Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Films reviewed: Body Parts, Drinkwater, Happy FKN Sunshine

Posted in Canada, comedy, Coming of Age, documentary, Feminism, High School, Hollywood, Music, Sex, Sexual Harassment, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 31, 2023

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

Have you ever seen an actual performance of Kabuki? There’s a new monthly series opening in Cineplex theatres across Canada, including one playing tonight called Fortress of Skulls. If you’re in Milton right now, check out the Milton Film Festival, featuring Go On and Bleed, a short film by CIUT’s own Christian Hamilton. And if you’re in Toronto, you can catch Canada’s Top Ten at TIFF, featuring fantastic movies like Bones of Crows and Brother, as well as fun flicks like Rosie and  Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future.

This week, I’m looking at three new, indie movies, one from LA and two from Canada. There are actors in Hollywood, runners in BC, and rockers in Northern Ontario.

Body Parts 

Dir: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan 

Is nudity in movies a good thing or a bad thing? How does it affect the actors and the viewers? And is it shown from a male or a female perspective? These are some of the questions talked about in a new documentary that takes a look at nudity and sex in Hollywood and it’s films. And it does so in a new and unusual way. Talking heads from the industry and academics, narrate the story, but it’s illustrated with a barrage of well-known movie clips, manipulated, pixilated and animated to both emphasize and obscure women’s bodies. By “barrage”, I mean a phenomenal number of images often just a second long, where what you see is what the interviewees are talking about. It deals with contemporary issues, like the #metoo movement, but makes it clear that Harvey Weinstein isn’t unusual or unique, just its epitome. Women reveal how as young actresses they were coerced into filming topless scenes never mentioned in the script. Bikini auditions were commonplace, completely unrelated to a part they’re trying out for, basically just for the titillation of male movie execs. It also traces the entire history of Hollywood, dating back to the libertine, pre-Code 1920s and 30s where female scriptwriters flourished, and subversive sex was common. Later a prudish America hid sexual transgressions off-camera. 

Stars and filmmakers interviewed in this movie include Jane Fonda, Karyn Kusama, Rose McGowan, and Rosanna Arquette among many others. But this is not a confessional reality-show-type exposee. It also includes on-set recreations of what the people describe; and fascinating types you never hear from, like the intimacy coordinators, sex choreographers, and body doubles — the nameless ones whose bodies replace A-list stars in nude scenes.  It also celebrates a taboo even bigger than nudity in Hollywood: a positive portrayal of sex and nudity involving people with disabilities, trans bodies and actors who aren’t proportioned like Barbie dolls.

If you’re a movie lover, a film student, a young actor or anyone in the industry, Body Parts is a must-see, a crucial, insiders’ look at the rapid changes involving sex, nudity, consent and the male gaze.  It’s a feminist reimagining of what movies are, and what they should be. This film might deserve a place alongside Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself in the pantheon of great documentaries about Hollywood.  

Drinkwater

Dir: Stephen S. Campanelli (Indian Horse)

It’s present day in Penticton, BC. Mike Drinkwater (Daniel Doheny) is a high school student who lives with his selfish, layabout father. Mike is into Rubik’s cubes, Bruce Lee, and drives a Gremlin. He’s smart and creative but his head is in the clouds. He’s infatuated with Dani, the most popular girl in his school. Hank Drinkwater (Eric McCormack) used to work at the mill but is on paid medical leave due to an accident. He wears a fake neck brace so he won’t have to go back to work. Mike wants to go to U Vic but Hank would rather spend his money on toys and model trains than cough up for his son’s education.

Luckily there is a way out. If he wins the annual cross-country race, the prize will cover his tuition. And Wallace (Louriza Tronco) the orphan-girl next door who lives with her grandparents, agrees to help Mike train for the race. She has a secret crush on him, just as Mike loves Dani. But Dani’s dating Luke (Jordan Burtchett) the homecoming king, a rich kid whose dad owns the paper mill, where Mike’s dad works. Luke is Mike’s main rival in the race, just as their fathers competed years back in the same contest — a grudge spanning generations. Who will win the race? Who will Dani choose to date? Will Hank ever start caring about life? And will Mike ever realize that Wallace is the one he should crush on, not Dani?

Drinkwater is a coming-of- age comedy about growing up in a BC lumber town. The story is conventional, but told in a stylized way, incorporating 70s and 80s looks with a retro rock soundtrack. It also celebrates local culture and lore. The director is best-known for his camerawork, and the film is full of breathtaking aerial views of scenic lakes and forests. Very few surprises, but it’s still cute and easy to watch.

Happy FKN Sunshine

Dir: Derek Diorio

It’s the 2000s in a pulp and paper mill city in Northern Ontario. Will (Matt Close) is a high school student and aspiring musician. He has styling hair and slacker clothes. He plays the guitar, loves music and wants to form a rock band — it night be his ticket out of this place. So he tries to recruit a motley crew to join the band. Vince (Connor Rueter) an arrogant bully can be the lead singer; River (Maxime Lauzon) the blasé friend of his sister on drums; and Artie, a long-haired, heavy metal enthusiast on bass. Artie, who lives with his brain-dead father, invents fantasies of his secret jam sessions  with famous rockers… which drives Vince insane.

Times are tough, and there’s a strike at the mill where all their parents’ work. Will’s abusive, hard-ass father refuses to spring for an electric guitar. Fortunately, Will’s tiny-but-tough sister Ronnie (Mattea Brotherton) is the local pot dealer, so she steps up to buy him the instrument. And Artie’s Newfoundland uncle Eddie, a former musician (famous stage actor/pianist Ted Dykstra), promises to introduce them to some big names in Toronto, if they ever making some good music. Can the band become famous before it breaks up?  And can Will ever make it out of this place?

Happy FKN Sunshine (the title is also the name of their band, and reflects the constant foul language all the characters use) is a realistic, bittersweet coming-of-age story about a group of mismatched friends who form a band. It’s shot on location in North Bay and in the Canadian Shield forests around it. The acting is generally quite good, turning stereotypes into well-rounded characters. And it deals with the harsh realities of living in a declining economy. The pace is a bit slow, with too much time spent making music, but the multiple side plots will keep you interested. 

I like this movie.

Look for Drinkwater and Happy FKN Sunshine both available on VOD; Body Parts opens next week in select theatres and on VOD; check your local listings.

