Friday, 30 June 2017

NOWHERE TO HIDE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Devastating Doc Reveals the Sorrows of Iraq

America is good at destroying things.
Can Iraq survive in spite of America?

Nowhere to Hide (2016)
Dir. Zaradasht Ahmed

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It's always worth thanking the United States of America for destroying Iraq thanks to their spurious war on terror that led to massive destruction, the mass murder of innocent people, the grotesque military occupation in the aftermath of America's foul actions, the eventual military pullout that led to far more instability in the country than ever existed before and, in general, the country's need to destroy and dominate under the guise of "freedom". Watching Zaradasht Ahmed's powerful, harrowing documentary Nowhere to Hide instills as much hatred towards the American Military Industrial Complex as it infuses one with love for the Iraqi people.

When filmmaker Ahmed gave a camera to Nori Sharif, a nurse in the Jalawla emergency hospital, the idea was simple: to help document life in Central Iraq after the withdrawal of American forces in 2011. What followed was simply, utterly extraordinary - five years of footage during one of the most devastating upheavals in the history of the country.

Nori not only proves to be a prodigious chronicler of this period, but he's clearly an intelligent, compassionate and well-humoured individual. God only knows how much footage director Ahmed had to work with since Nori's personality clearly reveals someone who would have had absolutely no problem getting people to open up.

When we first meet Nori on the job in the hospital, he asks a wounded patient, "Have you ever been injured before?" The patient replies, "No, never."

Nori's retort?

"Then you're not from Iraq."

Yes, it's funny as hell, but there's also a sad truth behind it.

Nori explains: "When I started my job it was about stitching and putting casts on simple fractures. But ever since the American invasion in 2003 and the later years, the nature of the injuries have changed. It has become a new reality for us to work in."

The reality of devastation.

Thanks, America!!!

Early on in the film, Nori admits: "My life is good. I have everything I need, but so many people I meet at the hospital had their lives destroyed by the war." Though some of the most fascinating footage in the film is of Nori himself, he maintains that showing the lives of others is, at least for him, far "more interesting than my life."

Since America's invasion, the area Nori lives in became "one of the most dangerous places in Iraq." It is in the very centre of the country and locals are heard to call it "the triangle of death". It is in the very centre of Iraq.

"The only thing you hear about the area is that the people who live here either killers are terrorists," says Nori, "but most of the people I know have had their lives destroyed by the war. Many people have died here along with their stories and neither the Media nor the authorities are interested in those people."

Well, not Nori.

He collects stories from a myriad of those who suffered because of America: a woman whose child died because she could not afford the medicine, a young woman who became so crippled by a bombing she can't leave her room ("the bed has become her only friend"), a family of seven widows and an army of orphans due to a suicide bomber who blew himself up during a funeral, a young man who's been paralyzed from the neck down for seven years - the parade of suffering seems to have no end.

"I try to document their reality as a witness," says Nori. "I wish to preserve their memory. For these people, the war entered their lives like a tornado, smashing all their dreams."

What's important to note is that even the mess of warring factions in Iraq is the fault of America. One man discusses how during the reign of Saddam Hussein, he was very poor, but in spite of this, he was able to build himself up step-by-step. Eventually, he was sold out by a friend to Al Qaida. For his troubles, he's now almost destitute with one leg missing and the other disabled.

This litany of suffering continues - year after year, but then things change. The internal struggles in the country become even more intense and the focus includes the life of Nori and his family as they have to cope with the madness that becomes Iraq.

And as the title suggest, there is truly no place to hide.

As Nori's city becomes too dangerous to live in, we follow him and his family as they escape, moving from one place to another until finally they are forced to settle in a refugee camp.

Nowhere to Hide might be one of the most important documents about the devastation of war you will ever see. For all the death, pain, sorrow and destruction, it is also a film infused with love and hope.


Nowhere to Hide is playing theatrically:

Carlton Cinemas and Kingsway Theatre – Toronto
Village East Cinema - New York City
Laemmle Music Hall - Los Angeles
The Roxie - San Francisco
Vancity Theatre – Vancouver

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Army of Shadows (L'armée des ombres) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Grim, Haunting Portrait of Collaboration and Resistance at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox in summer 2017 series "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville" and, via a gorgeous (O.O.P. limited availability) Blu_Ray/DVD via the Criterion Collection

Collaboration is a dirty business. So is Resistance.

Army of Shadows AKA L'armée des ombres (1969)
Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
Nvl. Joseph Kessel
Starring: Lino Ventura, Simone Signoret, Jean-Pierre Cassel,
Christian Barbier, Paul Crauchet, Claude Mann, Paul Meurisse, Serge Reggiani

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Collaboration is a dirty business. So is resistance. In an occupied country, both will thrive, yet seldom have either been more grim, mean and downright foul than in France during World War II.

Jean-Pierre Melville's film adaptation of Joseph Kessel's fictionalized version of his own real-life experience during this shameful period of 20th Century French History is not only a masterpiece, but it might be one of the most heroic depictions of the French Resistance ever made. That said, Melville's brand of heroism is replete with relentless outrage and deep, deep anguish.

Army of Shadows (L'armée des ombres) will be a bitter pill for any audience to swallow, but its necessity might be more urgent now than ever. "Occupation" of one country by another has become especially endemic to the ongoing and mounting political strife plaguing our world in this century and has resulted in the kind of "collaboration" and "resistance" that ripped the guts out of France and so many other European countries during the Second World War. One of the most fascinating features/attributes of Melville's picture is the fact that it stands before us as a film made almost half a century ago, about events that occurred almost one quarter of a century before the film itself was made, and yet here we sit, now, looking at it, our jaws agape over the cruelties and complexities the movie depicts, and realizing, ever-sadly, how so little, how so goddamn little in our world has actually changed.

It's a movie of universal qualities. The picture comes by them due to the strange narrative and stylistic structures Melville has chosen to infuse it with, all of which place us in a world that, from beginning to end, knock us off-kilter, keep us on edge and finally instil in us a dread that its events, which once happened, are indeed happening now and will happen again and again if we do not, by both acknowledgment and action, recognize and work towards ensuring that it stops.

Melville creates a film here that rubs our noses in the fact that our very nature as human beings is highly susceptible to the damage caused by occupation and how the inevitable resulting collaboration with occupying forces yields the kind of self-serving selfishness (the selfishness of survival, if you will) which gives way to the kind of inhumanity that even resistance can engender.

So how then, does he do this?

The first thing Melville chooses to greet us with are words.

Popping up from deep black, brilliant white typeface announces:

"Unhappy memories! Yet I welcome you...You are my long lost youth..."

My God, was there ever an epigram infused with more truth?

There is no elegant fade to black from these words, no gentle dissolve. Melville jolts us with a cut and the beautifully composed long shot he bestows upon us is that of the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile, that glorious symbol of France's victories over those who would dare profane French soil - a testament to the fallen warriors of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and, indeed, the resting place of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

The Eiffel Tower might well be the ultimate symbol of Paris, but situated at one end of the Champs-Élysées, smack in the middle of the now-named Place Charles de Gaulle, but the more evocatively once-named Place de l'Étoile, the imposing Arch of Triumph remains, for most of us, the definitive apogee of France itself.

