GREG KLYMKIW - THE CURMUDGEON OF CINEMA

Greg Klymkiw’s 35+ years in the movie business include journalism, screenwriting, script editing, producing iconoclastic work by Guy Maddin, Bruno Lazaro Pacheco, Alan Zweig, etc, 14 years as senior creative consultant and producer-in-residence @ Norman Jewison's Canadian Film Centre, nurturing international recognition for prairie post-modernist films with his guerrilla campaigns as the Winnipeg Film Group’s Marketing Director, writing for Film Corner, Daily Film Dose, POV, Phantom of the Movies' VIDEOSCOPE, Electric Sheep UK - a deviant view of cinema, Take One Magazine, Cinema Canada & he's currently completing 3 new books about cinema. He's the subject of Ryan McKenna’s 2013 documentary "Survival Lessons: The Greg Klymkiw Story". At last count Klymkiw had seen over 30,000 feature films. GUIDE TO RATINGS: ***** Masterpiece/MasterpiecePotential **** Excellent ***1/2 Very Good *** Good **1/2 Not Bad ** Whatever *½ Poor * Raw Sewage. If a film is not up to earning 1 star, it will earn at least: 1 Pubic Hair. If, God forbid, the movie is worse than 1 Pubic Hair, the absolute lowest rating will be: The Turd found behind Harry's Charbroil and Dining Lounge.


PLEASE NOTE: AS OF JULY, 2014, THE FILM CORNER'S STAR RATING IS LOCATED AT THE END OF THE REVIEW.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

INTERSTELLAR - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Christopher Nolan finally achieves a smidgen of competence.

Interstellar (2014)
Dir. Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There isn't one single Christopher Nolan movie I've ever liked. He's humourless, pretentious and worst of all, he's a veritable Blind Pew when it comes to directing action scenes (which is a bit of a problem since three of his pictures are superhero movies). However, Interstellar is cause for a thimble-sized celebratory quaff o' bubbly since I was able to actually sit through the movie and not hate it - too much. Basically what we're dealing with here is an almost 3-hour-long cerebral-style sci-fi soaper involving a dying Earth and a whack of astronauts searching for habitable planets beyond a black hole that opens up into a faraway galaxy.

First of all, the movie has no major action set-pieces for Nolan to screw-up. The handful there are genuinely have an accent on suspense and Nolan handles them reasonably well. Also, the picture is replete with low-key dialogue scenes in a claustrophobic spaceship which allows for some fine acting from Matthew McConaughey as the ship's captain, Anne Hathaway as the science officer (and daughter of Michael Caine, the back-on-Earth mastermind of the endeavour to save the human race) as well as the always astonishing Jessica Chastain as McConaughey's back-on-Earth scientist daughter.

For such a long, humourless picture, it almost never feels dull and offers a compelling-enough journey to keep us in our seats. There's one humungous problem, however. The ride provided is decent enough, but there isn't a moment when we don't know where the movie is headed. The predictability-factor is disappointingly up there.

I defy anyone to not figure out the big secret in the early going when McConaughey's daughter (as a little girl) begs him not to go on the journey. I annoyingly tried to explain to my wife where the movie was headed and she asked me politely to keep my mouth shut. "Oh come," I insisted, "It's going to have worm holes and time travel elements, so how can it not be . . . " At this point, my daughter sharply cut me off with an aggressive finger to her lips and a loud, "Ssssshhhhhhh!!!!!"

I also defy anyone to not figure out from the very moment we meet Matt Damon that he isn't all he's cracked up to . . . oh, I'll shut it!!!

The movie is perfectly watchable, though, and based upon its relative competence I'd suggest that maybe, just maybe, Nolan has figured out how to make movies. Interstellar still bears the Christopher "One Idea" Nolan imprimatur - he'll never shake that, but at least you'll not be checking what time it is every five-to-minutes.

THE FILM CORNER RATING:
**½ Two-and-a-half-stars.


Interstellar screens the world over via Paramount.


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Friday, 14 November 2014

THE BETTER ANGELS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Malick protege's gorgeous monochrome rural period piece

1817. Indiana.
Log cabin. Deep woods.
A boy's love for his mother.
The Better Angels (2014)
Dir. A.J. Edwards
Starring: Jason Clarke, Diane Kruger, Brit Marling, Braydon Denney

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In life and even after death, our real angels are indeed, as the title of this great film tells us, The Better Angels.

Fading up from a pitch black silent screen, one simple, powerful quotation from President Abraham Lincoln, tells us, and in retrospect, corroborates that this is the very core and essence of the dazzling directorial debut of Terrence Malick's longtime editor A.J. Edwards. It reads:
"All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother."
As the text fades down, we're left with a silent black screen for a few moments until a stately, ravishingly composed and arranged orchestral score envelopes us in the dark. Once the piece ends, we're greeted by harsh monochrome light attempting to break through an overcast sky and resting upon a set of steps that lead upwards to a series of majestic columns.

Moving inside and beyond this brief exterior shot, we're treated to a series of images by a camera aimed along the massive columns as they try to reach beyond the ceiling to be nourished by the light of the heavens. We get a brief glimpse of a bronze plaque embedded into the back wall and try as we might, it's impossible to make out what the words represent since the camera turns itself around as if from the point of view of these words, the plaque flanked by sculpted doves.

From within the darkness of this perspective we finally get a glimpse of the light pouring through the massive columns as the voice of an old man asks, "You wondering what kind of boy he was?" And then, we're gloriously winded by a smash cut to a river at dusk, the still water defined on either side by banks of majestic trees casting dark shadows upon the shimmering beauty, at once beautiful and alternately not unlike a visual representative of a lamentation for a time long passed.

This transition from the cold stone under grey light, representing something long dead, but worthy of the sort of worship its architecture demands, to the stunning beauty of the natural world is not only cinematically powerful, but in fact, is part of the film's overall style and storytelling techniques which, far exceed the cerebral pretence of Edwards' mentor, colleague and producer of this film. Terrence Malick's Tree of Life and To The Wonder were both such ludicrous wanks that it's kind of cool seeing the wankier inspirations being transformed into simple, emotional storytelling.

Our narrator gives us few details about "the boy", but then, we don't need too much more than what we actually see ourselves. What we do see is delivered in the measured pace of rural existence and though there are many Malick-like bits of cerebral looking-up-at-trees and so forth, it's all rooted in character and narrative (albeit a smidgen off the regular beaten path) in addition to the film's extraordinary tone.

The picture is ultimately so gorgeous, so inspiring and often heart-wrenching that this story about a little boy growing up in a little log cabin in Indiana in 1817 is compulsively watchable.

We learn from our narrator that the lad's name is Abe (Braydon Denney) and that he'll eventually leave home at the age of 21. It wouldn't take an Albert Einstein to figure out we're in on the childhood of Honest Abe Lincoln himself, but I suspect if I hadn't known before going in that this is whom/what the picture was dealing with, I'd like to think I'd have potentially been watching the story of a young boy, any young boy and his deep, undying love for his mother.

I will say, though, that the images and events rendered by Edwards and his cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd, all underscored by a gorgeous soundtrack composed by Hunan Townshend, are ultimately so potent that I did indeed file away my knowledge that we were following the young boy who eventually became one of the great presidents of the United States of America. What's kind of cool about this is that we're left with an evocative portrait of pioneer life that gives us a sense of both the hardships and joys of working the land and being inextricably linked to it.

