Friday, 27 February 2015

A MEGA ASTRON-6 GREG KLYMKIW REVIEW MARATHON ALL ON ONE MEGA FILM CORNER PAGE IN HONOUR OF THE ALL NEW STEVEN KOSTANSKI/JEREMY GILLESPIE COLLABORATION, "THE VOID", PLUS SOME SUPER THRILLING DEVELOPMENTS WITH "THE EDITOR" THAT I AM NOT ALLOWED TO SHARE WITH YOU OR ASTRON-6 WILL BE SENDING CHRIS FUCHMAN ("H" PRONOUNCED AS "K"), THE ASS-RAPING SERIAL KILLER OF DADDIES IN "FATHER'S DAY". SO FIRST, A BIT O' NEWS ABOUT "THE VOID" THEN A MARATHON OF REVIEWS BEGINNING WITH "MANBORG", THEN "FATHER'S DAY" AND AS THE FRAND FINALE, "THE EDITOR" WHICH HAS COOL SHIT COMING DOWN, BUT SERIOUSLY, IF I TELL YOU, I WILL BE ASS-RAPED AND BURNED TO A CRISP JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHER SWEET DADDIES IN "FATHER'S DAY"!

So here's the deal, two of those delightful Winnipeg Astron-6 sickos who brought you MANBORG are teaming up on a scary-ass new horror movie called THE VOID. The boys promise there will be no tongue-in-cheek with this one. This is going to be the straight-up scare-the-faecal-matter-out-of-you horror picture. Kostanski and Gillespie are hooking up with producer Casey Walker of Cave Painting Pictures (A LITTLE BIT ZOMBIE) on their original horror film, THE VOID. What we're told about the picture is that it's about a whole whack of monsters in a derelict rural hospital that are being single-handedly fought by a small-town police officer. No word yet on the babe count. There better be plenty. Also, no word on babe-on-babe action (of both the sapphic variety and, most importantly, the cat-fight variety). There better be plenty (of both). Also, though the fellas are adamant about no tongue-in-cheek (theirs or anyone else's), there's no word on the humour content. There better be plenty. Great horror films always have some element of humour and it actually makes things scarier when the humour is rooted in the drama. (In fact, I've never really found too much tongue-in-cheek in the Astron-6 features - they're often played so brilliantly straight that they veer far closer to very twisted satire.)
In any event, it appears we're promised gore galore and mega-monster-action. The F/X will be, as per Kostanski's persuasion and bountiful talents - ALL NATURAL (kinda like the breasts on view in alt.binaries.breasts.all_natural), meaning of course, no, uh enhancements of either the digital, or in the case of the aforementioned breasts, bolt-on variety. “It’s important to start building our film's creatures immediately to ensure we can realize them practically,” says Kostanski. “And with that we have launched an IndieGoGo campaign that will ensure we have the necessary resources to do so.” You can get more info on all this by visiting THE VOID's website HERE. In the meantime, sit back, relax, take your shoes off and enjoy the following mega-Astron-6-Greg-Klymkiw-Review-Maraton of MANBORG, FATHER'S DAY and THE EDITOR. (Lots of new tidbits buried in here for those who might have encountered these pieces before.) Oh, and yeah, there's that exciting news about THE EDITOR, but you won't find anything about it here as I do not favour being ass-raped and torched.

CONOR SWEENEY AND DOLPH LUNDGREN

SEPARATED AT BIRTH.

BELIEVE IT, BABY, BELIEVE IT!!!

SUCCUMB TO THE GREATNESS

THAT IS MANBORG

OR DIE!!!

PROSTRATE YOURSELF BEFORE MANBORG!

DINE GREEDILY AND GRATEFULLY

UPON THE KUBASA PROTRUDING FROM HIS HOLY

ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT SPHINCTER

OR DIE LIKE THE DOG YOU ARE!


MANBORG enjoyed one hell of a hootenanny at the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Not long after, Toronto's Jesus H. Christ Almighty of Edgy, Cool and Just Plain Insane Cinema, Colin (TIFF'S "Mr. Midnight Madness" Himself) Geddes strapped on the powerful dildo that became a Co-Executive-Producership of Manborg and fudge-packed this puppy into a Midnight Movie hit at Toronto's Royal Theatre as well as spearheading (as it were), a variety of home entertainment deals throughout the universe.

Up in the Great White North, the powerhouse partnership of Raven Banner and Anchor Bay Canada have placed this masterwork of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror onto the grand pedestal of DVD immortality for all to cherish and enjoy. With a superb looking transfer magnificently magnifying every analogue and digital artifact known to technology in addition to the extremity of every garishly gorgeous colour spewed like so much fresh Mandarin Buffet regurgitate upon a cathode-ray screen, this superlative entry in the canon of the Winnipeg-spawned Astron-6 is directed within an inch of its ever-loving life by the Shit-Stompingly Stellar Steven Kostanski.

Yes, now you can own your own copy and goddamn all to hell, fuck me blind over a month of everlasting Sundays, this fab DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada is - no kidding - one of the best DVD packages you are likely to ever buy, own and cherish. The DVD is co-produced by Manborg's other Executive Producer Peter Kuplowsky and it is crafted with all the loving attention to detail that one normally expects from the Criterion Collection and not on a DVD for a zero-budget film that brilliantly recreates (and transforms into its very own original hybrid) all those cellar-dwellar straight-to-home-video SF pictures from the 80s.


First and foremost, this is a DVD that every burgeoning young filmmaker must own - especially Canadian filmmakers. Why Canadians especially? Well, in all my years as an independent producer I worked with filmmakers who were artists, loved movies more than life itself and did anything and everything they had to do to make movies - such born filmmakers like John Paizs, Guy Maddin, Bruno Lazaro Pacheco, Cynthia Roberts and Alan Zweig.

Every so often as an indie producer, and then during my 13 years as a senior creative consultant and Producer-in-Residence at Uncle Norman Jewison's Canadian Film Centre, I'd meet Canuck filmmakers who wanted to replicate the kind of success generated by many of the pictures I produced or, at the very least, they had some notion that making movies in a no-to-low-budget fashion would still afford them the opportunity to make ANY movie they wanted and to pave their own road to Oz with bricks of gold.

How wrong they were. Many outside the coterie of what I'd become used to working with had this perverse sense of entitlement that made me sick to my stomach. They all immediately wanted huge crews, union actors (almost impossible in the old days, but somewhat more manageable as the years progressed) and every single one of the poseurs in the bunch yammered on about "excellence" and (ugh!) "production value". These to me were the sort of buzz words that signalled one thing - THESE PEOPLE WERE NOT FILMMAKERS. At least, not REAL filmmakers. They were spoiled entitled Canadians living in a bubble of taxpayer financing who were choosing filmmaking as a career the same way one might choose to be a fucking dentist - the only difference being that filmmaking is cooler than being a dentist and THAT is the only reason they were choosing it.

What many of them didn't realize is that the international successes of Canadian filmmakers within this bubble often came from the fact that the product was generated by real artists - many of whom employed slow, steady, exponential gains in budget levels. What a lot of the poseurs really wanted was a job. Most of them ended up doing shitty television for that. Television these days is the perfect medium for most directors who are not real filmmakers and Canadian television is usually the lowest of the low. Thirdly, they believed one could CHOOSE to become filmmakers. WRONG! Filmmaking in its purest form CHOOSES YOU!

Worse yet, these losers, not being REAL filmmakers, needed all the bells and whistles that "real" movies had. What's especially pathetic is that the "support" they were asking for would have - within their desire to make a movie for no money - rendered pictures that looked, for lack of a better description, Canadian. Up to a certain budget level, most Canadian films made for no money, but attempting to adhere to "industry standards", end up looking cheaper and uglier than most real low budget films made by real filmmakers.

