Shiners

Shoe shiners: at the airport, a busy subway station, a kiosk in your local mall, even on the street corner. There they are, every day, providing a service to the people walking by. Yet this humble profession is often overlooked. Who goes into shoe shining, and why? Director Stacey Tenenbaum gives us a documentary that gives us the answers by putting us in the shoes of shiners around the world.

Filming in cities as diverse as New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sarajevo, La Paz, and more, shoeshining-640x480Shiners gives a good sense of the universality of pride in one’s work. However, it is also clear that the profession is not viewed the same from one country to the next. In America it is being reclaimed by hipsters who deride the neglect of older crafts. In Japan we see a lot of honour in the skill, in making something old new again. But in other places, it’s seen as degrading work, and the shiners work on the street, earning little money and even less respect.

In that way, Tenebaum quietly addresses poverty and social justice without quite mentioning it directly. Shiners is a character-driven documentary, the shiners speaking for themselves. A mother of young children barely earns enough to feed her family; she refuses to be shamed for her position but insists that her children will be ‘professionals.’

Don, a.k.a. the shoe dude, working a street corner in Manhattan, has a vibrant personality. A former accountant and pastry chef, he’s chosen shoe shining for the sense of freedom it gives him. He talks candidly about the racist connotations of shoe shining, and the satisfaction he’s derived from telling “uppity people” their shoes are dirty.

Shiners excels at providing an insider’s view. It cracks the humanity wide open, and guarantees that you’ll never walk by these people without seeing them again.

 

This review first appeared at Cinema Axis.

 

 

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The Accidental Husband

A “love doctor” radio host counsels a caller to break up with her fiance. The jilted ex vows revenge on said love doctor. Hilarity ensues?

This plot is so predictable. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays the fire fighter who gets left in advance of the alter. He doesn’t stop for even a second to ask himself if perhaps his gaping immaturity might be a contributing factor, and instead hatches a plan for vengeance against the well-meaning woman (Uma Thurman) who suggested that a caller follow her own intuition and call off a hastily planned wedding to a guy she’d only known a few months. His plan is to of course humiliate the good doctor in her own love life, making it impossible for her to wed her intended (Colin Firth).

1533_largeIf you’ve seen more than 5 movies, then you already know what’s going to happen: she’s going to hate the hell out of Jeffrey Dean Morgan right up to the moment when she falls madly in love with him. She will ditch her fiance, who is not a bad guy, whose only flaw seems to be believing his girlfriend isn’t a complete whack job.

I loathe this movie. I detest all movies like it. I can’t even decide if it’s more demeaning to women or to men but it’s god-awful and doesn’t even have the courtesy to make sense. Spoiler alert: this movie is for the brainless. If this is your idea of a romantic comedy, you deserve to die alone, your bloated corpse eaten by your cats who never respected you anyway.

The Accidental Husband has a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and this had made me FURIOUS. Who is the piece of shit 6% who’s ruining it for the rest of us? Well, I was incensed enough to track her down: her name is S. Jhoanna Robledo and she’s the ONLY critic who gave it a fresh rating, and I’m assuming also the only critic to have guzzled the sperm of this movie’s lousy director, Griffin Dunne (who has not been allowed to direct a movie since, thank fuck). Robledo writes for Common Sense Media, a website that – get this! – helps parents decide if a movie is okay for kids to watch. She told parents that The Accidental Husband is “teen-friendly” but forgot to mention the part where it makes monsters and rapists out of boys and pathetic, subservient nincompoops out of girls. Christ Almighty.

Hot Docs: Do Donkeys Act?

Did you ever have existential questions about donkeys? No? Well, move on.

Or not. The truth is, you haven’t seen anything like Do Donkeys Act? It’s a documentary about donkeys (a donkumentary?), made reputedly by humans (Ashley Sabin and David Redmon), for the enjoyment of – donkeys? There are no talking head interviews in the film, very little input from people, period. There are, however, extended shots of donkeys just “being.” Filmed on a few different donkey sanctuaries where tired and abused donkeys go to live out the last years of their lives, there are no donkey facts, no never-before-seen donkeys in the wild. What the film does offer is plenty of space to contemplate the life and death of these beasts of burden.