The narrative of Abe's younger years is presented in a series of impressions of days and nights that proceed over the course of time and we're moved forward by some of the most spectacular jump cuts rendered in any film in recent memory. Though some cuts are clearly of the breathtaking variety, many seem so perfectly fluid and in fact seem as gentle as required, when required. We get impressions of children at play and at work, but we're almost always within Abe's sphere and/or POV. Ultimately, the film focuses upon a simple trinity of characters overwhelming all others populating the frame. The most important relationships involve Abe and his stern father (Jason Clarke) and his truly angelic mother (Diane Kruger).

When Abe raises the ire of his father and gets a stern lecture and/or a painful whipping, it's of course his mother who applies the gentle words to calm Abe and to help him understand and love his father in spite of the punishment. One of the most moving sequences is when Abe's mother tenderly describes the look on her husband's face when he first laid eyes on the boy after birth. She assures him that his father had nothing but adoration in his eyes and that she knew that he would always go to the wall for Abe and protect him with his very life.

We do indeed experience moments of tenderness between Abe and his Dad. We also come to understand that it's Abe's mother who recognizes the boy's special gifts and tries to convince her husband that Abe's not cut out for the rough, brutal hardships of working the land. Dad seems at first to dismiss this out of spite or even jealousy, but as the film progresses, we see that Abe's Dad wants to build fortitude and perseverance in his son.

When Abe's mother is taken ill and dies, Abe's Dad marries anew and Abe's stepmother (Brit Marling) proves to be as angelic, if not even more spiritually connected to the boy. The trinity of Father, Son and Stepmother is also as strong and important as the first one.

In both cases, it is the MOTHER (by blood and by marriage) who is able to outwardly perceive Abe's intelligence and sensitivity, whilst Dad is the hide toughener. One sequence even has a dreamy, ghostly moment when both mothers connect fleetingly and we are infused with an almost spiritual warmth, a glow that carries us and Abe through whatever hardships he continues to face.

And as haunting and sad as many of the impressions Edwards imparts are, we're always tied to the glory and spirit of the natural world and the special love that only a mother and son can have. The film paints a portrait of the formative years of a great man, but what we're often aware of is the potential of greatness in any man who honours God, nature and of course, his mother.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4 Stars

The Better Angels is in platform theatrical release via levelFILM and can be seen in Toronto at the Carlton Cinema. Why this isn't also unspooling at TIFF Bell Lightbox and/or a decent Cineplex screen is beyond me. It's worth seeing as soon as possible, but I suspect its astounding picture and sound will shine ever-beautifully once the film is released on Blu-Ray.

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Monday, 10 November 2014

SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - A Masterpiece of Contemporary Cinema . . . well, not really, but goddamn this is supremely enjoyable wad o' shark poop!

YOU WILL BELIEVE
A SHARK CAN FLY
AND IF YOU BELIEVE THAT
I'VE GOT A BROOKLYN BRIDGE
I CAN SELL YOU CHEAP!
Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
Dir. Anthony C. Ferrante
Starring: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Vivica A. Fox, Judd Hirsch, Robert Kline, Robert Hays, Billy Ray Cyrus, Perez Hilton, Kelly Ripa, Al Roker, Kari Wuhrer, Wil Wheaton

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Inclement weather hits the New York-bound flight from L.A. Never fear, though. Robert Hays (Airplane!) is the pilot. But, wait! What's that we see out the window?

Oh, Jesus! No!

SHARKS!

This is more than mere inclement weather. This is that meteorological phenomenon which hit L.A. last year. It's a sharknado - a tornado so fierce it rips thousands of sharks out of the ocean and has them whipping around within the funnels of H2O, allowing for extra propulsion to dive at their targets, jaws agape, lusting to ingest whatever their tummies desire.

Within the first ten-or-so minutes of Anthony C. Ferrante's Sharknado 2: The Second One. a passenger is decapitated by a shark (in the plane), our leading lady (Tara Reid) has her hand bitten off by a shark (in the plane) and the pilot is swallowed whole when a shark crashes into the cockpit (uh, you guessed it, in the plane), until our stalwart hero from the first Sharknado (Ian Ziering) commandeers the controls, dodging hundreds of hungry airborne sharks until he can safely crash-land the airplane.

Alas, New York is about to be hit with a shit-storm of sharks because frankly, there's not one, but two - count 'em - TWO sharknados headed for the Big Apple from opposite directions like mega, funnel-shaped Twin Towers threatening to collide with each other in the heart of Times Square. And as we watch, mouths agape, we realize we're about to participate in what might be one of the most gloriously ludicrous monster movies of all time.

The first Sharknado was happily stupid. Sharknado 2 grabs a nursing sow by the teats and begins pulling maniacally like Quasimodo the Notre Dame bell ringer. Whereas the first titty twister of a Sharknado was so awful it was good, our followup picture is so good, it's hard to believe how awful it truly is - but in all the right ways - and possibly in ways that might actually be good. At a certain point, surrealism overtakes the whole affair and your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not the picture is endowed with considerable merit (or not, or whatever, it doesn't matter). Director Ferrante and screenwriter Thunder (Surely Not His Real Name) Levin have us soiling ourselves from beginning to end, not out of fright, but because the movie is genuinely funny.

Where writer Not His Real Name excels beyond the preposterous genius and variety of tornado-propelled shark attacks are some of the finest lines of dialogue ever scribed in an awful movie. My favourite, by far is when our bland leading man visits our bland leading lady in the hospital where she's recovering from a shark biting off her hand (yes, she's the one, the lassie who gets chomped by a shark in the plane in the first ten minutes), he attempts some levity meant to cheer her up, points to her bloodied, bandaged stump and remarks:

"The next time you offer to lend a hand don’t be so literal about it."

I'm still slapping my knee over that one, good golly gee. My other knee is also sissy-boy-slapped all to hell from laughter over seeing the head of the Statue of Liberty crash into downtown Manhattan and take out an unsuspecting bystander. Will wonders never cease? No, they don't. Witness, if you dare, our dreadful leading lady retrieve her hand from the jaws of a shark to get her wedding ring back.

This, I believe, is truly worthy of a full-on sissy-boy slap-party of guffaws.

With an atrocious leading man and equally abominable leading lady, a handful of fun supporting turns (notably Judd Hirsch as a cab driver) and the most ridiculous number of cameos by American pop culture icons (Billy Ray Cyrus, Kelly Ripa, Al Roker, etc.), there's no way anyone but some high-falutin' egg head is going to not love this tasty mound of fresh, steaming shark poop. The special visual effects are undeniably atrocious, but they're so unsparing in their sheer volume, that you occasionally convince yourself how great they are. Which, of course, they are most certainly not.

That, ladies and gentlemen, takes some doing and Sharknado 2: The Second One does it real good.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars

Sharknado 2: The Second One is available on an outlandishly rich Blu-Ray edition from VSC that includes 2 commentary tracks - TWO!!! - tons of behind the scenes featurettes, a genuinely fun and informative short on casting the cameos, a gag reel, extended and deleted scenes and gorgeously moronic cover art and menus. Feel free to order the movie directly via the appropriate Amazon links below and in so doing, contribute to the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner.

