Canadians coming of age. Films reviewed: Riceboy Sleeps, Golden Delicious, Brother

Posted in 1990s, Canada, Canadian Screen Awards, Coming of Age, Crime, Drama, Family, LGBT, Racism, Toronto, Vancouver by CulturalMining.com on March 18, 2023

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

Spring Film Festival season is revving up in Toronto, with Cinefranco, Human Rights Watch, The Canadian Film Fest and Tiff’s Next Wave rounding out March into April.

This week, I’m looking at three new Canadian coming-of-age dramas about sons or grandsons of immigrants. There’s a young man  in Scarborough who worships his big brother, one in Vancouver who only has eyes for his new neighbour, and another kid in Vancouver who wonders why he doesn’t have a father.

Rice Boy Sleeps

Wri/Dir: Anthony Shim

It’s the early 1990s in British Columbia. So-young (Choi Seung-yoon) is a recent immigrant from Korea who packs and seals cardboard boxes in a factory. Her son, Dong-hyun (Dohyun Noel Hwang) is shy, nervous and wears thick glasses. She taught him to read and write Korean but he’s starting public school for the first time. The other kids — all white — are merciless, say his kimbap smells like farts, and mock everything from his face to his name. His teacher calls her in to change her boy’s name to something more “Canadian” — she gives her a list of approved choices. He asks his mother, why don’t I have a father? Ask me later, she says. But the next time anyone bullies you, say you know taekwando and punch them, hard. He follows her directions and gets suspended for violence.

10 years later, he’s a teenager (Ethan Hwang) who wears contact lenses and dyes his hair blond. His teacher tells all the kids to draw a family tree, but Dong-hyun has no one to include but his mother… and she was an orphan. Again, he asks his mom who his father was. She brushes his question off. While his mother is at work, he tries soft drugs alcohol and porn with a friend (Hunter Dillon — who also plays a best friend in Golden Delicious). But he still feels listless and unmoored. Meanwhile So-young has met a boyfriend (played by the director) and is considering marriage,  until some shocking news makes her rethink her entire life… and Dong-hyun’s, too

Riceboy Sleeps is a lovely and poetic tale of a boy and his mother trying to fit in, while grasping at whatever’s left of their history. It’s a story of immigrants living in a blatantly racist society but one that also looks at the patriarchal cruelty of the place they came from. It’s minimalist and concise, showing only what is absolutely necessary for maximal emotional impact. That — with good acting, beautiful cinematography, and scenic opening and closing shots — makes Riceboy Sleeps seem almost like a work of art.

Winner of the TIFF 2022 Platform Prize.

Golden Delicious

Dir: Jason Karman

It’s present-day Vancouver. Jake — nicknamed J-Pop (Cardi Wong) is starting his last year of high school. He likes taking photographs and watching basketball. His sister Janet (Claudia Kai) is going to culinary school, while his Mom and Dad (Leeah Wong, Ryan Mah) work 12-hour-days at their upscale Chinese restaurant, passed down from the grandparents.

Jake’s looking forward to spending time with his best buds Sam and Gary, and his childhood sweetheart Vee (Parmiss Sehat). She wants sex and lots of it, while Jake thinks they should wait till marriage before doing the big one. And he’s under lots of pressure to make the basketball team. I was MVP when I was in high school, and I’d be a pro if it weren’t for my knee injury, says dad. But everything changes when a new neighbour Aleks (Chris Carson) appears on the scene. He’s a terrific player and is outspokenly gay. He’s a ringer who moved to the school from down east specifically to play on this team. And Jake can’t stop staring at him and snapping pics through his bedroom window. Once they meet, Aleks is willing to help improve Jake’s skills… both on and off the court. Jake is torn between family pressure and personal identity, long-term love vs short term lust. Will Jake make the team? Will Aleks make Jake? And what will his girlfriend, family, and friends do if they ever find out?

