Weird. Films reviewed: Rare Beasts, The Night House, Cryptozoo

Posted in 1960s, Animals, Animation, comedy, Feminism, Ghosts, Horror, Mysticism, Pop Art, UK by CulturalMining.com on August 21, 2021

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

Are you getting tired of the same old thing? Have you watched all the conventional stuff you can handle for one summer? Well, fear not, faithful listeners, there are really unconventional and unexpected movies out there, you just have to know where to look. This week I’m talking about three weird films, a ghost story, a love story and an uncategorizable animated picture. There’s a schoolteacher who thinks her house is haunted, a single mom in London dating a rare beast, and a zoo filled with mythical creatures.

Rare Beasts

Wri/Dir: Billie Piper

Mandy (Billie Piper) is a millennial writer who works at a TV production company in London. She’s clever and pretty with ginger hair and a toothy grin. Mandy is partial to bright colours and leopard-skin patterns. She still lives with her Mom and Dad (Kerry Fox, David Thewlis) and her 7-year old-son, Larch (Toby Woolf).  Larch is a lovable handful — he suffers from tics and is prone to screaming at the top of his lungs and rolling around on the floor when he doesn’t get his way. And despite her beauty and sharp, sarcastic wit, Mandy has yet to find a suitable mate. She’s currently dating a workmate named Pete. He’s a conservative dresser with wispy blond hair and a caterpillar moustache. He says he hates kids. Mandy’s own parents are a piece of work, with Dad constantly dashing off to Thailand for a bit of fun, while Mom is dying of cancer. But Pete’s family is even stranger — deeply religious, frequently praying, and getting into shouting matches over nothing. Then there’s work. Her douchey boss is lecherous, sexist and not so bright. Despite all this, Mandy and Pete are giving it a go. He hits it off with Larch, and Mandy makes friends with some of his family members. Do opposites attract? Or is she better off single?

Rare Beasts is a clever comedy about life as a single woman in the big city. It stars Billie Piper who is also the writer-director. She’s great. It’s a well-written script — almost too well-written. Every character is quirky, every line is witty, but for a comedy it isn’t all that funny. It inspires nodding chuckles but few genuine laughs. The movie is highly stylized, where a serious scene can shift into a fantastical, dance-like performances for no apparent reason. That said, the central characters are appealing and it’s an amusing story.

So if you want to see an unromantic Rom-Com that is never dumbed down, and told from a woman’s perspective, you’ll probably like Rare Beasts.

The Night House

Dir: David Bruckner

Beth (Rebecca Hall) is a high school English teacher in upstate New York. She has lived with her loving husband Owen, an architect, in a beautiful lakeside house he designed. It’s full of grass and wood, with built-in bookshelves and workshops, and splendid views of the water. Then tragedy strikes. Seemingly for no reason, Owen commits suicide one night aboard a row boat on the lake.  Beth is devastated. Her best friend and fellow-teacher Claire (Sarah Goldberg) offers a shoulder to cry on and her elderly neighbour Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) gives some much-needed advice. All alone in her house, she starts having terrifying nightmares, combines with sleepwalking, waking up in strange places each morning. The dreams seem to be completely real. And she feels there is someone watching her… has own come back?

And as she sorts through his possessions, she comes across some things that just don’t make sense. On his computer and phone she finds photos of women who look almost exactly like her… but aren’t her. And in his architectural drawings, there are plans to build a house on the other side of the pond, that is a mirror image of the one they live in. Was Owen insane… or did he know something? Will he come back to help her? Or is something sinister coming by each night?

The Night House is a very scary ghost story about a haunted house. It takes an entirely new approach to the idea of ghosts possession and parallel universes, and is full of strange Celtic images and paranormal dreams. The special effects are amazingly rendered. British actress Rebecca Hall is superb as Beth, which is crucial because the entire movie is seen from her point of view. You should watch this film in a theatre beside someone you know, but never all alone, at home, late at night!

Cryptozoo

Wri/Dir:  Dash Shaw

It’s the late 1960s. Crystal and Matt are a pair of flower children wandering through the woods. After making love beneath the stars, they climb a fence to see what’s on the other side. And what they find is unbelievable… a unicorn! Sadly it gores Matt to death with its single horn. Crystal has wandered into a crypto zoo, still under construction, a place where mythical creatures (known as “cryptids”) can gather in peace. There are ancient Greek animals like the Minotaur,  magical humanoids, and terrifying monsters like the Kraken. The park was started by Joan, a grey haired woman who has a carnal lust for cryptids. Her lover is a semi-human. Her first commander is Lauren, an army brat who grew up in Okinawa. She’s an expert at capturing cryptids and transporting them to safety. She’s assisted by Phoebe, a gorgon with snakes for hair and eyes that can turn anyone to stone. But Phoebe wants to pass as human and have a normal life, so she keeps her powers under wraps using contact lenses and a wig.  Joan is building a theme park to normalize Cryptids among the public, and also to generate income to keep the place running. But they face terrible opponents — private bounty-hunters like the demi-god Gustav, a pervy player of pan pipes; and the US military who want to disect these creatures to make powerful weapons. Can these three brave women keep the cryptids safe? Or is it doomed from the start, a Jurassic Park for fictional beasts?

Cryptozoo is a brilliant animated arthouse feature brimming with gratuitous sex and violence. I loved Dash Shaw’s first movie, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, and this one goes even further.

It has tarot card mysticism and Japanese mythology alternating with cheap-ass amusement parks and secretive orgies.  Images are hand-drawn or painted in a variety of genres, and animated in an endearing, old-school jerky style. It’s a perfect blend of ancient fantasy and adolescent humour.  There’s a wonderful soundtrack by John Caroll Kirby, and the voices feature actors like Lake Bell and Michael Cera.

If you like base humour mixed with exquisite home-made art and indie music, don’t miss Cryptozoo!

Look for Cryptozoo on VOD and digital formats., including the digital TIFF bell Lightbox;  Rare Beasts and The Night House open theatrically in Toronto 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.

