Opening and closing nights at TIFF. Films reviewed: Dear Evan Hansen, One Second

Posted in 1960s, Bullying, China, Communism, Depression, Drama, Family, High School, Movies, Musical, Poverty, Prison, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 25, 2021

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

The ending of summer and TIFF marks the beginning of Toronto’s Fall Film Festival season. And first in line is the TPFF, Toronto’s Palestine Film Fest on now through Sunday, with films, workshops, exhibitions and feasts, both here and digitally across the country. Go to TPFF.ca for details.

But this week I’m tying up loose ends by looking at the opening and closing night features at TIFF. In a show of solidarity and togetherness in the face of increasing worldwide tension, the festival opened with a film from the US and closed with one from China. And, coincidentally, both films are about underdogs and outcasts. There’s a suburban high school student whose life is changed by a letter, and an escapee from a labour camp in China whose life is changed by a movie.

Dear Evan Hansen 

Dir: Stephen Chbosky

Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) is a high school student in suburban USA. He’s depressed, painfully shy and insecure. His broken arm is in a cast. He lives with his mom, a nurse (Julianne Moore) who sends him to a therapist to handle his difficulties. His summer assignment? To write optimistic letters to himself in the third person — “Dear Evan Hansen” to help raise his spirits. And his Mom suggests he get all his friends to sign his cast. But the first day of school turns out so dismal that he rewrites his letter into one of despair. An angry loner named Connor (Colton Ryan) offers veto sign his cast — so we can both pretend we have friend. But after a tussle, Connor snatches the letter from his hands and runs away. And the next day Connor is dead from suicide, with no note except Evan’s sad letter they find in his pocket. Connor’s Mom and Dad  (Amy Adams, Danny Pino)

turn to Evan — thinking they’ve found their late son’s secret pal. Evan, who barely sees his mother is so happy to have anyone pay attention to him, that he decides to brighten their day by talking about Connor and himself — all imaginary of course but anything to make them happier. And it doesn’t hurt that Evan has a crush on Connor’s sister, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever). 

Alana, the most popular kid at school (Amandla Stenberg) urges Evan to form a group to remember Connor. He can hardly say no since he says they were once friends. The deception grows and grows, until he gives a moving speech captured on other people’s phones, which immediately goes viral. Donations pour in to commemorate Connor, his family is happy again, and tens of thousands feel their lives have been improved, even saved, because of Evan’s talk. But it’s all a deception. Will he come clean? And will he get the help he needs/ And what about Zoe?

Dear Evan Hansen is an emotionally moving, constant tear-jerker that doesn’t let up until the end. It’s bases on the hit Broadway musical, and stars Ben Platt who originated the role and who sings with a sublime angelic tenor. It’s filled with songs and dances punctuated by wistful gazes at the sky, a tree, a window or into other people’s eyes. I’m not a big fan of Broadway musicals but I really liked this one. It’s poignant more than depressing, and you really feel for the main characters. So if you want to break your heart over and over, and listen to some songs, don’t miss Dear Evan Hansen.

One Second 

Dir: Zhang Yimou

It’s China’s Cultural Revolution. A man (Zhang Yi) who escaped from a labour camp in the Gobi Desert is walking across the sand dunes. His mission: to watch a movie. There are very few movies you’re allowed to watch during the Cultural Revolution, and he’s desperate to see one in particular. But there’s someone else also looking for a film. A street urchin with dirty face and unkempt hair, known as Orphan Liu (Liu Haocun) is intent on stealing a reel for his own nefarious purposes (we find out later she’s a girl, not a boy). The two engage in a cat-and-mouse chase until the reel is returned to its rightful place: in the hands of the town projectionist known as “Mister Movie” (Wei Fan). He’s an arrogant perfectionist, highly revered in the village because he’s the only source of entertainment. Tonight’s show? Heroic Sons and Daughters, an operatic drama about the anti-Japanese War decades earlier. But when the dust settles Mister Movie  realizes one of the reels has been damaged — it’s just a pile of tangled film covered with sand and dust. He cancels the screening. Whaaaat?

