Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Troy Ruptash about They Who Surround Us

Posted in 1940s, 1980s, Canada, Depression, Family, Meltdown, Mental Illness, Rural, Ukraine by CulturalMining.com on August 21, 2021

It’s 1987 on a farm in Vegreville, Alberta, east of Edmonton. Roman is a happily married farmer with a young son. But their world is torn apart when his wife is killed in a terrible accident (which he blames on himself), leaving Roman and Mykola unprotected and alone. The son turns inward, not eating or speaking, while Roman lashes out. He has a total meltdown, revealing deeply hidden memories of his childhood in war-torn Ukraine. He directs his rage and frustration at everyone he once relied on – his sister, his neighbours and the Church. Can Roman handle on his own what God hath wrought? Or does he need to embrace “they who surround us”?

They Who Surround Us is a moving drama about one man’s struggle with death, mourning, history, family and religion. It’s set within the Ukrainian-Canadian community of east-central Alberta, where the prairies meet the bush, a land replete with grain elevators, onion-dome churches, and a railway line cutting right through it. This film is produced, directed, and written by the well-known Canadian actor Troy Ruptash, who also plays the lead role.

I spoke with Troy in Vegreville, Alberta from Toronto via ZOOM .

They Who Surround Us opens theatrically in Toronto and across western Canada on August 27th.

Travelling for love. Films reviewed: Make Up, Identifying Features, Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

Posted in Coming of Age, Corruption, Crime, Family, Hungary, LGBT, Mexico, Obsession, Psychology, Romance, Rural, UK, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 22, 2021

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

They say love is true, and some people travel far and wide to keep that love alive. This week I’m looking at three new movies, directed by women in Hungary, England, and Mexico, that explore this theme. There’s a teenaged girl who moves to Cornwall to spend time with her boyfriend; an American surgeon who moves to Budapest to be reunited with her lover, and a Mexican farmer who crosses the country in search of her missing son.

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

Dir: Lili Horvát

Marta (Natasa Stork) is a 39-year-old, successful surgeon from New Jersey.  So what is she doing at a run-down hospital in Budapest? She moved there, spontaneously to join up with a man she met a conference. They shared a night of passion and swore to meet up again  on a bridge in Budapest at a specific time and date. (Marta is originally from Hungary but immigrated to the U.S.) But when she sees her bearded lover Janos (Viktor Bodó) he says he has ever seen her before in his life. She faints on a downtown street, where a young man named Alex (Benett Vilmányi) comes to her rescue. Marta is overcome with emotions. Is she going crazy? Was it all a dream? Or is Janos gaslighting her for some unknown reason? 

She gets a job at the hospital where Janos works to be close to him. Meanwhile Alex turns out to be a young medical student who develops an infatuation with Marta. So this turns into a three way stalk fest with Marta spying on Janos and Alex following her. Where is love? IS it real or imaginary? And can Marta come to terms with her new strange life?

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is an intriguing mystery-romance-psychological drama about passion and illusion, alienation and obsession. Marta deals with sexist colleagues and petty bureaucrats, as she  tries to navigate a culture she’s not quite familiar with. It’s filmed on the lovely streets of Budapest with a fair amount of unexpectedly strange sex (no spoilers). The movie is a bit confusing in its tone, with, rather than a huge dramatic turning point, it culminates in an oddly absurdist, anticlimactic finish. Preparations is a good movie, but probably not what you expect. 

This is Hungary’s nominee for best Foreign Language  Film Oscar.

Make Up

Dir: Claire Oakley

It’s winter in Cornwall, England. Ruth (Molly Windsor) is an 18 year old woman, staying at a deserted summer holiday park so she can spend time with her boyfriend. She’s been dating Tom (Joseph Quinn) for 3 years. But rather than a romantic getaway, she’s staying in a grey, gloomy collection of jerry-built cottages near the sea. Everything is covered in plastic sheeting. And her relation with Tom is fraught with tension and jealousy. When she finds a hair in her sheets, that clearly isn’t hers, she takes the bedding to the laundry to wash it clean. There she meets an older taller woman named Jade (Stephanie Martini). Jane makes hair pieces for a local hospital — it takes 30,000 knots to make a single wig, she says. 

Now Ruth has someone she can hang around with, talk to, and tell her secrets, none of which she’s getting from Tom. But her obsession with her boyfriend’s possible mistress drives Ruth into an unexpected situation. Can her relationship last? Or will she find a new path among the windswept sand dunes?

Make Up is an impressionistic coming-of-age story about a young woman looking for love while trapped in an almost surreal setting. It’s full of the screeching foxes, detached sexual sounds and  blurry vistas set against the banality of service jobs. Molly Windsor is really good as the bewildered Ruth. The movie itself is a straightforward drama but shot almost like an eerie ghost story. This is an excellent first feature from a young filmmaker.

Identifying Features

Dir: Fernanda Valadez

Chuya (Laura Elena Ibarra) is a farmer in Guanajuato, Mexico. She’s a single mom who’s raising her teenaged son Jesus in a small farmhouse. But when he suddenly tells her he’s heading north with his best friend to take a job in Arizona, she packs his bag and says goodbye. And that’s the last she hears from him and his friend. Are they kidnapped? Lost? Or dead? She reports it to the police to no avail. His best friend is found but nothing is found of Jesus except the bag Chuya had packed.  And when a woman she meets tells her not to give up, she sets out on a journey to try to find her son, or else confirmation that he’s dead.

