Thursday, 14 September 2017

EUTHANIZER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Creepy, chilly existential male angst @ TIFF 2017

Euthanasia: a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.

Euthanizer (2017)
Dir. Teemu Nikki
Starring: Matti Onnismaa, Hannamaija Nikander, Jari Virman

Review By Greg Klymkiw

So, when I first decided to see this movie, I did some simple math. I didn't read any press releases, reviews or the blurb in the TIFF 2017 programme guide. All I knew is that it was from Finland and that it was called Euthanizer. I suspected, based on these addends, that the sum might well yield a product worth seeing, but little did I realize it would bestow a picture that, by its end-title credits would have me soaring, steeped in the joy I so seldom experience these days - the sheer, buoyant jubilance that I have indeed just witnessed the very thing that made me first love movies, more than anything, in the first place.

Though Euthanizer is not a period piece, its aesthetic feels gloriously in line with the existential angst (primarily of the male persuasion) that so defined the cinema of the 70s - notably the work of Karel Reizs (The Gambler), James Toback (Fingers), Peter Yates (The Friends of Eddie Coyle), Monte Hellman (Two Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter) and pretty much anything by Werner Herzog from this nasty, tough-minded decade of cinematic perfection.

Veijo (Matti Onnismaa) is a self-employed mechanic who moonlights as a more cost-effective alternative for those needing to euthanize their pets. If the animals are small, he's rigged his car for carbon monoxide poisoning, and for larger beasts, he takes them out into the woods and shoots them in the head. When people bring him their pets, he looks deep into the eyes of the animals - it's as if he can see into their souls, hear their thoughts and feel their pain. He then admonishes the owners. He knows that they are the cause of their animals' suffering and he uncannily assesses their failings as human beings. Even those who purport to not hear Veijo know deep-down that he speaks the truth.

His own father lies paralyzed in a palliative ward, taken care of by a compassionate nurse (Hannamaija Nikander) who slowly comes to admire and even fall in love with the distant Veijo. This is a couple inextricably linked by their proximity to suffering, dying and death. They're made for each other.

One day, Veijo is visited by a loathsome racist proletarian who belongs to a right-wing, White Supremacist group called "The Sons of Finland". The racist wants Veijo to put his dog down. Veijo agrees, takes the scumbag's money, but then chooses to keep the dog alive. There is no reason to kill this dog. It's vibrant, alert and deserves to live. Veijo and the dog become as inseparable as he and the nurse are.

Alas, this is Finland. There can be no happy endings here. An act of violence shatters Veijo's life and he has only one choice. Humanity, and Veijo is nothing if not humane, is something with two extremes twixt the shades of grey.

Vengeance must be exacted, but a price will be paid.

Euthanizer is, to be sure, a film of grace. It is also deeply shocking, insanely romantic, sickeningly horrifying, bleakly/blackly funny and a work of complex layers. It provides no easy answers, no pat resolutions, but when you attempt to catch your breath upon its knockout ending, you know - beyond a shadow of a doubt - that you've seen a motion picture that's seared itself upon your soul and it's never, ever going to leave you. It'll be there forever and it's not going away - at least not until you're six feet under.

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

Euthanizer plays at TIFF 2017

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

WE FORGOT TO BREAK UP - Review By Greg Klymkiw - A song will be sung @TIFF2017

Surprise backstage visit yields bigger surprise.

We Forgot To Break Up (2017)
Dir. Chandler Levack
Scr. Steven McCarthy & Levack
Nvl. Kayt Burgess
Starring: Sofia Banzhaf, Cara Gee, Grace Glowicki, Steven McCarthy, Mark Rendall, Dov Tiefenbach, Jesse Todd

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Backstage within a concert venue, a young man hurriedly attempts to pen a note amidst all the accoutrements which suggest that at any point, a soon-to-be-prepping-to-perform band will be filing in. Sure enough, one by one, they do.

Each time, with each musician, the same thing happens.

At first, the young man is not recognized. Then, he is.

You see, he was, many, many years ago, familiar to all of them - more than familiar, actually, but very, very close. To one of them, he was more intimate than all the rest.

There will be a confrontation. Perhaps even a reckoning.

And there will be a song.

We Forgot To Break Up is a clever, compulsive slice of dramatic life. It builds to a third act that could have, in less skilled creative hands, seemed little more than a glorified music video with an extended preamble. As David Lynch recently proved, week after week in Season 3 of Twin Peaks, there are some final acts that ring-out musically with dramatic/thematic resonance, and do so in ways we seldom see in the movies anymore.

We Forgot To Break Up succeeds in an identical fashion.

It’s a short dramatic film adapted from a novel. Obviously this means that it’s a slice from a much larger work, but happily, the movie feels like a piece unto itself and is bereft of that whiff inherent in short calling-card-styled films meant to announce an eventual feature is round the corner. Though this might indeed be the case here (a short that could become a feature), it's not something that nags at us as the picture unspools. This, is good. So's the film.

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

We Forgot To Break Up plays at TIFF 2017

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

mother! - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Aronofsky's Worst Movie Unleashed @TIFF2017

Jennifer Lawrence caught in Polanski wannabe.

mother! (2017)
Dir. Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer

Review By Greg Klymkiw

God knows I love Darren Aronofsky as much as anyone can love a director. One picture after another - Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan - have all charged me with the magic tingles only true masters of movie magic have been able to achieve. Jesus, I have even been able to forgive and admire the spectacular follies that are The Fountain and Noah.

mother! is a blight upon that spectacular canon. This horror-tinged psychological thriller, attempting to be in the tradition of Roman Polanski's Repulsion, Cul-de-sac, The Tenant and Rosemary's Baby, suffers from predictability, tedium and mind-battering pretension. Yes, it's clear Aronofsky wants to plunge us into a nightmarish experience, a mind-blowing head-trip, but the only trip any of us are going to take after seeing it is the medicine cabinet to down a bottle of Extra-Strength Advil.

Migraines are not pleasant.

A housewife (Jennifer Lawrence) and her intense world-renowned-writer hubby (Javier Bardem), have just moved into a gorgeous old country house - a fixer-upper exuding a whole lot of charm and potential. One night a stranger (Ed Harris) shows up at their doorstep. He mistakenly thinks it's a bed and breakfast. He and hubby hit it off so famously that he invites the dude to stay.

The next day, a gorgeous MILF (Michelle Pfeiffer) knocks on the front door. She's the stranger's wife. Hubby ignores the protestations of Wifey and allows the couple to reside in the home. The couple gradually take over as if it's their God-given right to be there. When their bickering adult sons (Domhnall Gleason, Brian Gleeson) show up, things take an even stranger turn.

A brutal murder is committed.

The days, weeks and months (we lose track of time, as do the characters) yield more and more drop-ins of strangers and at one point the home is overrun with party animals bent on wholesale vandalism. Even full-rigged armed riot police make an appearance to exact one shocking act of violence after another.

The movie wants to be experiential and yet it's bookended with fairly standard genre tropes. During the first ten minutes, I hoped it wasn't going to go in the direction I thought it would. By the end, yes, indeed it had. I'd have forgiven this if the ride proved to be worth it. It wasn't. The whole thing just blasted my eardrums and hurt my brain.

There's mild amusement value in watching Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer reprobate their way through the first third of the movie, but having to stare at Javier Bardem being sinister and worse, having to put up with the annoyingly mousey Jennifer Lawrence for much of the film's running time negated those meagre pleasures.

