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.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

TARAS BULBA (1962) - Blu-Ray Review By Greg Klymkiw - Glory Be to Kino Lorber: TARAS BULBA's on BLU-RAY! This FILM CORNER 2014 CHRISTMAS/EASTERN-RITE-XMAS/HANUKKAH GIFT IDEA is NOW AVAILABLE ON KINO LORBER BLU-RAY and has been personally selected by your most Reverend Greg Klymkiw as an IDEAL TOKEN for Anglos, Ukrainians and The Chosen alike to put under a Baby-Jesus Tannenbaum or dispense to guests and carollers whilst you dine on your Holy meatless dishes or affix to the value of Hanukkah Dradel-Spins!


YUL BRYNNER IS TARAS BULBA
Accept NO OTHER BULBAS!!!
Taras Bulba (1962)
dir. J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Yul Brynner, Tony Curtis
Review By Greg Klymkiw
“Do not put your faith in a Pole.
Put your faith in your sword
and your sword in the Pole!”
Thus spake Taras Bulba – Cossack Chief!
(As played in 1962 by Yul Brynner)
These days, there are so few truly momentous events for lovers of fine cinema and, frankly, even fewer such momentous events for those of the Ukrainian persuasion. However, film lovers and Ukrainians both have something to celebrate. Especially Ukrainians. Ukraine's revolution against Russia that began last year and continues to see Ukraine fighting for its life against the Pig Putin, are indicative of the historical events celebrated in the KINO LORBER BLU-RAY release of J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 film adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s Taras Bulba which recounts the long-ago struggles between Ukraine and Poland. The long-awaited HD release of this classic studio epic is as momentous for ALL Ukrainians as Saddam Hussein's execution and Osama bin Laden's murder must have been to the entire Bush family of Texas.

TONY CURTIS makes a fine Cossack!
Mais non? Mais OUI!!!
Ukraine's new, DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED President Petro Poroshenko should consider using Taras Bulba as a propaganda film for its military and people - this version, of course, not the recent hunk of garbage made in Russia. As a pig-fat-eating Uke of Cossack-descent, I recall my own virgin helping (at the ripe age of four) of Taras Bulba with my family at the late lamented North Main Drive-In Theatre in the sleepy winter city of Winnipeg. Being situated in the ‘Peg’s North End (on the decidedly wrong side of the tracks), everyone of the Ukrainian persuasion was crammed into this drive-inn theatre when Taras Bulba unspooled there for the first time. A veritable zabava-like atmosphere overtook this huge lot of gravel and speaker posts. (A zabava is a party where Ukrainians place a passionate emphasis on drinking, dining and dancing until they all puke. And not necessarily in that order.) On the blessed opening night in Winnipeg, all the men wore their scalp locks proudly whilst women paraded their braided-hair saucily. Children brandished their plastic sabers pretending to butcher marauding Russians, Turks, Mongols and, of course, as per Gogol's great book, Poles. Those adults of the superior sex wore their finest red boots and baggy pants (held up proudly by the brightly coloured pois) whilst the weaker sex sported ornately patterned dresses and multi-coloured ribbons in their braided hair. All were smartly adorned in embroidered white shirts. Enormous chubs and coils of kovbassa and kishka (all prepared with the finest fat, innards and blood of swine) along with Viking-hefty jugs of home-brew were passed around with wild abandon. Hunchbacked old Babas boiled cabbage-filled varenyky (perogies) over open fires and slopped them straight from the vats of scalding hot water into the slavering mouths of those who required a bit of roughage to go with their swine and rotgut.

I fondly recall one of my aunties doling out huge loaves of dark rye bread with vats of salo (salted pig-fat and garlic) and studynets (jellied boiled head of pig with garlic) and pickled eggs for those who had already dined at home and required a mere appetizer. One might say, it was a carnival-like atmosphere, or, if you will, a true Cossack-style chow-down and juice-up. However, when the lights above the huge silver screen dimmed, the venerable North Main Drive-Inn Theatre transformed reverently into something resembling the hallowed Saint Vladimir and Olga Cathedral during a Stations of the Cross procession or a panachyda (deferential song/dirge/prayers for the dead) at Korban's (Ukrainians-only, please) Funeral Chapel in Winnipeg.

Everyone sat quietly in their cars and glued their Ukrainian eyeballs to the screen as Franz Waxman’s exquisitely romantic and alternately boisterous musical score (rooted firmly in the tradition of Ukrainian folk music) thundered over the opening credits which were emblazoned upon a variety of Technicolor tapestries depicting stars Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis in the garb of Ukraine’s mighty warriors of the steppes.

This screening and the overwhelming feelings infused in those who were there could only be described as an epiphany. Like me (and ultimately, my kind), I can only assume there wasn’t a single Ukrainian alive who didn’t then seek each and every opportunity after their respective virgin screenings to partake – again and again and yet again – in the staggering and overwhelming cinematic splendour that is – and can only be – Taras Bulba.

All this having been said, barbaric garlic-sausage-eating Ukrainian heathen are not the only people who can enjoy this movie. Anyone – and I mean ANYONE – who loves a rousing, astoundingly entertaining, old-fashioned and action-packed costume epic will positively delight in this work of magnificence.

The source material for this terrific picture is the short novel Taras Bulba by Nikolai Gogol, a young Ukrainian writer of Cossack stock who is often considered the father of Russian fiction. He was a contemporary of Pushkin and the two of them were both friends and leaders of the Russian literary scene in St. Petersburg over 150 years ago. Prior to writing Taras Bulba, Gogol (this is the popular Russified version of his name which, in the original Ukrainian would actually be Hohol) dabbled in narrative poetry, held some teaching positions and worked in the Russian bureaucracy.

Gogol’s early fictional works were short satirical stories steeped in the rural roots of his Ukrainian Cossack background. Evenings On A Farm Near The Village of Dykanka (Vechera Na Khutore Blyz Dykanky) was full of magic and folklore in the rustic, yet somewhat mystical world of simple peasants and Cossacks. The material is, even today, refreshing – sardonically funny, yet oddly sentimental. It even made for an excellent cinematic adaptation in Alexander Rou’s early 60s feature made at the famed Gorky Studios and a recent Ukrainian television remake starring the gorgeous pop idol Ani Lorak. Gogol’s vivid characters, sense of humour and attention to realistic detail all added up to supreme suitability for the big screen.

Taras Bulba is no different. The material is made for motion pictures. Alas, several unsatisfying versions pre-dated this 1962 rendering. Luckily, this version is the one that counts thanks to the team of legendary producer Harold Hecht (Marty, The Crimson Pirate and Sweet Smell of Success in addition to being Burt Lancaster’s producing partner), stalwart crime and action director J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear, The Guns of Navarone) and screenwriters Waldo Salt (who would go on to write Midnight Cowboy, Serpico and Coming Home) and the veteran Karl Tunberg (Ben-Hur, Down Argentine Way, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and fifty or so other scripts). This, then, was the dream team who were finally able to put Gogol’s Taras Bulba on the silver screen where it ultimately belongs.