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Saturday, 8 November 2014

THE DARK SIDE OF THE CHEW - Review By Greg Klymkiw - ClosingGalaPlanetInFocusEnvironmentalFilmFest2014

Gum. The DIRTY secret.
The HEART of DARKNESS!
The desecration of body,
of soul, of Mother Earth!
The environmental PESTILENCE!
The Dark Side of the Chew (2014)
Dir. Andrew Nisker

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Watching this film was so utterly repulsive that I found myself gagging and retching throughout. These aberrant expulsions and reflex actions had nothing to do with the quality of the film or lack thereof. In fact, the picture so successfully delivered an important Western Union to my brain that I could have no other response. You see, I hate gum. I have always hated gum. Even as a kid, the very idea of incessantly chomping upon an atrophied orb that I had to spit out, leaving the mindlessly masticated, gob-glistening wad of filth on the ground, sickened me to the soul. And believe me, I had to spit out that malformed plug of putrescence for others to step upon because the very idea of having to, God forbid, touch it with my fingers, if even to dispose of it, induced within me a need to blow chunks of bilious puke willy nilly.

I hated seeing people chew gum. I hated when those same people blew bubbles, cracked it and even worse, chewed it with their maws agape. Where, when, why and how I developed this hatred of gum is a mystery to me. All I know for sure is that I've always possessed this unhinged aversion to it. Worse yet, in middle-age-crazy, my hatred for gum has accelerated with such force that I still go apoplectic when I see and/or hear anyone chewing it, but now, I know that if I was allowed to legally carry a handgun, I'd be tempted to use it upon whatever miscreant displayed such bovine behaviour.

My victims could be man, woman and child. My aim would be so true that I'd show no discriminatory mercy. I'd fill anyone full of lead and proudly declare that I'd be much happier watching an endless loop of Divine eating fresh, steaming dog shit in John Waters's Pink Flamingoes than to ever again witness purported human beings chew their goddamn gum as if they were raised in Texas.

Andrew Nisker's The Dark Side of the Chew is, at least for me, both a blessing and a curse. His one-hour TV Ontario (TVO) documentary beads its eyes upon the environmental pestilence of gum and has given me even more reasons to justify my hatred towards it.

Appearing in the movie himself, Nisker shanghais us aboard his Conradian tugboat for a country-hopping journey into a veritable Heart of Darkness. Nisker is Willard. Gum is Colonel Walter E. Kurtz.

What Nisker discovers is an environmental Apocalypse!

Now!

What we learn, as Nisker himself learns, is that gum is one of the biggest environmental blights upon the planet. In days of yore, gum was derived naturally from a weird-ass tree in the jungles that once teemed with the Mayan Aztecs. However, when the natural source of gum started to dry up, almost to the point of extinction, gum manufacturers had to find a new sticky source to inject with oodles of sugar and surround with flavoured, crunchy candy. And what, pray tell, did those pesky corporate piggies come up with? Well, hold onto your hats, folks.

Gum is made of plastic!

Yes, plastic. And where, oh where, does most gum end up? You guessed it. On sidewalks. Now, if it just stayed there, accumulating like some toxic, viscous gunk on the pavement, ever accumulating until. . . what? Mounds of sticky filth - impeding byways and highways? Nope. That's no good. And get this: there isn't a city that doesn't spend enough money to feed the world's starving populations several times over for several millennia to clean gum off the streets. Where does it all go? Into the water. Yup, tons and tons and tons of plastic are steamed off the streets and into the sewers and back into the water. From gum. Your gum, Clarabelle Cow. And this is not much good for any living thing.

Gum chewers are chewing plastic (cancer) infused with sugar (diabetes) or sugar-free chemicals like Aspartame (dementia), then they're spitting it up onto the ground whereupon it's "cleaned" up, right back into the environment.

This, frankly, is appalling enough, but Nisker doesn't stop there. Nay, he takes us deep into the heart of gum's darkness and we learn more about it in one hour than one would think was humanly impossible. We discover fossilized gum, we travel to various manufacturers of gum and we even get a couple of tastes of "greener" gum options. It still adds up to the same thing - waste and pollution.

Nisker even seeks to test out the scientific and medical claims made by gum manufacturers. A few of these tests are downright illuminating. Not surprisingly, we learn there is no truth to the ludicrous claims, but worse yet, we learn that many of the claims are so outrageous that they seriously affect those who buy into it and subsequently use it upon our children.

Ultimately, Nisker's film is so exhaustive, he might well have just called it Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Gum But Were Too Ignorant To Ask. We get the history of gum, its sociological and culture impact and most of all, the damage it's doing to ourselves and our planet.

All of this is presented in a breezy, clever and entertainingly digestible fashion. (Except, for me, during closeups of people chewing the wretched stuff and the clever digitally animated ooze of gum that floods the streets and even chases Nisker at one point like a river of molten lava, is hardly the stuff of intestinal comfort. I can feel the mounting need to expunge like some character in Sam Shepard's La Turista, the desire to engage in the dreaded Aztec two-step.)

For me, though, his movie makes me think that maybe, just maybe, I haven't been a madman for all these years. I now have an Encyclopedia Britannica worth of reasons to detest gum even more. And now, I even dream about gum and in my dreams I see a glob of gum crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream; that's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor... and ending up into the eco-system, the food chain and into my mouth - to ingest the cud-chewings of plastic, spat out upon the sidewalks of the world.

It's enough to make you sick.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ Three-and-a-half Stars

The Dark Side of the Chew is the Closing Night Gala of the 2014 Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival in Toronto. For further info, please visit the festival's website by clicking HERE.

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Friday, 7 November 2014

THE OVERNIGHTERS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - FilmsWeLike opens harrowing documentary @TIFFBellLightbox

Williston, North Dakota has no affordable housing.
Williston, North Dakota refuses to help the homeless.
Pastor Jay's church becomes a homeless shelter.
Williston, North Dakota is not amused.
The Overnighters
Dir. Jesse Moss

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The fine, God-fearing, deeply religious citizens of Williston, North Dakota, do not extend Christian charity to the homeless. They just want to run them out of town. Most of the supposed miscreants and criminals are, in actuality, dirt-poor men of all ages who've left their families, friends and hometowns behind to combat their poverty by taking advantage of the huge fracking oil boom in this otherwise dull, closed-minded little community. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be in Williston never bothered to address what would obviously have become and indeed is an affordable housing shortage. Hundreds of men from all over America have descended upon the bucolic, middle-of-nowhere burgh of Christian fundamentalism and even those who can get jobs, cannot afford to live in Williston. The citizenry do not want outsiders in their community. Outsiders might, after all, be criminals.

But, never fear, these men have a champion in the form of Pastor Jay Reinke, a caring, intelligent and deeply committed man of God who decides to open the doors of his parish to the homeless. With the assistance, though mostly support of his wife and children Reinke transforms the Concordia Lutheran Church into a massive homeless shelter.

The Overnighters is the title the powerful, moving, often harrowing and at times, deeply disturbing feature documentary by Jesse Moss. It also happens to be the name of the program Reinke runs, for by day, as many as 60 men are either working or looking for work and overnight, they're sleeping on floors, in pews, in storage rooms and for the many who can't get in due to Reinke's desire to avoid overcrowding, they sleep outside in their cars in the church parking lot. The idiots on the Williston municipal council have banned overnight parking on ALL city streets. Gotta love that down-home Christian charity.

Director Jesse Moss leaves no stone unturned in telling this amazing story. The central conflict is Reinke's head-butting with the municipal council, other citizens and even his own parish. The local daily newspaper hates his guts and places stories everyday that directly or indirectly slam the existence of the homeless shelter. The council even begins to dredge up all manner of legislation to make life miserable for Reinke and his overnighters. The good Pastors's family supports him, but they're also on the short end of the stick since Reinke is working everyday for long hours. He even has conflicts with some of the men.

