Canadian Film Day! The Courier, Bloodthirsty, The Marijuana Conspiracy

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, Cold War, drugs, Espionage, Lesbian, Mental Illness, Music, Toronto, UK, USSR, Werewolves by CulturalMining.com on April 16, 2021

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

Hey, did you know next Wednesday is Canadian Film Day? Yeah, I know all the theatres will be closed but you can still attend Canadian movies all across the country. Things like 11 new short films from emerging filmmakers, called Light(s) at the End of the Tunnel; online discussions, and lots of films you can watch on TV or streaming online. Go to canadianfilmday.ca for details.

This week I’m looking at three new movies, two of which are Canadian. There’s tokes in Toronto, Spooks in the Soviet Union, and lycanthropes in Alberta.

The Courier

Dir: Dominic Cooke

It’s 1960 in Moscow and the space race, the arms race and the cold war are in full swing. Oleg Pankovsky (Merab Ninidze) is a high-ranked officer in Soviet military intelligence. He has access to secret documents,  and knows something big and potentially dangerous is coming. And he doesn’t like Kruschev’s inflammatory speeches. It feels like the USSR and the USA are heading toward all out nuclear war. So he decides to do something. He leaks a bundle of documents to the American embassy with a promise of more to come. But Oleg is too important for the  CIA and the MI5 to risk exposing him by using one of their own agents.

So, instead, a CIA agent named Emily (Rachel Brosnahan) and her MI5 counterpart approach a mild-mannered British businessman who already conducts trade behind the Iron Curtain. Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) is just an ordinary fellow, who lives in a modest London home with his wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley) and their young son. And he wants nothing to do with it. He’s untrained and uninterested. But when he learns that the fate of the world may be at stake, he agrees. All he has to do is continue what he was always doing — making deals and signing import and export contracts. And regular meeting with Oleg to carry secret documents back to London. Heh’s a courier. But as tensions rise moles on both sides are revealing secrets. Wynne and Oleg both face growing suspicion, and their home lives suffer (Wynne’s wife thinks he’s having an affair). And when something goes wrong both Oleg and Wynne are in grave danger. Will they be discovered? Can they safely make it to the west? Or is their fate already sealed?

The Courier is a gripping historical spy thriller set at the height of the Cold War, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s exciting and mysterious, filled with quirky realistic characters. It’s also based on an actual case. On the other hand, it regurgitates Cold War politics as if it’s still 1960.  The KGB was surely a nasty agency, but so were the CIA and the MI5. They were all busy assassinating leaders, supporting coups, installing dictators and thwarting democratic elections worldwide. But in this movie it’s “Russians bad, Anglo-Americans good”.

Keep that in mind, but it doesn’t detract from the gripping story, and excellent acting. I liked this one.

Bloodthirsty

Dir: Amelia Moses

Grey (Lauren Beatty) is a singer-songwriter in Edmonton, Alberta. She’s a vegan and an animal lover who treats everyone, even the four-legged, with love and respect. She lives with her long-time girlfriend  Charlie, an artist (Katharine King So).  Her first album was a smash hit, but now she’s facing two problems: First she has writer’s block and sophomore blues — she’s afraid her second album will suck. She’s also  on prescription meds to battle a strange phenomenon: frequent, realistic nightmares about gorging on raw flesh, dripping with blood, and similar hallucinations when she’s awake.

So, when a famous but reclusive record producer named Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk) invites her to his home to record her next album, she jumps at the chance. Charlie is less enthusiastic. Why does he live in a house in the woods. And isn’t he a convicted murderer? (Actually he was charged but never convicted.) So they drive up north. He takes Grey under his wing, so she can let her mind free. It’s not writer’s block it’s your inhibitions that are holding you back, he tells her. He takes off her meds, plies her with hard liquor and tries to get her to eat raw meat.  And Grey notices she’s changing — she’s creating good, dark music,  but her head is filled with violent ideas. Why did Vaughn choose her? What is he after? And why do dead animals and humans — ostensibly killed by wolves — keep turning up near his home?

Bloodthirsty, as the title suggests, is a dark and brooding, horror movie about werewolves and music.  It’s spooky but not all that scary. It’s a low-budget movie with a very small cast and low-rent special effects. And it could have used a bit more humour… and a scarier-looking house. (Vaughn’s lair just looks strange.)