And we sense, immediately, that something is amiss. It's not the shot itself, nor is it the the drumbeats and marching feet from a line of soldiers on parade that slowly creep onto the soundtrack and intensify, but rather, it's the sky towering above the grand arch, so grey, so weirdly forbidding in the drabness of the clouds that makes us uneasy.

The camera never moves - or so it seems. Initially, the soldiers are so far away from us they're dwarfed by the Arch itself. As the parade gets closer and the music and marching become ever-cacophonous: beats, bleats, blasts and finally a blare - we're jolted into reality and the camera does indeed shift, ever-so subtly for us to realize that the soldiers are Nazis. As they get closer, filling the frame, defaming the composition of the Arch itself, our nerves are jangled.

And we are sickened.

Things don't get brighter. Melville bestows the rest of the opening of the film in swathes of dull blues, greens and greys as we're introduced to the well-groomed civil engineer Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) who is being driven to a prison camp filled with "enemies" of the collaborationist Vichy government of France, the ruling bureaucracy which has prostrated itself before the Germans who have swallowed the country whole as an occupying force.

Dirty Nazis.

Dirtier still are the French - or rather, those Frenchmen who betray their soil, their nation and their people to serve the foul occupiers.

Phillipe is treated by his captors in a relatively gentlemanly fashion. Housed in a barracks that was ironically designed by the French to house German officers, but is instead now populated by Frenchmen, the pensive, almost bookish prisoner has little regard for his fellow captives, until he takes a shine to a bright young man who proposes a brilliant plan of escape.

This will be our (and Phillipe's) first taste of betrayal in the film. The vibrant youthful co-conspirator sells out our hero to the Vichy pigs and he soon finds himself transported to a Nazi facility. Phillipe escapes (quickly, efficiently and shockingly engineered) and we eventually find him ensconced on the Riviera where he leads the French Resistance movement.

From here, the film charts a series of resistance movements - some successful, and others scuttled by either circumstance or worse (and most often), betrayal. Occupying forces count on the Judas Kiss and Melville's film doesn't spare its characters from being forced to sell out. Then again, and most tragically, the film doesn't save several other characters from refusing to turncoat, and what awaits them is torture and inevitably, agonizing death. And though we see numerous instances of characters succumbing to the equivalents of the "death-by-a-thousand-cuts", Melville conversely doesn't spare an equal number of them from being snuffed out brutally and swiftly.

Throughout his career, Melville 's approach to on-screen violence was unique in its savage efficiency and in Army of Shadows, we are "treated" to several instances of this, so ferocious in the barbarity of the acts, that we're forced to cringe and gasp through several agonizing stranglings, stabbings, beatings and shootings. From a tea towel garrotte wrenching a traitor's last gasps of air to a cold, hard pistol appearing out of nowhere, pausing to give its intended victim a few moments of recognition and then, the inevitable, the blast of a gunshot, the piercing of flesh and death that is as merciful as it is cruel.

There are, of course, moments of tenderness, love, loyalty and yes, even hope. However, the film's overall tone is one of despair. The picture begins as it ends, beginning with one thing and allowing it to transform into something quite different - jolting us out of anything resembling comfort or complacency.

Yes, amongst the army of shadows in this horrific topsy-turvy world of collaboration and resistance, there is heroism, but nobody - nobody is a winner.


Army of Shadows AKA L'armée des ombres is being screened during the TIFF Bell Lightbox series entitled "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville" and is available on the Criterion Collection in a (limited availability O.O.P.) BLU-RAY and DVD that includes an audio commentary with film historian Ginette Vincendeau, an interview with editor Françoise Bonnot, On-set footage and excerpts from archival interviews with director Jean-Pierre Melville, cast members, writer Joseph Kessel, and real-life Resistance fighters, "Jean-Pierre Melville et L’armée des ombres” (2002) and "Le journal de la Résistance" (1944), a rare short documentary shot on the front lines during the final days of German-occupied France.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Le Samouraï - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Classic crime picture (on 35mm no less) at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox in summer 2017 series "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville" and, of course available on a gorgeous DVD via the Criterion Collection

Contract killer played by oh-so cool Alain Delon.

Le Samouraï (1967)
Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
Scr. Melville & Georges Pellegrin
Starring: Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon, Cathy Rosier

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Jef Costello is a contract killer. He's clearly good at his job, but he's also inordinately, almost ferociously cool. Oh yeah, he's cool as a cucumber - when you kill for money, you've gotta be, but the "cool" I'm really talking about here is more than his solitary reserve; Jef Costello is cool, as in: he's out of sight, man!

How can he not be?

In Jean-Pierre Melville's awesome 1967 crime thriller Le Samouraï, he's played by the epitome of cool, Alain Delon. When we first meet him, the dude is relaxing in his grungy, spartan Montmartre bachelor suite, smoking a butt on his bed while his tiny pet bird tweets in its cage. Titles appear over this strangely unsettling scene of repose:

"There is no solitude greater than a samurai's,
unless perhaps it is that of a tiger in the jungle."

The quotation is attributed to the "The Book of Bushido". As it turns out, this book is non-existent. It's Melville's invention - no doubt inspired by similar tomes - but that the great auteur chooses to open his film with a manufactured quotation is telling. We're about to enter a world in which the filmmaker is going to steep us in style of the highest order - the film's mise-en-scène proves to be copiously luxuriant in Melville's mastery of technique and appearance. We're going to feel his mitts all over this picture.

Astonishingly though, this will be no mere exercise in style for its own sake. Melville also infuses the work with oddly Neo-realist properties. We know we're watching a movie, but good goddamn, at times it feels like life itself.

And so it is that Jef Costello, attired in a grey trench coat and impossibly sexy fedora, eventually enters a nightclub and guns a man down in cold blood.

Jef's made some mistakes, or so it seems. He's not only been noticed, but at one point he comes face-to-face with a witness, Valérie (Cathy Rosier) the club's gorgeous, exotic piano player. But Costello is too steely and handsome. Valérie refuses to identify him in a police lineup.

This frustrates the Superintendent (François Périer) of the investigating homicide division because his gut is telling him Jef's his killer, in spite of the fact that our icy hitman appears to have crafted a reasonably iron-clad alibi, provided in part by the gorgeous ('natch) Jane Lagrange (Nathalie Delon) his "fiancé", a beautiful hooker with a heart of gold.

The Superintendent is not going to let go. He clamps his vice-like jaws upon Jef like a pit bull. using every available resource at his disposal. To make matters worse, our sleek hero is double-crossed by the men who hired him. They're welching on payment and want to take him out.

What French crime picture doesn't have babes?

What we get is 105 relentless minutes of cat and mouse - double your pleasure, of course, since the Superintendent is stalking his quarry whilst the quarry has his own quarry to stalk.

All of this is stylishly played out upon the grey streets of "Gay Paree". La Ville-Lumière has seldom looked as bleak as it does in Le Samouraï.

In one of the greatest set-pieces in movie history, Jef wends his way through the Knossos-like labyrinth within the bowels of the ancient Paris Metro. We're on the edge of our seat and then some.

Melville dazzles - yes, with sheer cinematic aplomb, but also with a meticulous attention to detail. Every step of the way, he makes us feel like what we're watching is real; whether we wait with Jef through the tedium of having his licence plates swapped in a clandestine garage or when two detectives painstakingly enter Jef's apartment, scour it and eventually plant a bug for audio surveillance.