Do_Donkeys_act_1How do donkeys cry? Do they tremble inside? Do they dream? These are the types of insights and reflexive cues provided by poetic narration provided by Willem Dafoe. We might spend several minutes just gazing upon a bunch of donkeys eating communally from a trough. We may consider the different utterances we hear and attempt to interpret each one. The donkeys are communicating – are you listening?

The documentary takes the humble donkey and elevates him to the star of his own movie. I started to wonder, listening to them honk and hee-haw, if they were perhaps translating the poetry we were hearing from Dafoe. But then, in a mind-bender, I wondered: is it maybe we who are translating their poetry? Mind blown.

Although its run time is brief and it takes a while to get into its unique rhythm, Do Donkeys Act? has an embracing kind of empathy that came to be quite moving. I’m not sure I’ve come away with specific meaning, but I’ve just spent 72 minutes thinking about donkeys, which is 72 more than I’ve ever given them before, and there’s a kind of grace in that,  triumph for the film makers, dignity for the film’s brave subjects.

 

 

This review first appeared at Cinema Axis, where you can find lots more excellent Hot Docs coverage.

Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent

Jeremiah Tower, if not the father of American cuisine, is at the very least its very fun uncle. But a case for fatherhood can be made. He burned bright and then disappeared. This documentary finds him.

One of Tower’s earliest memories: sitting on the beach, maybe 6 years old, watching an old man prepare barracuda for dinner. Holding his hands as they held the knives, watching him rub some spice from the jungle on them, the aroma as the fish cooked. The old man said that next they would eat snake, or perhaps iguana, and those exotic dishes got confused as the old man also referred to the “little lizard” in young Tower’s pants. That child’s confusion, food and sex already mixed up in his head, is perhaps why he went on to be a renowned chef. But it’s not the only reason.

CNN Films: Jeremiah Tower documentaryHe had an unconventional childhood and perhaps not a happy one, travelling extensively with his parents who exposed him to culture and glamour while largely forgetting he existed. Food became his friend and companion, and he’d gluttonously study the menus of all the great restaurants he visited, making friends with the kitchen staff in all the best dining establishments in the very best of hotels.

He never intended to become a chef, but circumstance had made him a cook, and when opportunity knocked, Jeremiah Tower answered. Not only did he answer, he opened the door to a transformation of food and ingredients, and how we thought of them. He was perhaps the first celebrity chef but abandoned it all at the top of his game. Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, and Martha Stewart all speak of him reverently, but it’s clear his legend is still shrouded in mystery.

A couple of years ago, Jeremiah Tower resurfaced, and the foodie community went bananas foster (that’s me making a foodie joke, fyi). He was to be the new Executive Chef at Tavern on the Green, a large restaurant in New York known more for its touristy location than the quality of its food. It seemed a strange move for such a king of the kitchen, but then again, what do we really know of this culinary superstar who walked away from his own fame and success?

This documentary is fun and interesting from start to finish, but a lot of Tower’s mystery remains intact. Lydia Tenaglia shoots him like the lone wolf he is, perhaps a little scattered and deliberately artsy at times, but the truth is, Tower is a force that pulls you in, his charisma alone enough to compel. The Last Magnificent made me hungry – sure, for some of his California cooking, but mostly just for more of him, of this fascinating, elusive man.

 

 

 

Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent opens Friday May 5th in select cities: Toronto,
Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, and right here in Ottawa, luckily enough.

 

 

The Whole Truth

It’s possible that if Keanu doesn’t play a lawyer at least once per decade he’ll die. That’s the only reason I can think of to explain his casting as a lawyer ever, because he’s barely credible as the sandwich guy who delivers lunch to law firms.

hero_TheWholeTruth-2016-1In The Whole Truth, Keanu does indeed play a lawyer who is defending the son of a former colleague and longtime friend. The son is accused of killing his father, that very same former colleague and longtime friend. I’m sure Keanu would like to believe that his client is innocent, but his client isn’t talking. And his client’s mother (Renee Zellweger) is mostly weeping, and begging Keanu to save her son’s life.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who is above this material, plays a lawyer assigned to help Keanu, and be less of a dick in the courtroom than he is, which is a role that could have been fulfilled by Andy Dick or Jeremy Piven or goddamned Jim Belushi, who was actually busy playing the murder victim, but you catch my drift. It wasn’t a high bar.