Heroes? Films reviewed: Lorelei, Stillwater, The Green Knight

Posted in Adventure, Fairytales, Family, Fantasy, France, Medieval, Mysticism, Poverty, Prison, Road Movie, Romance, Trial, UK by CulturalMining.com on July 31, 2021

Heroism is not just a thing of the past; it can still be found in unexpected places. So this week I’m looking at three new movies about flawed men on heroic journeys. There’s a man straight out of prison looking for his long-lost lover; an American in France who wants to rescue his daughter; and a medieval knight who wants to prove his valour.

Lorelei
Wri/Dir: Sabrina Doyle

Wayland or “Way” (Pablo Schreiber) is fresh out of prison. He’s tall and muscular with a goatee. He served 15 years for armed robbery, taking the fall for his motorcycle gang. Way’s on parole now, living at a local church, run by the kindly Pastor Gail. There he happens upon a single mom’s support group where he sees a blast from the past. Dolores (Jena Malone) is pretty and petite with blonde hair and an uplifting spirit. She was his high school sweetheart, a champion swimmer, the love of his life. The dreamed of moving to LA together but his incarceration ended all that. Now she has three kids, all from one night stands. She named them each after colours she likes. Dodger Blue (Chancellor Perry) is a 15-year old with attitude; Periwinkle Blue, or just Perry, (Amelia Borgerding) is 11 or 12 and starting to rebel; and Denim Blue, who is 6 (Parker Pascoe-Sheppard) is adorable but gets bullied at school for wearing girls’ clothes.

Wayland’s first night with Delores is a disaster — he says he has forgotten how to do it. But things get better. She cleans rooms at a motel while he gets a job demolishing vehicles at a junkyard. And since he can’t afford a car, he fixes up a run-down ice cream truck and uses that to get around. But things look risky. He earns extra money transporting drugs for the gang. And his parole officer keeps showing up at the worst possible times. Then there’s the kids. Wayland’s not looking for commitment, but expectations change over time. Can the relationship last? Is it a package deal? Will he be sent back to prison? And can people living a life of poverty hang onto their sense of self-worth?

Lorelei is a bittersweet drama about a passionate and loving couple trying to overcome the enormous problems they face. The characters are real, not just Hollywood stereotypes, and that makes it all the more moving. (It’s a real tear jerker.) And it keeps defying what you think would happen in a more formulaic version. Schreiber and Malone have great chemistry, and the kids, all played by first-time actors, are really good. For a first feature, the director did an amazing job.

I really like this one.

Stillwater
Co-WriDir: Tom McCarthy

Bill (Matt Damon) is good at fixing things. He likes guns, praying and country music. He’s from Stillwater, Oklahoma where he worked as a roughneck at the oil wells until he spent time in jail. Now he does whatever he can find. So what is he doing in the south of France? He’s there to try to get his adult daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) out of prison. She was a college student in Marseilles when her roommate was found brutally murdered. She was convicted and sentenced for the killing but continues to protest her innocence. She says she knows who really killed her, but he has disappeared. The police and lawyers refuse to do anything so Bill decides to track down this guy, get his DNA and free his daughter.

In the meantime, he’s staying at a cut-rate hotel, where he comes to the rescue of a little girl named Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) who is locked out of the room next door. In gratitude, Virginie, an actress and Maya’s mom (Camille Cottin), helps him with some translations. (Bill doesn’t speak any French.) Eventually they become friends, he moves in with them, and he lands a demolition job in Marseilles. Will there be a relationship in the future? Can a conservative redneck American get along with a liberal French woman in the arts? Is there love in the horizon? Can he catch the real killer and free his daughter? Or will it all come to naught?

Stillwater is the slow telling of a story about a flawed, middle-aged guy trying to do right by his estranged daughter. It’s also about polarized American politics in the age of Trump, transplanted onto a French setting. It’s billed as a thriller, but a thriller it ain’t. There are a few thrilling parts, and some unexpected plot twists, but it’s mainly too long, too slow and pretty bleak. It moves like still water.

The Green Knight
Wri/Dir: David Lowery

It’s Christmastime in the era of King Arthur, chivalry and magic. Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) is an aristocratic layabout more comfortable rolling in the hay at the local brothel than appearing in the royal court. But he’s the nephew of the King and Queen, and his mum (Sarita Choudhury) is a powerful sorceress. So when their feast is interrupted by an unexpected visitor, Gawain pays attention. The Green Knight, a huge and imposing creature who looks like he’s made of a tree, challenges anyone to a special game. A one-on-one fight, to be revisited one year later at the Green Knight’s home. The trick? Whatever the winner does it will be revisited upon him next year. Gawain volunteers — for a good chance to prove his valour and bravery and to become a knight. Without considering the consequences, he quickly beheads the Green Knight. But one year later he must visit his castle and get his head chopped off. He sets off on a journey encountering many unexpected challenges, including a highwayman, (Barry Keoghan), a red fox, a ghost (Erin Kellman) a Lord (Joel Edgerton) and a beautiful and mysterious, woman (Alicia Vikander). Will Gawain show valour or cowardice on his long journey? And will he survive his meeting with the Green Knight?

The Green Knight is an ingenious retelling of the ancient myths and stories of the British Isles and France. It’s not a straightforward adventure, but one loaded with dreams, magic and alternate realities. At times it’s unclear whether what you’re seeing is real or imaginary. It’s highly stylized, with gorgeous costumes and settings, which look simultaneously contemporary and medieval. It also uses unusual media – from puppet shows to tapestries and paintings – to advance the story. Dev Patel is great  (he carries the entire movie) but so are most of the others. Surprising phenomena are presented without comment, like a parade of naked giants lumbering past, or Gawain’s own semen serving as a shield of immortality. You might walk out of this movie thinking huh? What did I just see?, but if you think back to director David Lowery’s previous work, like A Ghost Story, you can accept his surreal mysticism at face value. This is a beautiful and fascinating film, a new, bold take on an ancient tale.

Lorelei is now available on VOD and digital formats. Stillwater and The Green Knight opens theatrically or digitally 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.

Therapy vs self-medicating. Films reviewed: Canadian Strain, Transfert, Freud

Posted in 1800s, Austria, Canada, comedy, Crime, drugs, Italy, Mental Illness, Mysticism, Psychological Thriller, Sex, Suspense, Suspicion, Toronto, TV by CulturalMining.com on March 27, 2020

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

It’s a tough time for movie critics.