Meagre is indeed the operative word here.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: * One-Star

mother! plays at TIFF 2017.

Monday, 11 September 2017

THE DEATH OF STALIN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2017 serves up lame political satire.

Steve Buscemi delivers the performance of a lifetime.

The Death of Stalin (2017)
Dir. Armando Iannucci
Scr. Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows
Nvl. Fabien Nury
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Adrian Mcloughlin, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Paul Whitehouse, Dermot Crowley

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Since he murdered 10 million of my people in Ukraine during the Holodomor, one of the most horrendous genocides of the 20th century, my pump was primed for a glorious satire about the final gasps of life from the Georgian-Russian butcher Joseph Stalin. Unfortunately, the scattershot, overwrought affair that is The Death of Stalin did so little for me as a movie, my heart sank more than a few times while it unspooled.

Not that there aren't a few laughs to be wrought from this manic look at the bushy-moustachioed scumbag-dictator during his last night on earth and the ensuing backdoor power grabs by his cabinet. Most of the guffaws come courtesy of Steve Buscemi as a malevolently wise-acre Nikita Khrushchev. This might be the performance of a lifetime - he's a hurricane-like force amidst a movie that otherwise suffers from massive tonal uncertainty.

The best satire is played dead-straight, but too often director Iannucci resorts to pitching things as "spoof" or worse, like some TV sitcom. The whole affair seems little more than Weekend at Bernie's, albeit set against the backdrop of the Kremlin in 1953 as opposed to the Hamptons in the late 80s. The film is not without some mirth at the expense of the victims of Stalin's purges - God knows why, but seeing Russians following ridiculously exhaustive death lists and summarily executing hapless "enemies of the state" elicited more than a few knee-slaps from this fella. I also loved Jeffrey Tambor's rendering of Malenkov, the ineffectually lunkheaded figurehead propped up to replace Der Russkie Führer.

Alas, the movie just proved to be exhausting. It tries too hard to be funny and when we can see those seams in the fabric we're constantly focusing on the flaws of the designer clothing hanging upon a massive markdown rack at Winner's. As such, we're indelicately wrenched out of the forward thrust. Indelicacy in a satire is just fine, but better it be inherent in the subject matter and characters rather than only within the structure of the work itself.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **½ Two-and-a-Half Stars

The Death of Stalin plays at TIFF 2017.



Sunday, 10 September 2017

BORG/MCENROE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Opening Night TIFF 2017 Gala a major dud!

Good Boy/Bad Boy of Wimbledon find common ground.

Borg/McEnroe (2017)
Dir. Janus Metz
Scr. Ronnie Sandahl
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Sverrir Gudnason

Review By Greg Klymkiw

One of the greatest rivalries in professional sports remains that of 80s tennis champs Bjorn Borg (the height of Swedish civility) and John McEnroe (the nadir of American vulgarity). As such, one might expect a decent enough sports biopic inherent in the subject matter. Not so with Borg/McEnroe.

Director Janus Metz and screenwriter Ronnie Sandahl serve up this tepid misfire with one sloppy volley after another. What we get here is little more than a series of uninspired recreations of tennis matches, a whole lot of clichéd flashbacks leading up to the famed Wimbledon match and little in the way of genuine drama. So much of the movie feels like a Made-for-TV affair, but without the kind of crisp competence that might have made the movie watchable.

The tennis sequences are supremely disappointing - the lack of solid wide and/or long shots, way too many frenetic cuts and no sense of geography all adds up to a whole lot of nothing. The dramatic childhood and early adulthood flashbacks yield by-rote brush strokes of the pair and the most potentially interesting thing about them, their eventual friendship (borne out of rivalry and mutual sporting admiration) is left as a simple post-script at the picture's end.

LaBeouf continues to dazzle as an actor, relishing the opportunity to madly roil and saltily cuss his way through the proceedings. Sadly, poor Gudnason is allowed little more than stoicism as Borg ruminates upon his upcoming death-match at Wimbledon. Skarsgård is relegated to the ho-hum loyal coach perch.

Aside from the picture's near incompetence, it's a bore. That might be its greatest sin.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: * One Star

Borg/McEnroe is a Mongrel Media release at TIFF 2017.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2017: Shame Yields Kidnapping

A father and daughter on the precipice.

What Will People Say (2017)
Dir. Iram Haq
Starring: Maria Mozhdah, Adil Hussain, Rohit Saraf, Ekavali Khanna

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The number of times I heard my parents utter the words: "What will people say?" is incalculable. I can't remember a time in my life when it wasn't on their lips and it was usually in reference to some real or perceived offence I committed quite naturally by my very existence and who I naturally was/am as a human being. From early childhood on, I was the living, breathing, walking, talking fuel for this question. It's even a question I heard uttered within the context of pretty much anything that occurred within their sphere of existence in which "what people would say" loomed large.

As a child and adult, it was not only a hurtful question, but even, I daresay, a stupid question. My earliest memories of not giving a shit about what people would say about anything I did or said are as acute now as they were then. I really didn't and don't give a shit what people would/will say. Not so with my parents or frankly anyone who believed that the status quo meant anything at all.

I was not, nor will I ever be a sheep led to slaughter. As such, what people will say is just so much nonsense.

I suspect it's a generational thing, but no matter how many times I heard the question, usually the result of something "shameful" I did or said, I would never have imagined being kidnapped and forced to submit to indoctrination into old world values.

This is precisely what happens to Nisha (Maria Mozhdah), the teenage daughter of hard-working immigrant Pakistanis living in Oslo, Norway. Like any modern kid in the modern world, she goes to school, hangs with friends and hits the nightclubs. Alas, the "normal" life in the western world is completely at odds with her fundamentalist family and when she innocently finds herself in a position where she egregiously flouts their values, she is kidnapped and shipped to Pakistan with an aunt and uncle charged with training her in the ways of being a dutiful daughter (and eventual wife in an arranged marriage).

At first Nisha's life in the "old world" is fraught with subjugation and drudgery, but she slowly begins to connect with her heritage. Sadly, she finds herself in a horrific situation that is not in any way, shape or form her fault, but again she finds herself in a position where she brings "shame" to her family.

And in some cultures, it is perfectly acceptable to kill a child that brings you shame.

What Will People Say proves to be an extremely promising debut feature for Oslo-born actress/art director Iram Haq. Replete with glorious cultural details and stirring family drama, Haq layers her film with a myriad of complexities beneath a solidly simple coat hanger. It is a movie as filled with joy, love and sheer humanity as it is with chilling, suspenseful tension.

At several points, the anxiety displayed is so taut that her direction is worthy of Hitchcock himself. I found myself on the edge of my seat, almost begging and pleading with the character of Nisha to open her eyes to everything that I could see happening, but of course, a great director knows that there's nothing more thrilling than when a central character knows nothing and goes with a flow that we the audience recognize as the wrong direction to take.

There are set pieces which are masterfully directed: scenes and images and the feelings they engendered, that are with me still - mysterious night rides, shocking moments of abandonment, thrilling attempts at escape, a darkness-enshrouded encounter with sexually predatory cops and in one lollapalooza of a father-daughter confrontation, a walk into the wilderness that leads to the edge of a cliff that plummets into the maw of a deadly chasm.

Yes, the Master of Suspense would approve. So do I.

And yes, we must all acknowledge that an "old world" will persist in our lives. What's so sophisticated and mature about Haq's exploration of this is that she provides a balance to the venerable qualities of tradition so that the ebbs and flows, the peaks and valleys of the dramatic action are compulsively driven by that which is clearly both right and wrong about one's heritage.