The townspeople are mortified, and none more that the escaped prisoner. He, and everyone else, agree to communally rescue the damaged reel, wiping clean each frame and rolling it back into its spool. The escapee  especially needs to view it that night. Why? Because of the newsreel. His daughter — whom he hasn’t heard from since he was arrested and sent away for punching a Red Guard — appears in it for one second. It’s his only chance to see her. And he’ll stop at nothing so he can see it. Will the films be shown? Will he get to see his daughter? And will Orphan Liu get what she’s looking for?

One Second is a lovely and touching look at the personal effect of movies on the people who watch them. It’s well crafted and historically evocative. It’s set during the Cultural Revolution, with Mao’s quotations painted on every wall. Though it’s portrayed lightly, it does reveal the poverty, oppression and unfairness of that period. People are hungry, children are bullied, police beat up the wrong person, and everyone — including  Mister Movie —is in constant fear of losing their job due to corrupt or indifferent party members.  But there are happy times too, like when the whole village bursts into song, along with the soldiers on the screen. No spoilers, but the storyline of the movie they watch — Heroic Sons and Daughters, about a soldier separated from his daughter — is reflected in the real lives of all the main characters in One Second.

This is a beautiful, nostalgic, and ultimately feel-good movie. 

Dear Evan Hansen opens this weekend — check your local listings; One Second should be opening later this year.

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 Jeff Harris about #TIFF21!

Posted in Interview, Movies, TIFF by CulturalMining.com on September 18, 2021

(Short version) 

(Extended version)

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

Photo by Jeff Harris.

TIFF is the one of the world’s biggest film festivals, where independent filmmakers from around the world show their latest work young actors give breakaway performances, and forgotten names try for their come-backs. Celebrities, publicist, the press and autograph seekers live in a weird symbiotic relationship. And movie lovers have a chance to see the best new movies of the year before they are released. But what’s it like during a pandemic when people are still tiptoeing around? How is TIFF right now? What is working, what isn’t? What’s surprising, and what movies are good, bad, or indifferent?

Well to answer some of these questions — and many more — I’m discussing this year’s festival with a long-time collaborator, marking his fifth time on this show.

Jeff Harris is an award-winning photographer and a freelance journalist who for 20 years has been covering TIFF for Macleans and The Walrus.  Next week he’s launching TIFF Tok on Tik Tok brand new TikTok reviewing 30 films in 30 days. 

I spoke with Jeff in Toronto, in person.

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Bretten Hannam about Wildhood premiering at #TIFF21!

Posted in Canada, Family, Friendship, Indigenous, Interview, LGBT, Mi'kmaq, Movies, Road Movie by CulturalMining.com on September 4, 2021

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

Photos of Bretten Hannam by Jeff Harris.

Link and Travis are half-brothers who live with their physically abusive dad in a trailer park down east. Link hates it there, but it’s the only life he’s known since his mother died when he was three. But when he finds a birthday card his dad has hidden from him, he realizes his mother might still be alive. So the two brothers run away. On the road they meet Pasmay, a Mi’kmaq who was kicked out of his home because of his sexuality. Together the three embark on a journey down a twisted path where mi’kmaw and two spirited cultures meet. For Link, it’s an education and an initiation into a world he finds both frightening and alluring. Can this mismatched threesome become a makeshift family? And will they ever find out what happened to Link’s mother?

Wildhood is a wonderful new film that’s a romantic drama, a coming-of-age story, and a picaresque adventure all in one. It encompasses brotherhood, family and identity — all told from an indigenous and queer point of view. It’s written and directed by Bretten Hannam and it’s their first feature film.

I spoke with Bretten Hannam from Toronto via Zoom.

Wildhood had its world premiere at TIFF21. 

Daniel Garber talks with Tracey Deer about Beans

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

It’s the summer of 1990.

Tekehentahkhwa or “Beans” for short (Kiawentiio) is a typical, innocent 12-year-old girl who lives near Montréal with her Dad, her ambitious mom, and her little sister. Her biggest worry is getting into a posh private school to guarantee a successful future. But her life is totally changed when the town of Oka tries to grab Mohawk burial grounds to expand a golf course. Protests erupt and her family, being Mohawk, joins in. But when it turns into a blockade and a stand off involving police and the military, it reveals acts of violence and virulent racism she has never witnessed before. Now she has to make a decision: should she toughen up like her dad? Or keep to the straight and narrow like her mom? And how will she emerge from these life-shattering events?