And for all the cool, the tough-mindedness, the violence, Melville never lets go of his characters' humanity. The film is steeped in romance, star-crossed fate and ultimately, a kind of sad, desperate sense of doom. Damned if he doesn't move us to tears with the same fervour he manages to tantalize our eyes and thrill us to bits.


Le Samouraï is playing in 35mm during the TIFF Bell Lightbox series entitled "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville" and is available on the Criterion Collection in a DVD that includes video interviews with Rui Nogueira, author of "Melville on Melville" and Ginette Vincendeau, author of "Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris" plus archival interviews with Melville, Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon, and Cathy Rosier.

Monday, 26 June 2017

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Argento Debut on Arrow

The birth of a horror master, and it was a good birth.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)
Dir. Dario Argento
Starring: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Reggie Nalder

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Why do beautiful women insist upon walking home alone at night, especially when the city's been plagued by a serial killer targeting beautiful women walking home alone at night? Well, in the movies, the answer is simple. So we get to watch a potential victim furtively step into occasional pockets of light, surrounded mostly by pitch-black shadows whilst being spied upon and followed by a butcher-knife-wielding psychopath adorned in black leather and an oh-so-stylish wide-brimmed hat until eventually, she's followed home and then, once resting easy in her see-through nightie, the whack-job stalker enters her boudoir and exacts some vicious handiwork.

Why, you ask?

That's why!

And so it is that the entire aforementioned stalk-and-slash sequence is accompanied by the following bon bons:

- a creepy Ennio Morricone score that veers from off-kilter nursery-rhyme tones to discordant jazz riffs;

- the sumptuously scintillating incandesce of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and;

- in his debut feature as a director, the gloriously fetishistic mise-en-scène of Dario (Suspiria) Argento.

Add to all of this, a gorgeous smash cut from the first appearance of the killer to an extreme closeup of the insides of the victim's moist screaming maw as the camera then pulls out of its intimate perch, the lens like some penis withdrawing from a delectable orifice of penetration.

Oh yes, we are most definitely in Argento Land!

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage is a first-rate giallo classic of the highest order and though it's a bit light on Argento's later trademark cerebral qualities in favour of more standard mystery thriller tropes, there's plenty of dazzling visual nuttiness on display to signal the arrival of one of horror cinema's true masters. (And, there are plenty of fetishistic Argento closeups of the psycho's black-leather-gloved hands, cradling steely implements of death and performing divinely appetizing acts of violence.)

Loosely based, and oddly uncredited, upon "The Screaming Mimi", a lurid 1949 pulp novel by Fredric Brown, Argento's screenplay details the adventures of American writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) who's been residing in Rome with his gorgeous squeeze Julia (Suzy Kendall). When he witnesses the attempted murder of Monica (Eva Renzi), a beautiful (naturally) redheaded art gallery employee, homicide detective Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) scoops Sam's passport, preventing him from leaving the country, not because he suspects any nefarious activities, but because he's convinced our hero might hold a key to the investigation, buried (of course) in his psyche. For his part, Sam's having some troubles in the manly-performance department and thinks he'll be able to get "it" back up again if the murders can be solved. Needless to say, he begins to play detective all on his lonesome. Conveniently, for the film, this places both him and his dazzlingly gorgeous girlfriend in peril.

These are characteristically delightful giallo twists and turns, all served-up marvellously by the tasty side-dishes of Argento's baroque crazy-ass styling. The suspense set pieces are genuinely scary and the whole affair not only signals what was eventually to come from the great auteur, but works perfectly well as a dazzling, horror thriller all on its own. The absurdity of the narrative doesn't disappoint and even offers up some wonderful red-herrings to spice up a few surprising revelations that most of us should see coming from a mile away. (And even if you do, you won't quite spot them coming exactly the way they do.)

Any movie with Reggie Nalder is worth its weight in gold.

As a tasty side note, any film that features the magnificent character actor Reggie Nalder as a yellow-jacket-adorned hired killer who disappears within a convention of former prize-fighters after a scary stalk-and-chase sequence, is almost, in and of itself, worth the price of admission.

Luckily, the movie itself has a lot more to offer.

My first taste of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage was on film during a dusk-to-dawn show at a drive-in movie theatre in the late 70s and my memories were fond enough of the picture that I was eventually disappointed and disgusted by the poor video transfer I eventually caught up with on VHS in the 80s.

Now, my life is complete

The Arrow Films Blu-Ray deluxe edition not only serves up a lovely 4K digital restoration, but comes complete with a bevy of superb extra features including a Gold Standard audio commentary from Troy Howarth who jams his sprightly presentation with everything you always wanted to know about the making of this film, and then some - his delightful delineation of every arcane piece of Italian giallo lore is a genre geek's wet dream. It's really a pleasure to listen to someone who knows his shit and displays his "wares" with intelligence and passion.

**** 4-Stars (for the film)
***** 5-Stars for the Arrow Films Blu-Ray.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

THEY LIVE BY NIGHT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Ray Debut Gets Criterion Deluxe Treatment

Depression-era novel yields perfect post-war Film Noir.

They Live By Night (1948)
Dir. Nicholas Ray
Scr. Charles Schnee, Nicholas Ray
Nvl. Edward Anderson
Starring: Cathy O'Donnell, Farley Granger, Howard Da Silva,
Jay C. Flippen, Helen Craig, Will Wright, Marie Bryant

Review By Greg Klymkiw

You know the kid is doomed. That's usually the way it is in the grand tradition of film noir crime pictures, but there's a lot more to it than mere genre expectation. Nicholas Ray's debut feature film They Live By Night is so immersed in despair that the pain experienced by the viewer is matched only by our hope against hope that the sweet, young escaped convict Bowie (Farley Granger) is somehow, someway going to find a way out of the hole that both he and circumstance are digging - deeper and deeper and ever-deeper, right from the opening frames.

But we know, we just know, it ain't gonna be so. In this world, hope is a stacked deck and the dealer holds all the good cards. The wide-eyed look of both fear and expectation in Bowie's eyes as he waits in the darkness of night with a sweet, stray dog is enough to tell us that no matter what brief glimmers of hope get tossed his way, he's going to be swallowed whole by a hard, cruel world that has it in for the disenfranchized in the post-war ennui that pervades the world of the film (but in its universal prescience, stands in so sadly for a world that continues to assault those who are the most vulnerable).

And so it is, like Edward Anderson's depression-era novel (and Robert Altman's great 1974 film version Thieves Like Us), that Bowie breaks out of a life-sentence in stir with the older, though hardly wiser thugs, the one-eyed Chicamaw (Howard DaSilva) and the grizzled T-Dub (Flippen). The three convicts hide out in the ramshackle rural home of old drunkard Mobely (Will Wright) and his daughter Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell). With the financial and moral support of T-Dub's sister-in-law Mattie (Helen Craig), the trio plan a major bank robbery.

The core of the story is where director Ray excels. (Ray's entire career seems devoted from this film onwards to movies focusing upon disenfranchised outsiders - Rebel Without a Cause, anyone?) Thanks to producer John Houseman and RKO studio chief Dore Schary, this might be the only film that Ray had unfettered freedom. The movie charges with passion and energy, unlike Altman's equally brilliant take which focused upon the sheer monotony of life-on-the-lam.