For Gogol, Taras Bulba (in spite of the aforementioned literary qualities attributable to his rural stories) took a decidedly different turn than anything that preceded it or followed it in his career as a writer. Bulba sprang, not only from Gogol’s Cossack roots and familiarity with the dumy (songs and ballads of the Cossacks), but interestingly enough, he was greatly inspired by the great Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, of whom he was a big fan. This, of course, makes perfect sense since Scott’s swashbuckling adventures often dealt with Scottish pride and history at odds with the ruling powers of England. And so too with Taras Bulba.

The film (while deviating here and there from the book) maintains much of the structure, characters and spirit of Gogol’s work. It tells the story of Cossack chieftain Taras Bulba (Yul Brynner) and his desire to make Ukraine free from the oppression of the ruling nation of Poland. Though the Poles subjugate Ukraine, the Cossacks are willing (for a price and booty) to fight alongside the Poles against Turkish invaders. In addition to the pecuniary rewards, the Cossacks also get to use the Poles to help fight one of their enemies. When it comes to paying allegiance to the Poles, Taras steadfastly refuses to do this and, after committing a violent act against one of the Polish generals, the Cossacks all scatter into the hills to regroup and prepare for a time when they can go to war again – but this time, against the Poles.

Secured in their respective mountain hideaways, the Cossacks bide their time. Taras raises two fine and strapping young sons, Andrei (Tony Curtis) and Ostap (Perry Lopez). He sends his boys to Kyiv (the Russified spelling is “Kiev”) to study at the Polish Academy. The Poles wish to tame the Ukrainians, so they offer to educate them. Taras, on the other hand, orders his sons that they must study in order to learn everything they can about the Poles so that someday they can join him in battle against the Poles. At the Polish Academy, the young men learn that Poles are vicious racists who despise Ukrainians and on numerous occasions, both of them are whipped and beaten mercilessly – especially Andrei (because the Dean of the Academy believes Andrei has the greatest possibility of turning Polish and shedding his “barbaric” Ukrainian ways). A hint of Andrei’s turncoat-potential comes when he falls madly in love with Natalia (Christine Kaufmann) a Polish Nobleman’s daughter. When the Poles find out that Andrei has deflowered Natalia, they attempt to castrate him. Luckily, Andrei and Ostap hightail it back to the mountains in time to avoid this unfortunate extrication.

Even more miraculously, the Cossacks have been asked by the Poles to join them in a Holy War against the infidel in the Middle East. Taras has other plans. He joins all the Cossacks together and they march against the Poles rather than with them. The battle comes to a head when the Cossacks have surrounded the Poles in the walled city of Dubno. Taras gets the evil idea to simply let the Poles starve to death rather than charge the city. Soon, Dubno is wracked with starvation, cannibalism and the plague. Andrei, fearing for his Polish lover Natalia secretly enters the city and is soon faced with a very tragic decision – join the Poles against the Cossacks or go back to his father and let Natalia die.

Thanks to a great script and superb direction, this movie really barrels along head first. The battle sequences are stunningly directed and it’s truly amazing to see fully costumed armies comprised of hundreds and even thousands of extras (rather than today’s CGI armies). The romance is suitably syrupy – accompanied by Vaseline smeared iris shots and the humour as robust and full-bodied as one would expect from a movie about Cossacks. Franz Waxman’s score is absolutely out of this world, especially the “Ride to Dubno” (AKA “Ride of the Cossacks”) theme. The music carries the movie with incredible force and power – so much so that even cinema composing God Bernard Herrmann jealously proclaimed it as “the score of a lifetime”.

The movie’s two central performances are outstanding. Though Jack Palance (an actual Ukrainian from Cossack stock) turned the role down, he was replaced with Yul Brynner who, with his Siberian looks and Slavic-Asian countenance seems now to be the only actor who could have played Taras Bulba. Tony Curtis also makes for a fine figure of a Cossack. This strapping leading man of Hungarian-Jewish stock attacks the role with the kind of boyish vigour that one also cannot imagine anyone else playing Andrei (though at one point, Burt Lancaster had considered taking the role for himself since it was his company through Hecht that developed the property). The supporting roles are played by stalwart character actors like Sam Wanamaker as the one Cossack who gives Bulba some grief about fighting the Poles and George MacCready as the evil Polish rival of the Cossacks. Perry Lopez as Ostap is so obviously Latin that he seems a bit uncomfortable in the role of Ostap and Christine Kaufmann as Natalia is not much of an actress, but she’s so stunningly gorgeous that one can see why Curtis cheated on Janet Leigh and had a torrid open affair with Kaufmann during the shoot.

Taras Bulba is one stirring epic adventure picture. And yes, one wishes it took the darker paths that the original book ventured down, but it still manages to have a dollop of tragedy wending its way through this tale of warring fathers and their disobedient sons. And yes, as a Ukrainian, I do wish all the great Cossack songs had NOT been translated into English – especially since Yul Brynner would have been more than up to singing them in the original language. But these are minor quibbles. It’s a first rate, old-fashioned studio epic – big, sprawling, brawling, beautiful and definitely the cinematic equivalent of one fine coil of garlic sausage. So rip off a chub or two and slurp back the glory of Ukraine.

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

TARAS BULBA is available on KINO LORBER BLU-RAY and can be purchased directly below.



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BUY IT HERE FOR CHRISTMAS AND/OR HANUKKAH FOR SOMEONE YOU LOVE!

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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? - Review By Greg Klymkiw - From Producer-Star Gael Garcia Bernal - Highly touted and acclaimed by the Film Corner in the hallowed positions: One of the TOP 20 DOCUMENTARIES OF 2013 and a FILM CORNER TOP 10 HOT DOCS HOT PICK is NOW AVAILABLE ON KINO LORBER DVD just in time for the holidays. This heart-wrenching, nail-bitingly suspenseful "detective-style" doc follows an "illegal" migrant's journey to America. A FILM CORNER 2014 CHRISTMAS/HANUKKAH GIFT IDEA personally selected by the most Reverend Greg Klymkiw as an IDEAL TOKEN to put under a Tannenbaum or affix to the value of Hanukkah Dradel-Spins!

America is so precious about its border
it kills thousands of people per year.
These are dirt-poor migrant workers.
They'll do work American WhiteTrash
won't do, yet they're murdered.
WHY?
Who is Dayani Cristal? (2013)
Dir. Mark Silver
Starring and Produced By: Gael Garcia Bernal

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I really don't get why America has always been so precious about its border with Mexico. Purportedly, the big reason is to make sure that "furriners" don't steal jobs from good, hardworking Americans. This, of course, is a big joke. No matter how poor they are, the vast majority of unemployed America's potential work force refuse to do the jobs illegal migrant workers south of Mexico's border are willing to do. In fact, a big part of America's economy would be deeper in the crapper than it already is without the underground workforce. Those who refuse to admit it are either lying or ignorant.

