Questioning Authority. Films reviewed: Beans, Quo Vadis Aïda?, Shorta, New Order, Night of the Kings at #TIFF20!

Posted in Africa, Bosnia, Canada, Denmark, Indigenous, Mexico, Police, Protest, Quebec, Uncategorized, War by CulturalMining.com on September 18, 2020

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

The Toronto International Film Festival has come to a close, and to tell you the truth – considering it was touch and go since the pandemic hit – I’m especiallly impressed by the 50 movies that made it into the festival. There’s a particular appropriateness to the movies they chose, films that capture the current feelings of uncertainty, impending doom, and a general mistrust of authority. So this week I’m, looking at five fantastic TIFF films about the current malaise. And so as not to end on too bleak a note, I’m throwing in a nicer story at the end.

There’s a blockade in Quebec genocide in Bosnia, police violence in Denmark, a class war in Mexico… and story-telling in a prison in Cote’d’Ivoire.

Beans

Dir: Tracey Deer

 

It’s 1995. Beans (Kiawentiio) is an innocent 12-year-old girl who lives in suburban Québec with her Dad, her ambitious mom, and her little sister. She’s into stuffed animals and hair ribbons – her biggest worry is getting into a posh private school. But when the town of Oka tries to grab Mohawk burial grounds to expand a golf course, protests erupt. Beans and her family leave their cushy life to join the Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawá:ke community in the increasingly tense stand-off. They are blockaded and local stores refuse to sell them food, and police and military stand by when her family is attacked by racist locals throwing rocks and breaking windows. Beans, meanwhile feels rejected by the local kids as too soft, so she asks April (Paulina Alexis) an older girl to toughen her up. With the crisis raging all around her, Beans starts to change – but is it for the better?

Based on true events, Beans is a marvelous coming-of-age story of a girl learning about heritage, identity and sexuality, as she gradually gains self-confidence in a frightening time.

Quo Vadis, Aïda?

Wri/Dir: Jasmila Žbanic

It’s 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnia.

The three-year Bosnian civil war is coming to an end, and Aida (Jasna Djuričić) a former high school teacher, is worried. Her former students are fighting on all sides. Ratko Mladić’s soldiers have surrounded the town and the locals have fled to a safety zone run by UN Peace Keepers. Aida is now the official translator, a conduit between the locals, the invaders and the ineffectual, Dutch Blue Helmets. Be calm, they promise, there’s nothing to worry about. But she knows they’re not safe at all. It falls on her shoulders to save them, or at least save her husband and two sons. But can Aida save anyone, even herself?

Quo Vadis, Aida? is a fast, tense and deeply moving depiction of the fear, confusion and helplessness of the days leading up to the genocidal Srebrenica Massacre where over eight thousand Bosnians were murdered in cold blood. Though it doesn’t explicitly show the violent acts themselves, it still leaves the viewer drained and shocked by its enormity.

Shorta

Wri/Dir: Frederik Louis Hviid, Anders Ølholm

Tension is mounting in Svalegården, a highrise housing project in Denmark, after police choke a teenager to death. Two cops are called in to keep the peace. Mike Andersen (Jacob Lohmann) is the bad cop – foul-mouthed, corrupt, out of shape and blatantly racist. Jens Høyer (Simon Sears) is the good cop, fit, clean-cut and by the book. They arrest a local teen, Amos (Tarek Zayat) for a minor infraction. Amos was a promising soccer star but has lost hope after being harassed too often by police. But the three of them are forced to work together – or choose sides – when violence erupts leaving them stranded in a dangerous zone, without a car, and no way out. Can Mike and Jens escape, and can Amos get safely home, before something really bad happens?

Shorta is an action/thriller set within a climate of police violence and corruption. Though at first it seems to be full of anti-immigrant stereotypes, it turns expectations on their head in a series of unexpected and shocking plot turns. An intense thriller.

New Order

Wri/Dir: Michel Franco

Marianne (Naian González Norvind) is a woman in a red dress at her own wedding party. They’re waiting for the judge to arrive to start the ceremony, but she’s tied up. Streets are blocked by demonstrators throwing bright green paint at rich people all across Mexico City, though this exclusive neighbourhood remains untouched. Their faithful servant Marta (Mónica Del Carmen) is working hard to make sure everything’s perfect for the wedding. But when Marianne’s family – who are spending lavishly on the wedding – refuse to help a longtime servant pay an emergency medical bill, Marianne is fed up. She says she’ll drive him to the hospital and pay for it herself. So she sets off in a car with Marta’s brother Cristian (Fernando Cuautle). But while she’s away, mayhem breaks loose. Thieves have infiltrated the wedding party and begin killing people. There’s a military coup and the city is under martial law, shooting civilians at random. And when Marianne is “rescued” by soldiers, she is shocked to discover she’s actually their vicim, a captive held for ransom. Can anyone be trusted?

New Order is an extremely violent, dystopian look at class inequality and the deep corruption permeating Mexican society and government. Be warned, this is not an easy movie to watch.

