Hope? Films reviewed: The Matrix Resurrections, Try Harder, American Underdog

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

New Year’s Day is a good time to look toward the future and make plans. So this week I’m looking at three new movies, a drama, a documentary, and a science fiction action /thriller, about looking forward. There’s a football player who dreams of playing for the NFL, a group of high school students who dream of going to Stanford, and a video game creator who dreams of a world completely different from our  own. 

The Matrix Resurrections

Co-Wri/Dir: Lana Wachowski 

Tom Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a video game maker and programmer in Chicago. His baby is a series called The Matrix —0 there have been three versions so far and the company is thinking of creating a fourth. The game — created and programmed by Tom and financed by his business partner (Jonathan Groff) — is about two fighters named Neo and Trinity who fight in a parallel world against a villain named Smith. At a cafe Tom frequents, he notices a woman named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), and she notices him, too. Have they met? No, but Trinity and Neo, the characters in the game, look very similar to Tiffany and Tom. And Tom has been having weird dreams and deja vu, so his analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) gives him meds  — blue pills — to keep his mind from wandering. That is, until one day glitches start to appear on his computer matrix, unexplained activity within his own designs. These soon morph into changes in real life: people, (actually characters he created) are appearing in the office! And they know who he is… Bugs (Jessica Henwick), a fighter, and Morpheus (Yahya Abdul Mateen II) are their to explain it all. 

You’re not Tom, they say, you’re Neo. And it isn’t your dreams that are false, it’s your daily life that’s made up. You can pass through mirrors, climb walls, jump off roofs and fly! And if he just stops swallowing those blue pills he’ll see what the world is really like — a futuristic dystopia of people kept alive in rusty pods guarded by scary bots. Will he stay in his current world or break free? What awaits him in the other world? And will Tiffany/Trinity come with him if he goes?

The Matrix Resurrections is the long awaited sequel to the famous Matrix trilogy that has permeated our popular culture. People still use the terms “swallowing the blue pill” to refer to those who go about their daily lives ignoring a darker reality. It incorporates older footage in the forms of dreams and flashbacks, while introducing new characters as well as new actors playing older roles. It’s two and half hours long, much of which is gun fights, chase scenes, and endless SGI images.

Does it work? I’m not a Matrix fanboy, so I have no deep, vested interest in finding out what happens to these characters. I like the new plot twists, and the whole meta-aspect of it (it initially presents the previous episodes as existing in this universe but only as video games). And it’s fun just to watch (though a bit too long). I enjoyed this final version of the Matrix, but it didn’t change my life.

Try Harder

Dir: Debbie Lum

San Francisco’s Lowell School, known for its exceptional test scores and a graduation rate of nearly 100%, is one of the most famous public schools in California. Students there are under pressure — from their parents, other students, and themselves, to achieve high marks, SAT scores and ultimately to get into a prestigious university. This documentary looks at five students as they try to navigate the stress of senior year. 

The film follows the students at school, in their classes, at teams and clubs, and at home. The school — like the city — has a large Asian-American population, mainly of Chinese origin, but explores the stark differences as well, of class race and culture. Some are the kids of recent immigrants, while others are a part of the city’s long history. It also looks at differences in attitudes and stereotypes. This film doesn’t try to dig too deeply or uncover surprising turns; rather it observes and talks to the subjects and lets nature take its course — as they apply to universities and change their expectations over the course of the year. Try Harder is an intimate look at how teenagers handle what many consider the most important year of their lives. 

American Underdog

Dir: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin

Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi) is born in small-town Iowa and raised by his divorced mom. Ever since he was a kid he has always wanted to be a pro football player. He practices religiously, till his arm can throw balls like a howitzer. After  high school he makes the team  at Northern Iowa University, but spends most of his time on the bench. One night, at a roadhouse bar, a certain woman catches his eye. Brenda (Anna Paquin) is a no-nonsense former marine who likes line dancing and Country & Western music. But she won’t give Kurt her number. How come? She has two small kids, including one with disabilities, and she doesn’t have the time to waste on guys like him. But Kurt is persistent. He brings her flowers, and more important, just it off with Zach (Hayden Zaller) her legally blind and disabled son. So they start dating. Meanwhile his career is advancing nicely, until he is asked to try out for the Green Bay Packers. Is this his big chance? Nope, he only lasts one day. 

Now he has to work as a stock boy at the local grocery store. Eventually he is recruited to play pro football… well, kinda. It’s a new sport called Arena Football: played indoors on smaller fields, with fewer players and is much faster than the usual game. The years pass, and he’s spotted by someone who wants him to play on for the St Louis Rams — that’s NFL. But can someone who is way too old to be a rookie, and too green to be a pro  ever make it in the NFL? And can he win and keep Brenda’s heart?

American Underdog is a moving family drama and sports biopic based on a true story.  It’s no spoiler to say that Warner ended up taking his team to the Super Bowl and was awarded Most Valuable Player and is now in the NFL Hall of Fame. But this film tells us what led up to it and how he got there.

This is what’s known as a “Christian” or “faith-based”  movie,  a particular American genre, with no nudity, sex, drugs or even cussing. It’s all about cornfields and country music… not my usual cup of tea. Nor am I football fanatic. But you know what? It’s a compelling story, with real situations and interesting characters. It’s not sappy or corny or cheesy, nor is it cringe-worthy (unlike your average Hallmark movie). No. This is an honestly good, nice film. OK, there’s no way — even in a dark room — that you would ever mistake a 40-year-old Zachary Levi for a college student. No way. But that’s beside the point. He’s good, and so is Paquin, and Hayden Zaller as the kid Zach is adorable without ever being cutesy. I saw the Erwin brothers previous Christian film, “I Still Believe” and there’s no comparison — this one is a cut above. 

