Sunday, 30 June 2013

ROSE MARIE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - COUNTDOWN TO CANADA DAY 2013 - How America Taught Us Everything We Always Wanted to Know About Canada (but were afraid to ask)

Rose Marie (1954) ***
dir. Mervyn LeRoy
Starring: Ann Blyth, Howard Keel, Fernando Lamas, Joan Taylor, Bert Lahr, Marjorie Main, Ray Collins, Chief Yowlachie

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I recently learned, thanks to our American brothers, that all Canadian watering holes in Alberta's Rocky Mountains are exclusively populated with friendly mad trappers who quaff beer nightly and sing rousing a cappella renditions of "Alouette"? God help me, I love operettas. Glorious tenors and sopranos trilling and traipsing their way through insanely romantic melodramatic plots with dollops of broad comic relief have always been my idea of a good time.

Rose Marie, a delicious chestnut (oozing buckets o' cheese) was based on the Rudolph Friml, Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto A. Harbach operetta (light opera, for the uninitiated) and made into a movie three times - a 1928 silent version with Joan Crawford, Woody Van Dyke's astonishing 1936 version with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy and the order of today's business, Mervyn LeRoy's ridiculous and stunningly creaky CinemaScope version (in glorious Technicolor no less) from 1954.

Though the 1936 version is a better movie in all respects, I'll always have a special place in my heart for the 1954 vintage. When I was a kid in the 1960s, MGM mounted several major retrospective play dates of their greatest (and even not-so-great) classics and played them in first-run theatres. This version was the first I saw in that series of major reissues - a gorgeous, newly minted print in the aforementioned CinemaScope, Technicolor and on a huge screen in an old picture palace (long since shuttered forever).

Seeing the blazing red uniforms of my country's illustrious Royal Canadian Mounted Police in this fashion has stayed with me well into my dotage.

Even though I eventually discovered and loved Woody Van Dyke's 30s trollop into backlot Canada, this version of Rose Marie is much closer to the original operetta - offering up plot machinations far more ludicrous and as such, deserving copious kudos for doing so.

Read this and weep:

Howard Keel plays square-jawed Captain Mike Malone, a happy horse riding, tune-belting Mountie who trots into the deep bush of Alberta in search of Rose Marie (Ann Blyth, sporting a weirdly delightful French Canadian accent by way of Hollywood voice coaches). Mountie Mike earlier promised an old friend that he'd raise the child as his own should said pal ever bite the bullet. Mountie Mike is the ultimate Canadian Scarlet Avenger - true to his word and always getting his man (or in this case, woman). His loyalty and resolve knowing no bounds, the Mike-ster collects this newly orphaned lass of the wilderness - a spunky wild child tomboy who has no desire or intention to ever leave the idyll of nature.

Rose Marie doth protest too much and does so in utter futility. One never says "no" to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and especially not Mike, for he does what any man of the law would do.

He takes her by force.

Before you can say "maple syrup" la belle femme, soon dons the garb of the Mounties and is raised at the outpost as such.

Yes, a Mountie!

With a bevy of hunky red-suited and red-blooded Canucks providing surrogate parentage, our shapely little Missy becomes even more curvy and delicious - vaguely hiding those supple curves just beneath her form-fitting RCMP adornments. In addition to Capt. Mike, Rose Marie is doted on by a surrogate grandfather figure, the charming irascible Barney McCorkle (marvellously played by Mr. Cowardly Lion of The Wizard of Oz fame himself, Bert Lahr).

Can this possibly get any better? Read on, dear reader.

When Mike's C.O. Inspector Appleby (Ray Collins - he of Boss Jim Gettys fame in Citizen Kane and Lt. Tragg in Perry Mason) pops by to survey the troops, he displays considerable disdain over the lack of close shaves adorning the gorgeous faces of Capt. Mike's men, until he caresses the cheek of Rose Marie.

(To this day, cheek-caressing is the preferred method of inspecting closeness of shaves amongst the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Canadians are indebted to Hollywood forever for revealing this fact to the world.)

At first, Appleby is mightily impressed with the smoothness of this slightly peach-fuzzed face, but one double take later, he realizes the delicate-skinned mountie is, in fact a woman. He orders Capt. Mike to take her into town so she may be trained in the ways of the weaker sex by Lady Jane Dunstock (Marjorie Main of "Ma and Pa Kettle" fame), a ballsy inn-and-brothel-keeper who adorns herself in bright purple-coloured satin dresses.

And presto! Rose Marie is tutored in the ways of woman and reveals looks so beguilingly gorgeous that Mike falls in love with her.

(To this day, whores and/or brothel-keepers are entrusted by Canadians to transform tomboys into ladies and again, Canadians are indebted to Hollywood forever for revealing yet another salient factoid of Canuck-hood to the world.)

Ah, but the plot (as it were) thickens when the dashing James Severn Duval (Fernando Lamas as a French Canadian trapper born in the Yukon and sporting a Spanish accent) is ordered by Chief Black Eagle (Chief Yowlachie, a Native American actor) to stop diddling his comely daughter Wanda (Joan Taylor).

Chief Black Eagle no want-um paleface to make-um daughter squaw. Bloodline must stay pure. Mixing white with red make-um heap mongrel papoose. This make-um Apple, eh? Red on outside, white on inside. Is heap extra bad if white is Quebecois of Spanish persuasion.

No matter, though. Once Duval gets a glimpse of Rose Marie, he's immediately smitten and our poor heroine is faced with having to choose between two hunky fellas. Holy Pemmican, Tonto! What ever is a girl to do?

From here, the plot (as it were) becomes an even stickier Acadian gumbo of romantic intrigue when Wanda jealously decides to get her studly fur-trapping Hispanic back at any and all cost. This turning point happens during one of the most outrageous musical numbers ever committed to celluloid - the Busby Berkeley choreographed "Totem Tom-Tom", a mouth-wateringly sexy depiction of an ancient aboriginal fertility dance where Wanda writhes frenziedly amongst a bevy of beauties and a passel of bronze bucks. During her sensual manipulations, that would, no doubt, put most pole dancers in gentleman's clubs to shame, Wanda becomes distracted enough to notice the love of her life smooching with our lily white heroine.

No give-um birth to Apple papoose if this dalliance continues in earnest.

Hell breaks loose and our tale dips its toe into the dark side with non-aboriginals tied to stakes, murder, mistaken identity and last second reprieves from the gallows.

I was riveted.

That said, my 10-year-old daughter repeatedly chided me with, "But Dad, how can you like this? It's so predictable."

Well, as I said earlier, I'm a sucker for operettas.

I love how the familiar plots are used primarily as a coat hanger for the lead characters to burst into song. The ditties in this one are plenty ripe.

This version of Rose Marie is blessed with a rendition of "Indian Love Call" that rivals any I've heard or seen.

And, lest I forget, allow me to cite a great comic warble assigned to Bert Lahr entitled "I'm A Mountie Who Never Got His Man". This number, newly created by George Stoll and Herbert Baker is a genuine laugh riot, though you will need to seriously forget anything you've ever learned about cultural sensitivity to even sit through it, much less thoroughly enjoy it.

In fact, the movie is replete with all manner of stereotypes. Some might call them racist, but there's nothing especially hateful about the attitudes, but rather more ignorant - especially given the time period in which the film is set and when it was made. Though one shouldn't outright excuse the propagation of outmoded cultural representation from another age, it's still probably a good idea to try and appreciate the supremely oddball imaginations it took to come up with them, and in turn, allow yourself a fascinating window into a bygone perspective.