What’s great about this movie is the way it combines the creative process of composing and writing lyrics with supernatural bloodlust! That is totally original, and and Lauren Beatty as Grey does it really well (with a beautiful voice, too). 

The Marijuana Conspiracy 

Wri/Dir: Craig Pryce

It’s 1972 in downtown Toronto. Trudeaumania has swept across Canada but here in True Blue Ontario, the Tories are worried. Rumour has it that Trudeau — Pierre, not Justin — might legalize marijuana. So they commission a study of the dangers of the demon weed. 20 young women, age 18-25 are paid subjects at the Addiction Research Foundation, (later merged with CAMH). They’re given rooms to live in, food and recreation for three months. What’s the catch? They’re not allowed to leave the premises and  have to smoke cannabis every day. The doctors observe the results but don’t interfere. And to measure the long term effects the patients weave macrame wall hangings out of hemp and beads, and they’ll be paid upon completion of the study for each one they successfully finish (that measures motivation.)  What they’re measuring is whether smoking grass impedes work production. (There’s also a control group in the study identical in every way except they don’t smoke.)

The movie focuses on a few of the subjects. One is homeless, another is upper middle class, a third is hippy who wants to move to a commune in Vancouver, and one whose father is serving time for drug possession. There’s also intrigue, sex, humour music, and friendship. And it touches on sexuality, race, psychiatry, politics and many other issues. Here’s the biggest twist: This is not a documentary! It’s base on the actual study but this is character-driven drama about the the young volunteers, and the doctors, nurses, and grad students they interact with.

This is such an unusual movie, it really grabbed me, both for the characters and drama and surprises, but also the weirdness of it all — and because it actually happened right here in Toronto.

The Courier is released today on PVOD; The Marijuana Conspiracy opens across North America on Tuesday, April 20th, and you can pre-order Bloodthirsty beginning next Friday.

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

Halloween! Movies Reviewed: Superstitious Minds, Ginger Snaps, Bounty Killer

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Mexico, Movies, post-apocalypse, Supernatural, TV, Uncategorized, violence, Werewolves, Western by CulturalMining.com on October 24, 2013

Halloween_1 Superstitious MindsHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Hallowe’en – it’s the scariest night of the year! And things are getting scarier and scarier. CSEC: The Communications Security Establishment Canada – this country’s own NSA. Did you know they’re allowed to spy on Canadians, as long as you’re speaking to someone outside the country? And with no watchdog, no judicial control? They’re free to do whatever they want with no one watching them! Scary…! Maybe you’re a Bell Canada customer? Beginning two weeks after Hallowe’en they want to keep a record of every web page you visit, every call you make, every TV show you watch, and every place you visit carrying your cell phone! Scarrry!!!!

Yes, it’s a very scary time of year.

Awooooooooo!

So in honour of this frightening holiday, I’m looking at some very halloweeny things. There’s a documentary on superstition, a classic horror film about sisters in suburbia, and a post-apocalyptic action/western about a futuristic world.

Superstitious Minds SkullsSuperstitious Minds

Dir: Adrian Wills and Kenneth Hirsch

Are we all superstitious? I’m pretty careful about spilling salt. And are we becoming more or less so in an increasingly scientific world? Well, according to a new documentary, we are as superstitious as we’ve ever been, maybe more so, with people under thirty the most superstitious of all. It’s what keeps us grounded and gives us control in facing an uncertain, unpredictable world.

This documentary covers international phenomena like Mexico’s Day of the Dead, Feng Shui in Hong Kong, and the rituals and taboos Newfoundland fishermen stick to to keep from being lost at sea. As well as small things we notice everyday, like the rituals of everyone from sports fans to Shakespearean actors.Dia_de_muertos Superstitious Minds

One example: the strange jagged angles of the Bank of China building in Hong Kong led to widespread worry that it was upsetting their economy with it’s intrusive, knife-like nature. So HSBC – that’s the Hong King Shanghai Bank of Commerce – actually put metal cannons on the roof of their sky scraper to shoot all that bad energy back at the Bank of China, thus neutering it’s negative charms.

This is an interesting documentary, with lots of colourful vignettes talking heads, and some reenacted montages about superstition. (I just wish it dealt less with the psychology of it, and more with the magic.)

gingersnaps_01Ginger Snaps (2000)

Dir: John Fawcett

The Fitzgerald sisters, have been BFFs since they were 8. They signed a pact to be dead before they’re 16. In the midst of all the suburban conformity, Ginger and Brigitte (Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins) wear saggy cardigans, thrift store kilts and messy hair. They resist the bullies and jerks in their high school and revel in the depressing-ness of it all. Their only hobby? Acting out elaborate fake-suicides they save on Polaroid photos.