Some people ask me: What does a Canadian film look like? Well, the colour blue is almost always used to represent night. I call it "Canadian Blue" and it is appalling. The other thing a Canadian film of this ilk looks like is television. CANADIAN television at that! Believe me, it's ugly.

Kostanski and the entire Astron-6 team make movies that look gorgeous. Like some of the best filmmakers before them - like Paizs and Maddin in particular, the Astron-6 boys LOVE movies to death and make movies using whatever is at their disposal to render wildly entertaining AND original cinema. No money? No problem. Paizs often replicated odd training and corporate films from the 60s and B-movies from the 50s, Maddin dove into the crude cusp period between silent and sound motion pictures with dollops of German expressionism whilst Astron-6 embraced the movies they loved as kids and young adults. Here's the key difference between the Astron-6 guys and virtually every other Canuck filmmaker who first discovered movies in the 80s (unlike say, Paizs or Maddin, who had a few years on these guys and looked further backwards for inspiration).

I have had people who first discovered movies in the 80s referring to - I kid you not - the "classics" by the likes of John Hughes or - God Help Us - The Goonies. Fuck that shit! The movies Astron-6 embraced were ultra-violent, ultra-sleazy, ultra-cheesy, ultra-retro and mega-entertaining genre pictures from such fine purveyors of Grade Z straight to video fare as Cannon, Vestron and other now-forgotten companies.

No-budget movies that put real filmmakers on the map do not come from sickly sweet retreads of John Hughes movies - they come from filmmakers making their lack of funds a virtue and delivering product that's unlike anything else. David Lynch (Eraserhead), John Waters (Pink Flamingos) and Kevin Smith (Clerks) - to name a mere three filmmakers who blasted onto the filmmaking scene with no-budget movies - and did so with movies about deformed babies, dog-shit-eating transvestites and foul-mouthed convenience store losers.

Astron-6 in one year delivered two features: Father's Day (a serial killer who fucks Dads in the ass and sets them on fire) and Kostanski's Manborg wherein an alien demon from Hell takes over the Earth and does battle with a Robocop-style superhero who's aided by three martial artists of the higher order - amidst, of course, some of the most grotesque makeup effects and gore this side of supernatural gialli from the likes of Bava, Lenzi, Argento, et al.

The Manborg DVD is the best film school any young filmmaker can get - because the movie comes from people who know movies, love movies and know how to assemble all the elements to deliver a rocking good time to their audiences.

Here's some of the highlights of the Manborg DVD: Not one, but TWO genuinely GREAT commentary tracks.

The first track is from Kostanski himself and it's a masterpiece of what one wants from a director. Most directors are useless at doing these and end up telling us what we already know (usually by literally describing the action on the screen - duh!) or worse, filling our ears with way too much useless anecdotal crap. Not Kostanski! He gives us the straight goods - HOW he made the movie. His commentary is right up there with some of the best purveyors of these things like Norman Jewison and Martin Scorsese. The second commentary track is again Kostanski, but he's joined by one of the film's Executive Producers Peter Kuplowsky and actor, writer, fx designer and composer Jeremy Gillespie. There's a tiny bit of anecdotal stuff here, but most of it is rooted in the filmmaking process and we don't get a mere repeat of the other track, but one that works to enhance our appreciation of how the movie was made.


My only quibble with this second commentary track is when the guys start to SHIT TURDS FULL OF UNDIGESTED CORN NIBLETS AND STREAKS OF BLOOD FROM THEIR ANAL FISSURES all over my original review of Manborg which was one of the earliest raves of the movie online. FOUR FUCKING STARS I gave these assholes! I spewed bucket-loads of ejaculate all over their faces (so to speak). I wrote about the film - NOT ONCE, NOT TWICE, BUT THREE TIMES (and here I'm writing about it a FOURTH TIME, and next month, I'm writing about it a FIFTH time in the legendary Joe Kane's super-fab genre mag from south of the 49th parallel, "Phantom of the Movies VIDEOSCOPE" and a SIXTH time for a cool UK-based film mag).

So what do these fuckers do? They single out my review. They don't mention my name because I'm older than 30 and they, being young people, don't know or remember anyone's name over the age of 30 (save, perhaps, for their Moms and Dads). However, I know they're referring to my review because they use the phrase "one review even complained...". Well, goddamn it, you are fucking right I complained - one complaint and for good fucking reason.

The movie stars two mega-babes. BABES!!! Babes, I tell you! And my complaint was so minor, but one I thought these assholes might take to heart for their next film. All I wistfully opined on was that they didn't adequately exploit some good girl-on-girl action of the catfight variety. I wasn't asking for LESBO ACTION, though that might have been good too. Nope! All I wanted was at least one or two or maybe even three more babe-on-babe catfights.

Who doesn't enjoy seeing babes kick the shit out of each other?

Haven't these clowns ever seen any women in prison pictures or Russ Meyer movies or Doris Wishman exploitation items? That's it. One complaint. More catfights. What do these whiners do on their commentary track? They shit on me for complaining about this.

What Astron-6 EXPUNGED Upon My Very SOUL!!!
So that, is now my second complaint. Maybe these fuckwads will scarf down some Mexican food (real Mex food from TJ, washed down with E-Coli-infused tap water) before their next commentary track and release their excremental floodgates all over me for complaining that they complained about my minor complaint that they needed more babe-on-babe fight action. So before I continue raving about the genius of this DVD - FUCK YOU!

What else do we get? We get two - count 'em - TWO phenomenal short films. One is a completely, insanely and deliciously inspired extended trailer for a feature I hope they're making for real called Bio-Cop (with one of the best lines in movie history - so great, I won't ruin your experience by reprinting it here) and an astoundingly sweet AND grotesque short called Fantasy Beyond, about a little girl in a strange art gallery where the pictures start to attack her and she's rescued by some fucked-up-looking heavy metal dudes with electric guitars that double as ray guns.

We get some supremely cool Visual Effects and Stop Motion Montages that are so good they almost feel like standalone short films. There's the requisite Behind the Scenes footage, but this stuff, in addition to the great commentary tracks, is not only entertaining, but earns the right to be included in the finest DVD accolade one can bestow - it's all the film school you'll need.

There are Bloopers, which I usually hate seeing and these don't really change my mind, but if you, God Forbid, you do like this sort of thing, you won't go wrong with anything included here.

The Deleted/Alternate Scenes are de rigueur on extras-packed DVDs and these do NOT disappoint in the least.

A whole whack of community cable TV-inspired Mackenzie Murdoch interviews featuring Adam Brooks (Dr. Scorpius, Draculon, Voice of Dying Soldier) who thrills us with his obvious verve, Andrea Karr (one of the babes in the movie who should have been given a chance to do more catfighting and, was dating director Kostanski), Conor Sweeney (eating), Jeremy Gillespie (interviewed by Peter Kuplowsky in some whacked out surreal shit involving an escalator), Ludwig Lee (a martial artist who appears attired as if he works in a Bay Street brokerage), Matthew Kennedy (Manborg himself with a puppet and the best quotation in all the interviews: "Steve uses his actors like marrionettes - 'fuck you I'm a fucking actor, not a puppet'!!!"), Meredith Sweeney (the film's other mega-babe who is short changed by not being given enough catfight opportunities and has some deliciously foul responses to Murdoch's line of questioning. When he mentions she resembles 80s anime chicks, she responds: "I have no fucking idea what you're talking about. What kind of a fuckin' question is that, anyway?" and Mike Kostanski (shilling his rock band).