And yet, year after year, decade upon decade, America has waged war against virtually incalculable numbers of people who try to cross their borders - not to steal, not to make trouble, not to be a drain on the system - but to work. America is good at waging war. It's what keeps the rich getting richer and the poor to get poorer. It's how the rich dumb down its population. Even worse, it's how the rich cull the population while at the same time exploiting other countries for financial gain. Perhaps America's power brokers are hoping that the dwindling middle class in America will get so desperate that they'll be the ones to take all the jobs Americans (at least for now) refuse to take.

Whatever the reasons - and you can bet the official reasons are spurious as all get out - thousands upon thousands of "illegals" are captured, incarcerated and deported (or worse yet, just plain murdered) with untold millions of dollars spent on enforcing this perverse form of protectionism which is both racist and ultimately ineffective. They keep coming. They're poor, they have no work and America has plenty for them to do. And yes, an alarming number of these "illegals" die. Some are robbed and beaten to death. Most drop dead of thirst and hunger in the vast desert wilderness between the Mexican border and civilization.

Who is Dayani Cristal? is about the dead and I have to admit, this is conceivably one of the saddest and most infuriating films I've ever seen. Working with fine writing by Mark Monroe, filmmaker Mark Silver's stunning, harrowing and genuinely great film is a superbly directed feature documentary that gives us a tale of one such "illegal" found rotting in the blazing sun of the deadly Sonora Desert in Friendly Arizona - a state where many of the (mostly unemployed) American White Trash are the first to complain about migrant workers stealing jobs that they themselves wouldn't even begin to think of taking.

The dead man has no I.D. He is a "John Doe". His body will remain on ice until a dogged American forensic team exhausts every possible avenue to match a name with the body based upon any clues they can find. The doctor and his team who do this work display the sort of compassion that makes one, thankfully, realize just how wonderful the American people are and can be - that many are sick and tired of the horrendous totalitarian policies of the rich - and that if there was eventually some way to break the horrendous attempts to dumb-down most of the country's population that maybe, just maybe, there will be a possibility of genuinely returning the country to the principles and basic decency of its founding fathers.

Until then, "illegals" are treated worse than cattle sent to the slaughterhouse.

The film follows two roads. One involves the attempts to identify the man's body - he has one arcane clue - a tattoo that reads "Dayani Cristal". If the teams can - somehow - find out who or what "Dayani Cristal" is, then they might be that much closer to putting a name to the body and returning it to his family.

The other path involves star and Producer, the dreamy heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal who takes to the open road - travelling with other migrants from Honduras through Guatemala, Mexico and Arizons - hitting the likeliest route, places and activities the dead man would have. These sequences are a brilliant hybrid of drama and documentary that seem less "recreation" or "dramatization", but a genuine journey. The sequences include some of the most hair-raising sequences on moving boxcars I've ever seen, and unless I'm blind, it does not appear as Bernal is using a stunt double.

Though we feel we know what the answer to the mystery will be, it is impossible to be less than enthralled with both the journeys taken by the forensic team and Bernal. It's the roads taken by both that supply us with the reality that faces destitute foreign migrant workers every single day.

And though it IS a film that makes us sad and infuriated, we're strangely elated by the touches of humanity along the way.

The work of politicians and their bureaucratic minions on behalf of the rich are faceless, but it's the faces and spirit of those who struggle on that ultimately move us. That said, there is a sense that the real free and brave of America are those without freedom and whose only real wealth is their bravery.

This is highly polished filmmaking on every level, but it's also indicative of what is still important and truthful about great cinema. And, for that matter, America.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4-Stars

Who is Dayani Cristal? is available on Kino Lorber DVD and can be purchased directly below.



PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ORDER ANYTHING FROM AMAZON BY USING THE LINKS ABOVE OR BELOW. CLICKING ON THEM AND THEN CLICKING THROUGH TO ANYTHING WILL ALLOW YOU TO ORDER AND IN SO DOING, SUPPORT THE ONGING MAINTENANCE OF THE FILM CORNER.
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Monday, 8 December 2014

PROM NIGHT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Classic 1980 Canuck Slasher Pic Gets Stellar VSC/Synapse BLU-RAY. This truly delightful FILM CORNER 2014 CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEA has been personally selected by your most holy, your most Reverend Greg Klymkiw as an ideal token to place under the Baby Jesus Tree 4 someone U LOVE!

A MAN WITH AN AXE TO GRIND
HAS A DATE WITH YOU
FOR THE PROM!!!
Prom Night (1980)
Dir. Paul Lynch
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Antoinette Bower, Robert A. Silverman, George Touliatos, David Gardner, Michael Tough, Anne-Marie Martin (AKA "Eddie Benton"), Joy Thompson, Marybeth Rubens, Casey Stevens, Jeff Wincott, David Mucci

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The slasher film exploded on the scene with a vengeance from the mid-70s to the 80s, "vengeance" being the operative word. Often involving a masked and/or fleetingly-glimpsed stalker with a bone to pick, this sub genre of horror was typified by young babes and hunks receiving their violent comeuppance at the hands of said killer. The scares were mostly rooted in shock cuts and the films' plots were coat hangers with which to hang a series of grotesquely gory killings upon.

Though America ended up popularizing the slasher film to almost ludicrously successful degrees during the reign of Rompin' Ronnie Reagan (the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises leading the charge), it was, in fact, the Italians (via the gialli and most notably, Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve) and Canadians (from A Christmas Story director Bob Clark and his viciously viscous yuletide thriller Black Christmas) who hitched their horses to the post first.

Canada's history of transgressive cinema surely begins with horror films whilst working in tandem with a first-rate tax credit during this period and the country was responsible for more than its fair share of slasher epics. Prom Night is one of the very best slasher films ever made. Directed by Paul Lynch, the erudite Liverpool ex-pat in Toronto, Prom Night couldn't have been more far removed (at least on the surface) from his John Grierson/NFB-influenced feature dramas The Hard Part Begins, a gritty dive into tank town country and western bars and Blood & Guts, a journey into the sleazy world of professional wrestling. In many ways, though, Lynch's foray into the slasher oeuvre yielded the kind of anthropological observation of the period and astonishingly iconic images of horror that could only have come from a genuinely visionary filmmaker.

In lieu of hundreds, if not thousands of similar films made since, the simple narrative of Prom Night might suggest something fairly by-rote and even by the standards of the time it might have felt as such, though if truth be told, my own first helping of the picture first-run in 1980 yielded a genuine barrage of gooseflesh upon my then-youthful frame. Watching it again on the sumptuously-transferred Blu-Ray from Synapse Films and VSC, the movie not only sparked fond memories of its almost-religious litany of visual frissons, but astonished me - almost 35 years after first seeing it - by Lynch's phenomenal eye for the details of teen life during that period.

