison Jr, one of the best new actors around who creates an entirely new character for each movie he’s in to the point he’s virtually unrecognizable.

Steven Spielberg has a world premier at TIFF with The Fablemans, his first autobiographical movie. Why do I want to see it? I’m just really curious to see what he did.

Women Talking is based on a book by Mirriam Toews about a Mennonite-type colony. It stars Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Sheila McCarthy, Frances McDormand, but I really want to see it because it’s directed by Sarah Polley.

The Kingdom Exodus is about a weird Danish hospital. It’s a TV show, something I rarely bother to watch at TIFF, and I know nothing about it, but the reason I want to see it is it’s directed by Lars von Trier, and I’ll watch anything he makes, no matter how painful.

And finally I hope to catch The Hotel, about a bunch of Chinese people stranded in a hotel in Thailand during 2020’s Spring Festival, just as the pandemic lockdown hit. I want to see it because it’s directed by Wang Xiaoshuai, who is an under-appreciated but skilled and thoughtful filmmaker.

Ever Deadly

Dir:Tanya Tagaq and Chelsea McMullan

Tanya Tagaq is an Inuit throat singer and performance artist from Nunavut. Ever Deadly documents a performance accompanied by musicians and singers. It’s experimental, avant-garde music interspersed with stories and poems recited as part of the concert. Throat singing is a traditional Inuit art form, but she also experiments with it, in a unique, highly sexual, sensual, visceral, animalistic and at times even supernatural voice. If you’ve seen her before you’ll know what I mean. The film is also about her family’s history, and that of Canada. Her nomadic grandparents were forcibly relocated to a barren arctic area, with nowhere to hunt or fish, in order to claim sovereignty of the land along the northwest passage. Chelsea McMullan also includes stunning scenes of the stark arctic landscape, polar bears, migrating birds, aurora borealis. And not just the visuals but also the sounds like the unique squeaking crunch of walking on pebbles on a beach. There are vintage footage and photos contrasting lawmakers in parliament with Inuit kids gleefully eating bloody raw seal meat. And grotesque, highly-sexualized animated drawings.

If you’ve ever seen Tagaq perform you’ll know exactly why you should see this, but if you haven’t, it’s time for you to experience it.

We Are Still Here

Dir: (Various)

At the height of the British Empire maps were coloured pink on every continent, showing both colonies and the so-called Dominions, areas, like Canada, Australia and New Zealand that were settled by Europeans who make up most of their populations. But these places weren’t empty when the British arrived. 

This film rewrites the history of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific as seen from an indigenous point of view. It’s made by eight filmmakers, four each from Australia and Aotearoa, and it consists of a number of scenes set in the past, present and future. The first British ships appear on the horizon to a mother and daughter catching fish. A settler lost in the bush demands an aboriginal guide show him the way back to his town. A Maori village debates whether to go to war against settlers, ending in a Haka war dance. And a soldier in the trenches of Gallipoli, has an unusual conversation with his enemy, a Turkish soldier. There’s also a dystopian view if the future, and a number set in the present day, including a clandestine graffiti artist and a young protestor. One of the most moving ones is about an ordinary guy, a tradesman, just trying to buy a bottle of wine from a grog shop (liquor store), who is stopped each time by an abusive cop because he’s indigenous, and it’s Northern Territory where, apparently, it’s legal to routinely treat some people as second-class citizens.

I shy away from reviewing short films because they’re too short and there are too many of them. But We Are Still Here functions as a feature film, telling all the stories not as individual short films, but interwoven into a common coherent thread, jumping back and forth between then and now. It’s nicely done and relevant, very moving, and made by indigenous filmmakers. And it helps restore parts of history that have up to now been erased.

We are Still Here and Ever Deadly are both playing at TIFF;  Festival Street is open all weekend.

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

Summer entertainment. Films reviewed: Three Thousand Years of Longing, Alienoid, The Good Boss

Posted in Australia, comedy, Fairytales, Fantasy, Korea, Magic, Science Fiction, Spain, Thriller, Time Travel, Turkey by CulturalMining.com on August 27, 2022

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

This week I’m talking about three entertaining summer movies from around the world. There’s a British academic who meets a djinn in Istanbul; an ambitious businessman forced to “weigh his options” in Spain; and some alien, time-travelling prison guards trying to catch mutant convicts in medieval Korea.

Three Thousand Years of Longing

Co-Wri/ Dir: George Miller (Based on the short story by A.S. Byatt)

Dr Alithia Binney (Tilda Swinton) is a British academic in Istanbul for a conference. She’s a narratologist, someone who studies the structure of stories and how they’re told. She’s been obsessed by stories since she was a kid, when she even had an imaginary friend. She’s still more comfortable reading than talking to other people. But these imaginary friends seem to be reappearing more often lately. A small man in a lambskin coat talks to her in the airport — but no one else sees him. And when giving a lecture a strange man in Mesopotamian garb appears in the audience. But she really starts to worry when one of them doesn’t go away. This all started when a glass bottle she found in an Istanbul antique store let loose a gigantic genie (Idris Elba)  — or Djinn as he calls himself. To no one’s — surprise since we all know this narrative structure — he grants her three wishes. But to the Djinn’s shock she says she doesn’t want anything. She’s content with what she has, and besides, these sort of stories always go wrong in the end. So the Djinn tells her his 3000-year-long story instead, and what will happen if she doesn’t use those wishes. And an amazing tale it is, with characters like Solomon and Sheba, and the sultans of Ottoman Arabia. There’s a sluggish prince locked in a fur-lined chamber with a dozen huge-breasted Rubenesque consorts. And a woman genius in the Renaissance who just wants to study. Like a story within a story, these talks are told by the djinn as they both sit in her hotel room, dressed in white terrycloth robes and towel turbans. Is this all in her mind, or is it real? And if so, what will her wishes be?