All the cinemas are closed, spring film festivals cancelled, and many new movies originally scheduled for release are postponed. Indefinitely. Meanwhile, like many of you, I’m in isolation, cooped up at home. This will be my first attempt at home recording – please bear with me for the poor sound quality. But when faced with a crisis, you look for alternative ways of dealing with your problems. Some people self-medicate while others turn to therapy. So this week I’m looking at three new movies (all online), two about psychiatry, and one about marijuana. There’s a psychoanalyst in fin-de-siècle Vienna; a psychotherapist in modern Sicily; and an out-of-work cannabis dealer in contemporary Toronto.

Canadian Strain

Dir: Geordie Sabbagh

Anne (Jess Salgueiro) is a Toronto entrepreneur, who runs a successful business out of her own home. She has long curly hair and a determined look. Anne is kind, reliable and always there for her longtime clients. She likes her work and is good at it. Her social life revolves around her job. And when she needs advice, she turns to her father (Colin Mochrie). She also has an agreement with her mustached boyfriend: they keep there jobs separate. Why? Because she’s a pot dealer and he’s a cop. But when Canada suddenly legalizes cannabis, everything changes.

Suddenly Anne’s longtime clients, people she considers family, all defect to the public option. She’s forced to rethink her entire life. Should she work for The Man? Or try something new?

Canadian Strain is a gentle comedy set in Toronto just a short while ago, when the province shifted to legal cannabis. It’s more interesting than hilarious. It’s also totally Toronto. It combines bland government bureaucrats, flakes, hippies, grandmas, aggressive men on the prowl, and organized criminals. It’s told through Anne’s point of view, but there are many fascinating side characters, both and good bad, mainly played by women. Definitely a niche movie, but I enjoyed Canadian Strain.

Transfert

Wri/Dir: Massimiliano Russo

Stefano (Alberto Mica) is a young psychiatrist in Catania, Sicily. Kind, good-looking and empathetic, he has been fascinated by psychiatry since he was a child. Educated in Bologna, he is back in Sicily looking for new clients to establish his practice. He works out of his home, a modernist flat that he shares with his wife.

Among his first patients are two sisters who live together. Chiara (Clio Scira Saccà) is pretty and vivacious but accident-prone. She’s had three car crashes in the past month… are these accidents intentional? Letizia (Paola Roccuzzo) is mousy and withdrawn but intellectually curious. The two are fiercely competitive and constantly bickering. Stefano treats them equally and separately. He gets along well with all his patients.

But when new client enters the scene – a man who shares his name – things start to go wrong. This other Stefano (played by the film’s director) though devious and cruel, quickly wins the therapist’s trust. Using sophisticated equipment, bad Stefano spies on his fellow patients. He uses this information to plant the seeds of suspicion in the doctor’s mind, which could lead to terrible consequences. Can a psychiatrist be gaslit by one of his patient? Or will he discover the truth?

Transfert is an indie, psychological thriller about an innocent, young psychotherapist trapped in a patient’s schemes. This is a low budget film so much of it takes place indoors, with some drone views of the city from above. But it still manages to thrill and surprise. There are visual references to Truffaut, among  others. It’s shot in beautiful Catania, a baroque city beside Mt Etna, a volcano ready to erupt (like many of the characters). I like the way Transfert tells the story through a sympathetic therapist’s eyes – something you rarely see. And while I thought the twisted ending was implausible, it still managed to surprise me. I liked this one, too.

Freud

Co-Wri/Dir: Marvin Kren

It’s the 1880s. Fin-de-siècle Vienna is a cauldron of new ideas in art, music, architecture and politics – think Mahler, and Berg, Klimt and Loos and many others, all in one city, the hub of the vast Austro-Hungarian empire.

Inspector Kiss (Georg Friedrich) is there, a former soldier with a shaved head and curled mustache. He’s a cop who solves crimes. So is Fleur (Ella Rumpf) a beautiful and dark, sultry young woman part of the Hungarian nobility. She serves as a medium for the countess at séances where she falls into a trance leading to strange voices and ending with a pseudo-epileptic seizure, complete with foaming at the mouth. And then there’s Sigmund Freud (Robert Finster), famous as the father of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. But here he’s an unknown young neurologist and a recent grad from medical school. He’s trying to establish himself. He has yet to write his first book and lives in an apartment where he is threatened with eviction for not paying rent. He’s just starting to explore the unconscious, but he’s still at the stage of parlour tricks, where he uses his pocketwatch to hypnotize patients. He’s also addicted to cocaine.

These three people are thrown together after a terrible attack on a young woman. Inspector Kiss runs to Freud’s apartment (he’s a physician) with the victim, saying “save her!”. And Fleur has a vision of who the killer might be, but it’s buried somewhere deep inside her mind. She can’t remember what happens during her trances. It’s up to Freud to hypnotize Fleur to discover the truth. But will that reveal the real killer?

Freud is a new TV show, a detective mystery/thriller, with a cop, a psychiatrist, and a psychic trying to catch a serial killer in late 19th century Vienna. But that’s just the frame. It’s also a sexual romance, and an historical drama. Throw in decadent royalty, avaricious artistocracy, angry nationalists, rising right-wing politics, mysticism, misogynyand anti-semitism, duels, and opera… and you’ve got a rich and engrossing drama that’s not your average mystery. And if I’m not mistaken, this is the world’s first sexy Freud, two words I never thought I’d hear in the same sentence. I’m binging this series and am only half through but, so far, it seems well-worth watching.

Transfert and Canadian Strain are both available online; and you can watch Freud on Netflix.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Oscar-winning filmmaker László Nemes about Sunset

Posted in 1910s, Drama, Dreams, Hungary, Mysticism, Secrets, Women, WWI by CulturalMining.com on April 5, 2019

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

Photos of László Nemes by Jeff Harris

Irisz is a pretty, young milliner from Trieste who is visiting a grand hat shop in Budapest celebrating its 30th Jubilee. She is there to apply for a job, but the owner hands her a first class ticket home the moment he hears her name.

It’s Leiter, a name both famous and infamous. It’s the  name of the hat store, suppliers to the royal family, and founded by her own parents who died in a fire. But it’s also the name of a man who started the fire and murdered a count. Is he a madman… or a revolutionary? Irisz vows to find out who he is. But will the visit lead to a happy anniversary? Or is it the final sunset for the famous millinery house?