Still and all, he's passionate and committed to extending Christian charity. Though he does extensive criminal background checks on all potential clients, he realizes that desperate men in desperate times might well have criminal records. Reinke's desire is to simply get to know the men and the circumstances which led them to commit the crimes. One of his overnighters is a registered sex offender. Fearing this will cause controversy, the Pastor removes the man from the church and, with his family's unreserved support, allows the man to sleep in the Reinke family home. Besides, the sex crimes registry in the USA is so Draconian that this middle-aged man, who now finds himself sleeping in the family's basement, has a weighty stigma attached to him because of the fact that, at the age of 18 (!!!) he was having sexual relations with his 16-year-old girlfriend (!!!).

Moss's commitment to this very long story, which transpired over a considerable period of time, is admirable. In fact, the film is ultimately a harrowing, character-driven story and we follow Reinke as he slowly begins to lose it. Shockingly, a secret is soon revealed that devastates the Pastor, his family, the community and certainly us. The sad reality exposed is that Christian charity really doesn't extend beyond fundamentalist lip service. A Pastor, a Man of God, is after all, a Human Being - deserving of both respect and forgiveness as much as any man.

It's just not in the cards. Most Christians, it seems, are the biggest hypocrites of them all.

Especially in Williston, North Dakota.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4 Stars

The Overnighters is a FilmsWeLike release at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For further info, visit the TIFF website HERE.

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Thursday, 6 November 2014

TRICK OR TREATY? Review By Greg Klymkiw - See Canada continue to hold the lies of the James Bay Treaty as truth in great Alanis Obomsawin film @ Toronto's 2014 PlanetInFocus environmental film festival.

Chancellor Stephen Harper is the most insidious
of all Canadian Colonial Backwater Prime Ministers
in the "polite" genocide of our First Nations people.
Heil Canada! Heil Old Money! Heil Der Führer!
Heil Harper!
Trick or Treaty?
Dir. Alanis Obomsawin

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There are many things that disgust Canadians about Chancellor Stephen Harper, but for me, the worst is his refusal to properly deal with the egregious theft of Aboriginal Rights during the signing of the notorious James Bay Treaty and also, several horrendous things he simply chooses to ignore as the most vile Prime Minister in Canadian history. Alanis Obomsawin's important body of work, including her new film Trick or Treaty?, confirms that Canada has always been the most insidious colonial backwater of them all and the genocide it continues to perpetrate upon our First Nations is perfectly in keeping with the country's sickeningly polite approach to decimating those who would dare get in the way of Old Money's needs to keep amassing money by just taking it (tactfully, graciously and ever-so sneakily, of course). Obmosawin's new documentary focuses upon a massive peaceful protest in Ottawa, the nation's capitol, that's designed to force Chancellor Harper to meet face-to-face with those First Nations Chiefs most affected by the over-100-year-old treaty which was designed and implemented to steal land and not allow any meaningful sharing in the decision-making process of dealing with said land. The result of the James Bay Treaty has been abject poverty, skyrocketing rates of suicide and environmental destruction, all of which affects not just our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, but ALL Canadians.

Top: Vile Canuck Bureaucrat (is there any other kind?)
Below: The True Heroes of every living Canadian!
The core of the film involves a re-enactment of the 1905 signing of the James Bay Treaty (aka Treaty No. 9) in Moose Factory, Ontario. Presided over by the brainchild of this event, the late, great Dr. Stan Louttit, Grand Chief of the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council, presents some of the most damning evidence of Canada's wilful apartheid and genocide (take your pick, Canada's done both) against our First Nations. One of the earliest 20th Century Canadian Nazis was a petty bureaucrat (bureaucrats are the pathetic dweebs who implement the desires of our foul politicians) who rose to power within the Department of Indian Affairs to eventually become its Obergruppenführer. In the film, Louttit brings our attention to Scott's evil when he reads the following words of the foul bureaucrat:
"I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic . . ."
These are the words with which Scott extolled the virtues of Residential Schools - a horrendous program that forcibly wrenched over 150,000 Native Canadian children from their families and homes, shoving them into boarding schools designed to break their spirit and remove all vestiges of indigenous culture from their hearts and minds. To do this involved physical and psychological abuse that was little more than torture and rampant sexual abuse, all of it perpetrated by - no surprise - Catholic nuns and priests.

So get this, Louttit exposes the fact that Scott, this paragon of forced assimilation, was also one of the chief bureaucrats present during the signing of the notorious James Bay Treaty where he and several others outright lied to the Native leaders about the content of the treaty and created an entire facade by which the First Nations representatives signed a document based on what the bureaucrats assured them was in the treaty as opposed to what was actually there. Louttit also exposes documentation which proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt, so no matter what physically exists in the treaty, the fact remains that the treaty they signed is ultimately the treaty imparted to them verbally. Native culture was rooted in an oral tradition. The signatures are actually "marks" (usually a single "X") since the men who signed the treaties did not read or write English.

This powerful core of Obomsawin's film is deftly woven into the harrowing hunger strike implemented by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who went on a six-week-long liquids-only program to demand a meeting with Chancellor Harper and Canada's Governor General David Johnston to address a variety of issues related to treaty rights and the economic, cultural and societal plight Native Canadians find themselves in because of said treaties like James Bay. Obomsawin also includes a pointed Native Studies lecture dealing with the exploitative aspects of Treaty No. 9 and an astonishing, by-foot journey undertaken by several young Native men across Ontario's icy tundras from the far north to Ottawa itself.

And what of Chancellor Harper in all of this? It's what he chooses not to do that's the most egregious action. Looming in the backdrop of many of the activities is the symbol of Canadian evil, the Parliament Buildings, our very own Reichstagsgebäude. Harper is nestled safely within and yet a woman is potentially dying at his feet, thousands of men and women are gathered and even engaging in several spectacular displays of Native culture and then, several young, brave men have travelled by foot, thousands of miles to be in Ottawa.

Where the fuck is Chancellor Harper? Would it have been too much for him to make a few public appearances and say a few words to the assembled (no matter how empty they would have been)? He's simply nowhere to be seen, nor heard from throughout the range of spectacular, impressive and deeply moving events captured by Obomsawin's film (including a monumental circle dance involving hundreds of people).

Trick or Treaty? was produced by the National Film Board of Canada. It's somehow ironic that Harper, in his continued assault upon Canadian culture, is continually destroying the fabric of our cultural institutions and his vehement financial dismantlement of the Board itself is something we might, as a nation, never fully recover from.

At the end of her film, Obomsawin leaves us with a montage that's as heart-lifting as it's heartbreaking. It includes the powerful words of John Trudell. I'll leave you now, with the refrain:

Crazy Horse
We Hear what you say
One Earth, one Mother
One does not sell the Earth
The people walk upon
We are the land
How do we sell our Mother ?
How do we sell the stars ?
How do we sell the air ?

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***** 5 Stars

Trick or Treaty? plays at PLANET IN FOCUS, the 15th annual environmental film festival in Toronto. Obomsawin will be present for the screening. If you haven't seen it, don't miss it. If you HAVE seen it, see it again. For further information, visit the festival's website by clicking HERE.

