End of summer movies. Films reviewed: Flag Day, 499, Candyman

Posted in 1500s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, Art, Chicago, Crime, documentary, Family, History, Mexico by CulturalMining.com on August 28, 2021

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

I know, everyone’s still thinking about Covid-19, vaccinations and Delta, Delta, Delta… but it’s also beastly hot and horribly humid. Wouldn’t it be nice to sit in an air-conditioned movie theatre, (safely spaced away from the other moviegoers?) This week I’m talking about three new films that open this weekend — a documentary, a family drama and a horror movie. There’s a Spanish conquistador recording notes in a book; a ghostly killer whose hand is a hook; and a grifter who vows to help out his daughter… by hook or by crook. 

Flag Day

Dir: Sean Penn

It’s the 1970s in the US  midwest. Jennifer and her little brother Nick lived with both their parents, until mom (Katheryn Winnick) kicked dad (Sean Penn) out of the house. He’s a liar and I won’t put up with him anymore! But after watching their mom spiral into alcoholism, the kids only have fond memories of their dad. So they ask to spend time with him. They move into his ramshackle hut by a lake, alongside his new, young girlfriend. He teaches 11-year-old Jennifer to drive, and they spend crazy times by the lake and on the highway. It’s all like an exciting adventure… until the motorcycle gang he works for — and owes money to — start visiting the home. Dad gets beaten up and the kids move back in with mom.

Later, in the 80s they’re back in school. Jennifer (Dylan Penn) is a goth rebel and Nick (Hopper Penn) is a withdrawn teen. Mom has remarried to a creepy guy, and the kids suffer for it. But when the stepdad starts crawling into bed with Jen, that’s the last straw — she has to get out of there. She travels across the country until she finds her father. He is not in great shape — neither mentally nor financially. And his criminal tendencies start to re-emerge. Can Jennifer reconcile with her dad and mom and pursue her goal to become a journalist? Or is she doomed to follow in their footsteps?

Flag Day is a family drama (based in a true story) about the ups and downs of a father-daughter friendship. It stars a real father and daughter, Sean and Dylan Penn. The movie starts on Flag Day (an unofficial,  patriotic US holiday), with the father — an accused counterfeiter — is being pursued down a highway by a line of police cars with a helicopter overhead. The rest of the movie is about what led to this point: mainly Dad trying to get away with his crimes to help his beloved daughter.

I have mixed feelings about this film. I’ve seen enough to know that if it’s bad in the first 10 minutes, it will probably only get worse. (Flag Day feels wooden and slow.) But I decided to give this one a chance… and you know what? It gets much better. There’s way too much crying — every scene of the movie involving Jennifer or one of her parents leaving or coning back is punctuated by more tears. And voice-over narration  can ruin any connection you might feel to the characters on the screen. On the other hand, the whole movie is nicely shot on grainy video filled with beautiful fireworks, bonfires, flaming BBQs — (lots of fire and water!); the characters develop and get more and more interesting as you get to know them; and the whole thing (nearly) pulls together by the end. It’s set mainly in Minnesota but was shot in Manitoba, giving it an “authentic” feeling of working-class, white America. Flag Day isn’t perfect but it’s not bad either, once you give it a chance.

499

Co-Wri/Dir: Rodrigo Reyes

In 1521, Cortez and a few hundred conquistadors  invade the Aztec kingdom. They overthrow Montezuma and slaughter countless people, laying waste to the beautiful capital of Tenochtitlán in their insatiable search for El Dorado, the mythical city of gold. Later, one of the conquistadors (Eduardo San Juan) survives a shipwreck and washes to shore, complete with armour, helmet, pantaloons and sword. He walks from the beach to Tenochtitlan, but it’s not how he remembers it. Somehow he has skipped the past 499 years and is now near Mexico City, circa 2020.

499 is a documentary with a twist. It’s a travelogue through modern day Mexico as seen through the eyes of a relic from the past, a man mired in 16th century Christian morality and Spanish Imperialism. He feels he can slaughter local “Indios” with impunity. But, gradually,  as he sees what’s become of Mexico today — the drug cartels and corrupt police forces, along with the relentless crime, torture and death they bring — he is forced to rethink his beliefs. He becomes less of a soldier, and more of a passive observer, speaking with Mexicans and writing down what they say as they tell him their harrowing stories.