American Underdog, is now playing theatrically, check your local listings. You can find the Matrix Resurrections in theatres and certain streaming services, while Try Harder is playing at Hot Docs cinema and on VOD.

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

Friday the 13th movies. Films reviewed: Extra Ordinary, I Still Believe, The Hunt

Posted in Action, Christianity, College, comedy, Ghosts, Horror, Ireland, Music, Romance, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on March 13, 2020

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

If it feels like the world is going crazy, well it is. And it’s Friday the 13th, too. This week I’m looking at two movies with a sinister theme, and one more for believers. There’s a car rental clerk fighting the “liberal elites”, a  driving instructor fighting Satan, and a Christian rock devotee using prayer to cure cancer.

Extra Ordinary

Dir: Mike Ahern, Enda Loughman

Rose (Maeve Higgins) is a middle-aged psychic driving instructor in Eastern Ireland. She believes ghosts are everywhere. When she was still a little girl, she used her paranormal abilities on her Dad’s TV show. But when he died she blamed herself and stopped listening to ghosts. Nearby lives Martin (Barry Ward) a highschool shop teacher whose house is haunted by a poltergeist. He’s used to it burning his toast or throwing away unhealthy food like donuts. But when he finds his daughter Sarah in a trance and floating above her bed, he senses something has changed. So he goes to Rose for help. She thinks he’s cute – but does he like her that way?

What neither of them realize is Sarah’s possession is the work of Christian Winter (Will Forte) a sinister pop star who lives in a nearby castle. Winter is a one-hit wonder trying to regain his fame with a little help from Satan. But to do so he needs to sacrifice a virgin – that’s Sarah, Martin’s daughter. Can two psychic talents overcome powerful forces? And are Rose and Martin just friends? Or is there something more?

Extra Ordinary is a very cute paranormal comedy. Much of its humour comes from the “ordinary” — average, middle-aged people with normal lives – set against a bizarre world of magic and ghosts. And it’s presented within a retro world full of Swiss Balls and VHS videos.  Higgins is hilariously deadpan as Rose, while Ward shows his stuff when his body is occupied by a series of spirits. If you’re looking for a nice light break from the ordinary, this is a fun one to watch.

I Still Believe

Dir: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin

It’s 1999 in Indiana. Jeremy Camp (KJ Apa: Riverdale) says good bye to his parents (Gary Sinise, Shania Twain) and his two little brothers and heads off to college in California. He carries his prize possession: an acoustic guitar. At college he meets Jean-Luc (Nathan Parsons) a popular musician who lets him work as a roadie at a show. And almost immediately he falls in love with a young woman he sees in the audience. Melissa (Britt Robertson) is smart, pretty, and is into astronomy.. Jeremy’s career takes off with help from Jean Luc, even as his love — or infatuation – with Melissa grows. Problem is she’s dating Jean Luc… or is she? Later she comes down with a terrible illness. Can Jeremy cure her using prayer?

If you haven’t noticed yet, I Still Believe is a music biopic (apparently Jeremy Camp is a wildly popular musician, though I’ve never heard of him) and a faith-based movie. Faith-based means capital “C” Christian. It means no nudity – even male characters can’t take their T- shirts off – no violence, no alcohol, no cussing, no cigarettes, no gambling. It’s like Sunday School.

But there’s also no conflict, no tension, no suspense, no villain.

When characters talk to each other, they’re also talking to Jesus. And when Melissa looks up at the stars, she says “They’re God’s paintbrush!” Now don’t get me wrong; the acting was actually good, and the script wasn’t corny or cringeworthy, but the movie itself was just really boring. And for a faith-based movie you’d think it would make you cry a bit. But this movie is so whitewashed, so denuded, that it has no soul. Unless you’re a true believer, stay away from I Still Believe.

The Hunt

Dir: Craig Zobel

What if the culture wars were actual wars, not just twitter spats? This might be what’s going through the minds of 12 random people who wake up in a field somewhere in Vermont (or so they think). They are being attacked by unknown others with crossbows, hand grenades, and assault weapons. And all around them are trip wires and booby traps set to kill. But who is doing this to whom, and why? Turns out the hunted are all Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables”: conspiracy theorists, MAGA loyalists and xenophobes. Their hunters? Politically-correct liberals who use gender-appropriate pronouns and keep farm animals as pets. Who will win this culture war?

The Hunt is the latest version of the classic The Most Dangerous Game done as a very dark comedy. It’s an extremely violent thriller, with occasional bouts of gruesome gore. Some characters are introduced and then immediately killed off. The story focuses on Crystal (Betty Gilpin) an Afghan war vet who works at a car rental service. She is neither a deplorable nor a liberal, just a tough woman with a survival instinct, a suspicious mind, and special-op training. She questions everything she sees, even after she escapes from the so-called hunting ground. Are the people she meets friends, foes or actors playing roles? And can anyone be trusted?

The Hunt deals with obvious stereotypes and cliches but in very funny ways. It’s violent, scary and more than a bit gory. And it’s not for everyone… but I enjoyed this flick.  And it’s the perfect movie to watch during a pandemic.