Night of the Kings

Wri/Dir: Philippe Lacôte

It’s a special day in the huge MACA prison in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in west Africa. A red moon is expected to rise that night, and with it a change of prison government. Not the warden or guards but the real leadership within the prison walls. Barbe Noire/Black Beard (Steve Tientcheu) rules them all. But he’s dying and needs to appoint a successor. First a ritual storytelling must take place. He appoints a new arrival (Koné Bakary) a young newbie arrested that day to be Roman, the storyteller. Roman is baffled – why him? He’s dressed in a shining blue shirt, and given a special potion to drink and a wooden box to stand on. He must tell a constant story, one that never ends or he will be killed and the whole prison will collapse into mayhem. So the story begins.

Night of the Kings is a fantastical prison drama that portrays both the amazing people who live there, and the story he tells. People like a beautiful transwoman who’s also a secret assassin, and wise man with a chicken on his shoulder who poses as a half- wit. That’s within MACA.

Then there’s the story Roman tells. He serves as an impromptu griot, passing on an oral history of a slain local gang leader named Zama King and his ancestors stretching way back in time. There are elephants and armies, queens and magical powers, elaborate costumes and hair styles. And as he tells his story, he’s surrounded by a greek chorus who spontaneously sing, dance and pantomime all around him. Night of the Kings is a fantastic drama, and one of the best films at TIFF this year.

Watch out for it.

Night of the Kings, New Order, Shorta, Quo Vadis Aida?, and Beans all screened at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for more information.

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

More dysfunctional families. Films reviewed: Blackbird, The Ties PLUS #TIFF20

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2020

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

The Toronto International Film Festival has begun, but with a twist. It’s #TIFF20 meets COVID19. Gone are celebrities, autograph hounds? Gone. Thousands of volunteers?  Countless parties? Gone, gone, gone. The press corps is cut by 2/3 with feature films chopped from 300 to 50. Indoor movies are few and far between, sparse and spaced, but you can watch the movies at home instead. Normally, I’d have viewed two dozen movies before the festival starts, but this year less than five. This week, I’m reviewing two movies about dysfunctional families, one from Italy and one from the US.

But first I’m talking about TIFF films I haven’t yet seen… bear with me.

#TIFF20: unseen recommendations

Here are a few movies playing at TIFF that caught my eye.

Idris Elba stars in Concrete Cowboy, as a man who rides horses dressed in hat, boots and spurs in North Philadelphia. The film’s about him and his estranged teenaged son who comes to live with him.

Beans (Dir: Tracey Deer) is about the 1990s stand-off between Mohawk communities and the Quebec town of Oka who wanted to expand their golf course onto indigenous land. It’s told through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl named Beans.

Summer of 85 (Dir: Francois Ozon: Frantz, Young and Beautiful, The New Girlfriend) is about a summer love affair on the beaches of Normandy between a young man who almost drowns and the 20 year-old guy who saves him. It’s like Call me By Your Name, but with a sinister undertone.

Quo Vadis, Aïda? is about a journalist trying to save her husband and son in the Bosnian genocide. After seeing Jasmila Žbanic’s first film, the stunning Grbavica 12 years ago, I’m dying to see what she’s up to now.

And finally Night of The Kings about a man in a Cote d’Ivoire prison in Abidjan forced to tell his epic story until the sun rises. Philippe Lacôte’s first film, Run, was brilliant which is why this one looks so good.

These are just a few of the films opening at TIFF.

Blackbird

Dir: Robert Michell

Paul (Sam Neill) and Lily (Susan Sarandon) are a happily married couple. They live in a beautiful wood and glass home, a short stroll to the Pacific ocean. Lily is retired but Paul still practices medicine. They’re getting ready for a big party with family and friends. Her uptight daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet) is coming, along with her nerdy husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) with his requisite bowties, and their teenage son Jonathan (Anson Boon). Her other daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska), excentric and needy might also show up, along with her non-binary partner Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus). And Lily’s best friend Liz who she’s known since childhood. The presents are wrapped, the cake is baked and Lily is wearing her favourite dress. Is it her birthday? Chistmas perhaps? A special anniversary?

No. It’s a deathday party. Lily is terminally ill and this is her goodbye celebration before her assisted suicide the next day. But once the liquor is poured and the joints are lit, the guests loosen up, and family secrets and rivalries are revealed. Will Lily go through with her plan? And will her family and friends accept her decision or try to stop it

Based on a Danish film from 2014, Blackbird is a low-key look at a family’s reaction to an important issuet. It’s slow moving but well-acted, like a traditional drawing room comedy, with a serious subtext. But I’m bothered by Lily’s reasoning. Here’s an example. At one point she breaks a glass and says “When you have to drink chablis from a paper cup, you know it’s time.” Really? She walks unassisted and dresses herself, largely free of pain. To me – if there’s ever a time – this seems way to early. But, like I said, Blackbird is a well-made movie and one that makes you think.

The Ties (Lacci)

Dir: Daniele Luchetti

It’s the 1980s in Naples, Italy. Aldo (Luigi Locascio) is a happily-married, bearded man with two kids, Anna and Sandro. They love the stories he tells them in his “radio voice”. He works as a literary critic and announcer at RAI radio – Italy’s CBC — at their headquarters in Rome, where he keeps an apartment. He’s a bit of a celebrity; “an ordinary man who says clever things”. Vanda (Alba Rohrbacher – she starred in this) his wife, has curly blonde hair. She’s a part-time school teacher and takes care of their kids on her own while he’s in Rome on weekdays. All is going great, until one day he confesses he slept with another woman. What he doesn’t tell her, but she suspects, is he’s having a long term affair in Rome with Lidia (Laura Morante) his beautiful co-announcer on their radio show. She kicks him out for the night, but it turns into a long-term separation, punctuated with arguments and fights – always initiated by Vanda. Aldo just passively takes it all in and does nothing but never taking responsibility for his actions. This leaves the kids floundering for attention from their dad, which they rarely get. Can this relationship ever be saved?