Golden Delicious is a coming-of-age and coming-out drama set within a Chinese-Canadian Vancouver family. It deals with current issues like bullying, the lack of privacy (due to social networks), and how parental expectations interfere with their kids’ own wants and needs. I found the high school rom-com aspects cliched, everything from two people bumping into each other and dropping their books in their first meetings, to confrontations in the locker room, to who will ask whom to the prom. Much more interesting are the family plot turns, from Janet reverse engineering her grandmother’s recipes, to Jake’s own subtle subterfuge to get out of playing basketball, as well as the very real grinding pressures of running a restaurant (the restaurant is called Golden Delicious). That’s what makes this film worth watching.

Brother 

Wri/Dir: Clement Virgo

It’s the 1990s in a working class neighbourhood in Scarborough (Toronto).  Michael (Lamar Johnson) is a high school student who lives in an apartment tower with his hard-working mother (Marsha Stephanie Blake). He idolizes his big-brother Frances (Aaron Pierre) who serves as a father figure in his life. Frances is bigger, tougher and better connected than Michael. The gangs know enough to stay away from him, and not to harass Michael, either. Michael hopes he can tap some of Frances’s aura to meet a girl who he really likes. Aisha (Kiana Madeira) is the smartest girl in school and he wants to really meet her.  Michael and his friends hope to take hiphop to a new level.  There’s a place to hang, a barber shop, where DJs — like Frances’ best bud — spins tracks after closing. But their big break, an audition with high-profile record producers downtown, doesn’t pan out. And tensions rise when the twin forces of gangsters on one side and the police force on the other are encroaching on their safe space and tearing their lives apart. Can the sons of Jamaican immigrants survive in the mean streets of Scarborough? 

Brother is a fully-imagined, coming-of-age story by two brothers in the 90s.  It deals with masculinity, violence sexuality, and black identity. It deftly contrasts between the claustrophobic highrise housing where they live and the nearby idyllic Rouge River where they seek refuge. Based on the book by Toronto writer David Chariandy, Brother has a novelistic feel to it, and its use of widescreen cinematic scenes, as in a showdown in the courtyard outside their apartment, gives it an epic sweep. Brother is a powerful and moving drama. 

Nominated for 12 Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Picture.

Brother and Riceboy Sleeps open in Toronto this weekend, and at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this and next week; check you local listings. Golden Delicious is premiering at the Canadian Film Festival, which runs from March 28th through April 1. Go to canfilmfest.ca for details.

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 director Andrew Gregg about Skymaster Down

Posted in 1950s, Canada, Cold War, documentary, Mystery, US, Yukon by CulturalMining.com on January 15, 2022

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

It’s a cold winter day in January, 1950 in Yukon. A US military plane, the Douglas C54-D, known as the Skymaster, is flying between Montana and Alaska, when it suddenly loses contact. Flight #2469 disappears from the skies. And when they searched for survivors among the 44 crew and passengers, no-one was found and the plane itself has completely disappeared. What became of the Skymaster?

Skymaster Down is a new, in-depth look at the plane’s disappearance and the friends and families of the missing crew and passengers today. The feature-length film is the work of award-winning documentarian Andrew Gregg. You may have heard him previously on this show talking about diverse topics including the new far right in Skinheads (in 2017), problems in our prisons in State of Incarceration (2014), and new archaeological advances in The Norse, an Arctic Mystery, way back in 2012.

I spoke with Andrew Gregg in Toronto via Zoom

Skymaster Down premiers on CBC’s Documentary Channel on Sunday, January 16th.

Daniel Garber talks with Will Bowes about CBC Gem’s new series Hey Lady!

Posted in Canada, comedy, Meta, Music, Toronto, TV by CulturalMining.com on February 14, 2020

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

Photos by Jeff Harris.

What do you call a rude, audacious and incorrigible senior citizen who has inflicted her idiocyncracies on her adult chidren and absolute strangers alike? What do you call a woman who shoplifts, puts lipstick on random babies and rants at everyone around her? What do you call a possibly demented and definitely insulting woman who named her three children after famous dogs? A woman who desperately needs you to pay attention to her? If you’re like most people, you probably just call her “hey lady”.

