GREG KLYMKIW - THE CURMUDGEON OF CINEMA

Greg Klymkiw’s 35+ years in the movie business include journalism, screenwriting, script editing, producing iconoclastic work by Guy Maddin, Bruno Lazaro Pacheco, Alan Zweig, etc, 14 years as senior creative consultant and producer-in-residence @ Norman Jewison's Canadian Film Centre, nurturing international recognition for prairie post-modernist films with his guerrilla campaigns as the Winnipeg Film Group’s Marketing Director, writing for Film Corner, Daily Film Dose, POV, Phantom of the Movies' VIDEOSCOPE, Electric Sheep UK - a deviant view of cinema, Take One Magazine, Cinema Canada & he's currently completing 3 new books about cinema. He's the subject of Ryan McKenna’s 2013 documentary "Survival Lessons: The Greg Klymkiw Story". At last count Klymkiw had seen over 30,000 feature films. GUIDE TO RATINGS: ***** Masterpiece **** Excellent ***1/2 Very Good *** Good **1/2 Not Bad ** Whatever *½ Poor

* Raw Sewage - If a film is not up to earning 1 star, it will earn at least: 1 Pubic Hair. If, God forbid, the movie is worse than 1 Pubic Hair, the absolute lowest rating will be: The Turd found behind Harry's Charbroil and Dining Lounge

Monday, April 21, 2014

THE CONDEMNED - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hot Docs 2014 - Russian Prison Doc a Hot Docs 2014 MUST-SEE

The Condemned (2014) *****
Dir. Nick Read
Review By Greg Klymkiw

The screen is pitch black and the sickening sounds of a metal door clanging shut are followed by the hollow echo of footsteps upon a concrete floor and the jangling of keys that are opening yet another door.
Under the malevolent seemingly single note score, slowly and subtly increasing with a nerve-jangling intensity, a voice from the deep chasm of dishearteningly grim opacity chills us to the bone:

"All of a sudden,
I feel a wave of horror.
I dreamt I was with my friends."

As we fade up upon a bleak view of chain link fences adorned with barbed wire and snow-covered barracks and a sky brimming with a tell-tale sub-arctic blue, the voice continues:

"How could they be alive?"

Another fade to black and then a quick fade up on an image distinguished only by a patch of murky light, the sounds of more keys and footsteps accompany the final sickening words:

"I'd killed them."

We are in Russia, or if you will, Hell. For many who are enclosed within the perimeter of fencing and locked gates, this will be their Purgatory until death takes them to the fiery eternal abode of Mephistopheles. Those who are not here for life, came in as young men and will leave as old men. This is the Federal Penal Colony No. 56 in Central Russia, surrounded by hundreds of square miles of deep forest in the Russian taiga. There's only one road in and one road out. The nearest populated community is a seven-hour drive away. The temperatures here frequently dip to 40 below zero.

There's no escape.


Director/Cinematographer Nick Read and producer Mark Franchetti introduce us to two sets of prisoners in this compulsive, staggeringly well crafted and downright great film. The Condemned are split between the most dangerous and the dangerous-but-less-so. The former live in solitary confinement, monitored by video 24-hours per day, not allowed to rest on their bed during the day time, forced to an eternity of pacing back and forth in the tiniest cell imaginable and allowed one hour per day of being outdoors in an chilly outdoor chicken run-styled enclosure not much bigger than their cells. The latter group live in a communal compound wherein they endure endless hard labour and an extremely rigid caste system that reduces many of the men to lives that are perhaps even more worthless than they could already be living.


Aside from capturing the day-to-day drudgery and monotony, Read expertly gets the prisoners to open up and bare their souls about the crimes they committed, their victims, their families, their thoughts and philosophies on forgiveness and redemption. Even more powerful is how the men give us personal glimpses into how they continue to live in a world that is, for the most part, hopeless and how some construct life out of what they can within the rigid construct of the penal system.


A great many of the men were originally on death row, but when Russia abolished capital punishment in 1997, their sentences were commuted to life. What a life. The Russian parliament made sure to enact specific wording in the laws so that daily, gruelling punishment is the order of these men's lives. Even worse is how so many of them men committed their crimes in that period when communism collapsed and the poverty was so overwhelming that the only mode of survival was crime or worse, numbing their pain with so much booze and drugs that many of their violent crimes occurred under the influence.

What's impossible to ignore in this powerful and moving film is a sense of humanity within the most inhuman/inhumane conditions. A handful of scenes involving visitations from family are downright wrenching. Even more brutal is discovering how so many of the prisoners are men of thought and intellect. The discourse of many is not the stereotypical tough-guy talk we expect, but is in fact, deeply thoughtful and philosophical.

There have been many documentaries about prison life, but almost none of them are produced with the kind of eye for cinematic artistry that The Condemned is imbued with. Part of this success comes from Read's direction which is coupled with his superb visual eye as a cinematographer, but also the meticulous pace and cutting from editor Jay Taylor who astoundingly makes monotony compelling and, on occasion, treats us to cuts that are breathtaking in their virtuosity.

The film drains us physically, but what remains is pure spirituality as we are allowed to connect with the souls of men whose actions on the outside include some of the most horrendous acts of violence. This might be the film's greatest strength and one that pretty much ensures its life as a masterpiece - a picture that will live long beyond the usual ephemeral concerns of most movies today.

The Condemned is screening at Hot Docs 2014 in Toronto. For further info, visit the festival website HERE. World Sales by Films Transit International.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

OLGA, TO MY FRIENDS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - HOT DOCS 2014 - Visually sumptuous contemplations.


Olga - To My Friends (2013) Dir. Paul Anders-Simma ***

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Life in Lapland's Russian district has its own special pace. Oft-ascribed stereotypes like "slow as molasses" might spring to mind when considering its day-in-day-out solitude, but the reality is something else altogether. Paul-Anders Simma's gorgeously photographed Olga - To My Friends captures the beauty of silence through the eyes and words of its title protagonist.