What people will say ultimately means very little compared to how one conducts oneself based upon values that are discovered and learned by always keeping one's eyes wide open, but where tradition rules the roost, sometimes we all need to prop up our eyelids with toothpicks.

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

What Will People Say screens at TIFF 2017

Friday, 8 September 2017

BICKFORD PARK - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Skateboard pas de deux at TIFF 2017

The babe suffers, but NOT in silence. Ain't it always the way?

Bickford Park (2017)
Dir. Dane Clark, Linsey Stewart
Starring: Lianne Balaban

Review By Greg Klymkiw

So you've had to suffer through listening to your long-haired loser husband tinkling the ivories in the basement as he caterwauls his way through a contemptibly worthless tune he's composed and now, after a long day at work, you're sitting in your car reading a book, conveniently avoiding home.

The phone rings.

It's hubby. He wants you to pick something up on your way back. Uh, what's he been doing all day? He delivers the expected answer.

"I meant to go out, but I got pretty deep into it today."

Trying to imagine what bottomless chasm of talent-bereft hack-dom he'd plunged into fills you, no doubt, with utter dread.

Such is the current lot in life for Jill (Lianne Balaban), a bright gorgeous thirty-something who spends her evenings jogging the streets as far away from hearth, home and hubby as possible. One evening during a restorative sojourn in sneakers and shorts, she spies a lone skateboard. It beckons. She gets on board. Her attempt is shaky, and perhaps even more so when the owner of the board, a hunky dude at least ten years her junior, claims it as his own and asks for its return.

This delightful new form of physical activity (and escape from the emptiness of domesticity) sends her straight to a sporting goods store. It doesn't take long before she return to the park to try out her new skateboard. Happily, the hunky dude shows up.

The lessons begin - a pas de deux on wheels. What sparks will fly? Is romance in the air? Watching Bickford Park, one certainly hopes so. Smartly, directors Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart don't take any expected turns. There's a reason why they chosen to film in monochrome - shades of grey are always more interesting.

Their film is sweet and enchanting but ultimately infused with melancholy. We want to spend a lot more time with its characters, we want to see it play out well beyond its running time, we get expected delights to be sure, but it's the unexpected hands we're dealt that offer the kind of layers of complexity that send us out of the theatre with so much more than the by-rote fodder most contemporary romantic comedies pass off as clever.

Bickford Park delivers something far richer.

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

Bickford Park plays at TIFF 2017

THE JUDGE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2017: To be a female Shari’a judge in Palestine

One of the wisest and bravest women in the Middle East.

The Judge (2017)
Dir. Erika Cohn

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A society can only be as progressive as its most progressive members. Just ask Kholoud Al-Faqih, the first woman to ever be appointed to the position of judge within a Shari’a court in Palestine. As a young lawyer, she dreamed of bringing an enlightened voice to the judicial system of her country and in so doing, redress the imbalances faced by women in a world fraught with chauvinism, sexism, misogyny and just-plain blinkered old world misinterpretation of Islamic Law.

Though Erika Cohn's The Judge might have benefitted somewhat by a stricter adherence to a more pure Cinéma Direct approach (at times the interviews seemed at odds with the as-it-happens footage), the film's vérité style is rigorous enough to not betray its dynamic subject, surely one of the wisest and bravest women in the Middle East.

The film follows the day-to-day activities of this champion for the rights of women in a decidedly male-centric world and we get a rare glimpse into the civil and domestic legal struggles they face almost constantly. Al-Faqih is, however, not about to take a "home team" stance in any sort of knee-jerk fashion and she dispenses her rulings so that fairness is the key element in her dealings with both women and men. As we see, in case after case, when equality is generously applied to both sexes, even within adherence to the strict tenets of Shari’a dictates, what's good for the goose is clearly good for the gander and vice versa.

As the picture proceeds, all is not sun and roses. Al-Faqih was first appointed by an extremely liberal Sheikh and when he's forced to retire, she finds her role substantially diminished. Pulled from the courtroom and into an office to deal with strictly bureaucratic matters, she faces the frustration of having to muck through the drudgery of paper-pushing whilst justice outside her four walls is back in the hands of the patriarchy.

She's a tough nut to crack, though, and she doesn't succumb to this unfair sledge hammer approach. Her struggle to regain her rightful place is the stuff of solid "drama" and we're miraculously allowed to witness the true power of evolution and advancement.

Yeah, it's a feel-good movie. Not a damn thing wrong with that.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars

The Judge screens at TIFF 2017

Thursday, 7 September 2017

DISAPPEARANCE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2017: Sex, Death & Ice-Fishing in Norway

Disappearing in Norway.

Disappearance (2017)
Dir. Boudewijn Koole
Scr. Jolein Laarman
Starring: Rifka Lodeizen, Elsie de Brauw, Marcus Hanssen, Jakob Oftebro

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I do so enjoy entering a frigid cinematic icebox to revel in the spectacle of a parent and adult child acrimoniously slashing away at each other.

Boudewijn Koole's extraordinary film Disappearance is a magnificent new entry into this time-honoured/tested/proven tradition exemplified most notably by the chilly heartbreak of Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece of mother-daughter sniping, Autumn Sonata. Though Koole's film eschews the glorious histrionics of so many films in this genre - think Piper Laurie chastising Sissy Spacek for revealing her "dirty pillows" in Brian DePalma's Carrie or the horrid Gladys Cooper browbeating Bette Davis into a nervous breakdown in Irving Rapper's Now Voyager - Koole and screenwriter Jolein Laarman serve up plenty of roiling bitterness.

We enter the world of this film via the blazing austerity of a cool white light upon a young woman, a child it seems, as she places her diminutive, but nimble fingers upon the ivory keys of a grand piano. She launches into a soulful virtuoso performance upon the massive stage of a concert hall. Soon after, we move from the proscenium vista to the external panoramic landscape of the snow-covered plains, lakes and hills of Norway. Roos (Rifka Lodeizen) is coming home after a year of traversing the globe as a photojournalist to visit her Mother Louise (Elsie de Brauw) and younger half-brother Bengt (Marcus Hanssen).

This is a family of artists. Roos has the "eye", her middle-aged Mom (the pianist we were first introduced to in the film's opening minutes) clearly has an "ear" (though now she channels her art into teaching music) and young Bengt might have the grandest vision of this trio - he utilizes the natural sounds of water, ice, nature, heartbeats and breath to create electronic musical compositions that soar with soulful invention.

Sister and Brother have a special bond, but Mother and Daughter's relationship is stretched far too tautly - at any moment, we sense that the rubber band that is their familial conjunction will snap upon their respective grips, effecting a pain that smarts, but lasts well beyond the initial paroxysm it causes. That's probably because aching convulsions twixt Mother and Daughter have seemingly existed from that point when Roos first agitated about in the natal gelatin of Louise's womb.

At one point, Roos charges that Mom never sang lullabies to her. Louise pooh-poohs this assertion, but when her now-adult child asks her to sing for her, middle-aged Momma can't think of a single tune. During this wrenching moment, a smile crept upon my face imagining Louise launching into a rendering of one of Gustav Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. I was not afforded the literal rendering of this perverse fantasia dancing across my cerebellum, but the notion that she might have belted out one of those rousing "Songs on the Death of Children" seems (seemed) perfectly appropriate.