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

Talking, listening, fighting back. Films reviewed: No Bears, Puss in Boots, Women Talking

Posted in 2000s, Animals, Animation, Fairytales, Fantasy, Iran, Movies, Religion, Turkey, violence, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 24, 2022

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

It’s holiday time with lots of new movies for people of all ages. This week I’m looking at three new movies opening on Christmas weekend. There are women in a barn, talking; a movie director in a village, listening; and a cat in a hat, fighting. 

No Bears

Wri/Dir: Jafar Panahi

Jafar Panahi is an Iranian  filmmaker from Tehran. His current project is about a glamorous middle-aged couple trying to escape to freedom in Europe. But Panahi is forbidden by law from making movies or leaving the country. So he’s doing the next best thing: directing his film in long-distance using his cellphone and laptop. It’s being shot in a picturesque city in Turkey, while he’s renting an apartment in a tiny Azerbaijani village in Iran. It’s close to the border an area rife with black market smugglers. Panahi can speak some Azeri but is unfamiliar with local traditions. So he likes talking pictures of the locals. And here’s where he runs into trouble.

A young couple wants to get married and leave the village. But the woman was promised to another man at birth. Now everyone thinks Panahi caught the young couple in a photograph. The couple want him to destroy the photo, while the groom’s family want a copy to prove her dishonour. Meanwhile, across the border, another crisis is threatening the film movie. As he gets pulled deeper and deeper into the world of local politics and feuds, his work — and possibly his life — is at risk. Will he ever finish his film? And what will happen to the two couples — the actor-lovers in Turkey and secret lovers back home?

No Bears is a neorealist movie about making a film, the film he’s making, and how real life gets in the way. It’s about honour, revenge and identity. It also exposes the image of “the director as a dispassionate observer and documentarian” as a myth. Panahi’s very presence in a small village disrupts their lives and leads to unforeseen consequences. He plays himself, who in real life is forbidden from making films — accused of propaganda against the system. Any movie that’s against the system is one I want to watch. But this means it was shot openly in Turkey but secretly in Iran. No Bears  is a clever, humorous and complex film with an unexpected conclusion. I liked this one.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Co-Dir:  Joel Crawford, Januel Mercado

Puss in Boots is a cat in a hat who wears boots, and carries a sword. He’s known for both his fencing skills and his rapier-like wit. He lives a fairytale life — literally. He exists in a world where those stories are real. He’s both a hero and an outlaw, sought by bounty-hunters everywhere. But as a cat with nine lives he has no fear of death and will fight monsters and villains, alike. Until one day his doctor tells him he’d better slow down because he’s on his last life. If he is killed again, that’s the end, no more Puss in Boots.  So he reluctantly decides  to retire. He gives up his identity, and becomes an ordinary orange cat named Pickles in a home for abandoned cats. Now he has to use a litter box, eat cat chow and say “meow”.  How humiliating! But his past catches up to him with some surprise visitors: Kitty Softpaws, another outlaw he left standing at the altar; and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. They all want him to help find a map to a fallen star that can grant a wish. Goldilocks wants a proper family, Kitty is looking for her future, and Puss in Boots wants his 9 lives back. Accompanied by a little dog named Perro he sets out to steal the map from the evil Little Jack Horner (who is now quite big and bakes pies for living). But he must fight off his rivals, journey through a mystical forest, and find the magic star if he wants to stay alive. And he is being pursued by a truly scary villain, the Big Bad Wolf, a huge killer carrying a sickle in each hand.

Puss in Boots is a kids’ cartoon comedy set in the world of Shrek, where nursery rhymes and fairytales coexist with Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz. It’s somehow simultaneously a spaghetti western and medieval Europe.  It features the voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Florence Pugh. What’s good about it? I’ll watch any cartoon, especially one with cool psychedelic images. This one has a few funny bits, along with a neat journey-adventure story. On the negative side, it’s not very funny, the lines are predictable and the story is both unoriginal and forgettable. And I’m not sure why they switch to two-dimensional jerky animation whenever there’s a fight scene. But I still enjoyed it, even if it’s just glowing bright colours on a giant screen. 

Women Talking

Dir: Sarah Polley

It’s summertime at an Anabaptist colony somewhere in the US. It’s 2010, but it could be 1910; forget about cel phones and computers. There are no cars, radios, no electric lights — they still use lanterns. Even more unusual, there are no men around, only women and kids. What’s going on?

One of the women woke up in the middle of the night to find a man physically attacking her. She fought him off and beat him with a stick. Suddenly everything made sense. Countless women in the colony had woken up in the past with bruises and blood, but up till now, the men had insisted out was just a dream, her imagination or the work of Satan. Turns out the men have been raping women for years now and denying it, using cow tranquilizers. Now they are at the police station baling out one of their attackers. So all the women face an enormous decision: should they stay and fight back? Or should they just pack up the kids and go, leaving the place forever?

They designate the women and girls from three families to decide for all of them. Now they’re gathered in a barn to debate the issues and make the big decision. And one man, a school teacher named August — not part of the colony; his family was excommunicated  — is there to record it all on paper; the women were never taught to read or write. What will their decision be?

Women Talking is a movie about women talking, but it is much deeper than that. It’s a devastating story, a scathing indictment of endemic physical and sexual violence against women in their own homes. Though it’s never shown on the screen, nor are its perpetrators, its results are always apparent. One woman has a scar on her face, one woman is mysteriously pregnant, others have missing teeth or black eyes, and another has panic attacks, seemingly for no reason. And now they’re really angry, not just for the violence, but because they’ve been lied to for so many years. There’s a spontaneous wellspring of grassroots feminism suddenly bursting loose.

The storytelling is very simple — it sticks to the barn, the fields, their houses and horses and buggies; it’s all they’ve experienced. At the same time, perhaps because they can’t write, they are amazingly eloquent speakers. It’s based on the novel by Canadian author Miriam Toewes who grew up in a Mennonite community. (The film never specifies their denomination or location, giving it a timeless, universal feeling.) It provides an internal view of life in the colony, with different opinions expressed passionately by each character. And it’s very well-acted by an ensemble cast, including Rooney Mara, Jesse Buckley, Claire Foy, Frances McDormand, Sheila McCarthy, Ben Whishaw. And despite the grave topic, the movie itself is more fulfilling than depressing. I’ve seen it twice, and appreciated it much more the second time — Women Talking is a subtle movie that deserves your attention. 

Puss n Boots: The Last Wish, No Bears and Women Talking, all opened this weekend; check your local listings.