Dumped in an orphanage and raised there for most of her childhood and early adolescence, Olga was eventually removed by her Mother when it became convenient for her to "provide" for the family. For some time, Olga has worked in the northernmost reaches of the continent and the film focuses upon her time working with trappers, hunters and herdsman in an isolated outpost. Her primary duties include keeping the food supplies secure and general upkeep. These duties don't necessarily take an eternity, so it seems Olga has plenty of time on her hands.


This is a good deal for both Olga and the audience. It allows her a lot of time to contemplate the north and her life in it (before and beyond). Furthermore, the film allows us to share in these few glimpses into both her inner life and the world that surrounds it. This is a special opportunity because Olga is very sweet, down-to-earth. Her stocky solid frame puts her in good stead to handle the more arduous tasks and her eyes, so sparkling and alive, betray a soul at peace with the world and herself.

We get a few sad glimpses into her past life (one heartbreaking tale from the orphanage moves us to tears), but she doesn't dwell on unhappiness for too long, nor does she ever display the kind of self-pity someone in her position might. She loves the north, she loves nature and she even seems to love the revolving door of solitary men passing through on their way to somewhere, anywhere - just so long as they're not in one place too long - and we're allowed to love all this too.

Simma's picture is barely an hour long. Its running time feels perfectly appropriate as we never feel like it has overstayed its welcome. If anything, the entire experience is so uplifting and engaging, it seems like maybe we don't get as much time as we'd like.

This is another good thing. The best artists always understand the value of leaving an audience wanting more.

Olga - To My Friends plays Toronto's Hot Docs 2014. For further information, contact the festival website HERE.

THE BOY FROM GEITA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - HOT DOCS 2014 - Harrowing Tale of Tanzanian Albino Killings

Adam and Peter. One is Tanzanian, the other Canadian.
Both have albinism. One's called a ghost, the other's a businessman.
Together they're a formidable force against
Ignorance, Hatred and Prejudice.

The Boy From Geita (2014) Dir. Vic Sarin ***½
Review By Greg Klymkiw

In Tanzania, if you're born with albinism, a rare genetic condition that severely lightens the pigmentation of your skin and renders you susceptible to dangerous, damaging effects from the sun's rays, you are less than zero. You're considered a living ghost and the only thing you're good for is what can be extricated from you in death by witch doctors who make use of your body parts for all manner of good luck potions. For as long as albinos have existed in this part of the African continent, they have been subject to prejudice at best and at worst, mutilation or murder.

Call me a Western Colonial Pig, if you will, but from where I sit, there's simply no room in the world for this sort of ignorance and hatred. I don't care how intellectually or financially impoverished the nation is, I don't care about the cultural significance of superstition in said nation. I am sickened by the rampant inhuman beliefs that foster the agony of prejudice. Through the world's kaleidoscopic shards of horrific actions inspired by religion, culture and/or belief systems, the butchery of those suffering from a medical condition is possibly one of the most, if not THE most stomach-churning abominations inflicted by man towards his fellow man.

The legendary cinematographer and filmmaker Vic Sarin presents a story that is, at once appallingly grotesque, yet also, out of the dark side of the human spirit is a tale of profound and deep compassion. The Boy From Geita focuses upon Adam, a 12-year-old albino who is attacked in the middle of the night whilst his father stands nearby and does nothing as his son is hacked mercilessly with a machete. The child miraculously survives this atrocity, but he has been mutilated so severely that if he's not attacked and killed again, he will live a life of the most unbearable hardship.

On the other side of the world in Canada, we meet the successful businessman Peter Ash. Like Adam, he is also afflicted with albinism. Though he recounts the sort of prejudices he faced in childhood, we also learn of his early tenacity and eventual ability to live triumphantly with this condition - how the unconditional love and acceptance via his mother and educational opportunities both allowed him the freedom to surmount all challenges.

These two extraordinary men, against all odds, find each other and the journey we take with them is deeply and profoundly moving.

Heartbreak, however, is a huge component of this tale and there are several moments where I defy anyone to not be wracked with sobs when we hear the stories recounted by albinos who have survived the most vicious attacks - always with machetes. We also share several huge moments of almost nail-biting suspense where we hope against hope that the opportunities to alter the lives of those who've suffered so horribly can come to fruition.

This is a superbly crafted motion picture that finally instills in us and its subjects some semblance of hope for the future. I can think of no better reason to praise the art of cinema for allowing such work to live and breathe so that we all can embrace the true joy inherent in humanity.

The Boy From Geita will enjoy its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2014. For further info, visit the festival website HERE.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

THE SECRET TRIAL 5 - Review By Greg Klymkiw - HOT DOCS 2014 - Legacy of Canada's Thinly Veiled Fascists. This chilling, important documentary that details Unconstitutional Incarceration is a HOT DOCS 2014 MUST-SEE


STOCKWELL DAY:
CREATIONIST, SPORTSMAN, POLITICIAN
A MAN AMONG MEN
The Secret Trial 5 (2014) Dir. Amar Wala ****

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Before we take some time to consider Amar Wala's chilling and important motion picture The Secret Trial 5, which details the Canadian government's horrendous abuse of five men who were incarcerated for spurious and most likely racist reasons, let us consider Stockwell Day. He ultimately plays a large role in this film since he held the lofty Minister of Public Safety position during a crucial time in the lives of these men, their families and, frankly, all of Canada.

Stockwell Day was an avid supporter of the idiotic security certificate, a 50-year-old immigration tool that can imprison non-Canadians living in Canada for reasons of - ahem - national security. Evidence is never fully revealed, trials are held in secret and the real hope is that those arrested under them, will agree to just go back to whatever country it is they came from.

Unfortunately, since the security certificate became an anti-terrorism tool in Canada after 9/11, people arrested under their auspices would have been committing suicide by agreeing to scurry back. We're talking about political refugees here. Going back meant, and still means, torture and execution. Besides, these were people who'd already made lives here with family, friends, bright futures and contributing to the fabric of Canada's multicultural society.

In the film, however, we're treated to numerous instances of Stockwell Day defending the use of the security certificate and even finding ways to get around a Supreme Court decision that these tools were (and are) constitutional. The bottom line for those like Day and his ilk is that these people are under arrest, stripped of their freedom and pretty much have to rot until they make the "right decision" and bugger off.