Extra Ordinary, I Still Believe, and The Hunt 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.

Daniel Garber talks with Renée Beaulieu about Les Salopes at #TIFF18

Posted in Canada, College, Feminism, Quebec, Scandal, Science, Sex, Women by CulturalMining.com on September 7, 2018

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

Marie-Claire is a professor of Dermatology at a Montréal university. She’s in her forties and happily married to Adam, with two teenaged kids. She is researching whether skin cells – which convey touch, the most important of all senses – react to sexual pleasure. And as part of her research she pursues a course of radical experimentation: she decides to sleep with whatever man she desires, whether at work, at play or at home. She finds sexual pleasure without guilt. That is, until she begins to feel the backlash…

Les Salopes: or The Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin is a new movie at the Toronto International Flm Festival. It’s an erotic feminist tome that shifts the focus of desire, seduction, pleasure and satisfaction to the female gaze, with men as The Other.

Les Salopes is written and directed by Renée Beaulieu, a screenwriter, filmmaker and teacher at the Universite de Montreal.

Les Salope has its world premier tonight;  I spoke with Renée Beaulieu in studio at CIUT.

Big plans. Films reviewed: Octavio is Dead, American Animals, Hearts Beat Loud

Posted in Brooklyn, Canada, College, Coming of Age, Crime, Cultural Mining, Dreams, Ghosts, LGBT, Music, Romance by CulturalMining.com on June 22, 2018

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

It’s Pride weekend in Toronto, so this week I’m looking at three indie movies, two of which fall somewhere with in the LGBTQ2 spectrum – can you guess which two? I’ve got four Kentucky fratboys with a secret plan; a Brooklyn daughter and dad forming a band; and a young woman in Hamilton… dressed like a man!

Octavio is Dead

Wri/Dir: Sook-yin Lee

Tyler (Sarah Gadon: Indignation) is a young woman who lives with her shrewish single mom (Rosanna Arquette) in suburban Toronto. But a knock on their door changes everything. It seems her father Octavio, a latino poet and teacher she never met has died. And he left her his condo and all his possessions. So she heads out to Hamilton to try to find out he was, exactly.

What she finds there is surprising. His flat is an Old Curiosity Shop, filled with persian rugs, oil paintings, tapestries and floor-to-ceiling shelves full of books. (She loves books.) There’s a sunroom with withering plants and eccentric neighbours all around. And strangest of all, Octavio himself, or at least his ghost, appears every so often to proffer advice. Later, she sees a young man in a hoodie who has some connection to her dad. She follows him to a burlesque club but is barred from entering: Men Only!

So she cuts off her hair, puts on one of Octavio’s suits and tries again. This time she meets the young man and he opens up to her. Apostolis (Dimitris Kitsos), is a poet who learned about art and literature at Octavio’s knee. He also knew him… intimately. Apostolis likes posing in bathtubs dressed in a toga. He also seems to like Tyler – a lot – and she likes him, too. The problem is he desires her thinking she’s Octavio’s son, while she’s attracted to him as a woman to a man. What to do?

Octavio is Dead is a quirky, indie movie by Sook-yin Lee, best known for CBC’s DNTO, Definitely Not The Opera. This film is also not an opera, but it is full of classical themes projected against a grittty, downtown Hamilton. Cross-dressing Riley feels more Shakespearean than non-binary queer, but the performances — especially laid back Kitsos and intense Gadon — are pleasing to watch.

American Animals

Wri/Dir: Bart Layton

It’s Lexington, Kentucky in 2004. Spencer (Barry Keoghan) is at university studying art, when he notices something strange at Transylvania University. No, not vampires, this is a actual place. A library there holds priceless artworks – like Audubon’s famous bird paintings – in the form of rare books. And these volumes – worth over 10 million dollars – are watched over by a single librarian (Ann Down). He tells this to a friend Warren, (Evan Peters) and a scheme begins to hatch. Warren’s at school on a sports scholarship but is bored by college life. He wants to do something big, something exciting.

His plan is simple: We enter the library disguised as old men, disable the librarian, open the glass case, take out the books and walk straight out the basement door without anyone knowing what we did! The perfect heist.

But they also need a driver and a lookout. So they enlist two friends they can trust: Eric (Jared Abrahamson) a contrarian genius; and Chas (Blake Jenner) a jock / entrepreneur whose also a great driver. Together they just might pull it off.

American Animals is a story of simple plans gone astray and their potential moral consequences. It’s a true story, and the real people involved – the four guys plus the librarian – bring a real-life element as they narrate the story, documentary-style. This stylish true crime drama has some thrilling parts, but it’s mainly good for the characters and the

LA Times: American Animals actors and real counterparts

actors that portray them. Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, Killing of a Sacred Deer) is great as a bored art student, and Canadian Jared Abrahamson (Hello Destroyer, Hollow in the Land, Sweet Virginia) who normally plays angry young men is unrecognizeable as the fuzzy-bearded smart kid. And at times the real people interviewed are even more fascinating than the actors who play them.

Hearts Beat Loud

Dir: Brett Haley

Frank (Nick Offerman) is a former musician who lives in Red Hook, a waterside Brooklyn neighbourhood, with his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons). Frank owns a record store, while Sam is preparing for college: she leaves for UCLA in the fall. For Sam, everything’s coming up roses. She’s going to be a doctor, and meets a pretty young artist Rose (Sasha Lane). Is it true love?

