Off. Films reviewed: Save Yourselves!, Max Cloud, Another Round

Posted in 1990s, Action, Brooklyn, comedy, Denmark, Games, High School, UK by CulturalMining.com on December 18, 2020

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

This week I’m looking at three indie comedies about characters who find themselves in odd situations. There’s middle aged school teachers going off the wagon, a Brooklyn couple going off-grid, and a teenage girl going off this planet.

Save Yourselves!

Wri/Dir: Alex Huston Fischer, Eleanor Wilson

Su and Jack (Sunita Mani, John Reynolds) are a Brooklyn couple in their early 30s. They love each other but something seems to be missing. It could be because they spend their lives glued to smart phones for texting, social networks and search engines. They can’t answer a simple question without googling it first. So when a friend at a wedding party offers them the use of his grandparents’ cottage in the woods, they decide it’s now or never. They cut the cords and take a week off-grid. That means no schedule, no email, no listicles, and no phone. Their lives will be authentic and spontaneous. So they pack their bags – along with ample arugula and kale – and drive up north, At the cottage they notice new things. Meteors falling from the sky. And have frank conversations. Jack tries to become more manly by chopping wood while Su resists pulling out her phone. It’s difficult but they can manage. Until things start to get strange. Loud bangs n the background. And an auburn pouffe —  sort of a fluffy Ottoman –  they find in the cottage. Why does it keep moving… by itself. Are they crazy? Or is something going on.

Turns out these adorable tribbles are actually dangerous aliens taking over the world. They devour all ethanol, and send out smelly waves disabling their enemies. Su and Jack don’t know any of this because they’re offline. But they also unknowingly fled chaos in the cities just in time. Can they survive this alien invasion? Or will they just be its latest casualty?

Save Yourselves is a cute, satirical comedy about ineffectual millennials trying to make it in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s funny, goofy and silly. Reynolds does Jack as an insecure dude in a moustache while Mani is an alienated Su who misses her mom. They’re a good comedy duo who play off each other well.

I like this low-budget comedy.

Max Cloud

Dir: Martin Owen

It’s Brooklyn in 1990.

Sara is a teenaged girl who loves video games – she’s glued to her TV set 24/7. And it looks like she’s about to reach the top level of her space exploring game where Max Cloud and his sidekicks fight off the bad guys invading his spaceship. But her dad Tony is worried about her — she’s not doing her homework. So he grounds her and takes away the joy stick. But that’s not fair! Sara wishes she could play this game all the time… Little does she know, her wish is someone else’s command, and she is magically transferred into the game itself. Only they’re real people now, not 16-bit game avatars.

There’s the hero, the devilishly-handsome chowderhead Max Cloud (Scott Adkins), the cynical Rexy (Sally Colett) and Jake, the wise-cracking young cook (Elliot James Langridge). And wouldn’t you know it, Sara takes the form of Jake not Max. They’ve crash-landed on the prison planet Heinous, and have to escape before the evil  villains, Shee and Revengor, take over. Now it’s real life, not a game. How can Sara escape? Luckily her best friend, Cowboy (Franz Drameh) is in her bedroom holding the controls. If he can win the game, she can get back to the real world. But if not she’s trapped theer forever.

Ok, when I started watching Max Cloud, it felt weird. The game characters spoke larger than life, the sets looked tacky and cheap, and the whole concept felt too over-the-top to be taken seriously. Why are they talking so strangely? Then it hit me.

They’re all British actors, playing cartoonish Americans, using a high camp sensibility. Like a low-budget episode of Peewee’s Playhouse invaded by characters from Mystery Science Theatre 3000. When looked at that way, it’s actually quite cute and funny. The plot is basically non-existant, but the characters are enjoyable, and I really loved the 16-bit style computer animation, especially when used on live human actors in a jerky, 90’s-style Street-fighter battle scene. Very cool.

If you’re into mullets and vintage games you’ll love Max Cloud.

Another Round

Dir: Thomas Vinterberg

Martin (Mads Miklelsen) is a history teacher at a Copenhagen highschool who feels like something is missing from his life. He used to be funny, handsome and vibrant – he was a ballet dancer doing a PhD for God’s sake! But now, his home life is dull, his job even worse. His wife works nights – he rarely sees her. Somewhere along the way, his get up and go got up and went. Even his students are revolting over his  unimpressive classes.  What can he do?

One night at a birthday dinner with his three best friends –  Tommy the gym coach (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nikolaj the psychology teacher (Magnus Millang) and

Peter who heads the school choir (Lars Ranthe) – propose a scientific experiment to change their lives. Based on the writings of Norwegian psycholgist Finn Skårderud who says humans work best at an alcohol level of 0.05, they decide to maintain that level of drunkenness every day, except for nights and weekends. They carry personal breathalyzers to reach the exact level, and take careful notes of its effect. The initial results? Life is more fun, people laugh more, work seems easier, and their self-confidence is growing. It’s like wearing beer-goggles all the time. On the negative side there’s slurred speech, clumsiness and bad judgement. And when they raise the level to 0.1 things get really interesting. But other people are starting to notice  with potentially terrible consequences. Have they taken their experiment too far?