Stockwell Day, an avid sportsman, preacher and believer in Creationism (Yup, mankind walking with the dinosaurs) was the Minister presiding over the horrendous incarceration of these five men at a time when they needed a champion in that portfolio instead of an enemy. Then again, this was the same man who suggested that legalizing abortion could lead to child abuse. Injusticebusters.org quotes Day from the Calgary Herald with the following tidbit:

"If you can cut a child to pieces or burn them alive with salt solution while they're still in the womb, what's wrong with knocking them around a little when they're outside the womb."

On homosexuality, the same source quotes Day from the Edmonton Journal with the following nugget of wisdom:

"Homosexuality is a mental disorder that can be cured by counselling [and is] not condoned by God."

Day also expressed that sex education might lead to teen pregnancy:

"There is a growing body of literature suggesting that, as sex education becomes more comprehensive, there is a corresponding increase in sexual activity."

These five guys never had a chance.

Watching this stunning film, I was actually feeling ashamed to be Canadian. That our country could be governed by the likes of Day and the other fascists currently in power is simply beyond the pale. We watch, helplessly, as the film details the abuses these men suffered. Adil Charkaoui, was incarcerated for 21 months and forced to live under house arrest for four years - WITHOUT CHARGES. Hassan Almrei was in jail for seven years, plus forced into three more years under house arrest - WITH NO CHARGES LAID. Mahmoud Jaballah was working as a principal in a Scarborough school when he was arrested, then incarcerated for six years and continues to live under house arrest - AGAIN, NO CHARGES WHATSOVER!!! Mohamed Harkat spent a relatively breezy 43 months in jail and has lived under house arrest since 2006!!!!! Guess what? No charges. The fifth individual, Mohammad Zeki Mahjoub, chose not to participate in the film, but we learn that he was imprisoned for seven years and has continued to live under the strictest house arrest since 2007.

The house arrest is especially harrowing to experience while watching the film. For an individual to be forced to suffer the indignities the film details is yet another aspect that made me ashamed to be Canadian. The aforementioned non-participant in the film has publicly requested to be returned to prison, insisting the cruel and unusual suffering under house arrest is worse than incarceration in a jail. What the film details here in the house arrest of the other participants is indeed, so sickening, it's almost impossible to blame him.

Sometimes, the importance of a film can take precedence over its importance as film art. Such is not the case here. Wala's picture is meticulously researched, surprisingly balanced (given its cinematic activism) and superbly crafted. But most of all, it IS an important work. On the eve of yet another Supreme Court challenge to the unconstitutionality of security certificates that could hopefully result in the release of Mohamed Harkat, every Canadian needs to see this film and raise the hugest ruckus imaginable.

In fact, audiences all over the world need to see this film. It's proof that IF a so-called benign democratic stronghold like Canada is willing to engage in such fascist activities, imagine just how horrendous the whole wide world is becoming with respect to the thug-like imposition of Orwellian measures to keep everyone in their place.

The Secret Trial 5 premieres at Toronto's Hot Docs 2014. For ticket info, contact the festival website HERE.

DIVIDE IN CONCORD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - HOT DOCS 2014 - Film Details the Important Environmental Revolution in America led by an 84-Year-Old Granny in the heart of where the American Revolution began.

1775 - Concord, Massachusetts - The Shot Heard Round The World

Divide in Concord
(2014) Dir. Kris Kaczor ***1/2
Review By Greg Klymkiw

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Throughout the 20th Century, the quaint burgh of Concord, Massachusetts was as peaceful and bucolic as the late 19th Century when Henry David Thoreau experienced and eloquently wrote about nearby Walden Pond, bringing environmental concerns into the consciousness of thinking people the world over.

It wasn't always this way, though.

In 1775 the famous "shot heard round the world" rang out there, signalling the beginning of the American Revolution. As such, its cairns, monuments and flags waving in the wind are ultimately representative of America's sanguineous birth.

The 21st Century, however, yielded the firing of an altogether new shot in this fancifully historic tourist-magnet and one that will, no doubt, be heard round the world thanks to Divide in Concord, an inspiring and vital feature documentary by Kris Kaczor. Focusing upon the trigger finger belonging to the unlikeliest of all candidates to lead an altogether new Blue Coat charge, the film's protagonist Jean Hill looks, at first glance, like she'd be more at ease baking pies for the church, knitting sweaters for loved ones and presiding over quilting bees. These stereotypes melt away as we follow her tenacious battle to get her hometown to become a leader in the beginnings of an environmental revolution that will ban the sale of single-serve plastic bottles of water.

Jill Appel and Jean Hill
2012 - Concord, Massachusetts
Hit the World With Their Best Shot
Jean Hill, the octogenarian Mom and Granny is a firebrand. She's aided by her young friend, lawyer Jill Appel in going up against a massive corporate lobby, downright hostile Concord citizenry and stubborn retailers who are blind to the blight of plastic bottle pollution outside of the narrow parameters of greed and convenience. Jean Hill believes Concord can become an important example to other communities and get the ball rolling on eradicating what is, perhaps, the most egregious contribution to pollution from plastic bottles. Jean Hill is 110% right on this. What is the point of manufacturing, selling and consuming single serving bottles of WATER. Water, for God's sake, the elixir of life. How can something so pure and nourishing be contained in these environmentally hazardous receptacles?


As a philanthropist, a mommy,
a model, a celebrity publicist and an
AMERICAN
I believe in choice and I choose
SINGLE SERVE PLASTIC BOTTLES
For me, it's not rocket science. I was on Jean's side within seconds of hearing her plea in the film. Not that I've ever wasted money on single serving plastic bottles of anything. Being a cheap Ukrainian, I believe in filtered tap water, one's own non-plastic receptacle to place it in and for other beverages, the bigger the receptacle, the CHEAPER it is to buy. (As well, for much of the year, I consume nice fresh well water when I'm up at the farm and away from the filthy concrete hole that Toronto is.)

For two years running, Jean has unsuccessfully presented a bylaw to the municipal council during an open town hall assembly. That said, her second bid was lost by a mere seven votes. She feels like 2012 is her year to help Concord make history by being the first community in the world to ban the sale of single bottles. Given how close she came to winning in 2011, her adversaries not only bare their sharpened fangs and claws, but they're going to use them.