Another interesting aspect of the film is the bizarre portrait it paints of Canada. If you ever get a chance, please read Pierre Berton's magnificent book "Hollywood's Canada". It's an amazing catalogue and history of this strange period when Hollywood decided to prevent an indigenous film industry from blossoming in Canada with government support. Canada, as per much of its history, strapped on the kneepads before Uncle Sam and agreed only to allow taxpayer support of documentaries, and in return, the American government (through the Motion Picture Association of America) agreed to make as many movies as possible promoting Canada - its culture, history and natural beauty. This included shooting in Canada, but in the case of Rose Marie much of the stunning technicolor footage is of the second-unit variety. Of course, this policy of cultural "reciprocity" resulted in the stereotyping of Canada to such an extent I can still fool most anyone from America who has never ventured above the 49th parallel (including Rhodes Scholars) that we all wear fur hats and lumberjack shirts, live in igloos or teepees and bottle-feed the newly-born with Molson Canadian beer. My road trips through the Deep South (Mississippi in particular) are always a blast when I encounter gas jockeys, convenience store clerks and academicians who ask in their tell-tale drawl of white-trashery, "Y'all frumm Kenuh-duh?"

As to the portrayal of Canada's Aboriginal peoples, I must wholeheartedly reiterate that Rose Marie is best enjoyed if you gird your loins of cultural sensitivity and doff your caps of Political Correctness.

In essence, go Republican. Or go home.

"Rose Marie" is one of hundreds of movies from the Warner Brothers catalogue that will not receive an official release on DVD. In Toronto, Canada the only places that carry a wide selection of these titles are the flagship store of Sunrise Records at Yonge and Dundas, the newly resurrected Starstruck Video (oddly re-named as My Movie Store) at Dundas and Tomken and the slightly overpriced, but ridiculously, overwhelmingly and wonderfully overstocked Vintage Video in Mirvish Village on Markham). They're simply colour balanced transfers from the best existing materials and available only in specialty shops or online - for a premium price, of course. Also, the transfers do vary in quality. So far, many are good, but I have to sadly admit that the "Rose Marie" transfer is not all it could be. Frankly, it's begging for proper clean-up and meticulous transfer to Blu-ray - not just DVD. That all said, I'm happy many of these pictures are finally available for home consumption, but it would be a lot better if the price point was, at the very least, lowered.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

AMERICAN MARY (BLU-RAY & DVD) Review By Greg Klymkiw - COUNTDOWN TO CANADA DAY 2013 - One of the best Canadian horror films of all time! Now available on Blu-Ray/DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada

L'Avare de cinéma et les étranges
soeurs jumelles du cinéma d'horreur
vous accueillent dans leur lieu de perdition
qui est remplie de plaisirs insondables.

American Mary (2012) ****
Dir. Jennifer Soska and Sylvia Soska
Starring: Katharine Isabelle

Blu-Ray/DVD Review
By Greg Klymkiw

The time has come for all serious fans and aficionadi of truly magnificent horror to rejoice in whatever manner they choose. They might wish to hoist a glass of the best bubbly or partake in Holy Communion in their favourite Catholic Church or dance naked in the moonlight, covered in the blood of a virgin sacrifice. There is, finally, no celebratory activity too grand for this genuinely momentous occasion.

American Mary has arrived for private home consumption via Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada on two formats - Blu-Ray and DVD - and whichever is your poison, you'll be guaranteed a lifetime of joy. Unlike using the far inferior streaming or download formats such as Netflix, iTunes, etc. there is NOTHING - and I goddamn well mean this - NOTHING like owning the product itself in a form that will allow the very best picture quality. Add the packaging and added features to the mix and there's no substitute for home entertainment of the highest order - especially the kind you can put your mitts, handle with admiration, place lovingly on display in an IKEA Billy Bookcase and, in general, just plain fetishize.

And let it be said, that American Mary IS entertainment of the highest order! I've (insanely) seen this movie six (count 'em - 1,2,3,4,5...6!!!) times. I've let it unspool before me twice in motion picture theatres (once in the majestic Bloor Hot Docs Cinema during the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and then again at the AMC Yonge and Dundas Cinema during a Cineplex Entertainment Front Row Centre event presented by Sinister Cinema and Anchor Bay), twice more on a DVD screening copy and yet two more times on the new Anchor Bay Blu-Ray (NOT counting my one screening of the film with the commentary track).

My first helping of the film was a mind-blower. They say you never forget your "first time". THEY are correct. However, like any "first time" activity worth its weight in gold, American Mary gets better and better. This is no mere "entertainment" (though entertaining it most certainly is), but it's without question one of the best Canadian Horror Films of all time (and the land of the Beaver and the Maple Leaf has been a leader in this department for decades, so to proclaim the film as such is no backhanded compliment). Moreover, and I'll go out on a limb here, but I'm more convinced than ever that American Mary is one of the best horror films of all time - period! That it's Canadian is the mere cherry on the ice cream sundae for those of us who live above the 49th parallel.

I've written extensively about the film, so I'll include a cut-and-paste to my most recent review below (AND, you can read my scintillating interview with its brilliant directors in the next issue of the immortal Joe Kane's "Phantom of the Movies VIDEOSCOPE"), but I want to use today's column to briefly discuss what's on the Blu-Ray/DVD, but also, what I hope can eventually be included on any future releases of the film. Since the Soska Twins are destined for greatness and more movies, I suspect that eventually there will be a Special Limited Edition to end all Special Limited Editions. (Well, at least through MY rose-coloured lenses.)

First of all, for those of you who've inexplicably not made the move to Blu-Ray, I'm happy to report that the picture looks just fine on DVD - especially when it's up-rezzed to an HD monitor with a DVD player that allows up-rezzing. If you already own a Blu-Ray player and an HD monitor, the DVD looks especially amazing, but I'd really have to wonder WHY you'd buy a DVD disc when Blu-Ray is available. You're either a bear of very little brain and/or little faith. No matter. DVD is a more than acceptable format and for my money, it still beats streaming and downloading - maybe not by much, but it beats it all the same.

HOWEVER, the Blu-Ray edition of American Mary is completely and utterly orgasmic. This is ultimately the best way to see the movie at home - bar none. The Soska Twins have a great imagination, but even better (and most importantly for the best filmmakers), they have a phenomenal eye (well, actually, make that, uh... FOUR eyes).

Working with an astounding team of artists, all aspects of the cinematography and other visual accoutrements (including, but not limited to production design, costumes and F/X) are, on Blu-Ray, simply astounding. Wherever the film was mastered digitally, I am thrilled to report that the colourist and whomever he/she worked with from the creative team indelibly captured the visual richness of this great film (sometimes overt, more often intelligent and subtle). The sound also kicks major ass. The location sound in addition to the post-production sound design, cutting and mixing is rich and varied and as such, translates magnificently to Blu-Ray.

The added features will definitely please fans of the film and the Soska Twins.

The primary value of the "making of" bonus is giving us a few excellent snapshots of how the Soskas work collaboratively with what clearly appears to be a crack crew. Thankfully, it never comes off like some slick, bullshit glorified electronic presskit. Christ, I hate those things. They're so goddamned phoney-baloney. I can't imagine why anyone in their right mind would want to watch them on a Blu-Ray/DVD. Even worse is that they're actually made and used so heavily by media outlets in the first place which, frankly, is merely another example of how lazy, unimaginative and dumbed-down broadcasters (and sadly, most other mainstream media) have become when covering cinema.

It's a nice feature, but I do think the title used for this segment, "The Making of American Mary" is, well... a tad unimaginative. It gives the impression that you WILL be watching some horseshit glorified EPK instead of what you DO get. The piece feels like it has a bit of an arc to it and as such, might have benefited at the concept and cutting level with a more defined title (and hence approach, or in egghead terms: thesis) - something like: American Mary: The Collaborative Process - which is, essentially what this added feature offers in an almost purely direct cinema fashion.