Three Thousand Years of Longing is the retelling of stories within stories, in the style of The Thousand and One Nights, but told from a contemporary perspective. These are framed by Alithia’s own stories, and contemporary events. George Miller, of Mad Max fame, directed this, and spares no special effects — there is a mind-boggling plethora of CGIs in every scene: with non-stop, lush magical images. Idris Elba is fun as the Djinn with his pointy ears and the blue-green scales on his legs; and Tilda Swinton is great as always, this time bedecked in rose-coloured skirts, with a red pageboy haircut and academic glasses. Nothing deep here and it’s not terribly moving, but I always love a good story, well-told. 

Alienoid

Wri/Dir: Choi Dong-hoon

It’s Korea six centuries ago, when a metal object tears through the sky, killing a woman with its tentacles. But, believe it or not, the tentacles are from the good guys, and the medieval Korean woman is actually an escaped mutant killer from another planet. You see, Guard (KIM Woo-bin) and Thunder are alien prison guards who lock the mutant prisoners inside human brains… and if they try to escape, earth’s atmosphere will kill them in a few minutes. But the humans with the alien prisoners locked inside them have no idea.

The woman they killed has a newborn baby girl, so they take her with them back to 2022 and raise her like she’s their own child (yes, little Ean has two daddies!) But they’re neither human nor mutants — Guard is a sophisticated robot and Thunder is a computer program, but they both can take on human form. Now in 2022 things are going bad. Alien mutants have arrived on earth to free the prisoners and turn the earth’s air toxic for humans but breathable by them. And they’re winning the battle.

But back to 600 years ago, things aren’t as bad. Muruk (RYU Jun-yeol) is a young Dosa, or spell caster, who earns his living as a bounty hunter. Now he’s after something more valuable — a legendary crystal knife called the divine blade for its strange powers. He tracks it down to a wedding and impersonates the groom to steal it. What he doesn’t know is his “bride” is also an imposter seeking the same prize. So are Madame Blue and Mr Black, veteran sorcerers who make their living selling magic trinkets, as well as some evil killers, one of which dresses like a man from 2022. Who are all these people? What’s going on here? Will the world be destroyed? And what’s the connection between then and now?

Alienoid is a Korean movie about science fiction time travel that spans all genres. It’s part action, superhero, fantasy, romance, drama, and comedy. It deftly incorporates the time-travelling robots from Terminator; HK style airborne fighting, and the funny, soapy characters of Korean historical TV dramas all pulled together in a way I’ve never quite seen before. It has a huge budget — 33 billion won — but it’s not a superhero movie. That’s another great thing about Alienoid: unlike superheroes, all the main characters may have some special powers but they also have major flaws: they mess up a lot, lie, cheat, steal, and behave like grifters. One warning (not a spoiler) the movie finishes, but it doesn’t end, with the next sequel coming out next year. So if you’re looking for a highly entertaining two hours, you can’t go wrong with Alienoid.

The Good Boss

Dir: Fernando León de Aranoa 

Julio Blanco (Javier Bardem) is the owner of Blanco Scales, a factory in a small Spanish town — he inherited the company from his Dad. They make everything from bathroom scales to enormous steel balances that can weigh a whole cow. He knows he’s a successful businessman and a good boss by the way his smiling employees applaud him whenever he makes a speech. They’re like his children, he says beneficently, and when they have a problem, he has a problem — his door is always open to help them out. Then there’s his industry trophy wall, directly across from his marital bed, that recognizes him for his business accomplishments. There’s just one prize he hasn’t won yet, the official regional award, which could open huge doors in government contracts. He’s one of three nominees and he really wants to win it.. All he has to do is make everything run perfectly and all his employees content  within one week — that’s when the inspectors are coming. 

The problem is, not everything is as perfect as he imagines. Production is weeks behind schedule, because Miralles — whom he’s known since childhood — is not paying attention. He’s too busy stalking his wife who he thinks is cheating on him. Won’t Blanco help him catch her in flagrante delecto? Jose, a laid-off employee, doesn’t want to leave; he’s camped out in front of the factory demanding to be rehired. And long-time mechanic Fortuna’s son has been arrested for assaulting strangers in the park — won’t Blanco behave like a role model and get the kid a job somewhere? And then there’s problems of his own creation: he’s flirting with a beautiful new intern, Liliana (Almudena Amor) who seems equally attracted to him. She even has the scales of Libra tattooed on her neck. Little does Blanco know, she’s the daughter of his wife’s best friend, the same one he coddled as an infant. Can he solve all his company’s problems in just one week? Or is he just digging deeper into a hole?

The Good Boss is a biting social satire dealing with class, race, and gender in contemporary Spain. Javier Bardem is terrific as the smarmy Blanco, a big fish in a small pond who loves his glassed-in office where he can lord over all the little people beneath him. A comedy, it’s full of every possible pun about scales — the blind justice statue, the Libra sign, tipping the scales… to name just a few. And though a light comedy, it looks at very dark issues with a jaundiced eye.

I enjoyed this one, too.

Three Thousand Years of Longing and Alienoid both open this weekend across North America; check your local listings; and you can catch The Good Boss now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. 

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

Tough older women. Films reviewed: The Lost Daughter, June Again

Posted in Australia, Dementia, Depression, Drama, Family, Greece, Kids, Secrets, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 8, 2022

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

Well, as I’m sure you know, we’re under lockdown, and all the movie theatres are closed. It’s like Groundhog Day all over again. But that doesn’t mean you can’t watch movies at home on streaming networks or VOD.  So this week I’m looking at two such movies about tough older women. There’s a professor who finds a lost child as she interacts with a family of strangers; and a former matriarch who finds her missing past as she interacts with her own lost family.