Life in the suburbs is predictable, except that all the neighbourhood dogs are turning up dead. Who is doing ths? But one night, on a full moon, Ginger feels different. She gets scratched by a wild dog, right when she’s having her first period… and things start to change.

She becomes, aggressive, erratic and highly sexualized. She starts wearing plunging necklines to school. And what about those scratches on her body? They’re starting to gingersnaps_02change too. She feels hairier, bloodier… meaner.

The school nurse explains it’s just puberty, but they both know the change means something more. And the two sisters find their relationship is fraying at the edges. Brigette likes the old Ginger, but her sister wants her to change like she did. Ignoring the nurse’s advice, Ginger has unprotect sex with a stoner at her high school – and seems to have passed the strange virus on.

People to start to die in mysterious circumstances….

It’s up to Brigitte to find a cure and bring her back to normal before she kills everybody.  She turns to Sam (Kris Lemche) for help. Sure he’s the local pot dealer, but he’s also the only one besides Brigitte who believes in Lycanthropia – he ran over a werewolf once in his delivery van. But will they get to Ginger before she snaps?  Before she makes the complete transformation to wolfdom?

Ginger Snaps was made in 2000 and I think it’s fair to say it’s attained classic Halloween movie status, along with more famous pics like the Shining, the Exorcist, and Videodrome. It’s distinctly Canadian… with street hockey, grow-ops, sex-ed and roadkill, but without that uncomfortable earnestness that mars some Canadian movies. It also avoids the puritanical nature of mainstream American horror movies, the ones that kill off characters that have sex or take drugs. And it has a refreshingly subversive subtext: Ginger Snaps is a feminist monster movie where the sisters are doing it for themselves.

This is not a special effects-driven movie — it depends on its great story, acting and originality, instead.

Bounty Killer PosterBounty Killer

Dir: Henry Saine

It’s some point far in the future. Corporations have taken over the world with governments withering away. But horrible wars between companies fighting for market share have left the US a wasteland. Now bounty hunters are celebrities followed by papparazzi for their brave exploits. They seek out the outlaws – all of whom now wear suits and ties (the business execs who ruined everything).

The champ hunter, Drifter (Matthew Marsden) brings in the bodies of every outlaw he can find. He’s as rootless as tumbleweed and mean as a rattler. But has a new competitor Catherine (Kristanna Loken), as ruthless as she is beautiful. She rides fancy sports cars and wears knee-high white boots. They are all old friends, lovers and sometime enemies. But when Drifter’s face appears on a wanted poster, Katherine vows to hunt him down. Can Drifter (and his gun-caddy side-kick) cross the badlands, avoid the bands of so-called gypsies in the desert, and make it Bounty Killer 391804_231827040231097_18835298_nto the council building to clear his name? On the way he has to escape the face-painted warriors and ride in things like a camper fan pulled by two Harleys – like an old west horse and carriage. (Great image!)

Bounty Killers is a western but the cowboys drive choppers through the desert, not horses. It’s got the brothels, the ghost towns, the angry mob, the outlaws and the sheriffs. And it all feels like a live-action graphic novel – mainly cause that’s what it is. A comic written for the big screen.

Marsden Bounty KillerI liked this movie – super low budget but punchy, slick and fast moving. Lots of hilarious side characters – all based on movie clichés but different enough and funny enough to keep you glued to the screen.

Ginger Snaps is playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Halloween night (tiff.net), Superstitious Minds is airing on CBC TV on Doc Zone (also on Halloween night), and Bounty Killers played at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, which is screening its closing films tonight.

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

It’s a Monster Mash (-up)! Movies Reviewed: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Cockneys vs Zombies, Warm Bodies

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

philebrityMonster movies used to have one monster, like the mummy, the vampire (Dracula), Frankenstein’s monster, the wolfman, the wicked witch. Always just one. The, the, the. But somewhere along the way monsters have become a quantity, a generic substance, a tradable commodity, like pork-belly futures. There’s never just one, there are always lots and lots of them. And because it’s a commodity, they can be traded and mashed together with other genres in an endless search for that one hit movie. As big a hit as that vampire teen romance, which shall remain nameless.