In so many, many ways, Koole and Laarman's astonishing film might well be a cinematic equivalent to Mahler's immortal song cycle. Death looms large in this Norwegian winter wonderland. When a stag connects with a moving vehicle and staggers off into the woods, we follow a group of locals (including a keen, rifle-toting Louise) as they hunt down the mighty beast to put it out of its misery. Later on, in post-coital bliss (in the back of a van parked against a snowy vista on a frozen lake in which they've been ice fishing - what Canadian doesn't know this activity/setting all too well?), Roos admits to her old friend and lover Johnny (Jakob Oftebro) that she is dying. Nothing beats a good round of sexual gymnastics than an après orgasm cigarette and an admission of critical illness. (Jesus, I love European cinema!)

Healing and redemption are round the corner, but they prove to be fleeting. The film makes us (and its characters) work for it. Nothing in life comes easy. So too should it be in cinema. This is a film that teases and tortures the raw nerve endings of the human condition and it constantly finds ways to take our collective breath away when we least expect it. The final third of the film had me shuddering, long, long after its final end title credit. It's with me still and makes me thankful for the life I have had and the loves I have experienced (and continue to be touched by).

Though Disappearance draws considerable parallels to Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sontata, I cannot help but think of the words spoken by dying Agnes in the Swedish Master's Cries and Whispers:

"Come what may, this is happiness. I cannot wish for anything better. Now, for a few minutes, I can experience perfection and I feel profoundly grateful to my life, which gives me so much."

No arguments from this fella'.

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

Disappearance is screening at TIFF 2017

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

THE CRESCENT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2017: Lewtonesque Horror in Nova Scotia

Grief shared by a mother and son.

The Crescent (2017)
Dir. Seth A. Smith
Scr. Seth A. Smith, Darcy Spidle
Starring: Danika Vandersteen, Woodrow Graves, Andrew Gillis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

More often than not we choose to confront numbing grief with escape. Facing bereavement head-on is said to be the best way of dealing with the debilitation that loss inspires, but we're all only human after all and it's just so much easier to run away and repress. (And believe you me, repression is not always without merit.)

Beth (Danika Vandersteen) is a beautiful young (recent) widow who hightails it to a remote house at Silver Crescent Beach (outside of Halifax) with her 2-year-old child Lowen (Woodrow Graves, real-life son of producer Nancy Urich and director Seth Smith). They find themselves in a huge, stylishly imposing domicile overlooking the roiling seas of the Atlantic Ocean and live out a quiet existence of walking the beach, playing together and for Beth, a brilliant talented visual artist, losing herself in the creation of gorgeously disturbing pieces generated through the abstract printing process of paper marbling.

From time to time, there are a few residents they encounter. On the surface, these denizens of the remote environs appear relatively benevolent, but given the film's increasingly mounting creepiness and the simple fact that it's a horror film, it doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out that they might not be who, or rather, what they appear to be.

As the events unfurl in a meticulous slow-burn pace, with plenty of cerebral mind-blowing explosions of visual fireworks, director Smith eventually unleashes all-out, drawer-filling scares and in one delicious set piece, the kind of sickening visceral splatter that horror aficionados will love. It's always lovely seeing a quiet, intelligent horror film that channels the energies and artistry of RKO's master of atmospheric chills Val Lewton (The Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Seventh Victim, The Body Snatcher).

If anything, the Lewton picture The Crescent most resembles in terms of both horror and deep emotional resonance is the Robert Wise-Gunther von Fritsch collaboration The Curse of the Cat People. Sometimes there's just nothing scarier and more disturbing than a child's loneliness and grief. And, of course, a Mother's. Lewton knew and pioneered the notion that horror was what we all faced in our daily lives. The Crescent picks up this torch very nicely indeed. Darcy Spidle and Smith generate a terrific screenplay. Writing "visually" is the greatest challenge contemporary scripts face and it's a joy to experience such purely cinematic writing that adheres to the needs of narrative beats and character, but does so with a kino-eye.

The performances in the film are all blessed with the kind of naturalism that is refreshing (artist Vandersteen in her motion picture debut is radiant, the camera loves her), but in particular, toddler Groves steals the show with a child performance to rival that of the extraordinary Victoire Thivisol in Jacques Doillon's Ponette and the astonishing Brigitte Fossey in René Clément's Jeux Interdits, both classic films dealing with childhood perspectives upon grief, to which The Crescent can proudly keep company with, but with, blood - and when it comes, plenty o' crimson ooze.

THE FILM CORNER REVIEW: **** Four Stars

The Crescent screens at TIFF 2017. If this film is any indication of what we can expect from new TIFF Midnight Madness programmer Peter Kuplowsky in this, his inaugural solo year, I suspect we have a very worthy successor to former longtime MM toppers Colin Geddes and Noah Cowan.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

LOTS OF KIDS, A MONKEY AND A CASTLE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2017: Wealth Lost

Julita and her monkey: a dream come true.

Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle (2017)
Dir. Gustavo Salmerón

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Julita had a dream. As a young woman, her fairytale needs were simple. She wanted a whole passel of kids, a monkey and a castle.

She got them all.

Julita was always a pack rat, so when she inherited a castle from a wealthy uncle, there was finally a place big enough for the middle-class seventy-something woman to store her vast accumulations. The castle, of course, came with its own fair share of clutter; as it turns out, centuries worth of arcane impedimenta.

When Julita mentions to her son (director Gustavo Salmerón, also a Spanish actor of note) that somewhere amidst the debris there exist two vertebrae belonging to his great grandmother (who died tragically during the Spanish Civil War), the picture has a strangely irresistible element to drive it forward. Salmerón had already started shooting this personal documentary about his vivacious Mom (it was shot over the course of a decade) and this happily gave him (and his film) plenty of time to become obsessed with locating this curious family heirloom.

Luckily, for the movie (and the audience's edification/entertainment value), but not so lucky for Julita and her quiet, unassuming husband, the financial crisis hit Spain and much of the documentary charts the mad rush to pack and move all the belongings in the castle which will be lost to whopping back taxes. With help from her six children and Julita's complete lack of organizational abilities, the film charts both the massive job of packing and shipping, but also the search for the elusive vertebrae.

Along the way we're treated to this mad passionate woman's relationships with her family and we get the alternately perky and melancholy tale of, yes, the monkey.

Personal family documentaries can prove to be a mixed bag. Depending upon the subject matter, they can be deadly. Salmerón was canny enough to know his Mom was an ideal subject for a movie, in spite of her on-camera protestations that nobody would be interested in watching an entire film about her. The dutiful son (and filmmaker) proves his Mother wrong on that point. Not only is she endlessly, eminently compelling, but the social/political backdrop of class and economic catastrophe proves to be an unbeatable combination. The amount of footage Salmerón must have had to contend with is skillfully edited and yields a jaunty, funny, incisive and poignant portrait.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars

Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle screens at TIFF 2017

Monday, 4 September 2017

THERE IS A HOUSE HERE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Zweig @TIFF2017, another masterpiece

"You look different."
"So do you."
"No, you look beautiful right now. Really."

There is a House Here (2017)
Dir. Alan Zweig
Starring: Tatanniq (Lucie) Idlout

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Great. Another fucking masterpiece of filmmaking. When will Canadian filmmaker Alan (When Jews Were Funny, Hurt) Zweig do wrong? When will the runner stumble? Or will he continue to feed the soul of the world with one great picture after another? Well, if his new feature There is a House Here is any indication, the dude just keeps grinding them out and there's no stopping him.