The Lost Daughter

Dir: Maggie Gyllenhall

Leda (Olivia Coleman) is an established author and Harvard professor specializing in comparative literature. She has two adult daughters but she’s on vacation alone at a Greek beachside resort for some “me time”. Since she arrived, two men are already flirting with her: Will (Paul Mescal), an Irish lad working there for the summer, and Lyle (Ed Harris) an American old-timer who has been there for thirty years. Though flattered, she’d rather just lie on the beach (she describes herself a selfish person.) But her peace and quiet is broken by a noisy American family, who tell her to move down so they can sit together. She refuses, earning her a chorus of dirty looks. Later, she sees Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother from the same family, struggling with her little daughter who is chewing contentedly on a baby doll. The little girl disappears and panic sets in. And to everyone’s surprise it’s Leda who finds the missing girl, and the family is now grateful to her. But the girl’s doll is still missing, and she is driving Nina crazy with her constant crying. 

Later we discover it’s missing because Leda stole it for herself. Huh….? You see, like young Nina, she has her own checkered history of dealing with her daughters. Can neurotic Leda find happiness on the beach in Greece? Will she sleep with Will or Lyle (or neither)? Can Nina learn to deal with a cranky child? And what about the doll?

The Lost Daughter — based on the novel by Elena Ferrante — is an uncomfortable drama about a middle-aged woman coming to terms with her past. Her younger self is played by Jessie Buckley in a series of extended flashbacks. The “doll” aspect of the story, makes it seem like a psychological thriller… but it’s not. Rather it’s an intense character study of Leda, past and present. The acting is superb, especially Olivia Coleman as a woman dealing with an internal crisis. But the movie itself is hard to watch. Leda is not that sympathetic a character — we see all her faults and terrible decisions, because we’re inside her mind.  It’s mainly about her internal struggles, something harder to convey in a movie than in a novel.  It does have other parts I haven’t talked about — her poetry, her love affair, her time with her daughters — that make it richer and more complex than I described. It’s not a simple film. But it’s mainly about fear, suspicion, guilt and regret. Does it work? I guess so. It’s well-made but largely uncomfortable and unpleasant to watch.

June Again

Wri/Dir: JJ Winlove

It’s a normal day in New South Wales, Australia. June (Noni Hazlehurst) is an older woman living in a nursing home. Ever since a stroke, five years earlier, she has suffered from vascular dementia and aphasia — she can’t finish a sentence, and barely recognizes her own family when they come to see her. She just sits there in a semi-comatose state. Until, one morning, she wakes up as a whole new June. Or rather the old June. Suddenly she can complete a cryptic crossword, and responds to staff inquiries with a witty riposte. She is disturbed to see where she’s living. What are these hideous clothes she’s wearing, why is this place so tacky, and why is she there? They tell her she has dementia, and although she’s back to normal now, it’s only temporary. But June decides to use her time wisely.  She engineers an escape from that “prison”, zooming away in a taxi, and stealing some brightly-patterned clothes on the way. But everything has changed. 

Her home is no longer hers — there’s another family living there, and all her possessions are gone, including a prized wooden wardrobe.  The company she founded — a prestigious manufacturer of hand-printed wallpaper — has gone to seed, and is headed by a douchey manager who calls her former colleagues “girls”.  They‘re printing on low-grade paper now and have lost al their prestigious clients.  And her two adult children aren’t on speaking terms. When she last saw her son Dev (Stephen Curry) he was studying architecture and raising a family. Now he’s divorced, spends little time with beloved her grandson Piers (Otis Dhanji) and is working as a clerk in a copy shop. Her daughter Ginny (Claudia Karvan) has completely abandoned the factory, June’s life work. And June’s finances are a mess.  But what can she do — with the limited time she has left — to make everything right again?

June Again is a funny and heartwarming story of a woman given a second chance. The early scenes of Dementia June are similar to the movie The Father (starring Anthony Hopkins) where time sudden’y jumps forward to signify her frequent memory loss. But most of the movie is about Normal June, a brash, funny and bossy matriarch who won’t take no for an answer. Noni Hazlehurst is wonderful as June — the whole movie revolves around her, and luckily she’s marvellous to watch. June again is fun to watch, and though dealing with a sad topic is upbeat all the way. 

I liked this one a lot. 

June Again is now available on VOD, and The Lost Daughter is now streaming on Netflix. 

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

The Aussie connection. Reviewed: Stateless, Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful

Posted in Australia, Berlin, documentary, Drama, Fashion, photography, Prison, Refugees, TV by CulturalMining.com on July 24, 2020

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

Toronto used to be movie city, a place with countless films in production at any one time, competing for access to location shots and studio space. Dozens of screens showing the latest releases and over a hundred film festivals showcasing upcoming hits… but that was pre-Pandemic. Now the city is so dead you can almost hear a pin drop.

But don’t panic, movies are still being shown. The Lavazza Drive-in Film Fest continues at Ontario Place, showing everything from Bollywood comedies to Italian dramas to crowd pleasers from Brazil, the US and China. Go to ICFF.ca for tickets. And if you want to stay home this weekend, don’t miss the Toronto Arab Film Festival, premiering features and short films online from Canada and around the world, today through Sunday. Films are all free or PWYC. For more information, go to arabfilm.ca.

This week I’m looking at two new productions, a glamorous documentary and a human TV drama, both with an Australian connection. There’s an Australian who wants to be deported to Germany, and a German fashion photographer who finds refuge in Australia.

Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful

Dir: Gero von Boehm

Are the high-fashion photographs you see in Vogue magazine revolutionary and sexually subversive looks at our culture? Or are they violent, misogynistic views of women? A new documentary asks these questions about the pictures of renowned photographer Helmut Newton and the story of his life. He isborn in 1920 in Weimar Berlin. His father owns a factory that makes buttons and buckles. By the time he’s a teenager the Nazis are in power. He’s both repelled by and attracted to the fascist imagery of photographers like Leni Riefenstahl – he’s German-Jewish, immersed in the culture all around him but also highly restricted and persecuted by government laws.