But it’s not all sad stuff. We also see the beauty, the splendour, the weirdness and the wonder all around him. Dance, music, acrobatics, art, culture and history are all shown in glorious panoramic cinematography.  There are bullfights and strip bars, and interviews with actual masked gangsters… as well as their victims.

499 is an eye-opening doc about contemporary Mexico disguised as a time-travel movie. 

Candyman

Dir:  Nia DaCosta

It’s present-day Chicago. 

Brianna and Anthony (Teyonah Parris, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) are a rising young power couple in Chicago. They live in a luxury high-rise. She’s a curator at a local art gallery, and he’s an artist. But when he wants his paintings included in a group show, his gallerist says his work is getting stale. Find something new. So he sets out to explore a local urban legend to incorporate it in his work. It’s the story of Candyman, a ghostly serial killer who operated out of a public housing project called Cabrini–Green. It was a sorely neglected area, populated mainly by poor blacks, located just across a street from one of Chicago’s richest and mainly white neighbourhoods, the Gold Coast. (Looks like Bree’s apartment was built over the remains of the project.) 

Candyman tempts victims by offering  them candy, and kills them surrounded by a swarm of honeybees, using a sharp hook he has for a hand. And he can be summoned by saying his name 5 times while looking into a mirror. Anthony’s latest work is called Call My Name, a mirror that dares its viewers to summon Candyman. It gets little notice until people associated with his art start turning up dead. Suddenly, he’s a hot property and art critics say he’s important. But Anthony knows the truth. Candyman is real, he’s dangerous, and he’s Anthony’s to blame for letting him loose on the world. Can he and Bree stop the Candyman before he kills more people? Or is it too late?

Candyman is a sequel to the Wes Craven’s horror movie from the 90s, and it turns conventional slasher-horror movies on their head.  Bree’s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett)  is flamboyantly gay but also a credible character with a life all his own, not just a victim to be laughed out. Black characters don’t exist merely in reaction to whites — they’re the focus of the movie. Killings are usually shown from a distance or off-camera — while there’s blood, it’s not excessively gory (compared to most slasher movies). Scary but not terrifying. 

Aesthetically, Candyman is deeply satisfying with art direction way above what you normally see: minimalist composed sets, breathtaking cityscape views of Chicago filmed upside-down in black and white, and shadow puppets used to illustrate the story within the story… so cool. The filmmakers — producer Jordan Peele and co-writer/directer Nia DaCosta  — are black, as are the main characters… but not most of the victims. DaCosta skewers the cut-throat world of fine art, using razor-sharp political satire. Candyman is not a conventional slasher/horror movie, and probably won’t scare your pants off, but it offers lots of eye candy to look at and even more to think about. 

I liked this one a lot.

Candyman and Flag Day just opened this weekend in Toronto — check your local listings. And you can catch 499 at the Paradise Theatre for two days only: Aug 28-9th. 

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

 

Not Safe at Home. Movies Reviewed: Home Again, Olympus Has Fallen

Posted in Action, Canada, Crime, Cultural Mining, Disaster, Drama, drugs, Jamaica, Korea, Movies, Politics, Poverty, Terrorism, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on March 23, 2013

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

OHF_04104.NEFFestival season is gearing up now, with Hot Docs, Images, and Cinefranco announcing this year’s line-up – fantastic stuff to come. But in the meantime, here are some non-festival releases. Today I’m looking at an action/thriller about one man inside a big house who wants to save the world; and a drama about three people stranded on an island who just want to survive.

Olympus Has Fallen

Dir: Antoine Fuqua

Mike Banning (played by perpetually gruff and surly Scot, Gerard Butler) was once a big man in the Secret Service. But when the First Lady is killed in an accident, he loses his status as a presidential guard. So he’s not at the White House when strange things start happening one morning. An errant gunner pilot flies a plane over the mall in Washington DC, mowing down random tourists, and knocking down OHF_09772.NEFAmerica’s most famous penis, the Washington monument. Then, a group of tubby but ruthless terrorists manage to capture the White House, including the president and hold him captive. The American Empire is teetering on the brink…

Who are these bad guys? Al Qaeda? Al Shabab? Iraq? Iran? No! It’s the Zeppo of Bush’s “Axis of Evil” – the North Koreans!

The other Secret Service agents all look like part-time tenors in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Boy are they white!) But only tough-as-nails Mike is qualified for disasters like this. He gets to the White House on his own and OHF_13131.NEFopens up communication with his boss (Angela Bassett) and the grumpy, southern Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman).