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

On the media. Films reviewed: A Wounded Fawn, Spoiler Alert, Empire of Light

Posted in 1980s, 1990s, Death, Depression, Disease, Feminism, Gay, Greece, Horror, Mental Illness, Movies, Racism, Revenge, Romance, Theatre, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 10, 2022

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

It’s December, but not everything is about Christmas. This week I’m looking at three new movies with themes set in the arts: there’s a woman who works at a cinema but never watches movies; a serial killer who finds himself part of an ancient greek play, and a writer for TV Guide who thinks his life is like a sitcom.

A Wounded Fawn

Co-Wri/Dir:Travis Stevens

It’s a fine art auction in NY City, and the collectors and dealers are in fighting mode tonight. The prized item is a small bronze sculpture from ancient Greece showing the Furies seeking revenge on a prone man. Kate (Malin Barr) gets the high bid and returns home triumphant with the piece  in hand. So she’s surprised to see Bruce (Josh Ruben) a rival bidder, show up at her door. His boss still covets the statue and is willing pay double. Doubling her money in 24 hours seems like a good deal. She invites him in for a glass of champagne. But before long, she is dead on the floor in a pool of blood, and the sculpture — and Bruce — are long gone.

Later, Meredith, another beautiful young woman (Sarah Lind) is excited over an upcoming weekend in the country with her latest paramour. Her last boyfriend was abusive, but her new one seems nice, generous and attractive.  And he’s into fine art just like Mer (she works in a museum).They set off for a fun filled adventure at his isolated cottage in the woods. She is thrilled to see the cabin is actually a finished home overlooking a dense forest, and decorated with modern art. But something is strange: she hears a woman’s voice in her ear warning her to leave. And she recognizes the Greek sculpture of the Furies on his coffee table — she authenticated it for an auction just a few weeks ago. (It’s just a copy, says Bruce) What she doesn’t know is that Bruce is a serial killer… and she might be his next victim. (Bruce is waiting for directions from a gigantic man-owl with blood red feathers who tells him who he should kill). Can Mer fight him off? And where do those strange voices come from? 

A Wounded Fawn is a low budget, exquisitely-crafted art-house thriller horror. What starts as a simple slasher, soon turns into a revenge pic about halfway through, where Meredith, Kate and a third victim return as the Furies to visit punishment upon Bruce. What’s really remarkable is how it incorporates greco-roman aesthetics, mythology and theatre into what could have been a simple scary horror movie, to turn it into something totally original. While it’s not always clear whether something happens for real, or just inside Bruce’s damaged brain, it doesn’t matter.  A Wounded Fawn is weird and fascinating, either way.

Spoiler Alert

Dir: Michael Showalter

It’s the 1990s. Michael Ausiello (Jim Parsons) is a nerdy gay guy who lives in NJ but works in Manhattan. He grew up obsessed by TV, living his life as if he were a character on an 80s sitcom. Now he’s a writer for TV Guide, where he devotes himself to work and remains perpetually single. Until he meets Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge) at a dance club — he’s handsome, fit and popular and says Michael is just his type —a tall geek. Kit’s also in the media — he’s a professional photographer. They hit it off, but keep certain secrets to themselves. Kit lives a free-wheeling sex life — he’s not one to settle down. And Michael never came out to his small-town parents (Sally Field and Bill Irwin); he’s afraid they won’t accept him. And he’s afraid to show Kit his apartment. What is he hiding there? His Smurf collection; a veritable fuzzy blue tsunami filling every nook and cranny. But after settling their deferences, they eventually move in together. Most of the Smurfs are packed away, Michael comes out to his parents (they still love him) and they settle into domestic bliss. 

Flash forward 15 years, and their relationship is on the rocks; the spark has died and they’ve grown a bit distant toward each other. But everything changes when — spoiler alert! — Kit discovers he has terminal cancer. Can they handle his imminent death? Will their love be rekindled? And how will they spend what might be their last year together? 

Spoiler Alert is a touching dramady about love and loss, based on a true story — Michael Ausiello’s own memoir of his life with Kit. Like the book, the movie begins with the death of Kit in Michael’s arms, hence “spoiler alert”. The director Michael Showalter, previously made The Big Sick, also about a couple and their family facing a serious illness. So is this the gay Big Sick? Not exactly — it’s a new story with a different style, like his version of Michael’s childhood as a sitcom, complete with laugh-track. And there are lots of funny parts. The bigger question is, is Jim Parsons up to playing a dramatic role, or is he forever stuck in peoples’ minds as Sheldon on the Big Bang? In this case, I think he pulls it off. He fits the role and manages to make him quirkily sympathetic. So if you’re into terminal illness comedies, here’s a good one to try on for size. 

Empire of Light

Wri/Dir: Sam Mendes

Its the winter of 1981 in a sea-side city in southern England. Hilary (Olivia Coleman) is a middle-aged woman who works at the Empire Theatre as the front of house manager. It’s an art-deco movie palace, but like the town, it’s long past its prime. Half the screens are closed and the third floor ballroom has been taken over by pigeons. Hilary is lonely and depressed, on meds, recovering from a hospital stay. Her social life consists of ballroom dancing with old men, and her sex life is furtive encounters with her sleazy, married boss (Colin Firth) in his darkened office.

But her life changes when a young man, Stephen (Michael Ward) is hired to work there. She finds him attractive, ambitious (he wants to study architecture at university)` and compassionate: he nurses a wounded pigeon back to health. He’s mom’s a nurse, from the Windrush generation, but he wants more. Hillary may be his mom’s age but there’s something there. After a few intimate moments they start a clandestine relationship. But Michael’s real ambition is to leave this town — to escape increasingly racist street violence (he’s black), and to become more than just an usher.  Can their relationship last? And if they break up, can the fragile Hilary handle it?

Empire of Light is a romantic time capsule of life in Thatcher’s England. It’s also about the joy and troubles of an intergenerational, mixed-race love affair.  And it’s also about sexual harassment and anti-black racism in everyday life. And it’s also about Hillary’s mental illness, including her sudden, manic episodes. And it’s also about the rise of skinheads and the National Front, and the concurrent anti-racist ska revival.  And it’s also about the collective friendship that develops among the people working at the Empire theatre. (Maybe too many ands for one movie?)

Like many of Sam Mendes films (which I generally don’t like), it’s pandering and emotionally manipulative and has a  meandering storyline, that keeps you watching while it’s on, but leaves you feeling vaguely unsatisfied afterwards. But the acting is really good, especially Olivia Coleman and Michael Ward, who rise above the movie’s many flaws. Maybe even good enough to make Empire of Light worth a watch, despite all its problems.  