Beans is a fantastic new drama – told from an indigenous point of view – that combines the historical record with a highly personal and intimate coming-of-age story. Since it premiered at TIFF last fall, it has garnered dozens of awards for filmmaker, Tracey Deer who has created a work of personal and national importance.

I spoke with Tracey Deer via Zoom.

Beans is now playing in Toronto and all across Canada, from Victoria to Halifax.  

Daniel Garber talks with Kourtney Jackson, Max Shoham and Ella Morton about their films at FOFS

Posted in 1940s, Animation, Beauty, Black, Canada, Indigenous, Inuit, Movies, Trans, Women, WWII by CulturalMining.com on July 10, 2021

What do the following three stories have in common? An Inuk recalling her history, language and culture amidst the ice floes of Nunavut; three diverse black women in Toronto sharing the unique hair problems they faced during the pandemic; and a young, Jewish-Romanian couple meeting aboard a ship burgeoning with refugees adrift at sea during WWII. These stories are all films featured in The Future Of Film Showcase — or FOFS. In its eighth year, FOFS has selected 11 new short films made by Canadians under 40. 

Kourtney Jackson is a Toronto-based experimental filmmaker whose hybridized, storytelling transcends the physical body. Her film Wash Day looks at three black women talking about  bodies, hair, skin, beauty and self-love as they each cleanse themselves in a shower.

Max Shoham, an award-winning, prolific maker of animated short films in diverse genres, has been obsessed with movies since Grade 3.  Sophie and Jacob is an animated retelling of Max’s own grandparents’ story about how they met aboard a ship. 

Ella Morton is an artist whose still and moving images incorporating obsolete techniques have taken her across Canada and through Scandinavia. Her film Kajanaqtuq combines manipulated analog formats along with recordings of an Inuk’s recollections of her life so far in Nunavut.

I spoke with Ella, Max and Kourtney via Zoom.

You can watch all films playing at FOFS on CBC Gem for free until July 22nd.

Daniel Garber speaks with Jeff Harris about the Oscars

Posted in Hollywood, Movies, TV by CulturalMining.com on April 16, 2021

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

Photo by Jeff Harris.

Yes, it’s Oscar time again, albeit a few months late, and selected from a much smaller pool since most movie theatres have been closed for a year now, and distributors are sitting on their big-ticket blockbusters.

But hey, however you slice it, it’s still the Oscars. What are the biggest changes this year? Are the Oscars a tired warhorse that should be put out pasture? Or is it an always fresh and always surprising look at the past year’s best movies?

Well to answer some of these questions, to look at the nominations, and to give you a taste of what’s to come, I’m going to join today’s guest in a discussion about the Oscars. Jeff Harris is a Toronto-based photographer, former Photo editor at Maclean’s, and is continuing a twenty-year long art project of self portraits taken each day. You may also know him since he takes the photos that accompany my interviews at Hot Docs and TIFF. Most recently he completed a music video for Toronto musician Regina Gently released later this month.

I spoke with Jeff Harris on April 13th, 2021 via Zoom.

The Academy Awards will be broadcast on April 25th. 

My predictions:

Best Picture: Nomadland

Best Director: Chloe Zhao ✓

Best Actress: Frances McDormand ✓

Best Actor: Riz Ahmed Anthony Hopkins X

Best Supporting Actress: Youn Yuh-jung ✓

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya ✓

Best International Film: Quo Vadis, Aida? Another Round X

 

Daniel Garber talks with writer and lawyer Jay Paul Deratany about Foster Boy at the Toronto Black Film Festival

Posted in African-Americans, Chicago, Corruption, Courtroom Drama, Family, Movies, Orphans, Resistance, Secrets, Thriller, violence by CulturalMining.com on February 19, 2021

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

Jamal is an angry 19-year-old who finds himself back in a Chicago courtroom once again. He’s a product of the deeply- flawed foster care industry, a privatized system which left him physically and mentally scarred, and in and out of prison. But this time he’s before a judge voluntarily; he’s suing the corporation that put him through hell. His lawyer? An unsympathetic corporate shill assigned to his case, pro bono, by a sympathetic judge. Jamal sees a “three-piece” supporter of the system he’s fighting, and the lawyer sees Jamal as a “thug” he’s ordered to represent. Can the two of them fight the power of an abusive system that made him a foster boy?