For Frank, on the other hand, times are tough. He’s a musician who has raised his biracial daughter alone since his wife (and former band mate) died in an accident. Now he’s closing his record store and his eccentric lounge singer mom (Blythe Danner) has been arrested for shoplifting. And he’s getting mixed signals from his landlady/prospective girlfriend Leslie (Toni Collette) Is she just a friend… or something more?

The one thing he still has is his jam sessions with Sam. And a particularly good one yields some potential hit singles. When he posts them online, they start picking up listeners. Will the record store be saved? Can Sam take a year off to record and tour with her two-member band? Or will she leave the band, her family and her girlfriend to go to UCLA?

Hearts Beat Loud – which is also the name of one of their songs – is a sweet and gentle story of family and first love. Offerman is believable as a midlife crisis dad trying to hold on to his authenticity, and Kiersey Clemons is wonderful as Sam. She performs her own music, and luckily, she’s really good at it… since about a third of the movie is about people making music.

This film leaves you with a warm feeling inside.

Octavio is Dead, American Animals, and Hearts Beat Loud 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.

Whence America? Films reviewed: Paterson, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities

Posted in African-Americans, College, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Racism, Slavery, US by CulturalMining.com on February 10, 2017

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

The recent executive order known as the Muslim Ban has made the lives of hundreds of thousands of American citizens and residents uncertain. So uncertain that some refugee claimants are fleeing the Land of the Free, seeking sanctuary across the frozen border in Canada.

Whence America? Where is that country heading?

This week, I’m looking at two movies that give a more optimistic look at life in the United States. There’s a new documentary about Historically Black Colleges, and a quirky drama about the state of life in a post-industrial town.

spelman-college-1964Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities

Dir: Stanley Nelson

Did you know that under slavery, it was actually illegal for African Americans to learn to read and write? And that even slave owners – who could beat, sexually assault or even murder their slaves with impunity — were legally forbidden from educating them? It was in the best interest of the Government and slave owner to keep black Americans ignorant, docile, and illiterate.

To counter this, after emancipation and the civil war, African Americans realized education was the most important way to rise up from slavery. The first colleges were opened based on the writings of scholars like Frederick hbcu-students-from-c-1900-graduates-of-atlanta-baptist-college-and-spelman-seminary-from-the-institutions-that-were-later-known-as-morehouse-college-and-spelman-collegeDouglas. And like Douglas, the first students were born into slavery. Early education efforts were aimed at skilled trades or religion, but as the movement grew it shifted to academic subjects.

Two schools of thought emerged. Southerner Booker T. Washington believed in a business-oriented outlook, centred on entrepreneurship but was opposed to any protests or political action confronting the status quo. W.E.B. Du Bois took the opposite stance, and led the movement toward equal rights.

Many of the early colleges were run by whites, who imposed harsher disciplinary policies on black students students.

bp_standingfedbldg_seattle-e1401981658505Fisk University harshly segregated the students by sex and forbade social interaction. This led to a protest and an organized walkout until the school President resigned.

By the 1930s and 40s, the teachers and administration positions were increasingly filled by blacks, many of whom had been educated at these same colleges and universities. The US was still strictly segregated under so-called separate but equal laws. So all the best and the brightest students flocked to these schools, becoming the new black middle class. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, preachers and judges all passed through these schools, including renowned Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (Howard University Law School).

By the the 1950s and ’60s these schools also became a hotbed of black-led political movements. Civil rights tell_them_we_are_rising_the_story_of_black_colleges_and_universities_xlgactions — like sit-ins at segregated lunch counters — were spearheaded by students at black universities..

100 years after it was a crime for blacks to read or write, the Brown v Board of Education decision promised to end segregation in schools. But this had an unexpected negative impact on black colleges. With white universities now open to black students, there was a brain drain of top applicants to ivy league schools.

Today there are still over 100 black colleges and universities, some thriving, but others crumbling for lack of funds.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities is the first documentary to tell the full history of this important but not-widely-known institution. It’s narrated by voiceovers and talking heads: historians and former students and professors from these schools. It’s beautifully illustrated with period photos and film clips touching all aspects of black college life, including educational,  political movements and social: fraternities, and sororities, sports and music.

It’s by director Stanley Nelson who also made the excellent The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.

04e8c932-9d19-4a19-8e05-12ebd8db89f2Paterson

Dir: Jim Jarmusch

Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver who lives with his girlfriend, Laura, in a small house in Paterson, NJ. He lives a routine life. He carries a lunchpail to work each morning, and a notebook to write down any poems that might occur to him. He eats lunch in a tiny national park. After work he talks with Laura over dinner. And each night he walks his dog to a neighbourhood bar and stays PATERSON_D25_0077.ARWfor a drink or two, chewing the fat.

Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) is an artist who remembers her dreams. She covers everything around her in rough swaths of black and white. Clothes, chairs, curtains, cupcakes… their home is her canvas. Except for his basement where he goes to tinker with things and think. The two of them have a symbiotic relationship. he is the observer, passively PATERSON_D19_0011.ARWtaking in what he sees and hears around him. She is the dynamic one, planning their future, and launching business projects that may or may not succeed.