The picture wears its heart, theme and narrative on its sleeve, right from the get-go. We follow a burly dude in a grey toque, red parka and baggy jeans from behind as he descends from an airplane onto the frozen tarmac of an airport in Iqualit, Nunavut. Inside, a young, raven-haired babe in a white animal-fur coat waits patiently with a smile of expectation upon her face. Soon the pair are striding towards an awaiting vehicle and a title card announces that it's "winter". Yeah, I buy that. It's winter alright. The breath forming in clouds announces this in spades, but that's okay, it's the seasons that count. They change and shift and just like in life, they prove to be major cornerstones.

Once in the car, the beautiful woman gently chides the burly figure in the backseat over his choice of parka colour. "You look like such a fuckin' tourist," she declares.

Oh, and it's dark outside. It's only 3:00 PM and we learn that it's going to get darker. Well, it's not just the light in the sky that's going to get darker. But no matter, it's an Alan Zweig picture and darkness is a prerequisite to find the light.

The hidden figure remarks how odd it is that after five years of being pals long distance via phone and email, he and the woman aren't having a decent face-to-face reunion and are already driving from the airport to a nearby destination to begin shooting the picture proper. They're going to meet the woman's uncle in his home. Many years ago he "found Jesus" and became the first Inuk Bishop in the Anglican Church - ever.

As they enter the old Bishop's home, the woman asks the hidden figure to explain what the film is about to her uncle. "Really?" he asks, almost incredulous. "I just got here. I don't even know what the film's going to be about yet."

It's this delectable, if not indelicate truth that proves to be the thing that drives the picture - a filmmaker who has no idea what his film is going to be. What we learn on the journey about the film's subjects is that first and foremost, this is a film about seeking answers, about learning something its filmmaker wants to know, and in so doing, casting the glow of illumination upon us all - forcing us to confront how little we know about anything and how life (and filmmaking/art), should indeed always be about exploration.

And yes, no matter what the movie's about, great pictures ultimately reflect the filmmaker.

The hidden figure isn't hidden for long. Sitting in the home of the Old Uncle, director Alan Zweig doffs his ugly red tourist parka and adorned in a gray plaid hoser sweater, he attempts to explain what his movie is about. The gorgeous, impossibly-stylishly dressed woman, the retired Bishop's niece who insists Alan explain, is none other than Zweig's friend Tatanniq Idlout (Inuk rock star Lucie Idlout).

"After all the shit you told me over the years, I had to come see for myself," Zweig blurts out in his gravel-tinged Eeyore-like voice. He looks to the Old Uncle. "So one time I was talking to your niece on the phone and she said, 'It's the Third World up here, motherfucker.' And I thought, why is it the third world in my country, why is part of my country the third world?"

If anything, Zweig knows all too well what his movie is going to be about, even if he didn't know it at the time, or at least couldn't articulate it. For someone who went into this film purportedly not knowing what it was about, the footage has been expertly assembled into a stirring, moving and provocative story.

That all said, it does indeed turn out that Tatanniq's Uncle is not comfortable about being interviewed by Zweig, and so, they leave.

"He didn't like me," says Zweig. "I think he's anti-Semitic."

Tatanniq fires back: "You fucking jerk."

Their quips are tinged with mordant wit. If this wasn't a Canadian documentary, you'd think you were watching a Howard Hawks romantic comedy with a jowly schlubby Cary Grant and a wiseacre Rosalind Russell in Nunavut garb. Yeah, and if on the surface the movie is about a filmmaker's exploration of a world he wants to know more about, it is, if anything - deep down - the story of a friendship; one that deepens and grows as he makes his film.

Zweig's the searcher. Tatanniq's the guide. Hell, if it was a western, one might even mistake their partnership in the colonial trappings of a genre that so often found itself mired in cultural stereotypes. We're not talking The Lone Ranger and Tonto here, but the thought can't help cross our minds. (Zweig is no Armie Hammer and, thank God, Idlout is no Johnny Depp.)

After Zweig's turfed from the Old Uncle's house, the bantering pair are driving to another interview prospect. "So these next people that are gonna fucking kick me out," he inquires, "What's their names?"

As Zweig blows into the house, the new subject asks: "Why are you here? What do you want to learn?"

"How can we make things better for you up here?" says Zweig.

"Do you believe in Satan? Do you believe in God? If you don't, then there's no way you can save us or help us," is the response.

Zweig admits he believes in neither.

He's kicked out.

But it doesn't stay this way. As Zweig spends more time in this world, as he discovers his film, the doors, a seeming eternity above the tree-line, keep opening. He slowly finds his sea legs. Not that the doors wouldn't open. As one of the subjects states: "You never refuse anyone entry into your house in the Arctic. They could be frozen. Even if they have a knife in their hand, you let them in."

Having Zweig in the film is a welcome treat. In his first few documentary features (Vinyl, I, Curmudgeon, Lovable) he always put himself front and centre, but as his evolution as a filmmaker continued, we'd see less and less of him on-camera, though his distinctive voice and line of questioning was always present. In There is a House Here, Zweig allows - nay, demands - that the lens be on him as well as his subjects.

The camera also trains itself poetically, often with the underlay of a gorgeous, soulful heartbreaking score, focusing upon astonishing vistas and life as it unfolds in the cities of the Arctic. Kids play hockey in the streets, ATVs, snowmobiles and half-tons blast along the snow-packed roads, even Bingo is played (albeit via radio broadcast into peoples' homes).

And most of all, there's Alan and Tatanniq, this "odd couple" wending their way through a world Zweig wants to learn about and one in which Idlout, through the process of the film, might also be seeing in a whole new light. Though he's come to know his friend via years of correspondence, he trains his camera upon her to speak about herself, if only "for the record" and to place her participation within the film in "context".

After flying to Iglulik, he asks her point blank why she's given up on being a rock star. Ah, directly indelicate as always. It's what friends are for, right? Tatanniq let's him know that she hasn't really given it up even though she's moved back up north. After recording several albums, writing a whole whack of singles and composing film soundtracks, she found herself drawn away from what she calls "a rock 'n' roll lifestyle" that she led living in Toronto. She declares: "It was not fulfilling to me. I had an active social life and a beautiful apartment I loved very much, but there was something missing." She also admits she just didn't like "the touring life of a rockstar".

Once back up north, darkness reared its head. At least that's how Zweig perceives it, as do we. He makes the observation that her return was to a world of violence. She wryly yanks his chain: "I can show you some violence if you like."

She does reveal, however, the very real violence that she faced. "I don't have any kids living in my house and I don't have a man living in my house, so people just come because it's an easy place for them to do their misbehavings and I let them in."

Still, she boils it down to two words: "Shit happens." Indeed it does. She elaborates: "Even the worst experiences up here seem matter of fact. I got raped, I got beat up, the RCMP abused me… I'm certainly not saying it's no big deal, but it happens and people up here are more honest about what they're willing to talk about."

Honesty, of course, runs rampant throughout the film. At times it feels like a litany of stories involving alcohol abuse and horrendous reminiscences of residential schools in which the Government of Canada uprooted thousands upon thousands of Aboriginal children from their homes to strip them of their culture and assimilate them into "White" society. And, of course, most of these schools were presided over by sadistic perverts of the cloth. Nuns and priests alike took delight in wielding their power over these children, physically, psychologically and sexually abusing them. When children are caught speaking in their own language (and not English), they're shoved into corners and forced to wear dunce caps. These children and their children's children face poverty and neglect of a magnitude that's as appalling as any apartheid in any country at any time.