Ill-fated lovers on the lam: Claustrophobia to Flight.
Nicholas Ray brilliantly tosses in every cinematic tool at his disposal to keep us enthralled. The helicopter "God" shots are especially dazzling and his groundbreaking use of sound places us firmly in a world that pulsates with a terrible beauty - at once real and alternately, hyper-real, borderline expressionism (especially in his use of Christmas Carols during the most heartrending perversion of domestic bliss and a knockout nightclub sequence with Marie Bryant performing "Your Red Wagon").

Of course, the film's narrative nucleus is the doomed love story between Bowie and Keechie and, oh, it's a heartbreaker. Not only is Bowie doomed from the first glimpse of him, so too is the love twixt this sad, broken couple. When we first meet them as a pair, the sparks are clear, but so's their downfall. Whatever shards of joy they're going to share, they're ultimately bound to wind up on a clear path to sheer and utter despair.

In many ways, both characters have been prisoners. Bowie was incarcerated as a teenager, railroaded by a system that had no time to mete genuine justice upon a poor abused kid. Keechie has lived her entire life helping her alcoholic Dad in the middle of nowhere. Neither of these people have done anything resembling "living" and what life they're going to experience together is most definitely not bound for glory.

So much of the movie is "on the road" - getaway cars and buses. Flight certainly offers an alternative to the claustrophobia that infused the lives of the film's young lovers, but one of the most astonishing set pieces offers a strangely moving repast for Bowie and Keechie when the couple takes one day - ONE DAY - to live out their lives as a "normal" couple.

When the heist occurs early on, it yields a whack of dough, but the troubles start there. Every step of the way, from this point forward, is a misstep and the movie can do little more than toss a crumb or two of happiness in our protagonists' way, and then, bury it with shovelfuls of cold, grimy dirt.

They Live By Night is a movie that seems to be digging a grave and maybe, just maybe, the best we can do as observers is experience its sad inevitabilities so that we never close our eyes to the plight of those who need more than mere sympathy, but action, so that we can all live in a world that extends something resembling compassion.


They Live By Night is available on the Criterion Collection and comes replete with a new 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, an audio commentary featuring film historian Eddie Muller and actor Farley Granger, a great video interview with film critic Imogen Sara Smith, a short piece from 2007 with film critic Molly Haskell, filmmakers Christopher Coppola and Oliver Stone, and film noir specialists Alain Silver and James Ursini, plus a dazzlingly eye-opening (and nicely illustrated) audio interview from 1956 with producer John Houseman in conversation with Gideon Bachmann.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

THE DAUGHTER OF DAWN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Milestone restores important lost film.

Any day is a great day to watch and rejoice in this important "lost" piece of cinema history, but Canada's NATIONAL ABORIGINAL DAY is a pretty good reason to celebrate the gorgeous Milestone Cinematheque's Blu-Ray of The Daughter of Dawn, an independent 1920 silent picture that stars over 300 members of Oklahoma's Comanche and Kiowa nations.
When it comes to film restoration and preservation,
it doesn't get better than Milestone Film and Video.
The Daughter of Dawn (1920)
Dir. Norbert A. Myles
Starring: Esther LaBarre, Hunting Horse,
White Parker, Jack Sankeydoty, Wanada Parker

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Mysteries abound from the period we know as the dawn of cinema and they almost always centre upon the multitude of films which existed ever-so-fleetingly, then disappeared from the face of the earth due to the vagaries of distribution and exhibition - not to mention the highly combustible nature of nitrate film stock (eventually eschewed after cinema's first fifty-or-so years in favour of more stable stocks). The bottom line is that most major studios considered films as "disposable" product and far too many pictures simply disappeared, going the way of the majestic Dodo Bird - forever.

One of the biggest mysteries is the production of The Daughter of Dawn, which was manufactured by The Texas Film Company in 1920. Shot on location in a wildlife refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma and starring over 300 members of the Kiowa and Comanche Nations, it probably makes even more sense that it became lost to the sands of time given that it was a genuinely independent film, bereft of the usual barnstorming entrepreneurial showmanship oft-applied during those early days.

In fairness to producer Richard Banks, he had enough vision to secure actor/director Norbert A. Myles to write a script based on a Comanche legend and then mount a spectacular production in a tough location, using local Native Americans, not only as actors, but as the primary artisans of the costumes, sets and props. The film's existence was never in question, nor were the obviously prodigious efforts to make it, but given the popularity of similar works of the period (such as the films of Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, Robert Flaherty, Edward S. Curtis, et al), why it didn't follow similar footsteps is a major head-scratcher.

As far as we know, The Daughter of Dawn had one public screening at a sneak preview in Los Angeles, followed one year later with a screening in Topeka, Kansas and then, completely falling off the map. Its spotty distribution/exhibition history might be one of the greatest mysteries of all. When one compares its aesthetic attributes to the vast number of ethnographic documentaries, docudramas and straight-up dramas shot on location during this period, with real people in front of the cameras, The Daughter of Dawn easily holds its own against seminal works like Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness, Grass: A Nation's Battle For Life and In the Land of the Head Hunters.

The picture is a rip-snorter of the highest order. It's a classic love triangle set against the backdrop of war. Dawn (Esther La Barre) is the daughter of a powerful Kiowa Chief (Hunting Horse) and she's madly in love with the handsome White Eagle (White Parker). Alas, the sly, lumpy, bumbling Black Wolf (Jack Sankeydoty) is in love with Dawn and because he's imbued with considerable wealth (he owns a whole whack of ponies), the Chief is torn over bestowing his daughter to an ideal match. Will it be love that wins out over wealth or vice versa? Neither. The Chief decides that bravery is the greatest attribute, so he sets a challenge to both men to prove their worth.

Simple, yes? Well, there are spanners in the works. Red Wing (Wanada Parker), a not-so-fetching "catch", is madly in love with dopey Black Wolf and her jealousy knows no bounds. Worse yet, some neighbouring Comanches are fixing to go to war with the Kiowa Nation and plan to make a raid in order to steal women and goods. When Black Wolf proves to be no match for the brave White Eagle in the competition, he grabs his "lesser" paramour Red Wing and hightails it over to the Comanche side to turncoat his way into an act of ultimate revenge.

There will be war.

The Daughter of Dawn proves to be a supremely entertaining western adventure. Director Myles trains his camera upon the action with a first-rate eye for staging and detail. We not only get a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the Native Americans (thanks mostly to their cultural/artistic contributions), we're treated to nice dollops of romance and some truly spectacular action scenes (including a buffalo hunt, no less).

How and why this movie fell through the cracks is beyond me. Is it possible that neither the film industry nor audiences were ready for a movie about Native Americans taking centre stage? (A cool bit of historical trivia is that actors White Parker and Wanada Parker were the children of leading Comanche leader Quanah Parker.) Well, whatever kept this film from finding its true place at the time, the point is now moot, because now is the time.

Extraordinarily, though the film was long lost, an Oklahoma private detective was paid for his services with a few cans of nitrate film stock which, as it turned out, was the only extant print of The Daughter of Dawn. It eventually found its was into the hands of the Oklahoma Historical Society who commissioned an all-new original musical score by noted Comanche composer David Yeagley and eventually, for all of us who love movies, it was happily placed in the hands of the visionary Milestone Film and Video who have made it available to the world - ninety years after it was first made.