On the way she falls in with a young man named Miguel (David Illescas)  who was recently deported from the US. He is looking for his mom who lives in Ocampo a region plagued with crime. It’s also where Chuya thinks she can find the answers to her son’s disappearance. Will she ever find out what happened to him? And can an ordinary, kind woman survive in a society filled with greed, suspicion, and murder? 

Identifying Features is a deeply moving and gripping mystery/drama that looks at the lives of Mexicans, trapped within larger forces — el migra, organized crime, and a corrupt police force — over which they have no control. It takes you into fascinating places, rarely portrayed — like indigenous villages, hostels for migrants — that tell an unforgettable story with a shocking ending.  Stunning cinematography, and natural acting combined with compelling drama, makes for a terrific film.

Make Up just opened on VOD across North America.  Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, and Identifying Features both open today at the digital TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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

Not about the US election. Films reviewed: The Crossing, The Kid Detective, Major Arcana

Posted in 1940s, Addiction, Canada, Coming of Age, Crime, Drama, Homelessness, Kids, Mystery, Norway, Romance, Rural, Thriller, WWII by CulturalMining.com on November 6, 2020

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

I’m recording this on Thursday before the US election has been settled. So with all the tension and stress, it’s a perfect time to watch some entertainment entirely unrelated to politics. This week I’m looking at three new movies about growing up. There are Norwegian children facing adult responsibilities; a grown-up kid detective fighting real crime; and a man trying to grow up and act his age.

The Crossing (Flukten over grensen)

Dir: Johanne Helgeland

It’s Christmastime in 1942. Norway is occupied by Nazi Germany with the blessings of the Quisling government. Food is rationed and times are tough but life goes on. Gerda (Anna Sofie Skarholt) is a little girl with rosy cheeks and blond hair. She’s obsessed with the Three Musketeers and wears a floppy hat, a cloak (made from an old apron) and brandishes a pie cutter: en garde, rogue! But one day she spies her older brother Otto (Bo Lindquist-Ellingsen) through a window –he’s at a Nazi meeting! Their parents are firmly opposed to the occupation… why is Otto there? Meanwhile, strange things are happening at home –the cocoa is disappearing… and their arents keep talking about sacks of potatoes. Things come to a head when the police bang on the door in the middle of the night. As they’re taken away their parents shout the Christmas presents are in the basement! Take them to your aunt Vigdis! What do they mean? Turns out there are two kids their age hidden behind a wall. Daniel (Samson Steine) and Sarah (Bianca Ghilardi-Hellsten) a brother and sister just like Otto and Gerda except they’re Jewish. With their parents in jail, now it’s up to Gerda and Otto to take them across the border to neutral Sweden. Can they take Daniel and Sarah to safety? Or will they be caught?

The Crossing is an adventure story about friendship and family in a wartime setting. It’s a kids-against-grown-ups situation – most of the good adults have been arrested, while the bad ones – Nazi and local collaborators – seem to be everywhere. They are real life villains, almost witches and monsters in the children’s eyes. There are good people too, but it’s hard to know who to trust. Gerda is excited by their journey, Otto is reluctant to join them, while for proud Daniel and innocent Sarah it’s a matter of life and death. Though made for children, the movie is full of action, close calls and near escapes. It’s also a tear jerker, with some every emotional scenes. Though fictional and clean-scrubbed, it’s an exciting look back at adventures in occupied Norway.

The Kid Detective

Wri/Dir: Evan Morgan

When Abe Applebaum was little (Adam Brodie) he was the smartest kid in town. He solved mysteries at school, figuring out who broke into a locker or cheated on a test. He worked out of his treehouse. His fame grew – the pop shop owner promised him free icecream for life, and the town chipped in to get him a real detective’s office. But people grow up and things change. A 10 year old caught snooping for clues in a little girl’s closet is adorable; for a man in his thirties it’s not cute at all. His reputation tanked when he failed to solve the mystery of a missing girl. Now, Abe is an alcoholic detective, eating alone in neon-lit diners, and addicted to anti-depressants. But things take a turn when he is approached by an innocent student named Caroline (Sophie Nélisse). They soon uncover clues – a photo of a naked woman in a tiger mask and some origami roses – that harken back to the disappearance 20 years earlier. Is he just a wash out? Or will the former kid detective solve this new, terrible mystery and regain his self worth?

The Kid Detective is a totally watchable and cute comedy drama. It starts as a high concept movie – what happens to heroes from kids’ books (like Encyclopedia Brown) – when they grow up? It’s full of kid-ified versions of cinema noir clichés, seen through a mist of bittersweet adult nostalgia and small town life. It starts out a bit slow and silly, but picks up quite nicely. I saw this at TIFF immediately after a shockingly violent horror movie, and it left me with just the right combination of watchable entertainment and warm feelings (with an unexpected and shocking twist). I thought I’d hate it, but I actually liked this movie.

Major Arcana

Wri/Dir: Josh Melrod

Dink (Ujon Tokarski), who is far from dinky, is a tall and rangy alcoholic drifter travelling across America looking for work as a carpenter. He’s a fit man in his thirties, with long hair, a scraggly blond beard; sort of a homeless Jesus. Four years ago, he left his depressed town in rural Vermont under a dark cloud, vowing never to come back. But like the prodigal son, here he is again. His father died leaving him a broken-down shack, some cash and 50 acres of forest. And he’s off drugs and alcohol now, living clean and sober. So he decides to turn his life around.