Anyway. It’s derivative. It’s one of those “unravel the plot” movies probably based on a mystery novel only sold in drug stores. When “the whole truth” is finally revealed, you probably won’t be around to hear it, having already changed the channel, and you certainly won’t give a shit. The ending isn’t earned, it doesn’t pack a punch, it’s just a fart in the wind (is that a saying?).

I’m dubious, Keanu.

SXSW: M.F.A.

MFA-movieShortly after we are introduced to Master of Fine Arts candidate Noelle (Francesca Eastwood), she is raped by a classmate.  When she confronts him the next day, he denies doing anything wrong and winds up dead in a mostly-accidental way.  Somewhere during the events that caused Noelle to be a victim of sexual assault and a murder suspect, she snaps.  Formerly introverted and a loner, Noelle starts going to frat parties in order to seduce and murder other rapists who, due to a faulty system, got away with their crimes.

It will not be surprising to anyone who has seen the excellent documentary The Hunting Ground (or really, anyone who has attended a post-secondary institution) that despite her school having reported no sexual assaults at all, it is all to easy for Noelle to find rapists to kill on her college’s campus as she goes full vigilante.   In carrying out a series of increasingly violent kills, Noelle has no real fear of being caught even though she knows the police are closing in.

Eastwood is INTENSE in M.F.A.  Like, maybe more intense than her father has ever been, and that’s saying something because that guy’s face is frozen in a permanent, angry, “Ima kill you” sneer.  She is the best part of this movie and while she can’t make Noelle relatable, she keeps the audience on her side throughout the film, and that is no small feat in the face of her bloody killing spree.

M.F.A. offers an interesting twist on the typical slasher flick, and Noelle’s numerous kills are well-executed and, as is traditional in the genre, get more gory as she goes.  If nothing else, M.F.A. calls attention to the conversation we all should be having, namely why so many women are being sexually assaulted on college campuses and why the colleges are in many cases turning a blind eye to the rapes, or even discouraging victims from reporting these assaults!

The scary part about M.F.A. is not Noelle, it’s that the rapists and the evil administrator who blames the victim and covers up assaults are all too real, and are on your campus, or your friend’s, or your daughter’s.  We need to find an alternative solution, other than murder, so that a campus rape stops being a standard part of a Saturday night frat party, and so that when a college claims to have had zero rapes it’s not because the administration successfully intimidated and discouraged all potential complainants.  No more sexual assaults should be swept under the rug.  M.F.A. helps to shine a light on the problem.

 

Oklahoma City

We’ve all got points of history that fix us to a certain date and time: maybe you remember where you were when JFK was shot. Maybe it was Prince Charles marrying Diana, or the day the Challenger blew up, or baby Jessica down that well. Certainly 9/11 is fixed in our public conscience. For me, the first news event that really hit me was the bombing in Oklahoma City. I was young, but even in Canada the coverage of this tragedy was electrifying and horrible. I remember learning that there was a daycare in the building, and that feeling in my stomach, a hard pit that formed in my inability to fathom the kind of person capable of this.

MV5BYTJmNWRkYmEtMmU5MC00YzczLTk5NjEtODg3NjFmZTNiNjI0L2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjc5MTQ1ODY@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_This documentary places the bombing in Oklahoma City within the context not just of Waco, but of a growing movement within white “christian” “patriots” – white supremacists who distrusted government and valued guns, apparently above all else. The aryan nations held their head quarters of hatred in northern Idaho and things went bed. Of course they did: that many guns in the hands of that many idiots always does.

Meanwhile: who is Timothy McVeigh? Anti-government, conspiracy theorist, sure. But also a soldier, one the government was willing to promote. McVeigh was a loser though, and when he flunked out of ranger school, he hit the road and traveled gun show to gun show. Unsurprisingly, he met with white supremacists, distilling and reinforcing his craziest notions. He washed up in Waco during the siege, selling racist bumper stickers to other lookey-loos, and raged against the government holding its own people hostage, as he saw it. It’s easy to dismiss him as a crackpot, but he’s a crackpot who built a bomb that he knew would claim innocent lives, the lives of children, and felt justified doing it.