Foster Boy is the name a new courtroom drama and legal thriller inspired by true events, that was the opening night feature at the Toronto Black Film Festival. It’s produced by Shaquille O’Neal directed by Youssef Delara and stars Shane Paul McGhie, Matthew Modine, and Louis Gosset, Jr.

The script is by Jay Paul Deratany, a screenwriter who is also an accomplished Chicago lawyer and a foster youth advocate.

I spoke with Jay Paul Deratany in Chicago, via ZOOM, on February 17, 2021.

Foster Boy is available across North America at the Toronto Black Film Festival through Sunday, and online VOD.

Two Ladies and a Gentleman. Films Reviewed: Love Sarah, Promising Young Woman, Lupin

Posted in Crime, Disguise, Family, Food, France, Movies, Mystery, Psychology, Thriller, UK, US, Vengeance by CulturalMining.com on January 15, 2021

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

Doug Ford’s latest rules  to fight the pandemic say don’t leave home… except when you do But don’t worry, there’s lots to see without going outside. This week I’m looking at two new movies and a TV series. There’s three woman in London opening a bakery, a Parisian thief who’s a master of fakery, and a vengeful woman exposing predators by pretending to be drunk when she’s actually wide-awakery.

Love Sarah

Dir: Eliza Schroeder

It’s present-day London, in Notting Hill (before the pandemic). Sarah is a chef who comes from a family of very talented women. Her daughter Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet) is a professional dancer, and her mum, Mimi (Celia Imrie), is a retired trapeze artist. She plans to open a gourmet bakery/cafe  with her best friend Isabella (Shelley Conn). They studied cooking together in Paris. But right after they secure the property, Sarah is killed in a bicycle accident, and her whole family is in disarray. Depressed Clarissa can’t dance anymore, and her dancer-boyfriend kicks her out. Mimi was already estranged from Sarah before she died. And Isabella without a real chef, is forced to go back to her office job. The three manage to overcome their differences and open the cafe in Sarah’s name. But where will they find a baker? In walks Matthew (Rupert Penry-Jones). He’s a two star Michelin chef who studied with Sarah and Isabella in Paris and slept with each of them (he’s a notorious womanizer.) Perhaps he’s also Clarissa’s birth father… And does he still carry a torch for Isabella? 

Love Sarah is a charming, low-key drama about the joys and trepidations of running a business in honour of someone who died. It’s full of vignettes about cooking and baking in a quaint and colourful neighbourhood. There are also chances of romance for each of the three women. The plot is threadbare but the characters — and the actors who portray them —  are quite endearing, in that understated English way. Love Sarah is a cute, but inoffensive, picture.

Promising Young Woman

Wri/Dir: Emerald Fennell

Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) is a promising young woman at med school with her best friend Mimi. They’ve planned to become doctors since they were kids. But then something terrible happens. Mimi gets drunk at a party and is raped by another student and the university sides with the man. Mimi commits suicide and a despondent Cassandra quits school, moves in with her parents   and drops out of life. She works by day at a dead end job, while her nights are spent in a drunken stupor at tawdry pick-up bars, going home with whatever guy asks her. But things aren’t what they seem. Whenever her “date” inevitably throws

Carey Mulligan stars as “Cassandra” in director Emerald Fennell’s PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

himself on this seemingly drunken woman, she jumps into action to teach the predator a lesson. This secret heroin will never be a victim. But can she single-handedly avenge all the people to blame for Nina’s suicide? And will she ever start living a normal life again?

Promising Young Woman is a vengeance thriller that’s full of shocks surprises. Carey Mulligan is fantastic as Clarissa, a multi-leveled character who is both depressing, and funny with a dark, deranged streak running through her. Bo Burnham plays a self-effacing nerd — and potential boyfriend — who challenges her theory that all men are douches; and comic relief is provided by Jennifer Coolidge as her mom, and Laverne Cox as her boss. Promising Young Woman is shocking and deeply disturbing while also reassuringly moralistic. This movie keeps you guessing — and your heart pumping — till the very end.