So this week I’m looking at three such attempts: a fairytale revenge action thriller, a zom-com, and a zom-rom-com-dram.

560.6hans.gret.ls.1413Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Dir: (Tommy Wirkola)

The name says it all. Hansel and Gretel are the kids in that fairytale who are lured through a rainbow-coloured, anus-shaped doorway and into a gingerbread house by a wicked witch who wants to eat them… but they escape. They’re grown up now, and live somewhere in medieval Germany. People have dirty faces, live in wooden huts and ride horses and accuse pretty girls of witchcraft. But it’s Fairytale-land, so hansel-and-gretel-witch-hunters-jeremy-renner-gemma-arterton-600x399they also have things like record-players, double-barreled shotguns, and tasers.

So now the brother and sister team (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Atherton) want revenge on all witches, because one killed their mother. So they brutally shoot, maim and bludgeon these old ladies with sticks as they hang upside-down from trees. They may be old women, but they have scaly skin and they’re wicked and canniballistic and talk like monsters and deserve to die, you see… So, with the help of some good allies (including Thomas Mann as Ben, a hansel-and-gretel-witch-hunters-jeremy-renner-600x398teenaged fan of the Witch Hunters’ exploits, and a sympathetic troll) they all set out to stop a witches’ Cabal. If they don’t stop them before the next full moon, witches will become indestructible and take over the world. But will Hansel and Gretel also uncover some hidden secrets from their own past?

Hansel and Gretel is a gun-toting, shoot-em-up action-thriller with a fairytale theme and a mittel-europa feel. I think it’s too “gunny” for kids – there’s even a scene where they bless their bullets, bringing God and guns together again. And it’s a bit too retro in its outlook, with women as victims who ultimately need to be rescued by men. But, most of all, it’s really just a fast-moving, violent revenge pic.

Cockneys-vs-ZombiesCockneys vs Zombies

Dir: Matthias Hoene

A big developer wants to put up a huge complex in the East End of London, right on top of an old-age home. So dodgy brothers Andy and Terry (Harry Treadaway and Tasmus Hardiker) along with their eastender cuz Katy (Michelle Ryan) decide to derail the project by stealing the builder’s cash in a bank hold up. You see, their irascible Cockney Wanker granddad (Alan Ford) raised the two boys, and he lives in that very cockney-wankersame soon-to-be-demolished seniors home. He’s a genuine Cockney, this one is – you can tell because he likes nothing better than gathering around a piano with his mates in pearly vests to sing a lusty round of Knees Up Mother Brown. But little do any of them know that the builders have accidentally opened a vault, letting loose an epidemic of slow-moving zombies, groaning and dragging all over the east end. Will the two groups ever meet up again? Will their working class moxie outwit the undead?

cockneys vs zombiesOK, this Zom Com is pure cheese. Dying scenes are dragged out to include every last mugging for the camera, the dialogue sucks, and the special effects consist of red rubber drippy thingies stuck to people’s arms to represent the blood and gore. And then there’s the bargain-basement zombies in every scene… and they all made the credits at the end. I think they corralled a few Zombie Walks and put them to work one afternoon for free. The pace was pretty slow, including the world’s slowest chase scene with old Hamish (the late Richard Briers, in one of his last roles) in a walker sloooowly keeping ahead of all the lethargic zombos.

Nice try, but this ain’t no Attack The Block. Still, I liked it for what it was, a cheap, campy zombie comedy. It’s stupid-funny. And as a bonus, you get Honor Blackman (the original James Bond Pussy Galore as well as an Avenger) as a gun-toting oldster, fighting zombies beside foul mouthed Granddad. All the acting was quite good, especially a whack psycho with a metal plate in his head from the Iraq War. So if you like cockneys and you like zombies well, there you go. Cockneys. Zombies. Together in one movie.

Warm BodiesWARM BODIES

Dir: Jonathan Levine

It’s a post-apocalyptic world in an uneasy truce between two sides divided by a wall. The zombies (called corpses) are on the outside, the living beings on the inside. But when some humans venture out to fight the zombies, a young woman, Julie (Teresa Palmer) is rescued and taken home by one of the zombies, “R” (UK actor Nicholas Hoult, Tony on Skins).