The chief bad guy, Kang (Rick Yune), holds all the cards. He is determined to learn the Cerberus defence code (known only to a few top officials). And he demands the DMZ be taken down and the Korean peninsula unified. With his crack team of super-shooters (inexplicably wearing silly Gilligan hats and bandanas over their faces) and computer experts, along with some American traitors, he’s unbeatable. Or is he?

It’s up to Banning to single-handedly beat all the bad guys, rescue the President (Aaron Eckhardt who is much more a Romney than an Obama), his young son, Connor, and the feisty Secretary of State (Melissa Leo). And, while he’s at it, free the White House, and save the world from an imminent disaster. He accomplishes this with old fashioned American know-how, brutal fighting skills, and brutish come-back lines. (Best line: “Kang, let’sOHF_10923.NEF play a round of f*ck off — you go first.”) He improvises, like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, using things he finds on the way. Like smashing in a terrorist’s head using a marble bust of Lincoln. As a Secret Service agent Banning knows every cubbyhole, every secret passageway in the White House.

Antoine Fuqua made the very good movie Training Day, but this is absolutely nothing like that one in style or plot. None of the movie is even vaguely plausible, but it doesn’t need a deep read to understand it. It’s hilariously awful at times, but tense and exciting at others. It’s a classic action movie, complete with explosions, shoot-outs and a virtually unwatchable close-up fight scene with a hand-held camera jiggly enough to make you lose your chili nachos in the lap of the guy in the next seat.

Watch it, laugh at it, and then forget it.

0134_lqxemynyGoing Home

Dir: Sudz Sutherland

Due to a change of laws, the US, Canada and the UK are now in the habit of deporting people — landed immigrants who moved to these countries as small children – back to their birthplaces after being convicted even of relatively minor crimes. This drama follows the different paths the three of them take as they are unceremoniously dumped in Jamaica with just a suitcase.

Dunstan (Canadian actor Lyric Bent) is a likeable, big guy from New York. His cousin helps set him up as security at a meth lab in Greenwich Farms, (a tough part of Kingston). He’s working for The Don, a hairy-eyeball young gangster who operates like a high court judge in his neighbourhood, punishing or helping the people there, as he sees fit. Soon he meets the pretty but stand-offish Cherry C. (pop star Fefe Dobson) and likes her a lot. Wants to get to know her much better. But she wants nothing to do with a Deportee.

0024_vysosif1Everton (played by Torontonian Stephan James) is a clean-cut and naïve, upper-middle-class student from London. He arrives in Kingston like a fish just waiting to be caught. His uncle Sam, who he’s supposed to meet in Trenchtown, isn’t there. He meets up with a cute high school girl, but things just get worse and worse. He soon finds himself homeless and penniless waiting for his mother to rescue him. But she’s a continent away and he can only reach her by long distant phone calls.

And finally Marva from Toronto (Tatyana Ali) was separated from her two young children when she was deported. She can’t find work because no one will trust a deportee. Forced to live with her relatives — a cruel aunt and a skeezy uncle (very well played by Paul Campbell) — Marva feels trapped in an untenable situation. If she can somehow get her kids to join her in Jamaica things will get better.

Will Everton be able to pull himself together and return to England once his court appeal goes through? Can Home Again. Tatyana AliDunston earn enough to buy a forged passport and get back to his little brother in NY? And can Marva get together again with her kids?

The three deportees have their own separate sub-plots with only minimal contact among them. But they are all set in a very real-looking, fascinating Caribbean city (it was shot in Trinidad), with its colourful scenes and dancehalls, marketplaces and homes. And the movie takes place during a growing gang war affecting all of their lives.

I thought there were enough sub plots and sub-sub plots to fill a miniseries, with dozens of different side characters and twists — too much stuff going on for one movie. But by the end it all starts to coalesce, and you really feel for the characters. Great soundtrack – reggae mixed with dance. The acting is also great – especially Tatyana Ali, but also all the small roles, and there are many — and most of the (subtitled Jamaican) dialogue was fun too. As movies go, it’s a depressing plot, one I wouldn’t normally want to rush to see, and Canadian movies are prone to the overly earnest. But this didn’t happen: I liked it! It gives you lots to think about. Home Again is a good, plot-heavy drama that never leaves you bored.

Olympus has Fallen, and Home Again both open today, as does the film Yossi: check your local listings.

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

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