Secondly, the Blu-Ray/DVD includes the de rigueur commentary track and again, it's going to please fans of the film immensely. Jen and Sylv Soska lead the discussion as the movie unspools with added comments from the brilliant actresses Tristan Risk and Katharine Isabelle. There's a bevy of tidbits thrown our way about the making of the film that bounce almost seamlessly from screen specific to in-depth to anecdotal. All four ladies seem comfortable together and it has the feel of old friends/collaborators getting together for a few drinks to sit in front of the movie and reminisce about it.

However, Isabelle appears to be on a speaker phone. I have no problem with this, but some twisted post-modernist excuse for this could have been offered up. When I couldn't be present for the recording of a commentary track for one of the Guy Maddin movies I produced, I used a crappy little cassette recorder, made a whole bunch of comments timed to scene specific moments, sent the tape to Guy, whereupon he brought his crappy portable cassette player to the official recording and announced I was present via trans-Atlantic cable. Given that American Mary is cult film of the highest order, a similarly perverse approach might have been nice to please a handful of mega-geeks.

At the end of the day, there's not a darn thing wrong with either of these added bonii, but I have to say that this is the perfect film to describe my own frustration over the use of extra features. I think doing more than what's been done for this initial home entertainment release of the Soskas' film would indeed be a bit much, however, I keep seeing terrific films like American Mary that, at some later juncture deserve so much more.

For example, I can imagine a point when one could add three additional commentaries to a limited edition. Firstly, a very focused and MODERATED commentary with the Soskas discussing screen specific elements as they relate to both narrative and theme (and especially the feminist aspects of the picture). Secondly, a semi-eggheaded commentary from a film critic - not unlike those one finds on Criterion releases - would give viewers a "reading" on the film from the perspective of someone who watches movies in ways most viewers never do. It not only gives fans cool shit to mull over, but in its own way can contribute to a higher level of cinema appreciation and literacy - a movie like American Mary is not only deserving of such regard, but frankly, so are its fans. Thirdly, a focused and (again) MODERATED commentary with the Director of Photography, Production Designer and someone from the F/X team dealing specifically with the look of the film and how it relates specifically to story, character and theme would be an absolute-must for any American Mary added feature. Interestingly and in fairness to what already exists, this latter point is dealt with in both the "making of" and the current commentary, but the problem for me, is that I want more. The movie is so rich and layered in terms of its visuals that a solid, detailed discussion of them in a scene-specific setting would give fans, geeks and eggheads a veritable buffet.

As for added visual materials beyond the commentaries, I think specific mini-documentaries with detailed interviews would be the way to go here. They'd have to be conducted by someone who knew what they were doing and had a passion for both this film and cinema in general. The number of interesting topics to cover with American Mary feels almost infinite (which, by the way, is kind of my own yardstick for whether or not a movie will attain masterpiece status). The bottom line for such materials is that they actually have to be produced and directed by genuine filmmakers. Very few people in the world can do this properly, but they're out there and it has been done on a variety of great added bonus features - mostly via Criterion, but for a longtime on selected Universal and Warner Brothers DVD releases.

In any event, this current release of American Mary on Blu-Ray/DVD is a phenomenal must-own item. It's such a great picture that its fans will never feel ripped-off with the eventual availability of special limited additions (often referred to a double or multiple dipping). Besides, like I said earlier, it's too early in the lives of most films to create such materials - they're always better and more valuable when enough time has passed to let the film age like a fine wine.

And American Mary is nothing if not a fine wine - blood red, of course.
"American Mary" is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD via Anchor Bay Entertainment Limited. Below, you'll find a cut-and-paste of an earlier review of the film itself if you haven't read it yet.
American Mary (2012) ****
dir. Soska Twins: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Tristan Risk, Antonio Cupo, David Lovgren

Review By Greg Klymkiw
(Note - Rewrite/Revision of an earlier piece)

The scalpel enters a full, fleshy breast and delicately, almost sensually circles the areola's entirety whilst blood oozes out, the surgeon's fingers gently tracing her handiwork.

Both nipples are eventually removed.

The next procedure involves surgically removing all physical receptors of pubic ecstasy and stitching shut the vagina of the aforementioned nipple-bereft body, save, of course, for the smallest allowable opening for the expulsion of urine.

The surgeon is spent, stunned, but satisfied - secure in the knowledge that her first stab (so to speak) at body modification is a success. The client eventually expresses sheer joy over her all-new sexually adhedonic state; how perfectly she's been able to fulfil her own personal essence of womanhood via the excision of those physical extremities which alternately offer enticement and pleasure. Whatever you say, babe. In the words of Marlo Thomas: "Free to be you and me."

Can movies possibly get any better than this?


Well actually, I guess Psycho, Citizen Kane, Birth of a Nation, Bicycle Thieves and Nights of Cabiria might be slightly better,  but it doesn't change the fact that American Mary is a dazzlingly audacious sophomore effort from the Vancouver-based twisted twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska (who made a promising debut with their micro-budgeted 2009 effort Dead Hooker in a Trunk).

Videodrome, David Cronenberg's perversely creepy semi-precursor to the Soskas's new masterpiece-to-be, features the famous sentiment uttered by the Moses Znaimer-like character Max Renn (James Woods) that he must "leave the old flesh" in favour of the future. He intones ever-so scarily: "Long live the New Flesh!" Gotta love Cronenberg when he made some of the best horror movies on the planet, but we've got to call a spade a spade - he hasn't made a horror picture since Dead Ringers in 1988 and his recent output (Spider, A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis) has been downright dreadful. There's a new marshall in town and the reigning royalty of Canadian Horror is not one, but TWO Soska sisters.

Leave the old flesh.

Long live the New Flesh!

With American Mary, the Twisted Twins are perched delightfully on (at least for some, if not many) shaky moral ground (and/or crack), but happily, they maintain the courage of their convictions and do not tread lightly upon it. There are no half-measures here to even attempt making the picture palatable to the gatekeepers of political correctness (those purported knot-headed pseudo-lefty Great Pretenders who reside just to the right of Mussolini, Stevie Harper or Mitt Romney - take your pick). I'd even vigorously argue that non-fascist PC-types (as opposed to the truly fascist PC-types who make most thinking people sick to their stomachs) will, in fact, find the picture more than palatable.

The rest of us (we're cooler and smarter than YOU!) will get it, groove on it and celebrate its excellence.

This movie is some mighty nasty stuff - replete with elements of slashing satire that hack away and eventually tear open "normally" accepted versions of right and wrong whilst grasping the exposed nerve endings of morality, holding them taught and playing the jangling buggers like violin strings. The picture will provoke, anger, disgust and scandalize a multitude of audiences, though chances are good that the most offended will be those "smugly fucklings" (phrase courtesy of the late, great CanLit genius Scott Symons), the aforementioned fascist PC-type poseurs who claim to be outside the mainstream, but have their noses deeper up the rectal canals of fascists than the bloody Tea Party.

Strange as this might seem, the picture comes from a place deep in the heart, so deep that the twins don't bother ripping the pulsating muscle out, but rather, invoke the spirit that lies dormant within to deliver a surprising level of humanity to the proceedings. As far as the picture's carnage takes us we're allowed, in more than one instance to even be moved by the plight of some of the characters.

The screenplay, written by the Soska twins, is - on its surface only - a rape-revenge fantasy, but it goes so much further than that. It's a vital examination of subcultures representing people disenfranchised from the aforementioned accepted standards of human existence. In a world increasingly aspiring to the living death of homogeneity (this includes those who purport to be untouched by homogeneity), the characters will never fit any mould that represents "normalcy", no matter how hard they try.

Within the world of the film, those who refuse to conform (not because it's "cool" to do so, but because they simply cannot conform) seek avenues that will fulfil their basic needs as human beings, no matter how strange or repellent a majority finds them.