The tale wrought, albeit somewhat familiar now (though being one of the first of its kind, no fault of its own), begins with the accidental death of a little girl at the hands of her peers. It fast forwards six years later to the night of the prom which would have been her first as a junior, if she'd have lived. With enough red herrings to throw us off the scent of the true identity of the revenge-seeker, we follow the rigorously observed preparations, social interactions and mating rituals of teens, parents and teachers alike on the day of the prom. Once the festivities begin proper, we're treated to a chilling check-list of blood-soaked killings until the film's astonishingly choreographed climactic set-piece involving the killer, one of his intended-victims and the ass-kicking gymnastics of 70s/80s scream-queen Jamie Lee Curtis (progeny of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis and star of John Carpenter's Halloween).

HOT BABES & SEVERED HEADS
All the above is courtesy of director Lynch, screenwriter William (The Changeling) Gray and story writer Robert Guza Jr. (30-year-head writer of, I kid you not, General Hospital). Prom Night is written and directed to beat the band and it paid off in spades. On every level, it's a genuine horror classic thanks to its talents off and on the screen.

The casting is impeccable. Though Jamie Lee Curtis herself is slightly long-in-tooth compared to her fellow High School peers, she delivers a fun, smirking, wise-acre sensibility to the role that sets her far apart as the film's genuine and rightful star. In fact, her performance here is so good, it far exceeds her pre-and-post Prom Night work in Halloween and Terror Train respectively. It's here where we discover the beginnings of her sexy, funny and breezy talents that would best be exemplified years later in A Fish Called Wanda, Trading Places and Perfect.

The youthful cast surrounding Curtis, comprised mostly of burgeoning Canuck thespians, in addition to the formidable presence of Vagina, Saskatchewan-native Leslie Nielsen as the principal of the besieged Hamilton High (to be seen soon-after in the Airplane and Naked Gun franchises) and a stalwart roll-call of Canuck character actors as various teachers, cops and townsfolk, Lynch populates his film with a first-rate cast which blows away most of the assemblages of onscreen talent in other pictures of the slasher genre.

Some of the more outstanding members of the supporting cast include the terrific Canadian character actor and David Cronenberg regular Robert A. Silverman, especially great as the cancer-ridden artist in The Brood, and here playing a creepy school caretaker, an absolutely hilarious David Gardner straight-facedly spouting some of the most ridiculous psychiatric mumbo-jumbo captured on film, David Mucci as an utterly repellent unibrowed teen stud, stalwart Canadian TV and stage actress Antoinette Bower as the unhinged Mom of the little dead girl, plus Jeff Wincott, eventual action hero and Broadway star in one of his earliest movie roles.

Last, but certainly not least, the absolutely ravishing, sexy, blonde ice-princess villainess played by a brilliant Anne-Marie Martin (credited as "Eddie Benton" and years later, fulfilling the real-life role as Mrs. Michael Crichton). Hubba-Hubba defines this morsel of erection-inducing evil.

Great Canadian Character Actor: ROBERT A. SILVERMAN
Creepy Caretaker in PROM NIGHT, Cancer Victim in THE BROOD

Given the film's not-so obvious low budget, its look tends to also make mincemeat out of the period's other slasher films. Lynch brings a borderline documentary mise-en-scene to the proceedings which situate us in a time and place that was more than familiar to those who saw the movie in 1980 and astoundingly, brings everyone else back to it via the naturalistic time-machine-like essence of his direction. The varied, somewhat bucolic locations of a long-ago-and-far-away Toronto (albeit adorned with American flags), treat us to the leafy lawns of Canada's first planned suburban environment of Don Mills, actual schools secured by the co-producer who was actually a high school teacher with the Toronto Board of Education and the major setting of the abandoned building of death (a notorious Toronto asylum) from the picture's creepy opening.

Add to this the superb interior details of Rueben Freed's art direction, the perfect-for-and-of-the-period hair (really BIG), the garish makeup (really HORRENDOUS) and teflon costumes (undeniably UGLY) and we know we're in a film made by real filmmakers who know that such details make for a good picture that's also commercial as opposed to jaded market-driven accountants who generate machine-tooled money-grabs bereft of style and artistry.

The choreography on the dance floor, as well as the choreography of the action/suspense sequences is top of the line and most exquisite of all are the makeup and special effects (both sound and picture) which accompany the delectable killings. Given the picture's attention to detail and yes, even character, the body count gets to have its cake and eat it to by being equally thrilling as it is sickeningly horrifying.

And lest we forget that all of this is underscored by the tremendous music from the team of Carl (Black Christmas, Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile) Zittrer and Paul (My Bloody Valentine, Popcorn) Zaza, the former focusing with Zittrer on the virtually Canadian-horror sounds-of-music from the period and the latter solely and astonishingly delivering the remarkable disco score.

Adorning Lynch's miss-en-scene is the piece de resistance of the cinematography by Michael New with its superb compositional qualities, effective lighting and superlative tracking and dolly shots, all without the benefit of today's ubiquitous steadicams. Especially delightful is the film's refusal to be afraid of grain when it rears its beautiful head - as much an effect of the picture's budget as it is the filmmakers clearly anticipating its inevitability and blending those lovely, dancing speckles perfectly within the film's narrative and aesthetic.

The film's iconic imagery, the black snow mask of the killer, the composition involving the slasher gripping his axe in the dark hallways and most indelibly, the never-to-be-forgotten shot of a gorgeous victim-to-be as she raises her head slightly above the top of a black science lab table until we glimpse her terrified eyes as they reflect eerily and murkily upon the surface of the desk, lit only by the exterior street lamps casting their glow upon the lab through the big, smudgy, frost-paned windows.

One of the many great tag lines that accompanied the picture's inspired marketing campaign announced:

"If you're not back by midnight... you won't be coming home."

Don't make the mistake of Hamilton High's victims. Come home, come back to the joy and genius that is Prom Night, the slasher film of a generation, the little engine that could and the one true crowning glory of the entire oeuvre.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4-Stars (film) ***** 5-stars (the Synapse Films/VSC Special Edition Blu-Ray)