Sunset is also the name of a new film from Hungarian director Lázsló Nemes, who created the Oscar-winning Son of Saul. Sunset gives a multifaceted impression of pre-WWI Budapest, using sound, light, motion, colour and voices as experienced by Irisz. It shows the decadent Austro-Hungarian empire teetering on the brink, even as the new shining city arises. Sunset is a film filled with chaos, confusion and conflagration.

I spoke to Lázsló Nemes on location at TIFF in September, 2018. 

Sunset opens today in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Post-Halloween movies. Films reviewed: Suspiria, Boy Erased, Burning

Posted in 1970s, Berlin, Christianity, Dance, Death, Drama, Horror, Italy, Korea, LGBT, Mysticism, Psychological Thriller, Religion, Suspicion, Witches, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 2, 2018

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

Yeah, I know Hallowe’en was two days ago, but there’s still lots to be scared about. (Don’t you watch the news?) So this week I’m looking at three new movies that involve horror, thrills or just bad things happening to good people. There’s a dance troup in Berlin that reeks of brimstone, a gay conversion clinic in Arkansas that exudes homophobia, and a young writer in Korea who thinks he smells death.

Suspiria

Dir: Luca Guadagnino

It’s 1977 in Berlin with the Cold War raging, the wall dividing the city in two, and RAF bombs exploding in Kreuzburg. Into this world walks Susie (Dakota Johnson) a naïve Mennonite girl from Ohio, with pale skin and a long red braid. She’s there to dance, if a prestigious, all-women’s dance school will have her.

Have her they will.

So she moves into their huge headquarters the next day. It’s a grand old building, right beside the Berlin Wall, with mirrored rooms, a dormitory and a theatre. It’s owned and run by a group of older women, headed by their choreographer and former prima donna Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), known for her long black hair and floor-length dresses. They are preparing for a relaunch of their masterwork, a primitivist, flamenco-style piece called Volk. And since their lead dancer, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), has mysterously disappeared, Susie is ready to take her place.

But behind the scenes, something wicked this way comes. Susie keeps having terrifying dreams. There’s a power struggle between Madame Blanc and “Mother Markus” — the school’s founder. And strangest of all, the house itself – with its secret passageways and intricate pentagrams etched into the floor – seems to transform the dancers’ violent moves into lethal weapons… with terrifying results. And Doktor Klemperer, an enigmatic psychiatrist with a secret past, is attempting to bring police – men! – into this inner sanctum of womanhood. Is this dance troupe actually a coven of witches? And will Susie be their next victim

Suspiria (based on Dario Argento’s classic horror pic) is a visually stunning film, an unusual combination of modern dance and the occult. There are so many scenes in this two-and-a-half hour movie of dance rehearsals — including an amazing performance near the end — that you almost forget it’s a horror movie. But the twisted limbs, breaking bones and endless flow of blood, blood, blood, brings you back. Luca Guadagnino (he directed Call me by your Name, A Bigger Splash, and I Am Love) is back with another aesthetically overwhelming film, recreating 1970s Berlin, and starring, once again, the fantastic Tilda Swinton in many, hidden roles. Though not that scary, this arthouse horror is always fascinating.

Boy Erased

Dir: Joel Edgerton

Jared (Lucas Hedges) is a 19 year old in Arkansas. He’s on the basketball team, has a steady girlfriend and works parttime in his dad (Russell Crowe)’s car dealership. He also goes to church: his dad’s a Baptist minister and his mom (Nicole Kidman) an active member. Everything’s hunky dory… until he gets outed as gay by an anonymous caller. Word spreads, church elders come knocking at the door, and Jared is sent off for a heavy dose of brainwashing.

Love In Action is a “gay conversion therapy” centre, with very little love. It’s headed by Victor (Joel Edgerton) a self-taught therapist full of vapid platitudes and pseudo-freudian pop psychology. He’s backed up by a violent ex-con (Flea) who hurls abuse at the patients in an attempt to scare them straight. The other patients/prisoners include the military-like Jon (Xavier Dolan, playing against type), the bullied Cameron (Britton Sear), and others who tell him to “fake it” – just repeat what they tell you until you’re out of there. But if he does, will they erase his very being? And can Jared ever get out of this godforsaken place?

Based on a true story, Boy Erased is a realistic look at one young man’s experiences in a gay conversion clinic. It’s well-acted and I found it moving (though predictable) in parts. But it’s also an incredibly uptight, desiccated, visually-starved, anti-sex movie that seems made for Sunday school church groups. No nudity — everyone’s buttoned to the top. In this movie, any “sex” is relegated to a rape scene. It’s one thing to have uptight characters, but does the film itself have to be so repressed?

This may be an important topic, but it’s a dreadful movie.

Burning

Dir: Lee Chang-dong

Present-day Korea. Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) is an aspiring writer in his twenties who lives on his dad’s dairy farm near the Demilitarized Zone. On a trip to Seoul he runs into a woman he barely recognizes. Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-Seo) is a former highschool classmate who – post plastic surgery – works as a glamour girl spinning the prize wheel at a department store. And Haemi likes Jong-su. She lives in a small apartment that only gets sunlight for a few mites each day. Haemi is an flakey extrovert into mime. Jongsu is reserved, quiet and introspective. Soon enough, they’re lovers, but then Haemi says she’s going on a trip to the Kalahari desert to experience “The Great Hunger”.

And she comes back wth a new friend, named Ben (Steven Yeun) she met at the airport flying home. Ben is Korean, but rich, privileged and vaguely foreign. He’s one of those Gangnam-style guys, with a fancy apartment and a pricey car. He’s smooth, slick and ultra-blase – like Andy Warhol — but in a weirdly creepy way. And now he’s dating Haemi. They visit Jongsu at his farm, get drunk and smoke some pot. And Ben confesses his secret – he gets off on burning down greenhouses. And never gets caught. And soon after, Haemi disappears without a trace. Ben acts as if nothing is wrong but Jongsu is not so sure.. Is Ben a psychopath? Or is Jongsu losing touch with reality? And what about Haemi?

Burning, based on a story by Murakami Haruki, is a tense, creepy psychological thriller. The three main actors are all great in their roles: Steve Yeun — that nice guy in The Walking Dead — is perfect as the possible serial killer, and Yoo Ah-in is amazing as the shy boy seething wth inner tension.