The tale told involves Mary (Katharine Isabelle), a med student struggling under the crushing weight of ever-mounting debt and the constant psychological abuse from her mentor Dr. Grant (David Lovgren), the chief professor of surgery - a field of practice she longs to serve in. In desperation, Mary scours the "adult services" want ads and is drawn to one with keen interest. Under the cloak of night she arrives at a nondescript warehouse in an industrial park that emits the thumping bass of dance music, a neon sign promising sensual delights and a burly doorman who immediately allows her entrance - as he clearly does to any babe seeking admittance.

Mary meets with the charmingly sleazy proprietor Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo) who scoffs a bit when she hands him her resume. The only pre-requisites to work in his club are a good overall "package" (which he discovers after telling her to strip to her undies and show-off her gorgeous body), an ability to deliver a fine massage (as she ably proves with her nimble surgeon's fingers) and a willingness to suck him off with skill and abandon (which, she sadly never gets to do). The job interview is interrupted with news that all is not well in another part of the club. Knowing Mary is a med student specializing in surgery, Billy asks her to join him.

In a dank, dungeon-like room within the club's bowels, Mary's eyes widen at a gruesome sight - nothing to phase a surgeon, but the context would be, at least initially, pretty bizarre to anyone - even her. Whatever goes on in this room, has gone seriously awry and as luck would have it, Mary is just what the, shall we say, doctor, has ordered.

For a wad of pure, hard, cold cash - the likes of which she's never held in her hands, Mary agrees to perform some illicit surgical magic which will not only make a wrong right, but provide a much needed service beyond simple lifesaving. The subject, twitching and bleeding on the filthy table, will most definitely require saving, but the painful manner in which he will be saved will provide him with added ecstasy.

Soon Mary is in demand amongst the body modification subculture who troll about the same underbelly as those who work and patronize the club (in addition to the genuine underground activities involving extreme masochistic indulgence - no healthy, mutually consenting BDSM here - this is a place where people go to be maimed, hurt and tortured).

The other subculture portrayed is that of the surgeons themselves. The Soskas create a creepy old boys club where the power of slicing into live human beings has engendered a world of ritual abuse. In the worlds of body modification and masochistic gymnatics, the subjects are ASKING for it. Not so within the perverse world of the surgeons. They use psychological abuse to break down their victims, then administer kindness and fellowship to lure them, then once their quarry is in their clutches, they use deception of the most cowardly, heinous variety to fulfil their desire to inflict sexual domination.

The body modifiers and masochists are pussycats compared to the surgeons who are portrayed as little more than pure exploiters. Their air of respectability as healers and academia is the weapon they use to commit violence and perpetrate subjugation.

Someone's gonna pay. Bigtime.

So, I'm sure you've already gathered that American Mary is not (Thank Christ!) Forrest Gump. We're bathing in the cinematic blood spilled into the tub that is this movie by the insanely imaginative Soska Twins - clearly the spawn of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Elizabeth Bathory with, perhaps, some errant seed from Alfred Hitchcock or William Friedkin.

One of the extraordinary things about American Mary is that it dives headlong into a number of subcultures, which, even if they've been completely and utterly pulled out of the Soska Sisters' respective Autoroutes de Hershey, they feel like genuinely real worlds. The locations, production design, art direction, set dressing and costume design for the various interior and exterior settings look lived in and completely appropriate to the scenes in which they appear.

Even the curse of most lower-budgeted Canadian films - that notorious lack-of-dollars underpopulation - is not especially egregious as some Canuck pictures since many of the settings demand it, while others are appropriately framed (most of the time) to mask it. As well, the Soska Sisters generally have a good eye for composing shots that provide maximum dramatic impact and the lighting and cutting is always appropriate to the dramatic action rather than calling attention to itself.

The performances are generally first rate and the background performers always look 100% right for the scenes. The fine acting, coupled with a script packed with dialogue that's always in keeping with both character and milieu rather than going out of its way to be overtly clever, also contributes to the overall sense that we're wandering through very real, albeit completely, utterly insane worlds. This is also not to say the film is bereft of stylish visual touches, but they're again used for dramatic effect rather than the annoying curse so many younger filmmakers suffer when they abandon narrative (or even dream) logic to say, "Look Ma, I can use a dolly." And believe me, when a shot and/or cut NEEDS to knock the wind out of us, it happens with considerable aplomb.

What sells the film is the world the Soska Sisters create. It's seldom obvious and more often than not we believe it - or at least want to. In many ways, the film is similar to the great early work of Walter Hill (pretty much anything from The Warriors to Streets of Fire) wherein he created worlds that probably could ONLY exist on film, but within the context of the respective pictures, seldom felt less than "real". (That said, Hill was ALWAYS showy, but he knew how to make it intrinsic to the dramatic action.) This makes a lot of sense, since it always feels like the Soska Twins are making movies wherein those worlds that exist realistically on-screen, but furthermore evoke a feeling that the film has been wrought in a much different (and probably better) age than ours.

Dead Hooker in a Trunk and especially American Mary, seem to exist on a parallel plane to those halcyon days of 70s/80s edginess reflected in the Amos Poe New York "No Wave" - not to mention other counter culture types who straddled the underground and the mainstream - filmmakers like Scorsese, Rafelson, Waters, Jarmusch, et al who exploded well beyond the Jim Hoberman-coined "No Wave". Their work even approaches a bit of the 80s cult sensibilities of Repo Man, Liquid Sky or even such generational crossover titles as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet) and the deranged work of more contemporary directors like Eli Roth, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino - all of whom "steal", to varying degrees, from earlier periods of film history, but use the work of previous Masters as a springboard to make the pictures all their own. (By the way, I'm not necessarily suggesting American Mary is culled from any of the aforementioned but rather, that the Soska Twins are clearly working in the same sort of exciting territory. It's especially dazzling when it's within a burgeoning stage of their development as film artists.)

The character of Mary, though, seems like she was born on the set of a 70s James Toback movie like Fingers or the Toback-penned Karel Reizs masterpiece The Gambler or yes, even Don Siegel's magnificent work of cold-cocking art Dirty Harry and though the decade was replete with male heroes of the anti-hero variety, the world just wasn't quite ready for a female heroine to embody the steely resolve of Harvey Keitel, James Caan and Clint Eastwood in the respective pictures. So somehow, Mary was transported in some kind of time machine into the minds of the Soska Twins (at the point of their conception) and spewed herself upon the pages of their script and into the body of Katharine Isabelle.

Well thank Christ for open portals in the time/space continuum - we now have a genuine horror hero who embodies all the anti-hero qualities of a 70s character and is 110% ALL WOMAN!!!

Katharine Isabelle as Dr. Mary has come long and far from her groundbreaking performance in the classic John Fawcett-Karen Walton werewolf picture Ginger Snaps. Here she delivers a courageous performance on a par with her turn as the cursed teen werewolf back in 2000. It's 12 years later and Isabelle has blossomed into a tremendously engaging screen personality. The camera might actually love her even more now that she's gained considerable physical maturity (and the Soska Twins have definitely used their four great eyes to work with their cinematographer Brian Pearson's additional two eyes to add to Isabelle's stunning, real-woman looks). This great actress's 12 years of toil in mainly television has given her a myriad of roles and experience, but in American Mary, her brave, deadpan (and often very funny) delivery blended with moments where the character is clearly repressing anything resembling emotion is the kind of thesping that demands more roles as terrific as this one. Please, get this woman out of Television Hell and put her on the big screen where she belongs.

The film also has a cornucopia of terrific supporting performances. Antonio Cupo as the sort-of male love interest is both sleazy and endearing (a pretty amazing double whammy). David Lovgren is suitably creepy and reptilian. Paula Lindberg as the nipple-extracted bombshell who also gets her vagina sewn shut and Tristan Risk (easily the best supporting work I saw from any actress in any movie in 2012) as the body modified dancer who promotes Mary's talents far and wide, both transcend the expert makeup effects to bring their respective characters' spirits beyond the almost freakish intensity of their body modifications.