For both fans of the film and eager students of filmmaking, the Special Edition Blu-Ray of Prom Night from the visionary Synapse Films and released in Canada via the equally visionary VSC, you simply can't go wrong with this mega-keeper of home entertainment packages. The 2K scan of the HD transfer in 16x9/1.78.1 is magnificent - so much so I doubt the film has looked this good since its first 35mm prints in theatrical release (in addition to both the original, gorgeously mixed-mono tracks and a 5.1 surround sound mix created just for the Blu-Ray). The extra features are a fountain of delights: Plenty of trailers, TV-spots, Radio-Spots and stills, all providing a glimpse at truly ingenious motion picture marketing; a good half-hour of never-before-seen outtakes, a short, but fascinating glimpse into the footage added to the TV versions to stretch it out when the shower scenes needed to be trimmed for primetime, including some excellent and genuinely humorous scenes involving Leslie Nielsen, Jamie Lee Curtis and Hamilton High's ditzy temp secretary); a decent feature length commentary track which includes some terrific observations by Lynch and screenwriter Graham. Alas, the pathetic non-moderation of moderator Paul Jankiewicz does little to rein things in properly and given Lynch's observations in interviews over the years as well as his moments in the disc's accompanying making-of documentary, there are many missed opportunities to delve more specifically into more practical and artistic aspects of the filmmaking process. The real cherry on the ice cream sundae here is the aforementioned doc. Entitled "The Horrors of Hamilton High", this 40-minute short film is obviously the work of people who know and love the film and it features anecdotal meanderings only when necessary (like Leslie Nielsen's on-set penchant for utilizing a fart-sound gizmo almost constantly during production) and a whole clutch of superb practical information on the aesthetics of filmmaking and storytelling that should have been on the commentary track if it had been properly moderated. That said, the commentary is worth the price of slogging through if only to hear the seemingly gentle-toned Lynch deride "Terror Train" director Roger Spottiswood for scumbaggishly going against his word to Lynch. Amusingly, Lynch refers to Spottiswood as the director of "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot". I could only have been happier if he'd added his own experience at the hands of turncoat Roger to that of poor Sam Peckinpah's when the Ottawa-born filmmaker ended up playing studio hack during the butchering of the masterpiece "Pat Garret and Billy the Kid". Well, we can dream, can't we? In any event, slight disappointment with the commentary track aside, the Blu-Ray Special Edition of Prom Night is easily one of the best discs of the year!



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Sunday, 7 December 2014

FRANK - Blu-Ray Review By Greg Klymkiw - Poignant, funny indie hit gets terrific Magnolia/VSC Blu-Ray

THE MANY FACES OF FRANK
Frank (2014)
Dir. Lenny Abrahamson
Scr. Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Scoot McNairy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Francois Civil, Carla Azar, Tess Harper

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Give an actor something to obscure their best feature and then see what they can deliver. I had occasion recently to recall Jack Nicholson in Tony Richardson's 1982 The Border where he was forced to wear sunglasses in virtually every exterior shot. Given that Nicholson was playing a Texas border guard, this not only made sense in terms of his character, but it shielded us from one of Nicholson's most expressive facial features. This resulted in one of his all-time best performances. Given that by 1982 Jack's eyes and what he could do with them had already began to border on the cliched, we the audience were afforded the opportunity to see him render work that felt as fresh and vital as it had always been. It's as if the shades rendered the character even more internal - we had to work hard reading him, which made the proceedings rooted in a kind of reality it might not have otherwise had. Nicholson's movements became stiffer, slower and as he was playing someone who was on a slow burn, especially as he began to respond to the horrendous corruption and unfairness with respect to Mexicans sneaking across the border for a slice of America's pie of opportunity, we were able to almost put ourselves inside the character. Most importantly, we had to respond to what he saw without necessarily having a full picture of how to read him.

Michael Fassbender is easily as great an actor as Nicholson, yet he's not quite crossed over into rendering performances rooted in cliches, so it's all the more astonishing to witness his work in Frank.

Co-writer Jon Ronson had been in Chris Sievey's Oh Blimey Big Band once the eccentric musician-comedian frontman of The Freshies had established his "Frank Sidebottom" persona for stage and television. "Frank" was a kind of Pee Wee Herman-like persona who wore a humungous fake head that resembled characters in the early cartoons of the legendary Fleischer Brothers (Betty Boop, Popeye). Though the screenplay for Frank is ultimately fictional, it's based in part on Ronson's journal entries during this period.

The first hour of Frank is especially lovely. It focuses on Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) a young keyboardist/songwriter who is miraculously swept out of his suburban ennui by Don (Scoot McNairy), a taciturnly amusing road manager and plunged headlong into a band led by the title frontman played by Fassbender. At first, Jon's ignored and/or reviled by Frank's eccentric band members (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Francois Civil, Carla Azar), but when he invests his "nest-egg" inheritance into the recording of a new album, their disdain transforms into guarded acceptance. Gyllenhaal even grudgingly prongs herself upon Jon's root, claiming disgust, but partaking of it with relish nonetheless. Jon, unbeknownst to the others, has been tweeting his adventures and even uploading clips to YouTube. Eventually, the band develops a sizeable cult following and is invited to launch themselves at the famed SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas.

Both the screenplay and Abrahamson's solid direction keep us delighted and enthralled in the odd creative process, and once the band heads to America, we're equally tantalized by the juxtaposition twixt the bucolic Irish cottage they're initially holed up in and the Big Sky of Texas. Though success looms, the film successfully shifts gears and we're plunged into the reality of the title character which, up until this point, has been mysterious to say the least. What's been funny and borderline (thank Christ for "borders") whimsical, becomes deeply and painfully moving.

Fassbender is the engine which ultimate drives the film. Saddled with his fake head, which he never removes, is what forces the great actor to utilize his innate gifts. With both his oft-muffled voice and body (as well as eventual sign language and verbal descriptions to convey his facial expressions under the mask), Fassbender extraordinarily delivers a myriad of emotions.

For anyone who discovered the world of true musical iconoclasts like Captain Beefheart, David Thomas of Pere Ubu fame and the multitude of genuinely alternative musicians during the punk and new wave phases in the late 70s and early 80s will especially be filled with a nostalgic glow that occasionally borders on epiphanies of the most hallowed kind. Frank is a film that seems featherweight, but its depiction of both the creative process and mental illness creeps up slowly and grabs you. Most of all, it doesn't ever really let go, long after the movie is over.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** Four Stars

Frank is a Magnolia/VSC Blu-Ray release that features a gorgeous sound and picture transfer. The disc comes equipped with a variety of bonus features including a variety of interviews with the director and pacifically on the look, sound and music of the film. A decent commentary track could have been far less all over the place with a moderator in tune to the film and its makers. The best special feature on the disc is a superb featurette focusing upon the sound designers and mixers. This is precisely the kind of detail that would have been ideal on the commentary track and even some of the interviews if they had been up to the level of this great bonus material. All in all, the film is so good that the film's ultimately the thing and makes for an ideal keeper Blu-Ray.



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Saturday, 6 December 2014

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Best Romantic Comedy - EVER - gets Criterion treatment This truly delightful FILM CORNER 2014 CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEA has been personally selected by your most holy, your most Reverend Greg Klymkiw as an ideal token to place under the Christmas Tree 4 someone U LOVE!