Fantastic.

Suspiria, Boy Erased, and Burning all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Alison McAlpine about her new doc CIELO

Posted in Canada, Chile, Cultural Mining, documentary, Indigenous, Movies, Mysticism, photography, Science, Spirituality by CulturalMining.com on August 10, 2018

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

Have you ever stared at the night sky and the stars and planets up there? What does it mean and how does it relate to our lives?

A new documentary premiering next Friday looks at the skies above the Atacama desert in northern Chile, the scientists and astronomers who observe them, and the people born there and who live beneath them.

It explores the filmmaker’s personal impression and interactions with the people she meets. It’s an astronomical, spiritual, anthropological look at life in a desert beneath the vast bright stars.

The film is called Cielo, and its filmmaker is Alison McAlpine. Alison’s award-winning and critically acclaimed documentaries have played at film festivals around the world.

 

I spoke to Alison McAlpine in Montreal by telephone from CIUT 89.5 FM in Toronto.

Cielo opens in Toronto on Friday, August 10.

Religion in remote places. Films reviewed: The Witch, the Club, Embrace of the Serpent

Posted in Anthropology, Catholicism, Chile, Cultural Mining, Drama, Dreams, Indigenous, Movies, Mysticism, Supernatural, Suspicion by CulturalMining.com on February 19, 2016

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

Religion can take a strange turn in remote places; this week I’m looking at three such movies. There are defrocked priests in a tiny fishing town in Chile, a shaman in the Columbian rainforest, and a preacher’s family in the woods near Salem village.

12357191_658718044294625_522435059894350027_oThe Witch
Dir: Robert Eggers

“A New England Folktale.”

It’s the 1630s in the New England colonies. Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is a firebrand preacher in Salem Village. He doesn’t like the way things are going there, with all the suspicion, accusations and trials about witchcraft. So he packs up his wife and kids and settles in a clearing near the woods. But witchcraft may have followed them there.

It starts with little things. A wild boar destroying crops and the farm animals behaving in a strange way. Pretty teen Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is annoyed by the bratty little twins – they look like devilish imps. So to scare them she pretends to be a witch. But her brother takes it all very seriously. He goes looking for an old witch in the woods. And now he’s gone.xGjG7n_witch_01_o3_8778312_1439860966

Caleb is baffled by the events, but goaded on by his shrewish, pregnant wife, he looks deeper into the troubles. What does that satanic goat want? What’s happening to the milk cow? And is there a devil’s child on its way? Are there witches in the woods? Is Thomasin one of them? Or is it all just paranoia brought on by their isolation?

This is not your average horror movie. It’s an art house flic that’s more strange and creepy than scary. The images are spooky but beautiful/grotesque, and the music is great. Apparently the script is based on actual diaries from that era. So the dialogue is full of thees and thous… but don’t expect Shakespeare.  Just first-hand accounts of witchery 400 years ago.

The_Club_-_4The Club
Dir: Pablo Larraín

Four priests and a nun live in a house together in La Boca, a remote fishing village in Chile. The men are there by order of the Vatican in penance for their suspected crimes and misdemeaners. Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers: No) is their de facto jailer. But in fact they live comfortable lives. The gamble, they drink, they cuss. Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro: Desde allá, No) even has a hobby:  a greyhound he bets on at dog races.

But then something happens. A new priest arrives at their sanctuary, pursued by a strange young man named Sandokan (Roberto Farías).

Sandokan parks himself by their front gate and begins reciting things in a sing-song voice. He tells in graphic detail all the horrible sexual abuse he suffered as an altar boy by a Catholic priest. This leads to a shocking incident.

The Vatican sends an investigator – with a handful The_Club_-_6of secret files – in the person of Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso). Garcia is a hard-ass Jesuit stickler who demands the truth from the priests. This is not a spa, he says. They must confess everything.

But the priests and the nun are no pushovers. So it becomes a tug of warThe_Club_-_5 between the stubborn but suspect priests, and their powerful interloper. What are their secrets? Which of them is really guilty? And what will become of the mentally damaged Sandokan?

The Club is another excellent – but disturbing — movie from the great Chilean director who brought us “No”. He uses many actors from his previous films. This one’s a dark comedy but with a very serious undertone about the intersection of politics and religion, crime and punishment.

EMBRACEOFTHESERPSENT_01_o3_8681619_1439859054Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente)
Dir: Ciro Guerra

It’s the early 20th Century. Theo Koch-Grunberg is a German Ethnologist living among the indigenous peoples of the northern Amazon rainforest. Theo (Jan Bijvoet: Borgman) is scraggly-looking man with a bony face and a long white beard who speaks the local language. He’s trying to find a shaman to show him the way to find a rare flower with mystical and medicinal properties. So with the help pf his student Manduca (Yauenkü Migue) he turns to Karamakate (Nilbio Torres) of the Arekuna nation to be his guide. Karamakate is a strong proud man who is one of the last of his people still living free in the traditional way. He walks through the forest basically naked except for a Embrace of the Serpentceremonial necklace. He carries no possessions. Everything he needs — the history, laws, medicine, geography, and stories of his people – are in his head. And he imposes strict rules that Theo has to follow if he wants Karamakate to lead him in canoe and on foot to the secret plant. He must starve himself in order to experience its power.

Flash forward half a century. Another foreign ethnographer, Evan (Brionne Davis) is back on the same path with the same goal: find pgBEVm_EMBRACEOFTHESERPSENT_04_o3_8681707_1439859084that flower! And he turns again to a much older Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) to guide him. But Karamakate now says he’s forgotten everything.

The movie jumps back and forth between the two journeys, 40 years apart. And what they see and experience is amazing, stunning, frightening and spectacular. There are missionaries who dress up indigenous kids as altar boys and forbid them to speak their own language (shades of Canada’s residential schools.) Adults are turned into slaves to fuel the short-lived Amazon rubber boom in Manaus. And the jungle is full of false messiahs, drug addicts, jaguars and boas, marching soldiers and fleeing crowds… They see it all.