And finally, no review of American Mary would be complete without a special nod to Nelson Wong who wins the alltime accolade for the scariest, creepiest, sickest, funniest rendering of a surgeon you hope NEVER to meet - even in your dreams.

American Mary is a true original. The Soska Twins have generated an utterly buoyant, crazed, thrilling and gob-smackingly brilliant motion picture experience. I expect - NO! I DEMAND! - one kick-ass devil-may-care rollercoaster ride through hell after another from the Soska Twins.

I'm waiting with baited breath. In the meantime, I'll be watching American Mary over and over and over again. I can't get enough of it.

"American Mary" is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD via Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada and Anchor Bay Entertainment Limited.

Friday, 28 June 2013

NEVER TAKE CANDY FROM A STRANGER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - COUNTDOWN TO CANADA DAY 2013 - Child Molestation in Canada? Here's How UK's Hammer Films Portrayed Canada - Weirdly, Very Weirdly!

Crafty Canadian Child Molesters Offer Candy To Kiddies

Never Take Candy From a Stranger (1960) ***
dir. Cyril Frankel
Starring: Gwen Watford, Patrick Allen, Felix Aylmer, Niall McGinnis, Bill Nagy, Michael Gwynn and Budd Knapp

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In the movies, Canada never gets a break. As noted in Pierre Berton's almost pathologically well-researched (and very funny) book "Hollywood's Canada", he outlines Canada's penchant for offering up its anus to any two-bit non-Canadian huckster in exchange for the equivalent of coloured beads. Berton's book reveals how the Canadian government gave away its aspirations to manufacture an indigenous film culture (save for National Film Board of Canada documentaries) with the promise from all the major studios in Hollywood that Canada would be featured prominently as a setting in Hollywood films to promote tourism to Canada.

Most of these movies were B-grade westerns that portrayed voyageurs as boozing lechers looking primarily for white women to rape (since they get "it" easily from Native women), peaceful Canadian Plains Indians as blood-thirsty psychos wildly attacking wagon trains, geographical locations completely unlike what they were in reality and pole-up-the-butt Mounties bent on "getting their man".

In his book, Berton details over 600 such films - merely the tip of the iceberg.

He even gives examples of how Hollywood got their fingers into the pie of Britain's indigenous film industry during the "quota quickie" period (where unscrupulous Brits generated micro-budgeted trash to appease the government quotas, yet still make money) by hiring a puppet Canadian to be the "producer", use Hollywood-based British talent - on and behind the camera - and then to collect the financing and profits. This was an especially easy way to exploit Britain as well as Canada since anything made in Canada, counted as British, since Canada was essentially a colony belonging to the monarchy.

Never Take Candy From a Stranger is a low-budget Hammer Film production from Britain. It's not a western, nor is it a British "quota quickie". It is, however, set in Canada, and made primarily to satisfy voracious drive-in movie theatres and grindhouses in the United States.

And while, as the film's narrator tells us, this story could be set anywhere, we will see the tawdry events unfold in Canada. And what, you ask, is the tawdry event?


This is a Canadian Child Molester - BEWARE!
Yes indeed - child molestation in Canada! Eastern Canada, to be precise. What the makers of the film mean by Eastern Canada is somewhat unclear since that would place the film in the rugged, rocky landscape of inbred territory in the Maritimes. Funny though, it looks like the backlot of Bray Studios - in Mother England, not in the Dominion of Canada.

There are clearly a few facts about Canada askew here. An Eastern Canadian setting in the fiddle playing environs of the Maritimes would normally mean that the child molestation was being carried out by Roman Catholic priests upon young boys in orphanages, troubled-boys schools and the notorious residential schools. As well, none of the law enforcement people in the film appear to be the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but look a lot like sheriffs and state troopers from the good old Red, White and Blue below the 49th parallel.

No matter, Canada it is. Britain has always had a long history of misrepresenting their own colony in the Great White North. One of my favourites is Powell-Pressburger's The 49th Parallel which depicted Nazis entering Canada via U-Boat through Hudson's Bay, encountering a Quebecois fur trapper played by Laurence Olivier, dining in the swinging city of Winnipeg, hooking up with some Mennonites on the prairies, encountering a war-weary non-patriot played by Leslie Howard and finally, an American soldier played by the Canadian actor Raymond Massey.

But, I digress.

We open Never Take Candy From A Stranger with little Sally Carter (genuinely well acted by Gwen Watford) as she plays with a new chum. Sally is a new arrival to this Eastern Canadian enclave of perversion. The gentle rough-housing between the two girls leads to Sally losing 35¢ in the grass. She laments that this was to be her candy allowance for the week. Her all-knowing new friend helpfully offers to take her to a place where they can both get all the free candy they want. Lo and behold, just behind them is a creepy old mansion and from a top window we discover they are being spied on by a foul, dirty old man, Clarence Olderberry (Felix Aylmer).

Later that evening, Sally admits to her parents that she and her friend went to visit a kind old man for candy and stripped naked for him and did a little dance. Dad (Patrick Allen) is furious. He is the new principal of the school in this small town (though it looks reasonably urban) and he is a square-jawed type looking for justice. When he visits the local constabulary, he's told not to press charges since the old man really didn't "do anything" to the children.

They also mention that the old man is essentially the patriarch of the town - responsible for starting its chief industry. He's been a highly influential citizen and well respected. Besides, the sheriff/state-trooper/constable/RCMP-officer adds, Olderberry's son, Clarence Jr. (CANADIAN ACTOR Bill Nagy) will use all his power to make their lives miserable and defend his Dad which will end in complete acquittal for the disgusting, slavering old lecher who, as it turns out, has quite a long history of child molestation that's been hushed up.

Peter is even more intent than ever to press charges and go to trial. From there, we go to an extremely intense courtroom battle, followed by a beautifully directed sequence of nail-biting suspense.

Canadian Cops Track Child Molesters With Vicious Hounds!
Lack of Canadian accuracy aside, I really have to say this movie was a great find. The scenario as depicted more-than-adequately, depicts how child molestation was, for far too long, ignored, repressed and misunderstood. As well, far beyond its time period, it shockingly and frankly depicts the horrors that victims of sexual violence go through during a trial where unscrupulous defence lawyers will pin blame and shame upon them instead of their repulsive clients who deserve a bullet between the eyes rather than the mollycoddling afforded to them.

Cyril Frankel's direction is lean and mean. In addition to directing endless hours of British cop, crime and sci-fi TV series, he also delivered one of the most terrifying and sadly underrated Hammer Horror pictures of all time, The Witches (from Hammer Horror, 'natch) as well as The Trollenberg Terror, one of the trippiest genre-benders of the period. Never Take Candy From a Stranger barrels along with the force of a souped-up GTO engine and the suspense set piece at the end is worthy of J. Lee Thompson's school "chase" between Robert Mitchum's brutal rapist and Gregory Peck's daughter in Cape Fear.

Several twists and turns during this final sequence in Never Take Candy From a Stranger had me on the edge of my seat until the devastating resolution. Add to the stew some truly rich cinematography from the legendary Freddie (The Straight Story, The Elephant Man, his first Oscar win Sons and Lovers and his second Oscar win Glory) Francis and you have an intelligent, suspenseful, powerful and slam-bang little thriller.

On a side note, one of Canada's greatest stage, television and voice veterans, Budd Knapp, appears in a small supporting role. Mother England was always happy to toss colonial savages a few bones.