The Ties – the title refers to the family ties he has in Naples and the no-strings relationship he desires in rome – is a beautiful crafted look at a fractured family. It jumps back and forth, sometimes second by second, from the 80s to the present day, where Aldo and Vanda are elderly and the kids middle aged, still holding grudges against their Mom and Dad. I love Daniele Luchetti’s work – I always catch his films at TIFF – which is why I made sure to watch this one. He crafts great silent scenes, like behind the glass in a recording booth – and the costumes, set, cinematography are very pretty and cozy. But – like Aldo – the film is more passive than passionate, observing instead of delving deep into his mind. It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed The Ties.

Blackbird opens next week on VOD across Canada, The Ties is screening at TIFF as Industry Selects and premiered at Venice. Go to tiff.net for tickets and info on festival films.

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 co-directors Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan about The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2020

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

Corporations were once thought of as benign entities that employed workers, produced goods, sold them in the market place and paid taxes on their profits. But certain things have changed. CEOs now earn salaries a thousand times higher than some full-time employees.

Lobbyists pour huge donations to politicians to change the laws in their favour. Environmental catastrophe is green-washed by fossil fuel corporations. Indigenous lands are seized by big agro, mining and oil companies. Pharmaceutical corporations promote opiates which now kill more people than illegal drugs. And they don’t even pay taxes anymore. Meanwhile their power and wealth grows exponentially, eclipsing national governments and international organizations, privatizing public housing, schools, prisons and hospitals. Is there anything we can do to stop the psychopathic behavior of some of these New Corporations?

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel is a new Canadian documentary, a follow-up to the smash hit doc The Corporation from 2003. It combines shocking stats with cool animation, news footage and new interviews with activists and intellectuals, from AOC to Robert Reich and Diane Ravitch – and the corporate CEOs themselves. The film is co-directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Jennifer Abbott and UBC law professor Joel Bakan who wrote the original book. (They both worked on the first film as well.)

I spoke with Jennifer and Joel via ZOOM.

The New Corporation is having its world premier at TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, on Sunday, September 13th at 9 pm.

Daniel Garber talks with director Michelle Latimer about Trickster and The Inconvenient Indian

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2020

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

Photos of Michelle Latimer by Jeff Harris.

Jarrod is a highschool kid in Kitimat BC. He works at a fast-food drive through and does double duty peddling the happy pills he makes in a cabin in the woods. His mom is a party animal who is shacked up with a tattooed pot dealer and his divorced dad’s girlfriend is preggers. He ends up acting the adult in his family. But when he reconnects with his best friend, and a new girl with purple hair moves in across the street, things seem to be looking up. That is until weird things start happening. He’s chased by his doppelganger at a party. A crow seems to talk to him. And a strange man comes to town to tell him he’s his actual father. Are these things real or just drug-induced halucinations? And can that strange man be believed, or is he just a trickster?

Trickster is a new, slow-burn TV drama starting this fall that combines ordinary lives with mystery and magic told within the cloak of indigenaity. It has its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, along with a documentary called The Inconvenient Indian. Inspired by Thomas King’s book, the doc exposes the erasure of history while celebrating a vibrant living culture. Both Trickster and The Inconvenient Indian are directed by the award-winning Michelle Latimer who is also known for documenting the Standing Rock protests at the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016. Michelle splits her time between Toronto and Treaty 9 territory.

The Inconvenient Indian will have its world premier at TIFF on September 12, 2020, with Trickster premiering on September 15.

I spoke with Michelle Latimer in person, in her Toronto home (two metres apart).

Torn from the Headlines. Films reviewed: Feels Good Man, Biohackers, Tenet

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 4, 2020

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

This week I’m looking at three new movies torn from the headlines, dealing with pandemics, the rise of the alt right and international intelligence. There’s a student searching for genetic data, a spy looking for quantum physics clues, and a cartoonist forced to dissect his favourite frog.

Feels Good Man

Dir: Arthur Jones

It’s 2005, in the early days of social networks, and MySpace is king. Matt Furie is an indie cartoonist who draws Boy’s Club, a comic about four slackers (in animal form) in their twenties who share a house. One image he drew goes viral: it’s Pepe the Frog peeing in a toilet while standing up with his pants pulled down, saying, in explanation, “feels good, man”. Somehow it captures the mood of the time. It spreads to 4chan – a non-commercial, anonymous comment board started by a 14-year-old – where it’s adopted as a meme, and repeated endlessly online. Soon Pepe the Frog turns into Sad Pepe, Smug Pepe, Screaming Pepe – his images are everywhere. A decade later though it’s co-opted by the nascent Alt-Right: Pepe with a Donald Trump wig, Pepe on a neo-nazi flag. Meanwhile, Matt Furie, is still just a comicbook artist, not a superstar like his character. And his beloved pepe is toxic. It’s declared an official symbol of hate by ADL (The Anti-Defamation League). What can a small time cartoonist do?