The story is told from the point of view of a young guy, R. He collects music, lives in an abandoned airplane, and likes hanging with his pal M (Rob Corddry) He just happens to eat brains. So inside his head it’s all, does she like me? Oh awkward moment… Jesus these clothes make me look awful. But on the outside, he’s just Rrrrrr…

But when he eats Julie’s boyfriend’s brains he takes over his memories of Julie – he becomes almost human.WARM BODIES Gradually, the crush he has on Julie begins to warm the cockles of his heart, and, on her part, she realizes that zombies are just like you and me, only dead. And that the real enemies are not the corpses, but the boneys, the ones who have turned into walking skeletons. But will her militaristic Dad (John Malkovich) ever accept a corpse within his family home? He only wants Capulets, not Corpsulets. (I apologize to Wm Shakespeare.) Can their love overcome the cultural divide? Or will it end in tragedy?

I liked this movie. Fun story, good script, lots of new stuff to keep you interested. Hoult  — and Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s friend — are both great; Teresa Palmer less so.

Warm Bodies is a very cute, Shakespearean Zom-rom-com-dram with lots of visual references thrown in – otto or up with dead peopleeverything from Bruce LaBruce’s Otto, to Edward Scissorshands. This would make a good pre-Valentine’s-Day horror date movie.

Hansel and Gretel is now playing, Warm Bodies opens today in Toronto, and Cockney’s vs Zombies is showing as part of the Cineplex Great Digital Film Festival, big screen classics — including the usual films by Kubrick and Spielberg, plus the seldom seen An American Werewolf in London — for six bucks!. Check your local listings for details.

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

November 9th, 2012. Blind Dates? Movies Reviewed: Unconditional, Wolf Children PLUS ReelAsian, Rendezvous with Madness

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

Have you ever been on a date that doesn’t turn out quite the way you expected? What if you’re in a relationship that requires accommodation… but only on one side? This week I’m looking at two movies – both dramas — about people asked to completely change their lifestyles due to an unexpected aspect of their relationship.

Wolf Children (おおかみこどもの雨と雪)

Wri/Dir: Hosoda Mamoru

Hana is a university student who sees a guy hanging around campus. There’s a definite attraction. But there’s something…. unusual about the guy. Not his looks, not his attitude, nothing like that…Turns out he’s descended from the now-extinct Japanese timber wolf! And every so often he slips back into wolfdom and goes out hunting.

But Hana says, OK, he’s a wolf, but, hey, I can handle that. They move in together and have two kids – Yuki and Ame, named after the snow and the rain. But then Hana is left alone to take care of them with no husband. And then… she discovers that both her kids regularly turn into baby wolves and back again! Yuki is wild, runs around, chases cats and howls to the moon. Her little brother Ame is more withdrawn. Hana doesn’t know what to do, and her neighbours accuse her of secretly having a dog in her pet-free apartment building. So she flees off to the countryside with her kids, where she thinks she can raise them on a farm without any interference from nosey neighbours.

This animated Japanese feature – playing at the ReelAsian Film Festival – is a cool story about the domestic life and coming of age of two werewolf kids, Yuki and Ame, and their devoted mother. What it’s not is a horror movie about werewolves. And that’s OK with me.

It’s also about urbanites moving back to the land, adjusting to life in an area where there are no young families, only elderly farmers still holding on to their patch of land.

Can poor Hana take care of two wolfish kids and try to run a farm with no experience? Can the kids learn to interact with other people without revealing their other lives? (Yuki demands to let her go to school – she promises not to turn into a wolf at school.) And as Yuki and Ame grow older, will they choose to live as humans, as wolves, or somewhere in between?

Wolf Children is a neat look at family life, non-conformity, and the socialization of wild girls and boys within the strict Japanese social system.

Unconditional

Dir: Bryn Higgins

Kristen and Owen are twin teenagers in England who take care of their poor, bedridden mum. Lonely, blond bro Owen (Harry McIntire) says he doesn’t really care what he wears – jeans, trainers and toques with earflaps are good enough for him. He just wants friends – there’s no one to go to the pub with him. But raven-haired sis Kristen is furious she doesn’t have enough money to buy new clothes, so she borrows some cash from a local loan shark, Liam (Christian Cooke). She likes Liam, and he seems to like her, too.

But one day, when Kristen’s not around, Liam takes him for a spin in his car and then to a pub to play snooker. Owen is thrilled to have someone pay attention to him for once. And after more drinks at Liam’s swank flat, he asks Owen if he wants to see something funny, something good for a laugh. The “laugh” turns out to be dressing in women’s clothing, complete with makeup and a dark wig. Liam has all the stuff put away in his closet. Hmmm… OK, I get it. Liam is transsexual, right?