DRUK

Another Round is a very clever comedy about the good and bad points of alcohol. It’s all done tongue-in-cheek of course – Danish director Thomas Vinterberg loves poking at the bourgeoisie. Obviously, I’m not shouting three cheers for alcoholism, but after decades of Calvinistic Hollywood movies about the evils of hooch, reefer madness, and various other addictions, it’s refreshing to see something from the other side, taking the point of view of the guy with the lampshade on his head, rather than the finger-waving Mrs Grundys. Mads Mikkelsen is superb as a man whose life is reawakened by drinking, including an amazing dance sequence toward the end. This isn’t a light, easy movie – parts will definitely make you squirm – but  Another Round is definitely something different, and something that you should see.

You can watch Save Yourselves beginning on Tuesday, while Another Round, and Max Cloud both open today digitally and VOD; 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.

Love without Marriage. Movies reviewed: Auf das Leben! To Life!, Sailing a Sinking Sea, Far From the Madding Crowd

Posted in Anthropology, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Germany, Romance, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on May 1, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM. Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage … right? This week I’m looking at three movies about love and affection that may not lead to marriage. There’s a romance set in Victorian England about a strong-willed woman who doesn’t want to jump into marriage; a documentary – at Hot Docs — about a seafaring people in Southeast Asia who believe in mermaids, not wedding ceremonies; and a German drama – playing at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival – about an older woman who has lost her will to live. Ruth ( Hannelore Elsner ) und Jonas ( Max Riemelt ) schauen ihren alten Film

Auf das Leben! To Life! Dir: Uwe Janson

Ruth Weintraub (Hannelore Elsner) is a retired cabaret singer in Germany who now repairs musical instruments. Once a popular Yiddish singer in the 70s, something terrible happened, and now she’s a lonely woman with no friends or family. She reaches rock bottom when she’s forcibly relocated from her apartment of 30 years. So she’s shocked to see the young labourer packing up her stuff is a doppelganger for a lost love from her distant past. Johan (Max Riemelt) lives out of an old VW bus, picking up odd jobs. His only release is a daily run through the park. Clearly, he’s running away from something, but won’t say what. When he saves her from suicide and loses his bus in the process they are forced together. While Ruth harold-and-maude-movie-poster-1971-1020464060is locked up in a mental ward, Johan is watching old film reels he finds in her apartment, which gradually reveal her past. This is a nice, low-key German portrayal of an unusual pair of friends. While there’s a sweet, younger/older bond, don’t expect a new Harold and Maude. It’s simple, not quirky, and the characters are endearing, not complex. But I enjoyed it as a good TV drama, including the bouncy, passionate singing by Sharon Brauner as the young Ruth. Sailing_A_Sinking_Sea_3

Sailing a Sinking Sea Dir: Olivia Wyatt

When the tsunami struck the Indian Ocean in 2004, over 200,000 people in Southeast Asia were swept away in a just a few minutes. But one group, the Moken people, who live on the Andaman sea between Thailand and Burma managed to survive almost unharmed. The Moken say they have no last names, don’t keep track of age and don’t use numbers. They are born on boats, have sex with mermaids, and can sing to the fish. Ghosts don’t scare them but monkeys do. They won’t kill Sea Cows, because they are too close to humans, but aren’t past making them cry to collect their tears for love potions. Marriage means a woman can grow breasts and a man Sailing_A_Sinking_Sea_1builds a boat; no wedding or special ceremony, they just move in together. This is an amazing, delightful documentary, its stories and songs told entirely in their language. Filled with gorgeous, Nemo-like underwater scenes of men hunting with spears deep in the water with women overhead on the boats. 7472830_max

Far From the Madding Crowd Dir: Thomas Vinterberg (based on Thomas Hardy’s novel)

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a free spirit. She rides horses lying on her back. She’s well-educated but penniless since her parents died and lives in a little farmhouse in 19th century Dorset, England. Her nearest neighbour, farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), is plain-spoken but honest and loyal. He’s a young man with a flock of sheep and is heading for a prosperous future. Will you marry me? he asks her. She cannot. Soon after, there’s a reversal of fortune. He loses his farm while she inherits a manor and the huge country estate that surrounds it. She decides to manage it herself – unheard of for a woman. She meets resistance selling her crop – the men at the exchange won’t even acknowledge her. But the way she handles herself catches the eye of Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a very rich and 7472831_maxeligible bachelor. He has turned all the other women away, but this one intrigues him. Many years her senior, he can still carry a tune with the best of them. Their two farms put together would make a fine plot of land. And passing through town is the dashing, mustachioed Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), a sergeant in Queen Victoria’s army. Brash and impulsive, he dresses like a Mountie, complete with redcoat, sword and riding crop. He was left waiting at the altar by the love of his life, so he’s on the lookout for someone new. And stalwart 7472829_maxGabriel Oak, her erstwhile suitor, is now her employee. He’d still marry her in a minute. What to do? What to do? This is a wonderful, classic romance about a woman controlling her own fate. The cast is amazing – especially Flemish actor Christian Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) and Carey Mulligan (An Education) as Bathsheba. Danish director Vinterberg (The Hunt) presents it all as a straightforward record of life in the lush English countryside (far from the city’s madding crowd.) It takes a leisurely pace, and is heavy on the cultural details… but is never boring. And now that Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters have been done to death (complete with zombies and sea monsters) are we looking at a Thomas Hardy boom?

Far from the Madding Crowd opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. You can find Sailing a Sinking Sea at hotdocs.ca; and Auf Das Leben! To Life! is at tjff.com.

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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