The town of Paterson serves as the third character in the movie. It’s the first city in North America designed as an industrial centre powered by a series of 18th century canals and mills. It has become an artistic hub for New Yorkers who can’t afford the high rents of that city. Jarmusch includes these brick factories and waterfalls in all his outdoor shots. What he doesn’t show is the parts of town with a large and vibrant middle eastern community there. Instead they’re represented by Laura, played by a Persian American actor. (Paterson is also the place where Trump falsely claimed Muslims were dancing on their rooftops during 9-11.) Maybe it’s because I’ve visited Paterson the town, but I was really tickled by this movie.

Paterson is a richly minimalist film that leaves you feeling good about the state of the world.

Paterson opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities is playing on February 15th at the opening night of the Toronto Black Film Festival. Go to torontoblackfilm.com for more information.

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

Making sense of things. Films reviewed: Little Men, Indignation PLUS Lo and Behold

Posted in 1950s, Brooklyn, College, Coming of Age, documentary, Drama, Kids, Romance, War by CulturalMining.com on August 5, 2016

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

In Lo and Behold, Werner Herzog’s excellent new documentary about the internet, a scientist explains the first internet connection between two computers. The message was supposed to be “log on” to start the transmission, but it was cut off after the first two letters, LO. As in the biblical Lo and Behold. The mysteries of life.

This week I’m talking about two dramas, about young men trying to make sense of life’s mysteries. There’s two friends in Brooklyn trying to understand their parents; and a young man in Ohio trying to understand the meaning of life.

12513502_761314487302803_7976637993320204498_oLittle Men

Dir: Ira Sachs

Jake and Tony are best friends. They met on the day Jake moved with his parents from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and immediately hit it off. Jake (Theo Taplitz) is a sensitive quiet boy who is bullied at school. Jake expresses himself through the art and comics he draws. Tony (Michael Barbieri) is his exact opposite. Outspoken, Brooklyn born and bred. He’s good at sports and always loyal to his friends. Jake is a shy introvert, while Tony is bursting out all over.

They meet because Tony’s mother, (Paulina Garcia), is a dressmaker with 13331003_828730807227837_8992169820379428690_na small boutique. It’s on the ground floor of the apartment Jake’s family is moving into. They inherited it when Jake’s grandfather died, and Brian – Jake’s dad — (Greg Kinnear) inherited it.

Finally, Jake has a friend, someone to hang with. Tony shows him around the hood, lets him meet his buddies, they even take an acting class together. Tony excels there – he’s a natural. The two boys even have a plan: that they both get accepted to the NY High School of Performing Arts. Tony would pursue his acting, of course, and Jake could do his drawing.

So we’ve got two 12-year-old kids, best friends, everything’s going great, until… the grown- ups ruin everything. Jake’s grandpa was a kindly old man, who took a Chilean refuge (Tony’s mom) 12485861_761657650601820_3424484959118845572_ounder his wing and kept her rent low. But Brian, Jake’s dad, has no such attachment or obligations to their tenant. They just want to make money. So the disagreement becomes a spat, which becomes a feud, which becomes a lawsuit. It’s spiraling out of control, and the parents aren’t letting their sons – who have nothing to do with it — see each other anymore. Jake and Tonty decide to fight back. But can they change their parents’ minds?

Little Men is not a remake of the Parent Trap; it’s not a kids’ movie at all.  It feels more like an adult’s  bittersweet memories of childhood. That said, it’s a great coming of age drama about two best friends torn apart by a family disagreement. The parents are well played, but it’s the acting of the kids that really shines, especially newcomer Michael Barbieri as Tony.

150619_IND_College_Webhall_00360.CR2Indignation

Dir: James Schamus (Based on the novel by Phillip Roth)

It’s 1951, in Newark, N.J. Marcus (Logan Lerman) works in his father’s butcher shop plucking chickens. He’s in High School, captain of the baseball team, with straight A’s. Which is very important. Because America is at war in Korea, and all his friends are being drafted, sent to fight, and shipped back home in a coffin. Only Marcus might avoid the war if he gets into university — students are Sarah Gadon stars in INDIGNATIONexempt. Marcus isn’t concerned. But his Dad (Danny Burstein) is sick with worry that his only son will die. He develops a compulsion, and follows him around at night to make sure he’s safe. Marcus’s mom (Linda Emond) meanwhile is going bonkers over her husband’s obsessive behaviour. For Marcus, the only solution is to go somewhere far, far away.

He ends up a scholarship student at a college in small town Winesburg, Ohio. It’s a chance to shed his background, expectations, stereotypes – that of the insular Jewish community of 150625_Hospital_Escargot_00071.CR2Newark, New Jersey — by cultivating his intellect at a free and open mid-western campus. He can stay true to his ideals and beliefs: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, non-conformity, and freedom from religion – he’s an atheist. Unfortunately that’s easier said than done.

He arrives to find he’s placed in a dorm with the only other Jewish kids on campus not in a fraternity.

And the University head, Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) is a cold-war Sarah Gadon & Logan Lerman star in INDIGNATION - in theaters Augustconservative, a churchgoer and nosy as hell. And seems to take particular interest in Marcus, forcing him – to his great distress — to defend all his personal beliefs and philosphies.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The awesome Olivia Hutton (Toronto actress Sarah Gadon) seems to notice Marcus. Olivia is everything he dreams of – smart, beautiful, and independent with the manners of sophisticated society. Their first date is awkward but it’s what happens next when they park the car that’s important. She gives him a ind_0707_000471468363878blow job… and it blows his mind. This is 1951, and he can’t understand what happened. “Nice” girls aren’t supposed to be sexual. Why did she do what she did? And what does it mean?