The whole movie is shot in some of the most spectacular black and white footage you’ve ever seen. This is an amazingly breathtaking film. It’s emotional, tragic, absurd and realistic. It’s based on the notebooks of those two explorers, which contain some of the only recorded records of indigenous people of the North Amazon. I recommend this movie

The Club, The Witch and Embrace of the Serpent all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Lost Memories. Movies Reviewed: New Women, Free the Mind, Before Midnight

Posted in 1920s, Cultural Mining, Denmark, Mental Illness, Movies, Mysticism, Romance, Shanghai, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on June 7, 2013

June 5 2013_Yang Fudong_New Women credit SONIA RECCHIA, WireImage for TIFF_mediumHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Lost memories – should they be buried, and forgotten? Or is it better to preserve them… or even recreate versions of them? Do you find yourself unconsciously repeating half-forgotten conversations? Will bringing old memories to the surface help us purge them and get on with our lives?

This week I’m looking at these questions in three movies that treat memories in very different ways. One is a film/art installation that recreates titillating images of women in pre-war Shanghai; one’s a documentary about ex-soldiers who confront and purge past memories through breathing exercises; and a drama about a couple on vacation in Greece, and the memories the trip brings up.

June 5 2013_Yang Fudong_New Women 2 credit SONIA RECCHIA, WireImage for TIFF_medium_New Women

Dir: Yang Fudong

New Women is an art/film installation at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with five large movie screens in a darkened chamber. Black and white video projections show languorous women, wandering around in recreated scenes of old Shanghai. Or, rather, not Shanghai locations but the false photo sets and backgrounds that were popular in that era. The models seem to be trapped in a seductive opium-haze, and they lounge around, draping themselves over art deco New Women_ CREDIT Courtesy the Artist and ShanghART_mediumfurniture, sprays of cherry blossoms, immaculate Roman ruins and feather boas. Shanghai glamour girls were idolized in the 1920s and 30s, their images selling cigarettes, alcohol and candy. But these models, save for their elaborate make-up, hairstyles and jewelry,  are completely nude in these unusual soft-core porn projections.

Each scene is reflected and echoed across the chamber, not synchronized, but staggered and varied, giving the whole exhibition a drifting, dream-like quality. You should check out this show.

Free the Mind 1_Main_still_Rich_with_electrodesFree The Mind

Dir: Phie Ambo

Will is a 3-year-old foster child who is terrified of elevators. He feels trapped there if the doors closed and doesn’t know how to press the buttons. It makes him feel bad in his belly. He also gets into fights easily and doesn’t get along with the other kids. Doctors say he has ADHD and should be medicated.

One ex-soldier is plagued by constant guilt and uneasiness for the cruelty he showed. And another veteran’s marriage is collapsing — he can’t shake the memory of the deaths he feels responsible for in Iraq. They both suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Should they drown their lives in activities? Or start on a program of prescription drugs? Free the Mind 9_Will_listeningOr self-medicate themselves to oblivion – masking their troubles with alcohol or pot? Or is there another way to free the brain and body from the worries that plague them?

This documentary suggests that breathing and meditation exercises, constantly repeated, can actually reform the thought patterns in the brain. While the movie doesn’t make a strictly scientific argument, it’s still too early to offer proof, it does show the results of a test case at the University of Wisconsin: the session seems to change moods and sleep patterns. In word-association tests the patients shifted from negative, doom-and-gloom responses to a much more positive mindset. And it’s heart-warming to see the little boy Will gradually adjusting.

This is a fairly conventional documentary in form (plus a bit of animation and some psychedelic scenes) but its topic is fascinating.

Before Midnight 8 Delpy HawkeBefore Midnight

Dir: Richard Linklater

Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy) are on vacation in Greece. Jesse is a successful American novelist with a son from a previous marriage. He’s seeing him off at the airport after spending some time with him on their vacation. Celine is from Paris and her career is finally taking off. And their beautiful blonde daughters are there, too.

Their Greek friends have booked them a hotel room to spend an evening alone, awayBefore Midnight 5 Delpy Hawke from their kids, their friends, their work and their responsibilities – just the two of them, alone.

But it doesn’t work out the way it’s supposed to. Their harshest thoughts and their biggest worries resurface, and the arguments about a potential break-up looms large. Do they still find one another attractive? Can an American man and a French woman with ties on two different continents actually stay together? Do two people with different views on religion, truth, and jealousy, on men and women have enough in common to keep the spark of love alive? And will they still be together after another twenty years?

Before Midnight Delpy HawkeMy bare-bones outline does not do this film justice. Although it’s really just an extended conversation (in beautiful settings) it’s still a really good, totally engrossing movie about relationships.

Before Midnight is the third film in a series by Linklater that started twenty years ago, with Jesse and Celine meeting for the first time at random on a train to Vienna. The second film was shot ten years later, and this third one after another decade. All the hints brought up in the first film – about their imagined future, about how people in a time machine would look back at these times — are revisited in Before Midnight.

Before Midnight has a lot of oblique references and in-jokes which I appreciated and liked but didn’t quite get… until I saw the films that led up to it. (I watched the series in reverse order.) But I really liked it without having seen the previous films, and once I saw them – whoa! Great series, great film.

Before Midnight and Free the Mind open today, and the art exhibit New Women, along with cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s __ are now open at the TIFF Bell Lightbox – free admission. And coming soon, NXNE.ca starts next week – don’t miss its fantastic selection of bands and performances allaround the downtown, with added art shows and stand-up comics this year, and of course… movies! Also starting next week is the Toronto Japanese Film Festival. And rounding off the month is Italian Contemporary Film Festival with lots of great films by and about Italy its people and culture.

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

What is a piece of popcorn worth? Movies reviewed: Payback, Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

So did you hear about that poor guy in Michigan? Apparently he just wanted to go to a movie, but when he got into the theatre they literally held a gun to his head and forced him to buy a very expensive bag of popcorn! Literally! Can you believe it? …Oh — wait a sec. I’m wrong. Turns out he just didn’t think the price they were charging for popcorn and candy was fair. So he’s launching a class action suit.

Question: is it fair for movie theatres to charge 6 bucks for a bag of popcorn? Are moviegoers exploited and ripped off? Of course we are – everyone knows that, but we’re OK with it. Right? I mean you’re in that theatre paying to see Images projected on a screen — the ultimate deception.