Feels Good Man is a brilliant documentary that follows the rise and fall of an internet meme. It also touches on crypto currencies, Incels, “punch-a-naziRichard Spencer, Hillary Clinton, Fox News… basically everything important from the past 15 years is somehow related to Pepe the Frog. It’s narrated by the people involved – on myspace, 4chan and elsewhere – as well as Furie’s fight to reclaim his character using pro bono lawsuits. (Good luck with that – there are 160 million unique Pepe images floating around online.)

And the film also features beautiful psychedelic, animation of Pepe and his friends – total eye candy. Loved it.

Tenet

Dir: Christopher Nolan

An American special ops soldier (John David Washington) wakes up after taking a poison pill to find out he’s still alive. He was captured by the enemy after trying to stop Chechen terrorists in a Ukraine Opera House. Turns out the pill was a fake, a test to prove his loyalty. And now the CIA sends on a special mission spanning continents. His goal? They don’t say. But it involves seducing the wife (Elizabeth Debicki) of a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) using a forged painting in order to uncover a secret weapon. But first, he and his accomplice (Robert Pattinson) must break into an impregnable tower in Mumbai to uncover information held by an international arms dealer named Priya (Dimple Kapadia). But wait – there’s more. A lab-coated scientist tells him powerful forces of quantan physics are at work: as he movies forward, other people and things are moving backwards through time. While we are shooting bullets they catching the same bullets in their guns, as they progress to the past. And unless he completes his mission the whole world will cease to exist.

Tenet is an action thriller about a Black American 007 with a bit of sci-fi jibber-jabber thrown in to make it more interesting. It’s visually stunning, full of brutalist architecture, stark railway tracks and brilliant birds-eye shots of vast industrial wastelands like an Edward Burtynsky photograph. And the special effects are great too, with airplanes plowing into airport terminals, and ingenious fist fights between someone travelling forward in time and someone going backwards. On the other hand, the story is as pointless as it sexless, the characters are dull and opaque, and – despite claims to the contrary – is very old fashioned in its outlook. Men fight while women scheme. Anglo-American spies are the good guys, the world’s policemen, while Russians are the villains. The script is full of fake profundities – “we live in a twilight world” – the plot follows a formulaic uncovering of clues, although with the time/space continuum to keep you interested.

Is Tenet a good movie? No, not really, but after going seven months without a single big-budget new release, seeing this one in an actual theatre (with physical distancing, of course) left me totally satisfied.

Biohackers

Created by Christian Ditter

Mia Ackerland (Luna Wedler) is a young medical student at German University. She lives with three geeky housemates: Chen-Lu (Jing Xiang), a fast-talking science nerd into gene splicing, Ole (Sebastian Jakob Doppelbauer), a socially inept inventor looking for friends; and Lotta (Caro Cult), a rich student who likes sex, drugs and parties. Mia enrolls in a biology class taught by prize winning Prof Lorenz (Jessica Schwarz) and her T.A. Jasper (Adrian Julius Tillmann). She quickly distinguishes herself, starts dating Jasper, and works her wat into the professor’s elite lab. But when she’s asked to supply a DNA sample she panics. What is Mia hiding? What does she hope to discover? What are the professsor’s motives? And can Mia depend on her bio-hacker roommates to join her mission?

Biohackers is a six-part science-thriller TV show about a young student looking for the truth. There are frequent flashbacks to a young girl and her twin brother who died in hospital as a child, giving clues to Mia’s motivation. It starts with a teaser – a mass pandemic aboard a passenger train where everyone collapses with a strange virus… except Mia. Which makes it especially relevant during he COVID crisis. (And the rivalry between her and the professor is like Glenn Close and Rose Byrnn in the TV show Damages.) Biohackers makes for a great binge-watch during a quarantine.

Tenet is now playing in theatres across Canada, Biohackers is streaming on Netflix, and Feels Good Man opens today on VOD. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com.

 

Do opposites attract? Films reviewed: Tito, Uncle Peckerhead, My Days of Mercy

Posted in Canada, Cannibalism, Class, comedy, Horror, Lesbian, LGBT, Music, Prison, Punk, Romance, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 28, 2020

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

Do opposites attract? This week I’m looking at three new indie movies about odd combinations. There’s an introvert confronting an aggressive frat boy; a law-and-order lawyer vs an activist opposed to capital punishment; and a punk band with a hillbilly roadie… who’s also a cannibal!

Tito

Wri/Dir: Grace Glowicki

Tito (Grace Glowicki) is a young guy who lives alone in an empty wooden house. He’s tall and gangly, dressed in black with heavy brow and sideburns, and straight hair tucked behind his ears. He always carries a red plastic whistle around his neck, to scare way the baddies. And they’re everywhere, banging at the doors, scratching at the windows or just roaring and howling inside his head. He’s very hungry – down to just pickle brine in the fridge – but he’s too scared to go outside.

Everything changes when he wakes up to find a strange man in his kitchen, cooking breakfast. Who is he? John (Ben Petrie) says he’s there to lend a hand and make a friend. Tito is petrified and repulsed by this invasion, but he joins him at the table. John is the yin to Tito’s yang. He’s a frat boy bro who gesticulates with grand gestures and talks and shouts non-stop; while the introverted Tito can barely choke out a syllable. But when he passes Tito a joint, the voices in his head turn to music, and he even lets John take him for a walk. Can Tito emerge from his shell? Can this odd couple become friends? Or will it lead to trouble?

