Feelings. Films reviewed: Almamula, About My Father, You Hurt My Feelings

Posted in Argentina, comedy, Coming of Age, Drama, Family, LGBT, New York City by CulturalMining.com on May 26, 2023

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

Inside-Out film festival is on now, playing a broad spectrum of movies, docs and shorts reflecting the world’s 2SLGBTQ+ communities. It avoids stereotypical LGBT films, choosing instead thoughtful and even experimental new films. For example, there’s a great new doc on the Indigo Girls called It’s Only Life After All and many, many more, now through June 4th, in person and online.

This week, I’m looking at three movies; an Argentinian drama from Inside Out, plus two new US comedies. We’ve got a rom-com, a social comedy, and a coming-of-age thriller.  

Almamula

Wri/Dir: Juan Sebastián Torales

Nino (Nicolás Díaz) is a teenaged schoolboy with dark hair and glasses in Northern Argentina. He lives in a suburban neighbourhood with his Mom and Dad (Maria Soldi, Cali Coronel) and his older sister Natalia. But when word gets out that he’s gay, he is punched, kicked and spat upon by a group of boys from his school, who leave his bruised, unconscious body in a rusty car. And the attackers parents blame Nino for “corrupting” their sons’ minds. So the family packs up their car and moves to their dad’s second home, a huge wooden house, far away, in a remote rural area. He runs a business chopping up trees and bulldozing forests, but the workers are worried because another boy, also Nino’s age, recently disappeared into the woods and never came back. They blame it on Almamula, a mythical monster who lures boys and men into her clutches. She preys, they say, on carnal sin.

Nino is enrolled in confirmation classes learning prayers, morality and sin, along with lessons about puberty. But poor Nino has a one-track mind: sex. He finds himself turned on even by statues of a half-naked Jesus writhing on a cross. And he is drawn to the woods, hoping to see Almamula there. Only Maria (Luisa Lucia Paz) understand the old ways of the woods and helps Nino in his journey. 

The verdant forest is filled with twisted vines, and mouldering swamps, simultaneously erotic and terrifying, like his own sexual thoughts. His dreams drift in and out of reality as he ogles workmen in his house, his sister’s boyfriend, and above all, a handyman named Malevo (Beto Frágola). A handsome indigenous fisherman, Malevo sleeps in a tent on the riverbank beyond the forest. He represents absolute freedom to Nino. Malevo rejects religion and follows other traditions — respect the forest or it will get revenge. Nino is torn between heaven and hell, carnal sin and carnal sex. Even when stigmata appear on his palms and thorns scratch his forehead, he can’t decide whether to worship Jesus or succumb the red-eyed monster. Surrounded by the obvious lies and lusts of the locals and his own family, which way will Nino turn?

Almamula is an unusual coming-of-age story about a teenager’s sexual awakening. It incorporates fairytales, mythology, and religion as seen through Nino’s confused and sexually-obsessed mind. Although not a horror movie, per se, it’s told in that style, with sounds of dragging chains, scary monsters, and highly sexualized nightmares. The old wooden house they move into creaks and groans, its ceiling fans rarely turning. And nature is always close by, both alluring and brutal in its grandeur. Great acting and beautifully shot in the wilds of rural Argentina, Almamula  is a strange and fascinating story.

About My Father

Dir: Laura Terruso

Sebastian Maniscalco (Sebastian Maniscalco) is a hotel manager in Chicago in his 40s. He’s in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend Ellie (Leslie Bibb) a painter who just had her first one-woman show. After much hemming and hawing, Sebastian nervously agrees to meet her parents, and if all goes well, to smooth the way toward marriage. But there’s a fly in the ointment: his dad. Salvo Maniscalco (Robert De Niro) is a Sicilian immigrant and Sebastian’s only family, and he insists on coming along, too. A widower, Salvo was a successful hairstylist in his prime, known for his brash opinions, old-world ways and his generous use of men’s cologne. Sebastian is afraid he’ll embarrass him in front of his potential in-laws.

They get their first glimpse of Ellie’s family at an airport near DC when her preppy brother Lucky tells them to ditch their rentacar and fly with him in his private helicopter. Ellie’s family is not just rich, they’re filthy rich and Plymouth Rock powerful. Old money. His dad owns a chain of luxury hotels, and his mom Tigger (Kim Cattrall) is a Senator. Their summer home is a mansion inside a country club. Will they accept Sebastian into their rarified world? Does he want to be a part of it? And what about his dad?

About My Father is a broad comedy about class and ethnicity, and it’s kind of funny. I laughed more than once, and some of the side characters — like Tigger and the two brothers, Lucky and Doug, a new-ager — keep the plot moving. De Niro plays his dead-pan dad to perfection, reversing the role he played in the Meet the Fokkers series. The big question is who the hell is Sebastian Maniscalco, who write and stars in a movie, about himself (starting with a cute family history). In real life he’s a stand-up comic with some acting roles, not a hotel manager. The problem is the character Sebastian (a hotel manager) is prone to suddenly shift into the real Sebastian’s stand-up comedy schtick. I guess his die-hard fans will find it funny to see a comedian duck walk across a room flapping his arms, but to me it was just embarrassing. That said, though neither uproariously hilarious nor terribly original, About My Father is watchable, funny and even heartwarming.  

You Hurt My Feelings

Wri/Dir:  Nicole Holofcener

Beth and Don (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies) are married professionals living a comfortable life in New York City. They are also deeply in love, so close that they share ice cream cones. Beth is a published author who also leads writers’ workshops; she’s trying to get her first novel published. Don is a well-established therapist who mainly counsels bickering couples and neurotic individuals. Sarah (Michaela Watkins), Beth’s sister and best friend, lives nearby with her partner Mark (Arian Moayed). She’s an interior decorator, he’s an actor.

Everything’s going great until Beth and Sarah overhear Don and Mark talking about her latest unpublished novel… and her always loving, always supportive husband says her book sucks. Beth is devastated. Is their marriage a lie? Is nothing true? She’s not the only one going through a bad time. Some of Don’s patients are insufferable, and he finds himself forgetting who is who. Is he fit to be a psychiatrist? Sarah begins to think her thankless job is a joke, spending weeks tracking down a particular light fixture.  And Mark wonders, at his age, why is he still a struggling actor? Even Beth and Don’s only son Elliot (Owen Teague) is working in a pot dispensary and refuses to show her the manuscript he’s writing. What can be done to fix all their lives?

You Hurt My Feelings is a very funny, satirical social comedy. It gently mocks everyone involved, but especially Gen-X educated, white, urban professionals. Like any comedy, it goes for the laughs but what sets this apart is that the characters are flawed, realistic and believable — rather than over-the-top exaggerations. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is as good as ever, and in a very different role from the wise-cracking ones in Seinfeld and Veep. This is a very sweet and funny movie. 

About my Father and You Hurt My Feelings both open this weekend in Toronto; check your local listings. Almamula is playing tonight, Saturday May 27, 9:30 pm, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Inside Out Film Festival.