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Wednesday, 5 November 2014

RADICAL FRIENDS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto's 2014 Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival

Discovering Green activism within cultural roots.
Radical Friends (2014)
Dir. Chihiro Geuzebroek

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Amongst all the documentaries dealing with environmental activism, director Chihiro Geuzebroek has hit upon a winning formula to detail something that's so often rendered with the sledgehammer of didacticism. First of all, she's the subject of the film, a personal journey undertaken by a cute, plucky "little Dutch girl" (of Bolivian heritage) which, frankly, goes a long way to rendering a picture that's not merely palatable, but includes a wealth of information in an agreeable, entertaining fashion. Secondly, the movie is equal parts earnestness and humour, the latter of which comes mostly from Geuzebroek herself and in sufficient quantity (and quality) to temper the potentially deadly effects of the former. Finally, the film really kicks in when it focuses upon her personal journey that's as much tied into exploring cultural roots as it is devoted to becoming the best activist she can possibly be.

Setting up her "thesis" as quickly as possible, delivering a smattering of her life and ideals and setting up her trip to Bolivia, all blasts along amiably and soon we're plunged into the meat of her journey proper as she allows us to follow her travels in the country she was not born in, but is quickly falling in love with as she connects with the country's progressively green approach to governance and also, uniting with her extended family. Experiencing Bolivia's environmental victories as well as its challenges on the Green front are all through Geuzebroek's eyes as she discovers them for herself. Scenes with her family are ultimately the most powerful and moving of all. On their on, they'd be plenty affecting, but against the environmental backdrop, they're positively heart-wrenching. The movie occasionally relies too heavily upon a series of cutesy-pie chalkboard-style animation that occasionally drove me right up the wall. I'll grudgingly concede others might not be quite so intolerant of them as I and in fact, might derive considerable pleasure from their overly jaunty, uh, quality.

Alas, these animated sequences border on the whimsical and compel me to be desirous of punching someone in the face. In fairness, though, I'll quote from James Cagney's character in Raoul Walsh's Strawberry Blonde: "That's just the kind of hairpin I am."

The film's denouement is somewhat unsatisfying if only because of the direction the journey genuinely takes. As a filmmaker, Geuzebroek gives it the old college try and put a positive spin on what happens, but a little part of me wished she'd ended her film before that, or perhaps waited to finish it if and when a more satisfying turn of events transpired. As the film is right now, it's kind of begging for a sequel. That might have even been the intent. If so, I do look forward to it.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3 Stars

Radical Friends plays during Toronto's 2014 Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival. The filmmaker will be present for the screening. For further information, check out the festival's website HERE.

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Monday, 3 November 2014

HOW YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE TO THE ONGOING MAINTENANCE OF THE FILM CORNER with REV. GREG KLYMKIW (esq.)

HERE'S HOW U CAN HELP THE FILM CORNER with NO MUSS, NO FUSS.
Coming Soon: Unauthorized Endorsements from Sarah Polley, Alan Zweig, Guy Maddin, John Paizs, Astron-6, Atom Egoyan, Nik Sheehan, Ron Mann, Bruno Pacheco, Karen Walton, Vincenzo Natali, Peter Lynch, John Greyson, Patricia Rozema, Chris Grismer, Malcolm Ingram, Kaare Andrews, Chris Trebilcock, Foresight Features, Bruce McDonald, Tony Burgess, Jesse Thomas Cook, John Geddes, Ryan McKenna, Colin Brunton, Raven Banner, Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada Ltd, GAT PR,VSC, Norman Jewison, Ezra Levant, THE (esteemed) CANADIAN FILM CENTRE, Ish Kabibble +MANY others

Short of instituting a crowd-funding campaign to keep The Film Corner going with its regular maintenance, but to also eventually add editing staff, additional writers (Klymkiw-hand-picked, Klymkiw-approved and Klymkiw-edited), a separate web-host, a unique URL and lots of other goodies, I'd prefer to suggest you support these endeavours with two things.

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Sunday, 2 November 2014

LA DOLCE VITA (Criterion Collection) Blu-Ray Review By Greg Klymkiw - Criterion's Fellini-o-Rama in extremis

The ONLY way to see Fellini's La Dolce Vita at home is on Criterion Blu-Ray

The Criterion Collection's Blu-Ray of Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita is the only way to see the film, short of seeing an actual film print or DCP on big screens in cinematheques and other venues specializing in first-rate projection. What appears on the Blu-Ray is the result of a major restoration of the film by The Film Foundation, an important non-profit initiative established by Martin Scorsese to preserve cinematic works of supreme importance. (If you've seen their astonishing work on Visconti's Senso and The Leopard, then 'nuff said.) The Foundation, partnering with Gucci, financed this work to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1960 release of La Dolce Vita.

With Scorsese's artistic and technical input (as well as that of the cinematographer's still-living camera assistant as well as Fellini's actual lab processing expert), the restoration was indeed completed in 2010 by the Cineteca di Bologna laboratory and involved the massive assistance of labs, cinematheques and archives all over Europe. What's especially wonderful about this restoration is that the picture's production company Medusa Film was able to supply original materials, including the original camera negative!!!

The movie used Dupont film stock and was shot in Italy's preferred 2.35:1 widescreen process Totalscope and after these materials were scanned at 4K, it was discovered that the wear, tear and general decay was so massive that over 8,000 hours of digital cleaning were needed to repair the negative alone. To come as close as possible to Fellini's vision during the actual digital grading process, the restoration team used a variety of important items to match their work. These included a vintage print, a positive negative from the 90s restoration (which was no slouch for its time) and most astonishingly, a vintage lavender (an optically printed interpositive used for purposes of fades, dissolves and other effects) that Italy's Cineteca Nazionale had preserved.

The result on Criterion's Blu-Ray is simply amazing. Though the film is in monochrome (black and white), you realize the incredible shades of white, black and grey Fellini and his original team employed to create one of the most gorgeous looking movies of all time. Even the sound on Criterion's Blu-Ray is spectacular. Taken from further restored analogue sound materials - mixed beautifully in mono (still my own personal favourite "sound" mixing process) - all degraded pops and hisses were cleaned up and the telltale optical hiss, a natural bed for a great mono mix, is preserved but subtly and carefully muted for today's state of the art speakers.

I can only reiterate that you will have never seen nor heard the film like this, unless, of course, you were present for an augural showing of a fresh print in 1960.

Criterion has also applied their Gold Standard to the bevy of extras that accompany the film. In addition to a gorgeous booklet that includes a terrific essay by Gary Giddins, the cover art for the package includes an absolutely brilliant new design by Eric Skillman which is not only aesthetically pleasing, but captures both the visual and thematic essence of the film. There's a visual essay by kogonada that some might find rudimentary, but one that I found to be heartbreaking, moving and deceptively simple in terms of what it presents. Added to the mix is a new interview detailing in-depth production reminiscences from the legendary filmmaker Lina (Seven Beauties, Swept Away) Wertmuller who was Fellini's assistant director on La Dolce Vita. Other worthy extra features include several additional interviews: Scholar David Forgacs discussing the period in Italian history when the film was made, Fellini himself from a 1965 interview, a really cool audio interview with star Marcello Mastroianni from 1960 and a very insightful interview with Italian journalist Antonello Sarno. And just for fun, there's a lovely piece called Felliniana, which presents ephemera related to the film itself.

Even if these extras didn't exist, Criterion's superb Blu-Ray of the film would be enough to insist you own it. That they do exist, forces me to DEMAND you own it.

And now, my review of the film . . .