Tito is a stylized and impressionistic character study, a look inside an introvert’s brain. Sort of a cross between acting, modern dance and pantomime. Petrie is great as John, the self-declared “pussy-hound”. He’s loud, manipulative and bursting with barely-controlled aggression. And Glowicki perfectly conveys a young man’s paranoia with a hunched-over walk, pulled inward and cringing at the slightest provocation. Tito isn’t your usual comedy, drama or art house film, but is fascinating and watchable nonetheless.

Uncle Peckerhead

Wri/Dir: Matthew John Lawrence

Judy (Chet Siegel) is a happy-go-lucky musician in her thirties whose dream is finally coming true. Her punk band – called Duh – is going on their first tour! They make a good trio: Mel (Ruby McCollister) on drums is a ginger-haired nihilist, Max (Jeff Riddle) on bass and vocals is a friendly chowderhead, bald and bearded; and Judy – skinny with long black-hair, who plays bass and lead vocals – keeps the group running. She has everything ready – demo tapes, T shirts, a full roster of music, and clubs booked to play it in. There’s only thing missing: money – barely two coins to rub together. They’ve already quit their day jobs and they’re being kicked out of their apartment. But when their van gets repossessed, they’re really in trouble. How can they go on tour without wheels?

Luckily they meet a polite and friendly man with a van (David Littleton) who offers to be their roadie. He’ll drive and do the heavy lifting in exchange for meals and gas money. It’s a deal! And what’s his name? “My dad always called me Peckerhead, but you can call me Peck.” They’re all set… except for one problem. At midnight, Peck changes in strange ways, and a hidden evil beast emerges. And pretty soon they’re leaving a pile of half-eaten mutilated corpses wherever they go.

Uncle Peckerhead is a horror/comedy road movie, about the usual aspects a touring band faces – pretentious musicans, unscrupulous managers, adoring fans – combined with hilarious extreme violence and gore. It starts out quirky and funny, but gradually builds to an over-the-top, blood-drenched finish. Fun music, silly characters, unexpected situations and lots of splashing blood. Siegel is great as Judy and Littleton steals the show as the aw-shucks, cannibal yokel.

My Days of Mercy

Dir: Tali Shalom-Ezer (Princess)

Lucy (Ellen Page) is a woman in her twenties who lives in a small Ohio town with her older sister Martha (Amy Seimetz) and her little brother Ben (Charlie Shotwell). The three of them drive their camper across the country to protest capital punishment in front of prisons where an execution is about to take place. She’s part of a large community of protesters that regularly meet and comfort one other. At one such demo she shares a cigarette with a woman named Mercy (Kate Mara). The two are quite different – Mara is a well-dressed lawyer with neatly cut blond hair from Illinois, while Lucy is working class, in jeans and T-shirt – but something clicks. When the two meet again they become friends, and ther friendship leads to a relationship. Soon they’re meeting in motels, the RV or in Lucy’s home for passionate sex.

But something keeps them apart. Mercy’s father is a cop whose partner was killed. She’s at the demos to support the executions. While Lucy is there because her dad is on death row, blamed for the murder of her mom. She, Martha and Ben have spent the past six years devoting their lives to save him. Can Lucy and Mercy overcome the political and family divisions that keep them on opposing sides? Or is their romance doomed from the start?

My Days of Mercy is a great Romeo and Juliet (or Juliet and Juliet?) romantic drama, tender and moving, and starkly told. Each episode is set outside a different prison, punctuated by a still shot of a dying prisoner’s last meal. Their romance is erotic, the sex scenes tastefully done, though surprisingly vanilla (were Lucy and Mercy both raised by missionaries?) It’s beautifully shot in a realistically rendered working-class home and the insides of actual prisons. Ellen Page and Kate Mara are full of passion and pathos as the star-crossed lovers, their story skillfully told. It’s a real tear-jerker – I cried at least twice – both for the couple and the horrors of executions. I recommend this one.

Tito and Uncle Peckerhead are now playing digitally and VOD and My Days of Mercy starts today.

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

Crises. Films reviewed: Band Ladies, Cane Fire, Castle in the Ground

(Audio: no music)

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com.

I’m recording from my home, once again, looking for ways to entertain you all while movie theatres are out of the picture. So this week I’m looking at three new films, a documentary, a web series, and a dark Canadian drama. There’s a filmmaker discovering Hawai’i’s past; a group of women dealing with a collective midlife crisis; and a mother and son facing the opioid crisis.

Band Ladies

Dir: Molly Flood

Five bored, middle-aged women meet at a local bar to discuss Victorian romances for their regular book club. There’s Marnie (Kate Fenton), a stay-at- home mom with a lackluster life; Chloe (Lisa Michelle Cornelius) a careerist lawyer troubled by her Big Pharma employer; Cindy (Vicki Kim) an aspiring musician / bartender; Penny (Dana Puddicombe) a rich celeb who could pass as a Dragons Den panelist; and Stephanie (Kirstin Rasmussen) a drunk dead-ender recenty dumped by her longtime girlfriend.

But when their inhibitions are loosened by a few bottles of plonk, Chloe storms the stage to tell her secret truth: her bosses peddle opiods to children! Someone captures her rant on their phone and posts it online, and boom! the clip goes viral. But what can they do with their 15 minutes of fame? Why, form a band, of course. What kind? Punk. But can five middle-aged women shake up their lives and transform themselves overnight into an 80s style punk band? Or is this just a pipe dream?