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

Friends and Lovers. Films reviewed: The Starling Girl, The Eight Mountains

Posted in Christianity, Class, Coming of Age, Dance, Drama, Family, Friendship, Italy by CulturalMining.com on May 20, 2023

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

Spring Film Festival Season continues in Toronto, with Inside-Out opening next week, followed by TJFF in June.

But this week, I’m looking at two new dramas; one from the US, the other from Italy. There’s a fundamentalist young woman in Kentucky looking for love, and two men in the Italian alps looking for the fundamentals of friendship.

The Starling Girl

Wri/Dir: Laurel Parmet

Jem Starling (Eliza Scanlen) is a 17-year-old girl in Kentucky, creative, pretty and burgeoning with sexual urges. She lives in the Holy Grace Christian community under the strict guidance of her parents and Pastor Taylor. She directs her energy into dance, moving her body to express her true feelings. But the dance troupe is supervised every step of the way and the slightest transgression — be it a visible bra strap or a hint of leg — is labeled selfish or sinful. Too many sins and you get shipped off to the dreaded King’s Valley — and they’ve all seen what happens to people sent there.

Pastor Taylor and her parents believe it’s time for “courtship” — that is Jen spending time with the boy they choose.  They set it up but it does not go well. Ben Taylor is immature, gawky and socially inept. His idea of a good time is joking about chicken droppings. In any case,  Jen has her eyes on the prize: Owen (Lewis Pullman). He’s charismatic and tanned, just back from Puerto Rico. He’s into meditation more than scripture. The only problem is he’s a Taylor, too, the preacher’s eldest son and he’s already married.

They decide to meet on the sly. There first few times are chaste and pure but the two of them are ready to explode. She’s the only real person he’s ever met, the only girl he feels comfortable with, he says.  And Jen is infatuated with him. They start sending text messages or passing little notes to set up secret rendezvous. But there are no secrets in a community this small. Everything leaks out eventually. Is Jen being manipulated by an older, married man? Can Owen be trusted? And are they really in love?

The Starling Girl is a young woman’s coming-of-age drama about sexual frustration and awakening within a restrictive environment. This is filmmaker Laurel Parmet’s first feature and it’s a doozy. Filled with passion, deceit, secrets and lies, it’s a powerful look through a young woman’s eyes. I’ve never seen Eliza Scanlen before, and just assumed she was discovered in a Kentucky diner — but no, she’s yet another Australian actor bursting onto the American scene (and she’s totally convincing.) 

I recommend this one.

The Eight Mountains

Wri/Dir: Felix van Groeningen, Charlotte Vandermeersch

(Based on the novel Le otto montagne by 

Paolo Cognetti)

It’s the 1980s in Piedmont Italy. Pietro is an 11 year old boy who goes to school in Turin, but spends his summers with his parents in a tiny mountain village. There he meets Bruno, also 11, who herds long-horned goats and milks cows in the village. They become instant best friends, playing, fighting and swimming in the crystal clear waters of an isolated alpine lake. Bruno even gives Pietro a new name: Biero, which is Pietro, or stone, in the local dialect. 

Though their moms are around, both of their fathers are rarely there: Bruno’s dad does construction work in Switzerland, while Pietro’s dad is a chemist at a huge plant in Turin. But he visits when he can — he loves the isolation and grandeur of the mountains, and wants to impart his love of them on his son. He takes him on hikes up the local peaks, recording each visit in a diary. Bruno soon joins their climbs (when he’s not apprenticing to make cheese) and their bonds strengthen each summer. But high school brings big changes — school is in the cities not the villages. And it costs money. Pietro’s parents offer to pay for Bruno to study in Turin. Pietro is offended by them taking his best friend away from the mountains — you’ll ruin him! he says. In any case, Bruno’s father won’t allow it. He puts him to work full-time laying bricks at the age of 13.

Pietro drifts apart from his best friend, and breaks all ties with his family to discover himself. 15 years later, he returns to the village and rekindles his friendship with Bruno. But have they drifted too far apart?

The Eight Mountains is a wonderful novelistic drama about friendship and life in the mountains. The story takes place over two decades, with each role played by three actors, child, adolescent and adult, though mostly as the third. Luca Marinelli (Martin Eden  in Martin Eden) is excellent as an almost fragile writer who travels the world looking for his true home, and the eight mountains of the title.  (He also narrates the story).  Alessandro Borghi plays the adult Bruno — burly, bearded and gruff — but filled with self-doubt and conflicting emotions.

I don’t speak Italian, but I love the way the film plays with language and dialect, and communicates literary concepts and foreshadowing but without losing its deep, emotional pull. The film is by the Belgian team of Felix van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown) and Charlotte Vandermeersch, and it fits perfectly with their past work: it’s quite long (2 1/2 hours) with vivid natural scenery, a moving plot and American-style music. If you’re looking for a good, juicy drama about adult friendships, this is the one to see.

Great movie.

The Eight Mountains and The Starling Girl both open this weekend; check your local listings.

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

Mishmashed genres. Films reviewed: Sisu, Polite Society, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

Posted in 1940s, 1970s, Action, comedy, Coming of Age, Fighting, Finland, Nazi, New Jersey, Pakistan, UK, WWII by CulturalMining.com on April 29, 2023

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

Spring Film Festival Season continues in Toronto, with Hot Docs on now — offering 200 great documentaries from around the world, with free daytime tickets for students and seniors! — and ReelAbilities Film Festival starts on May 11th, showing great films by, for and about the deaf and disability communities — and it’s fully accessible!

But this week I’m talking about three new movies — from Finland, the UK and the US —  opening this weekend. There’s a WWII action-thriller that feels like a spaghetti western; an Indo-English action-comedy with a dash of Kung Fu, and a coming-of-age drama about puberty in the 1970s.

Sisu

Wri/Dir: Jalmari Helander 

It’s 1944 in Lapland, Finland, and a grizzled old prospector (Jorma Tommila) is panning for gold. He knows there’s a war going on, but he just wants to be alone with his dog, his horse and his pickaxe. But then he hits a golden lode! Not just a few tiny nuggets, but huge glowing rocks. Now it’s time to pack up his bags and head off toward Helsinki to cash them in. What he doesn’t know, though, is that the Nazis are carrying out a scorched-earth policy, burning and killing everyone in Lapland. And a troop of SS soldiers, tanks and all, are heading his way. How can a feeble old prospector resist the Third Reich? 

But this is no ordinary codger. When Finland was allied to the Nazis he singlehandedly fought hundreds of Soviet soldiers – his back is riddled with bullet holes and scars, but he is virtually indestructible. He is a living legend and the Russians know to steer clear of him. And now Finland has switched sides, from the Axis to the Allies. But the SS Obersturmführer (Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie: Max Manus) and his henchman Wolf (Jack Doolan) don’t have a clue who they’re dealing with. And when they spot his gold, they make it the mission of their squad to kill the old man and grab the booty. But which side will triumph in the end?

Sisu (the title is an untranslatable Finnish word that means something like a knuckle- breaking determination, and bravery, never to give in despite the odds) is an extremely violent action-thriller, told in a light, almost humorous way, about one man’s fight to the bitter end. It traces their battle on land, through minefields, underwater and high in the sky. The music and camerawork look like a 1960s spaghetti western, and the film has an almost cartoonish or fairytale feel. I’ve seen Tommila in a number of super-weird Finnish movies (Big Game, Rare Exports) directed by Helander, always about a not-so-nice hero in Lapland, with his actual son Onni Tommila always playing a role (this time he’s a German soldier). A unique genre, but one you should explore. If you’re into suspense and action with lots of violence, blood and gore, you’ll love Sisu.