Empire of Light and Spoiler Alert both open this weekend in Toronto; check your local listings. And A Wounded Fawn is now streaming on Shudder. 

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

A donkey and a wolf. Films reviewed: Eo, She Said

Posted in Animals, Experimental Film, Journalism, New York City, Poland, Sexual Assault, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 19, 2022

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

Fall Film Festival Season continues in Toronto with the EU film festival, offering free screenings from across Europe from now till Dec 2 at the Alliance Française. The Ekran film festival is also on now, showing the latest Polish movies at the Revue Cinema on Roncevalles; and Blood in the Snow or B.I.T.S. features made-in-Canada horror movies next week at the Elizabeth Bader Theatre from November 24-26th.

But this week I’m looking at two new movies about animals. There’s a defenceless donkey in Poland, and a dangerous wolf in Hollywood.

EO
Co-Wri/Dir: Jerzy Skolimowski

Eo is an adorable miniature donkey who works at a one-ring circus. He is lovingly cared for by a woman dressed in red, who performs with him on stage. But when animal rights activists close the circus down, Eo finds himself pulling a wooden cart full of scrap metal at a junk yard. Later he is trucked off to an elegant estate that raises championship horses. From there he’s sold to a farmer, wanders through a wolf-filled forest on his own, and fights off dangerous football hooligans. His journeys take him across Europe, among the rich and poor, the kind and cruel, but will he ever be reunited with his long lost love?

Eo is an incredibly beautiful and tender film about an adorable donkey and the people — both good and bad — he encounters. Oe never speaks, but conveys his emotions through tear-filled eyes, cuddling gestures and loud angry wails. This is not a cutesy animal movie, it’s about adult emotions — like lust, betrayal, cruelty and violence. Stunningly cinematic, the film tells its story in an impressionistic manner, as seen through a donkey’s eyes. Periodically the entire screen is blood red; but there are also breathtaking, panoramic views of palazzi in Italy, manors in Poland, magnificent white horses, ancient, arched bridges, green fields, flowing rivers, and dark skies: gorgeous images that can only be appreciated on a big screen. There’s very little dialogue, in Polish, English, French and Italian, with most of the meaning conveyed visually. There are cameo appearances by actors like Isabelle Huppert, but Eo (and the donkeys who play him) is the real star.

Jerzy Skolimowski, who attended the Łódź Film School, is not as well known as fellow alumni Andrzej Wajda, Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Kieślowski, but I think his films are just as amazing, with a dream-like quality.

OE must not be missed.

She Said
Dir: Maria Schrader

It’s 2015, in New York City. Meghan Twohey and Jodi Kantor are two investigative reporters within the juggernaut of that Gray Lady, the New York Times. Meghan (Grey Mulligan) is following a string of women all of whom say the Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, sexually harassed them in the past. But they are all afraid to come forward in public. When she finally does get a woman willing to reveal her name in print, she suffers terribly, sent packages of human excrement in the mail, while Meghan gets death threats. So she takes maternal leave to care for her first baby.

Meanwhile, cub reporter Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), also married with two young kids, is pursuing a very different story. Hollywood actress Rose McGowan is hinting that someone at Miramax, that extraordinarily successful independent movie studio, sexually harassed her in the past. Jodi wants to find out whodunnit — Rose isn’t saying — and to get her to commit to details on the record. So she turns to Meghan for help. How do I get women to talk? The two of them join forces, doing extensive research stretching back decades, using legal documents, withdrawn lawsuits, secret payments, and clandestine Non-disclosure agreements. They discover there are women as far away as London and Hong Kong who suffered from horrible incidents of bullying, abuse, and sexual assault, all of which were later covered up. And the arrows pointed toward one man: Harvey Weinstein. Can the reporters get even one woman to commit using her name in an article against the formidable and frightening Hollywood powerbroker? Or will the paper be forced to retract it’s allegations?

She Said is a fascinating retelling of two journalists pursuing a major story just a few years ago. It takes us deep into the weeds of investigative journalism. And it’s told like a police procedural, as the journalists slowly uncover the facts. The thing is, computer screens and cel phones do not make for good cinema. Hollywood seems to churn out these newsroom dramas every couple years, including Spotlight about the Boston Globe’s revelation of pedophile priests, and The Post about the Washington Post and the Pentagon Papers. This is one is about the New York Times. So we sit through lots of dull editorial meetings.

Luckily, most of the story takes us out of the office and into the real world, with the reporters knocking on doors and approaching victims who haven’t spoken of the incidents for 30 years. This — and the victims’ own stories, always spoken verbally, never reenacted— is where it gets interesting and moving. The film faces problems telling a history that’s still happening (Although convicted and in prison, Weinstein has yet to be tried for many other alleged crimes.) And it’s all about real, living people, so it runs the risk of anodyne (if truthful) portrayals of the characters. Luckily the acting is terrific, and the characters — not just the reporters, but the sources — are believable. And Maria Schrader is an excellent German director (she did last year’s I’m Your Man), who knows how to avoid those excessive blubbery, gushing “Hollywood moments” that ruin so many movies. She Said might not be a great movie, but it is the first one about this major issue, and projects it on a wider screen. As they keep saying in the movie, it’s not about one man, it’s about an entire system that protects and supports the powerful and persecutes their victims.

EO is playing tonight at Ekran, Toronto’s Polish film festival, and opens next Friday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. She Said starts this weekend; check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Daniel Stamm and Jacqueline Byers about Prey for the Devil

Posted in Bulgaria, Catholicism, Christianity, Horror, Nun, Supernatural, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 22, 2022

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

Sister Ann is a nun who works as a nurse in a Catholic hospital. It’s a training hospital, with classes held with in its walls. There are doctors and psychiatrists there to observe and treat the patients. But there is something unique about this medical centre: the patients are possessed and treatment involves an exorcism. Ann believes she has special experience dealing with possession dating back to her childhood. And she wants to train alongside the priests — but that is not allowed. And when she attempts to help a little girl named Natalie, she is chastised by the church for putting herself and the patient in danger. Can she help cure little Natalie? Or will she end up as Prey for the Devil.

