The Deep Blue Sea (2011) dir. Terence Davies
Starring: Rachel Weizs, Simon Russell, Tom Hiddlestone
By Greg Klymkiw
I used to think Terence Davies might well have been one of the most important living British filmmakers. I was wrong. He is, without question, Britain's most important living filmmaker. From his trilogy of mesmerizing shorts to his latest work, The Deep Blue Sea, Davies is easily as important to the framework of Great Britain's cinema heritage as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger or any of the greats of the 1960s British New Wave.
Working in a classical style with indelible compositions, creating a rhythm through little, no or very slow camera moves and infusing his work with a humanity seldom rivalled, Davies recognizes the importance of cinema as poetry – or rather, using the poetry of cinema to create narrative that is truly experiential. (I doubt any audience member will forget the haunting underground tracking shot during the Blitz in this new picture – as evocative to the eye, ear and mind as anything I’ve seen.)
I’d go so far as saying that Davies might well be the heir apparent to film artists like Alexander Dovzhenko and Sergei Paradjanov – exploiting the poetic properties of cinema in all the best ways.
The Deep Blue Sea is a heartbreaking, sumptuous and tremendously moving adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s great play of the same name. Rattigan’s theatrical explorations of class and sex have made for rich film adaptations, most notably The Browning Version, Separate Tables, The Winslow Boy and The Prince and the Showgirl. Rattigan, given the discriminatory criminalisation of homosexuality in England (his frequent collaborator, the closeted director Anthony Asquith, was the progeny of the man who signed Oscar Wilde’s arrest warrant) chose to primarily reflect on gay issues and culture by utilizing a critical dramatic look at the often troubled lives of straight couples.
Nowhere is this more powerfully rendered than in The Deep Blue Sea, which Davies has adapted with considerable homage to the play’s tone and themes while using the source as a springboard for his own unique approach to affairs of the heart. (While Davies oddly reduces the role and importance of the play’s one clearly gay character, one suspects he did this to focus more prominently on the trinity of its central characters.)
Here we feel and experience the tragic tale of Hester (Rachel Weisz), who leaves her much older, though loving husband, the respected judge Sir William (Simon Russell) when she meets the handsome, charming Freddie (Tom Hiddlestone), a former RAF pilot who allows her the joys of sex for the first time in her life.
Alas, Freddie’s a bit of a rake and soon tires of domesticity, and Hester is driven to seriously contemplating suicide. Sir William wishes desperately to have her back. The eternal dilemma is that Freddie doesn’t love Hester as much as she’d like, nor does Hester feel as much love for Sir William as he does for her.
This is a beautifully acted piece through and through. Most astonishing is the performance Davies coaxes out of Rachel Weisz - it's as infused with heartbreaking tragedy as the great work he pulled from Gillian Anderson in his perfect film adaptation of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth.
The triangle in The Deep Blue Sea is played out with Davies’s trademark style and a welcome return to pubs thick with smoke and filled with songs sung by its inebriated denizens. Harking back to Distant Voices, Still Lives, the songs here are not so much a counterpoint to the drudgery of the characters’ lives as something indicative of an overwhelming malaise born out of repression and class.
Davies dazzles and moves us with his humanity and artistry.
It doesn’t take much to give over to his stately pace, and when we do, we’re drawn into a world that can only exist on a big screen, while at the same time providing a window on the concerns of days gone by that are more prevalent in our contemporary world than most of us would care to admit.
"The Deep Blue Sea" is currently in theatrical release via Mongrel Media and in Toronto is playing at the Royal Cinema. For information on showtimes at The Royal, click HERE
Coriolanus (2011) dir. Ralph Fiennes
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain, James Nesbitt, John Kani, Paul Jesson
By Greg Klymkiw
"What's the matter, you dissentious rogues
That rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make yourselves scabs?" (I.i.150-152) - William Shakespeare, Coriolanus
Coriolanus: My name is Caius Marcius,
who hath done to thee particularly...
Great hurt and mischief;
thereto witness may
My surname, Coriolanus.
Butt-head: Huh huh huh. He said, "Anus."
Beavis: Coriolanus. Anus. Oh, yeah.
Butt-head: Uh, yeah. Anus.
Beavis: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I heard it, too. Anus.
Coriolanus: The extreme dangers, and the drops of blood
Shed for my thankless country are requited
But with that surname -- a good memory.
Butt-head: What a dork.
- With Apologies to William Shakespeare and Mike Judge
Ralph Fiennes, easily one of our greatest living actors, makes an impressive feature film directorial debut with this action-packed Paul (Bloody Sunday, United 93, The Bourne Supremacy) Greengrass-like political thriller. That it's a superb, vibrant and topical adaptation of William Shakespeare's great tragedy Coriolanus is a double-layer of icing on the cake. It's an extraordinarily riveting feast for the mind and senses.