Polite Society

Wri/Dir: Nida Manzoor

Ria and Lena are two sisters who live in London. When they’re not wrestling or trying to gouge each other’s eyes out, they are fantasizing about their future careers: Ria (Priya Kansara) as a stuntwoman, and Lena (Ritu Arya) as an artist. Ria relentlessly practices her killer kung-fu kick (to no avail) while Lena cultivates her brooding goth persona.

This doesn’t sit well with their Pakistani parents, who want their daughters to find respectable professions. That’s why they pay for Ria’s posh private school — so she’ll become a doctor.

But things turn bad when Lena drops out of art school and falls into a deep depression. Things get worse when she agrees to attend a party at a huge mansion, thrown by Salim (Akshay Khan) the most eligible bachelor in town, and the son of a millionairess (Nimra Bucha). But when he proposes to Ria, Lena knows something is not right.  Why did this rich guy want to marry an art school drop out? What are his real motives? With the help of her best friends Clara and Alba she decides to delve into Salim’s past and expose his wrongdoings to stop the impending wedding. But is she barking up the wrong tree? And is it all just her childish imagination?

Polite Society is an English action-comedy, and though set within the South Asian community, aside from one song it’s a far cry from Bollywood. The humour is British and the fights are strictly Hong Kong. Throw in a bit of science fiction and some high school dynamics, and you’ll find an unexpectedly enjoyable mishmash of genres, in the style of Everything, Everwhere, All at Once… but entirely different. I liked this one a lot.

Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret

Wri/Dir: Kelly Fremon Craig (Based on the book by Judy Blume)

It’s the 1970s in Manhattan. Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) is an 11-year-old girl who lives in an apartment with her parents. She loves school, her friends,  her Grandma Sylvia (Kathy Bates) who lives nearby, and the city that’s all around her. So when her parents tell her they’re leaving The City and moving to suburban New Jersey, Margaret is devastated. And despite their assurances — it’s just across the river, Dad (Benny Safdie: Uncut Gems) got a promotion and Mom (Rachel McAdams: Morning Glory, A Most Wanted Man,  Everything Will Be Fine, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) won’t have to work anymore — to Margaret it’s another universe. That’s why she starts talking directly to God, since she has no one else to tell her secrets to. She was brought up with no religion — her dad’s Jewish and her mom’s Christian — but she still needs the God thing.

She soon makes friends her age, when their neighbour marches through their front door. Nancy (Elle Graham) quickly informs her she’s richer, prettier and more popular than Margaret but she can join her clique anyway as long as she follows the rules: They must wear a bra, tell the group when they have a period, and share the name of the boy they’re crushing on. Problem is Margaret has no breasts, no period and Moose, the guy she likes, isn’t the right one. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret is a retelling of the classic, pre-teen novel, and it’s fantastic. It’s funny and realistic, dealing with the problems and insecurities girls had to deal with before the internet. (And none of these worries have gone away). It’s set in the 1970s, complete with the classrooms, clothes and music of the period, but also the attitudes and zeitgeist. It deals with everything from spin the bottle to bullying. And if you have a heart I’m sure you’ll shed a tear at least once. Generations grew up on Judy Blume’s books, and the movie is faithful to the original but totally accessible to kids today (and their parents.) This is a great girls’ movie about the perils of puberty.

Polite Society, Sisu and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret all open across Canada this weekend; check your local listings.

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

Canadians coming of age. Films reviewed: Riceboy Sleeps, Golden Delicious, Brother

Posted in 1990s, Canada, Canadian Screen Awards, Coming of Age, Crime, Drama, Family, LGBT, Racism, Toronto, Vancouver by CulturalMining.com on March 18, 2023

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

Spring Film Festival season is revving up in Toronto, with Cinefranco, Human Rights Watch, The Canadian Film Fest and Tiff’s Next Wave rounding out March into April.

This week, I’m looking at three new Canadian coming-of-age dramas about sons or grandsons of immigrants. There’s a young man  in Scarborough who worships his big brother, one in Vancouver who only has eyes for his new neighbour, and another kid in Vancouver who wonders why he doesn’t have a father.

Rice Boy Sleeps

Wri/Dir: Anthony Shim

It’s the early 1990s in British Columbia. So-young (Choi Seung-yoon) is a recent immigrant from Korea who packs and seals cardboard boxes in a factory. Her son, Dong-hyun (Dohyun Noel Hwang) is shy, nervous and wears thick glasses. She taught him to read and write Korean but he’s starting public school for the first time. The other kids — all white — are merciless, say his kimbap smells like farts, and mock everything from his face to his name. His teacher calls her in to change her boy’s name to something more “Canadian” — she gives her a list of approved choices. He asks his mother, why don’t I have a father? Ask me later, she says. But the next time anyone bullies you, say you know taekwando and punch them, hard. He follows her directions and gets suspended for violence.

10 years later, he’s a teenager (Ethan Hwang) who wears contact lenses and dyes his hair blond. His teacher tells all the kids to draw a family tree, but Dong-hyun has no one to include but his mother… and she was an orphan. Again, he asks his mom who his father was. She brushes his question off. While his mother is at work, he tries soft drugs alcohol and porn with a friend (Hunter Dillon — who also plays a best friend in Golden Delicious). But he still feels listless and unmoored. Meanwhile So-young has met a boyfriend (played by the director) and is considering marriage,  until some shocking news makes her rethink her entire life… and Dong-hyun’s, too

Riceboy Sleeps is a lovely and poetic tale of a boy and his mother trying to fit in, while grasping at whatever’s left of their history. It’s a story of immigrants living in a blatantly racist society but one that also looks at the patriarchal cruelty of the place they came from. It’s minimalist and concise, showing only what is absolutely necessary for maximal emotional impact. That — with good acting, beautiful cinematography, and scenic opening and closing shots — makes Riceboy Sleeps seem almost like a work of art.

Winner of the TIFF 2022 Platform Prize.

Golden Delicious

Dir: Jason Karman

It’s present-day Vancouver. Jake — nicknamed J-Pop (Cardi Wong) is starting his last year of high school. He likes taking photographs and watching basketball. His sister Janet (Claudia Kai) is going to culinary school, while his Mom and Dad (Leeah Wong, Ryan Mah) work 12-hour-days at their upscale Chinese restaurant, passed down from the grandparents.

Jake’s looking forward to spending time with his best buds Sam and Gary, and his childhood sweetheart Vee (Parmiss Sehat). She wants sex and lots of it, while Jake thinks they should wait till marriage before doing the big one. And he’s under lots of pressure to make the basketball team. I was MVP when I was in high school, and I’d be a pro if it weren’t for my knee injury, says dad. But everything changes when a new neighbour Aleks (Chris Carson) appears on the scene. He’s a terrific player and is outspokenly gay. He’s a ringer who moved to the school from down east specifically to play on this team. And Jake can’t stop staring at him and snapping pics through his bedroom window. Once they meet, Aleks is willing to help improve Jake’s skills… both on and off the court. Jake is torn between family pressure and personal identity, long-term love vs short term lust. Will Jake make the team? Will Aleks make Jake? And what will his girlfriend, family, and friends do if they ever find out?