Lupin

Assan Diop (Omar Sy) is a young boy who lives with his Senegalese father in  a palatial estate in Paris. His dad’s a chauffeur for the Pellegrinis, a very rich  but ruthless family. He gives Assan a book — classic stories of Arsene Lupin, the eponymous gentleman thief and master of disguises — and tells him to read it carefully and learn from it. Lupin is ingenious and conniving but always a gentleman (they use the English word in this French drama) But when his father is arrested for stealing priceless jewels, Assan is left alone, penniless and orphaned. Luckily an anonymous donor pays for his education at an elite academy. Years later he emerges as a modern day Lupin, reenacting his most audacious thefts and reaping its rewards. He’s married now and has a teenaged son. But when the jewels his father was accused of stealing reappear at an auction, he is determined to get the necklace, prove his father’s innocence and get revenge on Pellegrini, whom he believes set his dad up. But to do this he must outsmart the police, evade Pellegrini’s hired killers, even while he continues to carry out his intricately planned heists.

Lupin is a delightful new TV series full of capers and adventures, a new take on a classic character. It follows multiple sub-plots: his relationship with his wife and son; his various capers; his war against Pellegrini, and the cat & mouse game he plays with the police. Omar Sy is wonderful in the main role, so much so that there’s little screen time given to the supporting actors — the buffoonish cops and naive millionaires are mainly there as foils for his exploits. Yes, it’s an unbelievable fantasy, and yes, it’s purely light entertainment, but I like it a lot. And after one week with only 5 episodes, it is already trending at #1.

Lupin is now streaming on Netflix. And Love Sarah and Promising Young Woman both open today digitally and on VOD.

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

More festival films. Ammonite, Labyrinth of Cinema, La Belle Époque

Posted in Dinosaurs, France, Japan, Lesbian, Meta, Movies, Romance, Science, Time Travel, UK by CulturalMining.com on November 13, 2020

https://danielgarber.files.wordpress.com/2020/11/garber-november-13-20-review-1.mp3Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Toronto is a Red Zone and movie theatres are closed, but the fall film festival season continues with ReelAsian, featuring films from East, Southeast and South Asia and the diaspora; and Cinefranco showing new, French-language films from Europe, Africa, and Quebec.

This week I’m looking at three new festival movies. There are three young Japanese guys sent back in time; an English woman who digs up dinosaur bones; and a grumpy French artist who wants to go back in time… so people will stop treating him like a dinosaur.

Ammonite

Wri/Dir: Francis Lee

It’s the 1840s in Lyme Regis, a small town in Dorset, England. Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) lives with her mother Molly in a small house attached to a tourist shop. She sells seashells by the seashore. Fossils, to be exact, the remains of ancient dinosaurs. Her archaeological findings are on display in the British Museum, but, as a woman, she gets no credit for her discoveries and is blocked from joining the male scientists. But she continues her dogged work each day on the cliffs and pebbled beach. Which is why she is uninterested when Murchison, a rich London dilettante, knocks on her door, unannounced. Mary is gruff and headstrong and has no time for fools. But he persists. He loves her work and wants her to mentor him. And he’ll pay her well for her time. He’s accompanied by his young wife Charlotte (Saoirise Ronan) who suffers from melancholia. But when he takes off for the continent, Mary is stuck taking care of the depressed woman. She’s uninterested in frail, pale Charlotte until she takes ill and almost dies. She nurses her back to health, and the two women discover an unknown connection. Is it love, lust or just a passing fantasy? And what will happen when Murchison comes back?

Ammonite is a beautiful historical drama, a romance based on real-life characters. Kate Winslet and Saorise Ronan play the passionate pair, in a relationship riddled with jealousy, class-differences and misunderstandings… but also friendship as they explore new grounds, both emotionally and sexually. With really great performances set against a stark, cold world of water, pebbles and bones, Ammonite is an exquisite love story.