Prey for the Devil is a new horror film about possession, exorcism, the supernatural and the Catholic Church. It harkens back to classic films like the Exorcist, but this time from a woman’s point of view. The film is directed by Daniel Stamm, an award-winning German-born filmmaker and documentarian. The film stars Jacqueline Byers an accomplished actress who you may have seen at the Toronto Fringe festival, in movies and in the hit sci-fi series Salvation.

I spoke to Daniel Stamm and Jacqueline Byers in person, on site, in Toronto.

Prey for the Devil had its world premiere at Toronto After Dark on March 19th, and opens in theatres on March 28th. 

Women in trouble. Films reviewed: Halloween Ends, Tár

Posted in Berlin, Drama, Horror, LGBT, Music, Thriller, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 15, 2022

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

Toronto Fall Film Fest season continues with ImagineNative Film + Media Arts Festival from the 18th to the 23rd for in-person movies, with online screenings continuing till the end of the month. ImagineNative, celebrating indigenous works from Canada and around the world, features 19 full-length films and over a hundred shorts.

And there are some real goodies to watch; here are four I really like: Slash/Back is about a group of teenaged girls who fight back against mysterious zombie aliens in Nunavut. We Are Still Here tells eight stories from Australia and Aotearoa; Rosie, set in Montreal in the 1980s, looks at a 6-year-old indigenous girl adopted by an aunt she’s never met; and Bones of Crows is an epic, 100-year-long drama about the life of a Cree woman who barely survives a residential school as a piano prodigy, later becomes a code operator in WWII, and what happens in the years to follow. Bones of Crows, Rosie, We Are Still Here, and Slash/Back or just four of the many fantastic films, videos, games and art at ImagineNative.

This week, I’m looking at two new movies about women in trouble. There’s a Berlin conductor facing increasing setbacks, and a small-town woman in Illinois facing a serial killer… and decides to fight back.

Halloween Ends

Co-Wri/Dir: David Gordon Green 

It’s Halloween night in a small town in Illinois. Haddonfield is famous for all the wrong reasons: it’s the site of repeated attacks by a demented and violent serial killer. He has terrorized the locals for half a century, wearing a white mask and carrying a long blade. But Michael Myers has disappeared, possibly forever, and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) — who survived his first incarnation as a young babysitter, and has fought him off countless times since then — is glad to see him gone. Now she lives with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) who works as a nurse at a local medical centre. With her parents (Laurie’s daughter) gone (both killed by Michael Myers, along with dozens of others) Alyson sticks around to keep her grandma company. Laurie spends her time writing a book about the essence of pure evil, based on her own experiences fighting the monster. And she also wants to stop this malaise from infecting the whole town. 

But there’s a new factor in the equation. Former college student Corey Cunningham (Canadian actor Rohan Campbell) also experienced bad times as a babysitter in this benighted town. But unlike Laurie and Allyson who emerged as fighters and survivors, Corey has a different reputation. The kid he babysat was killed one halloween night in a terrible accident that locals blame on him. Now his life is confined to working in his dad’s junkyard on the edge of town. But Laurie recognizes him as a kindred spirit and introduces herself to Corey. (Dubbed Psycho meets Freakshow by a gang of high school bullies.) Allyson and Corey hit it off — could they build a future together? But when the bullies throw Corey off a bridge and leave him for dead, and an unknown man drags him into a drain pipe, something changes in his psyche… signalling the return of the notorious Michael Myers. Can Corey be saved and will he and Laurie escape this town forever? Or has he been infected by the same evil that drives the monster? And who will triumph in their final showdown: Laurie or Michael Myers?

Halloween Ends is the final chapter in David Gordon Green’s trilogy, after Halloween, and Halloween Kills, based on John Carpenter’s original classic. This one is missing much of the humour of the first chapter and the unbelievable hysteria of crowds in the second film. This one is extremely dark, violent, bloody and gory. That said, I liked the introduction of Corey and his nihilistic, crash-and-burn relationship with Allyson. Myers plays a much smaller role, almost a cameo, this time. It also lets Jamie Lee Curtis have her final, final, FINAL Halloween showdown… well, at least in this trilogy. 

The entire film takes place in the present, but is firmly set in a retro environment: cars, houses, clothing, hair — even the soundtrack, titles, art direction, and camerawork — all come from decades past, giving it a very cool look. If you’re craving a dystopian, nihilistic “burn-it-all-down!” thriller/horror then Halloween Ends will probably satisfy your urges, but otherwise, you may find the pessimistic violence and gore too much to handle.

Tár

Wri/Dir: Todd Field

Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) is a musician at the peak of her career. Not only is she one of the world’s only female conductors — Leonard Bernstein was her mentor — but she’s also a noted composer. She conducts the Berlin symphony orchestra, and is working on her magnum opus — a recording of Mahler’s fifth symphony, the only one she hasn’t yet tackled — to complete her legacy. Lydia enjoys jetting around the world in a private plane, always accompanied by her assistant. Francesca (Noémie Merlant) is a doe- eyed young woman who worships the ground Lydia walks on, making sure her complex life is run smoothly. There is no husband in the picture — she calls herself a U-Haul lesbian — but she does have a family life. In Berlin,  she lives with her partner Sharon (Nina Hoss) and their young daughter. She sees Sharon at home and at work — she’s First Violin, who holds a special bond with a conductor without which a symphony can’t operate. 

But things start to go wrong when Lydia becomes infatuated with a new cellist in the orchestra. Olga (Sophie Kauer) is a 25-year-old Russian with a fiery temperament and dark hair; she’s a passionate player. She wears green suede boots and Lydia can’t stop staring at her. She wants to get to know her better. But Lydia is a conductor with all eyes on her, all the time; Francesca, Sharon, and even the entire orchestra can clearly see what’s going on. Ghosts from her past misdeeds start to appear again. A former protege commits suicide. A music student she insulted at a Julliard master class accuses her of racism. Is Lydia’s carefully-constructed image and career just a house of cards waiting to collapse?

Tár is a stunning movie that explore the labyrinthine world of classical music and the people who inhabit it. Cate Blanchett gives a nuanced portrayal of a character that walks the fine line between confidence and arrogance, creativity and uncontrolled behaviour.

Is she a free thinker or a sexual predator? A natural-born leader or an authoritarian dictator? And would she be in hot water if she were a man? The supporting actors — Merlant, Hoss, and Kauer, as well as Mark Strong and Zethphan Smith-Gneist — all portray characters as deeply developed as Blanchett’s. Tár is an uncomfortable movie but a fascinating one to watch. 

TAR and Halloween Ends both open in theatres this weekend; check your local listings.