Band Ladies is a fast-moving, cute and clever web series. It zooms through the five characters’ lives in six quick, 10-minute episodes, a crash course on the dos and don’ts of starting a band. The actors write their own characters’ lyrics and perform the songs on their first “tour” – as the opening act at a Parry Sound bar. It’s sharp, witty and empathetic – and the whole series is over in an hour.

I like this web series.

Cane Fire

Dir: Anthony Banua-Simon

Beautiful Kaua’i: a tropical paradise where happy Hawaiians harvest sugar cane and pineapples on plantations; where luxury hotels preserve ancient ceremonies by lighting torches each night; and the setting of hundreds of Hollywood features shot there. But is that the whole truth? The locals tell a very different story.

This new feature documentary pulls the veil off the island’s past and retells its story through its own people’s eyes. When the US toppled its government and colonized the islands Kaua’i was taken over by five families who controlled most of the land. Hawaiians – and workers imported from places like China, Japan and the Philippines – were kept down by the sugar and pineapple plantation owners. Unions were busted, and organizers fired, demoted or sent away. Luxury hotels were built on sacred burial grounds and their culture co-opted or invented by settlers to attract tourists. Stars like Elvis and John Wayne were featured in movies shot there while locals were background decorations. And now locals are further marginalized by the ultra-rich people like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg – buying huge tracts of land for their own personal use.

Cane Fire is partly a personal travelogue – the filmmaker goes to Kaua’i to find out about his great grandfather – partly a look at Hollywood’s sanitized depiction of the place; and partly a chance for the people’s own stories to be told. This includes local activists reclaiming the ruins of the once famous Koko Palms hotel built on sacred lands. The title Cane Fire comes from a movie of the same name about local unrest on the island. That movie is now lost, but the documentary fills in the blanks normally missing in depictions of Hawai’i.

Cane Fire is an excellent film.

Castle in the Ground

Wri/Dir: Joey Klein

It’s a cold, dark day in Sudbury, Ontario. Henry (Alex Wolff) is a good son, taking time off from school to take care of his dying mom (Neve Campbell). He feeds her crushed prescription pills each day to help ease her pain. But noise from across the hall – she lives in a rundown tenement – keeps bothering her. So Henry bangs on the door to investigate. There he meets Ana (Imogen Poots) – a sketchy woman with hollow eyes – and some of her unsavoury friends. She’s a cunning addict on the methadone wagon, jonesing for her next fix. And her dealer (a kid she calls Polo Boy (Keir Gilchrist) for his designer tracksuits) says she stole his bag of pills, and the scary guys are asking for it back. Ever the gallant one, Henry steps in to protect her, but soon is drawn into her hellish universe of guns, crime and opioids. Can he emerge unscathed with only a hammer as a weapon? And what about those close to him?

Castle in the Ground has a lot of things I avoid in movies – I find movies all about people slowly dying or struggling with addiction, more depressing than interesting. Luckily, this movie, while dealing with these very real phenomena, manages to avoid the moralistic tone that usually smothers stories like this. Instead it jacks up the thriller aspects – drug dealers wearing creepy baby masks, car chases, and narrow escapes from dimly-lit drug parties – couched in a constant, surreal haze. Yes, it’s bleak, but the bleakness is mollified by aburdist humour, fascinating details, and stunning night photography, lit with the glare of headlights and the acid glow of neon. And when actors like Imogen Poots and Alex Wolff put their all into a movie like this, it’s worth paying attention.

Band Ladies is streaming now on Highball.tv; Castle in the Ground opens today on VOD; and Cane Fire is having its world premier at this year’s Hot Docs.

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

Climb every mountain. Films reviewed: Abominable, Monos

Posted in Animation, Canada, China, Colombia, Kids, Tibet, Uncategorized, violence, War by CulturalMining.com on September 27, 2019

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

The majesty and beauty of mountains makes some people stare in awe, while others see it as a personal goal – something to climb, claim or conquer. This week I’m looking at two new movies about mountains. There’s a group of kids in China on their way to a mountain as they protect a mythical beast; and a group of kids in Colombia holding a hostage on top of a mountain as they fight an inner beast.

Abominable

Dir: Jill Culton, Todd Wilderman

Yi is a teen who lives with her mom and her grandmother Nai-Nai in a downtown Shanghai apartment. She’s saving the money from three parttime jobs to travel across China in the path of her late father, a musician. But her life is turned upside down when an enormous furry creature appeared on her roof. He has white hair, a huge mouth and pale blue eyes that stare longingly at a nearby billboard advertising Mount Everest. It’s his home, and he wants to go back.

Standing in his path are Mr Burnish a billionaire CEO, and a zoological scientist named Zara. Everest is a Yeti, the legendary Tibetan creature, never captured until Beamish enterprizes nabbed him. They want their specimen back, dead or alive. But Yi has other plans. Along with her two neighbours – the selfie-obsessed Jin and the basketball dribbler Peng – they set out on a journey across China. Can they save Everest and bring him back to his homeleand? Or will they all end up captives in a corporate lab in Shanghai?