Golden Delicious is a coming-of-age and coming-out drama set within a Chinese-Canadian Vancouver family. It deals with current issues like bullying, the lack of privacy (due to social networks), and how parental expectations interfere with their kids’ own wants and needs. I found the high school rom-com aspects cliched, everything from two people bumping into each other and dropping their books in their first meetings, to confrontations in the locker room, to who will ask whom to the prom. Much more interesting are the family plot turns, from Janet reverse engineering her grandmother’s recipes, to Jake’s own subtle subterfuge to get out of playing basketball, as well as the very real grinding pressures of running a restaurant (the restaurant is called Golden Delicious). That’s what makes this film worth watching.

Brother 

Wri/Dir: Clement Virgo

It’s the 1990s in a working class neighbourhood in Scarborough (Toronto).  Michael (Lamar Johnson) is a high school student who lives in an apartment tower with his hard-working mother (Marsha Stephanie Blake). He idolizes his big-brother Frances (Aaron Pierre) who serves as a father figure in his life. Frances is bigger, tougher and better connected than Michael. The gangs know enough to stay away from him, and not to harass Michael, either. Michael hopes he can tap some of Frances’s aura to meet a girl who he really likes. Aisha (Kiana Madeira) is the smartest girl in school and he wants to really meet her.  Michael and his friends hope to take hiphop to a new level.  There’s a place to hang, a barber shop, where DJs — like Frances’ best bud — spins tracks after closing. But their big break, an audition with high-profile record producers downtown, doesn’t pan out. And tensions rise when the twin forces of gangsters on one side and the police force on the other are encroaching on their safe space and tearing their lives apart. Can the sons of Jamaican immigrants survive in the mean streets of Scarborough? 

Brother is a fully-imagined, coming-of-age story by two brothers in the 90s.  It deals with masculinity, violence sexuality, and black identity. It deftly contrasts between the claustrophobic highrise housing where they live and the nearby idyllic Rouge River where they seek refuge. Based on the book by Toronto writer David Chariandy, Brother has a novelistic feel to it, and its use of widescreen cinematic scenes, as in a showdown in the courtyard outside their apartment, gives it an epic sweep. Brother is a powerful and moving drama. 

Nominated for 12 Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Picture.

Brother and Riceboy Sleeps open in Toronto this weekend, and at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this and next week; check you local listings. Golden Delicious is premiering at the Canadian Film Festival, which runs from March 28th through April 1. Go to canfilmfest.ca for details.

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

Girls Adopted. Films reviewed: Queens of the Qing Dynasty, The Quiet Girl, Return to Seoul

Posted in 1980s, Adoption, Canada, China, Coming of Age, France, Gay, Ireland, Korea, LGBT, Mental Illness, Nova Scotia by CulturalMining.com on March 4, 2023

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

Who are your “real” parents: the ones who raise you, or the ones who gave birth to you? This week, I’m looking at three new dramas from France, Ireland and Canada, about  daughters who are either adopted or have foster parents. There’s a French woman in Korea looking for her birth parents, a young woman in Nova Scotia leaving the foster parents system, and a little Irish girl sent to live with relatives.

Queens of the Qing Dynasty

Wri/Dir: Ashley McKenzie

Star (Sarah Walker) is a moon-faced 18-year-old in hospital in Nova Scotia. She feels comfortable there having spent most of her young life in and out of institutions. She’s there because she drank poison — they’re pumping her stomach. She’s over- medicated in a nearly catatonic state. And most alarming, she’s about to turn 19, meaning she’s aging out of the foster child system, and will have to take care of herself, if capable, for the first time. She’s diagnosed as bipolar with ADHD, and is prone to addiction, but her real problems lie much deeper. 

An (Zheng Ziyin) a student from Shanghai, volunteering at the hospital, is assigned to keep Star company. He’s artistic, effeminate and flamboyant. He likes traditional Chinese songs (he sings in falsetto), and is obsessed with his fingernails. He imagines himself as a Manchu concubine plotting politics within the Forbidden City. But these two very different people find comfort from each other, confessing their secrets and sending texts late at night when they’re apart.  And form an unusual friendship.

Queens of the Qing Dynasty is a realistic look at two marginalized, oddball characters finding their place within a bigger, constrictive society. It’s shot in brutally drab locations, like snowbound motels, strip mall mani-pedis, hospitals and group homes, using mainly first-time actors. And despite the depressing or even tragic lives of the characters, it somehow remains light, whimsical and endearing.

This movie is both weird and appealing.

The Quiet Girl

Co-Wri/Dir: Colm Bairéad

Rural Ireland in 1981. Cáit (Catherine Clinch) is a little girl from a big, poor family of farmers. Her Dad is away all day, drinking, gambling and philandering, instead of cutting the hay. Her Mom is pregnant while taking care of a toddler and three or four others. With no one taking care of her, Cait falls through the cracks. She has dirty cheeks and mousy brown hair, is painfully shy and wets her bed. At school, she is bullied and laughed at and labeled an idiot. So her Mom asks her cousin if she could take care of Cáit for the summer while her mom’s preparing to give birth. So her father drives her out to Waterford, but forgets to unpack her suitcase before he leaves.

The Cinnsealachs (Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett) are a childless, older couple, middle-class dairy farmers who live in a spotlessly clean house. Cait is terrified to live around strangers, but gradually adjusts. They tell her to be honest here — there are no secrets in this house. They give her boys’ clothes to wear around the farm, and pretty dresses from in town. Soon they’re teaching her how to chop onions, fetch water from the well, or how to milk the cows. She brushes Cait’s hair a hundred times and helps her with her reading. He encourages her to run and exercise. Over the course of the summer, Cait gradually emerges as a bright and pretty girl. But locals are gossiping about her — why is she living there? What do they want from her? Does she know their secret? And what will happen once she’s home again?

The Quiet Girl is a deeply touching story of one summer in a neglected girl’s life, amid a caring couple recovering from a loss of their own. The acting is very good, especially Clinch as the quiet girl. The story is both simple and subtle, and sure to move you to tears. Most of the characters speak Irish (with subtitles) throughout the movie, to various degrees of success. (I’ve been mispronouncing Cáit as “Kate” using an Anglicized version of her name.) 

I like this movie — and it was nominated for an Oscar for Best International Film.

Return to Seoul

Wri/Dir: Davy Chou

Freddie (Park Ji-min) is a 25 year old French woman at a guest house in Seoul. She’s supposed to be in Tokyo, but ended up here when all flights to Japan were cancelled due to a typhoon. She instantly bonds with Tena (Guka Han) at the front desk, who can speak French. That evening, Tena and other new friends tell Frankie she has classic Korean features, and doesn’t seem French at all. She decides to prove her Frenchness by being provocative, spontaneous and wilfully rude. When she admits she was born in Korea but adopted as an infant in France, they wonder why she hasn’t been to “Hammond” an adoption agency which holds all relevant data.