If there's a "third-world" in Canada, we learn quickly and heartbreakingly that it was created by the colonialist evil, but that its clutches continue even today. The housing crisis in these northern communities is appalling. Often 10 or more people are crammed into tiny houses while huge residences created for Government of Canada employees stand empty. Young people seek out remote garbage dumps to booze it up in peace. Kids are constantly orphaned and/or snatched from their biological parents by overzealous "liberal" social workers - adoption amongst the Northern residents is as common as breathing air.

Yes, many of us know this or have at least heard about it, but Zweig's film is an important window upon this as he, as a filmmaker, is our surrogate explorer. As he discovers things first-hand, so too do we.

And most horrific of all are the seemingly endless tales of suicide - people living for no other reason than to die, and in many cases, to die by their own hand. Tatanniq's grandfather drove his truck off a cliff. He was a good driver. He knew the land. He knew there was a cliff there. This was no "accident", no matter how much the government bean-counters might prefer it to be. And even Idlout experienced something akin to residential schools when she was separated from her mother and shoved into foster homes where she wasn't allowed to speak on the telephone to her mother in their native tongue. It always had to be in English. And most idiotic of all is when she describes how her foster parents would never allow her to place her hands beneath the dinner table for fear that it would look like she was trying to masturbate.

Uh, who the fuck is going to be diddling themselves with a plate of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding before them? (Well, I suppose I can think of a few reprobates who might harbour this fetish, but none of them are orphan girls in foster care.)

But throughout the darkness, Zweig's film discovers plenty of light. A young boy talks about bagging a polar bear at the age of 13 - a feat not even his grandfather, an expert hunter has ever done. An elder, still an avid hunter, displays the implements of his trade in a living room and demonstrates the art of stalking a seal. And there is, yes, a glorious seal hunt out on the ice of the great North and under the big sky. During this sequence there's a dazzlingly beautiful, almost wildly romantic moment when Tatanniq saunters towards the camera and the off-camera Zweig notes how beautiful she looks. As she gazes across the vista before her, he adds, "Your eyes look clearer." She nods and declares: "My mind feels clearer."

And then there's the culture, the heritage, the tradition. Zweig admits to one of his subjects that "The culture I live in doesn't mean that much to me, but I'm very affected by listening to you talk about your culture."

Finally, through the darkness and light, what remains, so delicately and compellingly is the friendship between the filmmaker and his guide. It takes your breath away. There are moments, especially towards the end, of such tenderness, but there's also a moment where the curmudgeonly Zweig hits one lollapalooza of a wrong button. Idlout's response is perfectly appropriate - both emotionally and yes, culturally. As Zweig's film proves: What good is friendship when those we love and respect can't tell us to fuck right off and we, in turn, accept it. And understand.

Ultimately, it's the alternately dolorous and hopeful humanity of this film that winds us and if anything, There is a House Here is a journey, an exploration of deep understanding. The world will be a better place because of it.

When Tatanniq looks to the ice, snow and sky, she admits: "I wanna go be a part of the beauty."

Who in their right mind wouldn't?

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

There is a House Here plays at TIFF 2017.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

THE DROP-IN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Beauty Parlour Catfight Action at TIFF 2017

Hmmm. Will there be a catfight in the shop tonight?

The Drop-In (2017)
Dir. Naledi Jackson
Starring: Mouna Traoré, Oluniké Adeliyi

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The Drop-In, an action thriller with an undercurrent of science fiction and politically-charged thematics, provides a raft of reasons why hair stylists closing shop for the day should never accept a customer with no appointment who pops by, desperate for a quick "do". In fact, it's probably best to keep the door locked and the curtains drawn whilst sweeping up the floor. But, it's a movie, eh. The door has to be open, or there wouldn't be a movie.

And so it is that a pretty stylist (Mouna Traoré) accepts a babe-o-licious drop-in (Oluniké Adeliyi) for a quick braid job. As the handiwork in the chair unfolds, it seems like both women harbour agendas and secrets which lead to a furious catfight of MMA gymnastics. Who will survive? What will be left of them?

First-time director Naledi Jackson displays considerable gifts for building tension and when the movie shifts to all-out fisticuffs, she handles the proceedings exactly how a director should. The superb stunt/fight coordination is presented so that we can actually appreciate/enjoy it with no annoying herky-jerky shots (mucking up the geography/choreography of the fight), endless closeups and ADHD-style cutting. God knows I detest the incompetence of filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Sam Mendes who continually commit these cardinal action movie sins in pictures that have all the money and time in the world to do it properly.

The Drop-In, however, clearly had very little money and time to pull itself off and yet it puts so many contemporary studio genre extravaganzas to shame since Naledi doesn't resort to the tin-eyed. ham-fisted mechanics that filmmakers (who should supposedly know better) do in film after wretched film. There is one disappointment I had through this, especially given Naledi's clear directorial gifts.

The film is set in a hair stylist shop. The joint is overloaded with so many natural implements of violent carnage that are not (sadly) employed in all their glory. Clippers, scissors, blades, shears, curling irons, barbicide (oh magnificent chemicals!) and, of course, plenty of mirrors for bodies to go sailing into and allowing for shards of shattered glass - the list of items "natural" to the setting is endless.

One of the best classical examples of how a screenplay (and director) structure such a scene for maximum impact is Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain. In an old country kitchen in East Germany, a mathematician and a farmer's wife must kill a deadly Stasi agent, and they must do it silently. Let's just think of all the things in such a kitchen. Damn! You almost don't even need to see the scene to begin salivating at the prospect of visceral delights. Added to the mix are the political backdrop of the Cold War and memories of the Holocaust. Hitchcock did the math beautifully. The old country kitchen is equipped with a gas oven. Uh, you do the math!

Given the political edge in The Drop-In and its setting, the promise of so much more is palpable. Oh, you say, "Greg, you doth protest too much. These kids clearly had a small budget and little time." To that I say: "So what?" Compromise is especially egregious in no-to-low-budget films. (I can say this with a bit of been-there-done-that as someone who never compromised as a producer no matter how low my budgets were.)

There might be some light on the horizon, though. It comes by way of my other mild disappointment in the film. About halfway through I started to get the sinking feeling that I was watching a short film designed as a "calling card" for an eventual feature film version. I can smell this with the same olfactory repugnance I feel when I hit a skunk on the highway. Sure enough, the end title credits revealed that The Drop-In was financed by a fund set up to create just such a film.

So yes, the promise is here, the talent is here, a solid idea is here and there will no doubt be one hell of a terrific feature film to eventually be made. That said, I urge the filmmakers to study Hitchcock before the next draft of their feature screenplay. One can't go wrong using The Master as a primary influence.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars

The Drop-In enjoys its World Premiere at TIFF 2017.

SHADOW NETTES - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Sick puppy Barker dazzles at TIFF 2017

An angler must know how to capture his quarry.

Phillip Barker is clearly one of Canada’s leading avant-garde film artists. He is also clearly one sick puppy. This, however, is a good thing. His new film Shadow Nettes expertly demonstrates the fine art of angling, but be advised, we’re not talking the quarry sought in the likes of actor/musician/director John Lurie’s immortal 1991 PBS cult series Fishing With John (1991) nor any of the fine array of reality-TV-based output on offer at the World Fishing Network.

Beginning in the late-19th-Century never-never land of a rich mixed forest overlooking a bucolic lake, we are introduced to a lanky, long-tressed, golden-locked young man of the rural persuasion (imagine Max Baer from The Beverly Hillbillies as Jethrine Beaudine sans a floral-patterned dress and adorned, rather, in Jethro’s dude-duds) who observes his father sailing the waters upon a queer conical vessel with a wide, round platform, stilts reaching and converging to a point up top with a platform situated at its most heavenly point, which holds a mysterious box-like filter.

What manner of contraption is this?

Well, of course, it’s a shadow nette. Duh! Grab a brain!

We continue on Barker’s strange journey to witness Dad attempting to train Sonny-Jethro, not unlike the Pat Morita/Ralph Macchio teacher-student gymnastics immortalized in John G. Avildsen’s The Karate Kid. Dad strikes a series of manly poses. Sonny-Jethro awkwardly attempts to mimic them.

At nightfall, however, we get the most delectable demonstration of all. The shadow nette is placed upon the rugged ground of the Canadian Shield and Dad steps inside it. From the thinnest end of the cone, light beams onto the round, white, net-like screen at the bottom end. Dad stands before the screen, casting a shadow upon it.

But what is a shadow when it doesn’t behave?

Shadows are never what they seem to be. The light casts Dad’s shadow, but the shadow has a life of its own. This is no mere replication of his image. Dad demonstrates that he must control light and shadow to create the image he wants to present. This, of course, is not dissimilar to the image most gentlemen wish to present, especially in their pursuit of a mate.

This pursuit, this quarry, is ages old.

As his picture progresses, Barker delivers one visual jaw-dropper after another as he reveals the full force and power of the subject at hand, to capture an image of oneself, the manipulation of said image to capture its quarry and ultimately, to not only capture it, but indeed, create it out of one’s own image.

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

Shadow Nettes enjoys its World Premiere at TIFF 2017.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

homer_b - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Scary Creepy Springfield via Winnipeg at TIFF 2017

There is someone in Homer's house in Winnipeg.

homer_b (2017)
Dir. Milos Mitrovic, Conor Sweeney

Review By Greg Klymkiw

At the best of times, three-quarter-inch videotape on U-Matic playback machines seemed degraded, especially when constantly rotating, whirring drumheads would connect with the tape in pause-mode and render all manner of glitches. Even more problematic was an editing process that required constant duping in order to create desired cuts and resulted in further image degeneration.

At the time, watching community cable programs in the 80s, using already-retro equipment (though not that much worse than the "advancements" made in commercial mainstream video broadcasting at the time), felt positively otherworldly. Seeing said tapes some 30+ years later, especially if they'd been duped to straight VHS and simply captured decades later on a digital format without any remastering results in images that have been dredged from the pits of some analogue septic tank Hell.

It's scary stuff. So too is the astonishingly creepy, disturbing and funny film homer_b by contemporary Winnipeg filmmakers Milos Mitrovic and Conor Sweeney (one of the founders of the visionary Astron-6 collective). Gorgeously recreating the aforementioned look of ancient technology, this is one fine addition to the tradition first coined by film critic Geoff Pevere as "prairie post-modernism".

Feeling and looking like the work of a Matt Groening doppelgänger, or more likely, a Winnipeg community cable Matt Groening wannabe, we're greeted with a series of simple, decrepit opening images: a flash of pre-roll video noise, a screen of piss-pale yellow and a quick, crude fade-up of an ugly title treatment over a faded green star, bold-capped typeface in purple and dark yellow with a shimmering slightly askew shadow drop and then, an inelegant cut to black video noise, followed by an even-more graceless cut to a ruffled, white-tea-dyed curtain and a lone standup microphone in the foreground. Organ music on the soundtrack that makes David Lynch's use of Fats Waller sounding positively chipper, accompanies the chilling fade-up on a live action figure approaching the mic wearing a horrifying Krusty the Clown mask.

Things are not right in Springfield, or rather, uh, Winnipeg. If independent cinema from that midwestern Canadian city is to be believed (and why not?), the likes of Guy Maddin, John Paizs, et al, painted a myriad of cinematic treasures that would lead one to believe that nothing, absolutely nothing, was ever right in Winnipeg. (God knows David Lynch himself was happy to utilize his unacknowledged John [Springtime in Greenland] Paizs influences in his depiction of Lumberton in Blue Velvet.)

As the masked Krusty approaches, his voice queerly distorted in the Lynchian Twin Peaks backward-enunciation-played-forward reverberations, relates a childhood memory that most of us would rather forget, the tale of a boy, a pig and vomit. A masked intruder into this scene, making the testicle-cheeked Lady-in-the-Radiator from Eraserhead seem perfectly normal, manages to perk up the creepy quotient, as if it wasn't high already.

We're then treated to a disturbing "commercial" break segment involving masked Homer and Bart Simpsons in a grubby basement. When the "message" is over, we return to Krusty.

He has a warning.

It is one we must all heed.

Someone is in the house.

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

homer_b enjoys its World Premiere at TIFF 2017.

Friday, 1 September 2017

THE TESLA WORLD LIGHT (Tesla : lumière mondiale) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2017

"I've fallen in love with a pigeon... a beautiful bird."
- Nikola Tesla to John Pierpont Morgan Sr.

The Tesla World Light aka Tesla : lumière mondiale (2017)
Dir. Matthew Rankin
Starring: Robert Vilar

Review By Greg Klymkiw

O! A dream! A dream to unite the world across the Heavens, to transmit energy, to communicate across the vast Atlantic: absolved of cables, wires, mere radio technology, with the freedom of a bird in flight - THIS is a dream worth having. Alas, to be a visionary is to burn with the light of the world and to often have the dream fall on deaf ears, empty minds and souls bereft of the percipience only true genius can spawn. But, O! The vision! When it burns, it burns bright and in The Tesla World Light, a glorious new masterpiece from Winnipeg-born-and-raised Montreal filmmaker Matthew Rankin, vision burns brightly indeed!

And so it will be, and indeed so it is, that Rankin plunges us into the magnificent synaesthesia of Serbian-American engineer-inventor Nikola Tesla (Robert Vilar), his huge head, brimming with ideas, glowing with a magnificent oil-slicked straight edge razor double pompadour, two winged Matterhorns of pitch black hair, divided with a part that cuts deep into the scalp, into the very bone marrow housing the roiling cerebellum of the world's greatest pioneer of electricity. Rankin shares with us the Eureka of Tesla as he pens yet another entreaty to his erstwhile benefactor John Pierpont Morgan Sr. This will be his final appeal to the filthy-rich old man. It is 1905, in New York, in yet another squalid hotel room Tesla is forced, penniless, to reside in.

Tesla writes that his "pillow has been bathed in tears" for over a year with the sorrow and frustration he feels, that Morgan has not provided the funds he needs to finish "The World System" - his penultimate invention which, could advance world communication by a century. Webs of light explode around him as he lies on his bed, occasionally looking out the window to the sky, knowing that only filthy lucre is what keeps world unity at bay.

Then, it appears! Like an avian symbol of peace and flight!

The light of the world is the heart of the world.

"I've fallen in love with a pigeon... a beautiful bird," writes Tesla, enveloped in the fever of invention and receiving visits from the hand-animated, then stop-motion animated feathered creature. He details his dreams, they explode before us and for eight astounding minutes of dazzling cinematic brilliance we share Rankin's fantasia of the bushy-moustachioed Tesla.

A magical spiral coil spits out blasts of energy as Tesla's hand grips the switch, pulls it with purpose, the beauteous bird of hope perched upon his shoulder and then, the "infinite power for all nations" erupts from the engorged phallic joy that is Tesla's Wardenclyffe plant on Long Island, splattering upon the greedy faces of mankind.

O! This is cinema! In all its radiant poetic beauty, the true promise of the medium is borne upon our souls through our eyes. As he did with his previous film, Mynarski Death Plummet, Rankin's The Tesla World Light takes its rightful place alongside such classic Canadian short films as John Martins-Manteiga's The Mario Lanza Story, John Paizs's Springtime in Greenland, Guy Maddin's The Dead Father and The Heart of the World, Phillip Barker's Malody and Deco Dawson's Ne Crâne pas sois modeste / Keep a Modest Head. Rankin (son of the late, great Canadian writer/historian/curator Laird Rankin) unites the clocks, the toasters, the world and through his visionary imaginings of Nikola Tesla, he unites all of us in the dark room, lit only by the pieces of time we call cinema.

Curiously, the movie is about a great visionary needing a benefactor. Rankin himself is a visionary of the highest order. Happily, he did find a benefactor for his vision, the National Film Board of Canada. Oh Canada! We stand on guard for thee!!!

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

The Tesla World Light is a National Film Board of Canada production. After its triumphant World Premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, it enjoys a Canadian premiere at TIFF 2017.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

THREADS, CHARLES - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - NFB at TIFF 2017 soars with joy and sadness

Life leads us from the frogs.

Charles (2017)
Dir. Dominic Etienne Simard

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In a mostly monochrome world, doughy lad Charles tends to his gargantuan lolly-gagging mother in a squalid flat. There are simple joys, of course, his beloved frogs, school and dips in the nearby lake. Dollops of colour, albeit pale and/or muted keep threatening to bring joy and solace, but they are fleeting.

Colour eventually explodes in the form of rising blue waters threatening to drown him. Will he be rescued? And whom or what will rescue him? Will it indeed be life itself? And oh, when it rains, what will rain down? Frogs? Kitty cats? Doggies? Big pudgy baby bears?

And will he find happiness?

Or is it, ultimately, imagination that will provide the ultimate freedom?

In Dominic Etienne Simard's Charles (a National Film Board of Canada co-production with France), it is the waters of time and the long, slow march to adulthood and freedom that await. The journey will, like so much of our lives, prove to be bittersweet. The film's gorgeous expressive visuals fill in all the blanks and finally, we're left with a work that soars with a great, though sometimes terrible beauty.

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

Charles plays at TIFF 2017.

The ties that bind hang by a thread.

Threads (2017)
Dir. Torill Kove

Review By Greg Klymkiw

To hang by a thread usually suggests imminent danger, something unstable and/or doomed to failure. In Oscar-Winner Torill Kove's lovely and simple animated short (a National Film Board of Canada co-production with Norway), it's the ties that bind which hang by a thread; a slender thread indeed.

This delicate and moving work details the life of a young woman who grabs a thread dangling from the heavens and allows it to hoist her upwards on a journey we come to recognize as life.

When she finds another thread, it's attached to an infant. She and the little girl are inseparable. Though the child grows incrementally into adulthood, they're bound together by that mysterious thread. Even when the thread leads the child to peers on a playground and, for a time, completely out of the mother's purview, the thread remains.

But the day comes, one we all dread I think, when when her daughter must sever the tie that binds to jump up to the heavens, to clutch her own thread.

As a single Dad to a teenage daughter the film inspired so many personal memories of past and present. It provided both solace and melancholy as I, like the mother in the film, face the imminent severing of my own thread to my own child. Yes, we dread the severance, but we also accept it. Life must go on and for those we love the dearest, our children, it must move forward.

There might not be anything new revealed in the sentiments and story revealed in the film, but its visual metaphor is one I welcomed, understood and responded to on a deep emotional level.

I suspect I'll not be alone in this.

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

Threads plays at TIFF 2017.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

SID AND NANCY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Classic Punk Biopic on Criterion Collection

Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb as punk lovers
Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen in Cox classic.

Sid and Nancy (1986)
Dir. Alex Cox
Scr. Cox and Abbe Wool
Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, Drew Schofield, David Hayman

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It seems inevitable that the wildly, strangely romantic tragic biopic Sid and Nancy would be Alex Cox's sophomore feature after his astonishing 1984 debut with the punk masterpiece Repo Man. Veering from an almost neo-realist 70s-style nihilism to a whacked-out druggie comedy to a borderline surreal presentation of a world gone completely nuts, Repo Man now feels like the ultimate 80s American film. Cox's picture, with its aimless punk played by Emilio Estevez finding his niche as a repo man with the sage Harry Dean Stanton, virtually spat in the face of the feel-goody-two-shoes of the execrable John Hughes teen dramedies and the sprawling, noisy, state-of-the-art macho action and adventure films that populated that often-wretched decade of cinema.

The hallucinogenic properties Cox brought to bear upon his first feature continued unabated with this grim, grimy love story twixt the legendary Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman), bassist of The Sex Pistols and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). Though the screenplay by Cox and co-writer Abbe Wool hits many tried and true biopic beats, the film ultimately excels during its many flights of fancy and the clearly oddball properties of a loving, domestic partnership against the backdrop of addiction, substance abuse and the sheer anarchy of the late 70s period of punk rock.

The film begins with the early rise to success of the band managed by Malcolm McLaren (David Hayman) and doesn't waste time getting Sid together with Nancy. They're young, they're in love and they're hooked on heroin. They're also inseparable - so much so that their couple-status begins to upset the applecart of the band. Once The Sex Pistols are on tour in America, things go from bad to worse. The group breaks up. Sid and Nancy continue as a couple whilst Sid attempts to launch a solo career.

And then, tragedy strikes in the squalidly legendary Chelsea Hotel in New York City. Love hurts and it most definitely doesn't last forever and death - violent death at that, has a bad habit of ending the joy and most of all, the pain.

As with Repo Man, Cox has a definitely unique eye on America and in Sid and Nancy, he delivers a skewed world through the eyes of these loving drug addicts (thanks to the astonishing work of cinematographer Roger Deakins and especially, Gary Oldman's star-making performance).

One of the most poignantly addled moments in the film comes when Nancy declares: "I hate my fuckin' life." Loving Sid responds: "This is just a rough patch. Things'll be much better when we get to America, I promise." Nancy looks blankly at him and matter-of-factly responds: "We're in America. We've been here a week."

Oh yeah.

Love hurts, alright. Especially when you don't know where you are. Or who you are.

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

Sid and Nancy is available as DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION on the Criterion Collection in a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray, an alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray, Two audio commentaries: one from 1994 featuring cowriter Abbe Wool, actors Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, cultural historian Greil Marcus, filmmakers Julien Temple and Lech Kowalski, and musician Eliot Kidd; the other from 2001 featuring cowriter-director Alex Cox and actor Andrew Schofield England’s Glory, a 1987 documentary on the making of Sid & Nancy, Infamous 1976 Bill Grundy interview with the Sex Pistols on British television, Rare telephone interview from 1978 with Sid Vicious, Interviews with Vicious and Nancy Spungen from the 1980 documentary D.O.A.: A Right of Passage, Archival interviews and footage, plus an essay by author Jon Savage and a 1986 piece compiled by Cox about Vicious, Spungen, and the making of the film.