The other great extra is a videotaped Q and A at the Royal Theatre premiere and features Kostanski's wisest observation wherein he mentions the shitty expensive movie Van Helsing as having the cool concept of all these great monsters, but how in the same breath he says how disappointing the movie was. His response to seeing the movie was to make the brilliant Manborg for about $2000 (Canadian funds) and anyone who complains that his movie doesn't have enough monsters is a total asshole. (Anyone who complains about a lack of chick-on-chick catfights would not be an asshole, but would, in fact, be me.)

And now, in its pure, unexpurgated form (including my catfight reference) is my original review of MANBORG.


MANBORG (2011)  ****
dir. Steven Kostanski

Starring: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Ludwig Lee, Conor Sweeney, Meredith Sweeney, Jeremy Gillespie, Andrea Karr

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The time will come when we are dominated by a One World Government. This will be no mere conspiracy theorist's idea of a New World Order. Art Bell won't be predicting this one!

In fact, the Illuminati are pussy-whupped-momma-boy-teat-sucklers compared to what waits for us just round the corner. As dramatically postulated in the latest production from the kubassa-stuffed-to-overflowing loins of the Winnipeg-spawned hit machine Astron-6, be afraid - be VERY afraid of the future.

Straight from the jaws of Hell comes Draculon (Adam Brooks), a crazed totalitarian infused with a slavering desire to inflict pain. He makes the Dictator combo-platter of Adolph Hitler (former German Chancellor), Joe Stalin (former butcher of ten million Ukrainian garlic eaters), George W. Bush (annihilator of Islam) , Stephen Harper (current Il Duce of Canada) and Michael Bay (Brain Sucker Extraordinaire) look like your kindly Granny Apple Cheeks knitting her umpteenth doily and churning butter.

As brilliantly rendered in the opening minutes of this 70-minute masterwork, you will cringe as our pitiful armies do their best in battle with the demons of Mephistopheles, but even the best of the best of the best of mankind will be no match for the foul, pus-oozing Satanic beasts.

When a brave young fighting man hits the turf and pushes up the daisies, he is mysteriously and miraculously transformed by the mad genius Dr. Scorpius (Adam "Fuck me and a month of Sundays, this guy gets around!" Brooks) into the next best thing to Jesus H. Christ Almighty (or Robocop - take your pick!).

He is, and always will be:

MANBORG!!!

Blending cutting edge technology, Frankensteinian alchemy, Einsteinian science and the mind of mankind's leanest, meanest fighting machines, Manborg (Mathhew Kennedy) has, alas, retained the heart and soul of humanity. Instead of serving Draculon and his evil henchman The Baron (Jeremy Gillespie), he joins forces with three superHUMAN heroes in the struggle to free Earth from the clutches of Hades.

This trio of badass mo-fos includes the wildly pompadoured kick-butt-Kiwi (or Aussie, or Brit, or what-the-fuck-ever-his-deliciously-delightful-accent-is) played by Conor Sweeney, a blade-o-licious platinum-tressed kick-butt, delectably-racked, red-grease-painted-faced babe (Meredith Sweeney) and a melt-in-your-mouth, magnificently buff kick-butt Asian martial artist (Ludwig Lee) dubbed into English by someone who sounds like the offscreen voice artist who dubbed all of Steve Reeves's lines into English in his numerous Italian sword and sandal epics of the 50s and 60s (in spite of the fact that Steve Reeves actually, uh, spoke English).

JESUS, JOSEPH AND MARY? THINK AGAIN!
Needless to say, our heroes save the world. (Yeah, I just released a wet fart of a spoiler.)

The movie is replete with mega-martial-arts, chase scenes on what appear to be ATVs without wheels that fly, Tron-like arena jousts and plenty of shit that blows up real good. Oh yeah, have I mentioned yet that the movie was made for about a thousand smackers, shot on glorious DV-CAM and includes tons of in-camera and rudimentary effects that resemble early 80s community cable blue screen? No? Well, I have now and there's not one damn thing in this movie that looks awful.

In fact, it is endowed with the kind of visual splendour that can only come from filmmakers who love movies and movie-making. Special effects that LOOK like special effects, have always held a humungous soft-spot in my heart. I love knowing that I'm watching a MOVIE. I love knowing the effects are - uh, just that - effects. I love to be reminded that I am in a world that only exists up on a big screen. For me, this IS magic.

The ultimate magic in the movie comes when two babes square off for a cat fight supreme. When one of the babes morphs into a demon, all my hopes and dreams momentarily diminished. Sure, it's fine to watch a babe kick a demon's butt, but for Christ's sake, babe-on-babe fight action always takes precedence.

But I digress.

As rendered by Steve Kostanski, MANBORG is a fairy tale of cosmic proportions for geeks and freaks the world over. It makes perfect sense that this, and the other Astron-6 works of consummate film art come from the recesses of Winnipeg.

In addition to the asbestos-lined water pipes, an insane need to tear down heritage buildings to build parking lots when the entire city is a fucking parking lot and a bowling alley bearing the name of the late, great Billy Mosienko (who, prior to his death, would man the counter and rent you bowling shoes), the 'Peg (my own former winter city) is not only the geographical-near-centre of North America, but boasts a grand tradition of what film critic Geoff Pevere dubbed as Prairie Post-Modernism.

Filmmakers like John Paizs, Guy Maddin, Noam Gonick, Lorne Bailey and Matthew Rankin forged a path that few in the 'Peg have been able to follow as memorably (though Regina-based cousins like Brian Stockton, Brett Bell and prairie-boy-at-heart Richard Kerr HAVE, in their own demented ways). Kostanski, by the way is a brilliant effects artist and his most recent makeup design is on view in the terrific Xavier Gens sci-Fi thriller The Divide.

Make way, now, for a new generation of mad geniuses from Winnipeg.

They are Astron-6. And though some from this collective of total filmmakers have temporarily (one hopes) left the world capital of napping and Salisbury House Mr. Big Nips for bigger locales, the snug blankets and Icelandic sweaters of the prairies sprouted their grand vision that are and will continue to take the world by storm.

That said, I do expect that MANBORG II will have plenty o' babes catfighting.

MANBORG is available on Anchor Bay Canada. Buy it! NOW! You can even buy it an other Astron-6 titles here. Just click on the Amazon links below and you'll be helping me get royalties to assist with the ongoing maintenance of this site.
In Canada BUY the Astron-6 Short Film Collection HERE
In USA and the rest of the WORLD - BUY the ASTRON-6 Short Film Collection - HERE

In Canada BUY Astron-6's FATHER'S DAY - HERE

In USA and the rest of the WORLD - BUY Astron-6's FATHER'S DAY - HERE

In Canada BUY Astron-6's MANBORG - HERE

In USA and the rest of the WORLD - BUY ASTRON-6's MANBORG - HERE

Father's Day (2011) dir. Astron-6 (Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Steven Kostanski) Starring: Conor Sweeney, Adam Brooks, Matt Kennedy, Brent Neale, Amy Groening, Meredith Sweeney, Kevin Anderson, Garret Hnatiuk, Mackenzie Murdoch, Lloyd Kaufman

****

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"Death ends a life. But it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor's mind. toward some resolution which it may never find." - Robert Anderson from his play, I Never Sang For My Father

A father's love for his son is a special kind of love. As such, Dads the world over face that singular inevitability - that peculiar epoch in their collective lives, when they must chauffeur the apple of their eye from a police station, for the third time in a month, after said progeny has undergone questioning upon being found in a motel room with a dead man covered in blood, après le bonheur de la sodomie, only to return home after dropping said twink son on a street corner, so the aforementioned offspring of the light-in-the-loafer persuasion, can perform fellatio on old men for cash, whilst Dad sits forlornly in the domicile that once represented decent family values and stare at a framed photo of better times, until he succumbs to unexpected anal rape and when doused with gasoline and set on fire as he weeps, face down and buttocks up, frenziedly tears out into the street screaming and collapsing in a charred heap in front of his returning son who reacts with open-mouthed horror as the scent of old penis wafts from his twink tonsils.

For most fathers, all of the above is, no doubt, a case of been-there-done-that - not unlike that inevitable fatherly attempt at understanding when Dad gently seeks some common ground with the fruits of his husbandly labours and offers: "Look son, I experimented when I was young, too."

So begins Father's Day - with the aforementioned, AND some delectable pre-credit butchery, an eye-popping opening credit sequence with images worthy of Jim Steranko and a series of flashbacks during an interrogation with a hard-boiled cop.

This is the astounding feature film (the second completed feature this year) from the brilliant Winnipeg filmmaking collective Astron-6 (Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Steven Kostanski) who have joined forces with the legendary Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment to generate a film that is the ultimate evil bastard child sprung from the loins of a daisy chain twixt Guy Maddin, John Paizs, early David Cronenberg, Herschel Gordon Lewis and Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer. Father's Day combines the effects of asbestos-tinged drinking water in Winnipeg with the Bukkake splatter of the coolest artistic influences imaginable and yields one of the Ten Best Films of 2011.

It is the seed of depraved genius that's spawned Astron-6 and, of course, with the best work in Canadian film, it has been embraced by an entity outside of Canada - that glorious aforementioned sleaze-bucket nutter who gave the world The Toxic Avenger.

This collective of five (not six) brilliant filmmakers (including Steven Kostanski, the F/X wizard, writer and director of Astron-6's MANBORG) are part of a new breed of young Canadian filmmakers who have snubbed their noses at the government-funded bureaucracies that oft-eschew the sort of transgression that normally puts smaller indigenous cultural industries on the worldwide map (including its own - Canada only truly supports such work grudgingly once it's found acceptance elsewhere).

In this sense, Astron-6 has been making films under the usual radar of mediocrity and steadfastly adhering to the fine Groucho Marx adage: "I refuse to join any club that would have someone like me for a member."

Imagine, if you will, any government-funded agency (especially a Canadian one), doling out taxpayer dollars to the following plot: Chris Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdoch), is a serial killer that specializes in targeting fathers for anal rape followed by further degradations, including torture, butchery and/or murder.

Our madman, Fuchman (substitute :k" for "h" to pronounce name properly), turns out to be a demon from the deepest pits of hell and a ragtag team is recruited by a blind infirm Archbishop of the Catholic Church (Kevin Anderson) to fight this disgusting agent of Satan. An eyepatch-wearing tough guy (Adam Brooks), a young priest (Matthew Kennedy), the aforementioned twink male prostitute (Conor Sweeney) and hard-boiled dick (Brent Neale) and a jaw-droppingly gorgeous stripper (Amy Groening) follow the trail of this formidable foe whilst confronting all their own personal demons.

This frothy brew of vile delights includes some of the most graphic blood splattering, vicious ass-slamming violence, gratuitous nudity, skimpy attire for the ladies, 'natch (and our delectable twink), morality, evisceration, hunky lads, delicious babes, compassion, rape, fellatio, chainsaw action, wholesome content, cannibalism, hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, family values, sodomy, immolation and monsters. It's all delivered up with a cutting edge mise-en-scène that out-grindhouses Tarantino's Grindhouse and delivers thrills, scares and laughs all in equal measure.

The film's sense of humour, in spite, or perhaps because of the proper doses of scatology and juvenilia is not the typical low-brow gross-out humour one finds in so many contemporary comedies, but frankly, works on the level of satire, and as such, is of the highest order. It stylistically straddles the delicate borders great satire demands.

Too many people who should know better, confuse spoof or parody with satire and certainly anyone going to see Father's Day expecting SCTV, Airplane or Blazing Saddles might be in for a rude awakening. Yes, it's just as funny as any of those classic mirth-makers, but the laughs cut deep and they're wrought, not from the typical shtick attached to spoofs, but like all great satire, derive from the entire creative team playing EVERYTHING straight. No matter how funny, absurd or outlandish the situations and dialogue are, one never senses that an annoying tongue is being drilled firmly in cheek. Astron-6 loves their material and, importantly loves their creative influences. Their target is not necessarily the STYLE of film they're rendering homage to, but rather, the hypocrisies and horrors that face humanity everyday - religion, repression, dysfunction - all wedged cleverly into the proceedings.

Clearly a great deal of the movie's power in terms of its straight-laced approach to outlandish goings-on is found in the performances - all of them are spot-on. Adam Brooks IS a stalwart hero and never does he veer from infusing his role from the virtues inherent in such roles. Hell, he could frankly be Canada's Jason Statham in conventional action movies if anyone bothered to make such movies in Canada on any regular basis.

Conor Sweeney as Twink is a marvel. Not only does he play the conflicted gay street hustler "straight", he straddles that terrific balance between genuinely rendering a layered character, but also infusing his performance with melodramatic aplomb. Not only is this perfect for the character itself, but it's perfectly in keeping with the style of movie that is being lovingly celebrated.

Anyone who reads my stuff regularly will know my mantra: Melodrama is not a dirty word - it's a legitimate genre and approach to drama. There is good melodrama and bad melodrama, like any other genre. Luckily, the Astron-6 team has the joy of glorious melodrama hard-wired into their collective DNA and Sweeney's performance is especially indelible in this respect.

Brent Neale as the hard-boiled cop is, quite simply, phenomenal. Will someone out there give this actor job after job after job? The camera loves him and he knows how to play to the camera. He is clearly at home with the straight-up and melodramatic aspects of his role and most importantly, he is imbued with the sort of smoulder that makes stars - he's handsome and intense.

Astoundingly, not a single actor in this film feels out of place. Whether they're emoting straight, slightly stilted, wildly melodramatic or, on occasion (given the genre), magnificently reeking of ham, this is ensemble acting at its absolute best.

The entire movie was made on a budget of $10,000 and once again, for all the initiatives out there to generate low-budget feature films, Father's Day did it cheaper (WAY CHEAPER) and better. The movie uses its budgetary constraints not as limitations, but as a method to exploit what can be so special about movies. The visual and makeup effects as well as the art direction ooze imagination and aesthetic brilliance and it's all captured through a lens that puts its peer level and even some big budget extravaganzas to shame. Imagination is truly the key to success with no-budget movies. The Father's Day cinematography is often garish and lurid, but delightfully and deliciously so - with first-rate lighting and excellent composition. The filmmakers and their entire team successfully render pure gold out of elements that in most low-budget films just looks cheap - or worse, blandly competent (like most low budget Canadian movies). It's total trash chic - trash art, if you must.

I attended this spectacular event in France many years ago called the FreakZone International Festival of Trash Cinema which celebrated some of the most amazing transgressive works I'd ever seen. When I expressed to the festival director that I was surprised at the level of cinematic artistry, he just smiled and said, "You North Americans have such a limited view of trash culture - for us, trash is not garbage, we use the word to describe work that is subversive." This was so refreshing. It felt like a veil had been lifted from over me and I realized what EXACTLY it was that I loved about no-budget cinema - as a filmmaker, a teacher, a critic and fan.

Making a movie for no money that is NOT subversive on every level is, frankly, just plain stupid. What's the point? And Father's Day is nothing if it's not subversive. Besides, I've seen too many young filmmakers with talent galore ruined by initiatives that purported to celebrate the virtues of no-or-low-budget filmmaking but then forced the artists to apply the idiotic expectations of "industry standards" - whatever that means, anyway. This has been especially acute in Canada where bureaucrats make decisions and/or define the rules/parameters of filmmaking.

Father's Day and the entire canon of the Astron-6 team should be the ultimate template for filmmakers with no money to seize the day and make cool shit. That's what it should always be about. And in this case, it took the fortitude of the filmmakers, their genuinely transgressive gifts as artists AND an independent AMERICAN producer to ensure that they made the coolest shit of all.

What finally renders Father's Day special is just how transgressively intelligent it all is and yet, never turns its proverbial nose up at the straight-to-video-nasties of the 80s, the grindhouse cinema of the 60s and 70s and the weird, late night cable offerings of the early 90s. It works very much on the level of the things it loves best. This is real filmmaking - it entertains, it dazzles, it makes use of every cheap trick in the book to create MOVIE magic and finally, it's made by people who clearly care about film. They get to have their cake and eat it too by having as much fun making the movies as we have watching them.

Father's Day was unveiled at Toronto's premiere genre film event, the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011 where it won the grand prize of Best Film - voted on by the thousands of attendees of the festival. It was released theatrically in early 2012 by Troma Entertainment and is now available on glorious Blu-Ray and DVD. You can buy it from the links displayed below (which assists greatly in the ongoing maintenance of this site.
In Canada BUY the Astron-6 Short Film Collection HERE
In USA and the rest of the WORLD - BUY the ASTRON-6 Short Film Collection - HERE

In Canada BUY Astron-6's FATHER'S DAY - HERE

In USA and the rest of the WORLD - BUY Astron-6's FATHER'S DAY - HERE

In Canada BUY Astron-6's MANBORG - HERE

In USA and the rest of the WORLD - BUY ASTRON-6's MANBORG - HERE
Udo Kier, tender lovemaking and a virgin bending over
in the triumphant new Astron-6 production that
presents more than a few things
you don't see everyday!
The Editor (2014)
Dir. Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy
Starring: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Paz de le Huerta, Udo Kier, Laurence R. Harvey, Tristan Risk, Samantha Hill, Conor Sweeney, Brent Neale, Kevin Anderson, Mackenzie Murdock, John Paizs

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Okay, ladies and gents, strap-on your biggest vibrating butt-plugs and get ready to plop your ass cheeks upon your theatre seat and glue your eyeballs upon The Editor, the newest and most triumphant Astron-6 production to date and easily the greatest thrill ride since Italy spewed out the likes of Tenebre, Inferno, Opera, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, The Beyond, Strip Nude For Your Killer, Don't Torture a Duckling, Hitch-Hike, Shock, Blood and Black Lace, Twitch of the Death Nerve, Kill Baby Kill and, of course, Hatchet for the Honeymoon. You'll relive, beyond your wildest dreams, those films which scorched silver screens the world over during those lazy, hazy, summer days of Giallo. But, be prepared! The Editor is no mere copycat, homage and/or parody - well, it is all three, but more! Directors Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy have created a modern work that holds its own with the greatest gialli of all time.
Great giallo MUST HAVE babes screaming.
It's laugh-out-loud funny, grotesquely gory and viciously violent. Though it draws inspiration from Argento, Fulci, Bava, et al, the movie is so dazzlingly original that you'll be weeping buckets of joy because finally, someone has managed to mix-master all the giallo elements, but in so doing has served up a delicious platter of post-modern pasta du cinema that both harkens back to simpler, bloodier and nastier times whilst also creating a piece actually made in this day and age.

What, for example, can anyone say about a film that features the following dialogue:

BLONDE STUD: So where were you on the night of the murder?
BLONDE BABE: I was at home washing my hair and shaving my pussy.

Well, let me tell you what one can say to this sampling of dialogue thats's indicative of the film's approach to all things irreverent and original:

HALLELUJAH!!!
A TRUE Giallo Hero MUST sport
a stylish FRANCO NERO moustache
To the uninitiated, Giallo is the Italian word for "yellow". Its cultural significance is derived from pulp novels published in Italy with trademark yellow paperback covers. Giallo films are the cinematic expression of this literary tradition. The stories usually involve a psychopath (often wearing black gloves and other costume-like elements to hide his, and sometimes her, identity) who stalks and murders babes. All other kills are strictly of the opportunistic variety and usually include anyone who gets in the way (expected or not) of the killer's motives/quarry.

The movies are splashed with globs of garish colour, replete with cool jarring camera moves like quick pans, swish pans, zany zooms and a delightful abundance of shock cuts. The narrative ingredients will almost always include a hero whom everyone thinks is guilty, a few red herring suspects, disloyal and/or uppity wives, sweet young things to tempt cuckolded hubbies and detectives who are almost always on the wrong trail (some are decent-enough dicks), others well-meaning and others yet, are boneheads rivalling the Order of Clouseau. Studs and babes are de rigueur. Nudity and sex are almost always the norm. This is a world we ALL want to live in. (If "we" don't, "we" are dullards.) Into this time-honoured tradition comes The Editor. Its deceptively simple plot involves Rey Ciso (Adam Brooks, with the greatest Franco Nero moustache since Franco Nero). A once-prominent film editor who accidentally chopped four of his fingers off and now sports four hooks in their stead, covered by a stylish flesh-coloured, finger-shaped slipcover-like glove. His handicap, more often than not, forces him to edit with one hand.

Working for a sleazy producer, our title hero eventually becomes the prime suspect in a series of brutal murders perpetrated one-by-one against the members of the film's cast. The salient detail is that all the victims have had four of their fingers chopped off. If any of them had actually survived, they, like Rey, would suffer the indignity of being referred to as "the cripple".

To complicate matters, Rey has fallen head over heels for his beautiful, young assistant editor, but he tries to resist seducing her, even though at one point she demands, "Make me a woman." Rey, however, points out their age difference: "You are just a little girl. Play with the boys your own age."

Besides, he's locked into an unhappy marriage with a sexy, but spiteful has-been actress (Paz de le Huerta) - a harping shrew who openly cuckolds Rey. At one point, she admits to having eyes for one of the lead actors in the film Rey is editing. Our hero snidely quips, "What would you do if he died?" Wifey is outraged by his mind games and responds: "I would cry. I would cry. I would cry, cry, cry, cry, cry, cry, cry, cry," and then adds, ""I would cry. I would. I would never, ever stop crying, you stupid cripple!"

Detective Peter Porfiry (Matthew Kennedy, also sporting a Nero 'stache), is hell-bent on finding the killer and upon first laying eyes on Rey, he suspiciously asks, "Who's he?" The sleazy producer makes a most gracious introduction: "That's the cripple, the editor." Porfiry, a lusty swordsman with a penchant for slapping his eager women on the face when they talk back, dogs poor Rey at every step. This is not the ideal situation for our hero since he has to keep editing around all the actors who keep getting murdered. Still, he handles the stress as well as could be expected and when he inadvertently lets an amusing comment slip out, the Producer happily announces: "Good one, Ray. I knew it would be fun having a cripple around."

As bodies pile up, Porfiry slaps together a brilliant undercover idea and manages to get his junior detective (Brent Neale) onto the film as the editor. Hapless Rey is being replaced by an Italian version of Jethro Beaudine. The producer tries to let Rey go graciously. "Honestly Ray," he says, "I thought it would be fun to have a cripple around, but I was dead wrong."

The Editor has all the makings of a horror classic. The writing is always sharp and delightfully mordant, the cinematography is first-rate - capturing all the near-fluorescent colours of gialli, the special effects are outstanding (and wonderfully over-the-top), and the musical score is a marvel of aurally rapturous 70s/80s-styled sleaze. Though the film appears to have a bigger budget than previous Astron-6 titles like Manborg and Father's Day, it's lost none of those pictures' independent spirit.
FUCHMAN, (from "Father's Day")
is up to his old shenanigans. 
Hell, we even get teased with a cameo by Mackenzie Murdock in the role of Fuchman ("ch" naturally pronounced like "k") the Daddy-Sodomizing serial killer of Father's Day. And speaking of actors, the cast of The Editor is to-die-for. Brooks is a terrific schlubby hero, Kennedy is suitably, sexily smarmy, the gorgeous Tristan Risk is a Giallo scream-queen incarnate, Brent Neale is galumphingly hilarious as the junior cop, Conor Sweeney (as per usual) dazzles us with his stunning pretty boy looks and utterly astounding ability to play a terrible actor and among many other astonishing thespians delivering spot-on work, the movie features Udo Kier, the greatest actor of all time, as a demented psychiatrist.
Giallo fans will recognize the source
of these specific images in "The Editor".
Finally though, the importance of this film in terms of Canadian Cinema, and cinema period, is that it's a genuine contemporary contribution to the exciting wave of prairie post-modernism that was spawned out of Winnipeg by the brilliant John Paizs (whose classic Crimewave has been given a gorgeous, TIFF-funded 2K restoration which will premiere at TIFF 2014 as well as The Editor).
John Paizs' CRIMEWAVE
the FATHER of Astron-6
Among other Winnipeg practitioners of the art of paying homage to genres and being the thing itself, the crazed Guy Maddin (Tales from the Gimli Hospital, Archangel, Careful, My Winnipeg) is also part of this tradition. Consider John Paizs as God the Father of Astron-6 and Guy Maddin as the collective's Uncle Jesus Christ.
Chainsaw VS. Conor Sweeney,
Axe VS. Tristan Risk
Who will Survive?

What will be left of them?
Brooks and Kennedy via the Astron-6 collective in Winnipeg have joined the ranks of the very best filmmakers to smash through the traditional boundaries of the medium and create work of genuinely lasting value. Best of all, though, The Editor is probably the coolest film you'll see this year and one you'll want to partake of again and again and yet again.

Cult classics never die. They get better and better.

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

The Editor enjoys its World Premiere in the Midnight Madness series programmed by the brilliant Colin Geddes at the 2014 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2014). For tix, times, dates and venues, visit the TIFF website by clicking HERE.

HEY YOU! If you want to buy any of the following movies, click directly onto the Amazon links below and keep-a-goin' until you checkout. All sales and ad-clicks on this site assist greatly with the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner.
In Canada BUY the Astron-6 Short Film Collection HERE
In USA and the rest of the WORLD - BUY the ASTRON-6 Short Film Collection - HERE

In Canada BUY Astron-6's FATHER'S DAY - HERE

In USA and the rest of the WORLD - BUY Astron-6's FATHER'S DAY - HERE

In Canada BUY Astron-6's MANBORG - HERE

In USA and the rest of the WORLD - BUY ASTRON-6's MANBORG - HERE
A similar scene to the one experienced by Jim Jarmusch and others in New York during the 70s and 80s was also happening in Winnipeg at the same time and captured in the documentary BLANK CITY as well as many other works which appeared in the "Forgotten Winnipeg" series during the early winter of 2014. A very cool explosion in indie underground cinema that I and many colleagues and friends were involved with was spawned during these halcyon days. This period, coined by film critic Geoff Pevere as Prairie Post-Modernism, included the works of John Paizs, Guy Maddin, Greg Hanec and many others.


Another great film from Winnipeg during this period is Greg Hanec's extraordinary DOWNTIME which has the distinction of being a parallel cinematic universe to Jim Jarmusch's "STRANGER THAN PARADISE". Both films were made at the same time in two completely different cities and scenes and both Hanec and Jarmusch premiered their films at the same time at the Berlin Film Festival. One's famous, the other isn't - but now that the "lost" and "found" DOWNTIME has been remastered from original elements to DVD, it can now be purchased directly online.
Order DOWNTIME directly from the film's new website by clicking HERE
Perhaps the greatest Canadian independent underground filmmaker of all-time is Winnipeg's John Paizs. It's virtually impossible to secure copies of his astounding work which, frankly, is responsible for influencing the work of Guy Maddin, David Lynch, Bruce McDonald and an endless number of great indie filmmakers the world over. Paizs' great short film SPRINGTIME IN GREENLAND is available for purchase in a beautiful remastered edition from a fan website, the inimitable Frank Norman. Norman has Paizs' blessing to provide copies of the film, so feel free to directly make your request to Mr. Norman by clicking HERE.

Visit Frank Norman's CRIME WAVE
fan site by clicking HERE
Alas, it's super-impossible to get a copy of Paizs' masterpiece CRIME WAVE (not to be confused with the super-awful Coen Bros/Sam Raimi film of the same name that was released the same year Paizs' film was NOT released properly by its scumbag Canadian distributor Norstar Releasing, which eventually became Alliance Films (where the boneheads sat on the film and turned down several excellent offers from small indie companies to release the film properly on DVD in super-deluxe special editions because they lazily purported to be negotiating a massive package deal on its catalogue titles with some tiny scumbag public domain company that, as far as I can tell, has neither purchased nor released the film). This truly great and highly influential film is, no doubt, languishing in some boneheaded distribution purgatory within the deep anal cavities of the new owner of Alliance Films, a humungous mega-corporation called E-One. Feel free to repeatedly bug their stinking asses and demand a proper release. In the meantime, VHS copies of CRIME WAVE can still be found with the ludicrous title THE BIG CRIME WAVE and E-One has released CRIME WAVE on iTunes - hardly a proper way to view the film.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

THE ASCENT and WINGS - Reviewed By Greg Klymkiw - Susan Sontag called Larisa Shepitko's harrowing anti-war film THE ASCENT "the most affecting film about the horror of war I know." Shepitko focused on suffering, slaughter and senseless strife and did so in a stunning allegorical portrait of Christ and Judas during the German occupation of Belarus. The movie was miraculously rendered under Communist oppression in the Soviet Union. With WINGS, Shepitko delivered a powerful, romantic look at Russia's fighting women of the Second World War in a post-war world. Shepitko's eye, like a mad pit bull's jaws, always clenched furiously on its quarry and never, ever let it go.

This is a perfect time to take another look at two films about war by the late Ukrainian filmmaker Larisa Shepitko (a protege of Dovzhenko and the wife of acclaimed director Elem Klimov). Ukraine has been at war with Russia since the Maidan revolution in Kyiv just over one year ago which ousted the Putin-backed gangster-President Yanukovitch. Since that time, Russia illegally annexed Crimea and organized an army of terrorists to take control of two provinces in Eastern Ukraine. In recent days, Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea have suffered massive discrimination and even death, all Tatar and Ukrainian books in a historical Crimean library have been chucked into the streets and publicly burned, Putin is rallying his nation to publicly protest Ukraine's freedom and just yesterday, during peaceful rallies in Ukraine to celebrate freedom from Russia, Moscow-backed terrorists exploded a bomb in Ukraine's second-largest city Kharkiv which killed and wounded many innocent people. The farcical and cowardly EU-backed-and-negotiated truce might only instigate the break out of a large-scale war. Here are my reviews of The Ascent (Christian allegory set in WWII) and Wings (examination of post-war female soldiers) by Larisa Shepitko.


The Ascent (1977) *****
dir. Larisa Shepitko
Starring: Boris Plotnikov, Vladimir Gostyukhin, Sergei Yokovlev, Anatoli Solonitsin

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"Is there an antidote to the perennial seductiveness of war? And is this a question a woman is more likely to pose than a man? (Probably yes.) . . . No photograph, or portfolio of photographs, can unfold, go further, and further still, as does The Ascent (1977), by the Ukrainian director Larisa Shepitko, the most affecting film about the horror of war I know." - Susan Sontag, "Looking at War: Photography’s view of devastation and death", The New Yorker

Survival and sacrifice are at the forefront of Larisa Shepitko’s harrowing World War II drama The Ascent – only fitting since the film, at once simple, at the next complex, is ultimately an allegorical portrait of Christ and Judas in a world turned topsy-turvy by the senseless strife and slaughter during the German invasion and occupation of Belarus. That notion of faith, extracted as it is from the New Testament and applied to such issues as love and betrayal of country are completely at home within the context and backdrop so vividly and evocatively portrayed.

For the Ukrainian-born Shepitko, herself a student of Master Ukrainian filmmaker Olexander Dovzhenko, it is clear why this story resonated with her and why she applied such staggering Dovzhenkian compositions to the picture. Coming from Ukraine, a country and culture that had been under the yoke of occupation and suppression almost from its very beginnings and having been mentored by a brilliant filmmaker who himself had been repressed and censored by Joseph Stalin, the mixture of frank political material coupled with a story and central relationship derived from the opiate of the masses, is illustrative of Shepitko’s artistic bravery at such a relatively early stage of her career in the repressive Soviet regime that frowned upon anything that deviated from the State disavowal of all things based in faith.

The story is a simple one. It is also both tragic and compelling. Ultimately, however, it is the simple narrative backbone that allows Shepitko to inspire an audience’s engagement in the proceedings as well as opportunities for contemplation and reflection both during and after seeing the film.

Following a rag-tag band of partisans through the snowy steppes and forest of Belarus, we are introduced to our pair of mismatched protagonists, the hardened, practical Rybak (Vladimir Gostukhin) and the physically weak, but thoughtful Sotnikov (Boris Plotnikov) as they volunteer to journey through the bitter cold of the dangerous, Nazi-infested region to find food for the tired and starving freedom fighters. The journey begins to take, almost from the beginning, a series of increasingly disastrous and dangerous detours as Sotnikov becomes sicker with bronchitis and a bullet wound while Rybak becomes so intent upon survival that he begins to question all the sacrifices he is enduring. They both find themselves face-to-face with having to make the ultimate sacrifice for each other, those around them and most importantly, home and country.

Given that most of us are more than aware of the relationship between Jesus and Judas, it is also a testament to Shepitko’s cinematic storytelling prowess that we are still gripped by the proceedings in spite of having a good inkling of where the story will go. In fact, it is the inevitability of where things are headed that keeps us glued to the screen – we keep hoping against hope that the inevitable will be circumvented and, of course, Shepitko plays the portent with harrowing assuredness and style.

Interestingly, The Ascent is not dissimilar to another great Soviet war picture, Grigori Chukrai’s Ballad of a Soldier. On the surface, both pictures deal with soldiers who have a specific goal, but on their journey they face a series of obstacles and detours that painfully keep them from reaching their ultimate destination. The difference, however, is that Chukrai’s film (also full of lush, gorgeously composed exteriors in the Dovzhenkian mold) involves detours routed firmly in sacrifice wherein the central character is kept from visiting his destitute mother because he is continually sidetracked by being duty-bound to helping other people with their own challenges. In The Ascent, it is both betrayal and survival that provide the obstacles. This basic difference highlights why one picture feels romantic and the other is overwhelmingly tragic.

That said, The Ascent is equally powerful and perhaps even more so since the will to survive – at any cost – becomes so poignant. Sacrifice, which involves principles rather than that of the plight of individuals, takes The Ascent into (ironically) political territory that mirrors the struggles of everyone living within the Soviet system. As an audience we are forced to confront a system of repression (Soviet-ruled Belarus) that is also being occupied and repressed by a foreign aggressor (Germany). The enemy is sadly, from within and outside so that our characters are surrounded – almost in futility. The domestic collaborators with the Nazis are at once evil and altogether human. We understand the need to collaborate while condemning it at the same time.

Living in a system of repression like Belarus and under the yoke of a madman like Stalin, the Nazis provide a way out of the madness – an alternative to Stalin. Two of the supporting characters in this narrative are perfectly emblematic of this. One is a village elder (Sergei Yakovlev) who is a reluctant collaborator while the other is a local Nazi interrogator (Anatoli Solonytsin), a cold, practical bureaucrat. The former is a man who seeks safety in collaboration for his family and friends, while the latter is a pure opportunist – someone who is just as happy serving the dictator du jour (Hitler) as he would be engaging in a Stalinist purge. These dichotomous personalities brilliantly mirror Rybak and Sotnikov – especially since their journeys and the inevitable outcomes are so similar: suggesting, of course, that notions of sacrifice and betrayal, collaboration and resistance, good and evil are almost always grey areas in war, and in particular, within repressive regimes.

What is not a grey area in The Ascent is suffering – represented not only by the physical pain and death of violence, but by the land itself. Here is where Shepitko’s kino-eye is especially evocative. The bitter cold and the endless, bone-chilling whiteness of snow overwhelm all the exterior shots. One of the more intensely powerful moments involves Rybak dragging a sick and wounded Sotnikov through the snow – for what seems like forever – as Nazi bullets fly at them. Shepitko’s camera is like a mad pit bull’s jaws clenching at its quarry – it seems to never let go of these two men as they painstakingly make their way through the snow.

Throughout the film we see the actors enduring literal physical hardships. Seeing The Ascent again, I was reminded of the genius of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, a movie that has suffered unnecessarily over the years due to the hype surrounding the mad German (and ethnically Slavic) director’s decision to force his own cast and crew to drag a riverboat through the jungle and over a mountain. When writing at an earlier juncture about Shepitko’s Krylya/Wings I was also reminded of Herzog – in that case, it was the documentary Little Dieter Needs To Fly. Visually, Herzog and Shepitko are very different. Herzog’s visuals in drama and documentary, while stunning, have the immediacy of cinema vérité while Shepitko is rooted in the classical, sumptuously composed imagery her mentor Dovzhenko was known for. What Shepitko and Herzog share, however, is an unflinching search for truth in image, and in particular, the use of truth in image in the telling of stories cinematically.

Speaking of sharing, it is also worth noting that some of the finest war films of all time were made under the Soviet system – many of which put the best American examples of this genre to shame. That said, Ukrainians appear to have directed the very best Soviet war films. Olexander Dovzhenko (Arsenal, Schors and his WWII documentaries), Sergei Bondarchuk (Destiny of a Man, War and Peace), Grigori Chukrai (Ballad of a Soldier, Cold Skies, The 41st) and Shepitko have powerfully and evocatively portrayed the horrors and even glories of war and share Ukrainian ethnicity. Perhaps it is coincidence, or perhaps it is worthy of further study. In any event, it is certainly worth noting. It is also worth reiterating that all the abovementioned filmmakers come from a country that has always been dominated and repressed by other powers. With The Ascent, it is finally survival and sacrifice that drives the picture and makes it a film that is haunting, unforgettable and tragic.

Ukrainians, it seems, and others who have lived under repressive regimes, have always known something about survival, sacrifice and war.


Wings (1966) dir. Larisa Shepitko
Starring: Maya Bulgakova

*****

By Greg Klymkiw

The romance of war has seldom been so heartbreaking than in the hands of the great Ukrainian-born director Larisa Shepitko who made this first feature after a few short films and studying under the watchful eye of fellow countryman and master film artist Oleksander Dovzhenko. What’s especially bittersweet is that Wings is set in a post-war Soviet world where the lead character Nadezhna (Maya Bulgakova) struggles to settle into a life of seeming normalcy and, compared to her career as a fighter pilot, complacency. Now in her fortieth year, she works as a schoolmistress and goes about her daily tasks with professionalism and commitment on the surface, but always yearning and dreaming of the days when she soared above the normal world – touching Heaven, surrounded by the billowy clouds and racing through the air, dipping and swooping like a bird of prey.

Shepitko, part of that breed of Soviet filmmaker that rejected the occasionally overwrought montage-heavy storytelling of the likes of Eisenstein, tells her delicate tale with the same kind of editorial restraint common to her generation. Favouring gorgeously composed tableaus and a stately pace, Shepitko aims her lens at the realism of Nadezhna’s life, but with such a keen eye that the commonplace becomes extraordinary.

And what is it about the “normal” that nags at Shepitko’s central character?

The bottom line is this: The girl just wants to fly high. But alas, it is not to be – Nadezhna’s place in servitude to the Soviet ideal is now in the shaping of minds – youthful minds that live in a peaceful world that cannot even begin to comprehend the horrors of war. Nor are her students (and most others – adults AND children) equipped to fathom the mad, youthful rush accompanying Nadezhna’s idealism which led her into the cockpit of a bomber and into the arms of a fellow high-flyer, a dashing young man who eventually dies in a fireball before her very eyes – an image that haunts her constantly.

Shepitko expertly juxtaposes the romance and tragedy of Nadezhna’s life during the war with a series of poetic flashbacks that always help move the story forward when the drabness of her current existence reaches its nadir. One of the more moving sequences has our protagonist watching as a group of schoolchildren in the local museum are shown a display devoted to her heroism during the war. With the love of her life long dead and a schlubish museum director vying for her attentions – Nadezhna’s own life has become a literal and figurative museum piece.

Her daughter Tanya, a ravishing beauty, has married a much older man and Nadezhna can only think of her long-lost lover and how this prissy egghead who cohabits with her progeny can only pale in comparison. While Tanya has married for love, Nadezhna’s lover died for love – not necessarily for romantic love, but for the romantic ideals and love of flying that he shared with her.

With such a pedigree, can anyone ever be good enough for Nadezhna’s daughter?

While Wings shares much in common with Dovzhenko and Grigori Chukrai (Ballad of a Soldier), this is, unlike the work of her male colleagues, a relatively contemporary film by a woman and about a woman, which builds towards a conclusion as soaring and heartbreaking as the one that ends Nadezhna’s story. Werner Herzog’s astounding 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs To Fly still can evoke tears when one recalls the final images as the title subject has a dream come true. A similar and extraordinary sequence occurs at the end of Wings and delivers the kind of impact that only movies can bring when a dream comes true.

In both cases the wish fulfillment is endowed with both elation and heartache.

Shepitko firmly roots her character in a past that seems so far away and yet, truth and redemption are found in the reclamation of that past – albeit a reclamation that embraces the present and includes an acceptance of the future.

Shepitko only made three features following this debut. Her life was tragically cut short in a car accident while on a location scout for what would have been her fifth feature.

Like Nadezhna’s dashing flyboy lover, Shepitko died while doing what she knew and loved best.

Great art and life are never that far apart, are they?

Wings and The Ascent are available in one set on Criterion's Eclipse DVD label

Friday, 20 February 2015

MATT SHEPARD IS A FRIEND OF MIND - Review By Greg Klymkiw - He's a friend to us all

Matt Shepard
is a Friend of Mine
(2015)
Dir. Michele Josue

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Michele Josue manages to pull of the near impossible. She not only tells us a very personal story about her friendship with the sweet, brilliant young man named in the film's title, she constructs a biographical documentary of his life, whilst etching an indelible cinematic portrait of his unique spirit and character. Josue is so successful juggling these elements that I left the cinema wanting to be Matt Shepard's friend too. In fact, I can't imagine anyone seeing this film and not feeling likewise.

What a great guy!

In spite of the fact that this is a film, it uncannily manages to do what only the best cinema can do by using all the gifts and wonders the medium can bring to bear upon a subject and plunge us deep into its very essence. Matt Shepard might well be Josue's friend, but she's neither self-tub-thumping the fact, nor is she hoarding this beautiful human being all to herself.

Matt Shepard is, indeed, a friend to all of us.

First and foremost, because he is a human being and we're given this opportunity to get to know him. Granted, it's a mere ninety minutes of running time, but Josue expertly weaves home movies, photographs, interviews with friends, family and teachers, Matt's private writings and his vast correspondence with all those dear to him. It seems, no stone is left unturned.

Sadly, none of us will ever really get to know him, but Josue's created the next best thing.

Josue begins with what ended Matt's life. On Oct. 12, 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming, the 21-year-old Matt Shepard was beaten, tortured, tied to a fence and left for dead. For all intents and purposes, he might as well have been. He died soon after in hospital. A young life, so full of promise, was cut short by a senseless act rooted in hatred.

Matt Shepard was murdered by two hate-filled young men because he was gay. Even harder to believe is the news footage of supposed Christians parading homophobic, hate-spewing filth on placards and hurling anti-Gay invective from their mouths when Matt Shepard's life was being celebrated at his funeral.

In death, however, Matt Shepard became a symbol, an emblem, a trademark if you will, for the anti-hatred lobby. Josue's film does not ignore this important element of Matt's legacy and weaves it into the fabric of the film superbly. Still, though, we come back to what Josue does so well - she gives us Matt in as much glory as possible.

We learn about his charmed childhood, his loving family, his delightful antics in childhood like leaving pretty stones in the mailboxes of his neighbours, dressing up as Dolly Parton for Halloween and always being the centre of attention - not that he demanded it at all, but rather, he was such a dazzling, compelling young man that he naturally commanded it. We're privy to his private struggles with coming to grips with his sexuality, to be sure, but that's merely one element of seeing a young man blossom as he searches for everything he's all about. His love for family, friends and travel seemed limitless. His sense of humour and sensitivity unparalleled. His time during an American boarding school in Switzerland becomes almost magical. Sure, we're in the Alps. That's damn magical, just as it is when we follow him on trips with his friends throughout Europe. However, what is magic, real magic, is his love for his friends and theirs for him.

If anything, the magic of this film is love and most of all, the love Matt Shepard gave.

There is darkness in his life. Vacationing with his school chums in Morocco turned into a nightmare that never seemed to leave him when he was beaten and gang-raped in a dark Marrakesh alleyway by six thugs. Here, his life did indeed change. He began to carry himself inwardly, like a victim. He kept his pain to himself. He stopped his activities in the theatre and became a haunted shell of who he once was.

Most of all, he wanted to come home. This meant returning to his home state of Wyoming where he enrolled in college in the small city of Laramie. Here, he seemed to begin to find himself again. Here, he was at home. Here, was where Matt Shepard was kidnapped, beaten and tortured to death for being gay.

The anger and frustration one feels just watching this play out seems almost incalculable - even as a mere viewer of a film. One can't even begin to imagine the feelings of Matt's family and friends and by extension, the whole community of mankind that expressed and felt the deepest shock over someone being murdered simply out of hatred. Josue nails it here, though. She introduces an element into the film in its final third that presents a deeply harrowing, haunting, moving and finally spiritual sequence which forces all who watch it to look into the mirrors that reflect their own souls.

This is one great documentary. Try to see it in a movie theatre with the fellowship of other human beings. You'll all be soaring.

Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine begins its theatrical Canadian run via VFRPR at the Magic Lantern Carlton Cinemas in Toronto February 20th, 2015, with additional cities and screens to follow across the country. Judy and Dennis Shepard, Matt Shepard's Mom and Dad to host select opening weekend screenings. If it's not yet playing in your city, DEMAND IT! Matthew's memory has been enshrined in the good work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and in the passage of the The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. Be sure to read Remarks by President Obama at a Reception Commemorating the Enactment of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act by clicking HERE.