Frankie is uninterested — she’s here as a tourist — but does carry a snapshot in her wallet of a woman holding her as a newborn babe. She ends up requesting meetings with both of her birth parents. Her birth father (Oh Kwang-rok) is a former fisherman. He takes her home, feeds her, where he and his family prostrate themselves before her asking her forgiveness. She rudely rejects them, and refuses to answer his drunken teary texts sent to her each night. But her mother remains a mystery. Will Frankie ever he meet her birth mother? Does she have any connection to this strange country? Ad what will her future bring?

Return to Seoul is a dark drama of a western woman discovering her roots. The film is fictional but based on the French director’s own experience in returning to his ancestral home in Cambodia. 

Frankie’s story is told in episodes over the course of a decade, in France and in Korea, always on her birthday. Frankie is an enigmatic character, smart and sexy, but also socially obtuse, selfish and occasionally outright monstrous. At times she seems like a female Wolf of Wall Street. She treats the men she meets, both hookups and partners, like a piece of Kleenex to be discarded after use. Most of her past is only hinted at: Was she once a concert pianist? What was her relationship with her French family? But eventually she lets her real feelings show through, if only for a moment.

Return to Seoul is a troubling, alienating and emotionally powerful film.

Queens of the Qing Dynasty, The Quiet Girl, and Return to Seoul all open this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox; check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Chandler Levack about I Like Movies

Posted in 2000s, Canada, comedy, Coming of Age, High School, Movies, VHS by CulturalMining.com on February 27, 2023

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

It’s 2002 in Burlington Ontario, a suburb of Hamilton.

Lawrence is an eccentric, self-centred 16-year-old boy who lives in a small bungalow with his widowed mom. He spends most of his time with his best friend Matt, the two of them watching SNL at weekend sleepovers. They’re making an end-of-the-year film together at school. Lawrence lives and breathes movies, consuming stacks from his local video store. His long-term ambition? To become  an auteur. But first he’ll have to study cinema at NYU (“Canadian universities are too… Canadian”).

To pay for it, he needs big bucks. But when he gets a job at a video chain store, everything changes. He hits it off with the store manager, the older woman who hired him. But no more time for sleepovers, or making his film. His relationship with his doting mom is in a shambles, and he begins to doubt he’ll get into any University. Is just liking movies… enough?

I Like Movies is a coming-of-age comedy that premiered at TIFF. It explores the life of an aspiring filmmaker in a lifeless Canadian suburb. It’s written and directed by prize-wining filmmaker, writer and movie critic Chandler Levack. 

I spoke with Chandler in Toronto via ZOOM.

I Like Movies opens on March 10, 2023.

60s, 70s, 80s. Films reviewed: Cocaine Bear, Jesus Revolution, Metronom

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Animals, Christianity, comedy, Coming of Age, Communism, drugs, Georgia, High School, Hippies, Religion, Romance, Romania by CulturalMining.com on February 25, 2023

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

This week, I’m looking at three new movies. There are spiritual revolutionaries in California in the 1960s, teenaged dissidents in Bucharest in the 1970s, and a crazed animal in Georgia in the 1980s.

Cocaine Bear

Dir: Elizabeth Banks

It looks like a typical day in 1985 in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia. Two little kids are playing hooky, three skateboard-riding teenage delinquents are looking for some petty crime to commit, a pair of Scandinavian backpackers are on a hike, and a middle-aged forest ranger is dressed to impress a guy she wants to date. But everything changes when a prop-plane pilot drops a dozen duffel bags of uncut cocaine into the woods… and then promptly dies. Suddenly the supply chain is broken, and out-of-state traffickers looking to retrieve their supply — and the cops who want to nab them — all descend on the park at once. And here’s where the actual movie starts: a huge black bear sticks its nose into the duffel bag and emerges as a frantic, delirious, coke head, forever on the lookout for more snow to blow. Who will find the drugs — the cops, the gangsters, the delinquents, or the children? And who will not be eaten by the bear?

Cocaine Bear is a low-brow, high-concept comedy that’s basically 90 minutes of extreme-gore violence. I was a bit dubious at the beginning, but about half an hour in it started to get really funny. I know it’s stupid-funny, but it still made me laugh. The all-CGI bear is one of the main characters, but there’s a great assortment of humans, too, played by an all-star cast: Margo Martindale as the forest ranger, the late Ray Liotta was the gangster, Alden Ehrenreich as his diffident son, O’Shea Jackson Jr as his henchman, and Keri Russell as a mom searching for the two missing children. It’s hilariously directed by TV actor Elizabeth Banks. Cocaine Bear easily beats Snakes on a Plane and Sharknado as best movie based solely on its title. Supposedly inspired by true events (yeah, right) it has lots of room for ridiculous 80s haircuts, music and other gags to good effect. Stoner movies are a dime a dozen and half of the movies coming out of Hollywood are clearly made by cokeheads, but this may be the first comedy about cocaine I’ve ever seen.  If you’re comfortable laughing at blood, gore and gratuitous violence, along with lots of base humour, I think you’ll love this one. 

Jesus Revolution

Dir: Jon Erwin, Brent McCorkle

It’’s the late 1960s in California, where young people everywhere are tuning in, turning on, and dropping out. One of these kids is Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney), who attends a military academy but would rather be drawing cartoons. He lives in a trailer with his Mom, a  glamorous but alcoholic barfly. He meets a pretty girl named Kathe hanging with the hippies outside a public high school, and decides that’s where he’d rather be. But Kathe is from an upper-class family whose parents frown on Greg. Meanwhile, Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), a local pastor, wonders why no one is coming to his Calvary Chapel anymore. It’s because your a square, his daughter tells him. So she introduces him to a unique man she met at a psychedelic Happening. Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie) is a charismatic, touchy-feely type who talks like a hippie and looks like Jesus. He emerged from the sex-and-drug world of Haight Ashbury with a mission from God, and now wants to spread the gospel. Chuck Smith is less than impressed, but decides to give him a try.

Soon there are block-long lineups to hear what Lonnie — and Chuck — have to say. This includes Kathe and Greg, who barely survived a bad acid trip. Lonnie gives Greg a place to live and invites him to join the church. Calvary Chapel is attracting people from everywhere, culminating in mass baptisms in the Pacific ocean. But as their fame grows, so does the friction. The more moderate Chuck frowns on Lonnie’s in-your-face style —  from faith-healing to his talk of being closer to God. Can Greg find a place in this world? Will Kathe’s family ever accept him? And is this a movement or just a flash in the pan?

Jesus Revolution is a retelling of the unexpected upsurge in grassroots Christianity among baby boomers in the 70s. The film is clearly aimed at evangelical church-goers, a subject in which I have absolutely no interest. Zero. Which is why I’m surprised how watchable this film is to a general audience. It’s not preachy — it shows, not tells. It’s well-acted with compelling characters and a surprisingly good story. No angels or miracles here, just regular — flawed but sympathetic — people.  I think it’s because the Erwin Brothers (American Underdog, I Still Believe)have figured out how to make mainstream, faith-based movies that are actually good. The film is based on real people, so I was a bit surprised they never mention that Lonnie Frisbee was actually a gay man who later died of HIV AIDS. I guess it doesn’t fit the story they want to tell That said, if you’re involved in a church or a fan of spiritual films, this might be just what you’re looking for.