He works as an apprentice for a woman named Yva, one of the first to use photographs within the fashion industry. In 1938 he boards a ship with a ticket to Shanghai, but disembarks in Singapore, and from there to Australia, where he spends two years in an internment camp, joins the army, and eventually becomes a fashion photographer. And he marries his life and work partner, June, AKA Alice Springs.

His photos become a smash hit in Europe, where they change the whole look of fashion photgraphy. By the 1960s he’s the first to use nude models in fashion spreads. His images are filled with fear, embarssment and the threat of violence. They often include statuesque women with domineering expressions, chiseled features, athletic bodies and large breasts. Many verge on soft core porn, with images of women dominating men. There are also photos of women as victims of violence, swallowed whole by aligators, missing limbs or brandishing knives.

And, surprisingly, a series of photos showing the erotic violence of roast chickens.

Newton settled into the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood where he died in a car accident, aged 83.

This film takes an unusual tactic. Rather than the narrator intruding into the film, we hear instead from all the women, the actors and models, he worked with: Grace Jones, Isabella Rosselini, Catherine Deneuve, Hannah Schygulla, Claudia Schiffer, Marianne Faithfull, Anna Wintour and many more. They talk about whether they felt liberated or exploited by posing in the nude; what it was like to work with him, and how the final images are often very different from the shooting itself. Many mention how he treated models like puppets, dolls or manequins that convey Newton’s ideas not the models – that’s undeniable. But most say they loved working with him and also liked the shocking and subversive images they played a part in. This film mirrors Newton’s gaze of women and turns it around by reversing the POV to that of those women examining Newton and his work. Very clever.

If you like the aesthetic of glamorous images, high fashion, and stark, nude women’s bodies — that also gives a subjective voice to the women Newton used as objects — you will love this doc.

Stateless

Created by Tony Ayres, Cate Blanchett, Elise McCredie

It’s the 2000s in a remote detention centre somewhere in Australia. High fences stop inmates from escaping, while visitors must line up to pass through security inspections. It’s just another day in the life prisoners in the carceral system. The problem is this isn’t a prison at all and the inmates have committed no crimes. They’re actually asylum seekers, refugees from around the world, who arrive there by boat.

One such inmate is Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi) who is separated from his wife and kids. The family fled the Taiban in Afghanistan only to find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous refugee brokers who steal their savings and set them adrift in leaky boats. Ameer manages to reach Australia on his own, but now he’s locked up in the detention centre and can’t find his beloved family.

Another inmate is Eva (Yvonne Strahovski). Unlike most of the detainees, she’s not a refugee from the developing world; she’s European and just wants to leave Australia for Germany. But she has no papers to prove who she is. That’s because she’s actually an Australian flight attendant on the run from a creepy personality cult.

The inmates are guarded by people like Cam (Jai Courtney) a likeable newlywed from a nearby town. With the decent salary he can afford a new house with a swimming pool. But after a few months of working in the toxic prison-like atmosphere he finds himself morphing from ordinary guy to sadistic torturer.

Then there’s Claire (Asher Keddie) an ambitious federal civil servant. She’s sent there to clean the place up, keep journalists at bay and restore the centre’s reputation. But she arrives to find news helicopters filming despondent Sri Lankan Tamil refugees camped out on rooftop, with others driven to suicide by the horrible and hopeless conditions there. What will happen to the refugees? Will Ameer ever find his family? Why is a mentally ill Australian woman locked up in a concentration camp? And for that matter why are asylum seekers there at all?

Stateless is a six-part drama, based on a true story about actually refugees imprisoned in Australian detention camps, as well as the case of an Australian woman who ended up in one of the camps. It’s a heart-wrenching TV series with powerful acting and compelling characters played out against an extremely bleak setting. I found it really interesting – I wanted to find it what happens and binged-watched it in two sittings. It’s a bit strange though that – except for Ameer – the asylum seekers are all peripheral characters while the three Australian characters all have backstories, histories, neuroses and sex lives. I guess that’s the point – it’s not about asylum seekers, per se, it’s about how poorly the Australian government treats them, and how passionately other Australians fight for their rights.

Stateless is streaming on Netflix, Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful is playing now on VOD.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Ali Weinstein about #Blessed

Posted in Australia, Canada, Christianity, Conservatism, documentary, LGBT, Religion, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on July 17, 2020

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

Pastor Sam is not what you expect to see at a Pentecostal revival meeting. He sports a ginger beard, skinny jeans and half-sleeve tattoos. The sermons are accompanied by slick lighting, sound and music, and the results are posted online. And his Toronto sermons attract a younger flock of millennial hipsters searching for friendship, self-actualization or just something to do. Where did he come from? What does his church believe in? And why is evangelical Christianity making inroads into Canada?

#Blessed is a new documentary that looks at the rise in Canada of C3, an Australian megachurch, its leaders, its followers and its critics. It follows the stories of some of its young members as they adjust to a new world that doesn’t exactly fit with their lifestyles. It’s directed by acclaimed Toronto-based filmmaker Ali Weinstein, whose quirky doc Mermaids has been shown around the world.

I spoke to Ali Weinstein via ZOOM in Toronto

#Blessed had its broadcast premier on July 18 at 8 pm on CBC Docs POV and is streaming on CBC Gem.

Some Antipodean Directors. Films reviewed: The Assistant, Come to Daddy

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

February is the worst month of the year, full of overcast skies, slush on the ground and a general malaise. So I thought: why not look at movies from a place where our winter is their summer? At least the directors, if not the stories. This week I’m looking at two films by directors from the antipodes, one from Australia, another from New Zealand. There’s a thriller/horror about a young man searching for his father’s secrets; and a tense drama about a young woman uncovering horrible secrets in her office.