The movie's villains are, on one hand, faceless corporations represented by the ominous sounding International Bottled Water Association which uses all its money and power to mount a huge marketing and publicity campaign against Jean. The real antagonist is embodied by a kind of Yummy-Mommy Cruella De Ville, one Adriana Cohen. Her place in this world, in the following order, is thus: Philanthropist, mother, model and celebrity publicist. Let's ignore the last three. They're not that significant for our discussion, save maybe for the "publicist" part, which comes in mighty handy when she chews Jean to bits on a right-wing talk radio show. In all reality, though, it's the "Philanthropist" label that irks me. Who in this world can even begin to identify themselves as a "Philanthropist" first?

Uh, like, rich people, eh.

And, wow! What a mouthpiece for privilege this woman turns out to be. Like some broken record she keeps spouting the same tune: that the rights of Americans to have and make choices are paramount over Hill's environmental concerns. At one point she even argues that if people are against the use of single-serving plastic bottles they can make the choice not to buy them. Yeah, right on, babe! Kinda like homeless people, right? They can make the choice NOT to be homeless.

Ugh.

The ebbs and flows of this battle are exhaustively captured, yet smartly and pointedly edited into a thoroughly captivating true-life drama. Surprises abound, but so do a few shockers. The movie genuinely hits us in the solar plexus with the sort of things that dazzlingly raise us up, but also drag us down.

Divide in Concord is yet another important film in the ongoing canon of environmental feature documentaries, but in some ways, it cleverly places itself at the beginnings of a movement that must truly expand - not to just single-serving plastic bottles, but to the horrendous, disposable use of plastic and not just in a small community like Concord, but worldwide. The film presents some pretty irrefutable evidence as to how our world is being destroyed by these useless receptacles. Many of us know this. We know that much of the plastic is NOT properly recycled. We also know it's one of a myriad of things that are going to kill the world (and in so doing, all of humanity).

Sadly, too many are ignorant to this, but even worse are those who would dare place convenience and profits before survival. Jean Hill is a Saint. And this, is her story.

Divide in Concord is enjoying its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2014. For ticket, time, venue and playdate information, please visit the festival's website HERE.

Friday, April 18, 2014

ART AND CRAFT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - HOT DOCS 2014 - Philanthropic Artist yields a HOT DOCS MUST-SEE

Is this Willy Loman? Nope. It's art philanthropist Mark Landis.
In the parlance of The Blues Brothers, he's "on a mission from God." 

The Good Father prepares...
Art and Craft (2014) ****
Dir. Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman
Co-Dir/Editor: Mark Becker

Review By Greg Klymkiw

For thirty years, Mark Landis travelled the highways and byways of the United States of America in his big, old red cadillac, donating priceless works of art to innumerable prestigious galleries. In return, he asked for nothing. He wanted neither recognition nor money. Hell, he didn't even want tax breaks. All Landis wanted was to give. And damn, he gave! He gave, in the Red Cross parlance, ever-so generously. Curators, administrators and various art mavens were happy to accept his donations and mount the works of art in their galleries. Everything from Picasso to Matisse to Charles Courtney Curran graced their walls. The list, it seems, goes on and on.

And on. And on. And on. But here's the rub.

American Impressionist makes for fine forgery.
Mark Landis never donated the work as Mark Landis. He used a variety of aliases, replete with elaborate backstories and costumes. His most dynamic pseudonym was that of a solemn, black-robed Father Arthur Scott (replete with a pin of the Jesuit Order).

And if it's a rub, you're looking for, here's the MEGA-rub: Every single work of art he donated was a forgery of the highest order.

And if that's not rub-a-dub-dub-rub-enough for you, Mark Landis was the forger.

So, here's the question:

If you forge great works of art to the point where even the experts are bamboozled and you donate the works pseudonymously with no financial remuneration or even credit, does this make you a criminal? Or better yet, are you any less an artist because of it? Well, let's just say the movie doesn't go out of its way to answer these queries directly, but I suspect most viewers will have no problem drawing their own conclusions.

Art and Craft is the stuff movies (and by extension, dreams) are made of. Filmmakers Cullman, Grausman and Becker have fashioned a thoroughly engaging portrait of an artist as an old man, but not just any garden variety artist. Landis is a sweet, committed, meticulous and gentle craftsman of the highest order. In fact, he's no mere copy cat, he is an artist - reproducing with astonishing detail work that touches and moves, not only himself, but millions. Furthermore, he might well be the ultimate performance artist insofar as his entire life seems like a veritable work of art and certainly, his "cons" in costume are also art of the highest order.

Like any great story, though, there is always an antagonist and much of the film details the cat and mouse game between Landis and Matthew Leininger, a former Cincinnati art registrar who caught on to the wily, old forger. He became so obsessed with tracking him down and exposing the fraud that he eventually lost his job and continued his dogged detective work as a stay-at-home Dad. This was, for me, one of the more interesting elements of the tale - not just for its dramatic conflict, but because it presents a portrait of the two sides of that coin known as the art world.

Landis always comes across as a genuinely brilliant and creative force. Leininger, on the other hand, seems typical of the administrative side of the art world: a petty stickler who plays strictly by the rules and in so doing, displays the kind of frustrating, unimaginative Kafkaesque paper pushing that makes the art world a much lesser place than it could be. That said, Leininger scores a few points for being such a persnickety schlub that his compulsion comes close to destroying his own career via this dogged pursuit.

Landis, of course, is nothing less than a delight - a kind of Willy Loman of art forgery and philanthropy. Wisely, the film fleshes out his life and provides ample information about his strange, lonely childhood, his complicated but loving relationships with his parents and his struggles with mental illness. No fascinating stone is left unturned in the film and the whole experience is never less than enthralling.

Art and Craft proves once again that truth is stranger than fiction, but that a good story is never enough to make a good film, but that it must be a story well told. The filmmakers acquit themselves to this pursuit more than admirably. The movie is as compelling as it is inspiring and happily, it offers some genuine surprises along the way which go straight for the heart and deliver moments as deeply moving as a lot of the art that clearly touches the soul of its protagonist, artist Mark Landis.