Metronom

Wri/Dir: Alexandru Belc 

It’s 1972 in Bucharest, Romania.  Ana and Sarin (Mara Bugarin, Serban Lazarovici) are a beautiful couple still in high school, and madly in love. They both come from “intellectual” families, who are given special privileges in Ceausescu’s communist regime. They go to an elite school together, and hope to pass their Baccalaureates to get into an equally good university. They meet in front of a WWII heroes monument dressed in stylish trench coats and school uniforms. So why is Ana crying? Sarin and his family are emigrating to Germany. That means they’re breaking up for good and will probably never see each other again. Ana is crushed — her world is broken. Which is why she has no interest in going to an afternoon party at a friend’s house, but changes her mind at the least minute. Her father, a law professor, is easy going, but her mother absolutely forbids it. So Ana sneaks out of the apartment and heads to the get-together. This is her last chance before he leaves to make out with Sarin and express her eternal love. 

The party is centred around listening to music — Led Zepplin, Hendrix, The Doors — as played on a radio show called Metronom on Radio Free Europe. Western music is underground, subversive and illicit. They decide to write a letter to the show and pass it on to a French journalist. But two bad things happened. When they make love behind a closed door, Sarin won’t say he loves her. And the party gets raided by the secret police and all the kids are arrested and forced to write confessions. But Ana is so caught up in her relationship she barely notices the interrogation she has landed up in. Who ratted them out to the authorities? And what will happen to Ana?

Metronom is a passionate story of young love in the 1970s under the omnipresent gaze of an authoritarian government. It’s a coming of age story, about heartbreak and the loss of innocence as the real world reveals its ugly face.  

If you’ve never seen a Romanian film before (such as Întregalde, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, Poppy Field, The Whistlers, The Fixer, One Floor Below), this is a good place to start. They all have this feeling of tension, corruption, mistrust and unease, whether they’re set during Ceaucescu’s reign or long after his fall. This one also has hot sex, good music, stark cinematography, and terrific acting, especially Mara Bugarin as Ana. It manages to be a thriller, a romance and a coming-of-age story, all at once.

This is a good one.

Metronom is now playing a the TIFF Bell Lightbox; Cocaine Bear and Jesus Revolution open nationwide this weekend; check your local listings.

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

Coming of age. Films reviewed: Lovely Jackson, Of an Age, Skinamarink

Posted in 1970s, 1990s, Australia, Canada, Coming of Age, documentary, Horror, LGBT, Romance by CulturalMining.com on February 18, 2023

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

It’s been a sad few weeks in the Toronto film scene. Ravi Srinivasan, a recent, young TIFF programmer, and  Noah Cowan whom I knew way back in the 1990s, both recently died much too soon. And Harvey Lalonde, possibly the world’s most celebrated film festival volunteer, who had the inside scoop on everything happening at every festival in Toronto, and whom I’ve known and constantly talked with for at least 15 years, also sadly died well before his time. 

On a more positive note, the Toronto Black Film Festival is on now through the weekend, showing a huge amount of original content, about being black in Canada from Halifax to Vancouver.  

This week, I’m looking at three new indie movies: There are multiple apparitions in Edmonton; mutual attraction in Melbourne; and wrongful incarceration in Cleveland. 

Lovely Jackson

Co-Wri, Dir: Matt Waldeck

t’s 1975 in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Rickey Jackson is hanging with a friend when a few blocks away a bill collector is shot down in cold blood. The killer escapes and no weapon is ever found. But based on the testimony of  a 12-year-old paperboy who claims he saw Rickey (who has no criminal record) committing the crime, Jackson is tried, convicted and sentenced to death by electric chair. A few years later, on death row,  only months away from his execution, a Supreme Court decision stays all capital punishment in the state. But all he has to look forward to is a life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  And therein lies the Innocent Prisoner’s Dilemma: when brought before a prison panel, he can either lie that he feels remorse for a crime he didn’t commit and be eligible for parole, or tell the truth that he is innocent and be sent back to prison.  Although his case is eventually taken up by the Ohio Innocence Project he isn’t freed until after spending 39 years — from 18 to his mid 50s —  wrongly imprisoned.

Lovely Jackson is a stylized, and highly personal look at incarceration, survival in prison, and his fight to win back his freedom. It’s filmed in a series of black and white vignettes as portrayed by a young actor, and co-written and narrated by Jackson himself. Prison bars collapse into fractals, while Escher-esque prisoners march in lock step in endless circles. Jackson is portrayed in a fetal position as the hands of a clock face, slowly ticking around the hours. It isn’t until he is finally released that you can begin to see him in full colour and real life settings.

Lovely Jackson is an extremely moving documentary of how our justice system has failed, and one man’s struggle to fix it.

Of an Age

Wri/Dir: Goran Stolevski

It’s Melbourne Australia, 20 years ago.  Kol (Elias Anton) is 18  and bursting with energy.  He’s finishing high school and embarking on a new life. And in just a few hours, he’s meeting with Ebony (Hattie Hook), his ballroom dancing partner, for their big audition. Its the culmination of years of practice and hard work. He’s already dressed in his costume and ready to dance, dance, dance. But then a call comes through from a payphone. Ebony has spent the night passed out on a beach, drunk as a skunk, and doesn’t know where she is. Its up to Kol to try get someone to pick her up and take them both to the audition in time. Fortunately Ebony’s older brother, Adam (Thom Green) comes to the rescue. They miss the dance but Kol and Adam both feel there’s something special between them. Could this be love? Perhaps, but Adam is flying off to latin America to start his PhD. Ten years later they meet again in Melbourne’s airport. What has happened to their lives and where will they go from here?

Of an Age is a bittersweet coming-of-age drama about hope, longing and desire. It’s also about Kol’s life as an immigrant with his widowed mother who escaped the wars in the former Yugoslavia. (Goran Stolevski also directed the intriguing Macedonian fairy tale You Won’t Be Alone) And about alienation, bullying, cruelty  and coming to terms with his sexuality. I have mixed feelings about this film. I like its slice-of-life look at life in Melbourne with its diverse characters and personalities, and the sometimes emotionally-moving plot. But it feels disjointed. Its frantic opening scenes show Kol and Ebony in a never-ending  state of panic shouting at each other non-stop. And the bookend scenes — set 10 years later — are too short, too pat. It’s only in the other parts — like where Kol crashes a neighbourhood party, or has to deal with his relatives — that the movie finally hits its stride. Of An Age is not a bad movie, but it’s far from perfect.  