The Assistant

Wri/Dir: Kitty Green (Interview: Ukraine is not a Brothel)

Jane (Julia Garner) is a young woman trying to make it in New York City. Hired straight out of Northwestern,  she’s currently at the bottom of the ladder, but hopes to work her way up. She’s an assistant at a medium-sized movie industry corporation with offices in New York, London and LA. She’s the first one to arrive, the last one to leave, the sort who eats her fruit loops standing up in the office kitchen.  All the grunt work falls to her — order lunch, sort head shots, distribute memos, serve coffee, book hotel rooms, tidy up her boss’s office. And deal with angry abusive people blaming everything on her. She brushes it all off in exchange for the promise of future work.

But something doesn’t seem quite right. A newly hired assistant, a pretty aspiring actress, has just arrived from Boise, Idaho, fresh out of high school, who has only worked as a waitress in a diner. Jane commutes from remote Astoria while the newest assistant is staying at a first-class hotel. She finds a woman’s earring  under a cushion in the boss’s couch. Why do actresses leave the boss’s office in tears? Why is she sending out blank cheques to unnamed people? And what will happen to the new assistant who thinks she’s here for an audition? Although she doesn’t face sexual abuse from her boss, it’s becoming increasingly clear that other women do. Why isn’t anyone talking about it? And is she to blame of she doesn’t speak up?

The Assistant is a cold, hard look at the rampant sexual harassment and abuse women face. It’s set at some point in the past, before the #MeToo movement broke, when everybody knew what was going on, but nobody ever did anything about it. Or if they did, they would be paid hush money to keep it away from the public. Male assistants laugh nervously, making jokes about which pieces of the boss’s furniture you should never sit in. Older women take it as a given: don’t worry dear, you’re not his type. The movie just lays its out before the audience in all its horribleness… without ever showing it.

Julia Garner gives a stunning performance as Jane, conveying a succession of unspoken emotions over the course of one day through facial expressions and body language: dread, distrust, realization, horror, and fear. There’s a terrific scene where she wraps herself up in a winter coat and a big scarf – like a suit of armour – to somehow shield her from the bad stuff happening all around her. This film gives a realistic look at a widespread problem reduced to a single day in one unnamed office.

The Assistant is a subtly, powerful movie about a difficult and uncomfortable topic that has to be told.

Come to Daddy

Dir: Ant Timpson (Turbo Boy)

Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) is a privileged, 35-year-old guy from LA. He loves fashion, celebrity and the big city. His prize possession is a limited edition, solid gold cel phone designed by Lorde. But something is missing from his life. His father walked out when he was five and Norval was raised by his mother in a Beverley Hills mansion. So when he receives a cryptic, letter from his long-lost Dad telling him he wants to talk to him, he decides to do it. He follows a handwritten map to a rocky beach in the pacific northwest until he finds an isolated, wooden house decorated with christmas lights clinging to the edge of a cliff. He knocks on the door, and a dessicated, grizzled old man opens it. “Hi Dad, Here I am…”

But this is not the kindly father he remembers. Gordon (Stephen McHattie) is a mean drunk, staggering around swilling plonk as he shoots insults at his son. His beady eyes look like dried out raisins. Norval wants to get the hell out of there but only after his dad tells him why he asked him to come in the first place. But when the old man threatens to chop him up with a cleaver, he knows something is not right.

Come to Daddy is a nihilistic thriller/horror as seen through a darkly comic lens. Elijah Wood is great as a nervous, self-centred guy whose First World problems are dwarfed by real life dangers… involving a killer, an eccentric policeman, a coroner, a swingers convention at a nearby motel, and the unexplained noises, that echo — clang clang clang —  around the nearly empty house. The vintage Thai soundtrack helps balance the blood and gore. This is a particular genre; either you like it or you don’t, but I love darkly twisted movies like this, with the quirky characters and constant surprises that keeps me glued to my seat till the final revelation.

The Assistant and Come to Daddy 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

Western-ish. Films reviewed: Lucky, Hostiles, Sweet Country

Posted in 1800s, 1920s, Australia, Indigenous, Movies, Music, US, violence, Western, Wilderness by CulturalMining.com on October 6, 2017

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

If the western seems like an old, tired genre to you, there are some new movies you should take a look at. They reinvent the western by changing key elements and points of view.

This week I’m looking at three new movies that are westerns (or at least western-ish). There’s justice in the outback, a northbound trail, and a lonesome cowboy in the great southwest.

Lucky

Dir: John Carroll Lynch

Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) is a very lucky man. He’s 89 years old, smokes a pack a day, lives on milk, coffee and bloody mary’s – and not much else – and is still in perfect health. He’s a crotchety old coot who wears cowboy boots and a straw hat. He lives alone in a small town in the great southwest, amidst giant Seguara cacti and hundred-year-old tortoises. He likes yoga calisthenics, mariachi and crossword puzzles. He hangs out at the local diner by day and at the corner bar at night. So why is Lucky so sad?

The other day he fell in his kitchen for no reason. His doctor says that’s just what happens when you’re old. This makes Lucky reexamine his long-held attitudes and his stubborn ways. But can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Lucky is a nice and gentle look at an old cowboy in a multi racial southwestern town. It’s an arthouse film, full of music, stories, and funny, quirky characters, (played by David Lynch, Tom Skerrit and others.) It also functions as a tribute to Harry Dean Stanton himself, who plays the music and provides the backstories for the anecdotes Lucky tells. Stanton died earlier this year, but the film is less of an epitaph than a wry celebration of his life.

I like this movie.

Hostiles

Wri/Dir: Scott Cooper

It’s the 1890s in New Mexico. The Indians have all been killed or jailed under an army led by Captain Blocker (Christian Bale). Blocker is widely known for his fighting prowess and his cruelty – they say he’s scalped more natives than anyone. So he’s surprised when the President himself orders him to protect and accompany his sworn enemy on a trip to Montana. Blocker fought and jailed Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) a decade earlier. But now the Chief is dying of cancer and wants to be buried in his ancestral lands. Blocker sets off with the Chief, his family and a squad of soldiers. On the way they meet Rosalie (Rosamund Pike) a dazed mother still holding a dead baby to her breast. Her entire family was wiped out in a Comanche raid a few days earlier. She joins the group. The Chief offers to help them fight the Comanche but Blocker doesn’t trust him – he keeps him shackled to his horse. Is the enemy of his enemy his friend? But as the soldiers travel ever northward they begin to understand their captives, and overcome the fear, bigotry and hatred that killed so many.

