Saturday, 15 July 2017

BITCH - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Fantasia 2017 unleashes dark, savage, feminist satire

BITCH: provocative title, provocative movie.

Bitch (2017)
Dir. Marianna Palka
Starring: Jason Ritter, Marianna Palka, Jaime King

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Soon after a failed suicide attempt, housewife Jill (Marianna Palka) can't help but notice a mysterious dog hanging around the beautiful suburban home she lives in with her four children and heartless, scheming, cheating husband Bill (Jason Ritter). She can't keep her eyes off the mangy shepherd and the friendly, panting dog does likewise. They have a bond. Too bad nobody else can see the doggy. Jill, you see, is having a complete nervous breakdown. She's a supermom to her kids and runs the home with clockwork efficiency, but she's so very much alone.

Marianna Palka's provocatively titled Bitch is a savage feminist satire that's as creepy as it is funny and it takes the kind of unexpected narrative turns that are not only aesthetically tantalizing, but yield the kind of original, uncompromising work that restores one's faith in cinema. Stranger even still, is that it slowly develops into a deeply moving tale of redemption.

But who, precisely, is the recipient of this redemption? As it turns out, in the film's exploration of patriarchal domination and its damaging effects upon a woman who simply wants to be loved, appreciated and maintain her sanity as both a woman and a human being, the central character to whom the film bestows its fullest arc is none other than her asshole husband Bill. At first, we are resolutely in Jill's sphere, but the perspective slowly changes - it's Bill whom we follow. If anything, the film is about a man opening his eyes when he has to stare in the mirror and recognize what he's become, and perhaps, always was.

At first, when Jill seems to absorb the personality and spirit of the mysterious dog, Bill is faced with the prospect of actually having to be a father. The family unit suffers a complete breakdown when the beleaguered wife and mom transforms into a growling, snarling "bitch" (female dog) - crawling about on all fours, urinating and defecating all over the house and eventually being banished to the basement as hubby Bill tries to juggle the needs of his children and the demands of his job. He seeks the help and support of Jill's sister Beth (Jaime King) and since he's completely useless as a father (he doesn't even know what schools his kids attend), he puts his sister-in-law in the position of being a surrogate homemaker.

Bitch not only becomes Bill's story, but is, in fact, his story. What a brave and original work this is. In essence, his redemption as a human being is emblematic of his own wife's redemption, his family's survival and a journey to recognize the effects of patriarchy.

Palka directs the movie as if her life depended upon it. Though it has a similar cold veneer one sees in the work of someone like Michael Haneke, Palka's control over her clever screenplay wends its way into a kind of humanity that Haneke can only dream about. (If anything, her work here feels closer to that of Ulrich Seidl.) Palka's own performance is astonishing - veering from "a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown" (giving Gena Rowlands a run for her money in the famous Cassavetes title of the same name) to a human being infused with all the properties, physical and behavioural, of a canine. This is acting of the highest, richest level. Jason Ritter's work is equally brilliant. That he sketches a completely worthless human being that we eventually care about is nothing short of stellar.

Bitch knocks us on our asses. We never know where it's going to go, but when we get there with it, we know we're in the territory of a genuinely great filmmaker, but most of all, we look upon a motion picture that turns itself upon us like a mirror. We're forced to confront both ourselves and the world around us.

This is what movies are meant to do.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ****

Bitch enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia 2017.

Friday, 14 July 2017

BUSHWICK - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The Apocalypse comes to Brooklyn at Fantasia 2017

House of Worship, World of Shit, Apocalypse!!!

Bushwick (2017)
Dir. Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Scr. Nick Damici, Graham Reznick
Starring: Dave Bautista, Brittany Snow, Angelic Zambrana

Review By Greg Klymkiw

You've just got off the subway with your boyfriend and are looking forward to introducing him to your Granny in Brooklyn. The platform is strangely empty until, naturally (it is the Bushwick district after all), a young gentleman in flames from head to toe barrels by, screaming in agony. As you and your beau ascend the stairs, you do so with trepidation - not only because a fiery human shishkebab just passed by, but now you can hear screams and gunshots. Your boyfriend bravely suggests you wait inside so he can go out to take a peek. Wrong move. He returns, near death, his flesh seared like charred corned beef. Once the love of your life expires, it's onwards and upwards.

What pretty young Lucy (Brittany Snow) discovers is Hell on Earth. People are rioting in the streets, looting is rampant and heavily armed military personnel in snappy, though scary-ass fascistic black uniforms (replete with helmets and dark, reflective faceplates) are firing into the bodies of innocent bystanders at will. She barely escapes certain death and hides out in a basement suite in the bowels of a nearby apartment building. The idyll doesn't last long. A few slavering gang banger thugs assail her.

Luckily, she's in the apartment of caretaker/janitor Stupe (Dave Bautista, WWE/MMA champ and the hilarious Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy), a tough-as-nails military veteran who dispatches the scumbags handily and saves her ass. This mismatched (clearly) pair become partners in survival as they wend their way through a veritable apocalypse.

America is under attack - by itself, it seems. A deadly army of redneck Southern secessionists has attacked the northern states and have concentrated their efforts in various New York boroughs, assuming, since they're ignorant racists (as most Deep Southerners must surely be) that they'll be able to have an easier time conquering "ethnics". Uh, not too bright, fellas. "Ethnics" fight back.