Skinamarink

Wri/Dir: Kyle Edward Ball

It’s late one night in a suburban home in Edmonton, Alberta, and four-year-old Kevin can’t sleep. So he starts wandering around. But things look weird. In the washroom, the toilet appears then disappears. And the doors and windows in the hall aren’t where they’re supposed to be. Mommy, my chatterphone is talking, and my Lego pieces are moving by themselves. Put them back! Turn the lights back on. Uh-oh, the floor is on the ceiling. Toys are on the wall, it’s very bad. Daddy, I don’t like what the TV is saying. Make it stop. Kaylee — will you play with me. Kaylee? What’s wrong with your mouth. Kaylee has no eyes. Mommy? Why won’t you look at me? Daddy? Where are you? Help me. Why is everything so weird. I don’t like it at all. Daddy, there’s a stranger in our house…

Skinamarink is an avant-garde, experimental  horror movie about all the nightmares a little kid fears coming true one night. He can’t navigate the familiar routes around his home. All the things that bring him comfort — playing with his toys, watching cartoons — aren’t working right. His Mom and Dad — the ultimate refuge he can always turn to when things go wrong — aren’t helping him this time. They’re only half there. It’s the ultimate child’s horror,  filled with confusion and abandonment. 

The title comes from the Canadian kids’ song made famous by Sharon, Lois and Bram. The film is shot in dim light with grainy, staticky video images. Most of the dialogue is barely audible. The special effects are like what a 6-year-old with no editing skills might attempt: show something, pause, move it off camera and start filming again — hey, look: it disappeared! It’s filled with creepy old TV cartoon music and sinister but indistinct voices that twist familiar toys into scary monsters, with satanic and zombie-like faces appearing for just a split second. Although Skinamarink borrows certain horror cliches, it is not a normal mainstream movie. If you approach it as an arthouse or  experimental film, you might like it. But if you’re expecting a regular horror movie, you’ll be disappointed and bored. Skinamarink makes Blair Witch Project look conventional. It’s extremely slow moving, and made on a tiny budget, but has generated an avid cult audience. What can I say? I liked this spooky, scary and weird look at childhood trauma.

Of an Age opens this weekend in Toronto; check your local listings. Lovely Jackson was the opening night film at Toronto Black Film Festival, which continues through the weekend; and Skinamarink is now streaming on Shudder.

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

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Films reviewed: Body Parts, Drinkwater, Happy FKN Sunshine

Posted in Canada, comedy, Coming of Age, documentary, Feminism, High School, Hollywood, Music, Sex, Sexual Harassment, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 31, 2023

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

Have you ever seen an actual performance of Kabuki? There’s a new monthly series opening in Cineplex theatres across Canada, including one playing tonight called Fortress of Skulls. If you’re in Milton right now, check out the Milton Film Festival, featuring Go On and Bleed, a short film by CIUT’s own Christian Hamilton. And if you’re in Toronto, you can catch Canada’s Top Ten at TIFF, featuring fantastic movies like Bones of Crows and Brother, as well as fun flicks like Rosie and  Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future.

This week, I’m looking at three new, indie movies, one from LA and two from Canada. There are actors in Hollywood, runners in BC, and rockers in Northern Ontario.

Body Parts 

Dir: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan 

Is nudity in movies a good thing or a bad thing? How does it affect the actors and the viewers? And is it shown from a male or a female perspective? These are some of the questions talked about in a new documentary that takes a look at nudity and sex in Hollywood and it’s films. And it does so in a new and unusual way. Talking heads from the industry and academics, narrate the story, but it’s illustrated with a barrage of well-known movie clips, manipulated, pixilated and animated to both emphasize and obscure women’s bodies. By “barrage”, I mean a phenomenal number of images often just a second long, where what you see is what the interviewees are talking about. It deals with contemporary issues, like the #metoo movement, but makes it clear that Harvey Weinstein isn’t unusual or unique, just its epitome. Women reveal how as young actresses they were coerced into filming topless scenes never mentioned in the script. Bikini auditions were commonplace, completely unrelated to a part they’re trying out for, basically just for the titillation of male movie execs. It also traces the entire history of Hollywood, dating back to the libertine, pre-Code 1920s and 30s where female scriptwriters flourished, and subversive sex was common. Later a prudish America hid sexual transgressions off-camera. 

Stars and filmmakers interviewed in this movie include Jane Fonda, Karyn Kusama, Rose McGowan, and Rosanna Arquette among many others. But this is not a confessional reality-show-type exposee. It also includes on-set recreations of what the people describe; and fascinating types you never hear from, like the intimacy coordinators, sex choreographers, and body doubles — the nameless ones whose bodies replace A-list stars in nude scenes.  It also celebrates a taboo even bigger than nudity in Hollywood: a positive portrayal of sex and nudity involving people with disabilities, trans bodies and actors who aren’t proportioned like Barbie dolls.

If you’re a movie lover, a film student, a young actor or anyone in the industry, Body Parts is a must-see, a crucial, insiders’ look at the rapid changes involving sex, nudity, consent and the male gaze.  It’s a feminist reimagining of what movies are, and what they should be. This film might deserve a place alongside Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself in the pantheon of great documentaries about Hollywood.  

Drinkwater

Dir: Stephen S. Campanelli (Indian Horse)

It’s present day in Penticton, BC. Mike Drinkwater (Daniel Doheny) is a high school student who lives with his selfish, layabout father. Mike is into Rubik’s cubes, Bruce Lee, and drives a Gremlin. He’s smart and creative but his head is in the clouds. He’s infatuated with Dani, the most popular girl in his school. Hank Drinkwater (Eric McCormack) used to work at the mill but is on paid medical leave due to an accident. He wears a fake neck brace so he won’t have to go back to work. Mike wants to go to U Vic but Hank would rather spend his money on toys and model trains than cough up for his son’s education.

Luckily there is a way out. If he wins the annual cross-country race, the prize will cover his tuition. And Wallace (Louriza Tronco) the orphan-girl next door who lives with her grandparents, agrees to help Mike train for the race. She has a secret crush on him, just as Mike loves Dani. But Dani’s dating Luke (Jordan Burtchett) the homecoming king, a rich kid whose dad owns the paper mill, where Mike’s dad works. Luke is Mike’s main rival in the race, just as their fathers competed years back in the same contest — a grudge spanning generations. Who will win the race? Who will Dani choose to date? Will Hank ever start caring about life? And will Mike ever realize that Wallace is the one he should crush on, not Dani?

Drinkwater is a coming-of- age comedy about growing up in a BC lumber town. The story is conventional, but told in a stylized way, incorporating 70s and 80s looks with a retro rock soundtrack. It also celebrates local culture and lore. The director is best-known for his camerawork, and the film is full of breathtaking aerial views of scenic lakes and forests. Very few surprises, but it’s still cute and easy to watch.

Happy FKN Sunshine

Dir: Derek Diorio

It’s the 2000s in a pulp and paper mill city in Northern Ontario. Will (Matt Close) is a high school student and aspiring musician. He has styling hair and slacker clothes. He plays the guitar, loves music and wants to form a rock band — it night be his ticket out of this place. So he tries to recruit a motley crew to join the band. Vince (Connor Rueter) an arrogant bully can be the lead singer; River (Maxime Lauzon) the blasé friend of his sister on drums; and Artie, a long-haired, heavy metal enthusiast on bass. Artie, who lives with his brain-dead father, invents fantasies of his secret jam sessions  with famous rockers… which drives Vince insane.