Hostiles is a good, traditional western, shot against breathtaking scenery. It’s a bit slow, and there are way too many long-winded apologies as each character asks for forgiveness when he confesses his crimes. (One dramatic mea culpa would have been enough.) Though told from the white point of view, it is sympathetic toward the plight of First Nations. It satisfies as a Western with the horseback riding, shoot-outs and lots of dramatic tension. And Christian Bale makes a great silent soldier who sees the light.

Sweet Country

Dir: Warwick Thonrton

It’s 1929 in Northern Territory, Australia with three homesteads not far from a small town. They’re owned by whites, but worked by aboriginal families. Sam (Hamilton Morris) works for a kindly preacher (Sam Neill); Cattleman Archie (Gibson John) is indigenous but comes from far away. And mixed-race kid Philomac (Tremayne Doolan) lives near — but not with — his white father.

In comes Harry March, a deranged WWI veteran demanding some “black stock” – how he describes aboriginal workers — to repair a fence. Sam and his family volunteer, but March gives them no food or money for their work, and then sexually assaults Sam’s wife.

They flee back to the preacher’s house, pursued by March, armed and dangerous. Sam defends himself but ends up killing March, a white man (as secretly witnessed by Philomac). So Sam and his wife flee into the bush pursued by a posse that includes Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) and Archie as their guide.  The sergeant is the de facto law in these parts and plans to lynch Sam whenever he finds him. But things changes when Sam ends up saving the Sergeant’s  life and turning himself in. Then an actual judge shows up to conduct the trial. But can an Aboriginal man receive justice in a white, frontier town?

Sweet Country is an excellent western set in 20th century Australia. It gives a raw and realistic look at brutal racism and frontier justice. It’s also a subtle examination of identity, and the uneasy give-and-take among the different aboriginal groups, the white settlers and their mixed race descendents.

I recommend this movie.

Sweet Country won the Platform Prize at TIFF and the Special Jury Prize at Venice.

Lucky starts today in Toronto, check your local listings, with Hostiles opening later on. You can catch Sweet Country on Thursday, Oct 19th at the Imaginenative film festival. Go to Imaginenative.org for show times and tickets.

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

Behind the scenes. Films reviewed: Chasing Asylum, Gulistan Land of Roses PLUS I Am What I Play

Posted in Australia, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Guns, Kurds, Movies, Refugees, War by CulturalMining.com on April 29, 2016

12990990_10154130866154169_3035212064760826307_nHi this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s late April in Toronto, and that means it’s documentary season, with movies that take you behind the scenes. CIUT is presenting a special screening of I Am What I Play at the Carlton Cinema next Friday. It takes you behind the scenes at rock radio stations from the 1960s – 1980s. It features Toronto’s own David Marsden. The Mars Bar, broadcasting out of CFNY in Brampton, Ont., introduced the whole alternative music scene — punk, new wave, dance music, British pop — to everyone in the GTA. Incredibly influential. I Am What I Play is at the Carlton Cinema next Friday as part of a series of films presented by this station.

And Hot Docs, Toronto’s international documentary film festival, in on for the next 10 days.2016_Banner It’s showing a huge number of new documentaries, many having their world premier. And remember, if you’re a student or senior, all daytime screenings until 5 pm are free for you.

This week I’m looking at documentaries that take you behind the scenes. There’s a group of women preparing for battle against ISIS, and a group of refugees unprepared for the trouble they’ll face… from Australia.

Chasing_Asylum_1Chasing Asylum

Dir: Eve Orner

In most countries, refugees have a right to seek asylum upon arrival. The UN charter declares it. Except in Australia. Any migrant arriving by sea is summarily rejected and deported. This, government spokesmen explain, is to deter future migrants. But what happens next is shocking. ForChasing_Asylum_2 several years now, the Australian government has been deporting asylum seekers to camps in the Pacific islands of Nauru and New Guinea. This includes women, children (who receive no schooling) and even babies. What are these detention camps like? The inmates are locked behind metal fences and housed in tents policed by Chasing_Asylum_3former prison guards. And they are stuck there indefinitely.

All whistleblowing related to these detention centres is illegal in Australia, as is taking photos or footage at the camps. But this documentary managed to sneak in hidden cameras to interview detainees, and to speak to former employees. It’s shocking. Conditions there are said to be worse than at actual prisons within Australia. There are numerous cases of women being sexually assaulted, suicides, hunger strikes and even riots and death. Just Chasing_Asylum_4shocking.

And here’s the clincher: it’s not a money issue. Canberra ends up spending half a million dollars per year on each prisoner housed in conditions so squalid it’s described as Australia’s Guantanamo. Watching the film is hard to do: it’s slow paced and depressing at times, and the hidden cameras means you often can’t see faces.

Still, it’s definitely worth seeing. It’s a terrific example of investigative journalism exposing government malfeasance of the worst kind.

Gulistan_5Gulistan: Land of Roses

Dir: Zayne Akyot

It’s Iraqi Kurdistan two years ago. Peshmerga fighters dressed in baggy khaki uniforms with colourful sashes at the waist are training in the forest. They are learning to shoot and engaging in political discussions. Soon they’ll be heading to the battlefront to fight ISIS in the city of Mosul. Just another war documentary, right? Not exactly.

All the fighters in this brigade are women, They are led by a beautiful and charismatic Gulistan_4sergeant named Rojen, She speaks candidly, directly to the camera, saying things like she would feel more beautiful if she had a battle scar on her face. The soldiers switch between combing their long Gulistan_1black hair with nettles and sharing the names they give their rifles. Names like “Patience” and “Beloved”.

