Is reality just an illusion? Films reviewed: Petite Maman, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Stanleyville

Posted in Comics, Depression, Family, Fantasy, France, Games, Horror, Reality, Super Villains, Super-heroes, Supernatural, Time Travel by CulturalMining.com on May 7, 2022

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

Spring festival season is on now, with Hot Docs, entering its final weekend with tons of great documentaries still playing. Check it out while you still can.

But this week, I’m looking at three new movies, where reality, time and space are just illusions. There’s a magical doctor trapped in a parallel universe; a disillusioned office worker caught up in a deadly reality show; and a little girl who encounters another little girl in the woods… who is actually her own mother.

Petite Maman

Dir: Céline Sciamma

Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) is a little French girl who is visiting her grandmother’s house with her parents. It’s where her mother grew up. But grand-mere isn’t there anymore. She died recently in a nursing home.  Rather, they’re there to go over old possessions and letters and to spend a night there before they close it up for good. But the family is in a crisis with her parents not getting along. And Nelly’s mom (Nina Meurisse) flees the house without even saying goodbye to her. Meanwhile, Nelly explores the house and the woods behind it where she encounters another little girl named Marion (played by her twin sister, Gabrielle Sanz). They play in a fort she built in an old tree. She follows her home to a house that looks exactly like grand-mère’s… except it’s prettier, with a warm glow all about it. And there she meets grande-mère, alive again, when she was still her mother’s age. That would make Marion her mother when she is just a girl, going through another crisis of her own. Can this new understanding of her mother’s past help hold her family together?

Petite Maman is a very simple, very short story, which is at the same time, quite moving and sentimental. It’s all about memory, loss and mother-daughter relationships. Although there’s a magical, time-travel element to it, this is no Harry Potter — it doesn’t dwell on the supernatural, that’s just a matter-of-fact element of a child’s life. Petite Maman is a wonderfully understated drama — cute but not cutesy, sentimental but never treacly — that leaves you feeling warm inside.  I saw this last year at TIFF, and I put it on my best 10 movies of the year list in January, so I’m really glad it’s finally being released.

This is a tiny, perfect movie.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Dir: Sam Raimi 

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a former medical doctor who has changed his practice from surgeon to sorcerer. He lives in an enormous mansion in New York City. He is friends with Wong (Benedict Wong) and another doctor Christine (Rachel McAdams) who is the love of his life, but also a love lost. She couldn’t stand his hubris and self-centred nature. And he is forced to confront his rival Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). But when he dabbles with the dark arts, the universe is turned into chaos and he finds himself in another universe. 

There he encounters the Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) who dreams each night of a suburban housewife named Wanda. She wants to rule the world so she can return to this lost life. But the one person with the power to transcend parallel universes is a naive young girl in sneakers and a bluejean jacket named America (Xochitl Gomez). She wants to return to her own universe so she can see her two moms again. Doctor Strange rescues her just in time and they end up hurling through dimensions and realities, before landing on a topsy-turvy New York where green means stop and red means go. Can Doctor Strange fight the witch, break the spells, and make the multiple universes all safe again? 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the latest instalment in a seemingly endless number of movies and TV shows. While I recognized the parade of various minor superheroes and villains as they appeared in different guises, I have to say I don’t quite get it. What is the point of this movie and why should I care? It’s directed by horror great Sam Raimi, so I was expecting some chiller-thriller elements, but I wasn’t ever scared, not even a tiny bit. It’s much too tame for that. It is fun to watch: there’s a cool psychedelic sequence in the middle along with a brilliant house of mirrors and some old -school Hong Kong kung-fu mid-air battles that I liked, but in general, I found the movie not great… just good enough.

Stanleyville

Dir: Maxwell McCabe-Lokos

Maria (Susanne Wuest) is a woman who works at a pointless office job in a high-rise tower. One day she is disturbed by an omen — a noble bird flying in the sky that crashes into her office window. Though married with a teenaged daughter and a full-time career, she gives it all top in an instant. She empties her pocketbook, including money, phone and credit cards and wanders aimlessly into a shopping mall. There she encounters a geeky man with glasses, named Homunculus (Julian Richings) who tells her matter of factly, that she’s been chosen from 100s of millions of people to participate in a contest with four others. The winner gets an orange-coloured SUV (in which she has no interest), but more than that she can find her true self. In an abandoned warehouse called The Pavilion the five contestants are given tasks to complete, with one winner declared at the end of each round, recorded on a large blackboard. 

Her ridiculously-named fellow contestants are Manny Jumpcannon (Adam Brown), a fearful snivelling man in a leopard-print shirt;  Felicie Arkady (Cara Ricketts) a conniving woman who will stop at nothing for a free SUV; Bofill Pacreas (George Tchortov) a muscle-headed obsessive body-building; and Andrew Frisbee, Jr (Christian Serritiello) an insufferable corporate executive with daddy issues.  Their tasks start as simple as blowing up a balloon, but gradually become more and more difficult, some of which threaten their lives. And deprived of cel phones, their only contact with the outside world is an electrified conch shell that  Maria somehow rigged up. As the alpha-types fight each other, possibly to death, only Maria seeks to get in touch with her inner self. Will they ever leave the pavilion? Will somebody win? Or is it all just an illusion?