SCREENWRITER - Robert Riskin  DIRECTOR - Frank Capra

FRANK CAPRA'S MASTERPIECE
gets the glorious Criterion Collection
super-deluxe Blu-Ray makeover!
It Happened One Night (1934)
Dir. Frank Capra
Scr. Robert Riskin
Starring: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Jameson Thomas, Roscoe Karns, Alan Hale, Arthur Hoyt, Blanche Friderici, Charles C. Wilson, Ward Bond, Irving Bacon, George Breakston

Review By Greg Klymkiw
"What she needs is a guy that'd take a sock at her once a day, whether it's coming to her or not."
So says hard boiled reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable) to multi-millionaire Alexander Andrews (Walter Connolly), biliously referring to the magnate's spoiled heiress daughter Ellie (Claudette Colbert). Ah, how did it come to this? Then again, this is quite near the end of Frank Capra's romantic comedy It Happened One Night and Big Daddy doesn't flinch one bit over Peter's woman-walloping assertion. You see, near the start of the picture, Father Dearest responds to one of his grown-daughter's petulant temper tantrums by slugging her squarely in the kisser. A fat lot of good that did, though, since Ellie deftly dashes onto the deck of Daddy's yacht and plunges into the water, swimming away quite ably in her tight gown to join King Westley (Jameson Thomas), the dandy playboy she's eloped with and to whom Pappy Big Bucks is desperately trying to buy off with an annulment.

GABLE - at his MANLIEST
COLBERT - at her SEXIEST
Comedy & Romance - at its FINEST
But it ain't gonna happen. Ellie's bound and determined to be reunited with her man and nothing's going to stop her. Nothing, that is, unless she falls in love with someone else.

Enter Peter Warne (Gable) the booze-swilling, tough-talking, two-fisted star reporter who's just been fired from his job for guzzling more hootch than making deadlines. Our star-crossed couple soon find themselves together on a milk-run bus from Miami, bound for the city that never sleeps, that glorious dirty town, New York.

They detest each other. At first. They are, however, more than willing to use each other. Ellie needs a smart cookie to get her back to consummate marriage to Westley before Dad scuttles it and Peter, knowing Ellie's elopement and mad dash is big news, needs a lollapalooza of a story to get his job back. Their cross-country road trip, fraught with all manner of peril, offers up the biggest of all - they're falling in love.

Seriously folks, could anything be more perfect in its simplicity? Well, uh, no. However, let it be said that Frank Capra, one of the most untouchably great directors of all time, here displays every conceivable iota of his gifts with the ferocity of a whirling dervish on a never-ending supply of crack cocaine. The equally legendary screenwriter Robert Riskin (who wrote eight - count 'em - eight films for Capra) creates two of the most indelible, loveable characters in any romantic comedy - like, EVER! - and generates dialogue and conflict that's seldom been matched and never been beaten. Capra's trusty cinematographer Joseph Walker (who cut his teeth on Canadian Nell Shipman's Arctic-shot Back to God's Country and eventually lensed twenty - yeah, count 'em - twenty films for Capra) delivers some of the most astonishing compositions, camera moves and lighting ever committed to celluloid. Eugene Havlick, no slouch in the editing chair (having cut two of Howard Hawks greatest pictures, His Girl Friday and Twentieth Century and, yup, count 'em, seven pictures for Capra), sliced and diced the footage with an impeccable sense of both comic and dramatic timing.

The bottom line is that for all the picture's inherent simplicity, Capra and his collaborators brilliantly imbued the picture with levels of sophistication and artistry few romantic comedies have ever (nay, will ever) achieve. The movie is as rooted in the comedy of Shakespeare, as it is in the fresh and contemporary well it draws from and hence, is both universal and never dated, especially in its astonishing portrait of class differences (and how they can come together), the clear divide between man and woman (plus where their paths do cross) and the lovely, sumptuous forays into the beauty of nature under the stars of night where romance yields itself up.

It Happened One Night is perfect. Not a frame is wasted, not a gesture is superfluous, not a single word uttered by any character any less than sheer poetry and visually, few films have come close (and even fewer have matched) the delicate shadings, the magical pools of shimmering light and the utterly dazzling chiaroscuros that are as tantalizing to the heart, to the very core of human emotion, as they are to the naked eye, one which is gently forced to remain wide open to dine greedily upon the love, humour and sheer romance of this genuine masterpiece. One that lives forever.

THE FILM CORNER RATING for the Film and the Criterion Blu-Ray production: ***** 5-Stars

It Happened One Night is, beyond even a shadow of a doubt, one of the most compelling arguments against anything less than home consumption of cinema on the Blu-Ray format and, perhaps most importantly, how the very medium of home entertainment continues to be raised to the highest levels of artistry - yes, ARTISTRY - by the Criterion Collection. Not only is the brand new 4K digital restoration with uncompressed monaural sound lightyears ahead of anything generated for this masterpiece, but the utter care and dedication of the entire Criterion CREATIVE team in terms of the overall package is one they will need to use as their own internal bar to match, if not exceed. I can still remember watching the historic American Institute Lifetime Achievement Award TV special honouring Frank Capra (and hosted, no less, by Jimmy Stewart) when it was first aired. It's stayed with me for over 30 years. To see it again on this home entertainment edition of the film was sheer magic. The somewhat conventional 1997 feature length documentary Frank Capra’s American Dream is still, by the sheer force of its interviews and clip selections, as fine a cinematic biographical portrait of Capra as we're likely to see - at least for now. Watching Capra's first-ever film, the radiant and moving 1921 San Francisco-produced silent short Fultah Fisher’s Boarding House, so astonishing in its new digital transfer (with a gorgeous, evocative new score composed and performed by Donald Sosin), that I needed to see it again immediately after my first helping to prove to myself I wasn't dreaming. In addition to a lovely 1999 interview with Frank Capra Jr. and the de rigueur inclusion of a trailer and essay booklet (along with a gorgeous new cover design by Sarah Habibi and Jessica Hische), the piece de resistance is clearly the magnificent all-new conversation between critics Molly Haskell and Phillip Lopate, both of whom engage each other and us in their love and near photographic recall of the picture. It's beautifully shot and cut. We get a sense of this lovely piece being an exquisite short film unto itself - a kind of My Dinner With Andre-like conversation with a narrative arc, if you will, of complete and utter adoration (and the sort of egg-head-isms about the film that are neither full of the usual bushwah inherent in such tête-à-têtes and proving to be as vital and wholly understandable to movie nuts, eggheads and real folk alike). This is a GREAT Blu-Ray. You need to own it. Believe me, you'll watch the movie and your favourite extra features over and over and, yet, over again. If you own the disgraceful Columbia Pictures DVD (so ludicrously overpriced when it first came out), just turn the disc into a coaster and use the keep case for some DVD-R of your home movies. Oh, and if you don't own a Blu-Ray player and High Def monitor - get them - NOW! It's the only way you'll be able to see It Happened One Night when you buy the Blu-Ray (which you must do - NOW!)



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Friday, 5 December 2014

THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH - Review by Greg Klymkiw - Polanski adapts the Bard's bloodbath on a top of the line Criterion Blu-Ray! This FILM CORNER 2014 CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEA has been personally selected by your most Reverend Greg Klymkiw as THE ideal token to place under the Tannenbaum of ALL Roman Polanski fans and/or William Shakespeare fans and/or "Macbeth" fans and/or for a special someone!