In a sweet life lived without love
Is the inevitability of living death
and the sweet life, such as it is,
proves to be, not too sweet at all.
La Dolce Vita (1960)
dir. Federico Fellini
Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Yvonne Furneaux, Anouk Aimee, Anita Ekberg, Alain Cuny, Walter Santesso, Nico, Alain Dijon, Lex Barker
Review By Greg Klymkiw

It has been said that in death we all end up alone. If we are alone in life, bereft of love, is existence itself then, not a living death? For me, this is the central theme of La Dolce Vita, Federico Fellini’s great classic of cinema – a film that never ceases to thrill, tantalize and finally, force its audience to look deep into a mirror and search for answers to questions about themselves. This is what makes for great movies that live beyond the ephemeral qualities far too many filmmakers and audiences prefer to settle for - especially in the current Dark Ages of cinema we find ourselves in. It’s the reason why the picture continues to live forever. What makes La Dolce Vita especially great is that Fellini – as he was so often able to achieve – got to have his cake and eat it too. He created art that entertained AND challenged audiences the world over. Most of all, La Dolce Vita IS cool – cooler than cool, to be frank.

The title, translated from Italian into English means "The Good Life", or more appropriately, “The Sweet Life”. The movie plunges us headlong into a spectacular, decadent world of sex, sin and indulgence of the highest order. Against the backdrop of a swinging post-war Rome, the picture works its considerable magic beyond those surface details and Fellini delivers yet another magnificent entertainment that explores the eternal divide between men and women.

Illustrating this divide to me in the most salient manner possible was seeing it with my little girl. My poor daughter; she’s only 13-years-old and her Daddy has been showing her more Fellini movies than any fresh-post-tweener has probably ever seen anytime and anywhere on God's good, great and green Earth. About halfway through La Dolce Vita – after an umpteenth sequence where Marcello Mastroianni indulges himself in the charms of yet another woman whilst his faithful girlfriend waits home alone by the phone, my daughter (who recently watched I Vitelloni, that great Fellini male layabout picture and Fellini Casanova with its Glad Garbage Bag ocean and endless mechanical copulation) turned to me with the sweetest straight face I will always remember and she said, “Dad, when I get older, remind me never to date Italian men.”

I reminded her it wasn’t only Italian men who behaved this way. (I sure hope to God she NEVER dates a Ukrainian or ANY Eastern European for that matter.) I noted, "After all, don't you remember recently seeing Barry Levinson’s Diner?"

“Okay,” she added, “remind me not to date American men either.”

A perfect companion piece to La Dolce Vita is Paolo Sorrentino's Oscar-winning contemporary masterpiece The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza). Happily and halfway through the latter, I'm rather proud to brag that my daughter was able to note the considerable similarities twixt the Sorrentino and the Fellini. Within this context, if you've seen neither, I will allow you to be ashamed of yourself.

For those from Mars and/or anyone who has NOT seen La Dolce Vita, the picture tells the episodic tale of Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), a journalist in Rome who covers the society and entertainment beat of a major tabloid newspaper. He spends most of his days and (especially) nights, hanging out in clubs, restaurants, cafes, piazzas and parties covering the lives of the rich and famous with his trusty photographer sidekick Paparazzo (Walter Santesso). (The word paparazzi, now utilized to describe annoying news and celebrity photographers, came from the name of this character.) Downright ignoring and/or paying lip service to his beautiful, sexy long-suffering live-in girlfriend Emma (Yvonne Furneaux) whilst dallying with an endless parade of gorgeous women he’s writing about, Marcello is as much a celebrity as those he covers. Though he lacks the wealth his subjects are endowed with, he certainly wields considerable power.

It would seem that Marcello is living the sweet life to its fullest – at least on the surface. Of course, it's the surface details of La Dolce Vita - both in cinematic style and content - that made Fellini's picture one of the biggest Italian films at the box office worldwide.

Of course, though, what audience would NOT be susceptible to the stunning form of one of the picture's ravishing stars, Anita Ekberg? As Sylvia, the Swedish screen sensation visiting Rome to make a movie, Ekberg squeezes her to-die-for curves into a series of fashionable outfits. Ekberg is style personified. From her spectacular entrance from within a private jet, posing willingly for hordes of slavering reporters to her gossamer movements round a huge luxury suite as she throws out delicious quips during a press conference and then, to her lithe, gazelle-like bounding up the endless St. Peter’s staircase until she and Marcello, who follows her avidly to the balcony, enjoy a quiet, magical, romantic interlude, perched in a holy nest towering above the Vatican.

It is the Ekberg sequences that everyone most remembers – possibly because they appear so early in the film and serve as the most sumptuously sexy introduction to Marcello’s world. Granted, prior to Ekberg’s entrance we’re treated to the famous opening sequence of Jesus Christ in statue form being airlifted into Rome on a helicopter as Marcello and Paparazzo follow closely behind in their own whirlybird, snapping photos and hovering briefly over a bevy of bikini-clad beauties to try and get their phone numbers. Following closely behind, we’re indulged with the ravishing beauty of Anouk Aimee as Maddalena, the bored heiress who whisks Marcello away from a nightclub, drives him through the streets of Rome in her swanky Cadillac, picks up a street whore, hires her to provide a dank, sleazy, water-flooded basement suite – a sordid love-nest, if you will, for a night of lovemaking with Marcello whilst the whore waits outside for the rest of the night - arguing with her pimp about how much room rent to charge the kinky couple.

To cap off the shenanigans we're further tantalized by Marcello’s gorgeous, heart-broken Earth Mother girlfriend Emma, writhing about from a dangerous overdose whereupon our duplicitous hero races her madly to the hospital professing his love to her all the way into the recovery room until he steps out to telephone Maddalena. These stunning episodes not only provide insight into Marcello’s stylish rakishness, but also careen us to and fro within a veritable roller coaster ride of pure, unadulterated hedonism. There’s no two ways about it, Marcello’s a cad, but we love him. And seemingly, so does everyone.

By the time we get to the aforementioned Anita Ekberg sequences, it’s as if Fellini had structured the movie to luxuriate us in ever-more potent fixes of pure speed-ball-like abandon:

Jesus flying above Rome; screw it, not enough.

Gorgeous heiress banging our hero in a whore’s sleazy digs; nope, still not enough.

Lonely sex kitten girlfriend pumped on drugs and near death; uh, yeah, we still need more.

What act could possibly follow any of this?

Anita Ekberg, of course.

Fellini ups the ante on overindulgence to such a degree, that as an audience, we’re as hyped up as Marcello and those who populate this world. As if this wasn’t enough, Fellini manages to get Ekberg to out-Ekberg Ekberg with MORE Ekberg. From airport to press conference to the Everest of Rome above the Vatican, he plunges us from the clouds of Heaven deep into the bowels of a party within the ancient walls of the Caracalla Baths. Here Marcello gets to dance arms around waist, cheek-to-cheek and chest to breast with La Ekberg until all Hell breaks magnificently loose with the arrival of the flamboyant Mephistophelean actor Frankie Stout (Alain Dijon). Marcello is banished to a table with Ekberg’s sloshed, thickheaded beefcake boyfriend Robert (played hilariously by the genuine B-movie idol Lex Barker, RKO’s Tarzan and star of numerous Euro-trash action pictures) while Frankie and Ekberg heat up the floor with a cha-cha to end all cha-chas.

Fellini continues topping himself. The next sequence of Ekberg-mania is cinema that has seldom been matched. Can there be anything more sumptuous and breathtaking in Rome, nay – the world – than the Fountain of Trevi? Indeed YES, the Fountain of Trevi with Anita Ekberg in it. I can assure you this beats any wet T-shirt contest you're likely to see (including the legendary bouts of water-soaked 100% cotton sticking like fly-paper against the shapely torsos of the brazen beauties competing in the late, lamented events at one of the world's finest, now-gone-forever Gentlemen's Club at the St. Charles Hotel, referred to respectfully as "The Chuckles", in Winnipeg, Manitoba).