Abominable is a fun and exciting animated movie for little kids. It’s full of cultural references, from the classic Ming Dynasty novel Journey to the West (西遊記), to the classic ’80s film ET: Yi lures the creature with a trail of steamed dumplings instead of Reece’s Pieces, and the alien creature is “Yeti” not “E.T.”. But it’s also fun and original in its own right, with exciting magic, humour, action and the sentimental bits you need to make it worthwhile. I saw it with an audience of small children and they loved most of it, but were frightened when it looked like the heroes were going to die (Spoiler Alert: they don’t die… ’cause it’s a kids movie!)

Voices include Chloe Bennet (Crazy Rich Asians) as Yi, and Tenzing Norgay Trainor as Jin. Fun fact: if the name sounds familiar it’s because he’s the grandson of Tenzing Norgay, the Nepali-Tibetan Sherpa who climbed Mt Everest with Edmond Hillary.

Abominable is fun movie for kids that grown ups can enjoy too.

Monos

Dir: Alejandro Landes

On a mountaintop somewhere in Colombia a multi-ethnic, multi-gendered group of “monos” – cool, cute teenagers – are fooling around. They’re stylin’ with hip hairstyles and military outfits. They play games like blindfolded soccer, where you kick a ball with bells attached, into a net that makes noise. Or one-on-one wrestling matches, combining martial arts, modern dance and Capoeira. Everyone has a nickname reflecting something about them: Smurf is young and cute, Lady is pretty, Rambo’s a fighter, Swede is light-skinned, Lobo is wolflike… plus Dog, Bigfoot, and Boom Boom. Some even pair off as couples.

Their only contact with the outside world is a staticky two-way radio and a diminutive, muscular man who visits them every so often. He’s from The Organization, a cryptic paramilitary group fighting the government. Their assignment is to guard an American woman they call Doctora. The girls braid her hair and the boys invite her to play in their games. The problem is she’s a hostage of The Organization, and a potential source of power and money. So when things go wrong, the monos take sides and start fighting each other. And when the enemy bombards them with missiles. things turn into a co-ed Lord Of The Flies. Can they stick together in peace and harmony? Or will outside pressure, internal divisions, and harsh military culture lead to harm and even death?

Monos is an aesthetically beautiful look at a period of violence and death in Colombia. The ensemble cast play it as part melodrama, part dance performance, plotted against breathtakingly lush scenery. From sexualized wrestling, to scenes of struggle filmed underwater, to an exquisite pantomime of soldiers walking in the jungle covered in different colours of mud, this highly-stylized movie is as pretty as a Vogue fashion spread, but just realistic enough that you care about the kids and their fate.

Good movie.

Monos starts today at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and Abominable also opens 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.

Deep. Films reviewed: Destroyer, Hale County, This Morning, This Evening, Ratcatcher

Posted in 1970s, 1990s, African-Americans, Coming of Age, Crime, documentary, Kids, L.A., Scotland, Thriller, Uncategorized, violence, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 18, 2019

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

Tired of fantasy? How about some gritty realism? This week I’m looking at three deep, realistic movies — a documentary, a drama and a thriller — about working class characters living their lives. There are African Americans in the deep south, an LA detective in deep cover, and a young man in Glasgow knee-deep in trash.

Destroyer

Dir: Karyn Kusama

Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) used to be a young, pretty and ambitious uniformed cop in LA. Pulled from her division for an undercover operation, she was meant to infiltrate a notorious and deadly ring of bank robbers. She posed as a couple with Chris (Sebastian Stan) another cop which led to a relationship. And she made friends with the robbery team, including the sinister Silas (Toby Kebell) a long-haired man with a cruel streak a mile wide; and the friendly Petra (Tatiana Maslany).

But things didn’t go as planned. People died, and the thieves got away with bags of loot. Look at her now. She’s a burnt-out husk of her former self. Bell doesn’t walk, she staggers. Her lips are wrinkled, her hair looks like it was cut with garden shears and she talks like Jeff Bridges on a bad day. But when she finds evidence the robbers are at it again, she takes the law into her own hands. Will she stop the killers? Or will they destroy her first?

Destroyer is a fantastic crime thriller about an angry worn out cop on her quest for retribution. It keeps you glued to the screen, heart racing, as you try to figure out what’s going on. It’s told during three time periods, jumping back and forth between them, and as you watch it you constantly have to change your assumptions. No spoilers but there are some big shocks along the way. It’s very violent, though from a female point of view: men punching women, women strangling women, women attacking men. Not for the faint of heart. Nicole Kidman totally transforms herself – physically and emotionally – from the naive young woman into the hardboiled cop she ends up as.

Destroyer is a great LA crime thriller.

Hale County, This Morning, This Evening

Dir: RaMell Ross

Hale County, Alabama is in the deep, deep south. You can still find white-pillared mansions built on the backs of slave labour on cotton plantations. It’s named after a Confederate officer whose statue still stands. It’s also where the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr once sought refuge from the KKK. It’s a rural, mainly black area where people stay on with their daily lives: sports tournaments, childbirth, funerals. There’s a catfish factory, a school, a hospital and churches.

This fascinating documentary is a series of beautifully composed, very short – from five seconds to three minutes – and highly personal scenes. A woman tapping her thigh with a flyswatter, a man playing blues on an electric guitar. A baby learning to walk, fritters frying in a pan, kids drinking coca cola. We see teenaged boys talking in the basketball locker room, families baptized at a church, people hanging at a beauty salon or a bowling alley. Rolling clouds with electrical storms, the first drops of rain on the pavement, a deer caught in the headlights, and a solar eclipse. The filmmaker RaMell Ross who started photographing there when he moved to the town, records what’s going on all around him in an impressionistic collage of portraits, time lapse, and tableaux: a joyous celebration of African American life in rural Alabama.