He pitches a tent and thinks about his future. In the morning he begins, spontaneously, to build a wooden home from scratch with his bare hands. He fells trees with an axe and chainsaw, cuts beams and clears a field dragging lumber across the forest floor. He survives on aerosol cheese and uncooked hotdogs. But his past still haunts him: his shrewish, gambling mom (Lane Bradbury) and his former lover, Sierra (Tara Summers). She’s voluptuous but tough, slapping his face for past transgressions on one night, but showing up at his tent on another. And Dink is still helplessly in love with her. Will he complete his task? Will Sierra leave her boyfriend? And can he show his face in a town that hates him?

Major Arcana — the title refers to a tarot card reading that Sierra does for Dink – is about major changes, life lessons and destiny. It’s a bumpy love story, and a drama about a man trying to redeem himself. While there are some revelations and conflicts this is mainly a meditative look at a man building a cabin in the woods. It sounds kinda dull, but it’s actually a really soothing, healing and life-affirming film. There are hints at spirituality, but it’s not sanctimonious or heavy handed. There’s enough nudity, sex, pain and misery — this is no Sunday school – to keep you watching. The measured pace and natural beauty makes this movie an incredibly relaxing and pleasant experience.

Not my normal choice of film, but I quite liked it.

The Crossing is one of many movies that played digitally at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Fall edition; The Kid Detective opens theatrically today across Canada; and Major Arcana is available for viewing on VOD.

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

Art and Sport. Films Reviewed: The Miracle Season, Final Portrait, PLUS Steve Reinke’s films at Images

Posted in Art, Canada, Death, France, Movies, Queer, Rural, Sex, Sports, Switzerland, Women by CulturalMining.com on April 6, 2018

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

Toronto’s Images, the International Festival of Moving Image Culture, opens next Thursday with Canadian and international video artists and filmmakers… featuring the work of Steve Reinke. This week, I’m going to talk about films by artists, and films about artists, with some sports thrown in, too. There’s an American volleyball team, a Swiss sculptor, and a Canadian video artist.

The Miracle Season

Dir: Sean McNamara

Caroline and Kelly have been best friends since childhood. “Line” (Danika Yarosh) is the always chirpy optimist who Kelly (Erin Moriarty) looks up to. Growing up in rural Iowa, they share their secrets amidst big barns and cornfields. In high school they play volleybal together. With Line as team manager and setter they win the State Championships. Of course the other team members, andtheir hard boiled coach (Helen Hunt) are important, but it’s really Line who leads the team to victory.

But the next year things take a turn for the worse. The team is dispirited and Line’s Mom has cancer. Then the unthinkable happens; Line dies in a crash. Kelly feels guilty, and so does Line’s dad Ernie (William Hurt) who used to throw team parties and boost the players. With no Line around to pull people out of their misery, the team slides to last place. They don’t even want to be happy – it’s disrespectful. It falls to Kelly to turn the team around. Can she do it, and will the team ever win again?

The Miracle Season is a nice movie about teamwork and overcoming loss. It has good acting and a conventionally inspiring story. “Nice” is the key word here. Based on a true story, it was made by permission of the charity founded by the Line’s father. So as you can expect, anything not super “nice” has been scrubbed from the plot. No sex, no violence here. They could show this movie at Bible Camp without raising an eyebrow. Which makes it a nice memorial for teammates and family members, but for the rest of us, it’s just a dull and predictable movie. But, like I said, it’s still nice.

Final Portrait

Dir: Stanley Tucci

It’s early 1960s. James Lord (Armie Hammer) is a young American living in Paris who writes biographies of well known artists. He’s friends with both Picasso and the Swiss-Italian sculptor Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush). Giacometti is famous for his sculptures of people with crusty and extremely elongated arms and legs. But he also paints. And one day he asks James to pose for him for a few hours. He sits down in Alberto’s studio dressed in khakis, navy blue sports jacket and shirt and tie. But the one-day painting turns into a project lasting days and then weeks, until no one knew if it would ever end. Each time he paints his face, Alberto rubs it all out and starts again. Meanwhile, various people in his life walk in and out adding colour to the story. His brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub) has seen it all before. His neglected wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) refuses to pose for him anymore. And his mistress Caroline (played by the delightfully-named Clémence Poésy) would rather go for a jaunt in their sportscar than just hang at the studio. Final Portrait has some fun parts, but basically this movie is 90 minutes of watching paint dry.

Steve Reinke

Steve Reinke is a queer Canadian artist and filmmaker, originally from the Ottawa valley but now based in Chicago. I’ve seen a lot of his films in the past 20 years, but for the first time I spent last night binge-watching them all together (which is quite an experience).  If you’ve never seen Reinke’s stuff before, you should.

He’s been shooting films and videos that chronical his life, his thoughts, aesthetics, and interests — both intellectual and sexual – beginning in the late 1970s and continuing till now. And unlike a lot of gallery video artists, his films are never boring. (This is important.) Like porn, a Reinke film is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. (But that doesn’t mean you’ll understand it.)