Art and Craft is playing at Toronto's Hot Docs 2014. For ticket info, visit the festival website HERE.

WHITEY: THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA V. JAMES J. BULGER, Review By Greg Klymkiw, HotDocs2014: MustSee#1

Alcatraz Mugshot of Boston Mob Boss Whitey Bulger

Whitey: The United States of America V. James J. Bulger
Dir. Joe Berlinger (2014) *****

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Movies seldom open with the kind of chilling first few minutes that Joe Berlinger's new picture delivers. Stephen Rakes, a gentle white haired teddy bear of a man speaks with a born and bred South Boston accent - the tail-end "r" becomes the telltale "ah", "ing" is always the contraction "'in" and the letter "o", a slightly elongated "aahh". His first few words are an immediately identifiable amalgam of long-ago-lost hope and sadness:
"30 years ago my wife and I purchased a liquor licence and we had the liquor store up and runnin' by Christmas. We poured our heart and soul into it."
A young couple's dream come true becomes a nightmare.
Then lo and behold I gets a knock on my door one night. I'm at the house and my wife is down at the liquor store workin'. And there's Kevin Weeks and Whitey Bulger at the door. . . what the hell did they want? He [Whitey] says 'Ya gotta problem.' I says, 'What problem?' He says, 'Listen, we were hired to kill you. . . you gotta understand, the other liquor stores, they hired us to kill you. . . but what we're gonna do instead of that is we're gonna become your partners.'
Deadly tools of the trade
I says, 'No, you're not becomin' my partners.' And Bulger's just starin' at me and he's grindin' his teeth: 'You don't understand, we're takin' the fuckin' liquor store.' I says, 'It's not for sale.' [Then he says] 'I'll fuckin' kill you. I'll stab you and then I'll kill you.' And then they pulled out a gun and I was like, 'Holy Fuck'. They picked up my kid, my daughter's only a year old. He says, 'It'd be terrible for this kid to grow up without a Father.'"
Stephen Rakes Imitates Whitey Bulger
From here, we're slam-bang even deeper into one of the most harrowing crime pictures ever made. This is no drama, however, but it's certainly imbued with a compulsive narrative expertly unfurled by ace documentary filmmaker Berlinger, co-director with Bruce Sinofsky of the classic West Memphis Three trilogy: Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011) and his powerful solo effort Crude (that exposed Chevron and its part in destroying the health and lives of tens of thousands of Ecuadorians when a huge chunk of the Rain Forest was irretrievably polluted by oil drilling).

Focusing on the extraordinary trial of Whitey Bulger, Berlinger's new film film works on several levels. First and foremost, it's a savage indictment of the extent to which the F.B.I.'s involvement in Bulger's crime kingdom went far over the line and, in fact, assisted with his reign of terror. Secondly, Berlinger has seemingly unfettered access to archival footage, F.B.I. surveillance film, the prosecution and defence teams, key witnesses (including Bulger's trusty right hand, killer Kevin Weeks) and the myriad of Bulger's victims. Finally, the picture superbly, nerve-shreddingly yields the shocking rags-to-riches rise of Bulger - an epic, Scorsese-like crime thriller presented with the rat-a-tat-tat of a 30s Warner Bros' Slavko Vorkapitch/Robert Wise-edited Gangster movie montages and a kind of jack-hammering "News On The March" coldcock to the face.

Now this is filmmaking!

The picture leaves you breathlessly agog at the utter brutality and sordid corruption of a system that allowed a monster like Bulger to get away with his crimes for so long. The human factor, as represented by Bulger's victims, is often heartbreaking to the point where one is moved to tears. Even more stunning is that Berlinger followed the convoluted trial for so long and with such dogged persistence, that we, the filmmaker and a friend of a key witness are actually present for the sickening on-camera revelation that a victim of Bulger's evil is rubbed out before he gets a chance to testify.

Bulger's kingdom of crime lasted 30 years without a single indictment thanks to the corruption of America's Federal Bureau of Investigation. It's a blight upon the institutional crime fighting apparatus of a government long notorious for looking the other way when it served the most nefarious needs for both individuals to feather their own nests and to shield a country fraught with pure evil in its highest echelons of power and supposed enforcement.

Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity, indeed.

Whitey: The United States of America V. James J. Bulger, already has masterpiece status affixed to it and will, no doubt remain a classic of great American cinema long after all of us have gone from this Earth. It's what cinema should be - it's for the ages.

On the heels of its world premiere at Sundance, the visionary Canadian company VSC (Video Services Corp.) presents the film's international premiere at Hot Docs 2014. For further information about playmates, showtimes and tickets, please contact the Hot Docs website HERE.

Here is a lovely selection of VSC (Video Service Corp.) titles you buy directly from the links below, and in so doing, contribute to the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner:


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

STRESS POSITION - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Creepy Canuck Avant-Garde Thriller with Guantanamo overtones serves up visceral shocks and astounding, imaginative visuals in its claustrophobic space. An interesting bourgeois perspective that isn't wholly exploited keeps the pic from being a solid grand slam.

Just a little higher & this fella's getting an unwanted penile implant
or a very uncomfortable butt-plug.
This is a very sick man.
VERY, VERY sick.
Stress Position (2013) ***
Dir. A.J. Bond, Scr. A.J. Bond
Starring: A.J. Bond, David Amito, Margeurite Moreau

Review By Greg Klymkiw

At first you think you're possibly watching an Ulrich Seidl-inspired documentary with delightfully youthful pretensions as two young gentlemen face each other in gorgeously lit and composed profile shots. They engage in a casual conversation about who they are, how they met, what they do and how they've been inspired to engage in a perverse psychological experiment. Their inspiration to plunge into this experiential enterprise was borne out of previous conversations about enhanced torture methods in the notorious Guantanamo Bay and how they might be able to conduct and survive such inhuman and immoral torments. A.J. (writer-director Bond) happily wins a rock, paper, scissors toss and his pal David (David Amito) must be the first to succumb to the torture. There is a substantial cash prize at stake, but also the strength of character victory achieved by the person who doesn't crack first. When we enter an elaborately designed movie set with a bizarre metallic (and delectably phallic) structure in the middle of a blazing white room, adorned with a huge two-way mirror and populated with hooded figures manning a variety of cameras, we pretty much abandon the notion of this being a twee mock-doc and feel we're entering the world of a nasty thriller - a kind of Michael Haneke on crack, if you will. And then, the torture begins.