Stanleyville is a mystical, comedy/horror movie, with echoes of Lord of the Flies, Squid Game, and other life-or-death dystopian survival stories. But this one is intentionally absurd, quirky and ridiculous. The characters all play to stereotypes but in a humorous way. So if you’re looking for something completely different, you might enjoy Stanleyville.

I did.

Petite Maman, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, and Stanleyville all open this weekend in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Kliph Nesteroff about Funny How? at Just For Laughs Film Fest and Viceland

Posted in comedy, Comics, documentary, Reality, TV by CulturalMining.com on July 28, 2017

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

Comedians and their audience share an unspoken contract. Standup comics provide the funny things, the audience supplies the laughs. But the unknown variable, the big question hovering at the back of the comic’s mind is always: Funny how?

Funny How? is the name of a new documentary series that takes you behind the scenes of stand-up comedy. It’s showing at the Just For Laughs Film Festival in Montreal, and is broadcast on TV on Viceland. Funny How is hosted by Kliph Nesteroff, the celebrated author, producer and comedy historian.

I reached Kliph in Montreal by telephone from CIUT 89.5 FM in Toronto.

Kliph Nesteroff’s new series Funny How? premiers at the Just for Laughs Film Festival and will be broadcast on Viceland TV.

For information about Just For Laughs go to hahaha.com.

 

Reality in Italy. Movies reviewed: Reality, Diaz: Don’t Clean Up this Blood

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Italy, Politics, Protest, Psychology, Reality, TV, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 28, 2013

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

Canada PostSummer is here — makes you want to get out of the sun and sit in a nice, air-conditioned movie theatre, maybe curl up with some popcorn and a warm body or two. Or maybe just stay outside all night long. Well, for the outside crowd, Secret-Disco-Revolution-Postermovies are popping up everywhere. Every Tuesday they’re showing free outdoor movies once the sun sets at the Yonge-Dundas Square. Crowd pleasers like Edward Scissorshands, Napoleon Dynamite, and this coming week Sam Raimi’s classic Army of Darkness starring Bruce Campbell and a chainsaw. Or check out the Toronto Palestine Film Fest’s outdoor screening of TIFF Demy umbrellas of cherbourgthe popular Checkpoint Rock at the Christie Pits on July 15th – also completely free!

It’s also Canada Day weekend – but what if it rains? Check out the Umbrellas of Cherbourg on Saturday night at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, as part of a bitter-sweet Jacques Demy retrospective. And it’s also Pride Day weekend; if you want to shake your booty, don’t miss the throbbing beat in Jamie Kastner’s new tongue-in-cheek documentary The Secret Disco Revolution.

icff squarewhitelogoAnd finally, Toronto’s Italian Contemporary Film Festival is open now (downtown and up in Vaughan), So this week I’m looking at two very different dramas about life in recent Italy under right-wing media mogul Berlusconi. One’s a dark comedy about a man in Naples who will do anything to be on a reality TV show; the other a historical drama about a group of protesters in Genoa who want to escape their own grim reality.

reality_02_mediumReality

Dir: Matteo Garrone

What is reality? A new film by the Neapolitan director of the great gangster movie Gomorra asks that question. The movie starts with a golden, horse-drawn carriage arriving at a lavish rococo palace. A well-dressed couple runs through the gilt-lined hallways to prepare for a big event. Who are these rich powerful people? Royalty? CEOs? Celebrities? Nope…it’s all artifice. They’re just guests at a wedding.

Luciano (Aniello Arena) is a well-liked fishmonger in modern-day Naples. He’s a fast talker with a sense of humour – a born entertainer. Muscular and tattooed, he has a fish stall in the marketplace and knows everybody. His time is filled with his job, his family, and his wife Maria (Loredana Simioli). They’re also involved in a complicated scam involving white- elephant robots that make pasta. Surrounded by his odd-looking extended family in the ruins of Naples, he manages to eke out a living.

But, after a brief encounter with Enzo, a minor TV celebrity at the wedding, he decides to go to a local audition for Big Brother. Big Brother is a grotesque reality show, popular in Europe, where contestants give up all privacy to live together in a glass house filled with cameras and microphones. Their day-to-day lives are edited and broadcast to the adoring but cruel public.

The audition goes well and he gets sent to Rome for the second round. But when reality_03_mediumLuciano gets a first-hand glimpse of fame and adulation, it turns on a switch in his head that he can’t turn off.

As time passes, and he still hasn’t received the call, he decides to follow Enzo’s vapid catch phrase: Never give up! He becomes convinced that he’s being spied on – just like on the show – by TV executives from Rome who are judging his character. He abandons his parsimonious ways, and becomes lavishly generous to everyone he knows… even to strangers.