The Daughter of Dawn is available on a sumptuous Blu-Ray/DVD via Milestone Film and Video on their Milestone Cinematheque label. It looks gorgeous, of course, thanks to a beautiful 35mm restoration and 2K transfer and the home entertainment package is replete with an informative introduction by Dr. Bob Blackburn, the featurette "Finding the Film: with Bill Moore of Oklahoma Historical Society", interviews with Comanche Darren Twohatchet, Kiowa Dorothy Whitehorse, William D. Welge of The Oklahoma Historical Society and featurettes on the musical score.

NATIONAL ABORIGINAL DAY - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - Here is a compendium of a few movies I've written about at The Film Corner that are about Indigenous Aboriginals

On July 1, 2017, it will be "Canada Day", the celebration aimed at extolling the dubious virtues of 150 years of Colonial Rule and the exploitation of Native Canadians.

TODAY, however, is the REAL Canada Day. It's called NATIONAL ABORIGINAL DAY, and in honour of those who shared their land with us, I'm featuring links to several movies I've written about at The Film Corner that feature issues/themes pertaining to our true forefathers/foremothers.

Links to 10 Reviews by ME (Greg Klymkiw) and 1 Review by my (then) 12-year-old-daughter (Julia Klymkiw), all in ALPHABETICAL ORDER.

Let us all enjoy racist White Trash getting decimated.
Avenged (2013) ***½
This all-new entry in the cinematic lexicon known amongst genre geeks as "Redsploitation" (a relatively tiny sub-genre of contemporary B-pictures) is a kick-ass thriller that focuses on a lithe, babe-o-licious, long-blonde-tressed beauty possessed by the spirit of a legendary Aboriginal leader to exact revenge upon the scum who gang-raped her and also happen to be the racist spawn of White Trash who committed acts of genocide upon American Natives. Read the full review HERE.

SickBoy seeks freedom from the reservation.
Drunktown's Finest (2014) ***
This is a film about a place many of us will never know, but as the sun rises over a dusty highway and the evocative strains of "Beggar to a King" by the legendary 60s Native American band Wingate Valley Boys, we're drawn into an alternately haunting and vibrant portrait of a Navajo reservation where life ekes itself out with the dull drip of molasses - a place of aimlessness, alcoholism, repression, violence and for some, hope that a future imbued with promise will be a dream come true. Read the full review HERE.

Mothers and Daughters
Empire of Dirt (2013) *****
A review of this mother-daughter story written by my (then) 12-year-old daughter Julia Klymkiw. In my daughter's words: "Everything in it seems true. I see a lot of movies, but this one made me feel like I was watching things, people and places I knew. Mostly though, I think it's a great movie because it shows how having people around you that love you is the best. See this movie. Especially if you are a girl or a woman. There are not a lot of movies about girls that are this realistic." Read the full review HERE.

The legacy of colonization in FIRE SONG.
Fire Song (2015) ***½
Set against the backdrop of the legacy of British colonial rule in Canada, this is a deeply moving and indelibly-captured slice-of-life portrait of young and old alike - all of whom seek a better life; if not on their reservation, then off it. Read the full review HERE.

Colonial Scumbags must be taken down - NOW!!!
Fractured Land (2015) ***
A young, handsome, rugged, Mohawk-pated Aboriginal man of the Dene Nation in northeastern British Columbia with a penchant for hunting, trapping and expert tomahawk-throwing is also an impeccably groomed "monkey-suited" lawyer entering his articling year with a desire to focus on Native land rights and environmental issues. Colonial Ass will be kicked!!! Read the full review HERE.

Self-determination on the islands of the Haida People.
Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World (2015) *****
Charles Wilkinson's truly great film cannily places the anger of the Haida Nation over Canada's flagrant violation of Aboriginal Rights within the context of a people who are not only trying to live as traditionally as possible, but in many cases are working towards a reclamation of traditional cultural values which were under Colonial attack for so long. Read the full review HERE.

Benjamin Bratt RULES!!!
The Lesser Blessed (2012) ***
Anyone who has experienced life in Canada's most barren regions will be startled by the sense of place in this movie. There isn't a single image - interior or exterior - that isn't infused with the strange, remote and terrible beauty of life in this part of the world. Read the full review HERE.

Lives of the Oglala Lakota Nation.
Pine Ridge (2013) *****
This is a film that conjures all the magic of cinema to give us several lives that could have been so much better lived and yet others, that seem very well lived indeed, but both exist in the shadow of shameful actions and events that continue to darken the doors of the colonizers and the colonized. We're reminded that answers have never come easily, nor, alas will they ever. Read the full review HERE.

The Sun at Midnight (2016) ***½
This sensitive, poignant, beautifully acted portrait of a young woman trying to find herself with the help of a wise, old caribou hunter who takes her under his wing, is one lollapalooza of a survival story set in Canada's sub-Arctic. Read the full review HERE.

This piece of shit sexually abused over 500 Native children.
He's walking free!!! Keep both eyes open!!!
Survivors Rowe (2015) *****
The legacy of a piece of shit who sexually abused over 500 little Aboriginal boys detailed in this powerful documentary. If an Anglican priest and Boy Scout leader viciously sexually assaulted over 500 white children, would he still be living freely in society with the legal implication that he'll never serve more incarceration for his crimes, no matter how many continue to surface? Read the full review HERE.

Heil Harper! Heil Colonialism! Heil Canada!
Trick or Treaty? (2014) *****
Alanis Obmosawin's documentary focuses upon a massive peaceful protest in Ottawa, the nation's capital, that was designed to force Chancellor Stephen Harper (and, of course, the Governor General who represents the British Monarchy) to meet face-to-face with those First Nations Chiefs most affected by the over-100-year-old treaty which was designed and implemented to steal land and not allow any meaningful sharing in the decision-making process of dealing with said land. Read the full review HERE.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

MADHOUSE (1981) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Notorious Video Nasty Gets Arrow Lovin'

Arrow, the Gold Standard of Genre Home Entertainment,
serves up delectable Blu-Ray/DVD of notorious "nasty"!

Madhouse (1981)
Dir. Ovidio G. Assonitis
Scr. Assonitis, Stephen Blakeley, Peter Sheperd. Roberto Gandus
Starring: Trish Everly, Dennis Robertson, Allison Biggers,
Michael Macrae, Morgan Hart, Edith Ivey, Jerry Fujikawa

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A little girl gently rocks another little girl in a big old chair whilst a somewhat dissonant nursery rhyme is crooned. It's the dissonance of the ditty that prepares us for the worst. As the camera pushes in slowly upon the action, we're eventually treated to a brick being smashed repeatedly in the face of the lulled child. And so begins one of the most notorious "video nasties" of the the early 80s, so named because it was one of numerous pictures that were outright banned in Britain for their attention to excruciatingly graphic violence.

Directed by the prolific Italian producer-director-distributor of such works as The Exorcist rip-off Beyond The Door, James Cameron's debut feature Piranha II: The Spawning (which the Titanic director was fired from) and the compulsively, brilliantly godawful Jaws rip-off Tentacles, Ovidio G. Assonitis might well have managed to barf up something resembling, by his standards, a masterpiece.