Taken at face value, his collection is an ongoing, partly-fictional memoir told through video art (predating blogs and youtube by decades). His images are partly found footage/partly original, narrated both by voice and by titles. Take What Weakens the Flesh is the Flesh Itself, a recent film he made with James Richards. The film alternates grotesquerie with erotica and mundaneness, with the edges sometimes blurring among the three. Grotesque as in a dead piglet; mundane, like a naked man eating grapes or an ice fishing hut shot with a distorted, fisheye lens; erotic like a poisonous snake having its venom extracted in a laboratory. The film begins with photos by the late German photographer Albrecht Becker. He was imprisoned in Nazi Germany for his sexuality. His work consists of photos of himself reduplicated with an imaginary “twin”. Over time, as his photos become more stylized and experimental so does his body, which gradually transmogrifies — before still cameras — into a work of art using tattoos, body modification, and a whopping-big metal thing hanging from his scrotum. (Ouch!)

Reinke’s flms are transgressive and a total mindfuck. Like he’ll show you an alien monster with pointy ears making out with a faceless, sexless human, encased in a skintight black PVC outfit. And then later he’ll show an unborn dead calf being pulled from a cow’s belly with the same black shininess.

This is weird stuff, alternating between jarring pictures of sex and death overlayed with anodyne intellectual musings. Who else would compare Casper the Friendly Ghost to Wittgenstein? What other filmmaker offers a film called Anal Masturbation and Object Loss that’s actually just Steve Reinke pasting the pages of an academic psychiatric textbook together? Or show thousands of unidentified military photos before telling you this: [SPOILER ALERT] these are pics of all the American military casualties of the Second Gulf War arranged in order of attractiveness. Shocking stuff.

It all feels like you just watched a story, but one arranged with enough sudden changes and musical distortion that you’re not seduced into it. Steven Reinke’s films leave you disturbed and unsatisfied but you don’t quite know why.

Films viewed:

What Weakens The Flesh Is The Flesh Itself (2017)

Atheists Need Theology, Too (2016)

Joke (Version One) (1991)

*Watermelon Box (1990)

*Michael and Lacan (1991)

*Room (1991)

*Barely Human (1992)

Anal Masturbation and Object Loss (2002)

Squeezing Sorrow From an Ashtray (1992)

Hobbit Love is the Greatest Love (2007)

A Boy Needs a Friend (2015)

*not included in Images series

The Miracle Season and Final Portrait both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Steve Reinke’s films are showing at Toronto’s Images Festival — featured in its Canadian Artist Spotlight series — beginning next Thursday. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Made for the Big Screen. Films reviewed: Suburbicon, Human Flow, Faces Places

Posted in 1950s, Anthropology, Art, Clash of Cultures, Crime, documentary, France, Migrants, Refugees, Rural, Suburbs, War by CulturalMining.com on October 27, 2017

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

Do you find it hard to keep up with all these Fall Film Festivals? Here’s some coming in November whose names are nearly self-explanatory: EstDocs shows documentaries from Estonia – This year is Estonia’s 100th anniversary since it first declared itself a republic. ReelAsian is one of Toronto’s biggest festivals, showing features from East and South Asia and their diasporas. And guess what Black Star shows? It’s a curated series of classics at TIFF featuring black movie stars: Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones, Sidney Poitier in In The Heat of the Night, and Denzel Washington in Malcolm X.

This week I’m looking at some movies — a thriller and two art documentaries – with strong visual elements that deserve to be seen on the big screen. These films are about migrating across continents, driving across France… or just staying put in the suburbs,

Suburbicon

Dir: George Clooney

It’s the late 50s in a cookie-cutter suburb. Nicky (Noah Jupe) is a twelve year old boy who lives with his mom and dad in a middleclass, white, Episcopalian home. His father, Mr Gardner (Matt Damon) works at a middle management office job, while his mom (Julianne Moore) stays at home. She uses a wheelchair to get around since she was almost killed in a car accident a year earlier. Her sister (also played by Juliane Moore) helps out around the house. Life is bland, suburban and normal.

Then two big things happen.

First, a middle class black family moves into the house behind theirs. This makes Nicky happy because they have a son his age– someone he can play baseball with. His all-white neighbours, though, didn’t like it one bit, and try to intimidate them into moving away. The second thing is a home invasion by a pair of lowlife criminals. They tie up the family to chairs at the dinner table and knock them out with ether. And when Nicky wakes up, his mom is dead and the killers are gone. Stranger still, his aunt quickly moves in to take her place and dyes her hair to look exactly like his real mom. What’s going on?

Then things get worse. White violence scalates against their new black neighbours escalates. A detective visits Gardner at his office investigating his wife’s murder. He’s suspicious. So is an insurance investigator. Then the killers themselves show up again making new demands. What do they want from him? When Nicky catches his Dad and his fake-mom in a compromising position on the pingpong table he realizes something is very wrong.

Suburbicon is a zany — but violent – mystery/thriller that looks at the dark side of a 1950s suburb, as seen through the eyes of a little boy. It also deals with segregation, but that’s really just a subplot — an attempt to give it relevance. It’s written by Joel and Ethan Coen, with the usual over-the-top violence and absurdist comedy, but it doesn’t feel like a Coen Brothers movie. This is George Clooney’s work. Aesthetically, it’s amazing, with incredible art direction that brings to life a stylized version of suburban America.

It’s a fun story, but that’s all it is — entertaining fluff.