There is no up-close violence in this film — it finishes before the actual fighting begins. But a heavy shadow hangs over the brigade, not knowing who will live and who will die.

This is a beautiful movie. It is directed by a Canadian filmmaker from Montreal. But as a kurdish-speaking woman she was allowed to follow the soldier’s intimate lives first hand. This is a rare example of behind-the-scenes footage of the women soldiers challenging ISIS’s rule in Syria and Iraq.

Gulistan, Land of Roses and Chasing Asylum are both having the world premier at Hot Docs — go to hotdocs.ca for showtimes. And this station is presenting I Am What I Play next Friday. go to ciut.fm for details.

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

Life and Death. Movies reviewed: Oddball, I Saw the Light

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, Adventure, Animals, Australia, C&W, Cultural Mining, Drama, Environmentalism, Kids, Movies, Music, US by CulturalMining.com on April 9, 2016

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

It’s spring film festival season in Toronto right now. There’s Cinefranco Special Quebec showing French language movies for free. Next week is the 29th annual Images festival,  with galleries and movie theatres both images.jpgpresenting art on film. And Hot Docs, Toronto’s documentary festival is on later this month. But right now, starting today, is TIFF Kids, with movies from all over the 580ad56c1332d2d14ea2d62d12e141e1world for kids age 3-13, including many free screenings.

This week I’m looking at movies about life and death. There’s a real-life drama about a dog trying to keep some animals alive, and a biopic about a country and western singer trying to drink himself to death.

g5yk0j_oddball_02_o3_8961200_1456928702Oddball

Dir: Stuart McDonald

Emily (Sarah Snook) is a conservationist from a small town in Australia. It’s a tourist village filled with locals dressed in historical outfits. Emily lives with her young daughter Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies) and her boyfriend, Bradley (Alan Tudyk) a tourism exec from New York. Her job? To keep alive a tiny flock of fairy penguins. These adorable little birds return each year to nest on a rocky island just offshore. It’s a wildlife preserve. But the penguins are threatened by an invasive, European species – foxes – that is knocking down their numbers. For theNxG8zv_oddball_06_o3_8961424_1456928765 island to remain a sanctuary, free of development, it has to have at least ten little penguins.

So they set up a watchman with a tranquilizer gun to stop the foxes, and build special boxes for the penguins to nest in. But still the numbers decrease. What can they do to save them?

ElyP3W_oddball_05_o3_8961362_1456928748Enter Olivia’s Grandpa (Shane Jacobson) and his dog Oddball. Swampy is a husky, bearded chicken farmer, given to frank talk and wild schemes. Oddball is a furry white dog who keeps the foxes out of Swampy’s chicken coops. Olivia adores her grandpa and his dog. Emily does too, but finds them a bit if a nuisance. Bradley can’t stand the dog. When Oddball runs rampant through the town, all hell breaks loose. He messes up an important event and upsets the apple cart. Literally. The town bigwigs are furious and banish Oddball to the farm 8qg9Jr_oddball_03_o3_8961241_1456928717forever.

But when Swampy notices how kind Oddball is to a penguin he saves, he and Olivia hatch a secret plan: Oddball becomes the official Penguin Guard on the rocky island. But they mustn’t let the bad guys who want to develop the island into a tourist trap – know what they’re doing. Can they save the penguins, outsmart the townfolk and preserve the sanctuary?

This is a cute movie based on a true story. It’s full of fair dinkum Aussie culture. And it avoids most of the pitfalls of kids movies: it’s not too violent or scary, no talking dogs, no princesses, nothing supernatural, and no commercial tie-ups. The only thing this movie is selling is conservationism.

db527156-7641-4c3b-8acf-64302690018bI Saw the Light

Wri/Dir: Marc Abraham

It’s 1944, in Andalusia, Alabama. Hank and Audrey are young musicians madly in love. Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) is pretty as a picture with her doe eyes and auburn hair. Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) is skinny and tall with jug ears. They’re getting married on the sly, with no wedding, no preacher, no guests. They hope to be famous someday, but for now they still live with Hank’s single mom, Lillie (Cherry Jones). She’s a classic stage mother chauffeuring her son to shows for 10 years now. 4fbd6615-aef7-49f6-a24a-2e1f61302ab4 Her Hank can do no wrong, but that Audrey – she could be trouble.

Hank and his band — guitar, bass, fiddle and steel — perform their hillbilly tunes on local radio each morning and at a bar at night. Some people like the sad songs he writes, but it doesn’t stop the hecklers and fighters from making his life miserable. One man nearly breaks his back in an unprovoked barroom brawl. So Hank shows up drunk as a skunk at most gigs. Alcohol eases his pain. His mom keeps him happily inebriated dropping bottles of hooch into his coat pockets, and Audrey doesn’t like it one bit. She thinks they’d be famous by now if he weren’t such a lush. And when he drops her from his radio show – her screechy voice is unpopular — things get dicey between them.

1S5B3346.JPGThough he’s a prolific songwriter, churning out hits by the dozen, he wants to be known as a performer. His ultimate goal? To join the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.

I Saw the Light follows Hank Williams’ quick rise to fame, cut short by a heart attack at age 29. Based on a tell-all biography, the movie concentrates on his problems at home and his troubles at work. So we get to see his fights with his wife, his extramarital affairs, his alcoholism, his back pain and his 79f73698-fa5a-44b4-854a-e084b4315d1daddiction to painkillers. At work we’re privy to the back room deals of the country music industry, with his agent/manager Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford) as our guide and sometime narrator. The question is — why? His agent is boring. And his home life is depressing. It’s all very sordid and sad with hardly any good moments to relieve his relentless funk. I’m not saying the movie’s boring, just not fun to watch. We can ogle Hank’s hard times from afar, but we never get to see into his heart or share his passion.

The one redeeming factor is Hank Williams’ music. Something about his songs — both the sad tunes and the upbeat ones – always brings a tear to my eye.