When he was arrested and America got their first glimpse of the terrorist behind the atrocity at Oklahoma City, people were astonished to find that this was not some sort of “foreign threat” but one of their own. Fuck.

Over two decades have passed but it’s still hard to look back. Director Barak Goodman offers a restrained, though not bereft of emotion, look at those events, and it’s still hard not to flinch.

Tomorrow

Greetings, Earthlings!

Today is Earth Day. This year’s campaign is all about environmental and climate literacy. Historically people have “celebrated” Earth Day simply by shutting off their lights in the evenings, perhaps playing a board game rather than watching TV, which requires electricity. The Earth actually needs us to do more. This year there is a March For Science in Washington, DC, a rally and teach-in to defend the vital public service role science plays in our communities and our world. Is it crazy sad that such a rally is necessary? Yes it is.

In 2012, Nature published a study led by more than 20 researchers from the top scientific institutions
in the world predicting that humankind could disappear between 2040 and 2100. Like, extinction! But it also said
that it could be avoided by drastically changing our way of life if we take appropriate measures right now. Scientists are always telling us this and we’re always not listening. Well, listening maybe, but not really willing to change our lifestyle. But a bunch of French film makers got together and decided to try to rattle our cages a bit.

Tomorrow is a documentary that doesn’t just hit us over the head with the problem but rather offers solutions. For the coming food MV5BNzc5MzVkZTQtNmU1Yy00YTQ3LTk3ODMtNjY5ODc0MzU0MGE2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzMwODMxMTQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,936_AL_shortage, they explore urban agriculture, microfarming, and permaculture. As to our reliance on fossil fuels, they visit places that are moving successfully toward renewable resources, cities declaring themselves carbon neutral. They also tackle some of the big things holding us back: economy and government. Since democracy runs on the steam of big business, how can we ever move away from consumerism?

There are lots of important questions to consider in this work by Cyril Dion and Melanie Laurent, but the greatest takeaway is that of hope. If the documentary is a little too ambitious to keep laser focus, it at least presents viable solutions , things you and I can do in our very own communities that will make a difference.

Tomorrow is in theatres in New York and L.A. in time for Earth Day, and a wider release will follow. It’s required viewing for those of us who want to leave this planet in better condition than we found it.

Penis in the Popcorn

Urban Dictionary defines the ‘Popcorn Trick’ as: If one is at the movies with one’s date, proceed to buy a extra large bucket of popcorn and place it on his lap during the movie. Cut a hole in the bottom of the bucket, and proceed to stick your bare penis in the hole (preferably bonered). When your date reaches in to grab popcorn, she will be delighted. Will she, Urban Dictionary? Will she?

Everyone knows about this “prank”  but has anyone actually encountered it? Perpetrated it? I mean, if the only way a girl is going to touch your penis is to offer savoury snacks and then pull the world’s most disappointing bait and switch, I’m going to go ahead and call this NON-CONSENSUAL. And if that’s the first time your lady meets your penis, I’m popcornbetting it’s also the last. I mean, has this ever resulted in a handjob? Wouldn’t it be easier, less greasy, and more hygienic to simply ask politely? Sure you’ll probably be rejected, but that’s a probable rejection vs a definite rejection, along with third degree burns from movie popcorn “butter.”  And you haven’t wasted $37 on a popcorn combo. You could probably find some derelict alley and purchase a handjob for roughly the cost of an extra large bucket of popcorn at the movie theatre. And a regular handjob will be a heck of a lot quieter. I mean, popcorn bags seem deliberately noisy. What were theatre owners thinking? Every handful of popcorn means a crinkly, wrinkly, rustly noise for the rest of us. But the tell-tale rhythmic rustling of a popcorn handjob is a dead giveaway. Popcorn handjobs are so indiscreet! How can you call more attention to this illicit act? Oh right, make it look like some sort of popcorn monster has grabbed hold of your date and won’t let go…and you’re somehow deliriously happy about it. Plus you’ll get salt down your urethra.