Human Flow

Dir: Ai Weiwei

Millions of people around the world are housed temporarily in makeshift shelters. These refugees flee their homes or villages in fear for their lives. Many more are migrating across borders looking for a place to call home, now that war or famine or poverty has made their previous homes uninhabitable. This human flow, these crowds of people risk their lives qs they walk through deserts, through fields and cities, crossing oceans in leaky boats, as they search for sanctuary.

This movie follows refugees and migrants around the world: Rohingya in Bangladesh, Syrians walking through Europe, central Americans climbing those walls at the US/Mexican border. It takes us to Gaza, Kenya, Afghanistan, Turkey and Hungary, looking at how these people fare in unwelcoming environs.

Human Flow is huge, epic in scope and very long for a documentary – almost 2 ½ hours. It takes you to different locations without any narrative or order, punctuated with poetic quotes and info scrolling across the screen. There are some exciting parts — like the rescue of migrants in boats on the Mediterranean – but much of the film has a constant “flow”, just drifting to scene after scene. Ai Weiwei is primarily an artist so the filming is gorgeous and grandiose. It uses drone shots looking down from way, way up in the air where refugee camps look like tiny white pills arranged in neat rows. Then it zooms down, until you gradually see what looks like ants and then finally, real people with faces. Human Flow is visually stunning and informative.

I just wish it were an hour shorter.

Faces Places (Visages Villages)

Wri/Dir: Agnes Varda and JR

Agnes Varda is the Belgian-born artist and filmmaker who rose to fame in the French New Wave. JR is a contemporary artist known for his postering. He plasters his work — giant-sized, black and white paper photos – onto outdoor walls. Together they travel across France taking pictures of ordinary people they meet on their way: a coal miners daughter, a waitress, a farmer, and a woman who raises goats. They also pay homage to important figures from Agnes’s past: a man who modeled for her on the beach, the grave of photographer Cartier-Bressson, and Jean-Luc Godard’s home.

They make strange pair. Agnes is short, with a pageboy haircut, her white hair partly dyed with a red halo around the fringe. She’s 88. JR is tall and lanky. He won’t reveal his real name and keeps his face disguised with a fedora and dark glasses. He’s 33. They travel in JR’s little truck that has the image of a camera lens on the side. It functions as a photobooth that prints out the huge paper photos he take. And Agnes films it all, recording the process and people’s honest reactions to JRs art. The posters might wash off of walls by the next high tide , but they will remain longer on film.

Faces Places is a delightful personal documentary about art and photography, both still and in motion.  It shows us the transience of people and images.

Human Flow is now playing, and Suburbicon and Faces, Places 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 Stefan Avalos about Strad Style at Hotdocs

Posted in Depression, documentary, Joy, Movies, Music, Obsession, Rural by CulturalMining.com on July 21, 2017

Photos by Jeff Harris.

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

Danny is a violin maker who lives alone in a remote farmhouse in a cornfield somewhere in Ohio. By chance, he hears a rising European virtuoso, Razvan Stoica, online and is entranced by his violin playing. They become virtual friends. So when Razvan expressed his interest in playing on a legendary violin – created by Stradivarius’ contemporary Giuseppe Guarneri – Danny vows to make him one just like it, and present it to him in time for an upcoming performance in Amsterdam. Has he bitten off more than he can chew? Or will he succeed, through a combination of hard work, perseverance and an ineffable something he calls Strad Style?

Strad Style is a new, feature-length documentary. It a close-up and intimate look at a reclusive man dealing with personal problems even as he embarks on a grand venture. Strad Style premiered at Toronto’s Hot Docs Documentary Festival. It is directed by Stefan Avalos, an accomplished L.A. -based filmmaker and features violin maker Danny Houck.

I spoke with Stefan Avalos on location at Hot Docs in May, 2017.

His film, Strad Style, will be released on VOD, SVOD via Gravitas Ventures and on iTunes on November 7, 2017.

 

A More Perfect Union. Films reviewed: The Big Sick, The Beguiled, In the Name of All Canadians

Posted in 1800s, Canada, Disease, documentary, Indigenous, Romantic Comedy, Rural, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 30, 2017

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

With the 150th anniversary of Confederation in Canada and the 4th of July south of the border, this is a long weekend with lots of movies to watch. This week I’m looking at two comedy/dramas from the US and a documentary from Canada. There’s a comedian coping with blind dates, a girls’ school dealing with a wounded soldier, and a country coming to terms with a new constitution.

The Big Sick

Dir: Michael Showalter

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a stand-up comic who wants to make it big. He’s a self-described numbers geek, who is into the X-Files and corny horror movies. He’s dating Emily (Zoe Kazan), a young woman he met at the comedy club, and their relationship is getting serious. But Kumail has a secret. His Pakistani-American parents (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff) insist their son marry a Muslim-Pakistani woman, and constantly surprise him with blind dates. His parents don’t know about Emily and she doesn’t know about his arranged dates. Everything goes well until Emily uncovers Kumail’s “X File”, a cigar box filled with photos of all the women he secretly dates and rejects. She is livid and never wants to see him again. But the next time he hears from her she is in hospital on her deathbed with a mysterious ailment, the “big sick” of the title. He stays by her bedside as she falls into a coma. Things get complicated when her parents Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) arrive. They know all about his secrets and lies and don’t trust him. But their relationship grows as they cope with Emily’s troubles together. Will Emily recover? Can she forgive Kumail? And can he tell the truth to his family?