If the candy’s too much then don’t buy it — they’ll get your money one way or another. I think popcorn is up there with the huge screens, surround-sound, velvet curtains, plush seats, grand lobbies and skeezy washrooms. It’s the movie experience. These seemingly random parts are all part of a larger coherent whole.

This week I’m reviewing two movies that look at fate, morality, destiny, and retribution. One is a documentary about things you must pay back, the other a comedy about paths you must follow.

Payback

Dir: Jennifer Baichwal

Two farmers, Llesh and Ilir live in northern Albania in a lush valley surrounded by grassy hills and snow topped mountains. A few years ago, when Ilir went to complain that Llesh was farming his land, there was a fight, and it may have involved Llesh’s wife… in any case Llesh pulled out a machine gun and shot Ilir in the gut a few times. He survived, but according to the 16th cenutry Albanian ethics code the Kanun, Llesh owes Ilir a debt. So Llesh and his family are poor now, trapped inside a shack and not able to farm.

This is just one of the many tangents this movie takes you on a look at debt – moral, ecological, monetary, and legal debt, — along with penitence, guilt, and retribution. They’re all very interesting stories – Latino tomato farmers in Florida fighting for fair treatment; a fisherman in the gulf enduring ruin after BP’s mishandled oil disaster; and a look at various Canadian prisoners – a petty burglar in Ontario, and Conrad Black (!) in Florida, both serving their time, repaying their debt to society. The documentary parts are alternated with talking heads — like Louise Barbour, Karen Armstrong, and Raj Patel — commenting on law, economics and religion.

This movie is sort of based on the Massey lectures Margaret Atwood gave a few years ago – a brilliant look at the words around lending, borrowing, owing and being owed. I say “sort of”, since it almost seems like one of those romantic thriller movies that say they were inspired by a true story. Jennifer Baichwal’s documentaries usually find a starting point and then, like a Stephen Leacock character, they fling themselves onto a horse and ride madly off in all directions.

Is this a problem? Not really, because even if they’re all over the place, the subjects she chooses are all interesting. And the movie is so visually rich (cinematography by Nicholas de Pencier) with images — from ceramic figures through a pawn shop window, to staggering, long aerial shots of the BP oil slick creeping across the Gulf of Mexico – that are as fascinating as any of the things people are saying.

I do get the feeling that Baichwal realizes it’s all over the place, so, to tie it all to Margaret Atwood’s book she adds long, literal scenes of Atwood hunt-and-pecking on her laptop, or Atwood reading from her manuscript. The talking head expertss are on screen too briefly to stick in the mind, except Conrad Black – who seems to have changed his mind about debt, retribution, and prisons.

In any case, Payback is a great visual riff.

Another movie that seems, superficially, to be about random drifting is

Jeff, Who lives at Home

Dir: the Duplass Brothers

(I reviewed this after seeing it at TIFF, but it held up very well this second viewing — I actually liked it better this time.)

Jeff (Jason Segel) is part of a dysfunctional family that fell apart when the father husband died years ago. Mom works in a lonely office cubicle, douchey Brother Pat (Ed Helms) sells paint and is destroying his marriage, and Jeff, who’s 30, still lives at home – sits around his mother’s basement in his underwear, to be exact. He smokes pot, eats chips, watches TV, and waxes philosophical about the cosmos… while sitting on a toilet. He’s always waiting for “signs” to tell him what to do., like in the Mel Gibson movie.

Well, one day he’s forced to leave home for downtown Baton Rouge to get something for his mother (Susan Sarandon)’s birthday. But, when someone on an infomercial says his life will change by the words “CALL NOW!”; and at the same time a strange, threatening wrong number wanted to talk to “Kevin”, he starts off on a (seemingly) wild goose chase all around the city.

So Jeff embarks on this grand mission – one that eventually ties in with his brother’s failing marriage and his mother’s love life — because he knows, he just knows, that his actions will change the world. Will Jeff find Kevin? Will Pat forget about Hooters and Porsche’s and think about his wife for once? And will Mom ever get to kiss under a waterfall?

This is a good, enjoyable comedy. I like the Duplass brothers, who used to make low-budget, ‘mumblecore”, semi-improvisational super-realistic movies. They have a few quirks – little camera emoticons – I don’t know how else to describe it – where the camera zooms in to nudge-nudge, wink-wink to the viewer that something funny is happening like a visual laughtrack– but the movie’s good enough that it doesn’t bother me after awhile. This one, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, is their biggest budget and most mainstream one so far, with stuntmen, and chase scenes, and big name cast. But I like this direction they’re taking – it’s not a sell-out, just a very funny, light comedy.

Payback and Jeff, Who Lives at Home both open today. And Margaret Atwood and Jennifer Baichwal will be there for a Q&A at the screenings on Friday and Saturday. Worth a trip just for that — Margaret Atwood is very entertaining. Also playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox are the fantastic Japanese animated films Spirited away and Princess Mononoke. And at the newly re-opened Bloor Cinema, look out for the daily HotDocs documentaries playing now. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

 

February 10, 2012. How Do We Communicate? Movies Reviewed: A Dangerous Method, Chronicle, Safe House

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

I watch a lot of movies, but film is only one way to communicate. How do you record the truth? Do you write it down? Do you tell it to your friends or whisper it in someone’s ear? Do you text it? Or do you save it in some more durable format?

This week, I’m looking at three movies that centre on recording or preserving information: A Dangerous Method is a historical drama, where talking is prime, and observations are recorded by hand, using pen and ink, in meticulous notes and sent by voluminous, lengthy letters; Chronicle, is a science fiction thriller, where a high school student records his life using a hand-held video camera; and Safe House is an action/thriller, where everything important has been recorded in a single tiny microchip.

Interestingly (at least in these three movies), the more advanced the medium, the shallower the plot.

Dangerous Method
Dir: David Cronenberg

A woman — at first known only as “S” — is an unusual patient admitted to a mental hospital near Zurich, Switzerland. She shrieks she groans, she writhes, and her face is strangely contorted. She plays with her food and rolls around in the mud! The doctor there, Karl Jung decides to try a new treatment – the Dangerous Method. This unheard-of cure has the doctor sitting behind the patient who is cured by talking… about her problems, her dreams, her thoughts and her memories. It was pioneered by Sigmund Freud in Vienna, but Jung doesn’t know if it’ll actually work. But soon the patient, Sabina Spielrein, a Russian-Jewish woman, is miraculously cured when they discover something hidden that happened to her as a girl. He puts her to work in the clinic, and she gradually changes from patient to doctor.