Marcus is in love, but everyone else – his roommates, the Dean, his parents, and Olivia’s secret vullnerability – threaten to destroy their relationship. Can Marcus stay true to his beliefs in oppressive, 1950s America?

Indignation is another great drama. It’s moving and fascinating, with an unexpected twist at the end. It’s literary in form – full of long debates and discussions – alternating with intimate scenes of suppressed sexuality.

James Schamus is a first-time director but he’s no newbie. He’s an old hand at scriptwriting and producing movies. He was Taiwanese director Ang Lee’s writer and producer for many years, including movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain to name just a few. He’s treading new waters here, but he does it quite well.

Lo and Behold, Little Men and Indignation 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.

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Mina Shum about her documentary Ninth Floor, world premiering at #TIFF15

Posted in 1960s, Canada, College, Cultural Mining, documentary, Montreal, Movies, Quebec, Racism, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 4, 2015

"THE NINTH FLOOR" - NFBHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

In the 1960s, Canada opened its gates to new Canadians from the British Commonwealth and around the world. And in 1967, the 100th anniversary of Confederation, the world looked to Canada, especially Montreal, home of Expo 67, as the epitome of tolerance, progressiveness and multiculturalism. But just beneath surface trouble brewed. At Sir George Williams University, (now Concordia) a group of Caribbean students complained of racist treatment by a faculty member. Unrest gradually grew into the biggest student uprising in Canadian history. Crowds led to riots and a sit-in at the computer department became a conflagration on the ninth floor.

Ninth Floor is also the name of a new documentary that looks at the "THE NINTH FLOOR" - NFBpolitics and history of this period through the eyes of the participants. It is directed by Mina Shum, the renowned Vancouver-based filmmaker, famous for her family dramas like Double Happiness and Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity. Ninth Floor, her first documentary, revisits a partly forgotten but vital piece of Canadian history. It’s having its world premier at TIFF. I spoke to Mina Shum, by telephone from Vancouver. She told me about Sir George Williams College, the computer lab, the sit-in, the mob, agents provocateurs, polite racism, housing discrimination, immigration, Montreal in the 1960s, Caribbean students in Canada, the RCMP, how she made the documentary… and more!

Summer in Sicily. Films reviewed: The Fiances, Seduced and Abandoned, Mafioso, PLUS Irrational Man

Posted in 1960s, Clash of Cultures, College, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Drama, Italy, Neorealism, Romance by CulturalMining.com on July 24, 2015

BgOEWJ_195_image_1_o3_8634060_1432140720Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Sicily is a part of Italy, but separate from it. It’s that huge island in the Mediterranean, influenced at times by Greece, Rome, Spain, or as an independent kingdom. This gives it a rich culture, dialect and customs that leaves most outsiders baffled. The island went through a slow economic downturn, but Italy’s postwar industrial boom eventually affected Sicily as well. Thousands of continentals were sent down to work there for the first time.

TIFF Cinematheque is running a series now called Summer in Italy, with many of the films set in Sicily. This week, I’m looking at three 1960s films about life on the island; and a contemporary American drama set on a campus in Rhode Island.

105d2bce69c2c4e128deaf78a84e82e5The Fiances (I Fidanzati, 1963)

Dir: Ermanno Olmi

A working class couple in northern Italy meet once a week at a formal dance hall. Giovanni and Liliana (Carlo Cabrini, Anna Canzi) are passionate lovers but their relationship is put on hold when he is sent by his factory to work in Sicily. Carlo feels lost and rootless in the very different world. But he’s also intrigued by their bizarre festivals, especially one where strangers can meet in the town square, their faces hidden by masks. Liliana El1Q5N_195_image_3_o3_8634118_1432140524meanwhile, feels abandoned and alone and wonders whether they are still together. Telephone calls are short and perfunctory, but can their love letters rekindle what they had?

The Fiances is a beautiful and deceptively simple black and white movie. It combines neorealism — documentary-style footage of Sicily with its beaches and dusty roads — with an experimental style. Past and present scenes are cut and pasted without explanation so it’s a bit hard at first to understand, but it looks amazingly contemporary in its form.

El1XNK_Seduced2_o3_8636418_1432140796Seduced and Abandoned (Sedotta e abbandonata, 1964)

Dir: Pietro Germi

Don Vincenzo (Saro Urzi) rules his family home with an iron fist. Honour is paramount, and a loss of face could ruin a family’s reputation. So he reads every letter sent to his many daughters, just in case there is something lusty in them. He even checks underneath the postage stamps! Life is communal: multiple-generations all live under the same roof, so there’s a total lack of privacy. But they all manage to communicate using hidden notes and listening to sounds through pipes and vents. Peppino, a student (Aldo Puglisi) is welcomed as almost a family member since he is engaged to the clueless Matilde. But one evening, everything changes when he RgkK20_Seduced3_LEAD_o3_8636472_1432140806sneaks a kiss behind a curtain with the younger and prettier Agnese (Stefania Sandrelli). Sex follows and Agnese is in love. But Peppino, realizing what he’s done, stops coming by – he says has to study for exams. Agnese is mortified. And Peppino hypocritically says he wants nothing to do with a “despoiled woman” – even though he’s the only one who’s slept with her!

Eventually Don Vincenzo puts two and two together. He banishes Agnese to her room and decides that Peppino must marry his daughter… or die! Soon enough the police, lawyers, judges, a toothless aristocrat, a priest and the unruly mob on the street are all a part of this dispute. Will Peppino marry Agnese? Will Agnese agree even to see him again? And can Don Vincenzo rescue his family’s reputation?