The Big Sick is a very sweet romantic comedy mainly about the relationship of a young man and his true love’s parents. Spoiler Alert: it’s based on Kumail and Emily’s real life story, so obviously she didn’t die. I liked that it doesn’t succumb to crass toilet humour but instead finds jokes in the normal life of a standup comic. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are especially good as the parents. A good date movie.

The Beguiled

Dir: Sofia Coppola

It’s rural Virginia during the US Civil War, where a school for young ladies remains untouched by the war raging all around them. There, beautifully dressed women study literature, French, music and the bible, seemingly oblivious to the mayhem outside the school’s wrought-iron gates. There’s the imperious Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman); dowdy Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst); the recently grown-up Alicia (Elle Fanning) and nature-loving little Amy, among many others. They live in harmony in an old plantation house with two-storey, ionic columns, but no slaves, mind you – they all ran away. No one has breached the gates so far. Until one day, young Amy is out picking mushrooms and she finds a wounded yankee soldier. Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) says he joined the Union army straight off the boat from Dublin. Now he’s a deserter. Can the ladies help him?

Miss Martha sews up his wounds lets him stay, but only as a prisoner. That’s when the corporal turns the charm level to high and begins beguiling and seducing all the girls and women. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, he tells one. You’re the one I like the best, he tells another. We have a special bond he says to a third. Soon, the women are fighting one another to spend time alone with the handsome young soldier. This culminates at a dinner where all of the women are all gussied up, each hoping he will choose her. But something unexpected happens that turns the smiling charmer into a violent ogre. What will the women do with him now?

The Beguiled is a dark comedy, a remake of Don Seigel’s movie from the 1970s, told from the women’s point of view. It includes lots of twists and turns for a simple ninety minute movie. I thought the acting was good, and the looks of the movie itself is fantastic. I’d describe it as over-the-top subtlety, with oak trees groaning with Spanish moss and a constant mist covering everything. I liked this one.

In the Name of All Canadians

It’s Canada’s Sesquicentennial, 150 years since confederation, so Hot Docs commissioned a multipart documentary made any a number of filmmakers. I dreaded watching this because I was afraid this would be yet another treackly look at toques, poutine, multiculturalism, our health system and Tim Hortons. But I was way off the mark. It’s actually a reality check, a hard look at the all the egregious errors Canada’s governments have made over the past 70 years or so. Did you know Frenco-Manitoban school teachers were forbidden from teaching in French for 50 years? Then there’s the case of Mr Abdelrazik, a Sudanese- Canadian man tortured then forced to camp out inside the Canadian Embassy in Khartoum for three years before he was allowed to come home. There’s the mass arrests at the G20, the internment of Japanese Canadians, discrimination faced by black and Muslim Canadians. And the biggest issue of all, Truth and Reconciliation with aboriginal Canadians — First Nations, Inuit and Metis — for the countless crimes, including Residential Schools, inflicted on them.

In form, most of these docs use actors reading scripts, animated sequences, talking heads and reenactments, rather than fly-on-the-wall records of actual events. Some parts are very moving, while other parts veer into speechifying. The serious parts are tied together by cute short sequences asking various Canadians what they prefer in a huge range of topics. While not perfect, altogether it gives a good hard look at Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, its successes and failures. Worth seeing.

In the Name of all Canadians is playing now at the Hot Docs cinema; and The Big Sick and The Beguiled both 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

Life in Nature. Films reviewed: The Gardener, Certain Women

Posted in documentary, Drama, Movies, Quebec, Rural, Western, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 18, 2017

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

Toronto’s spring film festival season continues. LGBT films, shorts and documentaries from around the world are featured at Inside Out beginning next week. Get into shape in June with CSFF, a new festival featuring Canadian Sports docs and shorts. Toronto’s Japanese Film Festival brings the newest dramas, thrillers and samurai hits served up with sake tasting at the Japanese cultural centre. And contemporary Italian cinema is showcased at the ICFF.

April showers bring May flowers, so this week I’m looking at slow-paced movies set against natural beauty. There an arthouse drama in rural Montana, and a look at the gardens in Quebec.

The Gardener

Dir: Sébastien Chabot

The Cabots are a famous upperclass American family. You’ve probably heard the ditty about Boston:

…the home of the bean and the cod,

Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,

And the Cabots talk only to God.

This documentary is about those Cabots, and what one man in particular created. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the family has owned a huge tract of land in the Charlevoix region near Quebec city for their summer estate. It’s an area of bucolic fields and breathtaking views overlooking the St Lawrence. But Francis Cabot (1925-2011) decided to do something more with it. He designed Les Quatre Vents, the four winds, an amazing private garden. It’s planted with perennials that bloom throughout the year, leading to waves of yellow, violets, greens and reds in sequential seasons. Cabot believed gardens should not be sterile units of symmetrical topiary, but a sensuous experience. The gardens are filled with smells of flowers, buzzing bees, trickling streams flowing past vast fields. It is divided into different sections, each one revealed as a surprise when you turn a corner or, cross a bridge. Gorgeous black and white horses, foliage from the Himalayas, a moonbridge reminiscent of Suzhou and a traditional Japanese garden complete with a hand-crafted teahouse.