Nope – that’s not it at all.

So Owen puts on the stuff and… whoa, he makes a very pretty woman! And Liam – who is straight – says he wants to be lovers, but with Kristen, not with Owen.

Liam is a guy who is only turned on by cross-dressers. So you have this strange situation. Shy Owen wants to be the centre of attention. He loves being the object of affection from a good-looking older, rich and successful guy – but Owen has no gender issues. He’s just a bloke. Meanwhile Liam wants Owen to disappear so he can date “Kristen” – not the sister, but the neo-sister. That’s the one he’s attracted to. And if Owen so much as shows his real face or takes off his wig Liam flies into a rage. He has “anger issues” you see. He says he adores his girlfriend but wants nothing to do with this Owen character who keeps popping up at all the wrong times. He demands “unconditional love” – but the accommodations are all on Owen’s side, not his. Then there’s sister Kristen (Madeleine Clark) who started the whole thing – she thought Liam was into her. And who’s taking care of poor Mum?

Unconditional (playing at the Rendezvous with Madness film festival) is an interesting, quirky movie. I just want to point out it’s not a psychological thriller — though there are some scary moments – and certainly not a rom-com. It’s a psychological drama about a troubled guy with unusual ideas, and his lover who is forced, against his better judgement, into a difficult situation. I enjoyed the movie, with its good, convincing acting (especially Henry McIntire) and unusual plot.

But you can’t stop thinking — aren’t there enough willing cross-dressers out there so that Liam could have a happy life? Why does he have to force it on an impressionable 17 year old? Or does Owen actually like it, he just doesn’t want it all the time? Hmmm… In any case, it’s a strange but interesting movie.

The animated feature Wolf Children is playing downtown this weekend at Toronto’s ReelAsian Film Festival; the festival continues next week in Richmond Hill. Go to reelasian.com for times and details. And you can see Unconditional at Rendezvous with Madness a festival about movies about addiction and mental health issues. It’s opening tonight at the TIFF Bell Lighbox and continues all week through next weekend.

And don’t miss the excellent, award-winning documentary The World Before Her about the contrasting lives of two young women in India – a westernized model and a Hindu fundamentalist militant! – which opens at the Bloor next week. (I interviewed the Canadian director, Nisha Pahuja at HotDocs last spring.)

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

Is It All In The Story? Movies Reviewed: Red Riding Hood, The Adjustment Bureau

I don’t about you, but one of the main reasons I go to the movies is to see a good story. I want to feel like I’m being taken into the plot and meeting the characters – I want to care if they live or die, and I want to find out what’s going to happen to them.

So people making movies look around for stories to use, if they can’t come up with their own. Awful source of plots are things like video games, 1970’s TV comedies, long forgotten Saturday morning cartoons, TV commercials, or ideas churned out by executives trying to duplicate the success of previous blockbusters. Good sources are things like novels or short stories, plays, along with myths, legends, and, believe it or not, fairytales and folktales. So today I’m going to look at two movies with stories that come from possibly good sources, but may or may not translate well into movies.

The Adjustment Bureau

Dir: George Nolfi

(based partly on a short story by Philip K Dick.)

David (Matt Damon) whose parents died when he was young, is a young and ambitious Kennedy-like congressman from New York, trying to make it to the Senate. But he blows the election when an old video surfaces of him mooning the camera in his days as a fratboy. But as he practices his concession speech in the men’s room, he has a fleeting encounter with a strange woman, Elise (Emily Blunt), he meets there. Love at first sight?

But their meeting confuses some cosmic order of destiny. When he goes into work, everyone has been frozen, except him, and the men in hats – and their faceless enforcers – are wiping clear everyone’s memory.

Who are these men in hats? Are they angels? Conspirators? Aliens? Or just accountants? Doesn’t matter. They tell him he has to follow what’s written in a book that tells him what to do. And he’s not supposed to be with her.

Wait…! Everyone’s lives are predetermined and there is no free will? No, no, no, they tell him. Just the superiors – you know, the politicians. The muggles all just live their lives, but the golden boys like David are important people so the accountants take special care of them. The men with hats can pass through doors at will, and keep track of what the uber-menschen are up to all day… or so a sympathetic hat-man named Henry tells him.