Luciano’s character becomes more and more erratic and nonsensical as his obsession with TV takes over his life. Is it all an illusion? Or will Luciano actually become a part of the surreal world of reality TV?

I enjoyed Reality – it’s a good absurdist take on the effects of mass media. As in Gomorra, Garonne casts strange, interesting locals for many of the supporting roles and shoots it in locations all around Naples. But this dark, absurdist comedy — with none of shocking violence and tension of Gamorra — leaves you feeling the emptiness of mass media, as detached as the character Luciano.

Diaz5Diaz: Don’t Clean Up This Blood

Dir: Daniele Vicari

In 2001, the G8 summit in Genoa, hosted by then Prime Minister Berlusconi, attracted protesters from across Europe. What happened there is the subject of this truly shocking historical drama.

Street protesters became angry after a local student, 23-year-old Carlo Giuliani, was shot dead by the Carabiniere (military police). Protesters threw beer bottles while police used tear gas. Then came the incident which the movie concentrates on. Many activists, students and protesters – as well as all of the reporters covering them – are camped out in the empty Armando Diaz schoolhouse.

A huge number of police, many brought in from outside areas, descend on the school in the middle of the night. They attack students and journalists alike, men and women lying in their sleeping bags. They go wild, breaking bones, cracking skulls, kicking, and clubbing everyone they see. Dragged down stairways, herded Diaz 1into vans they are brought, en masse, to police stations. The least lucky are sent to the now infamous town of Bolzaneto, where they are subject to humiliation and torture. Women are stripped naked, men chained up and treated like dogs.

This is an extremely shocking drama, based entirely on existing footage and first person testimony given afterwards. Although different in style, it evokes scenes from Pier Paolo Pasolini’sSalo: 100 days of Sodom, Denis Villeneuve’sPolytechnique or even the infamous photos from Abu Ghraib.

Diaz 15The movie is presented as a drama. You get to meet some of the individuals: a young female protester from Germany, a French journalist, a sympathetic local policeman who hears screams through the bathroom pipes, a local conservative reporter caught up in the attack. This makes it easier to identify with what happens to them, and all the more moving. But most of the film is a record of the harrowing incidents themselves and their effect on the participants. (And it makes you wonder: far from being held up as an unmitigated disaster, police seem to be intentionally repeating the techniques of Genoa like clockwork at each successive G8 summit, ensuring mass arrests and horrible violence.)  Diaz is not a fun movie to watch, but it is an important one and a real eye-opener. (I reviewed an Italian documentary on the same topic last year: Black Block).

Reality and Diaz are both playing at Toronto’s Italian Contemporary Film Festival (go to icff.ca for details). And the Bitter/Sweet Jacques Demy retrospective and The Secret Disco Revolution are both on now.

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 Alan Zweig about his new documentary 15 Reasons to Live

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

What makes you get out of bed in the morning? What little things get you through the day? What makes you commit? What do you do when you suffer an enormous loss?

A new documentary follows 15 diverse people who tell their brief, honest stories to the filmmaker, in sequence — some life-affirming, some inconsequential. Whale watchers, a man who walks around the world, a massage artist, a lighthouse keeper. This is an intensely 15_Reasons_To_Live_1personal movie, though not necessarily intimate. It’s called Fifteen Reasons to Live, it’s directed by Alan Zweig and it’s having its world premier at Toronto’s Hotdocs documentary festival. Alan talks about why he made the film, how he chose the subjects, whether this represents a shift in his filmmaking style… and more.

Daniel Garber talks to director Kazik Radwanski and producer Dan Montgomery about their new film TOWER

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.L-R Director Kazik Radwanski, Producer Dan Montgomery

A few years ago a new voice appeared on the indie movie scene. A series of short, sharp realistic films showing ordinary, if socially awkward, people. People who run up against harsh authority figures, the holders of power, whom they try, unsuccessfully, to avoid: a little kid facing a domineering teacher, an older woman who may be losing her memory sent to a condescending psychiatrist, a teenager accused of assaulting a cop, an unsuccessful real estate agent with a pushy wife…

The films created quite the buzz on the festival scene, bouncing from Edinburgh to Berlin, Derek BogartMelbourne to Toronto, picking up lots of prizes on the way. And now the first feature, TOWER, which played at TIFF last fall and is opening in Toronto on February 22, 2013. It tells the story of a rudderless, socially inept man named Derek (Derek Bogart), a guy without ambition or aims, who’s just coasting along through life. This fascinatingly dark comedy is designed to make audiences squirm along with the characters on the screen.

Writer/Director Kazik Radwanski, and his long time collaborator producer Daniel Montgomery talk to me about the film’s characters and where they came from, its themes, its look, whether it’s a comedy, a drama, or a documentary; some of their earlier films, where their production company got its name, and more…

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