If you’re expecting a hard-hitting documentary, look elsewhere. this is not an expose about the family’s history in Salem Massachusetts or its roots in the slave trade. Rather, it’s very much an homage or a tribute to the magnificent garden that one man created. If you love gardens and consider them symphonies, this one takes you on a guided tour through it all with commentary from its late creator. It’s less of a film than an experience. I had never heard of Les Quatre Vents before I saw this film,  but now I want to go there.

Certain Women

Dir: Kelly Reichardt (Based on stories by Maile Meloy)

Laura (Laura Dern) is an established lawyer in a tiny town in Montana. Much of her time is spent on a single case where the plaintiff, an older man named Fuller (Jared Harris) was screwed by his former boss. He was injured at work, affecting his vision, but because he accepted a token payment, leaving him high and dry and unemployable. She told him way back that his case is unsinkable, but he keeps coming back to her office… maybe for a different reason? Meanwhile, Gina (Michelle Williams) is dead set on buying a ranch, Her husband Ryan (James le Gros) and her teenaged daughter aren’t interested, but Gina refuses to give up. She will buy that house! But at what personal cost?

And nearby, a young law student named Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart) finds herself teaching a night class at a school four hours away from her home. The students are all teachers who want answers to their own petty legal disputes, but Elizabeth knows nothing about education… or teaching. The one bright spot is a boyish rancher (Lily Gladstone) who shows up out of boredom – she’s like a lonesome cowboy who never sees anyone except horses and dogs. After class, she offers to drive Elizabeth to the local diner so they can talk. And after a few meetings, the lonesome cowgirl shows up not in her pickup but on horseback. “hop on!” Could this be the start of a romantic relationship with the doe-eyed rancher?

Certain Women is another fine, modern-day take on the classic Western (from a female POV) by the great director Kelly Reichardt. It’s actually three separate stories whose characters briefly appear across the plots. For example, the movie opens in a cheap hotel room where Laura just had a noonday rendezvous with a bearded man (but you don’t find out whose husband he is until later.) Set against the breathtaking mountains and dusty roads of smalltown Montana, it feels like a C&W song come to life. It’s slow paced but never boring. It has that rural feel – things happen more slowly out west. This is a touching drama littered with unrequited love, and driven by the Certain Women of the title: people who make big decisions for selfish reasons, without realizing how much it hurts the people around them.

Certain Women and the Gardener both 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

New Places. Films reviewed: Sunset Song, Neon Bull, A Bigger Splash

Posted in 1910s, Animals, Brazil, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Italy, Music, Rural, Scotland, Sex by CulturalMining.com on May 13, 2016

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

Someone asked me recently what I like about movies. I gave the usual answers: story, emotions, acting, images, themes, novelty… but she said she likes the places movies can take you, countries you otherwise wouldn’t get to visit. So this week I’m looking at dramas that take you to new places. There are celebrities in the Mediterranean, cowboys in Brazil, and farmers in northeast Scotland a century ago.

j266j4_SUNSETSONG_01_o3_8717089_1438274186Sunset Song

Dir: Terence Davies (based on the novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon)

It’s the early 20th century in rural northeastern Scotland. Chris (Agyness Deyn) is happy and bright, a schoolgirl who lives on her family farm. She’s one with the land, but holds future ambitions of a career, maybe a schoolteacher. But her family life is less than nice. Her mother is depressed, her father (Peter Mullan) is a brute. She’s closest to her 8qKKrW_SUNSETSONG_06_o3_8716985_1438274181brother, Will, who hates their dad for good reason. Their father is quick with the whip and will bloody Will’s back for the slightest infraction, even a play on words using the name Jehovah. It’s a rough life.

RgjjVY_SUNSETSONG_05_o3_8716928_1438274178And when Mum survives an incredibly painful childbirth – it’s twins — she loses it and the family falls apart. Will leaves for greener pastures, Mum’s out of the picture, Dad has a stroke. Chris has to run the farm basically by herself, plowing the fields and harvesting the grain. She marries for love to a kind and gentle man named Ewan (Kevin Guthrie). Their post-honeymoon life is idyllic until WWI. Then, suddenly, it’s loud sermons from the pulpit saying the Kaiser isQ1ggBM_SUNSETSONG_04_o3_8716871_1438274174 the antichrist and anyone who doesn’t join up to fight in the muddy trenches is both a coward and a traitor. He signs up. The next time she sees Ewan he’s been replaced by a horrible creature she doesn’t recognize.

Sunset Song is a coming-of-age novel about a strong and independent woman and the troubles she faces. But, being directed by the great Terence Davies makes it a different movie than you might expect. Time passes and scenes change like memories recalled much later. Chris is the narrator but she speaks in the third person. And as in most of his movies, characters are as likely to start singing songs  or reciting poetry or quoting biblical texts as they are to have “normal” dialogue. But it never feels odd or affected, it’s just how they talk. Sex and violence, fury and pain, anguish and celebration are all played out… by candlelight. Beautiful.

O76BgN_NEON_BULL_04_o3_8745169_1439475285Neon Bull

Wri/Dir: Gabriel Mascaro

Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) is a vaqueiro – literally a cowboy – in Brazil. He’s tough and swarthy with a black beard. He lives among the cows, feeding, washing and shoveling manure. His job is to tend the bulls used in a type of rodeo match called a vaquejada. Two men riding horses with a bull running between them have to take him down and cut off the end of his tail. Iremar is the one who powders the bull’s tail and pushes him into X6pO5k_NEON_BULL_05_o3_8745231_1439475286the ring. His work is rough, dirty and badly paid. But a more interesting life exists in the creative part of his mind. He sees images and fantasies which he brings to life, in the form of clothing and costumes.