It's harrowingly vicious and personal. From simple spitting in the face, through to denial of washroom privileges to bondage and demands of self-inflicted pain to generate self portraits upon the white floor with bodily parts and, uh, fluids. As the torture intensifies, the friendship between the men appears to have a lot left unsaid until now.

Entering the mix is a chilly babe-o-licious ice goddess (Margeurite Moreau) behind the scenes. She's A.J.'s partner in torture and she's the arbiter of what's real and what isn't. She pushes A.J. to not fake it, so that David will, in turn, not be faking it. She demands that she has to believe what she's seeing. A.J. comes to his senses (if one wishes to call them that) and begins to push the torture to such extremes that even our Valkyrie-like babe is taken aback.

Eventually, the tables turn.

And it ain't pretty.

Seriously.
This man is a sick-fuck!
Stress Position is, for the most part an effective and entertaining thriller. It's unfortunate that the tale doesn't push the political implications of the two male characters and their actions within the bourgeois context they're both clearly derived from. There's a sense of a wasted opportunity to take this so much further. As well, it sometimes feel like the film is actually holding back on really going the distance in terms of the sick-o-meter.

Given that it's a low budget affair with little of the usual nonsense that plagues even indies, one keeps waiting for us to travel along the paths of true demented nastiness like, for example, the brilliant Carré blanc by Jean-Baptiste Léonetti or the Soska Sisters' astonishing American Mary. By hammering home both their respective political bents with utter extremities of depravity, both of those movies take us to genuinely shocking places that eventually yield surprising cores of humanity. Stress Position never goes there and yet it feels like a movie that wants to go there. In the end, the movie feels a lot colder and clinical than I think it needed to be.

In spite of this, though, the movie is dazzlingly shot and designed and the performances, especially by Bond (this guy could surely moonlight as a character actor in roles of total scumbaggery), are always engaging. Even more happily, the film is bereft of that horrendous Canadian tweeness that plagues so much of the country's output and importantly, one feels like we're watching the work of a filmmaker with a voice as opposed to that annoying tendency of too many Canadian directors looking to generate their "Look Ma, I can use a dolly and direct series television" calling card nonsense.

Watching the film, you at least feel you're on the ground floor of a filmmaker who's new and exciting, rather than some competent loser-hack looking for a gig.

Stress Position opens theatrically at the Magic Lantern Carlton Cinema in Toronto on April 18, 2014 and will hopefully roll out across the rest of the country soon.

Monday, April 14, 2014

THE BATTERY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Clearly talented director offers somewhat constipated zombie movie. Flawed, but worth seeing on a big screen at Raven Banner's Sinister Cinema series on April 17, 2014.

The Battery (2013) **1/2
Dir. Jeremy Gardner
Starring: Jeremy Gardner, Adam Cronheim, Niels Bolle, Alana O'Brien

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Before the New England zombie apocalypse, Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) were pro baseball players, but these days they're moving surreptitiously through the woods and backroads, their only contact with anything resembling a human being is the occasional zombie which, of course, will need to be dispatched. Predictably, the guys are polar opposites. Ben's no-nonsense "gotta-keep-moving-like-a-shark" attitude is what keeps them alive and his insistence that they always make time for games of pitch-and-catch is what keeps them human. For Ben, baseball, or at least the vestiges of the once great unifying force of America is the only thing as important as staying alive. The sheer relaxing physicality of it offers a kind of Zen to their seemingly pointless lives.

Ben is also a killer - of zombies, that is. This contrasts wildly with Mickey. He can't bring himself to kill and constantly dons headphones to pipe dreadful angst-ridden contemporary indie rock into his oh-so sensitive consciousness. If Ben's goal is to keep moving to stay alive, Mickey's involves searching for all the things that once made life worth living - home, family, a woman - or, quite simply, stability. The two men are at odds (surprise, surprise), yet they develop a special bond (surprise, surprise) as they move ever-closer to each other (surprise, surprise) and, as they are slackers in a post apocalyptic world, they head ever-closer to nowhere.

Upon hearing a woman's voice over a walkie talkie, Mickey is determined to find her. Ben insists they heed the woman's dire warning about staying away - no use going where they're not wanted. Besides, Ben is concerned that if they were ever separated or if he needed Mickey's help, that his tender-footed companion will be too inexperienced and/or weak-willed to do what needs to be done. Like baseball, practise makes perfect, especially when one must kill or be killed.

There's much to admire in the picture - in theory, anyway. To my mind, artistic ambition is always to be welcomed and certainly The Battery has ambition to burn. Alas, it's just not always an engaging movie. For one, we know it's yet another no-budget horror movie - a zombie movie to boot - and that for damn sure we're going to spend plenty of time in the middle of nowhere having to listen to these guys arguing until they inevitably find their common ground (if, in fact they ever do find it). The movie veers far too dangerously into the dreaded mumblecore territory that far too many untalented indie directors use as an excuse (consciously or unconsciously) to mask their inherent ineptitude as filmmakers. Gardner is not in this category. Though the jury is still out, one feels he's going to eventually emerge supreme with his next picture or two.

However, he needs to do more than tried and true variations of genre. For example, we are well aware that the woman's voice over the two-way signal is coming from a survivalist compound, but because the picture is so obviously made on the cheap, we know we're never going to get there because that's going to cost money that this movie simply doesn't have. I hate to say it, but when I think about the myriad of truly great no-to-low-budget cult films over the decades, the recent preponderance of shooting in one room or the middle of nowhere with story choices that are obviously rooted to budget issues is becoming increasingly and frustratingly boring and/or annoying.