"Never Take Candy From a Stranger" is available on the great 3-disc DVD set entitled "Icons of Horror - Hammer Studios" from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

MY BLOODY VALENTINE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - COUNTDOWN TO CANADA DAY 2013 - What could possibly be more Canadian than an East Coast miner with a pickaxe hell-bent on vengeance?

My Bloody Valentine (1981) ***
dir. George Mihalka
Starring: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Cynthia Dale and Don Francks

Review By Greg Klymkiw

My Bloody Valentine is one of the best slasher movies ever made, and one of the primary reasons it’s so good is that it’s Canadian. Both of these assertions (proclamations, if you will) might be viewed with a mixture of skepticism and gales of derisive laughter. Well, doubt away and yuck-it-up to your heart’s content, I stand by this controversial claim – especially in light of all the remakes of 70s horror fouling our screens, and most notably the dull My Bloody Valentine 3-D.

Of all the slasher pictures from this period, this delectable Canuck blood spurter splashed onto the silver screen with an indigenous sense of time and place that contributed very significantly to the overall creepiness of the picture. Unlike the demonic, unstoppable, supernatural forces of Jason, Michael and Freddie, the central killer in My Bloody Valentine is a disgruntled miner who, due to the carelessness of some colleagues and mine officials, is trapped in a deadly mine explosion wherein he is eventually forced to devour the flesh of his deceased co-workers in order to survive.

As the accident happened on the night of a Valentine’s Day Dance at the Union Hall in town, our reluctant cannibal miner begins a reign of terror that forces the mining town of Valentine Bluffs to stop presenting a Valentine dance for 20 years. After two decades, however, the citizenry feel that it’s time to resurrect the annual love-fest, especially since the killer has been safely incarcerated in a loony bin.

Bad move. No sooner than you can spit-out a Valentine salutation or create a saliva rope whilst kissing your best gal (or guy), the mysterious miner – replete with super-scary helmet, goggle eyes, Darth-Vader-like breathing mask, adorned in blacks duds from head to toe and utilizing a variety of fine items like pick axes, nail guns, rope and other mining accoutrements, begins to dispatch a whole passel of townsfolk in some of the most grotesque, stomach-turning killings ever committed to film.

The killings are even more delightful now that they’ve been restored to their unrated, uncensored glory on the special edition DVD from Lionsgate. My favourites include death by tumble dryer, face-in-a-pot-of-boiling-hot-wiener-water (one of the greatest pot p.o.v. shots ever) and an impaling from the neck and out through the mouth on a gushing water pipe.

While some might argue that the abovementioned proceedings may seem stock, if not downright derivative of the earlier work of the likes of Mario (Twitch of the Death Nerve, Blood and Black Lace) Bava, Bob (Black Christmas) Clark and John (Halloween) Carpenter, the fact remains that there is absolutely no attempt to hide the fact that this is set IN Canada, IN a real mining town, IN Nova Scotia, IN a real mine and featuring an all-Canadian cast replete with unmistakably Canadian accents (including some obviously “local” extras).

This goes a long way to creating an experience that makes the genre’s situations and requirements richer and, dare I say it, more realistic. Not that the film is replete with the typically “quirky” Canadian casting – most of the young leads are suitably hunky and/or babe-o-licious (especially leading lady Lori Hallier), but they look especially appealing in their Canadian-hoser plaid, faded jeans, dirty caps and small town and decidedly (un)chic Woolco/K-Mart duds. (Though one young lady appears to be adorned in an angora sweater – Hubba! Hubba!)

That said, there are a number of supporting players who feel a bit more “quirky” including a John Candy look-alike fat guy who ends up being pretty tough and courageous – that’s definitely “Canadian”. And cool, too. (The only obvious non-Canadian thing is that Don Francks plays a sheriff – something Canucks do not really have presiding over the law and order of small towns.)

The way in which director George Mihalka uses his excellent locations is especially welcome. The small-town union hall, the Laundromat, the numerous signs proudly proclaiming the availability of Moosehead Beer and that dank, dark, creepy and VERY REAL mine all contribute to presenting a tale of terror with a real local flavour.

In scene after scene, Mihalka makes practical and imaginative use of everything real that’s available to him – certainly something every good filmmaker should do, but especially when directing a thriller. Hitchcock’s rule of thumb in terms of utilizing EVERYTHING that is naturally around you to generate thrills is exploited beautifully in this picture by both the script and Mihalka’s direction.

In addition to the great locations, both the art direction and costume design go a long way to creating a work that lives beyond the stock situations. As well, the cinematography is first-rate. Above ground, there’s a terrific, slightly over lit quality that captures every decrepit detail of the town and in the mine, the use of light, shadow and black is expertly rendered and adds considerably to the terror below.

At the end of the day (or night, if you will) it’s great that Lionsgate secured the rights to the original My Bloody Valentine from Paramount and expertly restored it to the glory originally envisioned by its makers. The especially cool thing is that these enhancements are JUST THAT – enhancements. My Bloody Valentine always felt like an original and stayed in one’s mind for over two decades. Now, it is in a much better form where it can shock, thrill and delight future generations of horror fans.

The original 1981 “My Bloody Valentine” is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Lionsgate Home Entertainment (Alliance/E-One).

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Satire used as both Advocacy and History.

How To Make Money Selling Drugs (2013) ***
Dir. Matthew Cooke
Starring: Barry Cooper, Freeway Rick Ross, Brian O’Dea, Bobby Carlton, David Simon, 50 Cent, Eminem, Woody Harrelson, Susan Sarandon

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A day doesn't go by when I can't help but shake my head over how utterly moronic America seems. Its founding principles seem to be diametrically opposed to the actual manner in which the country is continually driven by the not-so-secret needs of its wealthiest few and how easily the vast majority of its populace accepts the country's endless human rights violations, lack of freedoms and the exploitation of the basic tenets of democracy.

It is a country that's essentially on the verge of being little more than a Third World Nation run by puppets and populated with a majority of boobs exploited for their willing acceptance of a system that continues to dumb them ever-downwards by any means necessary. The country's seemingly endless war-mongering - most notably its idiotic War on Terror - is matched by its War On Drugs.

Matthew Cooke's clever, funny and mildly subversive documentary How To Make Money Selling Drugs delivers a step-by-step, blow-by-blow how-to guide on the ins and outs of hawking marijuana and cocaine (and by extension, pretty much any illicit drug). Replete with all manner of flashy TV-styled cutting, sound effects and on-screen title cards, it is - on its surface - a fascinating look at how some of the best in the "business" ply (or have plied) their illicit trade and yielded oodles of cash. These individuals run the gamut of street dealers all the way up to cartel-leaders and through their experiences we learn the perils and pitfalls as much as we learn the ways to achieve success.

Some of the more seemingly successful practitioners of the trade, Barry Cooper, Freeway Rick Ross and Brian O’Dea are all incredibly open and informative as they detail their how-to approaches. These guys are on-camera, but off camera (with disguised voices) or in front of the camera (in disguise and/or with pseudonyms) we get additional tips. If we were to follow their advice, the movie suggests that we too can make ourselves a decent living.

Luckily, the film also presents these same subjects' downfalls (occasional or permanent) and some of it seems so convincing that we feel like IF we could avoid some of the mistakes made that led to incarceration, we could hit dizzying heights of financial success without penalty. This, of course, is tempered by reality and it's eventually obvious that selling drugs IS indeed a losing game - not because it's wrong, immoral or criminal (which to varying degrees it is and/or can be), but because the Status Quo has stacked the deck to allow it AND then deny/destroy it - all for personal gain at the political level.

In addition to focusing upon several real-life dealers, the picture also presents numerous law enforcement officials - cops, DEA agents, lawyers and judiciary. Their presence confirms and presents the ease with which one can make money selling drugs, but also how those on the other side of the coin make their "collars" - none of them, not surprisingly, all that imaginative. The law uses a variety of snitches, but also employs threats, intimidation, entrapment and even just plain planting drugs on suspected dealers.