Hey Lady! is the name of a new web comedy series, premiering on CBC Gem on February 14, 2020. It stars the legendary actress Jayne Eastwood, is written by playwright Morris Panych, and is co-directed by actor, singer, songwriter Will Bowes.

I spoke to Will at CIUT 89.5 FM. His new single The Devil I Know is on Youtube.

Hey Lady starts streaming today in Canada on CBC Gem.

Daniel Garber talks with producer Jason Charters and director Larry Weinstein about Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas

Posted in China, Christianity, Christmas, Christmas songs, Cultural Mining, documentary, Eating, Judaism, Music, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on December 22, 2017

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

It’s the 1960s. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire… outside the snow is falling and friends are calling yoo-hoo… it’s Christmastime in the city. Mom, Dad and the two kids get in the car to go out for their traditional family dinner. Is it ham? Turkey? No… it’s Chinese food! Beause these folks are dreaming of a “Jewish Christmas”.

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is a new documentary that looks at the secular celebration of a religious holiday in North America and how it’s reflected in popular culture – especially in Christmas songs. It re-eneacts a 1960s dinner in Chinatown with new performances of classic Christmas songs by Steven Page, Dione Taylor and Aviva Chernick.

The film was produced in Toronto by Jason Charters and Liam Romalis at Riddle Films and directed by Oscar nominee Larry Weinstein.

I spoke with Jason in studio at CIUT and with Larry via telephone.

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is playing on CBC Documentary Channel on Dec 24 and Dec 25.

Daniel Garber talks with Shoot the Messenger’s creator Jennifer Holness, and star Lyriq Bent

Posted in Action, Canada, Clash of Cultures, Corruption, Crime, Journalism, Politics, Romance, Somali, Thriller, Toronto, TV by CulturalMining.com on October 7, 2016

Jennifer Holness, Lyriq BentHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Daisy is a cub reporter at the Toronto Gazette. She’s interrupted from a roll in the hay with her lover by a mysterious phone call – a source! She rushes to meet him only to see a young Somali man gunned down in cold blood. And which police detective Jennifer Holness, Lyriq Bent, Shoot the Messengeris investigating the case? It’s her lover, Kevin. Now the police, the news media, and the government are all trying to find out who shot the messenger?

Shoot the Messenger is also the name of a dramatic new series premiering on CBC TV next week (Oct. 10). Jennifer Holness, Lyriq Bent, Shoot the MessengerIt looks at how a city copes with street-level crime… and high-level corruption. Created by husband-and-wife team Jennifer Holness and Sudz Sutherland, it stars Lyriq Bent and Elise Levesque as Kevin and Daisy.

I spoke to Jennifer Holness and Lyriq Bent in studio at CIUT.

Daniel Garber talks with anthropologist/filmmaker Niobe Thompson about his three-part documentary The Great Human Odyssey on CBC TV

Posted in Anthropology, Cultural Mining, Disease, documentary, Evolution, Migrants, Movies, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on February 13, 2015

bJGwTDZvDCA_KinMwSXkYoC-SnM1haVkpAaaO7sttjoHumans are a strange species. We stand up, we cook our food, we talk and we remember.

Our bodies aren’t covered in thick fur, and we don’t have sharp teeth or claws. And yet we aren’t extinct. We live on every continent.

How come we’re alive when stronger hominids aren’t? How did a tropical species come to dominate cold climates? What kept us alive for 200,000 years in this Great Human Odyssey?

The Great Human Odyssey is also the name of a spectacular new three-part series from Clearwater Documentary that explores our species Homo sapiens and what sets us apart.

The series was written, directed and narrated by Canadian anthropologist-turned-filmmaker WQeSkYDsF4FI3LoSoY3UYx-VH3oS32OD601_3yEyfskNiobe Thompson. Thompson grew up in Wabasca, northern Alberta, where he worked fighting forest fires. Later, he travelled the world, getting his PhD in social anthropology at Cambridge. He went on to make Gemini Award-wining documentaries, and The Great Human Odyssey is the most recent. It premiered on CBC’s the Nature of Things.

I spoke to Niobe by telephone from Edmonton, Alberta about hominids, disease, reindeer, Neanderthal sex, evolution, coexistence, Papua New Guinea, Siberia, the Kalahari desert, genetic legacies… and more!

Daniel Garber talks to Canadian director Clement Virgo about his miniseries The Book of Negroes

Posted in Africa, Canada, Cultural Mining, Drama, TV by CulturalMining.com on January 9, 2015

The Book Of NegroesHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s the late 18th century. Aminata Diallo, a young girl in West Africa, is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the American colonies. Later, during the Revolutionary war, the British crown promise freedom to all blacks who fight on their side. The British lose the war, but afterwards the loyalists are allowed to emigrate to Nova Scotia. But they face being re-enslaved unless they can prove their identity. So the multilingual Mina Diallo is enlisted to record the loyalists names in a crucial ledger so the men and woman can hold on to their hard-won freedom. The book where she writes the names is titled The Book Of Negroes.

The Book of Negroes is also the name of a new, epic drama now airing on CBC television. Based on the novel by Laurence Hill, it traces the story of Mina, tossed and turned by the vagaries of slavery and war across three continents, as she struggles to establish herself as a free woman and a woman in love. The miniseries is directed and co-written by award-winning Toronto filmmaker Clement Virgo, known for his films on boxing, sex, and identity.

I spoke to Clement in Toronto by telephone. He talks about the series’ characters, Roots, The Pianist, slavery, the Holocaust, women, war, The Wizard of Oz, Black Loyalists, Nova Scotia, the “N” word, empowerment, South Africa, Someone Knows My Name, and more.

Daniel Garber talks with director Andrew Gregg about State of Incarceration, his new doc on CBC TV’s Doc Zone

Posted in Canada, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Prison, TV, US by CulturalMining.com on October 3, 2014

Andrew Gregg at CIUT photo © daniel GarberHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

Some strange things have been happening to Canada’s justice system under the current federal government. We’re building more prisons than ever before, even as we cut spending on rehabilitation of prisoners. Crime rates have reached new lows but we’re imprisoning more people, and keeping them there longer.

What does this mean? Why is it happening?  Will it accomplish what the government is trying to do? And how does Canada compare to our neighbour to the south?

A new CBC documentary called STATE OF stateofincarceration_1280INCARCERATION looks at these issues and speaks to experts on both sides of the argument. It’s directed by Canadian filmmaker Andrew Gregg. (I last interviewed Andrew two years ago about his doc The Norse: an Arctic Mystery. You can listen to that interview here)

I spoke with Andrew at CIUT about the changes to the Canadian justice system, and his eye-opening documentary STATE OF INCARCERATION. It premiers on CBC-TV, Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 9 pm.

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

Daniel Garber talks to Andrew Gregg about his documentary THE NORSE: AN ARCTIC MYSTERY

Posted in Anthropology, Canada, CBC, Denmark, documentary, Dorset, Indigenous, Nanook, Norse, Nunavut, Scandinavia, TV, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on November 22, 2012

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

I grew up thinking in fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and that he was the first European to make contact with people in the Americas. But evidence uncovered by archaeologist Pat Sutherland suggests that contact began much, much earlier. A new documentary shows that first contact was not by the Spanish in the Caribean but between Northern Europeans and the indegenous people dwelling in Canada’s North. THE NORSE: An Arctic Mystery is playing on CBC’s The Nature of Things on November 22.

In this interview the director, writer and producer ANDREW GREGG tells me about the unknown history of the Norse in Canada, where they came from, what they did, how long they stayed, and what is the evidence that proves this. He also talks about the politics likely behind the strange dismissal of the noted archaeologist from Canada’s Museum of Civilization.

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