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

Gems at #TIFF22. Films reviewed: The Hummingbird, Will-o’-the-Wisp, Unruly

Posted in 1930s, 1970s, 1980s, Dance, Denmark, Disabilities, Family, History, Italy, LGBT, Mental Illness, Portugal, Women by CulturalMining.com on September 24, 2022

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

TIFF is finished and after viewing 45+ movies I feel pretty good about it. You’ll be hearing a lot more about TIFF movies like The Fablemans, The Whale, The Glass Onion, Women Talking, The Wonder and The Banshees of Inisherin  by the end of the year, but there are also a lot of movies, gems and sleepers, that get left by the wayside, without all the studios promoting them. So this week I’m talking about some of the other movies I saw there — from Italy, Denmark and Portugal — that deserve to be noticed. There’s a rebellious girl trapped on a remote island; a little prince seeking the facts of life in a firehouse; and a man called hummingbird whose fate is guided by a series of unusual events.

The Hummingbird

Dir: Francesca Archibugi

Marco Carerra is a man who places great importance on seemingly random occurrences. Take a fatal plane ride, for example.  When he’s a student in Florence in the early 1980s he starts winning big at poker.  But when he boards a plane heading for Yugoslavia with his gaming partner, Duccio, that man begins to freak, shouting hysterically at other passengers that they all are “dead” and the seats on the plane are ruined and decrepit. Marco is eventually forced to pull Duccio off the plane, thus missing the flight and their big card game. But it crashes, killing everyone on board. And Marco, with his deep belief in the significance of ordinary events, ends up marrying the flight attendant who also missed that flight. It’s just fate.

Another important date happened at their summer home on the beautiful Tyrhennian shoreline. The Carrera’s summer home is right next door to the Lattes’ house. And Marco has a huge crush on the beautiful Luisa, their daughter. But the night he thought he would lose his virginity to Luisa (for whom he would hold a torch forever) was also the night when his quarrelling parents went out for the evening, his brooding brother Giancarlo got so drunk he passed out, and their sorely neglected sister Adele committed suicide, turning all their worlds upside down. 

The Hummingbird — Marco’s nickname as an unusually small child until a sudden growth spurt in his teens after his father enrols him in hormone treatment — is a wonderful, novelistic  movie that traces the intricately woven story of Marco’s life, his love, his family, his wife, his daughter and eventually his granddaughter. But not in any obvious order. The story jumps back and forth between his childhood, his adolescence, and his middle and old age, keeping you guessing as to why he did what he did. When I say novelistic, I mean literally, with multiple characters coming in and out of his life making shocking revelations along the way, and calling into question his fundamental beliefs. It’s based on the novel Il colibrì by Sandro Veronesi which won the Strega Prize, Italy’s greatest fiction award, and it does feel like a classic story. What’s really surprising is it was published in 2020, during the pandemic, and the film must have been made since then. The movie stars Pierfrancesco Favino  as the adult Marco, Berenice Bejo as Luisa Lattes, Nanni Moretti as Marco’s friend, a psychiatrist (no spoilers here), and Kasia Smutniak as his tempestuous wife.

Keep an eye out for this sleeper and be sure watch it when it comes out.

Will o’the Wisp

Dir: João Pedro Rodrigues

It’s present-day Portugal. Prince Alfredo (Mauro Costa) is a pale young prince with curly blond hair.  heir to the crown. He lives in a palace full of statues and paintings recalling his family’s colonial history. (Though the country gave up its monarchy in 1910, his mother still considers Republican and Castilian the two worst insults in their language.) But with Alfredo coming of age his father, the king, decides to tell him what’s what. He takes him for a walk through the royal forest to admire the tall pine trees there. But his father’s description of tumescent tree trunks throbbing with sap so excites the lad, that he is forced to rethink his future. He doesn’t want to be king anymore, now he wants to be a fireman — specifically one who will protect those trees, about which he has an erotic attachment. 

At the fire station, Afonso (André Cabral) a handsome black student is tasked with introducing the prince to the firehouse and the forest. He introduces him to the other fireman, they practice exercises, search and rescues, recussitation, fireman carries, and sliding down poles, but for Alfredo, everything has a sexual subtext. Soon the subtext turns to out-and-out sex, with the two young fireman rolling around on the forest floor while shouting pornographic and racist epithets in the throws of ecstasy. But can the the little prince find happiness in the arms of a fireman? Or are his regal responsibilities too heavy a burden to bear?

Will o’the Wisp is one of the strangest, least classifiable films you’ve ever seen. It’s an historical  romantic science fiction comedy, and an arthouse-modern dance- musical satire. It’s only 67 minutes long, but in that short time you’ll see The-Sound-of-Music kids in school uniforms singing weird songs as they pop their heads out from behind trees; homoerotic exercise montages, and elaborate dance routines on the firehouse floor. I can’t say I understood all the cultural references that had the Portuguese viewers in the audience howling with laughter, but I could experience the beauty, ridiculousness and shock running throughout the picture. 

Unruly 

Co-Wri/Dir: Malou Reymann

It’s the 1930s in a working-class Copenhagen neighbourhood. Maren (Emilie Kroyer Koppel) is a free-thinking teenaged girl who knows what she likes and what she hates. She likes getting drunk, dancing to jazz and hooking up with guys. And she hates authority figures — including her mom —  telling her what to do. But when her family cuts her off and she becomes a ward of the state, she doesn’t realize her past actions will have grave consequences. She refuses to cooperate with a doctor (Anders Heinrichsen) trying to diagnose her “ailment”. He declares her unruly and out of control, and sends her off to a remote island known for its hospital for mentally handicapped women. Sprogø island is festooned with pretty flowers and picturesque homes where the patients are taught to be submissive, cooperative, quiet girls, under the watchful eye of Nurse Nielsen (Lene Maria Christensen). They are schooled in sewing, cooking and cleaning on the all-female island (though Marin is able to secretly meet with a young repairman). It’s a hospital, not a prison, she is told, but there’s no way to escape. And if you disobey, or even spread bad attitudes, you are strapped to a table and kept in solitary confinement.

Her roommate, Sørine (Jessica Dinnage) acts as the rat, reporting on any woman who disobeys the rules. But as Maren gets to know her better she soon discovers the real reason for Sørine’s behaviour: she just wants to be reunited with the child they took away from her. Will Maren learn to accept her fate? Will she find a way to escape the island? Or is she stuck there forever?