One of the more interesting subjects is Bobby Carlton an ex-cop who details every single manner in which he willingly and even gleefully entrapped people. Astoundingly, the film follows his story to a point where he joins the "other side" and becomes an activist and advocate for the rights of dealers to the point where he is now forced to live in self-imposed exile to escape persecution by American law enforcement officials who frown up his change of heart and activities associated with it.

The filmmakers also present a wide variety of celebrity interviews - those who have dealt and/or used drugs to those who are fighting against the archaic and immoral anti-drug laws and campaigns. Interviews with the "real thing" former dealers and/or users include the stellar likes of 50-cent and Eminem. Celebrity activists include Little Mrs. Commitment herself Susan Sarandon and everyone's favourite wacko advocate Woody Harrelson.

Right from the start of the film, there's a subtle and eventually, not-so-subtle subtext which provides both a history of America's War On Drugs and exposes the utter hypocrisy of it. In so doing, the movie cleverly uses its how-to guide as a plea for saner American approaches to the "Drug Problem" - a problem that seems manufactured by the government with its Draconian approaches to the War On Drugs - so much so that David Simon, the creator of hit series The Wire, points out the irony that law enforcement agents and agencies (including straight-up cops themselves) place so much emphasis on how to entrap dealers that good, old-fashioned police work goes the way of the Dodo (to the detriment of many other serious crimes never being properly solved).

The movie cleverly manipulates itself to deliver one poignant and often heartbreaking sequence after another that details the fall of the aforementioned "criminals" in addition to those who are not dealers at all, but are in the wrong place at the wrong time. The dealers all seem to be at peace with the risks of the profession, but those caught up in the trade innocently and inadvertently suffer from wrongful arrest, incarceration and what often seem like utterly unconstitutional, if not illegal (and certainly immoral) raids, arrests and incarcerations.

At the end of the day, we have a film which uses a satirical approach to its subject to act as a plea for a saner approach to drugs and both the use and sales of said hallucinogens. Some of the satire is of the Lite persuasion and while at times, I might have preferred an even more subversive approach to the subject, it doesn't take away from the fact that this is yet another convincing and important expose of America's hypocrisy - not just in terms of drugs, but by extension, everything.

"How To Make Money Selling Drugs" is currently in theatrical release via Berkshire Axis Media.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

WHITE HOUSE DOWN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Magnificently Stupid American Propaganda Just 4 U

White House Down (2013) ****
dir. Roland Emmerich
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Michael Murphy, Joey King, Nicolas Wright

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Gee whiz, I thought Olympus Has Fallen was stupid and entertaining. Well, leave it to SF-Action-Disaster specialist Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) to serve up an entire football stadium-sized trough of STUPID and deliver one of the best-directed and almost criminally entertaining action movies of the year. Though the former picture beat White House Down to the punch in terms of release dates for the terrorists-taking-over-the-American-symbol-of-might genre, Emmerich has little to worry about. His film wins the sweepstakes hands-down.

It's a potent cocktail.

A hunky loser (Channing Tatum) in need of redemption who's just turned down for a Secret Service job by the she's-got-eyes-for-him commanding officer (Maggie Gyllenhall) is wandering through the White House with his sullen, estranged 14-year-old daughter (Joey King) when terrorists attack. The Obama-like President (Jamie Foxx) is about to pull all the troops out of the Middle East and on the verge of a major peace accord, so he clearly has to be stopped. A rogue retiring Secret Service Chief (James Woods) assembles a crew of the most foul ex-military psychos-with-chips-on-their-shoulders led by everyone's favourite torture specialist from Zero Dark Thirty (Jason Clarke) and before you can say "BOOYAH!!!" all Hell breaks loose.

To make matters a bit worse, a toady VP (Michael Murphy) and a Right Wing House Speaker (Richard Jenkins) are both eager to seize the reins of power and restore the world to America's rightful place as a supporter of the war industry. Not only does Channing have to save the President and his daughter, but the entire world.

You'll never guess if he accomplishes ANY of this unless you see the movie, though you can probably lay down pretty even odds on the likelihood that he will. Tatum and President Jamie Foxx team up like some hybrid of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon and those nasty terrorists wish they'd been cut-to-ribbons during their previous tours of duty in Afghanistan.

Carnage ensues.

Emmerich directs several phenomenal action set pieces with the skill of a true master. In spite of knowing where every second of this movie was going, I found myself on the edge of my seat several times thanks to Emmerich's solid, old-fashioned helmsmanship of the breathtaking action scenes. I will also admit to joining the audience in spontaneous applause when:

(a) the President hoists a rocket launcher and lets rip;

(b) when the President unloads several rounds of automatic gunfire into a terrorist;

(c) when Tatum commandeers the President's limo for a spectacular chase scene on the White House grounds;

(d) when Tatum and Jason Clarke go mano a mano in one of the best directed hand-to-hand fights in many years;

(e) when a character least likely to do so (even less likely than the President or the little girl) brutally bludgeons a terrorist to death with a very cool White House heritage relic and then brandishes high power firearms;

(f) and last, but not least, when the plucky little girl hoists a flag and - I kid you not - WAVES IT FURIOUSLY and with pride - to try and stop an air strike on the White House.

Like I said, this movie is stupid beyond belief.

And you won't want to miss it!!!

"White House Down" is in major wide release all over the world.

Monday, 24 June 2013

JUBAL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Gorgeous Technicolor Western Shines On Criterion's Stunning DVD & BRD.

Jubal (1956) ****
Dir. Delmer Daves
Starring: Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger, Charles Bronson, Valerie French, Felicia Farr, Noah Beery, Jack Elam

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Jubal is a rip-snorter of a picture - much beloved by those who've come to know it well, but also a film that kind of slipped through the cracks over the decades. It was written and directed by Delmer Daves and those movie fans who do remember his name usually associate it with his superb western 3:10 to Yuma (a film, to put it mildly, that's worth remembering to be sure). I'm so Daves-nutty these days, that it seems thoroughly appropriate to declare that he was, without argument (I'll not accept any, anyway) one of cinema's genuinely great American directors.

Other than a few well placed pockets of support, though, it feels like Daves still hasn't garnered the kind of critical adulation that even lesser directors have been afforded. In addition to helming a couple of ultra-cool film noir melodramas, the creepy Edward G. Robinson vehicle The Red House and my own personal favourite Bogart and Bacall picture Dark Passage, Daves delivered the goods on several westerns which, frankly, are all up there with the best Anthony Mann and Robert Aldrich psycho-melodrama oaters from the same period and a couple even flit, like moths to light, against the untouchable sphere of The Searchers.

He began his career as an extremely prolific screenwriter - highly adept at shifting between genres. Much of his writing prior to his directing career involved script doctoring - sometimes credited, other times not - and though many of the pictures he wrote were by-the-numbers studio programmers, he is associated as a screenwriter on two terrific pictures, The Petrified Forest and Leo McCarey's Love Affair (the much superior 1939 original version of McCarey's 50s remake with Cary Grant An Affair To Remember).

As a director, though, Daves's star shone brightly in the sky whether we recognized it or not - he made picture after picture that so many of us loved and now, more than ever seems like the perfect time for a Daves explosion of the Super-Nova variety, especially considering that the Criterion Collection is honouring his memory with two exquisite new releases from the Daves canon - the famous aforementioned 3:10 to Yuma and the not-so-famous-but-should-be Jubal.

Jubal, might actually be the best of the two. And even if it's not really better, it's sure as shootin' way more entertaining. It's a great story - a raging, exciting melodrama driven by yearning, but tempered with loyalty and friendship. Glenn Ford is the title character - a man who's searched his whole life for a sense of family and belonging. Shep Horgan (the perpetually grinning and/or grimacing Ernest Borgnine), a gregarious cattle rancher, takes Jubal under his wing and in this lusty, friendly, kind-hearted man, our hero discovers a friend, mentor and father-figure all rolled into one.