The phenomenal screenplay adaptation by John Logan (Hugo, Rango, Sweeney Todd, The Aviator) retains the glorious iambic pentameter styling of Shakespeare's rich dialogue (with de rigueur, though always exceptional cuts to the Bard of Avon's text) and sets the action in a contemporary (or very near future) Rome. Given the current financial crisis worldwide (and in particular, the utter mess Italy is currently mired in), as well as the war-zone that our world has become thanks to George W. Bush, Logan's script and Fiennes's first-rate direction of it, delivers a movie that's not only relevant to the here and now, but is proof-positive of the universal qualities inherent in great writing - no matter where and when it's written. (This movie, along with Roman Polanski's Macbeth is a sure-fire way to get any doubting-Thomas high school student - or, for that matter, just about anyone - to devour Shakespeare ravenously.)
The film is set in a Rome that has degenerated into the sort of fractioned warfare that plagued (and continues to plague) many of Europe's Balkan countries. Caius Martius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) is a great warrior who has brought glory to Rome in a battle with a breakaway revolutionary force led by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Loyal to the State to a fault, he's not done himself any favours by exerting brute force on his own people who, during the war, have been starving while stores of grain have been guarded fiercely by the forces of Coriolanus.
When our hero is offered the position of consul, he maintains his stance as a warrior, refusing to play any political games. Unable to "lower" himself to currying favour with Rome's populace, several treasonous power-hungry tribunes and senators seize this opportunity to slant things against our hero and force him into exile. Burning with rage, Coriolanus joins forces with his previous nemesis Aufidius (an equally great warrior) and together they march on Rome, decimating everything in their path.
This is quite a magnificent picture. The battle scenes are unremittingly chaotic, violent and alternately sickening and exciting. Fiennes makes excellent use of cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker, Green Zone) whose whirly-gig camera captures the battlefields of both the war zone and the political arena. Veteran editor Nicolas Gaster keeps things moving with verve while the superb percussion-heavy score by Ilan Eshkeri (Kick-Ass, Centurion) adds drive, emotional/dramatic context and flavour to the proceedings.
Blending newsreel footage with TV roundtable interviews and straight-up drama, Shakespeare's period dialogue never feels incongruous with the contemporary setting and storytelling techniques. Fiennes elicits phenomenal performances from his key cast - notably the great Brian Cox as the loyal, but doomed Menenius and an astounding Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia, the manipulative Mom of Coriolanus.
Given that he's both behind the camera and in-front of it for so much of the film's running time, his own work as an actor never suffers. It's great looking at Fiennes's aquiline facial features and listening to him spit out his lines as if his life depended on it.
Cast-wise, the revelation here is probably Gerard Butler. I've always had a soft spot for him as an actor - especially in his kick-butt action pictures like 300 and RocknRolla, but as Fiennes' nemesis-turned-ally, he acquits himself with skill and power. His explosive line readings as Tullus Aufidius knocked me on my ass and I loved it when his Scottish brogue kicked in on overdrive.
The movie is full of great touches, but one of the more powerful moments is when Fiennes has his head shaved into full-on warrior-dome and all his men follow suit. They become an army of skinheads - bent on bloodlust, pillage and vengeance. This is what happens when men of action are betrayed by weaselly bureaucrats and it ain't a purty sight.
I had a few minor quibbles with Fiennes's mise-en-scene. While the Greengrass-like herky-jerkiness is well handled and quite appropriate for much of the action, there's a great moment where Coriolanus demands mega-mano-a-mano with Tullus Aufidius. The movie primes us for one major kick-ass head-stomper of a fight between Fiennes and Butler. Alas, where Fiennes errs as a director is continuing the herky-jerky rather than trusting in the clearly superb fight choreography.
There's also one unfortunate God's-eye-view longshot of the market when Coriolanus is led to address the "rabble". Given the care taken to make the multitudes look old-movie-style gargantuan, we unfortunately see less people on the periphery than we should. Nitpicky, yes - but so much of the movie is so good, less-than-stellar moments stick out like sore-thumbs.
Finally though, Coriolanus rocks bigtime! We get a great play rendered magnificently by a first-rate cast and one setpiece after another to remind us of the urgency, importance and magic of movies - and most of all, that of William Shakespeare.
Coriolanus is nothing if not cool, and it sure isn't nothing and it's most certainly cool.
"Coriolanus" is presented in Canada via D Films and for showtime information at the Royal Cinema in Toronto, click HERE.