The only thing that can battle this are elements the movie flirts with, but never goes the distance with. For example, the overall atmosphere of the picture is so bleak - capturing zombies, killing practice, jerking off to hot zombie chicks in wet t-shirts, plenty of staring into space and the aforementioned indie soundtrack that drips ever-so horrifically with ennui - we feel we're in for the de rigueur bleak ending. It's inevitable, really, and given this certitude, plus all the arty wheel-spinning going on, I wished the filmmaker might have found other instances to match the cool brilliance of the killing practice sessions and the masturbation scene.

I can imagine it now - a tagline that reads: "I pull my schwance to dead people." Where that movie?

The potential for Gardner's picture to have moved even deeper into a chasm of sickness and despair is the very thing that could have put it over the top and would have had audiences so charged they'd be clamouring for more. The movie could well have upped the ante on this front without losing its compellingly slow pace.

The predictable element that really disappoints in all this is the inevitability that one of the two is going to get bitten by a zombie and will need to be dispatched before he "turns". Chances are that it's going to be the soulful young man who survives as he appears to have the surface elements of humanity. Or would that be too obvious and lazy? This is, after all, a movie with ambition, or, to put it another way, a whole lotta pretentiousness goin' on.

The screenplay by director and star Gardner isn't especially egregious - the familiar tale takes a few interesting turns, much of the dialogue has a feeling of authenticity and the occasionally perverse frissons add a bit of cache to the now-cliched tropes of the zero budgeted zombie movie. The real question, though, is - do we really need another one of these things? Frankly, I think not - unless, like first-time filmmakers before them - burgeoning directors like Gardner tear a page from the likes of Maestro Roger Corman, Peter Bogdanovich, David Lynch, George Romero (of course), John Waters, Sam Raimi, Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky - the list goes on. All the aforementioned generated debut and/or follow-up features that truly pushed envelopes. The Battery, merely nudges said envelopes. Movies, especially those with no money, need a lot more than mere nudging.

And now, allow me to veer into broken record territory - I've said this before and I'm going to say it again. I'm especially getting sick and bloody tired of no-budget zombie movies (and other no-budget genre pictures) that force us to watch 90 minutes of hairy, smelly guys. Even Lynch's Eraserhead gave us the hot hooker babe living across from Henry, Mary and their deformed baby and, lest we forget, the super-cute Lady in the Radiator with testicle cheeks and a winning smile as she squashed the huge, milky, pus-filled spermatozoa dropping from the ceiling. Have any of these filmmakers ever heard of writing roles to populate with babes?

Women are finally so much more interesting and challenging to write for - especially considering that nobody is much interested in more movies solely about slacker guys. Yes, The Battery delivers the previously mentioned sexy zombie chick in a wet T-shirt pressing her shapely boobies against the car window and I give Gardner mega-salutes for that, but the only living babe we get is over a walkie-talkie and when we finally do meet her, she becomes the very thing we suspect she'll become - not to mention that her presence is ultimately too little, too late.

Gardner clearly has talent, though, and I'm really looking forward to what he can do with either more money and/or if he really lets himself cut loose. He needs a good dose of creative Ex-Lax, because The Battery, for all it has going for it, has way too much material that's bunging him up.

Let 'er rip, dear boy, let 'er rip

The Battery screens Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 7:30pm during the visionary Raven Banner's fantastic Sinister Cinema series which brings a series of independent horror films to 28 theatres across Canada. The films will include unique content, and in some cases, special appearances, including live question and answer sessions with directors, pre-recorded interviews and more. Tickets are available at participating theatre box offices. You can see The Battery in the following venues:

Scotiabank Theatre Chinook - Calgary, AB
Scotiabank Theatre Edmonton - Edmonton, AB
Cineplex Cinemas Saint John - Saint John, NB
Cineplex Cinemas Avalon Mall - St. John's, NL
Cineplex Odeon Victoria Cinemas - Victoria, BC
SilverCity Riverport Cinemas - Richmond, BC
Galaxy Cinemas Nanaimo - Nanaimo, BC
Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas - Vancouver, BC
Colossus Langley Cinemas - Langley, BC
SilverCity Polo Park Cinemas- Winnipeg, MB
SilverCity Sudbury Cinemas- Sudbury, ON
Galaxy Cinemas Regina - Regina, SK
Galaxy Cinemas Saskatoon - Saskatoon, SK
SilverCity Fairview Mall Cinemas - Toronto, ON
Cineplex Odeon Winston Churchill Cinemas - Oakville, ON
Cineplex Cinemas Yonge -Dundas Cinemas - Toronto, ON
Cineplex Odeon Eglinton Town Centre Cinemas - Scarborough, ON
Cineplex Cinemas Queensway and VIP - Etobicoke, ON
Colossus Vaughan Cinemas - Woodbridge, ON
Cineplex Cinemas Mississauga - Mississauga, ON
Coliseum Ottawa Cinemas - Ottawa, ON
SilverCity Gloucester Cinemas - Ottawa, ON
Cineplex Cinemas Bayers Lake - Halifax, NS
Cineplex Odeon Forum Cinemas - Montreal, QC
Cineplex Odeon Devonshire Mall Cinemas - Windsor, ON
Galaxy Cinemas Waterloo - Waterloo, ON
SilverCity Hamilton Cinemas - Hamilton, ON
SilverCity London Cinemas - London, ON



Sunday, April 13, 2014

INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION - Petri's Classic 70s Thriller - TIFF CINEMATHEQUE SPECIAL SCREENINGS: SPRING 2014 - 1 SHOW ONLY: APRIL 17 @ 9:30pm @ TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX - Review By Greg Klymkiw

THIS MAN IS A SCUMBAG, BUT WHAT A MAN,
WHAT A SCUMBAG!
Here's a treat for Torontonians. See the Oscar-Winning thriller on a big screen from the 4K digital restoration used for the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray. SEE IT ON A BIG SCREEN @TIFF CINEMATHEQUE SPECIAL SCREENINGS SPRING 2014 - 1 SHOW ONLY, APRIL 17, 9:30pm, TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX. THEN BUY THE MOVIE ON BRD WITH ALL THE DELECTABLE CRITERION COLLECTION TRIMMINGS TO ENJOY FOREVER.