Madhouse is one marvellously entertaining Giallo slasher picture and though Assonitis will never be mistaken for the likes of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci or Mario Bava, he acquits himself handily here with this fun, surprisingly well-acted (especially by its leading lady), super-creepy gore-fest (that is also blessed with a totally bonkers Riz Ortolani score).

Glorious Gore-Galore in MADHOUSE. Yummy-yum-yum!

And the narrative itself? It took four screenwriters to generate the plot, and while there's no writing here that's ever going to be acclaimed for its virtuosity, it manages to juggle a whole passel of strange jaw-droppers, many bordering on originality, in addition to all the requisite tropes the genre demands.

Julia (Trish Everly) teaches deaf kids in Savannah, Georgia and rents a room from the eccentric Amantha Beauregard (Edith Ivey) who owns a sprawling old house that was once a funeral parlour. The caretaker of this sumptuous manse is Mr. Kimura (Jerry Fujikawa), an Asian-American who manages to give Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany's a run for the money in the grotesquely-racist-portraits-of-Asians Department - quite a feat considering he's played, not by a short white dude in "yellow-face", but a real Asian-American actor.

It seems Julia is the twin sister of Mary (Allison Biggers), a completely bunyip psychopath who lies suffering from a degenerative skin disease in a nuthouse. Julia suffered horrible abuse at the hands of her sister as a child and seeing as their mutual birthday is just round the corner, she is more than a little creeped-out after a harrowing hospital visit in which the batty sis promises to celebrate with some extra-vicious lovin'.

Making matters worse is that the ladies' Uncle James (Dennis Robertson) seems to think that bonkers Mary is simply "misunderstood" and that the seemingly together Julia is unhinged. That the "kindly" Uncle is a Catholic priest does not bode well and though some might consider this a "spoiler", it's pretty damn obvious from the second we meet him that he might be even more off his rocker than the deformed abusive sister. (And yeah, one of the more delightful set pieces involving our wing-nut Priest is a birthday party replete with cake, candles and corpses.)

Needless to say, as the movie creeps ever closer to the celebratory date of birth, Assonitis gives us one vomit-inducing display of violence after another. It's a glorious thing, really! We not only get one butcher-knife hacking after another, but just to keep things interesting we're treated to bludgeoning, Rottweiler attacks, a truly magnificent hatchet wielding and, in one of the more inspired moments, you will jump out of your seat and fill your drawers when something/someone smashes through a door and is then dispatched with a power drill to the skull.

And if this doesn't tickle your fancy, allow me to remind you that you'll actually revel in an oh-so-yummy scene in which a sweet, little deaf boy gets his throat torn out.

That'll teach the little nipper to stay away from strange Rottweilers.

THE FILM CORNER RATINGS: ***½ (film), **** (Blu-Ray/DVD)

Madhouse is brought to us on a first-rate two-disc Blu-Ray/DVD by Arrow Films (these dudes really set the Gold standard for genre home entertainment releases) that not only offers a gorgeous 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative, but a whole whack of wonderful extra features including an entertaining audio commentary with genre podcasters The Hysteria Continues, some extremely informative, in-depth interviews with cinematographer Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli, veteran actress Edith Ivey and, the man himself Ovidio G. Assonitis. Add a trailer, alternate opening titles, a lovely booklet and terrific box-cover art, and this is one worthy addition to any horror fan's home entertainment collection.

Monday, 19 June 2017

GHOST WORLD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2001 Zwigoff & Clowes masterpiece on Criterion

Shirtless Nunchuck Master fortifies with beef jerky.
A sad old man waits for a bus that never comes.
Teenage girls in this GHOST WORLD see it all.

Ghost World (2001)
Dir. Terry Zwigoff
Scr. Daniel Clowes and Zwigoff
Starring: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Illeana Douglas, Pat Healy, Brad Renfro, Bob Balaban, Teri Garr, Dave Sheridan and Charles C. Stevenson Jr.

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"I used to think about one day, just not telling anyone, and going off to some random place. And I'd just, disappear. And they'd never see me again." - Enid (Thora Birch) in Ghost World

The sad old man in a dark suit and gray tie stares at nothing in particular as he sits on a bench at a long-discontinued transit line, waiting for a bus that will never come. His name is Norman (Charles C. Stevenson Jr.). Though a touch distracted, he seems friendly enough when recent high school grads Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) stop to talk with him, but when they assert that the bus route was cancelled two years ago, he expresses mild annoyance, even outright dismissal when he growls, "You don't know what you're talking about."

On the surface, Ghost World, director Terry (Crumb) Zwigoff's film adaptation of the Daniel Clowes graphic novel seems to be about the gradual drift that occurs between these two longtime girlfriends during their first summer of true freedom after twelve-long-years of school, and yes, so it is - on the surface. In reality, though, the picture seems rooted firmly in the character of Norman, someone who appears only briefly in three scenes.

Norman, you see, has a dream and so does young Enid. It is a dream of longing, a dream of escape - leaving behind the ghosts of a town that's become too small to hold anyone there with the desire for flight, the gnawing need to migrate towards a fresh life and new adventures.

One night, Enid visits Norman at the bus stop with the following confession: "You're the only person in this world I can count on, because no matter what, I know you will always be here."

This is Enid's problem. She can't count on anyone or anything to remain in her life. Oh sure, she's surrounded by a handful of constants. Her bestie Rebecca has long been an appendage. The two have remained super-glued together through a life of quips and wry, cynical observations on everyone and everything that seems so ordinarily below their lofty station - "normal" is a dirty word in their vocabularies. They've shared a dream of getting jobs and rooming together in their very own apartment, but when the reality of settling down creeps into their friendship, Enid turns to the geeky middle-aged 78 collector Seymour (Steve Buscemi) for solace and inspiration.

Enid meets Seymour when she's concocted a nasty little ruse after reading his plea in a "personals" column and she responds to it, pretending to be a potential paramour. Instead, she and Rebecca show up to the prescribed meeting place, a faux-50s-style diner in a strip mall and cruelly sit back and watch him arrive and wait in vain for the date that never shows up. They follow the dejected schlub to his nondescript low-rise apartment dwelling and even patronize his garage sale one Saturday morning.

The first signs of a shift in the girls' friendship is apparent. Rebecca thinks Seymour is a creepy nerd (especially after the girls attend a party in his apartment populated by middle-aged 78/vinyl geeks). Enid however, becomes a woman obsessed. She finally admits that Seymour represents "the exact opposite of everything I hate".

But even Seymour won't remain long in Enid's life - it's partially her own doing. She plays teenage matchmaker and when he finally lands a girlfriend, she jealously attempts to break it up by coming on to the poor schlub and eventually dumps him once she realizes that life with him isn't what she's cut out for.

When Enid talks to old Norman at the bus stop, he declares: "I'm leaving town." When a bus mysteriously appears, he boards it and disappears from her life, probably forever. Every anchor in Enid's life continues to dissipate. Even her single dad (Bob Balaban) is planning to get married. They're all dropping like flies. This is a coming-of-age via abandonment, but maybe, just maybe, a bit of self-abandonment is necessary.

New Criterion cover-art by Daniel Clowes.