Hard Core Logo II (2011) dir. Bruce McDonald
Starring: Bruce McDonald, Care Failure, Julian Richings, Shannon Jardine, Peter Moore
By Greg Klymkiw
I have to admit that part of my favourable response to Hard Core Logo II is strictly on a personal level. Firstly, my inauguration into the canon of director Bruce McDonald was Roadkill, his crazed rock and road odyssey through Northwestern Ontario. It was the fall of 1989 and during the last year in which I was writing about films. And I really did love writing about movies. I'd been doing so since the late 70s, but I was about to turn a corner in my life and this part of it would be ending a few months or so later.
At the time I was attending the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and in addition to doing some marketing work on behalf of the film co-operative The Winnipeg Film Group, I was moonlighting as a writer for the now-defunct "Cinema Canada" magazine and was presented with the task of reviewing McDonald's movie. It wasn't hard work at all. It was a terrific picture and my delight with it poured from my soul and through my fingertips and into my word processor like shit through the proverbial Canadian Goose.
At the time it reminded me of both David Lynch's Eraserhead and Allan Arkush's Rock n' Roll High School - hypnotic, dream-like, gloriously black and white, energetic, madly nutty,laugh-out-loud funny and pure rock and roll joy.
I've seen it a few times since and I stand by this assessment.
And goddamn! Roadkill was as Canadian as a fucking beaver pelt adorning Norman Jewison's pate. Every surreal moment from my punk years in Winnipeg seemed to spring miraculously to life. Endless nights in dark, now-defunct watering-holes like the "Native Club", "The Royal Albert Arms" and the basement of the "St. Charles Hotel" (AKA "The Chuckles") - seeing everyone who passed through (early XTC, the Popular Mechanix, the notorious rape-rockers The Mentors) to insane seven-hour drives to Thunder Bay to listen to heavy metal bands (often of the local variety) at the Inn-Towner - that miraculous dive where every chick had hair permed-out like Medusa which, under black light it glowed with an almost radioactive "buy-me-some-fuckin-beer-and-maybe-we-can-fuck-eh" come-hither-with-a-stubby quality.
I felt as if I had died and gone to Heaven.
From here I followed Bruce's films passionately. Most of them I loved, some of them I liked and a number of them had me scratching my head with a kind of what-in-the-fuck-are-you-doing-you-psycho response. In 1996, when I saw his Hard Core Logo, which I loved, I remember being swept away by this road movie involving the crazy punker Joe Dick and his band on a comeback tour through the western prairies of Canada and was convinced McDonald would never top the film.
I was wrong, of course. Throughout the years he delivered one terrific picture after another - most notably his brilliant zombie picture set entirely in a rural radio station Pontypool and his truly whacked adaptation of Maureen Medved's novel The Tracy Fragments. The only film of his I didn't see was the notorious Picture Claire. At TIFF it was screening while 9/11 was happening. The night he was showing his "director commentary" cut at the Bloor Cinema, I was in Winnipeg. I'm cool with that. Every director I love has one or two "Holy Grail" pictures that I hope to partake in someday.
So let's fast forward to the present and how seeing Hard Core Logo II hit me where all the best movies should - on a personal level. Firstly, I bring you back to my own personal full-circle coincidence of HCL II being the first McDonald movie I've seen to write about since I stopped writing about movies. And yeah, here I am, 23 years later, back to the future, so to speak - again writing about movies (amongst other writing chores like screenplays and a text book). I have to admit to a certain sentimental attachment going in to seeing HCL II on this level.
Beyond that though, is the personal relationship one forges with certain artists and their art. Bruce was born about a month after me in the same year. He was born in Kingston and grew up in Scarborough. I was conceived in Detroit and born/raised in Winnipeg. Same difference, really. For many years, without knowing each other in any way, shape or form, we grew up with similar interests and experiences. On that level alone, he's a filmmaker who spoke to me as a contemporary and I've lived through 23 years of his work - connecting aesthetically, but also personally - his work seeming to almost umbilically connect to my very being.
This, I'd say, IS extremely important. When a filmmaker connects with audiences on this level, then truly this is an artist worth studying and revering. However, it's especially noteworthy that his work connects with me as a Canadian with shared experiences.
Hard Core Logo II is NOT a retread or reboot. It IS, a sequel. HCL I, a clever mock-doc wherein the lead character blew his brains out on-camera at the end seemed pretty much sequel-proof. What McDonald does, however, is turn the next phase of the tale into a semi-personal and quasi-fictional mock-doc - focusing on the character he himself played, "Bruce" the filmmaker.
And here, 23-years later, "Bruce" is working successfully in American television. He's the creator and director of "The Pilgrim", a ridiculously popular Christian western aimed squarely (and somewhat cynically on the part of the fictional/actual filmmaker) at the moronic religious right. When the star of the series Rufus Melon (a brilliantly scuzzy and hilarious Adrien Dorval) is caught in a horrendous sexual scandal, the show is immediately cancelled and Bruce is without a job.