Fetishes Galore! Sex, Murder and Vinyl. Always, Vinyl.
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) ****
Dir. Elio Petri
Starring: Gian Maria Volonté, Florinda Bolkan

Review By
Greg Klymkiw


A homicide detective on the eve of his promotion to head the department of domestic terrorism plays one final fetishistic sex-and-death-game with the sexy mistress who gets off on the morbid rituals as intensely as he does. Things go according to his perverse plan, but when part of the thrill is to commit a ghastly crime and load up as many clues as possible pointing in his own direction, nobody will presume he's guilty. Class will ALWAYS shield the sinful and he is, after all, a citizen of distinction and hence, above suspicion...so much of what occurs in this film - just a few years shy of being half a century old - has the kind of resonance so many cinematic post-9/11 indictments approach with mere kid gloves in comparison...In any age, this would have proven to be a deeply disturbing film, but now, somehow, it's beyond that which is merely unsettling. We could well be watching a movie set in the here and now and realize that what we're watching is not far at all from the terrible truth of the world we live in.

READ MY FULL REVIEW FROM DECEMBER 8, 2013 HERE.

For further info and tickets, visit the TIFF website HERE.

Here's some info on the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray. You can order it directly from the links below and in so doing, contribute to the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner.

"Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion" is currently available in a first-rate dual format (Blu-Ray and DVD) edition from the Criterion Collection. The film not only looks and sounds great, but the added value extra features are so bountiful and illuminating that this is definitely a must-own title for all true aficionados and collectors of fine cinema. The package is replete with all the bells and whistles including a 4K digital film restoration, with uncompressed monaural sound, a revealing archival interview with director Elio Petri, a tremendous feature length documentary entitled "Elio Petri: Notes About a Filmmaker", an interview with scholar Camilla Zamboni, a fifty-minute doc on the star of Petri's film "Investigation of a Citizen Named Volonté" and a superb interview with composer Ennio Morricone. Add to this the requisite trailers, new English subtitle translation, a lovely booklet packed with great written material and one Blu-ray and two DVDs all in attractive packaging.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

TARANTULA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Food, Glorious Food, Turns Tables and Seeks Food

Tarantula (1955) ***½
dir. Jack Arnold
Starring: John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll,
Raymond Bailey, Clint Eastwood

Review By Greg Klymkiw

They say the best science fiction is rooted in “good science”, a view with some merit, but I'd assert that the science should at least seem credible or, at the very least, reveal some sort of truth about the world and/or humanity as we know it. Such is the case with Jack Arnold’s Tarantula, the classic Universal Pictures big-bug picture.

Like his other legendary sci-fi thrillers: The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Creature From The Black Lagoon and, among others, It Came From Outer Space, the science is dubious, but the exploration of issues and themes which touch (or plague, if you will) all of us, even today, Tarantula is as much ahead of its time as it is a product of its time.

The theme of world hunger and the need to find ways to successfully address it is something that hangs over the picture with significant heft. The fact that this issue is something that plagued the world in the 50s, especially during America's post-war/cold-war prosperity within the McCarthy witch hunt hysteria, is what places Tarantula firmly in the pantheon of pictures that truly deserve their classic status. Set in a sleepy Arizona desert town, the resident doctor (played with characteristic stalwartness by the ex-Mr. Shirley Temple, John Agar) investigates the mysterious death of someone who was working as a researcher on the outskirts of this hot and definitely dusty Southwestern hamlet. The Doc suspects there’s more to this death than meets the eye, but his suspicions are ignored.

As these things go in 50s thrillers, the town’s sheriff prefers to believe the bogus diagnosis proposed by the head of the research lab, a respected local scientist (played with delectable aplomb by the venerable ham Leo G. Carroll). You see, the estimable old coot is trying to solve world hunger by making animals bigger - much, much bigger, actually - so that more flesh can be rendered from slaughtered beasts to fill the empty bellies of those without. He takes on a new assistant, a fetching, young female scientist (the drool-inciting Mara Corday) who not only provides him with ample support (in, uh, more ways than one), but is also an amorous target for Doc Agar.

When Doc Leo is exposed to the formula he’s been using on tarantulas, guinea pigs, bunnies and other assorted small animals, he himself slowly transforms into a crazed, deformed monstrosity whilst the increasingly mysterious deaths and disappearances in the vicinity are attributed to a tarantula who’s been chowing down a wee bit too much growth juice.

On the surface, Leo G. Carroll’s character is from a long line of mad scientists, but his obsession is not in any way tinged with self-interest. He's not seeking wealth or power. Doc Leo's goals are honourably altruistic. His suffering is all the more poignant because his desire to bestow good upon the world is a life’s work that ends his life and the lives of others. His failure – given that his experiments result in something destructive – is especially frustrating and finally, very moving – tragic, even.

The movie is replete with admirable qualities. The performances are all superb (within the framework and context of the genre) and the writing is more than serviceable. Though the screenplay doesn’t quite reach the transcendent heights of Richard Matheson’s work on The Incredible Shrinking Man, it does feature more than a few great lines of dialogue that are genuinely campy – genuine because they are INTENTIONALLY cheesy and NOT a result of being dated.

Most impressive are the optical effects involving the enlargement of actual tarantula footage. Clifford Stine’s work on the special effects is as effective as some of today’s best digital work. Sure, the effects occasionally fall short, but then, so do many digital effects these days. At least optical effects are infused with a warmth that's decidedly lacking in digital. Yup, even in the movies, it boils down to the grand old vinyl vs. CD debate. At the end of the day, we let the picture work its considerable magic.

One fun note of trivia is that Clint Eastwood appears in a tiny, but important role during the climax of the picture. It seems thoroughly appropriate that it is Eastwood who commands all his bombers to let rip and decimate the brick-shithouse that is the Tarantula. And, even more interesting, is that Tarantula’s fetching leading lady Mara Corday was cast years later by Eastwood as the wise-acre waitress who signals Harry Callahan that danger is afoot in her café in the now-almost-classic Sudden Impact.

Tarantula is an absolute must-see. It holds up admirably and will also provide great entertainment for the kiddies (of ALL ages). Most importantly, like all great sci-fi thrillers, it provides big emotions, food for thought AND one hell of a rollercoaster ride.

Tarantula is available in a superb box set of ten 50s classics entitled "The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 and 2" from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

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