If you can picture any single man pulling this trick, who would it be? Mickey Rourke? Yeah, me too. Possibly because we HAVE seen him do it, in the movie The Diner. Boogie’s movie date reaches into the popcorn box on his lap and is horrified to discover his penis poking through the bottom of the box into the popcorn. To get an authentically shocked response, Rourke hid a dildo in the popcorn, which is a sweet touch. What a thoughtful colleague. But that’s kind of the thing: when would this ever be welcome? “Oh sweetie, your coercing me into accidentally touching your dirty popcorn penis really turned me on and now I realize that waiting until we care about each other is silly and we should just have a hot, buttery tug-n-pull right now.” IS THAT YOUR END GAME, MICKEY ROURKE?

Now, the above definition suggested that an extra large bucket of popcorn be used, but I suspect the truth of the matter is that most guys could do with a small. I mean, if you have to poke your erection through the bottom, then you’ve probably got six inches worth of popcorn for her to get through before she’d even graze the tip. Ideally I suppose you have forgone buying her supper to make sure she’s good and starved during the film. But how do you stay erect until she digs down far enough? Is the anticipation enjoyable? Is the slight friction of the kernels kind of kinky? Or do you eventually just become a flaccid inchworm lining the bottom of the bag, never to be discovered. I’m not sure how you discreetly took out your pocket knife, cut a dick-shaped hole in the bottom without a cascade of popcorn falling out, whacked off til you were hard enough to insert, quietly withstood the burning pain from the too-warm popcorn and the faux-butter that collects at the bottom, and I sure as hell don’t know how you’ll discreetly pull it back out. You’re probably looking at the mother of all paper cuts, with salt readily available for rubbing in the wound.

Now imagine that you’re sitting in a dark theatre with popcorn in your lap. And your dick stuck through a hole in that popcorn. Offer some to your date. You obviously cannot move the popcorn at all, so you have to offer it to her without moving it toward her, which seems like a dick move. Makes it seem like you’re hogging the popcorn, in fact. Not moving it at all, keeping it trained exactly on your crotch is probably…suspicious. And what’s your role in this? Do you eat popcorn out of your own dick bag? I mean, you’re probably pretty motivated to reduce the level of popcorn. But is this getting weird? Masturbatory?

Apparently I’m not the only one wondering about this. A couple of years ago, Playboy published an article featuring Redditors who’d copped to trying it out. The results:

humor-guys-put-penis-into-popcorn

 

Do you have any good stories to add?

Tower

August 1, 1966: a gunman opens fire from the clock tower of the University of Texas. No one can get near him. He’d hold not only the campus but much of the surrounding city of Austin hostage. Bodies lay in an open court yard, a pregnant woman bleeding out, but no one could risk rescue. The sniper had vantage and advantage, and the shooting went on forever – 90 long minutes in real time, but a lifetime for those who lay bleeding, and those who watched in fear from the sidelines.

towerThe documentary Tower tells of the people there that day – the students, the injured, the reporters, the cops, the citizens. Those listening on the radio knew that the local police didn’t have weapons that could reach the clock tower, so lay people took up their rifles and rushed to the scene. When a couple of cops finally did breach the clock tower, they had to duck not only the shooter’s bullets, but those of all the well-meaning “helpers.”

It’s a beautiful documentary. My words will fail me. If you have Netflix, only watching it can do it justice. Director Keith Maitland uses animation to bring the events to life, to put us in the shoes of survivors. Tower is a portrait of courage. It’s also agonizing in its recriminations, doubts, and guilt. It’s very human. The story is told with grace and sensitivity, with new perspective and the benefit of time. But no amount of time has erased the trauma of that day, and this documentary reveals how many have buried the worst memories of that day.

I doubt if the shooting at UT was the first U.S. school shooting, but it certainly wasn’t the last. In that kind of historical context, it’s uncomfortable to measure just how long it’s been since this, the most American of crimes, has been allowed to gain epidemic proportions, virtually unchecked. The fact that there is still today no memorial for those who died, or those who survived, that day at the University of Texas, reminds us of the lurid headlines school shootings inspire, but within days, weeks at most, the tragedy is swept under a rug, not to be revisited until the next shooter opens fire. Perhaps a little remembrance is exactly what is needed. Tower remembers.