Zwigoff and Clowes have created one of the most compelling female characters in all of cinema. Enid comes to life in ways that so many characters (no matter what their sex) have ever done. From the opening scene in which the camera tracks along the open windows of an apartment complex, we hear the sounds of a rousing Bollywood tune whilst each window gives us a glimpse into a series of seemingly empty lives: a lone Asian woman staring forlornly into the night, a shirtless dude with a mullet sitting alone in his kitchen, a dinner table bereft of anyone in sight to enjoy the booze, uneaten food and exercise bicycle next to it, a dopey bovine couple watching their stupid kid whack his toys with a plastic baseball bat, and then...

Enid! A raven-haired young beauty in a red kimono-like bathrobe, dancing madly and identically to a woman in a Bollywood video that plays on her television, is revealed to us as someone who is clearly cut of her own unique cloth. (When Enid dyes her hair green and begins sporting period punk-wear, she's even more ravishing and definitely, cooler-than-cool.) Thora Birch attacks the role with a vengeance - as if it were the role of a lifetime, which, it probably will end up being.

The film captures the ennui, the downright melancholy of adolescence with deadpan fervour. The muted colour-pallette created by cinematographer Affonso Beato, the perfection of the movie's cast and an astonishing score comprised of the heartbreaking strains of David Kitay's music and a terrific whack of songs (including the legendary "Devil Got My Woman" by Skip James), all combine to deliver a work that's as riotously funny as it is deeply and profoundly moving.

The film has not dated in the sixteen years since its first release. Though the period details of its late 20th Century never-never-land are omnipresent, the picture's perspective feels downright universal. I was delighted that during my most recent helping of the film, my own 16-year-old daughter was completely blown away by the movie and can't stop watching it - over and over again. We've talked at length about it, but she actually observed something I couldn't have put better myself.

Referring to the haunting final moments of the film, my daughter remarked, "You know, Dad, sometimes we all just need to get on that bus and disappear."

I won't argue with that.


Ghost World is available in a sumptuous Criterion Collection DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION on Blu-Ray/DVD and includes a new, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by Zwigoff, a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray, a great commentary featuring Zwigoff, Clowes and producer Lianne Halfon, new interviews with actors Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Illeana Douglas, an extended excerpt from Gumnaam (1965) featuring the Bollywood number that appears in the movie’s opening title sequence (and with a wonderful commentary about the film itself), some terrific deleted scenes (including alternate takes of the nunchuck wielding madman played by Dave Sheridan), the trailer, an essay by critic Howard Hampton, a 2001 piece by Zwigoff on the film’s soundtrack and reprinted excerpts from Clowes’s comic "Ghost World". The Blu-Ray/DVD includes gorgeous new cover art by Daniel Clowes himself.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Wonder Woman - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Lame, voiceless direction sinks WW solo effort

I am Wonder Woman! I kill to bring peace to mankind.

Wonder Woman (2017)
Dir. Patty Jenkins
Scr. Allan Heinberg
Starring: Gal Godot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Robin Wright,
Ewan Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock
Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Though I refused to read any reviews of Wonder Woman before seeing it, I was unable to avoid knowing that "critics" (I use the word loosely these days) have enthusiastically raved about the film. That the picture is such a huge hit, another fact I was unable to avoid knowing, adds insult to injury. Granted, the injury afflicted is to me (and seemingly me and me alone), but it is an injury nonetheless.

Watching the loathsome Wonder Woman was one of the more painful acts of self-flagellation I've recently engaged in. Let me assure you, my flesh is now mighty raw from that scourging. My soul is empty and again I felt bereft of hope for the future of movies. (Luckily, hope was restored one day after suffering through the dross by watching Jean-Pierre Melville's Two Men in Manhattan and David Miller's Sudden Fear - both made when people made real movies.)

I made a point of seeing Wonder Woman in 70mm. Though preferable to unwatchable 3-D, the glorious widescreen film-format ultimately added nothing to the experience. I found myself limping out of the movie theatre after having to yank the nails from my feet, which I was forced to use in order to affix myself in place for the entirety of the loathsome 141 minutes of Patty Jenkins's interminable miserably directed sewage tank of wasted celluloid.

If you must know, Wonder Woman retches up the origin of Diana Prince (Gal Godot), D.C. Comics' lithe raven-haired superhero. We're forced to endure her childhood, adolescence and early adulthood on the all-female-populated island of Themyscira, a kind of Isle of Lesbos without the lesbo action (not even submerged). Here a race of powerful Amazons created by the Gods of Mt. Olympus, endlessly train in the art of killing in order to eventually bring peace to the world.

When an insufferably handsome American pilot, Captain Steve Trevor (the sickeningly smirking Chris Pine), crashes his plane, he's rescued by our heroine. She learns that World War I is raging and as it's her birthright to restore peace to humankind, she joins him on a pilgrimage to Dear Old Blighty. She's convinced the war is not the fault of Kaiser Wilhelm and the Germans, but rather, by Ares, the nasty nemesis of Zeus who has supplanted himself in the body of British politician Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis). (Some might consider this a "spoiler", but if you can't figure it out from the moment you first lay eyes on him, then I suspect you might require a brain transplant.)

Morgan is in cahoots with General Erich Ludendorff (the vaguely amusing, scenery-chewing Danny Huston) and his facially-deformed chief mad-scientist Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) who are concocting a super-deadly cocktail of mustard gas in the hopes that Germany will bring the world to its knees.

Wonder Woman and the annoying American join forces with a dog's breakfast of wily rascals to kill a whole mess of Germans to bring peace to the world.


I first read the D.C. comic "Wonder Woman" when I was a kid in the 60s and 70s. Unlike the critically-maligned (and boneheadedly so) Zack Snyder-directed Man of Steel and Batman v Superman movies, Patty Jenkins has no feel for the essence of these grand comic books of yore, but even worse, she clearly has no idea where the camera needs to be placed during action scenes. They are the typical contemporary hodgepodge of poorly composed multiple camera setups that the editors are forced to breathe life into (and mostly in vain) by creating sound-based cut-points instead of dramatic "action" cut-points.

The jury is out on whether Jenkins has any genuine talent. Her first film was the competent, decently acted Monster which dramatized the tale of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos (who was the focus of two great documentaries by a real filmmaker, Nick Broomfield). On the basis of Monster and now Wonder Woman, I see no evidence of a genuine directorial vision. It's little more than a (mostly) badly acted catalogue of dull action scenes. I simply don't understand why the studios keep hiring directors with no feel for action (I'm looking at YOU: Christopher "One Idea" Nolan and Sam "I'm from the thay-uh-tuh" Mendes). When you think of the Zack Snyder DC films, one can at least marvel at the painterly compositions of every shot and even though the cutting is rapid fire, he has actually put thought into creating action set pieces as units of dramatic action, not merely "action".

Just because they gave a woman a shot at directing means nothing. They should have thought of hiring a woman who knows how to direct with some panache. Much as I hate all of the Twilight movies, the very first film in the franchise was at least directed by a woman who has obvious directorial talent/vision. Catherine Hardwicke's distinctive voice as a filmmaker is what raised the level of the 2008 vampire soap opera from a simple "event" movie to that of a genuine work of first-rate pop-art.

Audiences don't care about "voice" or "skill" anymore. They've been systematically indoctrinated into not caring about much of anything other than ADHD-infused pyrotechnics, which Wonder Woman is over-stuffed with.

Also, that the movie threw away an opportunity in the first section with the Amazons by avoiding a healthy infusion of lesbian subtext is beyond the pale.