I Saw the Light opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. And Oddball is the opening night movie for TIFF Kids. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

America, America. Films reviewed: Charlie’s Country, Mistress America, American Ultra

Posted in Australia, CIA, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, drugs, Indigenous, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 21, 2015

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

American Graffiti, American Gigolo, American Psycho, American Beauty… notice a pattern here? Hollywood is loathe to give up a trend as long as it’s still profitable. This week I’m looking at two new “America” movies and one from Northern Australia. There’s a drama about an Aboriginal hunter tied to the land, a comedy about two sisters not tied by blood, and an action thriller about a small town couple tied to their vaporizer.

P1Wr2A_charliescountry_01_o3_8713870_1438270187Charlie’s Country

Dir: Rolf de Heer

Charlie (David Gulpilil) is a hunter who lives on Aboriginal lands in Australia’s Northern Territory. All he wants is a job, a home and a place to practice the traditional ways: to take his spear and rifle into the bush, shoot a bird… and eat it. Sounds like a simple request. But the “whitefellas” (or “white bastards” as he sometimes calls them) seem to do everything they can to ruin his life.

While nominally still his land, it is strictly administered by govertnment agents who intrude into every aspect of his life. oYX82X_charliescountry_04_o3_8713994_1438270186They drive police cars and check anyone entering or leaving the Aboriginal lands. Charlie prefers to live-and-let-live, an existence not ruled by borders and fences. But when the government confiscates even his gun and spear… how is he supposed to hunt?

Meanwhile, the elders expect him to pass his knowledge on to the kids. It’s all too much for him so, remembering his earlier trips into the bush, Charlie sets off carrying nothing but his experience to guide him. But his beard is grey now… can he survive? Or will he brought to his knees by the government and police in Darwin?

vgLRg0_charliescountry_05_o3_8714054_1438270195Charlie’s Country is a casually paced film but one that packs a powerful punch. It’s told from Charlie’s point of view and in his language. Gulpilil co-wrote the script. He is fantastic in this movie, as is all the cast. He is also a legendary actor in Australia. I first saw him in the title role in Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout when I was just a kid. It disturbed meWalkabout poster at the time to see another boy die in a movie; maybe that’s why I remember it so well. It’s almost as if this movie continues that story and brings it up to date.

Though at times funny, it’s a moving look at the devastating effects of the government’s superficially well-meaning but ultimately destructive intrusions into the lives of its Aboriginal people.

image-cd5747c9-33fe-46ef-b347-3f0934d056ecMistress America

Dir: Noah Baumbach

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a college student in New York City. She’s smart, funny and drop-dead gorgeous. But school life is not kind to her. She has a crabby dorm-mate, no friends, no sex life… no life, period. An aspiring writer, her short story gets firmly rejected by the school’s literary club. Tracy’s mom is divorced, so she feels a bit uncomfortable to hear her mother is marrying some new guy she’s never met. But then she finds out her stepfather-to-be has a image-8b8d0511-0e6d-4bc2-9be7-5418ec1c4d2cdaughter living not far away in New York City. That means she has a sister – a fully-grown sister – that she can meet.

Her new sister Brooke (Greta Gerwig) is a blonde whirling dervish with ADHD. She’s in a band, she’s opening a restaurant, she has a boyfriend in Greece, everyone knows her, everyone loves her. She’s flashy, she’s trashy, she’s wordy but in an odd sort of way. And everything she image-e1cde435-260b-4fb2-9085-e834e858494ctouches turns to gold. That’s Tracy’s first impression. She wants either to be with her or become her. Meanwhile, ever the aspiring writer, she records everything Brook says or does… and turns it into a short story.

But as she gets to know her better she realizes Brook is teetering on the brink – a step away from bankruptcy and homelessness. So the two of them (plus two of Tracy’s non-friends) pile into a image-ee6ce8c2-edad-4e9b-bb05-5a0283bda293car for a field trip to Greenwich Connecticut. Brook figures it’s time to call in some favours from her former best friend. But how strong are the bonds tying these two non-sister together?

I liked this movie. Mistress America has an unusual structure. Tracy narrates the movie. The first part is life on campus and her fast-moving nights on the town with Brooke. The second part is more like a drawing-room comedy, with various characters playing out their parts at the Greenwich home. This makes the film feel a bit disjointed or unbalanced. But since I liked the two parts, I liked the whole movie a lot, too.

IH7A9142.CR2American Ultra

Dir: Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) Wri: Max Landis (Chronicle)

Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) lives in a small town in West Virginia where he works in a roadside convenience store. He lives in a shack with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), and the two of them spend most of their time totally baked on weed. He suffers from unexplained panic attacks but Phoebe is always there to talk him down. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he’s being watched, via satellite, by hidden cameras. And who is doing the watching? The CIA, a.k.a. “TheBL5U2102.CR2

Company”.

Yates (Topher Grace) is a pencil-pushing popinjay at The Company, who is drunk on power. He says he’s going to “terminate an asset”. By “asset” he means Mike, and by “terminate” he means kill. But Mike has an advocate of his own, a field agent named Lassiter (Connie BL5U8500.CR2Britton). She visits Mike on the sly to tell him what to expect – and possibly save his life. The thing is, Mike hasn’t a clue what she’s talking about. So either the CIA has made a big error, or Mike has a very poor memory. Or maybe some combination of both.

Whichever it is, Mike and Phoebe must somehow fight off a squadron of special-op psycho-killers who descend on the small town to get him. Can a lazy stoner and his girlfriend fight off the most dangerous killers in the world?

American Ultra is an unusual genre movie: it’s a Stoner Comedy Action Thriller. A S.C.A.T. And I think it’s the best S.C.A.T. so far. It’s funny, it’s exciting and it’s (intentionally) stoopid. Maybe not for everyone, but I liked it a lot.

American Ultra, Mistress America and Charlie’s Country all 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

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