This is a very funny comedy looking at virginity, family, honour and hypocrisy played out in a traditional Sicilian style.

O7LX7R_hd_021bw_LEAD_o3_8634669_1432140667Mafioso (Mafiosi, 1962)

Dir: Alberto Lattuada

Nino (Alberto Sordi) is a manager at an ultra-modern car factory in Milan. He is known for his punctuality and exactness. With a nuclear family — his wife Marta (Norma Bengell) and their two little girls — he seems to be a true northerner. But he’s a Sicilian at heart. After decades of work he finally gets a chance to visit his hometown so his wife and kids can meet his parents.Alberto Sordi (R.) in Mafioso. Photo courtesy Rialto Pictures

And as a favour to his boss – an Italian- American from New Jersey — he agrees to carry an important package to Don Vincenzo (another Don Vincenzo!) in his hometown. Once there, the family shares meals, goes to the beach and meets old friends. And while the in-laws are busy adjusting to the clash of cultures, the naïve Nino doesn’t realize he’s about to face a different problem. As a teenager, before he moved north, he worked as an errand boy for Don Vincenzo (the “mafioso” of the title). And now he’s calling in a favour. How much can a man’s life change in a 12 day visit back home? This is an excellent dark comedy exposing the sinister presence of organized crime in Sicilian life.

f9529958-a5d1-4b6a-be73-9e0bc77dc846Irrational Man

Dir: Woody Allen

Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a new philosophy prof at a college in Rhode Island. He specializes in existentialism, frequently dropping quotes by Kierkegard, Nietsche and Heideggar. It’s his first term there, but his reputation precedes him. His tales of derring-do and personal loss – concerning his best friend who was killed by a land mine, and his wife – give him an almost mythical status. He’s an existential nihilist, always ready for an impromptu round of Russian roulette. He goes by what his guts tell him. And by “guts” he means his prominent potbelly that he frequently rubs when WASP_DAY_05-0137.CR2pondering questions of morality and ethics.

Women seem to find him romantic and attractive. Rita (Parker Posey) is a sexy and sultry chemistry prof. The fact that she’s married doesn’t even slow her down – she wants to bed him. Eventually she hopes to ditch her husband altogether and move somewhere romantic with Abe – like Spain. Then there’s Jill (Emma Stone). She’s an undergrad in a committed relationship. Her boyfriend is nice, but wasp_day_27-0147.CR2a bit dull. She wants to spend time with Abe, but she keeps their relationship platonic. They both know it’s against the rules for students and profs to sleep together.

Unfortunately, Abe is depressed and brooding, his life at a standstill. Despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, he’s useless in bed. This isn’t help by the fact he’s an alcoholic, constantly swigging bourbon from a pocket flask. But one day, at a local diner with Jill overhear a conversation. A divorced woman at the next booth is in tears because she is about to lose custody over her kid. Why? It’s all because of the machinations of a horrible judge.

Something clicks in Abe’s brain: he makes a decision. He will murder a stranger (the judge) for the sake of another stranger (the woman). This will lead to a betterWASP_DAY_13-176.CR2 world, he thinks. Now he has a reason for living, and his sexual drive and exuberance come back. But will he actually commit this “perfect crime”?

I have mixed feelings about this strange movie. On the one hand, its gripping story held my attention to the very (abrupt) end. But it also feels oddly hollow. It’s not a bad movie, just not as deep as it pretends to be.

Irrational Man opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and The Summer in Italy series is on now at TIFF Cinematheque through September 5. 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

Talking to People. Movies Reviewed: Dear White People, Mourning Grave, Propaganda, PLUS November Film Festivals!

Posted in African-Americans, College, comedy, Conspiracy Theory, Cultural Mining, Horror, Korea, Movies, Politics by CulturalMining.com on November 7, 2014

reelasian-header

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,PiF2014_LOGO-Orange- festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

rendezvousFall festival season continues in November! Ekran Polish festival is on right now, with wonderful films like Ida, on tonight; ReelAsian, which just started, Planet in Focus – environmental films, on now; Rendezvous with Madness96c1a290cd6169be3a2d8459f9d9e1fe_0_1150movies about addiction and mental health, starts Monday; and the EU film Festival with free films from across Europe, starting later this month. This week I’m looking at three movies about social issues. An American dramedy about a college student who talks to white people, a South Korean chiller-thriller about a high school student who talks to dead people, and a North Korean documentary about a man who talks to… well, to any people willing to listen.

68294-DWP-Sam GroupDear White People
Wri/Dir: Justin Simien

It’s a small town college where students live in “houses” — sort of like fraternities. Your house says everything about your status and something about your political beliefs as well. The school has a white president and a black dean. Sam (Tessa Thompson) is a progressive undergrad who stands up for her ideals. She broadcasts a somewhat controversial talk show on campus 68288-DWP-8E-1-Pub-Siteradio. She’s black, but calls her show Dear White People. Her house is headed by Big Man on Campus Troy (Brandon P Bell) a popular athlete, whose dad just happens to be the Dean. And who is dating the daughter of 68292-DWP-H46A5230the president. Another student, the pretty and vivacious Coco (Teyonah Parris) is more interested in getting famous, so she’ll do almost anything to convince a TV producer to make her the star of a reality show on campus. And observing all this is fuzzy-haired Lionel (Tyler James Williams), a budding journalist… who 68289-DWP-H46A4216might also be gay.