As Fellini has incrementally hoisted us to dizzying heights, we are only one-third of the way through La Dolce Vita. Where can the Maestro possibly take us from here? We go where all tales of indulgence must go – down WITH redemption or down with NO redemption. Fellini forces us to hope (at times AGAINST hope) that Marcello will see the light or, at the very least, blow it big time and gain from his loss.

What we come back to is what I feel the central theme of our picture is – that if living life to the fullest is at the expense of love and to therefore live life alone, then how can life itself not ultimately be a living death? For me, one of the fascinating ways in which Fellini tells Marcello’s story is by allowing us to fill the central character’s shoes and experience the seeming joy and style of this “sweet life”. For much of the film’s running time, we’re along for the ride – not just willingly, but as vicarious participants.

The magic Fellini conjures is subtle indeed. The whole business of getting the cake and eating it too plays a huge part in the proceedings. So often, great stories can work by indulging us in aberrant behaviour – glamorizing it to such a degree that we’re initially unable to see precisely what the protagonist’s real dilemma is. Not seeing the dilemma in the early going allows us to have some fun with the very thing that threatens to be the central character's potential downfall. For Marcello, it eventually becomes – slowly and carefully – very obvious. He is surrounded by activity, enveloped by other people, the centre of attention of those he is reporting on, yet he is, in a sense, an island unto himself. Marcello is, in spite of those around him, truly alone.

His real challenge is to break free of the shackles of excess in order to love. Alas, to love another and, in turn, accept their love, he must learn to love himself. On the mere surface, Marcello is all about self-gratification, but as the story progresses and Fellini places him at the centre of yet more sumptuous and indulgent sweet-life set pieces, we see a man struggling with the demons – not only of excess, but those ever-elusive opportunities to gratify the soul.

Even the roller coaster ride of Marcello’s relationship with Emma, the one constant person in his life willing to die for love of him, is a story element that keeps us with his journey. When he is annoyed and/or even disgusted with her, so too are we – and yet, we have the ability – one that Fellini bestows upon us by alternately keeping us in Marcello’s perspective and at arm’s length from it to see just how unconscionable and even wrongheaded he’s being. Most importantly, we begin to feel for Emma and understand her love and frustration. We see how brilliant and charming Marcello is also and a part of us craves for him to find peace.

Finally, what is especially poignant and tragic is that Marcello can only admit to both Emma and himself that he does love her when he is alone (or as in one great scene - seemingly alone) with her. Strangely, these are the few times in the movie when Marcello is truly NOT alone. When Marcello is together with Emma in the presence of others, it's a different story altogether. When he brings her along to cover a Madonna-sighting which turns into a wild carnival of Catholic hysteria, he withdraws from Emma and she finds herself caught up in the craze of this "miracle". The miracle is, however, false. The two young children who have been put up to claiming they can see the Madonna by their fortune-seeking family, run to and fro - hundreds of the faithful following madly in their footsteps - even Emma, who begs God for Marcello to be with her exclusively and forever.

When Marcello seeks solace in his old friend Steiner (Alain Cuny) a man who has filled his own life with art, literature, culture and most importantly, a sense of home and family, Marcello sees a potential way of escape. Alas, further set pieces involving Steiner dash Marcello’s hopes.

During a vicious argument that eventually ensues between Marcello and Emma, Fellini once again proves that – in spite of his excesses as a stylist – he is ultimately a filmmaker endowed with considerable humanity. Though the bile rises and invective is hurled violently from both parties, we are placed squarely in front of humanity at its most raw and vulnerable.

The final sequences in this film are laden with excess, but they’re certainly no fun anymore. Nor is Marcello. After a pathetic failed attempt at instigating an orgy amongst an especially ragtag group of drunks (climaxing with Marcello riding on a woman's back horsey-style), the party goers (included here is a cameo from the iconic rock legend Nico) stumble out in the early morning onto the beach. Caught in the nets of some fishermen is a dead sea creature - a strange cross between a stingray and coelacanth, its eyes still open and staring blankly into the heavens. It's the first of two images Marcello encounters on the beach which he bores his own gaze into.

This one is dead - surrounded by many, but finally, ultimately and unequivocally alone.

He then encounters, from a considerable distance across the sand and water, the angelic figure of Paola (Valeria Ciangottini), a pure, youthful young lady he met much earlier in the film - one of the few times when beauty and innocence seemed to touch him far deeper than surface fleshly desires. They look at each other - as if they can see into each others' eyes. The stunningly beautiful young woman, with her enigmatic smile, tries in vain to communicate with Marcello, but the wind drowns out her words and Marcello, his eyes at first bright, turn blank like the dead leviathan. He gives up, turns and joins his coterie of losers. There is, however, hope in Paola's eyes - perhaps even the hope of a new generation.

Finally, though, Fellini offers no redemption for Marcello. All that remains is the inevitability of a living death in a sweet life lived without love. The sweet life, such as it is, proves sour, indeed.

THE FILM CORNER RATING (for both the film and Criterion's Blu-Ray): ***** 5-Stars

The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of La Dolce Vita is a must-own item for anyone who loves cinema. Feel free to order the movie directly from the links below and, in so doing, contribute to the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT - Criterion Collection Blu-Ray Review By Greg Klymkiw - The Only Way 2-C the Beatles

Criterion is the ONLY way to see The Beatles in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT @ home!
The mega Criterion Collection dual-format (Blu-Ray/DVD) box of Richard Lester's groundbreaking A Hard Day's Night starring The Beatles might be one of Criterion's best releases in their entire history of issuing first-rate cinema for the home market. The picture and sound are the best you're EVER going to see on a home format. The accompanying 82-page (82 pages !!!) booklet (which includes a decent essay and a terrific Richard Lester interview) devotes one full page to the picture restoration (supervised on 4K by Criterion with Lester's approval) and an additional full page to the sound (the mono, as per usual is my favourite, but the new 5.1 track is worth a listen as it's pretty amazing and mastered by Apple Records techs).

The extra features are so amazing, it's kind of ridiculous. A few items from the ho-hum Miramax/Alliance/E-One Collector's Edition transfer don't find their way here, but they're not missed in the least. In addition to what has been ported over and what Criterion has added to the mix is phenomenal.

My favourite feature of all is David Cairns' Picturewise, a half-hour visual essay focusing on the great Richard Lester and his work and influences on A Hard Day's Night and numerous other films that followed, including the stylish and somewhat overlooked The Knack. In many ways, this might prove to be the most concise, yet valuable visual essay commissioned and presented on a Criterion disc to date. Other pedagogically valuable materials include Richard Lester's 11-minute Academy Award-nominated The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film from 1959, a mad, anarchic piece featuring Lester's Goon Show cohorts Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Graham Stark and Bruce Lacey. Given the verbal gifts of the Goons, the film is especially interesting as it's completely wordless. Story editor Bobbie O'Steen and music editor Suzana Peric serve Anatomy of Style, a terrific 17-minute piece which offers intimate analysis of five key scenes from the film and my only complaint is that I'd have LOVED a feature-length version of this - it's that valuable in terms of practically approaching screen-specific cinematic storytelling.

The commentary track was assembled by Martin Lewis, a music and Beatles historian who cut together a raft of 2002 interviews with Director of Photography Gilbert Taylor, numerous supporting actors, a variety of editors and other production personnel. It's quite a collision course of voices, but always informative and entertaining. The 40-minute Martin Lewis-produced short Things They Said Today is a fine carry-over from the earlier DVD release and features interviews with Richard Lester and others.