Labyrinth of Cinema

Wri/Dir: Nobuhiko Obayashi

A movie theatre near Hiroshima, Japan is closing down after many years, so everyone in town shows up. There’s Noriko – an innocent young girl in a sailor suit (Rei Yoshida) who says she learns about history by going to movies; Mario, a nerdy film buff (Takuro Atsuki); Hōsuke – a war movie fanatic with little round glasses (Takahito Hosoyamada); and Shigeru – a flashy-dressed, son of a buddhist monk (Yoshihiko Hosoda) who moonlights as a debt collector for the Yakuza. But as the movie starts, they step into the actual film and find themselves transported to the past. They’re in the Tokugawa era, the days of the samurai, feudal Japan ridden with uprisings and civil war. Later they’re soldiers in the Japanese Imperial army, invading China. And they end up trapped in Hiroshima on the day of the atom bomb. And at each stage of history, despite their efforts, they witness young Noriko in danger – whether as a Chinese spy, a sex slave, or a starving Japanese girl. Can they protect innocent Noriko without being killed themselves? Or will they fall into the trap of senseless, nationalistic war?

Labyrinth of Cinema is a highly-stylized retelling of modern Japanese history through movies. It starts out at a confusing, frantic pace, jumping from scene to scene recreating silent films with comical overacting. Later it slows a bit as the scenes get darker and more troubling. Over the course of this three hour epic, it uncovers aspects of Japanese history – war atrocities, women-led armies, the Kenpeitai, the slaughter of Okinawans – shown in the manner of films in each era: jerky movements in the 19th century; melodramatic scenes in the 30s and 40s.  It’s narrated by the poems of Nakahara Chuya, and the screen is kept busy with superimposed, sidebar quotes. The various characters are played by the same group of actors alternating roles in a theatrical style. This is director Obayashi’s last film – he died of cancer after completing it this summer – who was known both for his TV commercials and his horror movies. Labyrinth of Cinema is a long, devastating survey of history and war. If you want to really understand Japan, you should watch this experimental film.

La Belle Époque

Wri/Dir: Nicolas Bedos

Victor (Daniel Auteuil) was once a successful cartoonist known for his graphic novels and editorial cartoons. But when his newspaper goes digital he loses his job, and no one reads his comics anymore. Now in his sixties he’s unemployed, bitter and depressed, a dinosaur who can’t keep up with the times. He’s been married to Marianne – a beautiful Freudian psychoanalyst (Fanny Ardant) – for decades, but the spark is gone. She can’t stand his constant complaining anymore. So one night she kicks him out with just his clothes, a portfolio of drawings, and a small paper card he received at a dinner party.

It’s an exclusive invitation issued by Time Travellers, a high-priced service that lets you revisit the past. In their vast studio, they recreate clients’ own memories, using actors and scripts, accurate down to the smallest detail.  Victor goes back to that day in the 70s when he first met his wife in a bar called La Belle Époque. The Time Travellers CEO Antoine (Guillaume Canet) is an arrogant perfectionist, a tyrant who treats his actors like trash. He views each scene with hidden cameras and, using tiny mics, shouts directions into his actor ears. He hires his tempestuous on-again, off-again girlfriend Margot (Doria Tillier) to play Marianne, because he wants this recreation to be flawless – he feels he owes Victor a personal debt. But she’s too good, and Victor thinks he’s falling in love again… and not with his wife. Can the marriage be saved? Or will this hi-tech re-creation lead to disaster?

La Belle Époque is a satirical French comedy about romance, nostalgia, and second chances. It deals with French stereotypes: the men are either insensitive boors or intellectual bores, the women moody harridans. His re-created memories are funny and surprising but still just a simulacrum.  But as the story develops, you begin to care about the characters, and join in with their laughs, tears and surprises. La Belle Époque uses a fascinating concept to make a very entertaining movie

La Belle Époque will play at Cinefranco film festival which starts next Friday;  Labyrinth of Cinema is showing at  ReelAsian film festival from November 12th through 19th; and Ammonite which premiered at TIFF, opens theatrically today across Canada (check your local listings), and digitally on December 4th.

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Journalist (新聞記者)

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

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

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

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

The Viewing Booth

Dir: Ra’anan Alexandrowicz

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

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

The Best is Yet to Come (不止不休)

Dir: Wang Jing

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

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

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

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

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

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