Then another patient, Otto Gross, who’s also a psychiatrist, arrives smoking pot, snorting coke, and drawing dirty pictures. He’s analyzed by Jung who doesn’t know what to do with him. It’s the early 20th century, not the 1960s,, but Otto’s saying just do it man, give in to your sexual desires. She says she wants you, and you want her… Uptight Jung doesn’t want to… but he also does want to. And Sabina makes it clear what she wants. What’s he gonna do?

This is a really good movie, an interesting historical biopic, about the dawn of psychiatry, the rivalry between Freud and Jung, and the passionate, but illicit, love affair between Jung and Sabina Spielrein. Cronenberg made a beautiful movie filled with the exquisite European gardens, antiseptic, white hospital beds, and steampunk clinical devices. Fassbender is great as Jung, Viggo Mortensen interesting as a new type of Freud — imagined as a big, burly, tough-guy patriarch; and Vincent Cassel is terrific as Otto the counter-culture hedonist. But the real star is Keira Knightley as Sabina, the conflicted, smart, pervy and passionate young woman. Sometimes, I wasn’t sure whether Sabina, the character, was really that crazy, or if she was just putting it on for her doctors, (and Knightley’s accent shifted from Russian to Danish-sounding and back again), but she was still amazing to watch.

Chronicle
Dir: Josh Trank

Andrew (Dave de Haan) is a high school kid in Seattle. His mother is bedridden and dying. His dad is a frustrated ex-fireman who likes smacking his only son around. Andrew’s a bit scrawny, a bit hard to talk to, not an athlete, and can’t defend himself. Instead he decides to keep a record of all the indignities and abuses he suffers with a video camera that he’ll carry around wherever he goes. He’s bullied at school, he’s bullied at home, he’s even bullied by the boys in the hood loitering on the corner. He doesn’t have any friends, and is still a virgin. But at least now he has an identity: he’s “the guy with the camera”. We – the audience — see whatever his camera sees.

He occasionally hangs out with his much richer, bigger, better-looking smarter, and more popular cousin Matt (Alex Russell) who, most important, has a car. Matt likes to quote Schopenhauer and Jung. Andrew wonders what Jung would say about glow sticks.

So one night at an outdoor rave, Steve (Michael B Jordan) — the quarterback with the cheerleader girlfriend and who’s running for class prez — asks him to come take some footage of something weird. It’s a strange, glowing crystal deep in a cave nearby. They spelunk down underground. There’re some clicking noises, a flash, and then they all wake up somewhere else. But they’re not the same anymore. They can move things around by telekinesis! But will they use they use the powers for good… or for evil? Or just to get laid? Well, as it turns out, all three.

The three guys make a pact to keep their new powers a secret, not to hurt anybody, and as Matt warns — to avoid hubris at all costs.

As their powers grow they find themselves tied to one another with some powerful immutable force that may be entering their brains. Can they fight it off? will they live or die? Will they go to Tibet? Will they change the world?

I liked this movie, too. Its very simple, a lot of fun, and most of it’s left unexplained, (if anything, it’s most like an unauthorized X-Men knock off, filmed in the style of Cloverfield). The mainly TV actors are engaging and new. The camera work is grainy, and jiggly and bumpy, but luckily, once Andrew can move things without touching them he lets the camera float free, making it a much more pleasant to watch. The special effects are great, culminating in the expected flaming and booming battle royale.

SPOILER ALERT
Not exactly a spoiler, since its apparent in the trailers, but I was disappointed by a trend in comic book morality. The American dream says it’s the good, smart and hardworking kid can always overcome his disadvantages. The poor, suffering underdog character overcomes obstacles and becomes the hero who uses his powers for good. The rich and powerful characters are spoiled, privileged and unfeeling, and try to take his power away for their own personal gain. But the poor kid has pluck, brains and gumption and triumphs in the end.

In this movie, the rich, popular kids are the heroes, while the poor, picked-on kid is the sort-of villain. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Safe House
Dir: Daniel Espinoza

Matt (Ryan Reynolds) is a low level CIA agent. He’s good at boxing, foreign languages, and strategic analysis. He sits around all day, stationed in a safe house – a secret, high security place where spies can do their stuff – in Cape Town, SA. He just sits around all day, like a Steve McQueen, throwing the baseball against a wall.

Then one day the notorious Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) comes in from the cold. He’s been a rogue agent, accused of selling CIA secrets for a decade for his own personal game. Frost is an expert spy and a master of disguise. He’s holding a tiny microchip loaded with important information. And he’s being chased by vaguely middle-eastern looking assassins.

But as soon as Tobin’s in Matt’s safe house, (after they warm him up a bit with some complimentary waterboarding), the assassins come barging in and kill everyone – except Matt who escapes with the handcuffed Tobin. he’s disgusted by the violence, but has to remain true to his mission — protect the captive. The rest of the movie is all fight, fight, fight and chase, chase, chase.

The chases take us from a Capetown stadium, through busy city streets, and into the ramshackle townships where people live in corrugated aluminum shacks lit only by a neon church crosses.

The fight scenes are extended and grueling, involving guns, bombs, knives, fists and broken glass. Who do you trust? Who are the real good guys? And is Tobin Matt’s mentor… or his enemy?

This is a fast-moving, never-stopping very violent action movie. It has a barebones plot – who does Matt trust and what’s on the microchip — hollow characters, and not much acting to speak of. I guess I wanted the heroes to survive, but I didn’t really care. Neither Denzel Washington nor Ryan Reynolds is very compelling.

It’s got tons of super-quick scene changes so the jagged camerawork is hard to watch. So much so that my brain couldn’t always tell who was punching or shooting whom.(For example, aguy in the assassin team, coincidentally, looks so much like Ryan Reynolds that I couldn’t keep tell if he’s getting away or shooting at himself. Stupid casting.) And because It’s so fast moving, the few slow scenes — like one with Ruben Blades — seem especially boring.

Safe House is an action movie with a good location. But that’s all.

Dangerous Method and Chronicle are playing now, and Safe House opens tonight – check your local listings. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

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