He lives on the road as part of a travelling, impromptu family. There’s model-like Galega, his boss (Maeve Jinkings), her young daughter, the unfortunately-named Caca (Alyne Santana), and O76Byp_NEON_BULL_01_o3_8745069_1439475275others. In his free time he observes and collects: A mannequin he finds in a dump; surfing fonts he sees on a sign; the hair bobbed off the bulls tails at the rodeo… he keeps them all. And he sketches his designs over pictures of nude women in skin mags. He “dresses” them.

And he translates these into outfits for Galega to wear and perform in. But what outfits they are: a sexy mixture of horse and human.

And there lies the crux: they work with cows but dream about nZ64xl_NEON_BULL_02_o3_8745105_1439475276horses. Caca wants to own a horse, Galega dresses like one, and Iremar either wants to become one or have sex with one – it’s never completely clear. He certainly has erotic dreams involving horses, as well some real-life sexual interactions of a sort between man and beast. (I’ll say no more about that; you have to watch the movie yourself to understand what I’m saying.)

There’s not much of a story; see it for its images and ideas. It’s beautifully shot, alternating between explicit sex and amazing documentary-style animal scenes with the screen completely filled with white bulls. This is the kind of movie that gradually grows on you long after you’ve seen it.

A Bigger Splash PosterA Bigger Splash

Dir: Luca Guadagnino

Marrianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) lives in a secluded villa on a rocky Italian island in the Mediterranean. She’s a former rock star used to preforming in glam makeup and sequins before thousands of adoring fans. Until she lost her voice. Now she’s doted on by her much younger, faithful husband 1936314_1710870315814844_5082996276804202301_nPaul (Matthias Schoenaerts). They spend each day playing in bed or relaxing in their serene swimming pool.

Paul was introduced to Mariann by her first husband, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) who felt a change was needed. Harry is a larger-than-life celebrity in his own right, a rock producer, who loves recalling his adventures with Mick Jagger. So Paul is in 12696974_1708471786054697_5272925310477745538_oawe of both Marianne and Harry. Which is why he can’t really object when Harry arrives uninvited at their doorstep with a blasé young woman named Penelope (Dakota Johnson). She lives with her mom in Connecticut but recently discovered she has a dad – Harry, of course. And here they both are.

Harry loves it. He’s the kind of guy who always needs a dramatic 12440495_1695143877387488_2734753458583916585_oentrance. And once he’s on stage he walks around naked for most of the movie. Penelope is looking for sex, and has her eye on both her putative father (she wants to see a DNA test) and Paul. Marianne is less than pleased by the interlopers. It opens up old wounds and unfinished business. She also prefers centre stage, she doesn’t want 12314676_1684142561820953_5135058809161723940_oto be a side kick in her own home. And Paul is overwhelmed by the uncomfortable situation, but keeps it to himself. Until things explode.

This movie feels like a stage play with four characters played by four great actors. They’re all fascinating but in a grotesque, hateable sort of way. As celebrities they’re used to being watched but they also need privacy. We get to watch them how they really are, and it ain’t pretty.

Some of the camera work bothered me – too show-offy and distracting — but the scenic beauty of a Mediterranean isle that’s also a landing point for asylum-seekers more than makes up for it. Luca Guadagnino also directed I Am Love in 2010;  A Bigger Splash is less stylized, more mature.

Neon Bull, A Bigger Splash, and Sunset Song 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 Sean Garrity and Jonas Chernick about their new film Borealis

Posted in Canada, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, Gambling, Movies, Organized Crime, Rural, Winnipeg by CulturalMining.com on April 1, 2016

Sean Garrity, Borealis, Photo © 2016 Cultural MiningHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Trouble is brewing in Winnipeg. Jonah (Jonas Chernick) is a compulsive gambler – he can’t pass a card table without placing a bet. He’s in debt up to his neck to a bookie named Tubbie. Jonah is also a relentless liar — even his girlfriend doesn’t know why he needs 10,000 bucks, stat. And when the doctor tells him his estranged, teenaged daughter Aurora (Joey King) is about to go blind he keeps his cards close to his chest and doesn’t tell her. He packs up his car and vows to showBorealis_Jonas Chernick Aurora the northern lights in far-off Churchill, Manitoba. But will she see Aurora Borealis before she goes blind… or before the bookies catch up to them?

Borealis is a new feature now playing at the Canadian Film Fest and opening next Friday in Toronto. It’s a buddy pic, a road movie, a coming-of-age drama and a new look at the far edges of Borealis_-_Additional_Still_1Manitoba. It’s funny, surprising and calmly beautiful. It’s made by two long-time Winnipeg collaborators: award-winning director Sean Garrity and the equally notable actor/writer Jonas Chernick. I spoke to Sean in studio at CIUT, and to Jason (on set) by phone. We talk about road movies, gambling, romance, Sean’s hometown, travelling, card games, Churchill, cold weather, polar bears, Joey King, Bruce McDonald, Paper Moon… and more!

Sean Garrity won the DGC Ontario Best Director award for Borealis at the Canadian Film Fest.

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