Alas, things are never this easy for men like Jubal. Shep is married to Mae (Valerie French), a gorgeous, young trophy wife (from Canada, no less) who takes an immediate interest in our handsome, mysterious hero. This annoys Pinky Pinkum (a pudgy, sweating, ham-oozing Rod Steiger) to no end. He's been porking Mae in secret, but with Jubal's arrival, she clamps her legs tighter than a vise, hoping to spread 'em for some bone de Glenn Ford. To add insult to Pinky's injury, he witnesses how close Jubal and Shep are getting - including dinner invites in the holy matrimonial hearth of the main house. Where Pinky goes completely apoplectic is when Shep offers the Cattle Foreman position.

Things get especially rip-snorting when "Jube" (how Shep affectionately addresses our hero), though tempted by the prospects of boning sultry Mae, his, uh, boner swivels in the directed of Naomi (the insanely gorgeous Felicia Farr), a Mennonite gal whose family is camped out on Shep's spread as they search for the "promised land". Naomi, it seems, is betrothed to a rather humourless and brutish Mennonite and he begins to display some rather Un-Christian attitudes when he realizes that his honey pie is getting plumb moist over "Jube".

So, let's do the math so far:

Shep loves Mae. Mae doesn't love Shep.

Pinky was boning Mae, then she stops the boning because she really would prefer to be boned by Jube.

Jube wants to bone Naomi. She is, after all, a virgin.

The Mennonite Brute wants to bone Naomi, but Naomi wants to bone Jube.

This is turning into one hootenanny of boners. In fact, there's either gonna' be a whole lotta bonin' goin' on (in more ways than one) or no boning at all if this all adds up to a pile of bodies riddled with bullets. It all adds up to this: There are some folks who might want to make things awful difficult for Jube to get back at him for being such a prime specimen of manhood and if, for some reason, one or more of them was to steer Shep to thinkin' the wrong way about Jube, the Apocalypse will be more than nigh.

In the parlance of cowpokes everywhere: "Yeeeeeeeeehhhhhaaaaaaaaaa!"

This movie oozes with sexuality and violence and as such, is one ripe tale. Daves handles the proceedings with verve, tautness and style. Add to the boiling, roiling pot of passion a stellar cast, a fine sense of humour and stunningly gorgeous Technicolor photography, and the final sum of this equation is that Jubal is one hell of a great western.

"JUBAL" is available on Blu-Ray or DVD in an absolutely stunning new transfer via the Criterion Collection.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

ME, THE BEES AND CANCER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - a creepy Cronenberg mockumentary? It could be!!!

Me, The Bees and Cancer (2013) ***1/2
Dir. John Board, Hector Centeno, Jim Donovan
Starring: John Board, David Cronenberg

Review By Greg Klymkiw

John Board has a gourd-sized tumour. Every second day, 30 agitated buzzing bees are individually pressed, with their ass-end stingers facing the humungous pustule-like excrescence sprouting from the man's armpit. And puh-leeze, lezz' not fo'gits dat we bin' introduced to this character, a fit, spry septuagenarian as he belts out a rap number whilst adorned in clothes that look more at home on a gangsta' in some club in the 'hood rather than the tree-lined, semi-tony urban enclave he prances through.

Here he be - let's photoshop this grey-haired sucker with his cool, devil-may-care tresses and baggy pants into the controversial Toronto Mayor Rob Ford crack-house photo - holding a jar of dried homeopathic roots and herbs instead of a crack bowl.

And Jesus Christ, we wince! Not a male in the audience WON'T feel his testicles sucking up into some innermost cavity as each self-administered bee sting forces Gangsta' Johnny to release a gasp of pain, followed by a strange exhalation of relief. If you close your eyes, it sounds like he's having multiple orgasms. Some might call it La petite mort, but for this MAN, it's life, baby, sweet life.

John Board, you see, has been diagnosed with Stage 1 Hodgkins lymphoma.

He's one strong, kick-ass mo-fo!


The man rejects surgery and radiation therapy in favour of repeated painful injections of venom from 30 furry mini-Mugwump-ian hive employees every second day!

Is this, perchance, some perverse new David Cronenberg film - a slow, creepy-crawly mockumentary or found-footage picture from Canada's Master of Audacity? It could be, but it sure-as-shit ain't. Nope, it's a personal documentary by Cronenberg's longtime assistant director John Board (The Fly, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, Videodrome, etc.).

Board is legendary.

He's a 79-year-old veteran of Canada's film industry and has worked from its inception in English Canada, all the way through to where it is now. He's worked on the best Canadian films with some of the country's very best filmmakers. It's practically a hit list of the country's celluloid history.

Then he got cancer. Not, as they say, a good deal - but men like Gangsta' Johnny know how to look a raw deal square in the eye and fuck with it with all their might!

If you know anything at all about what it takes to be a first assistant director (drive, people skills, acute administrative skills, leadership, etc.) then you know, with one glance, why his credit list is so stellar and why he, by extension must be well beyond stellar. With all that force of character and acumen, you know damn well that a man of action like Board isn't going to take ANY shit lightly - especially not life and death; HIS life, HIS death. He's going to rage until the dying of the light, but his rage isn't destructive - it's proactive and in the case of fighting cancer, extremely positive.

Board, of course, is also world famous in the film industry as the creator of The Hollywood Survival Kit: a veritable cornucopia of homeopathic remedies for a variety of ailments that stars and crew members the world over swear by. Learning that bees carry potential healing qualities, he embarked upon his own program of wellness to fight the cancer - the controversial "bee sting therapy".

All of this coincided with the 1KWAVE fund initiated and administered by maverick independent producer Ingrid Veninger and equally maverick programmer/distributor Stacey Donen wherein a handful of filmmaking teams were awarded financial, moral, marketing and mentorship support to make feature films for one thousand smackeroos. Board proposed and was subsequently approved to make his film.

And make it he did. He leads us through his own objections to a medical Status Quo which, places far too much emphasis on outmoded approaches that do little more than put money in the pockets of pharmaceutical companies and reject all research into healthier and more cost effective homeopathic remedies.

This is pretty harrowing stuff. We see bee sting therapy on Board and numerous others and believe me, it's not a pretty site. Board even gets Cronenberg to join him in an onscreen chat about obsession - an especially worthy line of discourse given Board's own path to getting better care - care that HE controls.

Though his film cost a mere 1K, this doesn't mean we get a glorified home movie, but instead, a penetrating documentary portrait of a man truly obsessed. It's fascinating stuff and must-see viewing for all documentary fans. The film has aspects where, in retrospect, I'd definitely have preferred a wider penetration into examining the conflict between traditional medicine and practitioners of homeopathic cures. Why not train the cameras as vigourously upon oncologists, general practitioners, pharmaceutical company reps, etc., with the same detail he lavishes upon himself and his own plight/fight. I'd also have liked to see more direct questioning on this topic levelled at biologists, zoologists and other traditional researchers and scientists. This might have yielded a bit more balance, but also would have delivered more genuine conflict. Hell, in some cases, it might have even yielded some surprises - for both the audience AND Board.

Given the film and the direction it takes, a part of me thinks a sequel might be in the works. There's still more to learn about this whole issue and Board's ongoing struggle. For now, though, sit back and prepare yourself for one of the strangest, creepiest documentaries you'll have seen in quite some time - and, for that matter, an illuminating work that will generate more questions and discussion.

THAT, my homies, is ALWAYS a good thing.

"Me, The Bees and Cancer" is in theatrical release via College Street Pictures and can currently be seen at The Royal Cinema in Toronto."