Where he'd previously been ignoring reports that rock singer Care Failure (played, no less, by Care Failure of "Die Mannequin" fame) has psychically channeled the spirit of the late Hard Core Logo frontman Joe Dick, "Bruce" now drops everything to make a new documentary to reclaim his former glory as an independent filmmaker.
Going the super-kamikaze filmmaking route, he leaves his wife and child home alone and brings along only one crew member - his next door neighbour, the completely bonkers New Age Wiccan video/performance artiste Liz (Shannon Jardine). She mans, as it were, the camera, while he records sound, directs and interviews. He's promised Liz a co-directing credit, but as his personal notes reveal later on, he just needs (and treats her) as a glorified schlepper.
The two of them follow Care to Saskatchewan where she will record a solo album under the guidance of Joe Dick's former mentor Bucky Haight (Julian Richings, repeating his original HCL role and astoundingly proving again why he's one of Canada's greatest character actors).
McDonald and his co-writer Dave Griffith put together a number of scenes which give a strong sense of the drudgery and boredom involved in producing an album but when things threaten to get a bit too languid, we're tossed a few phantasmagorical montage sequences (something McDonald has been obsessed with in his latter output and which are handled with aplomb by editor Duff Smith). These insane patchwork quilts of exorcism, talking animals, flashbacks to Joe Dick blowing his brains out, etc. are worthy of such 70s and 80s head films like Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain and Slava Tsukerman's Liquid Sky.
The dreary Saskatchewan locations also add considerable Canadian chic to the whole affair. I used to think, for example, that looking at the topography surrounding my old hometown whenever I landed in a plane at the Winnipeg International Airport was the most depressing thing in the world. Hard Core Logo II reminded me that NO - landing at the Regina Airport is far more soul-sucking.
We're guided through this oddball low-key tale, contrasting nicely and unexpectedly with HCL's raging drive, through the laid-back journal entries of filmmaker "Bruce". If anything drives the engine of this happily sputtering engine it's exploitation.
Because this is a Canadian film in a Canadian setting with Canadian characters - the exploitation is, not surprisingly, Canadian. That is, characters gently, subtly remind each other how much they're exploiting each other. McDonald's film captures this exploitation ever-so subtly.
There are the newspaper clippings accusing "Bruce" of exploiting Joe Dick from the original film. There's the implication that Care is exploiting the memory of Joe and furthermore, by possibly pretending to be possessed to get "Bruce" to make a film about her. Bucky accuses "Bruce" of exploiting Care. "Bruce" accuses Bucky of exploiting her. Care accuses both of them of exploiting her. "Bruce" and Bucky gently suggest mutual exploitation of the dead Joe Dick. "Bruce" is clearly exploiting the mad schlepper Wiccan and even the disgraced actor Rufus Melon shows up to exploit "Bruce", in order to party with Care and to get a guest spot with CBC's "Strombo" to declare his "healing".
Gentle, subtle exploitation is always the Canadian way. Canadians prefer smiling and alternately stabbing in the back - gently. They almost never look someone squarely in the eyes to gut them.
And within the context of the world McDonald creates - nobody (much like Canadians in reality) seems to want anything of any real import.
Except for one thing.
And this is the surprising, profoundly and deeply moving aspect of Hard Core Logo II. When it is determined what is truly important, a sacrifice is made - one which takes us into an afterlife and where the spirit of love and of family overtakes and overwhelms us.
I must admit to being taken completely off guard here. I should have seen it coming, since the film is strangely bookended with something so uniquely personal that it's often the element that - subtly - sneaks its way through the entire film. And when this sequence occurs, I must admit that I was touched emotionally in ways I never expected. It's both a heartbreaker and a spirit-lifter.
The movie begins, builds and ends with a humanity that's been hinted at in some of McDonald's earlier work, but explodes in ways that will, I think, especially touch a particular generation of Canadian with an equally particular series of experiences.
The movie is probably not for everyone. Those expecting a replay of McDonald's earlier successes will be denied an easy road. He delivers an offbeat journey and one that perfectly exemplifies a segment of the punk generation - that generation (especially, I think, in Canada) that sprouted at the tail-end of the baby boom and created a whole group of rebels who existed between the hippie sellouts and the Gen-X McJobbers.
The real rebels. Those who truly had to pay a price for their ideals and in so doing, continue to clutch desperately and/or longingly at those things everyone thinks they want, but for this generation, when they discover that wondrous thing, they know it's exactly what makes life worth living.
"Hard Core Logo II" is playing at the Royal Cinema on a double bill with McDonald's "Hard Core Logo". It is being released by Alliance Films. For information on showtimes at The Royal, click HERE.