The wonderful one-hour 1994 documentary hosted by Phil Collins, You Can't Do That: The Making of A Hard Day's Night, made to celebrate the film's 30th anniversary, is classic TV-doc material and shines with the inclusion of the movie's biggest fans (including Mickey Dolenz) and the late Roger Ebert (as well the famous "You Can't Do That" outtake. Other items focusing specifically on The Beatles includes In Their Own Voices, a clever 18-minute amalgam of audio interviews with the Lads from Liverpool over footage from the movie and a half-hour doc about their early years, The Beatles: The Road to A Hard Day's Night. You'll also find a whole whack of trailers for the film if that sort of thing interest you.

This Criterion Dual Format box is a true gem in every respect, but of course, the prize treat is the restored, director-approved transfer of the movie itself. Without further delay, here then is my review of the movie proper:


A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Dir. Richard Lester
Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell, Norman Rossington, Anna Quayle, Victor Spinetti

Review By Greg Klymkiw

This is one great picture. I first saw A Hard Day's Night at the age of five. It is now almost half a century later and I have seen it innumerable times and in several formats – more times on a big screen in 35mm than I can remember, on 16mm with my own Bell and Howell Auto-load projector, Beta, VHS, laser disc, DVD and now Blu-Ray. It is a movie that never gets stale. Each time I see it, it seems like I’m seeing it for the first time and in this sense, it is truly timeless on a personal level. On every other level, it's just plain timeless. As a movie and in the larger scheme of things, it’s a gleefully entertaining movie - a mad, freewheeling portrait of the greatest rock and roll band of all time and surely one of the most influential motion pictures during the latter half of cinema’s relatively short history.

As well, it is one of the truly important works to come out of a period often referred to as the British New Wave where the silver screens lit-up with a new way of telling stories on both a stylistic and content level. A series of comedies and dramas from a combination of foreign expat directors living in the United Kingdom as well as indigenous talent were the order of the day. These pictures delivered cutting edge satire, anarchic laughs, kitchen sink realism, grim and/or humorous looks at working and middle class society and more often than not, focusing upon the hopes and dreams (both dashed and realized) of young adults.

There were, for example, the "angry young man" pictures featuring the likes of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay - grimy little affairs that were depressingly cool. And then, there were the comedies - the best of which came from a director who contributed a great deal to changing the face of how movies could be made.

Richard Lester, the gifted American-born expatriate in London, was this very director and A Hard Day’s Night is unquestionably his masterpiece. Conceived just before the “Beatlemania” craze really exploded on an international level, Lester was probably the best man for the job of creating the sort of work that would have the greatest impact. Having directed and produced several British TV comedy programs featuring the iconoclastic Goons (including the likes of Peter Sellers, Kevin Connor and Spike Milligan) and with an Oscar nominated short film and a hit feature The Mouse on the Moon under his belt, Lester not only wore the shoes of director ever-so-comfortably on The Beatles' big-screen debut, he dove into the job with the mad passion of a Welles or an Eisenstein. This was not going to be just any rock and roll musical – it was going to be THE rock and roll musical – and as such, it informed filmmaking technique and style in ways we still experience in cinema even now.

Lester’s approach was to capture the slender tale in a documentary style with black and white photography; handheld cameras galore with freewheeling movement, but always gorgeously composed, all stunningly shot by the great Gilbert Taylor of Dr. Strangelove and Repulsion fame. Even more insanely, all sequences aboard moving trains were shot on, uh, moving trains! The approach to editing via John – Frenzy, Zulu, A Fish Called Wanda – Jympson's exquisite shearing would have made Sergei Eisenstein both dizzy and sick with envy.

The usual approach to rock movies at this time was to assemble a gaggle of performers and have them deliver a series of tunes in the dullest, most conservative fashion or worse yet, to plunk the likes of Elvis into (mostly) silly vehicles that were far below the dignity levels such performers demanded. Lester, on the other hand, wanted to propel us with lots of humour (sheer silliness mixed with sharply tuned wit), a dizzying camera and cool cuts that drew attention to their sheer virtuosity as well as performing the task of always moving us forward.

What this approach needed was a script like no other. Securing the services of the Welsh-born and Liverpool-raised actor, comedian, playwright and screenwriter Alun Owen. He proved to be a godsend to both Lester and the Beatles by crafting a simple narrative involving a day and a half in the life of the mop-topped Liverpudlians wherein they repeatedly shirk their responsibilities as rock stars and just have tons of fun – much to the consternation of their road manager (Norman Rossington), the bemusement of his assistant (John Junkin), the exasperation of a harried live TV director (Victor Spinetti) and to the delight of Paul McCartney’s (fictional) Grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) who exploits his proximity to the rock stars to show himself a grand old time.

Amidst all this frivolity, Owen concocts several brilliant character-elements and plot-plots that tie both absurdly and realistically into the personae of the Beatles themselves. The one that infuses the movie with considerable conflict, but also knee-slapping laughs is when Ringo goes missing on a soul search.

Ringo on a soul search?

Ladies and gentlemen, I reiterate and give you - ONE GREAT SCRIPT!

Eventually, all are reunited for a totally kick-ass show in front of thousands of screaming, swooning kids and WOW! Can it get more simple and pure than this? Thankfully no! It’s just what the doctor ordered for this picture. Even more impressive is Owen’s brilliant dialogue and the endless opportunities to have the boys duck in and out of cabs, run from screaming teenyboppers and find as many different means of escape from both their fans and responsibilities – crashing through service doors, cascading down fire escapes and partying up a storm against the backdrop of the swinging-est London imaginable.

Not surprisingly, given the auteurist tendency to downplay the importance of screenwriters that aren’t the auteurs themselves, Richard Lester has uncharitably stated that much of Owen’s script was jettisoned in favour of letting the Beatles ad-lib. Enough statements from many others refute this assertion to support what really seems to be the truth of the matter – Owen spent a considerable amount of time with The Beatles on their journeys before setting narrative and dialogue to paper and went out of his way to create words perfectly suited to John, Paul, George and Ringo so that they’d be comfortable playing them and, on rare occasions have a solid springboard to ad-lib (which according to most reports is no more than 10 to 15% anyway).

And then there is the music! The title track “A Hard Day’s Night” (taken from one of Ringo’s delightful malapropisms), “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Tell Me Why”, “She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)”, “I Should Have Known Better” and then some are featured in stunning concert footage and/or within the narrative body of the film, and most notably are not unlike music videos before the notion of music videos even existed. This latter point is especially important to add some illumination. Lester, always the consummate filmmaker didn’t throw images and cuts at us willy-nilly, but actually adhered to the conventions of filmmaking (establishing shots, mediums, reverses, close-ups, etc.) by making it seem like he did anything but.

It’s brilliantly, beautifully orchestrated cinematic anarchy in all the purity and simplicity that great pictures are ultimately endowed with, allowing, of course for differing levels and perspectives to grow and to flow naturally and organically out of the mise-en-scene. Most extraordinarily, even though it's a movie set in a different time and shot 50 years ago, it feels as free and original and fresh as if it had been shot, as that great Beatles tune reminds us: Yesterday!

THE FILM CORNER RATING (of the film and Criterion edition): ***** 5-Stars

The Criterion Collection Dual-Format Box set of A Hard Day's Night can be ordered directly from the links below, in addition to other Beatles-related film properties. Feel free order by clicking any of the links and in so doing, you'll be contributing to the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner.







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