Times are tough, and there’s a strike at the mill where all their parents’ work. Will’s abusive, hard-ass father refuses to spring for an electric guitar. Fortunately, Will’s tiny-but-tough sister Ronnie (Mattea Brotherton) is the local pot dealer, so she steps up to buy him the instrument. And Artie’s Newfoundland uncle Eddie, a former musician (famous stage actor/pianist Ted Dykstra), promises to introduce them to some big names in Toronto, if they ever making some good music. Can the band become famous before it breaks up?  And can Will ever make it out of this place?

Happy FKN Sunshine (the title is also the name of their band, and reflects the constant foul language all the characters use) is a realistic, bittersweet coming-of-age story about a group of mismatched friends who form a band. It’s shot on location in North Bay and in the Canadian Shield forests around it. The acting is generally quite good, turning stereotypes into well-rounded characters. And it deals with the harsh realities of living in a declining economy. The pace is a bit slow, with too much time spent making music, but the multiple side plots will keep you interested. 

I like this movie.

Look for Drinkwater and Happy FKN Sunshine both available on VOD; Body Parts opens next week in select theatres and on VOD; check your local listings.

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

Hollywood movies. Films reviewed: Glass Onion, The Fabelmans

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, comedy, Coming of Age, Family, Hollywood, Movies, Mystery, Secrets by CulturalMining.com on November 28, 2022

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

It’s Thanksgiving weekend south of the border, so movies are being released midweek. This week I’m looking at two new, big-ticket Hollywood movies, you might want to watch this weekend. There’s a mystery/comedy set on a private Greek island, and a coming-of-age drama set in postwar America.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Wri/Dir: Rian Johnson

Miles Bron (Edward Norton) is a conceited, ultra-rich tycoon who made his fortune in the tech sector. Now he amuses himself by throwing elaborate parties on his private Greek Island, where his select guests try to solve a mystery during their stay. But this year, there’s a surprise visitor — the famous detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). He’s there on the invitation of one of the party guests — Bron’s former business partner — who was secretly murdered, with her identical sister (Janelle Monáe) a meek introvert, impersonating the flamboyant victim. (She invites Benoit as her guest to find her sister’s killer.)

Benoit Blanc, of course, is the famous gay private investigator known for his dapper suits, southern drawl, and legendary detective skills. Other guests include a flaky fashion designer (Kate Hudson), an insufferable online celebrity (Dave Bautista), a devious politician (Kathryn Hahn), and a shady scientist (Leslie Odom, Jr.), among others. But the week-long game is spoiled when Benoit guesses the answer almost immediately, to the host’s displeasure. But, soon after, the real mystery begins, when one of the guests is murdered in plain sight without anyone knowing whodunnit. It becomes a race against time, as other guests start to disappear, one by one. Can Benoit identify the killer, uncover their motive, prevent any more murders, and solve the bigger mystery of why these particular people were invited to this party?

The Glass Onion is a brilliant sequel to Ryan Johnson’s Knives Out from a few years ago, with Daniel Craig repeating the role of Benoit Blanc. It’s hard to review a mystery without giving away the plot, but I’ll do my best. This movie is very cleverly done: like any good Agatha Christie-style mystery, all the different characters — both potential killer or killers and victims — are introduced at the beginning, with no surprises

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022). (L-R) Jessica Henwick as Peg, Kate Hudson as Birdie, and Janelle Monáe as Andi. Cr. John Wilson/Netflix © 2022.

parachuting onto the Island. It’s also good because each character has their own quirks, back stories, secrets and motives, all of which are gradually revealed.  It’s even more fun because many of them are satirically modelled after certain celebrities. On top of that, there are a number of intricate clues hidden within clockwork-type devices featured in the film. 

I’ve been watching Rian Johnson’s work since his first film, Brick, came out almost 20 years ago, as he gradually honed his skills. I loved Knives Out, but was worried that a sequel might be a let down. But have no fear, Glass Onion is as good as or better than Knives Out. It’s hard to find movies these days that are there just for the viewers’ pleasure without ever pandering, dumbing down a plot, trying to sell you stuff or stealing ideas. Glass Onion avoids all that, concentrating instead on giving you a really fun night out. 

The Fabelmans

Dir: Steven Spielberg 

Written by Spielberg and Tony Kushner.

It’s Christmastime in the 1950s. Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) is a little boy who lives with his parents and sisters in New Jersey. Mitzi his mom (Michelle Williams) is a former concert pianist forced to adjust to suburban family life. But she manages to keep her sense of creativity front and centre. She refuses to do dishes, insisting instead on paper plates and plastic forks.  She’s the kind of woman who doesn’t hide from tornados, she chases them… and reads music scores in bed. She has a blonde pixie haircut and loves diaphanous white gowns. 

Burt (Paul Dano) his dad, is an engineer and part-time inventor who works for RCA and repairs old TV sets as a side job. He thinks science is superior, while art and movies are just for fun… but he worships the ground Mitzi walks on. And always close at hand is Burt’s best friend and workmate Bennie (Seth Rogan) who the kids all call Uncle.

The story begins with the parents taking Sammy to his first movie, Cecil B DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. Sammy is frightened but also mesmerized by a trainwreck in the movie where circus cars are derailed and wild animals run free. Sammy wants to film it. He manages to duplicate it on 8 mm film, repeatedly using his model train set seen from all the angles used in the movie. Sammy’s love of film is ignited — now he’s making silent monster movies at home starring his sisters. Later the family moves to Colorado, where Burt has a new position developing computers for General Electric.

And Uncle Bennie moves with them.

Teenage Sammy is now a boy scout, and, with his new friends, starts shooting and editing elaborate westerns and war movies to everyone’s delight. But in editing family films he discovers a hidden secret that threatens to pull them apart. 

Years later, they move to northern California where Burt now works for IBM. But Mitzi feels depressed and alienated and Sammy is bullied at school by guys who, he says, look like giant Sequoia trees. Can he still find solace making films? Will Mitzi adjust to a strange new environment? Or is the family heading for disaster?

The Fabelmans (meaning storytellers) is Steven Spielberg’s first fictionalized, semi-autobiographical look at how his childhood and adolescence led to his career as a filmmaker. I usually dislike movies about movies — they tend to be overly nostalgic and sentimental, and mainly there as Oscar-bait, to get people in the industry to vote for them. But this one is surprisingly good. And while there are many scenes of people staring at movie screens, there’s way more to it. It’s a bittersweet coming of age story, it’s a family story, and it’s a rare mother-son story: Sammy and Mitzi are both obsessive artists driven by their craft, but facing constant roadblocks put up by the conventional world. The film also incorporates the southwest, circuses, evangelism, folk singing, secular Judaism, family camping trips, and baby boom youth culture.

Michelle Williams is excellent as Mitzi, a complex character with many regrets. Canadian newcomer Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy is also great. And Judd Hirsch totally steals the scene as crazy Uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch), a lion tamer who wants Sammy to understand that following your artistic dreams is like sticking your head into a lion’s mouth: it takes guts, drive and determination… and might hurt a lot.

The Fabelmans is a very enjoyable movie. 

Glass Oinion is on at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for one week only, while The Fabelmans is playing across North America; check your local listings. 

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

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