Wonder Woman is in wide release via Warner Brothers.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Greg Klymkiw's List of 100 All-Time Favourite Canadian Films at David Davidson's Toronto Film Review website. Read it and weep, suckers!

Yeah, this is me in Guy Maddin's HEART OF THE WORLD,
300 pounds heavier than I am now, mind you.
The list of my 100 Favourite Canadian Films of All Time can be found on David Davidson's website The Toronto Film Review. Click HERE.

Friday, 2 June 2017

LOSING GROUND - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The Milestone Cinematheque Release of the work of Kathleen Collins is one of the most important contributions to the history of African-American Cinema and films by women. This is work to be lauded, appreciated and cherished.

Valuable addition to the history of African-American Cinema

Losing Ground (1982)
Dir. Kathleen Collins
Starring: Seret Scott, Bill Gunn, Duane Jones,
Maritza Rivera, Billie Allen, Gary Bolling, Noberto Kerner

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The first image in the astonishing 1982 drama Losing Ground by Kathleen Collins is that of Sara Rogers (Seret Scott), an African-American university philosophy professor, standing behind a lectern in front of a blackboard with, to the left of her, the words "existential thought" and to the right, the names of "Sartre" and "Camus". Correct me if I'm wrong, but other than the groundbreaking work of Charles (Killer of Sheep) Burnett, one can't think of too many (if any) films about the contemporary urban African-American experience during the late 70s/early 80s (and even beyond) in which we are not assailed by images of gangland violence and the sounds of gunfire.

Sarah's first words in the film are mid-lecture:

"...but in Sartre The question of absurdity has clear historical antecedents. For one, a violent need to explain war. Camus, Sartre, the whole existential movement is a consequence, or perhaps, a better way to put it, is a reaction to the consequences of war."

Gee whiz! We have a movie that opens without a side-burned soul brother barking out, "Take this, Honky Pig!" and blasting several rounds of buckshot out of a humungous automatic firearm.

I mean, really. What world are we in here?

The film then cuts to a close up of an engaged African American male student as Sarah's lecture continues off-camera:

"The natural order," she declares. "The natural order, if there is such a thing, has been violated." And then, as her lecture on existentialism continues, the camera slowly pulls back to reveal a whole classroom comprised of young African-American, Asian, Hispanic and yes, even lily-white students. Many of them are clearly engaged in the lecture, but Collins wisely includes a young man more interested in grooving to some sounds on his Sony Walkman. It's little touches like this that are amongst a myriad of exquisite moments of sheer filmmaking pleasure we derive from this film that give us considerable cause to grieve that her work is so little known and that she was tragically taken from this Earth by cancer at the age of 48.

As both a screenwriter and director, it's obvious that Collins was the real thing. The story she chooses to tell here is a simple one, but always compelling and always surprising. Her central character is indeed a beloved professor and she is committed to her students as she is to researching and writing scholarly works. She lives, in apparent bliss, with artist Victor (Bill Gunn of Ganja and Hess fame), her handsome, virile husband who has recently moved from abstract expressionism to realism and convinces her to rent a house in the country for the summer vacation. Something is nagging at Sara, though. A paper she's writing sparks a need to explore, but unlike Victor, whose surface dalliances are with art (though eventually with a beautiful Puerto Rican model), she's looking deep inside.

What she finds is as heartbreaking as it is liberating.

Yes, a movie actually exists in which we see that
African-Americans can live in comfort and go to libraries.

Goddamn, this is a great picture! It's so wonderful to be plunged into the world of intelligent and artistic intellectuals - people who care deeply about both learning and expression.

For example, one of Sara's students is studying film. At one point she is genuinely pleased, yet perplexed as to why he's so interested in taking philosophy courses. George (Gary Bolling), an eager young African-American cineaste clearly wishes to broaden his intellectual horizons, but he is equally obsessed with casting her in his senior film school project.

Looking at her through a lens eyepiece, he says: "You look just like Pearl McCormack in The Scar of Shame, Philadelphia Coloured Players, 1927." That we have a character citing a very cool movie from the silent era with an all-black cast (and one of the few films of that time, or any time, to deal with contemporary African-Americans) is a really great touch. That the character tries to tempt Sara further by equating her with Dorothy Dandridge as a black teacher in Gerald Mayer's 1953 MGM "social-issue" picture Bright Road (which also starred Harry Belafonte as a school principal) is the cherry on the chocolate sundae that is Collins's screenplay.

Not only do we get some fascinating character subtext, but some delectable movie-geek trivia (for those of us so inclined).

And yes, Sara eventually agrees to act in George's student film. It is, you see, an arty cinematic treatise on the "Frankie and Johnnie" story (you know the one, the woman who finds out that her man is untrue and shoots him dead). It's her work in the film that opens Sara's eyes to some hard truths about her life.

Of course, there does need to be an actor to play the cheatin' Johnny and he reveals himself as George's Uncle Duke (Duane Jones, the African-American hero of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead), a dashing out-of-work actor who once studied to be a minister and is well versed in both performing and the words of the Lord. This tall, handsome figure is stylishly adorned in a fancy fedora and cape and he first meets Sara, not on the movie set, but in the university library. He approaches and asks why she's reading with such intense concentration. She replies she's doing research for a paper on ecstatic experience.

He says: "From a theological perspective, no doubt?"

"No, she responds. "I am, however, using religious ecstasy as a point of departure."

He quips, ever-so-charmingly and brilliantly: "Whose? Saint Thomas Aquinas and his rational repression of the experience? Or Saint Theresa, who was a truly remarkable woman? Or we can go back a little further to the deviant Gnostics, who were really pre-Christian in their thinking."

Yeah! This is my idea of romance! Bring it on!

He asks Sara what the thesis of her paper is.

"That the religious boundaries around ecstasy are too narrow."

He nods. "Christianity has had a devastating effect upon man as an intuitive creature," the charming Uncle Duke concludes.

Yes, the movie is replete with strange academic quipping. It's like a Howard Hawks comedy set against the backdrops of intellectuals and artists.

I'm down with that.

Not only is Collins's screenplay full of intelligent writing that delivers a marvellous sense of place and time, but as a director, her mise-en-scène is rife with a natural cinematic "vocabulary". It's never showy, but effectively subtle. When Collins presents Sara at points when the character is in a totally take-charge sphere, the frame always places Sara front, centre and almost bigger than life. When Sara is "subjugated", either by her husband or societal mores, she appears dwarfed by all around her.

Losing Ground is a great film. Yes, its meagre budget occasional betrays a few glitches, but for the most part the film is beautifully shot and infused with natural performances. It's as much a film of its time as it is also prescient and ultimately, well ahead of its time.


Losing Ground is a two-disc Blu-Ray and DVD release via Milestone Film and Video's "The Milestone Cinematheque" label and includes a commentary track by Professors LaMonda Horton-Stallings and Terri Francis, a 2015 Theatrical Trailer, Video Interviews with cinematographer Ronald K. Gray (46:30), leading lady Seret Scott (40:17) and daughter Nina Lorez Collins (26:24), an Interview with Kathleen Collins by Phyllis R. Klotman (1982, Color, 22 mins, Courtesy of Indiana University Black Film Archive), Transmagnifican Dambamuality (1976, 7 mins, B&W) Gray's celebrated lost student film.