Unruly is a deeply moving drama based on an actual hospital that operated in Denmark until the 1960s. Its many crimes included involuntary sterilization, mis-diagnoses, torture and authoritarian rule. Instead of having a series of stock characters, with easy to categorize heroes and villains, all the women develop over the course of the film, giving it an unexpected profundity. This film is a lovely and tragic look at a terribly flawed institution and the people it affected.

Will-o’-the-Wisp, The Hummingbird, and Unruly all premiered at TIFF.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Nyla Innuksuk about Slash/Back

Posted in Aliens, Canada, Horror, Indigenous, Inuit, Nunavut, Science Fiction, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 18, 2022

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

It’s summer solstice in Pangnirtung, on Baffin Island Nunavut where the sun is up all night. But a group of teenaged girls — Maika, Jesse, Leena,  Uki and Maika’s little sister Aju — notice something weird is going on. They see a polar bear acting very un-bearlike; and a fisherman who seems less than human. Their blood is black, their skin seems detached from their bodies, they walk in jerky steps, with creepy tentacles that squirm out to suck your blood. Are they monsters? Aliens? Zombies? Whatever they are they’re killing people, and the grown-ups aren’t around to help — they’re all at an annual dance. But nobody messes with the girls of Pang. So it’s up to them to fight back.

Slash/Back is the name of a new alien horror movie set in the arctic. It interweaves traditional Inuit culture with contemporary genre filmmaking. It features a cast of first-time Inuit actors, set against the stunning ice, sky and ocean landscape of Nunavut. Slash/Back is the work of acclaimed producer, writer and director Nyla Innuksuk, who is well-versed in both the technical and creative sides of film-making. And she’s the only film maker I’ve ever heard of who has also co-created a superhero for Marvel Comics!

I spoke with Nyla in Toronto via Zoom.

Slash/Back opens across Canada on Friday, June 26th.

Hot Docs 22! Films reviewed: Hunting in Packs, Midwives PLUS other docs to look out for

Posted in Canada, documentary, Movies, Myanmar, Politics, UK, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on April 30, 2022

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

Hotdocs, Canada’s International Documentary Festival is on now, showing more than 200 selected movies, many having their world premier. Filmmakers are now in Toronto from all around the world, and so are many of the films subjects. And as always daytime screenings are free for students and seniors: go to hotdocs.ca for details and restrictions. 

And — unlike with mainstream motion pictures — a large number of the directors are women. This year they’re featuring films by the legendary documentarians Janis Cole and Holly Dale, whose films P4W: Prison for Women and Hookers on Davie (about sex workers in Vancouver) are not to be missed. I saw both of these many years ago, and they’re unforgettable.

This week I’m looking at two more movies — both directed by and about women — playing at hotdocs. There are midwives in Myanmar and politicos in Parliaments and Congress.

But before that I’m talking about some of the movies playing at Hotdocs that I haven’t seen yet but look like they’re worth checking out 

Movies at Hotdocs.

One is Jennifer Baichwal’s newest doc Into the Weeds. It’s about a groundskeeper who stood up to the agro-chemical giant Monsanto when he (and tens of thousands of others) got sick after using the herbicide Roundup. Baichwal has won numerous awards for her breathtakingly beautiful documentaries like Manufactured Landscapes and Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, so I’m sure this one is worth seeing too.

Reg Harkema has a new documentary all about the Kids in the Hall, the great Toronto comedy group. They’re getting back together, and three of them — Scott Thompson, Bruce McCulloch, and Mark McKinney — will be at Hotdocs premier in person. Can’t wait to see that.

Another celeb in town is Abigail Disney (of the Disney family) who is now a social activist and filmmaker, She co-directed The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales, which talks about the great class divide and economic inequality in the US, using her own family as the starting point. 

Atomic Hope: Inside the Pro-Nuclear Movement talks with scientists campaigning for nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels in slowing climate change. This sounds very interesting. 

In the Eye of the Storm: The Political Odyssey of Yanis Varoufakis is about the former Finance Minister of Greece who fought against the brutal austerity measures imposed by European banks.

Riotsville, USA tells the true story of two fake towns built in the 1960s to train military troops to crack down on demonstrations and civil disobedience.

On a lighter note, Her Scents of Pu Er looks at the first female tea master in China’s history, who shares the secrets of that fragrant and much sought after tea.  And Patty vs Patty tells the bizarre true story of Toronto city hall trying to force sellers of Jamaican beef patties to call them something else, because they’re not hamburger patties. This actually happened.

All of these movies are playing at Hotdocs, right now.

Hunting in Packs

Dir: Chloe Sosa-Sims

Michelle Rempel is a conservative MP from Calgary, who is an ardent supporter of building more pipelines and encouraging the fossil fuel industry.  Jess Philips is an MP from Birmingham from the Labour Party. An ardent feminist, she opposes the leftist Jeremy Corbyn, veering toward Keir Starmer on the party’s centre-right. And Pramila Jayapal is a congresswoman from Seattle. Born in Chennai, India, she is a longtime advocate for immigrant rights and represents the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. So what do these three very different people have in common? They’re all outspoken politicians with firm beliefs… who are also women.

Hunting in Packs is a great, behind-the-scenes look at women in politics over the course of a few years, and the particular abuse they face, up to and including recent elections. It takes you to political “war rooms”, TV appearance, door-to-door canvassing, and the daily drudgery of a politician’s life. It shows them dealing with hecklers and potentially violent protesters (Jess Philips brings up the terrible murder of another Labour MP, Jo Cox, by a politically motivated killer, just a few years ago.) It also reveals some hidden aspects of these women’s personalities. Rempel can curse a blue streak that would make a sailor blush. Philips keeps her cool passing in-your-face protesters. And Jayapal, while the most polished of the three, sticks to her guns and faces down abusive comments on the floor of the House. And regardless of your politics, the three women are each likeable in her own way. This is an entertaining look at the game of politics in the US, UK and Canada.

Midwives

Dir: Hnin Ei Hlaing (Snow)

Hla is an established midwife in Rakhine state in western Myanmar, where she functions as the local doctor, caring for women, not just when they’re giving birth. She notices that a lot of women in her village receive no medical care at all, with some forced to give birth, alone, in the middle of their fields. This is unheard of. So Hla decides to hire a young woman named Nyo Nyo as her apprentice so she can care for this underserved population.

Seems pretty straightforward, right?

No!