So will Dave be able to resist getting together with his lifemate? Or will he choose a life of politics? Blah blah blah…

Philip K Dick wrote books that were turned into movies like Blade Runner, and Total Recall. So, does this one work? No! it feels like a high-concept movie based on some producers scribbling down ideas on a cocktail napkin.

While it starts out good and interesting, this movie left me angry with its fake thriller trailers (it’s actually a romance, not a thriller) it’s badly thought-out characters, and its almost random plot-turns. People can only hide from the hat men near water – why? Are they fish people? Do they swim? Are they allergic? Naaah, no reason. To pass through magic doors they have to wear their hats. And turn doonobs to the left! Why? Umm… no reason. They all talk about a book – who wrote it? — but when you see the books, they’re just roadmaps – no writing that I could see. And do they freeze the whole world anytime anything goes awry? Who cares…

It’s also a movie with 20 main characters, but except for Emily Blunt’s ballerina, they’re all men. The men in hats? The politicians? The people he knows? The people he talks to? All men. Even the other dancers were mainly male. What’s that all about?

The whole movie seems like an ersatz excuse to show off more special effects. I thought the Adjustment Bureau was a waste of time.

Red Riding Hood

Dir: Catherine Hardwicke

…is very loosely based on the children’s fairytale Little Red Ridinghood, so its story is best described in the form of storytelling.

Once upon a time, in a valley by the mountains and beside a dark forest, there lived a drunk woodcutter and his wife and their two daughters. Now, everyone in the village knew there was a big bad wolf that lived in the woods, so each month on the full moon they locked all the doors and put out a pig for the wolf to eat, so he wouldn’t attack the villagers.

Valerie, the older daughter, was pretty and strong, and good at hunting, and she promised to marry her best friend, a poor woodcutter like her father. But her mother said she had to marry the rich blacksmith instead. Her friend said, “Come away with me. Let’s leave this village.” But Valerie didn’t know what to do. Should she go with the woodcutter she loved, or stay with the blacksmith who her mother wanted her to marry?

Well, one day, the big bad wolf came back to the village and killed Valerie’s younger sister, despite the animal sacifice. So the village decided to call in a famous priest to catch it. Father Solomon was a cruel man: he murdered his own wife and locked up his two daughters, and traveled with a private army and an elephantine torture chamber. But he was also good at hunting wolves, and (or so he said), it wasn’t a regular wolf attacking them, but a werewolf. And this werewolf was someone from the village, but no one knew who that was. When it was a wolf, only its eyes remained human, so it looked like a giant animal.

Did she live happily ever after? And which husband did she choose? And did she stay or did she go? And who was it who turned into the werewolf? And what about the scary priest – will he kill the villagers in his crusade? And will she ever put on her red ridinghood, go through the forest with a basket of goodies, and visit her grandmother?

Red Riding Hood is a partially successful kids movie retelling a well-known children’s story. You get the feeling there’s a tug-of-war going on. Hardwicke directed the blockbuster Eclipse before this one. Red Riding Hood seems to waver between the director’s artistic vision of a feminist, sexualized look at three generations of empowered women fighting a medieval culture war against religious excess and patriarchal violence and repression; and the producers’ mercenary attempt to recreate the success of Eclipse, that smarmy, anti-sex vampire/werewolf franchise of a weak and powerless highschool girl whose only thing of value is her virginity, and whose only choice is which superhero boy she’ll choose to rescue her helplessness from the baddies.

Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen, and Amanda Seyfried are all good as a three-generation triumverate and the center of the movie, while the boyfriends are really just Valerie’s arm-candy. Gary Oldman as Father Solomon is a great villain, almost as frightening as the childcatcher in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang. In this strange medieval universe, the men look like prancing Peter Pans lost somewhere in Sherwood Forest… while the woman all just stepped out of a commune near Vancouver. There’s a nicely multi-racial cast, and some cool scenes that look like bacchanalias from a Hieronymus Bosch painting, but the sets all look artsy-craftsy, like they were constructed indoors for a stageplay or pantomime.

Problems? There are long gaps between lines, especially in the beginning, that are painful to watch – it really drags the movie down. And the whodunit/who’s the wolf plotline took away from the much more interesting rivalry between the women and the evil priest. And it’s not a grown-up movie — clearly aimed at pre-teen romantics, but still includes some horrific violence and scariness. It’s a so-so movie but one with some great ideas and images.

Red Riding Hood opens today in Toronto; The Adjustment Bureau is now playing: check your local listings.

%d bloggers like this: