Thursday, 28 April 2016

CHASING ASYLUM - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - Refugees on the "Barbie"

Australia's Government implements RACISM, INCARCERATION, ISOLATION & TORTURE towards political refugees in the guise of humanitarianism.
Chasing Asylum (2016)
Dir. Eva Orner

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Using a raft of hidden cameras, Oscar-winning filmmaker Eva Orner chillingly exposes the evil committed by Australia on people who need the country's help, not its disdain.

Now, it's obvious and a proven fact that political refugees seeking asylum by crossing the oceans on boats can die. They know it and we know it, but sometimes it's the only way for them to escape repression and violence.

The Australian government, wanting to protect the refugees from certain death have implemented a series of policies designed to save lives. That's what they tell us, anyway. The reality is that Australia does not want the bad publicity (and, uh, the inconvenience) of bodies washing up on their shorelines. Most of all, though, the country is run a bunch of ignorant racists who want to keep refugees out of their country - period!

What the Aussie rulers have done is tantamount to cruelty, straight-up incarceration and torture.

"I have to forget my dreams here." (top left)
A paradise for children. (top right, middle left & right)
Plea of a refugee: KILL US (bottom left)
SECURITY FORCES (bottom right)
Any refugee arriving by boat is detained in one of two godforsaken hellholes - an island in Papua, New Guinea and the autonomous island nation of Nauru. It is in these places where the refugees are incarcerated for years in cramped, unsanitary and most decidedly inhumane concentration camps. Malnutrition, deep depression and even suicide plagues these "guests" of the Australian government.

Children suffer from developmental delays, lack of education and none of the facilities/accoutrements which might make their lives richer. (When toys finally arrive, the story of one child's response is a heartbreaker.)

Australia, for their part wants to do the following:

1. Detain the refugees in the most appalling conditions for as long as possible, then deport them back to where they come from, hoping their horrendous experiences will keep other refugees from being tempted to come to Australia.

2. Absolutely refuse asylum to ANY refugees who arrive by boat.

Journalists are not allowed in the compounds, workers are not trained and told their job is to keep people from committing suicide (or try to "make" them "happy") and the security forces are big bruisers who've been recruited from various bouncer positions in nightclubs. The secret cameras capture these pigs referring to the refugees with the most foul language and (seriously) joking about how they look forward to shooting any of them trying to escape.

Among other egregious conditions, there is an appalling rash of sexual assaults perpetrated on women and children.

Special laws have been implemented by the Australian Government to send any worker to prison who dares to publicly reveal the sickening goings-on.

The  dreams of refugees:
"I heard Australia is a safe country."
"I heard Australia is a humane country."
"Australia respects people and refugees."
Clearly Australia is flouting all international agreements they've agreed to by refusing refugees. They simply don't want these people in their country - in spite of overwhelming proof and statistics how Vietnamese boat people have, in fact, become some of the country's most loyal and productive citizens.

This is Australia.

It's happening now.

Orner's film is not only an eye-opener, but a powerful call to action for the rest of the world to speak out against these utterly horrifying, racist actions. The nastiness and ignorance of Australia's political leaders is so insane, one can't believe the words coming out of their mouths.

After one of the prisoners immolates himself in protest and desperation, one might as well ascribe the Crocodile Dundee cliche to every single Australian politician and imagine them jauntily chortling:

"Well mate, let's toss another refugee on the barbie!"

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

Chasing Asylum makes its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2016.

Monday, 25 April 2016

GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - Poetic Truth

God Knows Where I Am (2016)
dir. Todd Wider, Jedd Wider
Narration: Lori Singer

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Too many filmmakers forget about the power of poetry in cinema. This is especially endemic in documentary work where far too many pictures seem limited to imparting facts and/or become so wrapped up in "story" (demanded by narrow, vision-bereft commissioning editors) that no matter how proficient the films are, they are - as films - all about the issue and/or subject matter at the centre of the work.

There is no such problem plaguing God Knows Where I Am. The picture is an absolute heartbreaker and a good deal of its success is directly attributable to its pace, style and structure which yields a film infused with all the qualities of the sublime. I challenge anyone to not weep profusely at several points within its elegiac 99 minute running time.

The picture charts the last weeks of Linda Bishop, an intelligent, sensitive middle-aged woman found dead in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse. Existing only on rainwater and apples from a bountiful tree, she felt trapped by dangers which threatened and frightened her to such a degree that she was unable to leave the comfort and shelter afforded to her by this lonely enclave. Eventually, as the apples ran out and the unheated house was battered by one of the coldest winters on record in New Hampshire, comfort gave way to agony and agony gave way to grace.


Directors Todd and Jedd Wilder have constructed their film using a seemingly endless series of gorgeously composed and lit shots (gloriously mastered on FILM by cinematographer Gerardo Puglia), many of the dollies and tracking shots moving with the kind of slow beauty Vilmos Zsigmond employed in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye. These haunting images, many of which are so stunning they'll be seared on your soul for a lifetime, are accompanied by off-camera readings from Bishop's actual journal by actress Lori (Footloose, Trouble in Mind, Shortcuts) Singer. Singer's performance here is astonishing - she captures the pain, desperation and even small joys in Bishop's life during these sad, lonely days with a sensitivity and grace linked wholly to the "character" of Bishop.

The aforementioned sequences are interspersed with actual 8mm home movie footage of Bishop as a child - once, bright, happy and full of the promise of a full life to live. The filmmakers also wend interviews into the film's fabric with such figures as Bishop's adult daughter, various friends and relatives, and a local police detective and medical examiner - all of whom contribute to a mystery which unravels with spellbinding dexterity.


In addition to the cinematography, the key creative elements in the picture are simply astonishing. Editor Keiko Deguchi creates a gentle, yet always compelling pace that contributes to the poetic nature of the film (and a few dissolves so powerful that each one knocks the wind out of you) while Paul Cantelon, Ivor Guest and Robert Logan have created one of the best scores I've heard in any documentary. Elements such as sound, art direction and visual effects are on a par with the best cinema can offer.

I've seen God Know Where I Am three times. It's not only rich and layered enough to hold up on every viewing, but on an emotional level, I wept profusely - again and again and yet again.

This is great cinema and certainly a contender for one of the best documentaries of the new millennium. It captures profound poetic truths about homelessness, mental illness and loneliness which are rendered with such artistry and sensitivity that this is a film for the ages.

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

God Knows Where I Am receives its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2016.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

SONITA - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - Teen Rapper Tale veers into jingoism


Sonita (2016)
Dir. Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami
Starring: Sonita Alizadeh

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It's not surprising that Sonita won the Audience Award during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, playing to rapturous applause. Even within the rarefied conclave of American Liberalism, the thing that's most troubling about the film would have skipped right over the heads of most Americans.

First, the positive. The film is a superbly made story about the title subject, a teenage Afghani refugee living under the aegis of a charitable organization in Iran which provides shelter and schooling to kids who were hustled away from Taliban rule for a better life. Sonita and her siblings have lived in safety, but have done so at the expense of being separated from the rest of their family who've remained in Afghanistan for many years.

Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami not only paints a vivid portrait of life in Tehran, but manages to do so with slicker than usual production value. Both the cinematography and sound are first-rate, delivering an extremely palatable presentation of life in a repressed country like Iran - one which seems like a bastion of free speech compared to Taliban-influenced Afghanistan.

Sonita's music is a real treat also. It often dazzles and moves us with her passion, skill and promotion of both social justice and equal rights for women. (There's a music video, which Sonita essentially directs, which will inspire considerable happy gooseflesh.)

Sonita is a hugely talented singer-songwriter who has found her calling in rap music. She sings about women's rights with verve and passion, but even Iran (as seen in this year's Raving Iran) strictly forbids music which is not government sanctioned, nor does it allow women to sing. Sonita must pursue her dreams in secret.


The most urgent conflict occurs when Sonita's family in Afghanistan is appalled that she's singing and they begin the process of bringing her back home in order to be sold into the slavery of a forced marriage. This sequence is nail-bitingly suspenseful. Though there is some talk that director Maghami's financial intervention to buy Sonita some time crosses over into "journalistic" heresy, this hardly seems to matter since we're dealing with the life of a deeply passionate and extraordinarily talented young artist.

Though the suspense ratchets up even more skillfully during the final conflict in which director Maghami again intervenes, a very sour taste begins to foul the proceedings since it involves Sonita potentially being saved by the evil corporate imperialism of a country that has caused all her problems to begin with, and in fact, all the problems associated with extremist middle eastern terror that plagues the world.

For anyone who accepts that America has dug its own grave and continues to dig graves for the rest of the world, much of the goodwill the film builds up has far too much potential to render it as little more than lunkheaded Argo-like American propaganda.

I can see why American audiences lapped this up. Alas, it left me cold as ice.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3 Stars

Sonita is a FilmsWeLike (FWL) release, its Canadian Premiere is at Hot Docs 2016

Saturday, 23 April 2016

RAVING IRAN - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - Iranian House DJs Risk Death

To Rave Or Not To Rave?
To Die Or Not To Die?
Choices Galore for House DJs in Iran!

Raving Iran (2016)
Dir. Susanne Regina Meures

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The genuinely brilliant House DJs Anoosh and Arash create the kind of heavenly pulse-pounding sounds which raise the level of rave music to interstellar heights. The commitment they bring to their artistry is beyond obsessive which, is probably a good thing given the hypnotic beats they etch aurally like a kind of Jackson Pollock x2 on a mixing board. Then again, obsession amidst repression seems to be a life-skill that Iranian artists must have hardwired into their very DNA.

Anoosh and Arash should be stars.

And in a sense, they are, but their celebrity remains deep in the underbelly of the rave scene in Tehran, Iran. To be public in a country that views their music as unholy enough to warrant prison, torture and death is tantamount to suicide. Even working underground is enough to flirt with the aforementioned indignities of pain and eradication.

It's a wonder, then, that filmmaker Susanne Regina Meures captured their harrowing story using hidden cel phone cameras and other surreptitious means to chart an important story of creation under attack.

Given the means of production, the film is raw, ragged and grainy. This seldom detracts from one's appreciation for the picture and does, in fact, contribute to the mix of the artists' creative energy with the frustrating, maddening and often downright terrifying risks they and their fans undertake.

Iranian House DJs Anoosh and Arash risk the
wrath of Allah's self-proclaimed gatekeepers.
Allah, though, would love their music and artistry.
All around them we see armed police and willie-inducing checkpoints. Dark alleys in circuitous labyrinthine back streets and deep, dungeon-like basements are their domain - where, like the undead, all rise with the setting of the sun and scurry into their coffins with its rising. Better they should scurry into them of their own volition than risk being blasted into them from the end of an Iranian peacekeeper's gun.

The film gives us a rare insider's view of the creative process, the raves themselves and the frustrating lengths Anoosh and Arash must go in order to manufacture their album. When they're invited to the largest, most prestigious House Music Festival in the world in Switzerland, dangerous, heartbreaking decisions await them.

In Iran, making a decision might be DEADLY.
From staging a massive secret rave in the desert to the chillingly suspenseful process of leaving Iran, filmmaker Meures is with them all the way.

And so are we.

Such are the joys and sadness cinema can create. When they reflect life, as in this brave, bold documentary, it's all the more edifying.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ 3-and-a-half-stars

Raving Iran makes its International Premiere at Hot Docs 2016

Friday, 22 April 2016

LEAGUE OF EXOTIQUE DANCERS - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - a history of the art of Burlesque through the seen-it-all eyes of Burlesque Hall of Fame inductees

Legendary Burlesque Queen and Russ Meyer Star
KITTEN NATIVIDAD, her cutey cartoony still emblazoned
on the equally legendary gentlemen's club, The Body Shop.
League of Exotique Dancers (2016)
Dir. Rama Rau
Prd. Ed Barreveld
Starring: Kitten Natividad, Camille 2000, Delilah Jones, Gina Bon Bon, Holiday O'Hara, Judith Stein, Lovey Goldmine, Marinka, Toni Elling

Review By Greg Klymkiw
I've always loved burlesque. As a healthy, young lad growing up in Winnipeg, I was surrounded by the finest in this magnificent form of entertainment thanks to a crusty old booking agent by the name of Gladys Balsillie who managed a stable of formidable talent on constant view in only the finest gentlemen's clubs of my old winter city. Known famously as "Gladdie's Girls", these ladies were no mere strippers, but featured performers who put on super-cool shows with props, costumes, jokes, storytelling and even narrative arcs to their dances. The greatest of these ladies was the incomparable June Tracy, a ribald, full-figured octogenarian beauty who spun deliciously dirty tales through her craggy, chain-smoke-charred voice pipes. Not only could she twirl one tassel-adorned breast at a time, she oft-performed her famed bubble bath act in a claw-footed tub and then, always ended every show with a series of vigorous bows and the best exit-line ever: "Thank you, thank you, thank you," she'd belt out and then, after a perfectly-timed pause, "…Thank you, relatives!"
- my review of Beth B's EXPOSED
Last year I prefaced the 2015 edition of Hot Docs with a review of Exposed, Beth B's insightful documentary on contemporary burlesque, which, at the time, was making its DVD debut on Zeitgeist Films home entertainment. One year later, I'm faced with the world premier and opening night picture of Hot Docs 2016, which is none other than ace Storyline Entertainment documentary producer Ed Barreveld's League of Exotique Dancers, directed by Rama Rau.

Rau trains cinematographer Iris Ng's expert lens upon a group of exotic burlesque dancers who are not only still with us, but are on the precipice of their induction into the Burlesque Hall of Fame, which will include more than the mere ceremony, but full-on burlesque shows by a number of these great ladies.

The interviews not only provide a rich history of burlesque, but reveal a cornucopia of insights into the themes of female power, grace and showmanship during a time when women in North America were viewed by most men as Madonnas or Whores, Housewives or Harlots, Molly Maids or Madams (and maybe even a healthy/unhealthy mixture of the aforementioned couplings). Though the film provides any number of positive perspectives on the art of burlesque, it also sheds light on those who view it as sex-trade work, pure and simple, some of their lives replete with abuse, addiction and sadness.

One thing they seem to all agree on, though, is that burlesque was a far cry from straight-up stripping and certainly light-years ahead of how disgusting many of the contemporary clubs have become since the implementation of lap dancing, private dancing and the addition of dark V.I.P. rooms which are little more than whorehouses.

Burlesque is bump-and-grind, to be sure, but with the implementation of costumes, makeup and even stories for the various dances, it's hardly a stretch to declare it erotic performance art of the highest order. Some of the thematic elements of the dances might be imbued with satiric and/or political intent, whilst others are simply there to entertain, but what one cannot deny is the fact that fun, and often humour, are the order of the day.

Seeing these grand ladies in their august years, seated like royalty on their respective perches, dolled-up and dressed to the nines, prancing and parading us through neighbourhoods of their past, is a thing of sheer beauty. To see them perform now, is even more tantalizing (attention all GMILF aficionados), especially in juxtaposition to cutter Rob Ruzic's expertly edited montages of archival footage from the golden age of burlesque.

Each of the women make for magnificently entertaining and insightful interview subjects, but if I'm allowed, I'm picking a handful of favourites. Gotta love the Canadian content (this is a Canadian film, after all) with Judith Stein, her famed monicker none other than the saucy "Great Canadian Beaver", the beautiful and erudite Toni Elling recounting the experience from the women-of-colour perspective and Marinka matter-of-factly discussing her sales of used G-strings to those fetishists wishing to take the scent of a woman back home with them.

Kitten Natividad shares her love story
with master filmmaker, the late Russ Meyer.
The inclusion of the gorgeous, supremely intelligent and truly legendary Kitten Natividad made the whole movie sing for me. Director Rau importantly focuses on Natividad's professional and personal relationship with the great Master filmmaker Russ (Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, Up!) Meyer. We get to visit the front yard of his modest suburban dwelling (from which one can see the famed HOLLYWOOD sign) and hear Natividad's reminiscences of what sounds like a truly and deeply profound love story. The film also gives a healthy nod to Meyer's place as a film artist, including some terrific clips from his work and the genuinely amazing footage of Russ cutting on a Movieola in his garage.

I couldn't help but shed a tear as Natividad recounted Meyer's final years afflicted with Alzheimer's and how she selflessly took on the role as his primary caregiver.

What Rau's film finally proves is that sex might sell, but the business and art of selling sex can be infused with great love, joy, intellect, imagination, self-discovery and humanity. This, is a good thing. Judgement is easy. Acceptance is what distinguishes us in the eyes of whatever Creator looks down upon us.

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

League of Exotique Dancers is a Kinosmith release. Its world premiere is the opening night of Hot Docs 2016.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

QUEBEC MY COUNTRY MON PAYS - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - Master Filmmaker John Walker's Moving Personal Journey Through Quebec's Quiet Revolution


Quebec My Country Mon Pays (2016)
Dir. John Walker

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Place defines us. It's our roots, our lifeblood, the thing that we can never shake free of, whether we want to or not. However, so many of us are/were forced to leave our homes. My Grandfather, for example, was forced to leave Ukraine. In the new reality after the revolution, he could no longer be who he was. Communism was linked directly to Russia and Russia imposed Russification upon the Ukrainian people - making it a crime to speak Ukrainian. If he had not left, he could well have become a victim of the Purges or the Holodomor (Stalin's genocidal murder of 10million Ukrainians). Ultimately, it was language and culture that was denied to him and millions of others. Not only was Russian imposed upon Ukrainians, but their own language was outlawed, eradicated and obliterated in favour of the Communists' tongue of choice.

This and a number of personal thoughts coursed through me as I watched veteran Canadian filmmaker John (A Winter Tan, Strand: Under the Dark Cloth, Men of the Deeps) Walker's deeply moving film Quebec My Country Mon Pays. Curiously, language too plays a part in the exodus of so many English-speaking people from Quebec.

Walker takes us on a very personal journey in which he examines how and why he left Quebec, in spite of the fact that it is the place that nurtured and in so many ways, defined him. This is no ordinary garden variety personal journey. It is a rather extraordinary personal journey which weaves Walker's own narrative with a bonafide history of Quebec's "Quiet" Revolution. My Grandfather's taste of "revolution" was not so quiet, but there are, for me, striking parallels between the narrative of my Eastern European ancestors and those from Quebec.

Anglo culture, language and business was a dominant force in this Canadian province. In fact, the City of Montreal, rather than Toronto was the centre, the heartbeat if you will, of Canadian business. Not so anymore.


Quebec is a distinct culture and though its distinctions used to include bilingualism, French has swallowed the province whole - so much so that provincial and federal parties were formed with the sole purpose of removing Quebec from Canada. Terrorism and violence via the FLQ was a big part of this once the revolution became less quiet than it had been.


Walker has chosen a delightfully original way into his own story of abandoning the place he loved (and still loves) more than any other. There's not only the deftly handled history of Quebec's "revolution", but it's presented with a combination of superb archival film clips, still images, interviews from Anglo-Quebecers who identify as Quebecers, Quebecers who want their province to separate from Canada and a myriad of the province's greatest artists and thinkers, including Oscar-winning director Denys Arcand, writer Paul Warren and screenwriter Louise Pelletier. Especially touching is Walker's exploration of his own family's generations-old history in Quebec and its relationship to his contemporary dilemma of loving a place that feels inextricably rooted in his soul, yet seems so distant all the same.


What links all of this is Walker's visual aplomb - gorgeously composed vistas of the countryside and cities with the same painterly qualities Walker has always brought to bear in his work - stunning, rich images worthy of John Ford of both the land and its people and highly influenced by the legendary Canadian feature film Pour la suite du monde by Michel Brault, Marcel Carrière and Pierre Perrault.

I responded personally to Walker's film, especially with my own exodus from my roots in Winnipeg which continue to haunt me. As Randy Bachmann wrote in his gloriously sad anthem "Prairie Town": "the prairies made me what I am today", those same prairies that offered my Grandfather visual reminders of Ukraine's glorious steppes that he had to leave behind.


Walker's created a film anyone can call their own. Who has not been touched by a sense of place and at worst, forced to leave it and at best, always fearing what one might do if forced to leave it behind? Walker's film is his history, Quebec's history, Canada's history and by the film's very structure, a history we all share - not just in Canada, but the rest of the world.

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

Quebec My Country Mon Pays has its World Premiere at HOT DOCS

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

NATIONAL CANADIAN FILM DAY - 4/20/16 - Greg Klymkiw's Best Bets for FREE MOVIES, eh


NATIONAL CANADIAN FILM DAY 2016
GREG KLYMKIW'S HALLOWED PICKS FOR
FIVE FABULOUS FREE SCREENINGS

Steve Fonyo in HURT, a Canadian Hero.
He ran across Canada on a prosthetic leg.
He raised millions of dollars for cancer research.
He was subsequently disgraced by loser bureaucrats
in the GOVERNMENT OF CANADA.

1. HURT - My pick for the Best Documentary of 2016 is the brilliant biographical portrait of Canadian Hero Steve Fonyo. If you go see the movie for FREE in Cambridge, Ontario then you're going to be in luck because director Alan Zweig will be there in person to introduce the film and take your questions. Read my full review of Hurt at Electric Sheep Mag UK, HERE. If you're too lazy, you can read my Film Corner capsule review HERE.

Idea Exchange library and the Grand River Film Festival have teamed up to present the picture Wednesday, April 20, 7pm at the Clemens Mill library branch, located at 50 Saginaw Pkwy in Cambridge, Ontario.


THE BEST SONG OF 2016
"My Derriere" by Sparks
THE FORBIDDEN ROOM

2. THE FORBIDDEN ROOM - My pick for one of the very best films of 2016 is Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson's astonishing phantasm of desire. See Udo Kier being lobotomized for his unholy desire for derrieres. Also: the best cameo performance of 2016 - Geraldine Chaplin cracking a mean whip. The movie is playing for FREE in Regina, Saskatchewan at the Regina Public Library (RPL) Film Theatre on Thursday, April 21, 9pm. The RPL is playing great canadian movies all week for FREE. Read my full Film Corner review HERE

ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT
ENVIRONMENTAL DOCUMENTARIES
EVER MADE

3. HAIDA GWAII ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD - My pick for one of the very best films of 2016 is the award winning documentary masterpiece by Charles Wilkinson who has directed some of the most important environmental documentaries being made in the world. You can see this for FREE April 21, 7pm at The Arts Station, 601 1st Ave, Fernie, British Columbia. There are also screenings of the film in Victoria, BC + Dawson, Yukon + Lunenberg, NS. Read my full Film Corner review HERE.


4. THE NINTH FLOOR - Mina Shum's powerful documentary about racial hatred against Afro-Canadians in Montreal academia, the activism against it and the mysterious aftermath was one of my choices for best Canadian and best documentary films of 2016. You can see this film for FREE April 20, 7pm at NIFCO, 40 King's Road, St. John's, NL. Read my full Film Corner review HERE.


5. GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD - By Donald Shebib - THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL - Greatness in any work of art is distinguished as something or someone achieving the highest, most outstanding levels of magnitude, significance and importance. Based on this, there is simply no question that Donald Shebib's Goin' Down the Road is a great movie. Its tremendous force, power and lasting value is one that is achieved by very few amongst so many. The picture, on so many levels, represents the quintessence of greatness, but must also be regarded as a work that expresses a wholly indigenous cultural representation of a country that has lived in the shadow of the cultural and economic dominance since its very inception.

Plays April 20 7pm at Vancouver Film School 151 W Cordova St, Vancouver, BC and 11am at the Lunenberg Library, 19 Pelham St, Lunenberg, NS.

Read my humungous personal history, appreciation and review at the Film Corner HERE and learn why nothing touches the purity of this true masterpiece of Canadian Cinema. And HERE is my review of the Union Pictures Blu-Ray double feature of Goin' Down The Road and it's lovely sequel Down The Road Again.

Of course, there are 100s of choices for National Canadian Film Day, so take a gander and pick your pic at the official NCFD website HERE.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

ACROSS THE LINE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hockey, Crime and Racial Divides in Halifax

Two brothers. One's a pimp. The other's a new NHL star.

Across the Line (2015)
Dir. Director X
Scr. Floyd Kane
Starring: Stephan James, Sarah Jeffery, Shamier Anderson,
Lanette Ware, Steven Love, Denis Theriault, Cara Ricketts

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In the movies, racial violence and hatred has almost always seemed like the domain of urban concrete jungles in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and, among others, Detroit.

But in Halifax, Nova Scotia?

We're talking a big, old small town in Eastern Canada with fiddle players on every corner. The bustling metropolis of Metro Toronto has seen several Canadian films (like the classic Rude) dealing with the African diaspora in the land of Mounties and Beavers, but it's never seemed as mean-spiritedly infused with the kind of roiling racism just looking to explode in violence as the burgh detailed in Across the Line.

The picture focuses on Mattie Slaughter (Stephan James), a hot young hockey forward on the verge of a major N.H.L. deal whose rise to the top is affected by said racism in the seemingly quaint seaside Halifax Harbour and surrounding environs. Add to this a pressure cooker of challenges, many of which are placed in the path of any young man on the verge of sports superstardom, but for a Black kid in a tough school in a backwards backwater, they're exponentially multiplied.

Floyd Kane's script nicely balances a group of engaging characters in a setting that's not only wholly, indigenously Canadian, but is one we're not familiar with (yet feels altogether real). Mattie's brother Carter (Shamier Anderson) brings shame to the family as he pimps out teenage girls from the high school. The relationship between the Slaughter brothers, though not without precedents in the sports movie world, has enough touches of darkness to deliver the sibling strife not unlike Foxcatcher (though nowhere near the twisted Bros in Scorsese's Raging Bull).

Our hockey hero's peer group, Black and White include his friend John (Steven Love), who is dating the mixed-race beauty Jayme (Sarah Jeffrey). In spite of the friendship twixt the two lads, John always feels like Mattie's eye is roving towards the woman he loves.

He wouldn't be wrong about this either.

So suspects the venal, rich boy Todd (Denis Theriault) who is always quick to hurl racial epithets and instigate fisticuffs and/or bullying against Black students in the school. In a nutshell, tensions are running high and a race riot twixt Black and White seems inevitable.

One of the nice things about the movie is how we're pulled into a setting so antithetical to the cliches of other gangland warfare pictures about African-Americans/Canadians pitted against Whitey. No high-rise projects on view in this setting - the families live in Haligonian bungalows in the burbs and the parents are hardworking working stiffs (Mattie's Dad is a self employed cement finisher, Jayme's pops is a uniformed beat cop and John's Mom is a weary nurse).

At times Across the Line reminded me of Charles Burnett's classic of African-American "normal" life To Sleep With Anger, but also, it manages to seethe even a bit closer to Burnett's Killer of Sheep where a working stiff eventually questions the future quality of life for his family due to the overwhelming pressures of daily life amongst his fellow African-American friends and neighbours.

If Charles Burnett made a movie in Halifax, it might feel a lot like this one. Alas, there are moments where Across the Line doesn't quite work as well as it should. The film flip-flops between gorgeously observed, almost Neo-realistic touches to some semi-klunky, seemingly shoehorned-in TV-issue-of-the-week shenanigans. In a sense, the screenplay, which is full of terrific writing, also betrays itself by feeling a bit too worked and polished. There is, for example, a clumsy subplot involving one of the teachers, played by Cara Ricketts, whose experience with racial tensions in her past informs her teaching ethos in the present. This makes sense, but a very strange, near-breakdown sequence she has during a White vs Black school riot just doesn't ring true, except maybe on a CBC Sunday Night made for TV movie.

What does ring true, though, are the elements of the story involving Mattie needing to "keep his nose clean" to ensure himself an NHL spot. Each moment that threatens to upset this apple cart adds considerable conflict to the story which increasingly feels so unfair that we're open-mouthed at how racist the world of pro sports is - especially one so "white" and "Canadian" like hockey. It is implied constantly and even stated very clearly that because Mattie is Black, he's got to tip-toe around every eggshell.

Luckily music video director, Director X, has a decent eye and good sense of rhythm. Working in tandem with cinematographer Samy Inayeh, editor Dev Singh and a first-rate cast (Stephan James, Shamier Anderson and Sarah Jeffrey all deliver sprightly, star-making and camera-loves-them performances), much of the picture pulsates and sparkles with the stuff of real life and bigger conflicts which pull the picture out of its occasional TV-movie-like toe-dipping.

And hell, the picture's main backdrop involves hockey.

It doesn't get more engaging and Canadian than that.

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

Across the Line opens theatrically in Canada April 15, 2016 via A71 Entertainment.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

I SAW THE LIGHT, MILES AHEAD, BORN TO BE BLUE - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - Why so many music Biopics all of a sudden? 3 movies about 3 musicians released within 2 months. Go figure.

Top: I SAW THE LIGHT ***
Bottom right: MILES AHEAD **
Bottom left: BORN TO BE BLUE *

Born to Be Blue (2015)
Dir. Robert Budreau
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo, Callum Keith Rennie,
Stephen McHattie, Janet-Laine Green, Dan Lett, Kevin Hanchard, Tony Nappo

Review By Greg Klymkiw

If you've seen Let's Get Lost, Bruce Weber's haunting 1988 feature-length documentary about the sad, sexy, tragic genius Chet Baker, there's no reason to see Robert Budreau's dreadful biopic misfire Born to Be Blue. Weber's documentary succeeds because it harrowingly focuses on Baker's drug addiction as much as his turbulent life and extraordinary music. Rather than obviously charting tried-and-true rise-and-fall beats in Baker's life, we get subtle glimpses into just how Baker's demons were as much a part of his art as they were what ultimately destroyed him.

Born to Be Blue is a fruit-loopy, simple-minded fantasia on Chet getting his musical mojo back after having his teeth knocked out by some scumbag dealers. Writer-Director Robert Budreau's film reduces Baker's life to some kind of Brian Grazer-like "winner" story dappled with plenty of fake dark touches. Amalgamating all of Baker's wives into one convenient punching bag/inspiration (Carmen Ejogo) feels horribly by-the-numbers and on-point.

Hello, my name is Ethan Hawke.
I can be tortured, eh. Just like Chet Baker.
I'll concede the film could not have possibly shoehorned Baker's whole existence into ninety-or-so minutes, but why it felt the need to concoct so much nonsense and avoid even a smattering or pie-slice of the man's genuiely fascinating life as a microcosm of the whole, is beyond me.

Ethan Hawke is a fine actor when he's in good movies, but he seems to take on a lot of garbage. He must know when it's crap, but sometimes, how's a fella to really know? I'm sure he thought the role in Born to Be Blue would have been a supreme challenge and maybe even Oscar bait, but aside from bearing an occasional resemblance to Baker, his performance is never more than skin-deep. We see no demons in Hawke. All we experience is an actor pretending that they're there and working overtime to prove it.

Most of all, though, Baker is presented as a man on the road to self-discovery, hence "success". Neither the film nor Hawke let us forget it. Give me a break.

Skip this. Just watch Let's Get Lost again.

Born to Be Blue is an IFC Films picture in very limited theatrical release.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: * One-Star

Shaft? Superfly? Nope. Don Cheadle as Miles Davis.

Miles Ahead(2015)
Dir. Don Cheadle
Scr. Steven Baigelman & Cheadle
Starring: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corineald

Review By Greg Klymkiw

As jazz legend Miles Davis, there's no denying Don Cheadle's charismatic work as an actor. Veering from the afro-and-shades-adorned 70s cocaine addict to the suave, dapper young man in the 50s flashbacks, Cheadle is never less than engaging and his performance comes close to capturing the genius of this great musical artist.

Unfortunately, we have to put up with the film. Reducing the 70s Davis to some kind of participant in a lame, TV-movie version of a Blaxploitation programmer, then clumsily flashing us back to Davis's loving, but ultimately abusive treatment towards his wife (Emayatzy Corineald), the picture is all over the place and rife with dullsville cliches.

STARSKY and HUTCH? Nope!
The Miles Davis Story as Cop TV show
melded with supremely lame 70s Blaxploitation.
Worse yet, we have to put up with the increasingly insufferable Ewan McGregor. Here he plays a scruffy freelance writer pretending to be a Rolling Stone journalist. Far too much of the movie is Cheadle and McGregor verbally jousting, and not too convincingly at that. What really begins to pale, though, is an endless subplot involving the disappearance of Davis's master tapes to his new album and McGregor helping him retrieve them. The whole movie turns into an endless episode of "Starsky and Hutch", replete with a supremely lame car chase and gunplay action.

Cheadle's direction is, at best, mildly competent and at its worst, barely competent. That said, his performance, especially during his coked-up crazy-ass scenes, is never less than a blast. There was probably a terrific movie with Cheadle as Miles Davis - somewhere out there. Miles Ahead, sadly, is not it.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ** Two Stars

Miles Ahead is currently in theatrical release via Mongrel Media.

Tom Hiddleston as fine a Hank Williams
as Gary Busey's Buddy Holly was.

I Saw the Light (2015)
Dir. Marc Abraham
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Maddie Hasson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Marc Abraham's Hank Williams biopic might not go too far beneath the surface, but it hits key points in the life of the famed post-war American country crooner with a spate of lovely performances and an evocative attention to period detail. With only enough manipulation of the facts and compression of the events to make approximately 10+ years of Williams's life pass by amiably and entertainingly in a surprisingly breezy 123 minutes, this is by far the best of the recent trio of musical biopics.

Abraham's screenplay for I Saw the Light is based upon the book “Hank Williams: The Biography” by Colin Escott, George Merritt and William Macewen and as such, it seems less concerned with exploring the ennui which contributed to the singer's unique renderings of hits like the title track, “Why Don’t You Love Me,” "Move it on Over" and among others, “Lovesick Blues”, as it is with charting key events in Williams's life. We go from his romance and marriage to first wife Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen), when he was a local radio performer and follow him on his endless gigs in smoky honky-tonks until he eventually achieves the necessary chops to headline at Nashville's "Grand Ole Opry".

The story doesn't shy away from his Jekyll and Hyde-like transformations from kind, loving and charming to mean-spirited, hard-drinking and philandering. He's both a good father and a negligent father. He's as caring as he is violent. As he rises to the top, we see him abandon his first wife (who insisted too strongly upon performing with him - her voice was, at best, spiritedly competent and at its worst, bordering on caterwauling) and eventually settling down with second wife, Billie Jean Jones (Maddie Hasson).

Husband and Wife Duet
One Sings, The Other Doesn't
Abraham lets the narrative plane touch down on Hank's squabbles with the record company and promoters, his debilitating back pain and his eventual reliance upon highly addictive painkillers. A good chunk of the film is imbued with a pleasing sentiment and basks in the warm glow of Dante Spinotti's gorgeous cinematography.

The real star of the picture is the music. Leading man Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Thor movies) is nothing less than compelling when voicing Williams's work and much of the running time is pleasingly toe-tapping. If anything, I Saw the Light shares a great deal with Steve Rash's Buddy Holly biopic with Gary Busey - it's old fashioned and goes down easy.

The picture's like a nice, mellow moonshine. It cuts through the dust in the throat, clears the pipes, the senses, the raw emotions and finally keeps us glued to the proceedings just long enough to leave the cinema satisfied, but also compelled to whip out our own vinyl and CDs of Hank's music, so we can keep our toes a tapping and the tears a flowing.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars

I Saw the Light is in national release via Mongrel Media.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

SLEEPING GIANT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - One of 2015's best films opens theatrically across Canada via D Films. If you dare miss this film on a big screen, I hereby utter the immortal words of Liam Neeson: "I will find you and I will kill you!"

Preamble to Review: For years I've been blowing chunks in the direction of Canada's Cineplex Entertainment for their continued non-support of Canadian Cinema and indie cinema in general. When I say Canadian Cinema, I am not referring to grotesqueries like Hyena Road and Passchendaele, nor am I referring to fake-Canadian international co-productions that are not Canadian in any way shape or form (yet are supported with funds from the Canadian government and even championed by them as Canadian).
No, what I mean are bonafide, culturally significant Canadian films like Sleeping Giant. Cineplex Entertainment has bestowed an opening weekend upon the film in its flagship Toronto cinema, the Varsity. Personally, I believe it would have been a supreme embarrassment for Cineplex if they'd NOT played the film. That said, the exhibition of Canadian cinema is not solely incumbent upon major exhibitors, but requires commitment and ingenuity from Canadian distributors. Luckily, Sleeping Giant is being handled by D Films in Toronto and they have stepped up to the plate marvellously with first-rate publicity, magnificent marketing and an excellent theatrical opinion-maker preview prior to the opening day. Exhibition and Distribution go hand-in-hand, BUT exhibition of Canadian Cinema at the level of major chains like Cineplex seems to only garner their support and commitment when they feel like it (Flopperoo Hyena Road, anyone?). Why, oh why, oh why, are there not Sleeping Giant one-sheets (which are excellent) up in every Cineplex cinema across the country and why, oh why, oh why have there not been Sleeping Giant trailers (also excellent) playing on way more Cineplex screens coast-to-coast? The P.R. commitment Cineplex made to flopperoo Hyena Road was ridiculously substantial. I have seen nothing on a similar scale for Sleeping Giant. For those living in Toronto, see Sleeping Giant this weekend. This is a movie that deserves to hold on at the Cineplex Entertainment flagship for many weeks.


Sleeping Giant (2015)
Dir. Andrew Cividino
Scr. Cividino, Aaron Yeger, Blain Watters
Starring: Jackson Martin, Nick Serino, Reece Moffett,
Katelyn McKerracher, David Disher, Erika Brodzky, Rita Serino

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Most teenage boys have experienced dull days in cottage country - so dull, so sleepy, so quiet, that often, extreme measures need to be implemented. Sleeping Giant is a skilfully directed, gorgeously written and nicely observed slice of life that most of us from the male persuasion - young, old and those who never quite grew up - will be deeply affected by. It also has a terrifically unique Canadian flavour in that it eschews the usual sentimental sweetness of most coming of age films like the sickening tweeness of The Kings of Summer and the nostalgic goo of Stand By Me.

There's plenty of tough North Western Ontario hoser-speak and the kind of swagger that can, more often than not, lead to danger. (My own Canuck adolescence was so pathetic, we'd think nothing of driving eight hours from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay, where Sleeping Giant was shot, to hang in the heavy metal watering hole The Inn-Towner to simply ogle all the amply-bottomed-and-bosomed hoser chicks with big hair that seemed to glow like radiation in the fluorescence of this dank monument to Canuckian redneck-ism.)

The three young lads at the centre of the film don't even get to hang at the Inn-Towner. They're stuck in a cottage community overlooking Lake Superior where the massive Sleeping Giant (so named by the area's indigenous peoples because the humungous outcropping of turf in the lake looks just like some Brobdingnagian creature keeled over on its back) consumes all views upon the water. The Sleeping Giant is also the name of an insanely dangerous hunk of rock exploding upwards as a beacon for all strapping young men to idiotically dive from the top of it.


Director Cividino has a great feel for the lives of these young men: their wrasslin' bouts, hanging around, stealing beer from the local vendor, zipping around in a golf cart, tear-assing along the rural asphalt on skateboards, watching pathetic fireworks and hitting the noisy arcade. The central figure of the trio is a bit of a dull, pampered rich boy from the city with a Dad so liberal he preaches the healthy sowing of wild oats (while secretly boffing the babe-o-licious hoser chick checkout girl behind his wife's back).

The other two boys are your garden variety country cousin trailer park dwellers living with their raspy-voiced, plain-spoken, chain-smoking Grannie. One of the two white trash laddies is a handsome, young rake who looks to the rich boy's Daddy with a mixture of envy and yearning for a father figure in his life, whilst the other is a deliriously foul-mouthed, mean-spirited misogynist full of bilious utterances about sex.

Most interesting of all is the fact that our rich boy hero takes on so many of the properties one can ascribe to an almost historical stylistic trademark in Canadian cinema. He's the semi-mute observer. He takes it all in passively and the notion of overt action is a rare thing for him to choose. Pretty much every film from the late 80s to mid-90s Golden Age of English-Canadian film, most notably in work by Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin and John Paizs, is happily populated with leading men of this variety. The difference here though, is that Cividino's style, unlike the near-expressionist qualities of the aforementioned, is rooted in the kind of neo-realist perspective one would more often experience in early Donald Shebib works.


There's also a point when some of us might be thinking, "Hey, as great as this is, are we really going to be staring at nothing but guys? Hell, they're all nice looking young bucks with distinctive qualities, but where, oh where, are the babes?"

Well, Cividino does not disappoint. When a hot young teenage babe enters the picture, loyalties become strained, if not divided.

And, getting back to one of my favourite topics, our burgeoning young fellas experience even more division and tantalizing temptation when the film's smouldering homoerotic qualities wend in and out through the picture. Sadly, said homoeroticism is never requited to the degree one of the characters (and some audience members, including moi) would have hoped for, but there's plenty of smouldering in the movie to keep our eyes glued to the screen.

There is, you see, that dangerous sleeping giant cliff. It's a rite of passage that's claimed more than a few lives over the years and the film is charged with a slowly mounting and creepy sense of malevolence tied both to the land and the burgeoning machismo of our three young heroes.

Something bad is going to happen. You can't help but feel it and it's the very thing which adds to the ample qualities of the picture's compulsive form and spirit.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4 Stars

Sleeping Giant opens in Canada on the following dates:
April 8th - Toronto
April 15th - Vancouver, Montreal
April 22nd - expansion to rest of country

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

HARDCORE HENRY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Russian Vid-game-as-movie delivers the gore


Hardcore Henry (2015)
Dir. Illya Naishuller
Prd. Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Haley Bennet, Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky,
Tim Roth, Andrey Dementiev, Dasha Charusha

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Though it's nowhere near as funny, original, audacious and intelligent as Zachary Ramelan's Dead Rush, the no-budget first person POV Canadian zombie horror feature, which had its premiere at the 2016 Canadian Film Festival in Toronto, Russkie musician-turned-writer-director Illya Naishuller still manages to serve up some wildly entertaining first-person POV ultra-gore with Hardcore Henry (which premiered in TIFF's 2015 Midnight Madness series and which, is now theatrically unspooling across North America).

Working with producer Timur Bekmambetov (a great producer, but woeful director), the whole affair is a goofily stupid non-stop amusement park ride (which would definitely make for a fine shooter game) and will especially appeal to girlfriend-bereft 20-45-year-old nerd fan-boys living in their parents' basements.

Without wasting too much time, the picture begins with Henry waking up in a sterile white lab to find his babe-o-licious scientist wifelet (Haley Bennet) putting finishing touches to his Robocop-like cyber-body. Alas, she doesn't quite get around to fitting our hapless hero with a voice.

At this point, the lab is almost immediately besieged by a passel of killer Russkies attempting to snatch Henry for a crazed albino (Danila Kozlovsky), bent upon the nefarious goal of (what else?) world wide domination. Henry is rescued by a quipping Brit-accented spy (Sharlto Copley) who keeps our hero alive to rescue babe-wifey from the clutches of the mad albino.

That's pretty much the plot, save for a couple of obvious and predictable twists you'll sniff out almost from the beginning of the movie. No biggie, really. What drives this nutzoid picture is the non-stop first-person POV action as Henry kills hundreds of Russkie henchmen. Aside from the admittedly enjoyable and often hilarious blood splashing violence, the best reason to see the movie is the nuttily engaging performance of Copley. His character keeps getting blown to bits and he's perpetually resurrected in different guises (he even delivers a first-rate musical number, expertly crooning Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin".)


Add a trio of superb elements to the mix: a cool Tim Roth cameo, a first-rate propulsive music score by Dasha Charusha and a genuinely superb action set-piece in a Moscow brothel (replete with a seemingly endless supply of nude Russkie babes, many of whom eventually cradle firearms which they fire ever-so sexily).

Naishuller also offers a ludicrous number of nods, homages and references to classic and contemporary actioners, many of which will offer fan-boys something to do if they get bored/exhausted with the proceedings (and, no doubt, deliver far more masturbation fantasies than the aforementioned Slavic hookers). The first-time Russkie director even features a prominently displayed poster of Robert Montgomery's 1947 POV grandaddy The Lady in the Lake which will give major movie geeks mega-hard-ons.

Ultimately, this is what a movie like Hardcore Henry is all about: Hardcore hard-ons for fan-boy losers. But hey, the fellas deserve some solid meat to beat and I will not deny them their meagre pleasures. You might even enjoy it, too.

It's fun for the whole family.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars

Hardcore Henry is in wide theatrical release via VVS Films.

Monday, 4 April 2016

BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - ***** 5-Star Snyder


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Dir. Zack Snyder
Scr. Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto, Kevin Costner, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Soledad O'Brien, Anderson Cooper, Nancy Grace, Charlie Rose

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There is an absolutely breathtaking and dynamically nightmarish sequence about 90 minutes into the 151-minute theatrical version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which had me gripping the armrests of my front-row-centre chair as I experienced mega-shocks of joyous gooseflesh. The synaptic charges coursed through me with such acute ferocity, that I gasped repeatedly. There's not a single cut employed here - just superb choreography and dynamic cinematography. I sat there in awe. Once again in this (and so many of his films), director Zack Snyder's virtuosity as a filmmaker battered me senseless into glorious submission.

He is the real thing and then some.

Without spoiling the context of the aforementioned sequence, let's just say that its centrepiece involves one single shot of Batman (Ben Affleck) leaping into action against a veritable army of deadly soldiers adorned in steel helmets and uniforms not unlike those from Nazi Germany, whilst flocks of winged demons descend upon the Earth from the sky. (One can't go wrong with the picture's blend of Totalitarianism and monsters.)

Of course, there was plenty to admire in the picture prior to this gorgeous dazzler of a sequence, plenty! However, it was here where I marvelled how easily Snyder crushes his competition in the action/fantasy sweepstakes. There isn't a single sequence to top it in any of the action films non-directed by the "visionary" poseurs or by-the-numbers hacks who've been assaulting cinema for the past fifteen to twenty years with their supreme mediocrity.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a dazzler! Beginning with a concise and powerful re-imagining of the Batman origins, Snyder offers a stunning evocative shot of Mom and Dad Wayne's coffins being led in a slow procession into the Wayne Estate's crypt (eerily resembling a crumbling family resting place straight out of a Hammer Horror and/or Amicus picture). This is followed by young Bruce's mad dash into the woods, and then, an astonishing "God"-shot flashback of Bruce and his family making a similarly-timed procession on a sidewalk beneath a movie marquee boasting the upcoming opening of John Boorman's Exclalibur. (There are so many gorgeous, breathtaking cuts like this in Snyder's stunningly edited film.)

This dates the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents some 35-years before the events of Snyder's film (happily eradicating/ignoring the existence of Tim Burton's dated, overrated  DC toe-dips into the Batman mythology and Joel Schumacher's subsequent grotesqueries) and places Affleck's (superbly realized) Batman firmly in his mid-40s. Snyder has made this universe all his own with only the tiniest passing nods to the previous efforts of Christopher Nolan.

Though the 1981 date of the murders is not without merit in and of itself (especially given that it's the horrid beginning of Ronald Reagan's presidency and during Margaret Thatcher's fascist rule of UK), what's especially evocative here is how Snyder, with screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, let us know immediately that we're in the realm of myth as it relates to 20th century political realities and beyond. The Batman mythology is as attached to our contemporary consciousness as any of the great historical myths of yore and certainly not excluding those of the Arthurian legends as mediated through John Boorman's great film. The filmmakers cannily choose to invoke this detail in the flashback as it places us firmly in the sword and sorcery world of Sir Thomas Mallory's "Le Morte d'Arthur" which Boorman adapted so stunningly.

We all know what happened in the horrific origin story of Batman, but never have these events been so hauntingly captured as they are here - the horrifying murder of Bruce's mother and father is simply, effectively juxtaposed with Bruce's fall into the mysterious cave of bats who then surround the grieving child who witnessed his parents' snuffing-out on the dirty streets of Gotham City. Even more throat-catching are the images of the bats lifting young Bruce up to the Heavens, arms outstretched like a Holy Christ-child ascending to the glories of eternal life as his bitterness-tinged adult voice intones:

"In the dream, they took me to the light, a beautiful lie."

A beautiful lie, indeed, as the white light of "Heaven" dissolves into the white light of the clouds overlooking Metropolis, the dominion of The Super Man (Henry Cavill), a world in which an older, more grizzled, more pain-infused Bruce Wayne descends from the heavens and we're shuttled back to the closing minutes of Snyder's Man of Steel. During the climax of that tremendously dark and stylish film we witnessed the brutal duel (pas de deux) to the death between Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon), both beings driven by hatred and vengeance as their deadly battle extended to massive collateral damage of Metropolis and its citizens.

This time, though, we are privy to the collateral damage from the perspective of humanity and Batman himself as the aliens cause thousands of human deaths and the massive destruction of buildings (including that of Wayne Tower in nearby Gotham City - both cities not unlike a bay-separated San Francisco and Berkeley). The reality is that Superman is indeed driven by hate, revenge and the need to rescue his lady love Lois Lane (Amy Adams), but most importantly, he must destroy General Zod at any cost in order to save the Earth. (Perversely, Superman/Clark Kent is obsessed with taking down Batman. He fussily believes the Bat's penchant for branding sexual offenders so their time in prison will be a living Hell, is, to his way of thinking, conduct most unbecoming of a gentlemanly crime fighter.)

This won't change the minds of those caught in the collateral crossfire, nor will it assuage Bruce Wayne's hatred-infused desire to destroy Superman, the entity that's "murdered" so many for reasons Bruce perceives as strictly personal.

And this is what sets Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice apart from any previous film versions of the DC comic book legends. Hatred, in a world already driven by hatred and terrorism, is the wedge driving these entities apart when we desperately need them to be on the same side. From a contemporary standpoint, this film and Snyder's previous foray into the world, not only provide a perfect mirror's eye view into the post-9/11 ennui, terror and the overwhelming sense of New World Order dominance over everything, but will, I suspect, have far more resonance as cinema, not just now, but in future decades. I'd argue this approach does, in fact, encompass the full scope of human-inflicted horrors of the 20th and now 21st centuries and by rooting the comic book legend (albeit subtly) in Arthurian legends, is what brings us smack into the Judeo-Christian realm of Man, God and the Devil - a world where man must battle real monsters, but also the monsters within. (And yes, Snyder eventually delivers a big banana of New Testament imagery much later in the film, invoking the sadness and "joy" of Christ's Passion and extermination upon Calvary/Golgotha.)

Yes, this is a comic book on film, but whoever said comic books could not be infused with depth?


Snyder's film is certainly rich with details and one suspects its 151-minute running time might well be too slight to encompass all the narrative and thematic details it needs. (A much longer version will happily be available when the film is released to the home entertainment market.) That said, everything we need for now, is on-screen, but it's also worth noting that Snyder's immeasurably dense visual style also creates a wholly sumptuous and integral level which, we must ingest, nay: embrace wholeheartedly to see the considerable layers beneath.

For a tentpole studio blockbuster, this is unheard of, yet Snyder has somehow fashioned a multimillion dollar art film - one which offers everything great cinema requires to have lasting, as opposed to, ephemeral value.

Yes, we get all the details a DC film adaptation might need, but ultimately, its heroes are anti-heroes, not unlike those so prevalent in both 40s/50s film noir and American cinema of the 70s. If anything, both Superman and Batman are, to put a fine point on it, presented here as major-league pricks. No matter what their "noble" intentions are, they are still driven by old hatreds and the machismo of vengeance.

It's a beautiful thing, really.

And yes, we get to have our DC cake and eat it too with the inclusion of the megalomaniacal psychopathic villain and New World Order/Bilderbergian represented so delectably in Lex Luthor (as brilliantly, hilariously and creepily rendered by Jesse Eisenberg). For good measure, we get plucky "girl-reporter" Lois Lane and the grimly monstrous Doomsday creature created from the alien DNA of General Zod and the foul, diseased human blood of Luthor. Also on hand is Bruce Wayne's loyal manservant Alfred, delightfully rendered by the dryly witty Jeremy Irons. Hell, we even get Jimmy Olsen, though represented in a completely shocking and unexpected fashion.

However, we also get added elements like middle-eastern arms dealers, dirty Russian mobsters and double-dealing politicians looking to feather their own nests by jumping in the sack with powerful villains like Luthor. "Good" politicians are represented by the well-meaning "Liberal" senator, gorgeously played by Holly Hunter (with her still-sexy overbite/lisp). Of course, those with "good" intentions in the world of the film (as in our own world), are far more doomed than those who are either purely infused with evil or, like our superheroes, pricks muddled with ambiguity.

Another gorgeous touch in the picture is the notion that a race of "super" aliens exist, waiting to rear their heads. Will they be heroes or villains? Or, better yet, both?

Even cooler is that we not only get to meet Wonder Woman (Gal Godot in a perfectly fine rendering of the role) but she is presented within the context of being so "immortal" that she's seen in early photographs from the First World War.


Ultimately, what drives the film in terms of content is its sheer darkness and political context. The narrative exists, but is ultimately a coat hanger by which Snyder and team can dazzle and provoke us. That Superman and Batman are "unlikeable" is a huge point in the film's favour. In fact, who cares if we "like" them or not? What we respond to is their humanity, the Jekyll and Hyde nature of their personae. Hell, even Satan was God's most beloved, then sadly, His most fallen Angel.

Something I'll never forget from my childhood is that the first season of the immortal, long-running "Superman" TV series (starring the doomed George Reeves) was one nasty, post-war noir-infused piece of work and if anything, both Man of Steel and now Batman v Superman invoke the joys inherent in that pitch black of darkness. Curiously, my prime time for discovering and religiously reading comic books was between the mid 60s to mid 70s and while I was primarily a Marvel fan (notably Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, The Silver Surfer and Spiderman) I was occasionally drawn to D.C. I don't recall Superman and Batman being quite as dark as the Marvel material, but they still seem, in retrospect, plenty dark to me.

Speaking of Satan, and via Lex Luthor's character, Batman v Superman portends the greatest darkness of all. He is on His way, along with His minions. The giggling, manic, totally wacko, richie-rich man-boy so gorgeously etched by Eisenberg points out that the Devils and Demons do not come from below, but from the skies, the Heavens above (like aliens/superheroes). I have no problem with this. I accept it wholeheartedly and look forward to more of the same, and then some.


Finally, what I especially love about Snyder and this film, is that he genuinely is a film artist with cinema hard-wired into his very DNA. There are seldom any shots in any of his films which are less than painterly. Best of all, even though he might employ a myriad of shots designed to be cut lighting-quick, they are never boneheaded masses of celluloid Play-Doh mushed together the same way most of Hollywood's current breed of hacks and poseurs slap their pictures together with. The cuts in Snyder's films are always designed and driven by VISUAL cues whereas many of the aforementioned non-filmmakers set up as many shots as possible without even knowing what precisely they're shooting (unlike the bonafide genius inherent in mega-shot, multi-camera masters like Sam Peckinpah or George Miller). The new breed leave their poor editors adrift to create forward movement within the cuts by using sound cues to almost always drive them forward, rather than relying upon the important and far more saliently appropriate elements of visual storytelling.

When Snyder needs to create visual and aural cacophonies, we know he's doing so intentionally. It's not there to hide his lack of filmmaking artistry as in the case of so many of his contemporaries.

Thankfully, one of the upcoming DC pictures will have another real filmmaker at the helm and I'm chomping at the bit to see it. Though I'd be happy if Snyder did ALL the DC movies, one respects he might wish to move on. Suicide Squad, however, is directed by one of America's great contemporary filmmakers, David Ayer, and this is happy news indeed. He's generated some of the most evocative, stylish and deliciously-dark crime pictures of recent years and though I imagine he'll bring his own unique approach to the proceedings, I'm predicting it will have the same power to dazzle us as Snyder has brought to the fore here.

Another thing worth noting about Batman v Superman is that it's available in several different formats in the theatrical marketplace. I've seen them all.

I highly recommend seeing it in the rich 70mm (yes, real FILM) which is happily without 3-D of any kind. Regular 3-D and 2-D digital should be avoided at all costs - especially the Real-D 3-D. The 3-D just gives one a headache and the digital 2-D lacks the obvious richness of the 70mm (whether or not one sees it in the overrated Ultra AVX or the lesser auditoriums).

If you get a chance to see the film in The IMAX Experience, know that the IMAX experience is NOT consistent. In the city of Toronto, for example, the IMAX in the Cineplex Entertainment Scotiabank Theatre is phenomenal and replete with the gorgeous sense of height true IMAX should have, whereas in the Cineplex Entertainment Yonge and Dundas cinema, the IMAX is a pale imitation and barely more watchable than than the Real-D Ultra AVX presentations. Also, though I prefer the IMAX Experience sans 3-D, the IMAX 3-D used in Batman v Superman is not as egregious as I thought it would be.

I have not wasted my time seeing the film in D-Box. I've seen other films in the shake and bake format and all I can say is that it's easily the most moronic cash-grab yet invented for the movies. None of the motions ever seem wired realistically into the action and are little more than a novelty for the feeble-minded.

While writing this piece, I have refused to read any reviews of Batman v Superman. All I know is that the critical consensus is on the lowest possible rung. I'll be curious to read these reviews, if only to bolster my belief that mainstream film criticism is utterly dead.

I also know that the CinemaScore audience response to the picture is extremely low. I'm not sure where or whom or when these paragons of taste are polled, but each public screening in Canada that I've enjoyed has been packed to the rafters and upon the final, exhilarating cut to black at the end, the picture was met with thunderous applause.

As for myself, I've been compelled to applaud each and every time. It's so seldom one sees this degree of craft, artistry and intelligence in contemporary blockbusters - especially in super hero movies, most of which I find intolerable (save for Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films), that I'm completely and utterly without shame in admitting my undying love for this great picture - one I will see many more times and a picture that I strongly suspect will be seen, loved, studied and appreciated, long after all of us are little more than food for maggots.

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

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is playing everywhere in the world via Warner Brothers.