Rakhine is a deeply troubled area with rebels fighting the central government, as well as ethnic strife within. This is where a million Rohingya were forced to flee to squalid refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh following brutal violence, rape and arson directed against  them. And what do we have here? Hla (Rakhine and Buddhist) hiring Nyo Nyo  (Rohingya and Muslim) as her apprentice. And nationalists, soldiers, and rebels are not happy about this. Can two very different women work together as midwives? Or will ethnic strife tear their arrangement apart?

Midwives is a fascinating, observational-style documentary that gives us a glimpse of two women as out follows them over several years. It shows the raw and rough aspects of their lives — including an actual childbirth on camera — as Nyo Nyo gradually learns her profession. It also exposes the casual racism — from rude, everyday comments about Nyo Nyo’s darker skin, to pop songs on the radio inciting violence against the Rohingya, that shapes the attitudes in that region. All this set against a tumultuous political climate, with a violent military that eventually overthrows the democratically elected government. It’s not unusual to hear missiles and bombs exploding outside the village. But it also gives us an intimate view of the two women and their families as they navigate their uncertain futures, through assimilation, learning languages, and opening a new business. You learn to love and laugh with these two unusual women. It gives an honest and realistic look at this troubled area, as rarely seen on film. 

Midwives and Hunting in Packs are both premiering at hotdocs. Go to hotdocs.ca for tickets.

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

Sagas. Films reviewed: All My Puny Sorrows, The Northman

Posted in Adventure, Canada, Family, Iceland, Music, Religion, Secrets, Suicide, violence, Women by CulturalMining.com on April 16, 2022

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

If you’re looking for new opportunities to see movies in Toronto, there are a lot of opportunities coming up. This coming Wednesday is the annual Canada Film Day, with great Canadian movies playing for free across the country, and at embassies around the world. Whether you’re in Arviat, Saskatoon, or downtown Toronto, go to canfilmday.ca to find the movie closest to you. Also free, if you’re under 25, is the Next Wave Festival at TIFF with workshops, competitions and a well-curated slate of screenings for you to watch. 

This week, I’m looking at two new movies — one from the US, the other from Canada. There’s a brooding Mennonite drama, and a swashbuckling Icelandic saga.

All My Puny Sorrows

Co-Wri/Dir: Michael McGowan (Based on the novel by Miriam Toews)

Elf and Yoli are sisters who grew up in a small Mennonite community in Canada. Elf (Sarah Gadon) is a world-renowned concert pianist, rich famous and glamorous. Her loving husband is always there to lend a hand. Yoli (Alison Pill), the black sheep of the family, was pregnant at 18, and lives with her daughter in Toronto. She’s a published writer but her last novel sold just a few hundred copies. And now she has writer’s block, her husband is divorcing her, and she’s sleeping with a lawyer named Finbar she doesn’t even like. So when their  Mom (Mare Winningham) gets a late night phone call that her daughter had attempted suicide, she’s not surprised. The thing is, it’s Elf, not Yoli, who wants to die. 

So Yoli flies back to her hometown to visit Elf in hospital and to convince her that life is worth living. But the visit awakens lost memories of their childhood, including gossipy small-town life, and various encounters with the repressive church leadership. They never wanted Elf to study music or for their father to open a public library. And she’s not the first one in the family with suicidal tendencies — the movie starts with their dad walking in front of a train a decade earlier.

All My Puny Sorrows is a literary look at the lives of two sisters. By “literary” I mean they literally talk like characters in a book, with witty bon mots spilling off their tongues. I mean, why say hey Elf, how’s it going? when you can quote Coleridge and Virginia Woolf instead? The problem is some of the dialogue and voice-overs come across as stilted and wooden, not how real people talk.  There are some great scenes in the movie — like a flashback, where their mom expresses her anger at the Elders’ interference by loudly pounding a chicken breast in the kitchen while Elf plays Rachmaninoff on the piano, full blast, to drown out their voices. And I also liked some of the interactions among Elf, Yoli, their mom and their aunt.

But as a whole, the movie doesn’t quite cut it, with too many parts that fall flat. 

The Northman

Co-Wri/Dir: Robert Eggers (read my 2019 interview with Eggers here)

It’s the middle ages in Scandinavia. Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) is a little prince who lives a quiet life with his mother, the Queen (Nicole Kidman) in a seaside village. But when his father the king returns home, everything changes. He leads the prince into a secret cave to perform sacred rituals. Between farts and belches, Amleth becomes an adult, receives an amulet, and is inducted into the order of the wolves by howling at the moon. But his new status is interrupted by his insidious uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang). He witness his uncle murdering the king, kidnapping the queen, and ordering the prince’s death, too. His father’s last words: avenge my death by killing my brother and rescuing the Queen. The little boy fights off his killer by slicing off his nose, and flees in a small boat across the seas. 

Years later, he’s a fierce warrior, raiding coastal and riverside towns dressed as a wolf berserker, massacring, looting and pillaging as his team passes through. But a mystical soothsayer orders him to fulfil her predictions and leave the vikings for a new voyage. So he disguises himself as a slave, and climbs aboard a ship destined for Iceland. On board he meets Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) the blonde slave warrior from his visions, and together they make a pact. But will he ever fulfill his destiny?

The Northman is a brilliant new Icelandic saga about a hero’s wars, battles, magic and family lines. It blends pre-christian legends and rituals with sacred swords, Dwarves, animism and nordic gods. It’s also about reclaiming masculinity, including a spectacularly homoerotic sword fight fought in the nude over flowing lava. (Not joking.) It also has proto-football matches, magical crows and wolves, and psychedelic mushroom. 

In order to appreciate The Northman you have to buy into the whole concept, otherwise you’ll reject it as ludicrous (there are a few moments where you wonder what the hell are you watching.) But it’s so beautifully done and carefully crafted that it’s much more than a Game of Thrones episode. This one has depth and meaning. And knowing Robert Eggers, I’m sure he and his crew deeply researched the film — his other ones used things like dialogue taken directly from a 19th century diary. It also includes incredible images you’ve never seen before, like a three-dimensional family tree that appears to him in his visions, that looks like a cross between a Japanese ghost story and a mediaeval tapestry. Just amazing. It’s extremely violent and harshly amoral, so if that upsets you, don’t see this movie. But if you like sword fights, vikings and authentic mediaeval adventures, you’ll probably love The Northman as much as I did.

All My Puny Sorrows is now playing in Toronto; check your local listings; and The Northman opens next Friday.

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

%d bloggers like this: