Love and Death. Films reviewed: Riders of Justice, Trigger Point, Undine

Posted in Action, Berlin, Canada, CIA, Denmark, Espionage, Germany, Horror, Mermaids, Romance by CulturalMining.com on May 21, 2021

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

This week I’m looking at three new movies — two action/thrillers, one from Canada and another from Denmark; and a love story from Germany. There’s death on a commuter train, shoot-outs in a small town, and eternal love… deep underwater.

Riders of Justice

Wri/Dir: Anders Thomas Jensen

Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) is a hard-ass officer in the Danish army, happily married with a teenaged daughter named Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). But his job keeps him apart from his family for months at a time. So when he hears his wife has been killed in a rare commuter train accident, he rushes home. He has to take care of Mathilde now, but summarily refuses all offers of counsellors or psychologists — he doesn’t believe in that mumbo-jumbo. But he clearly has a lot of anger inside — he punches Mathilde’s blue-haired boyfriend, Sirius, in the face the first time he meets him. (He’s been away so long he doesn’t even know she has a boyfriend.)

But their lives are further disrupted by an unexpected knock on the door. Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is a number-crunching computer nerd. He was on the same train, and says it can’t be a coincidence that a key witness in an upcoming trial of a criminal biker gang — called Riders of Justice — was also killed in that explosion. And the police clearly don’t care. Can we punish them ourselves? Otto enlists his two frenemies: Emmenthaler, an enormous man with a man bun who is also a facial-recognition expert (he has a  terrible temper from a lifetime of being bullied); and Lennaert, a hacker without any social skills whatsoever (he’s been in therapy for 25 years.) This motley crew sets up camp inside Markus’s barn to prove the biker gang is to to blame. And Markus, after a lifetime of military training, knows how to fight back. But is their conspiracy theory correct? Can they catch the villains and avenge the deaths? Can one soldier and three untrained, anti-social intellectuals beat a heavily-armed criminal gang? And can Markus ever learn to communicate with his only daughter?

Riders of Justice is a brilliantly funny, satirical look at self-proclaimed vigilantes. It deals with probability, death, and retribution all wrapped up in the language of psychology, technology, sexuality and social networks. It does have a Christmas theme — which is odd to watch in a late-spring movie –  but that hardly detracts from the main story. It’s also quite violent, with a lot of blood, pain and death. What’s great about it is all the well-rounded portrayals of disparate, odd-ball characters who learn to live together in a make-shift, highly  dysfunctional family. 

This is a fantastic movie.

Trigger Point

Dir: Brad Turner

Lewis (Barry Pepper) is a nice guy. Ask everyone in the small town where he lives. He found a kitten for Janice (Nazneen Contractor) a waitress at the local diner, and he fixed the electric tea kettle — no charge! — at Irene (Jayne Eastwood) ’s bookstore using just a paper clip. That guy can fix anything, he’s a regular MacGyver! He lives alone on the outskirts of town in a huge wooden farmhouse. But when outsiders with big city ways come to town snooping around, things start to change.

Dwight (Carlo Rota) says he wants to talk with him. Elias (Colm Feore), his former boss, has a job for him to do: track down and free Elias’ kidnapped daughter Monica (Eve Harlow). You see, Lewis used to be a top agent at The Corporation (aka the CIA), but went underground when a mysterious assassin  — known only as “Quentin” — started knocking off everyone else on his team. And lots of people think Lewis is the actual killer. Now he has to follow the trail, question the suspects, and uncover the evidence before he becomes Quentin’s next  target. But who can be trusted and who’s a turncoat?

Trigger Point is a good, traditional shoot-em-up action movie. It’s an apolitical look at the spy trade, concentrating instead on corruption and greed. Shot in small-town Ontario, it’s full of open fields, greenhouses and some stunning lakeshore landscapes, with lots of famous Canadian faces popping up. And it keeps up the pace. Sadly, it has a weird, unfinished quality to it, as if the final 30 pages of the script blew away, so they decided to end it early. What’s going on? Why did they introduce new characters in the last few minutes? Why don’t they bother capturing the villain? Is this actually just a pilot for an unproduced TV series?

Whatever. If you don’t mind turning off your brain, you’ll enjoy this fast-moving action/thriller.

Undine

Wri/Dir: Christian Petzold

Undine (Paula Beer) is a young woman in a Berlin cafe.  She’s crushed because her true love Johannes has just revealed he’s married to another woman. She says, if you leave me, I will have to kill you! But their conversation is cut short because her unusual job at the museum across the street starts in five minutes. She works as a guide to an enormous 3-D physical model of the city’s map. When she returns to the cafe after her shift, Johannes is gone. But a strange voice calls to her, from behind a decorative fish tank. It’s Christoph (Franz Rogowski) a boyish and clumsy man. The two collide, breaking the tank, and sending shards of glass and a flood of water on top of the two of them. And as Christoph pulls broken glass from Undine’s body, it’s love at first accident. He works out of town in a scenic lake as an engineer, repairing broken machinery and welding it back together… underwater! Undine follows him to the lake and joins him in scuba gear. They spend all their time together, making love on land and in the water. But, although they share a psychic bond, the elements seem to pull them apart.  And when Johannes reappears, Undine’s relationship with Christoph seems to be at risk.

Undine is an incredibly beautiful romance, wonderfully acted and elegantly shot. Like in all of Petzold’s films, while the story seems simple, its characters and ideas are intense. His style is spare. Every scene in the movie — a spilled glass of wine, a glance at a passerby — is there for a reason, essential to the story. Nothing wasted. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but Undine shares her name with a classical figure — a water nymph, from the Greek Myths — and leaves open the suggestion that this Undine is also supernatural. The film plays with the themes of eternal love, destiny, tragedy and life both underwater and on land, sort of an adult mermaid story. Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski also played star-crossed lovers  in Petzold’s last movie, Transit, and they ‘re back again sharing the same tension and electricity. 

I strongly recommend this amazing love story. 

Trigger Point is now playing, Riders of Justice starts today, and don’t miss Undine opening in two weeks.

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

In Transit. Films reviewed: Mirai, A Private War, Transit

Posted in 1940s, Animation, France, Germany, Japan, Journalism, Refugees, Time Travel, War, WWII by CulturalMining.com on November 9, 2018

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

Toronto Fall festival season continues with EU festival on now – free movies at the Royal every night! Ekran Polish film festival, and ReelAsian paving new ground, with everything from a doc on gourmet Filipino cuisine, to an intriguing and moving Virtual Reality narrative by Paisley Smith called Homestay.

This week, I’m looking at three movies about people in transit. There’s a WWII refugee running away from the Nazis; a female war journalist rushing toward the battlefront; and a little boy in Japan jumping back and forth between the past and the future.

Mirai

Wri/Dir: Hosoda Mamoru

Kun-chan is a little kid in Japan who lives with his parents and his dog Yukko. He likes drawing and playing with trains. His mom and dad dote on him, until they have a new baby, a girl named Mirai (which means the future). Suddenly, the baby is the centre of attention. His dad works freelance at home now, while mom goes to work. When they’re not working, they’re taking care of Mirai. But who’s paying attention to Kun-chan? Nobody! He seeks refuge in their yard, an enclosed courtyard around an old oak tree. And that’s where strange things start to happen whenever he’s alone. His dog turns into a prince. And then Mirai appears as a teenaged version of herself – it’s future Mirai, there to advise Kunchan on how to treat his little sister. This opens the door to other figures from his family’s past and future to help him handle his problems.

Mirai is a good example of watchable Japanese anime. Lots of flying, some scary parts, and time travel. It’s clearly aimed at kids — with tame content and characters – but it does handle issues like gender roles and family matters. I like Hosoda’s films because they navigate where the supernatural interacts with the ordinary – like Wolf Children from 2012. But in Mirai you can never be sure if the supernatural scenes are real or just in the little boy’s head.

A Private War

Dir: Matthew Heineman

It’s 21st century London. Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike), originally from Oyster Bay Long Island is now a star reporter for the Sunday Times. She smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish and curses like a sailor. And for good reason: she’s at the front lines of the bloodiest wars of the century. She lost her left eye in a gun battle in Sri Lanka, and now wears a black patch, pirate-style. Why does she do it? So she can tell the world what’s really going on the death, starvation and horribleness of war. A mass grave in Faluja, starvation in Homs, Syria. She travels with Paul (Jamie Dornan) a young freelance photographer in awe at Marie’s bravery, always the first one when the bombs are falling. She’s been in more battles than the average soldier. And She keeps sexually satisfied with an array of lovers in every port, including her ex-husband and a London financier named Tony (Stanley Tucci). But you can’t live on th edge without suffering blowback, including PTSD and deppression. Is Marie a hero or an alcoholic with a death wish?

A Private War is a gripping and thrilling drama. The director, Heineman, is known for documentaries, not movies, which gives this film a “you are there” immediacy rarely scene in war movies. Very realistic. The movie doesn’t delve very deeply into the politics of war – it never asks why Bush and Blair were in Iraq or NATO in Libya; instead it concentrates on how war really affects ordinary people. Rosamund Pike is amazing as Marie Colvin and opened my eyes about war journalism.

I liked this movie.

Transit

Dir: Christian Petzold

It’s WWII. Georg (Franz Rogowski) is a German refugee living in Paris when the Nazi’s are about to march in. And the French police are doing their work, rounding up immigrants and sending them to a transit camp inside the Velodrome. Georg knows he has to get out of their, fast. And he needs money. So he accepts a paid job: bring a sealed letter to a stranger – a writer – holed up in a paris hotel room. But he gets there too late, the man has killed himself in desperation. If only he had waited one more day – the letter promised money, visas, and tickets on a ship to Mexico. Thinking quickly, Georg pockets the letter, grabs the man’s manuscript and heads south with his friend as stowaways on a freight train. Once in Marseilles, he establishes himself as a person in transit – just stopping over – to avoid arrest, andtakes on the identity of the dead man. And he keeps encountering a beautiful woman, Marie (Paula Beer), who is searching for her husband. She knows he’s in Marseilles, but she can’t find him. But what neither of them realize is the phantom husband she keeps missing is Georg himself, in his new identity.

Transit is a great new movie about the precarious lives of refugees and undocumented migrants running for their lives. The movieis based on a novel written during the WWII, but Christian Petzold tries something I’ve never seen before. It’s the 1940s but it’s also right now. It’s shot in present-day France, with modern cars and clothing, an ethnically diverse population, and police dressed in current riot gear. Paula Beer (amazing in Frantz) and the distinctive-looking Rogowski (terrific in Happy End and Victoria) perfectly capture the alienation and uncertainty of present-day Europe. And – no spoilers – but, as usual, Petzold saves some of the biggest and best surprises for the end… with a one-two punch to the gut.

Great movie.

Mirai is playing tomorrow at the ReelAsian film festival. Look for A Private War opening next Friday and Transit starting today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Now and Then. Films reviewed: Going Clear, Bulgarian Rhapsody, Phoenix

Posted in 1940s, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, Germany, Movies, Women, WWII by CulturalMining.com on May 8, 2015

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

How often do you see movies? Frequently? Or just now and then? If your answer is “now and then” I have some good movies for you. This week: two dramas from “then”, and a documentary from “now”.  A coming-of-age set in wartime Bulgaria; a dark melodrama set in postwar Berlin; and a documentary set in present-day L.A.

10448682_358390541017859_2619780721967253367_oGoing Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Dir: Alex Gibney

L Ron Hubbard was an extremely prolific writer who churned out over a thousand fantasy and sci-fi stories for pulp fiction magazines. He spent time in the US Navy. But he’s best known now as the creator of a system of pseudo-scientific psychological analyses known as “Dianetics”.

Followers undergo “auditing” – a process where they confess their darkest experiences and mostlD7OEwJsT7FA2yjMP-bD2DsF1BMKHICltbxDqmLZKvA,2s733GbWWcOom-6ozJJm0EaWnse1BzW7hFFCJBRuWqY,-7gQeVG6TawiaV63nqPWpWEAjb1zg8j1bmfvzFUy57o painful feelings so their bodies can get rid of them. As they speak, they hold onto metal tubes which detect changes in their system – sort of an elaborate lie detector. They speak their confessions, one-on-one, to an “Auditor” – sort of an analyst – who records what they say and files it away. Followers then pass through a complex, multileveled system – including paid courses required at each level. Their goal? Someday freeing their mind and bodies from from anxiety and pain in an eternal, space-age nirvana. This process forms the basis of Scientology, a self-described religion with thousands of followers.

BnClGTKOBGff43YaaiYFAsFxyLHbICHSjiZb2tzTfkU,u_3H5tmI5Ny2ndxbBPIcH6eS_Riho-XS2KGaGIsJv68,nN-yzR5qRvecGYBbx5cuYVq0gDJukfN27nJ4brrGTYoThis documentary speaks to former members, advocates and high-level administrators of Scientology, and what they say is not pretty. Members are said to undergo brutal training sessions, deprived of food and sleep and kept separate from their friends; celebrity members – like Tom Cruise and John Travolta – are blackmailed or bribed to keep them within the group; and ex-members are stalked and attacked. 7FaG1tWQELw7w_dUWxTqXcRm_C2F64fSLrfsHNQlJVU,1VONv0GjC2_10sfAiym8ZLHNO8lgwkIGx1Swm4RgmZU,ki16HMWBBKUy5tLv-Gapi2X4NG7xqYYT3bWwNHis9T0Apparently, Scientology attained its tax-free status in the US by targeting hundreds of individual IRS agents and harassing them until the government just gave up.

But the strangest part of this movie is the bizarre, flashy Vegas style conventions they have. Members dress in fake Navy uniforms, complete with medals and ranks. And this is all led by its current leader, the handsome but diminutive David Miscavige, a member of the group since he was a child. He is portrayed as a paranoid, egotistical megalomaniac aiming for absolute power and wealth.

This is an amazing movie, alternating razzle-dazzle footage with shocking revelations. In a nutshell, it says Scientology is a for-profit corporation disguised as a religion based on science fiction… that’s run by nuts.

10689807_848941815140388_1632255586009719290_nBulgarian Rhapsody
Dir: Ivan Nichev

It’s the 1940s in Sofia, Bulgaria. WWII is in full swing but daily life continues, almost as if nothing is happening. Moni and Giogio are teenaged boys, best friends and neighbours. They both come from motherless homes, raised by their widowed fathers. Moni (Kristiyan Makarov) is thoughtful and introspective. He loves music, literature and drawing political cartoons. Giogio (Stefan Popov) is full of bravado and popular with the girls. He vows to find a pretty girlfriend for Moni. The problem? Bulgaria is an ally of Nazi Germany, and follows its harsh Nuremberg laws, placing severe restrictions on Jews. Moni is Jewish, while Giogio’s dad is a driver for the government department set up specifically to persecute the Jews. Can friendship prevail?

On a family trip to Kavala, a picturesque seaside town in Macedonian Bulgarian_RhapsodyGreece (granted to Bulgaria by Germany), he meets the beautiful and charming Shelli (Anjela Nedyalkova). He has life-changing experiences on the beach, falls in love and confesses it all to Giogio back in Sofia. But when the three of them get together at Moni’s sister’s wedding, Shelli becomes the object of both of their affections. Will this drive a wedge between the two friends? Is it all true love or just a summer beach fantasy?

Bulgarian Rhapsody is a tender, coming of age drama played out beneath the looming shadow of the Holocaust. And it was Bulgaria’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar.

1418412491534Phoenix
Dir: Christian Petzold

Nelly (Nina Hoss) is a German-Jewish woman who survives WWII in a Nazi concentration camp, but is left with a horribly disfigured face. With the help of her best friend Lene (Nina Kuntzendorf), she has plastic surgery. Now she looks similar to, but not exactly like she used to. Her only wish is to reconnect with her husband Johnnie (Ronald Zehrfeld) and let him know she’s still alive. She frequents the Berlin cabarets where they used to perform – he’s a piano player, and she

August .2013  Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold ( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz Mobil 01723917694

August .2013
Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX
mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf
Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold
( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz
Mobil 01723917694

used to sing with him.

But when they do meet – at a bar called Phoenix – it’s not like she expected. He approaches her, because he says, she looks a lot like a woman he knows: his wife who died in the war. If she helps him get his dead wife’s war reparations from the government, he says he’ll give her half. He has no idea who she really is. But he promises to train her until she can convincingly impersonate his late wife. Basically, she has to learn to imitate herself! Talk about “meta”…

96925500be23510ff2ecd24a542752d9She agrees to act in this bizarre charade, only because she wants to know whether Johnnie ever loved her, or if it was always just a ruse. And if so, was he was the one who turned her in to the Nazis?

This is the latest episode of star Nina Hoss and director Christian Petzold’s look at Germany, and it’s the best by far. I saw Phoenix at TIFF last fall and it was one of my absolute favourites last year. The plot sounds silly, melodramatic, simplistic, and it is all these things, but it’s so much more. It teeters on the tightrope between German Expressionistic absurd comedy and real, heartbreaking passion, but never trips or falls off that rope. And the final scene is so perfect, it had me tearing up, almost weeping 10 minutes after it was over.

Amazing movie.

Going Clear and Phoenix both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Bulgarian Rhapsody had its Canadian premier at Toronto’s Jewish Film Festival. The Festival continues showing fascinating movies through the weekend, in both downtown and North Toronto locations. Go to tjff.ca for details.

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

European Directors and their Stars. Movies reviewed: Holy Motors, Barbara.

Posted in 1980s, Class, Cold War, Cultural Mining, Disguise, documentary, Drama, France, Germany, Movies, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 29, 2012

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.

Ugh…winter. Bah, humbug. It’s at times like this, when your wastebasket is overflowing with cold-generated used Kleenex, and the streets with knee-deep snowdrifts, it’s at miserable wintery seasons like this that you have to remind yourself about the good parts of city life. And in Toronto, that’s movies.

There’s always something good ouit there, mainstream or obscure, spurred on by local moviegoers and the 70-odd film festivals, from TIFF on down.

So this week I’m looking at two really interesting European movies by great — but not very well-known — directors. These films are also notable in that both directors use actors that were central to earlier films.

Holy Motors, Denis Lavant, Kylie MinogueHoly Motors

Dir: Leos Carax

Oscar (Denis Lavant) gets picked up in the morning by a white stretch limo, driven by a handsome, older woman, Cecile, his chauffeur (chauffeuse?)

He looks at his papers, enjoys the rides, talks on a cel phone. Maybe it’s just a day like any other for a rich businessman… or is it? You soon discover that he’s more than just an average exec. Inside the limo, he has costumes, makeup, spirit gum, wigs and beards, which he dons to become the man he’s supposed to play in each act. So, over the course of a day, he becomes a middle-aged, ruthless businessman, a homeless Eastern-European woman, an assassin, a doting dad, a dying man, Kylie Minogue’sHoly Motors Denis Lavant Monsieur Merde erstwhile lover, and many others. Occasionally, between acts, he’s just Oscar: the man who plays the roles and communicates with Cecile.

In one especially marvelous and shocking sequence he becomes an eccentric street maniac (“M. Merde”) who crawls out of a manhole, pushes his way through a crowd, and stumbles into a fashion shoot in a Parisian cemetery. He violently attacks the photographer’s assistant, biting off her fingers, and smearing the blood over a unflappably blasé supermodel before carrying her off to an underground hideaway to complete an even more shocking and grotesque transformation. (No spoiler here — watch the movie to find out the rest of it.)

Holy Motors monsieur merde denis lavant 3So what’s going on? Is Oscar (which is also the director’s middle name) like the guy in the Truman Show, unknowingly living an artificial life for the delight of viewers? I don’t think so.

Oscar’s doing this for you and me (the moviegoers, as a performer in this movie. The entire movie is his act. It’s all an illusion, but an enjoyable one.

Denis Lavant (who played the male lead, a busker, in his Carax’s amazing love story Les Amant du Pont Neuf) is back in full form – just incredible. His foil, Cecile (played by veteran actress Edith Scob) is also great. This is a truly weird and incredible movie that has to be seen to be believed. While there are a few site gags that don’t seem to match the humour of the rest of the rest of the movie, it doesn’t detract from the film. It’s a great movie, like no movie you’ve ever seen before.

Nina Hoss Barbara_02_HFBarbara

Dir: Christian Petzold

It’s the 1980s in East Germany, and Barbara, a doctor, gets sent down to the countryside for requesting an exit permit.

(A bit of an explanation: after WWII, Germany was divided, with half of it becoming part of the democratic and capitalist West and half a socialist republic siding with the Soviet Bloc. Berlin – once the capital – was also divided into sectors occupied by the military of the allies — the UK, the US, France and the Soviet Union.

In the early 60s they put up a wall to prevent the East Berliners from entering West Berlin. Berlin became a city divided, like the two Germanys.)

Getting back to the movie… Dr Barbara Woolf (Nina Hoss) is a doctor from East Berlin. She’sJasna Fritzi Bauer Barbara_11_HF a stern, punctual no-nonsense professional who can’t stand her new, second-rate provincial hospital. She is also extremely beautiful, given to black eyeliner, her blond hair tightly pulled back. She is stuck in the countryside because she filed a request to move to the West.

East Germany is riddled with all-powerful intelligence agents constantly spying on everyone. Life is awful, and everyone wants to get out, to flee to the west for freedom. She thinks Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld) the friendly doctor she works with is spying on her, and she is frequently visited in her crummy apartment by sinister communist intelligence agents looking for clues in her bodily orifices.

Nina Hoss BARBARA  Regie Christian PetzoldAt the hospital, there are constantly patients being dropped into the hospital after being beaten up by police for trying to escape. It’s a building filled with strange creaks, bangs and thuds, and desperate teenaged runaways looking for help She feels for them, especially young Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) a juvie who is abused at her work detail. Meanwhile, with the help of a gallant, handsome lover from the west, she is planning her getaway to freedom. They also meet for secret trysts in the woods and to pass on information.

Everything’s quite cut and dry, right? East is evil, the west is good.

The thing is, it’s not quite so simple. The spies aren’t big time villains, just low-key locals with their own problems. And she’s beginning to like her co-doctor Andre. The western heroes may just be self-centred douches, not lovers of freedom. And Barbara herself, begins to question her own motives. Is her plot to escape just self serving? And who is more important: herself or her patients?

All of the actors, especially Hoss, are great, and fascinating to watch.

This is another great movie by Petzold, a minimalist, formalistic director from the so-called Berlin school. I’ve seen three of his movies now, including Jerichow (also starring Nina Hoss) a sort-of a remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice. All of his movies are terrific, and I believe they are all filmed in the former East Germany, along the distinctive windy, northern coastline.

Holy Motors is playing now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and Barbara opens there today. Check your local listings. If you haven’t seen the beautiful TIFF Bell Lightbox yet – it’s a movie theatre a museum and a restaurant – now’s a good time to drop by and take a look. Also playing this week at HotDocs are two great documentaries about urban America: the Central Park Five and Detropia.

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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