This beautiful film is on the Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Feature.

Ratcatcher (1999)

Wri/Dir Lynne Ramsay

It’s 1973 in Glasgow, Scotland. James (William Eadie) is a gawky lad with ears that stick out who lives with his working- class family in a crumbling flat.   His father (Tommy Flanagan) has a scar on his cheek from a fight, his mother (Mandy Matthews) has holes in her nylons. The yard outside is piled high with trash – the garbagemen are on strike – so the mice and rats are having a ball. James lives his life carefully, avoiding dangerous gangs of teenaged bullies who dominate the streets.

He sometimes visits a stagnant canal nearby, badly in need of a dredging. There he meets a much older and sexually active teenaged girl. The bullies have thrown her glasses in the water, but James doesn’t fish them out – perhaps he thinks he has a better chance if she can’t see him clearly? She seduces him, inviting him to spend the night. But the canal also brings him horrible feelings of guilt: a friend of his drowned there when they were fighting in the water.

One day, James jumps onto a bus and takes it to the end of the line where a new housing development is being built. It’s on the edge of the city, right where oatfields meet the streets. He explores the empty construction site – will this be his new home?

Ratcatcher is a slice-of-life, coming-of-age drama about life in an urban slum as seen through the eyes of a young man. The characters are mainly played by local residents, non-professional actors who bring a gritty realism to their roles. This is Lynne Ramsay’s first film (from 1999) and one I’ve always wanted to see, but never had a chance until now. You should, too. It’s a realistic and touching movie about hard times… but with an uplifting finish.

Destroyer is now playing in Toronto, Hale County, This Morning, This Evening opens tomorrow, and Rat Catcher plays next Thursday as part of the 1999 Millenial Movies program playing this month (until Feb 12) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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

Dreams and Memories. Films reviewed: An American Dream, The Sense of an Ending

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 17, 2017

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

Spring film festival season continues in Toronto with the Canadian Film Fest. This annual event showcases new indie features along with short films before each movie. Films range from horror to comedies to dramatic thrillers, but they’re all made by Canadians. There’s even a Rob Ford movie.

This week I’m looking at movies about memories and dreams. There’s a British look at a forgotten past, and a Canadian take on the American dream.

An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman

Wri/Dir: Ken Finkleman

William (Jake Croker) is a corn-fed high school football player whose NFL dreams are shattered with an untimely tackle. So he sets out to make it on just his moxie and good looks. He bounces from Wall Street to skid row, from porn actor to bible thumper in a matter of days. And the omnipresent cameras, reality shows, and fake news networks turn William into a national hero. This is an outsiders’ view of America as a land of God, guns, and puritans obsessed with pervy sex. There’s government surveillance and a culture of fear that’s all but drowned out by a steady stream of celebrity adulation. That’s the American Dream covered by this picaresque, dark comedy.

It’s by Ken Finkleman, known for his screenplays and CBC comedies. This one is a lot of fun.

The Sense of an Ending

Dir: Ritesh Batra (Based on the novel by Julian Barnes)

Tony (Jim Broadbent) is a divorced, retired Englishman whose adult daughter Susie is pregnant. He and his divorced wife, a lawyer, take turns going to pregnancy classes with Susie. And he spends his time running a tiny, vintage camera shop. But his dull, eventless life is shaken up by an unexpected letter. In university, he fell for Veronica, an aloof and pretty woman. He spent a crucial weekend at her home, where he met her sexually vivacious mother Sarah, her ineffectual father and her Cambridge-educated brother. The letter he receives is a legal document — Veronica’s mother Sarah is dead, and he’s mentioned in her will. She left him the diaries of Tony’s best friend Adrian Finn who died many years ago. This brings back a flood of memories of his youth.

Adrian once remarked that history is written by the victors of wars, and we can never know the thoughts of a dead man, one who chose his own ending, unless we are inside his head. So he is determined to read Adrian’s diary. But he’s blocked from doing so by Veronica (Charlotte Rampling) who hands him a letter he wrote instead of Adrian’s diary.

You see, when they were all students Tony discovered that his best friend had an affair with his first crush. And faced with such a cruel act of betrayal he wrote a spiteful letter to Adrian cursing him and Veronica and any children they might have. To hell with them all. And now, he is haunted by those words.

So to clear his conscience, and to find out the truth, he starts following Veronica around and enquiring about her family and her past. But the truth he finds is way beyond what he ever expected.

The Sense of an Ending is a fantastic retelling of Julian Barnes’s Booker Prize-winning novel. It’s told through Tony’s recollections, as he relives his lost past with the revelations of these letters. And as his perceived memories change with each shocking revelation, we see the old Tony superimposed in his memories of his younger self. I love Julian Barnes’s novels, and it turns out I read this one years ago, but the movie version was different enough that it didn’t spoil the story. This is a surprisingly moving film told in a gently shocking way. And the acting is fantastic – not just Broadbent and Rampling, but the entire cast. Great movie.

The Sense of an Ending starts today in Toronto; check your local listings. An American Dream is the opening night film at the Canadian Film Fest. For tickets go to canfilmfest.caThis is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

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