Macbeth (1971)
Dir. Roman Polanski
Scr. Kenneth Tynan & Polanski
Stars: Jon Finch, Francesca Annis

MY MOM, MRS. RAPPAPORT, MACBETH and ME
a personal memoir & review by Greg Klymkiw

My late mother taught me to read by the age of 5. She did it with comic books. Not just ANY comic books, mind you, but via the wonderful Classics Illustrated series which adapted great literature in comic book form. At the end of every issue were the words: "Now that you've read the comic, read the original."

When Mom signed up a couple of years later for the Doubleday Book-of-the-Month Club - not for her, but for me - one of the "free" (of four) introductory titles she selected was "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare". (The other three were Pierre Boulle's "Monkey Planet", AKA "Planet of the Apes", "The Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson" and "The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe".) Being a sick puppy even at the tender age of 7, I chose to read "Macbeth" first. Of all the Shakespeare plays represented in those comics, it was the one story that ferociously consumed me. As a child, I was Regan in "The Exorcist" and the devil himself was the Thane of Cawdor.

My sweet, darling mother painstakingly read the play with me, both of us taking turns reading aloud to each other and often alternating roles. Through this process we oft-referred to the Classics Illustrated adaptation and Mom even bought a "Coles Notes" book (AKA "Cliff's Notes") to address stuff she herself didn't "get", just so she could make sure I did.

At the ripe old age of 14 I first saw Roman Polanski's film version of The Tragedy of Macbeth which my Mom took me to see when it opened first-run in Winnipeg at the Park Theatre on November 30, 1973, a good two years after it opened in the United States. As a kid, I'd been chomping at the bit to see it. Released in many markets as simply, Macbeth, I was well aware of the picture's existence as I'd started reading the show business trade bible "Variety" at the age of 10 and now, oh happy day, the movie was finally playing in our midwestern Winter City.

There were a whole whack of cool films playing in the 'Peg that weekend. It was the opening day of two amazing drive-in double features. In the west end of the city, A.I.P.'s The Little Cigars Mob featuring Angel Tompkins robbing banks with a gang of armed midgets and the jaw-dropping Ray Milland-Rosie Grier=grafted-together horror-comedy The Thing With Two Heads (both of which Dad took me to see on the Saturday night) and in the north end, Gimme Shelter and Monterey Pop were unspooling, but neither parent would take me to see those movies since the only music they enjoyed were Ukrainian Liturgies, Ukrainian Folk Songs, Nana Mouskouri, Mantovani and the Percy Fsith Orchestra. (The closest they ever got to Heavy Metal was Harry Belafonte.) That weekend in Winnipeg was ALSO opening night of Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye with Elliot Gould, but as I'd already ear-marked it to see alone during my usual Saturday afternoon movie forays downtown, I asked Mom if she could drive me all the way to the south-end Friday night and take me to watch the movie I'd so desperately wanted to see. She agreed.

Let's place this in perspective, folks. My Mother, a nice, polite, North End Winnipeg Ukrainian girl drove her son across town to sit with him and watch The Tragedy of Macbeth, Roman Polanski's blood-soaked, ultra-violent adaptation with, I might add, Lady Macbeth parading about in the nude whilst delivering her madness monologue. I don't know a lot of Moms who would do this for their progeny, but MY MOM DID!!!

By my teen years, I had occasion to read "Macbeth" again - this time within the context of a North End Winnipeg public school English class under the divine tutelage of Mrs. Elaine Rappaport. She was the best English teacher I ever had until my post-secondary years, and even then, she held her own with the best of them. The wife of noted Rabbi Sidney Rappaport from the Rosh Pina Synagogue in Winnipeg (he passed away in 2009), she was one classy, snappy, sharp-witted lady.

That said, and not wishing to toot my own horn, but she soon found herself face-to-face with the Macbeth-like madness lodged within the heart and soul of a teenage movie freak. After the astoundingly brave act of showing a bunch of kids a 16mm print of Polanski's film, I immediately dove in on the picture's violence, linking it to the despair and guilt Polanski must have been feeling over the murder of his beloved wife Sharon Tate at the hands of the Manson Clan. Years later I discovered that every Tom, Dick and Harry had made this same cliched, unoriginal and condescendingly simplistic observation.

So shoot me. I was a teenager. Besides, not a bad observation for a kid.

Though she tried to take issue with my comment, I knew Mrs. Rappaport was always ahead of the curve and I suspected, even at the time, that she mildly and politely disputed my precocious assertion so she could take our discussion away from a sickening murder that many kids in those days, even in high school, had been sheltered from.

I plunged ahead, though, and began recalling the specific date and explicit DETAILS of Sharon Tate's murder, in addition to the approximate dates as to WHEN the writing of the script and subsequent PRODUCTION of the film would have occurred. I then insisted that based upon the aforementioned findings, my point could not be disputed.

I'll never forget the sparkles in Mrs. Rappaport's eyes as she then launched into a brief elaboration of my point and then moved us on ever-so gracefully (and graciously) to discuss the differences between the film and play.

One week after my Mother took her final breath of life after a long battle with stomach cancer, I was reminded of her dedication to a precocious son's desire to read and obsess over all things "Macbeth" and, of course, the movies. I'm eternally grateful to her. My love for cinema, theatre and literature was both encouraged and indeed nurtured by her. She might well have been seen by the world as "only" a mother, housewife and part-time bank teller, but even as a kid I knew how she'd studied violin at the Conservatory of Music and eventually gave up a professional life as a musician to be a loving Mother and dutiful Wife. She had the soul of an artist which she saw in me also and did everything in her power to arm me with the means to never give up on my own desires and talents as she had done in the days when many women felt forced by societal pressures to do so. In the words of the old Russian-Jewish folk song, popularized by the Welsh songstress Mary Hopkins, "Those were the days, my friend".

Indeed they were.

In fact, the thought that we'll ever again see a Shakespeare film adaptation as truly great as Polanski's (and in fairness, I tend to include and acknowledge those elements Francis Ford Coppola borrowed for Godfathers I & II), is not something I take solace in. What I do accept wholeheartedly is that Polanski's The Tragedy of Macbeth is so "modern", so forward-thinking, so ideally faithful and intelligently interpreted that we do, in fact, have a film for the ages.

Polanski so wisely centres his film firmly and fiercely within Lady Macbeth's successful exertions of influence and then secondarily, that of the witch hags Macbeth encounters on the way home after his victories in war to fling himself into the loving arms of his wife. The good Lady's wifely influence provea to be too successful. Her ambitious husband's subsequent actions of lying, cheating, stealing, traitorously conspiring and committing murder in the coldest of blood is the stuff which all our dreams are made on. (Personally, I've always been aware of my own roiling needs, rooted as they were, and still are, in a kind of selfish know-it-all "quality" so that ultimately, the only possible influence I have to exert them, comes from me and me alone.)

At the beginning of the film, we learn that Macbeth (Jon Finch) has done magnificently in battle. The manner in which Polanski sets this up is simply masterful. Who will ever forget the murky skies overlooking the bodies and blood upon the muck, the poor flailing sod being ball and chained to death and the kind of mad horror in actor Jon Finch's eyes as Macbeth's otherwise poker-face surveys the damage/victory he's wrought.

This is the horror Polanski thrusts us immediately into and it's impossible to unglue one's eyeballs from the proceedings. This tragedy of Shakespeare's is indeed a work of horror and Polanski seems to understand this better than any other filmmaker who tackled the play (including, I might add, the rich, evocative, but fatally flawed Orson Welles version). When Macbeth has been named Thane of Cawdor by King Duncan for leading a successful decimation of the enemy (and capturing the rebel leader who previously bore the title), we get the tiniest glimmer of pride - perhaps even a smidgen of happiness - in Macbeth, this newly honoured young warrior.

Fate has other plans for him though. Encountering a gaggle of horrendous hags - witches of the most odious order - Macbeth hears and is infected with their prophecy that he will be King. Though he attempts to eschew thoughts of such glory, he won't have a chance against the most powerful witch of all, the extremely mortal, but bewitchingly concupiscent, mind-alteringly ravishing Lady Macbeth (Francesca Annis).

Polanski's first triumph was in casting these two actors. Finch, many of whom will remember as the strangely unlikeable loser protagonist Richard Blaney in Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy, is such an astonishing Macbeth I suspect I'll never be able to imagine the face of the character with any other visage. Finch so brilliantly captures the various shades of Macbeth's intensity as it percolates slowly whilst his alluringly magnetic Lady places thoughts of being King in his mind - almost taunting, shaming him into desiring as quick an ascension to the throne as possible - one in which only murder can pave the way to.

Annis, of course, is the ultimate Lady Macbeth. She is not only stunning in every camera-loves-her respect, but she delivers her desires with the deftness of a fox and increasingly with viper-like stings which soon latch unshakeably onto Macbeth's manly psyche.

If murder be the only way, so be it.

Polanski continues to focus upon their relationship throughout until the narrative shifts into Shakespeare's astonishingly wrought parallel descents into derangement of the most fevered order. As Macbeth becomes more tyrannical, Lady Macbeth begins to slip into madness. They both lose their souls - in fact, Polanski emphasizes that it's their deep love, their bottomless pit of passion which is the unholy instrument which undoes both of them. Lady Macbeth's madness causes her to erupt into guilt so appallingly, deeply, debilitatingly and destructively molten whilst the crown-thieving maniac Macbeth fills his dwindling spiritual reserves as his soul pours out paranoia which is as catastrophic in its decimation of his humanity as the guilt is so ruinous to his lady.

When I first saw The Tragedy of Macbeth as a kid, I still remembering how I chuckled out loud, receiving odd stares from both my Mother and audience members. I soon kept my guffaw-bursts in check, but later revealed to my mother in the drive home after the screening that every single time Macbeth looked upon a potential enemy (i.e. murder victim), it reminded me of those fantasy sequences in the Fleischer Popeye cartoons when a starving Wimpy would look at virtually any living thing and imagine them to be a pig, a cow, a chicken - anything he could slaughter and eat. Seeing the movie again on the Criterion Blu-Ray I got the same thoughts. I'm convinced that Polanski intentionally staged, shot and cut Finch's glares at his eventual victims - not in homage to the Fleischer cartoons, but certainly with the same mad, darkly hilarious undercurrent which Fleischer imbued his own films with.

Not only are we tantalized with one blood spattering grotesquerie after another, but Polanski wisely has Lady Macbeth wander buck naked throughout the castle as she delivers her madness monologue. Let's not make the mistake here of downplaying Polanski's genius as a showman - he's the ultimate showman. He dazzles us with both prurience and a veritable rampage of brutality. Shakespeare was a showman, too. Let's not forget that. If anything, Polanski's delectably and suitably exploitative indulgences allow us one HELL OF A GOOD SHOW whilst at the same time, shove our faces in the sheer horror of Macbeth and his Lady's respective madness.

Seeing The Tragedy of Macbeth during one of the most emotionally draining periods of my life was exactly what the doctor ordered. Running parallel to this sentient drainage in my own life were also feelings of sentiment and nostalgia - I couldn't help but do the math as I faced so much of what I loved in a place that reminded me how these things of beauty were either gone or about to go and would soon be relegated, and in fact were actually being consigned to the hallowed place of memory.

The Tragedy of Macbeth as deftly rendered by Polanski did what any great work of art should do. Here I was, watching a work written over 400 years ago and interpreted in a version from over forty years ago and it touched me on a very personal level.

I thought, with the indelible sharpness of crystal that SOME women, like my Mother and English teacher, inspire the sun, moon and stars of the mind, while others, as scribed by Shakespeare, inspired pure NAKED ambition.

Luckily the ambition inspired by the two great women in MY early life was fully clothed.

THE FILM CORNER RATING for Film and Blu-Ray: ***** 5-Stars

The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of The Tragedy of Macbeth is yet another example for me of the genuine art of creating home entertainment for as rich an experience as possible. The 4K transfer was personally approved by director Roman Polanski and as such, both sound and picture are as mind blowing as one could imagine.

The extra features are a pure goldmine of information, insight and education. An all-new one hour documentary entitled Toil and Trouble: Making “Macbeth” includes wonderful contemporary interviews with Roman Polanski which provide a marvellous retrospective glimpse into his film from the position of having to discuss it over forty years after it was made. The doc is fleshed out with appearances by production executives and actors (including Annis herself).

The 1971 Frank Simon documentary Polanski Meets Macbeth delivers a historical look at the making of the film and includes footage of the cast and crew on set. It's thoroughly fascinating.

Two other extra features are so wonderful, they could have been the ONLY value added elements and I doubt anyone would have been disappointed. The first is Polanski's co-screenwriter Kenneth Tynan being interviewed by the great Dick Cavett in 1971. The piece not only allows us the privilege of meeting with the brilliant Tynan to hear his perspective on the process, but as per usual, we get yet another example of just what a great interviewer Cavett was.

Secondly, and perhaps the most vital document is Two Macbeths from the wonderful 1972 British TV series Aquarius. This is must-see viewing for anyone who loves film and theatre as we are blessed with a conversation about "Macbeth" between Polanski and the noted theater director Peter Coe.

In addition to the supply of trailers and a Terrence Rafferty essay within a lovely booklet, this Criterion Blu-Ray is yet again adorned with a stunning cover design from Sarah Habibi whose work is so consistently amazing that I almost wish she could just design every Blu-Ray and DVD cover for every movie I love.

Needless to say, this Criterion Blu-Ray is a keeper folks.




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BUY IT HERE FOR CHRISTMAS FOR SOMEONE YOU LOVE!

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