But when Sam wins the election as head of the house, toppling Troy from his lofty heights, things start to change. She puts in new rules and tries to change the political outlook… but then comes the blowback.

Another house plans a huge party, where people – as in white people — are encouraged to dress and act “black”. Minstrelsy rears its head, even in the 21st century.

How do Coco, Lionel, Troy and Sam choose to react? To lie down or walk away? Or stand up and fight back? This ensemble cast shows the lives of middle-class African Americans from a new angle. While the film covers a lot of ground, the ensemble cast is uniformly good, across the board. Dear White People is both an enjoyable comedy and a cogent political satire, exposing the errors and vulnerabilities of characters on both sides of the political spectrum. I like this movie.

MourningGrave_still3Mourning Grave

Dir: Oh In-chun

In-su (Kang Haneul) is a high school student from the big city. He recently moved back to his childhood home in a small town, to get away from his troubles. He likes to sit in the park, sketching pictures of pretty girls he sees. And what do they all have in have in common? They’re all ghosts – he sees dead people.

In fact, he can’t even tell if he’s seeing someone who’s living or dead, but he carries an inherited charm that spins if he’s near a ghost. They’re attracted to him mainly because he MourningGrave_stillhelps them redress the wrongs that led to their death. But his new high school isn’t the peaceful place he hoped it would be. Turns out, the school bully remembers him from his childhood, and knows that he’s that weird kid. And the bully’s pretty girlfriend is as cruel as he is. In-su is the only one to challenge them when they’re MourningGrave_still5hurting someone – the rest of the kids just turn away.

And haunting the school is a ghost of a dead student who is always seen wearing a cotton mask over her mouth. Who is she? At least there’s someone who likes him — a pretty girl with very pale skin, who shares his drawings. Will he stop the bullying? Will the ghosts ever find peace? And will his lazy uncle (another adept) help him exorcise the school of its ghosts? This is a cute Korean ghost story that wavers from rom-com, to high school drama to supernatural horror. With a cast of unknown actors, it’s packed with movie references – from the blood in Carrie to the ghost in Ju-on. Nothing too deep, but I liked it — it’s fun.

propaganda1Propaganda
Dir: Slavko Martinov

A propaganda film about the rest of the world smuggled out of North Korea? That’s what a new film claims to be. BUt don’t expect the usual rosy-cheeked, red army kitsch. This film is actually a sophisticated, British-style monologue narrated by a Korean man sitting in a chair facing the camera. He wears a corduroy blazer but his face is pixillated. And over his voice is a woman’s voice simultaneously narrating in English. And it’s illustrated by a non-stop barrage of short images, each lasting not more than a second or two. There’s historical footage, current advertising, TV clips, vintage photos. If you’ve ever seen a film by the great English documentarian Adam Curtis, you’ll immediately recognize the style. But the content? Not exactly.

It starts out as a funny and fascinating look at western capitalism (supposedly) seen through the eyes of a fish-out-of-water North Korean, trying to makes sense of the consumer economy. We’re treated to hilarious shots of Oprah giving out prizes, and talentless celebrities in skimpy clothing. Americans PR, it decides, is what rules the world. We think we’re free, but public relations, Propaganda still grabs 52marketing and advertising has turned us all into slaves and zombies. Next, the film harshly criticizes certain western nations:  Australia for what it did to its indigenous population,  Israel for the Palestinians, the US for what it did to everyone. (Canada is conspicuous by its absence.) Japan comes under special criticism for annexing Korea, drafting the population into forced labour, suppressing Korea’s language and culture, and kidnapping thousands of “Comfort Women” (sex slaves for the Imperial Army). Oops, sorry, I got that wrong. The main beef this North Korea has with Japan is that it kills Propaganda still grabs 112whales and dolphins.

Then it goes right off the cliff into Truther territory. We’re told political parties and voting means nothing, the jews caused WWI, the Bush family rules the world, 9-11 was a hoax, and the W.H.O. uses vaccinations to secretly poison babies in developing countries . Uh-oh…

In any case, if you want an unusual look at our culture of consumption (as well as the usual internet-style conspiracy theories), this film is totally watchable — if you can get past the dubbing of English over Korean.

Dear White People opens today, check your local listings; Propaganda starts next week at the Big Picture Cinema on Gerrard St E., and Mourning Grave plays this Saturday at ReelAsian, on for the next ten days. Go to Reelasian.com for details.

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 Darcy Michael about his new movie Lloyd the Conquerer

Posted in Acting, Adventure, Calgary, Canada, College, comedy, Comics, Cultural Mining, Uncategorized, Unicorns by CulturalMining.com on December 1, 2012

darcy-and-harland-williams-filming-l-nquerorHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

There’s a malevolent presence in South Calgary that threatens the peace, order and good government
of the people playing there. No, I’m not talking about Harper, this is a new Canadian comedy movie about LARPers.

Comedian, actor and Vancouver-based all-around celeb

Lloyd The Conquerer illustrations by Evan Williams

Lloyd The Conquerer illustrations by Evan Williams

Darcy Michael tells me

about this film, the life of a stand-up comic, and his own personal ups and downs.

Poster: Lloyd the ConquererHe’s performing in Toronto at Yuk Yuk’s this weekend, at Massey Hall on New Year’s Eve; Lloyd the Conquerer opens today.

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