Bushwick is blessed with a first-rate screenplay that offers a simple, solid narrative coat hanger to deliver edge-of-the-seat suspense and plenty of action, but most off all, is infused with plenty of social/political layering and gorgeously-etched character shadings. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows the name of the film's lead co-writer, the estimable Nick Damici, a terrific character actor who's also penned several brilliant scripts for director Jim Mickle (Mulberry Street, Stake Land, We Are What We Are, Cold in July). And yes, the script is always the thing, but it helps that co-directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion handle the proceedings with skill, efficiency and verve. Often utilizing several long, gorgeously shot takes, their camera whirs and glides (and not in annoying shaky-cam) with the kind of expert action movie precision that puts many of its big budget studio blackbuster cousins to shame.

The big bonus here, is that both script and direction are blessed with a perfect combination of humanity and cynicism. Bushwick is an exceedingly dark picture and happily, it feels like it would have been at home and comfy amidst any number of classic dystopian 70s science-fiction/action thrillers. The picture gave me gooseflesh and by its nasty, shocking, horrifying conclusion, I was truly, deliciously, orgasmically spent.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ****

Bushwick, a Search Engine Films release, opens theatrically August 2017 in Canada and enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia 2017.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

ANOTHER WOLFCOP - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Glorious Hoser-Horror-Comedy at Fantasia

All-Canadian Lycanthropic Crime Fighter

Another WolfCop (2017)
Dir. Lowell Dean
Starring: Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio, Jonathan Cherry, Yannick Bisson, Devery Jacobs

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Beer guzzling small-town cop Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) is back in action in this sequel to the promising, but flawed WolfCop. Imagine, if you will, a horror-comedy franchise involving a crime-fighting werewolf? Great idea! Happily, this is a sequel that outdoes its predecessor a thousand-fold and rights many of the original's wrongs - and then some. Another WolfCop (not sure I'm crazy about this dullsville title) opens with an amazing action set piece - beautifully realized on every level - in which Lou is chasing down a truckload of heavily armed bank robber types (played by members of the Astron-6 filmmaking collective). Tires screeching, guns a-blazing and eventually, some delectable gore inflicted upon the bad guys by our lycanthropic hero, set the stage for one of the most giddily infectious combinations of gloriously crude Canadian Hoser Humour and plenty of horror movie tropes (and homages-galore, of course).

This new film offers up a delightful antagonist in the form of Swallows (Yannick Bisson), an industrialist planning to open a brewery and launch a new hockey team in the economically challenged town of Woodhaven, Saskatchewan. On the surface, this all seems mighty positive, but his real plans are (of course) nefarious. It's up to WolfCop, the babe-o-licious Chief Tina (Amy Matysio) and conspiracy-theory buddy Willie (Jonathan Cherry) to save the day.

The ribald rural humour is of the highest order - it's laugh-out-loud funny and certainly gives the classic SCTV Bob and Doug McKenzie a decent run for their money. It also has the funniest alien anal intrusion line I've ever heard: "They fuckin' violated me!" The magnificent delivery of it is thanks to the comic genius of actor Jonathan Cherry.

His is not the only first-rate piece of acting on display. Yannick Bisson, who stars in the utterly intolerable TV series "Murdoch's Mysteries", gives his staid, pole-up-the-butt Canuck detective persona a wonderful makeover as one of the scuzziest (and funniest) villains I've seen in some time. It's also great seeing Matysio back in action also - with a job promotion no less. Her straight-up line readings with no-tongue-in-cheek offer comedy (and heroism) in spades. Devery Jacobs offers babe-cop support with her lovely turn as Daisy. Chicks with guns are super-sexy. Then again, so are mixed martial artist lingerie fighting champs, and there's a wonderfully smarmy (albeit boner-inducing) turn from Kris "The Raven" Blackwell as Bisson's evil moll. (We even get a dollop of catfight action twixt Blackwell and Matysio, but it's sadly truncated by a "rescue".)

There are a few spanners in the casting works. Sara Miller plays Willie's sister, a female werewolf for Lou Garou to boink, but the role seems underwritten and Miller's performance seems wooden, as opposed to merely "straight-up". The role could have used a strange combination of warmth and danger, but as served up, she seems little more than eye candy. Not that I have a problem with eye-candy, mind you - it's just that all the female roles in the movie offer so much more. There's a slightly annoying monster android character called Frank played by Alden Adair and even more annoying is a cameo from filmmaker Kevin Smith as a sleazy town official.

What's wonderful is that the movie, unlike the first instalment, is clearly and resolutely set in Canada. No ugly American flags flying here - just plenty of Maple Leafs on display. Dean's direction of the action scenes is first-rate: lots of solid variation in shot composition, all of it delivering dramatic resonance and not just for simple visceral wham-bam, and most importantly, his sense of spatial geography is spot-on (in marked contrast to the all-over-the-place "qualities" during the big climactic moments in the original film). And of course, there's the brilliant work from F/X genius Emersen Ziffle - the film is replete with magnificent makeup and prosthetics and eschewing the cold, lifeless qualities inherent in digital effects.

And what Canuck movie would be complete without heavy metal, plenty of beer-guzzling and violent hockey goonery? There's plenty of all the aforementioned on display here, but given that it's a horror movie (albeit with a funny bone), the picture brings new meaning to the expression "blood on the ice"!

More Wolfcops are promised from creator Lowell Dean, whose continued above-the-line writing-directing talent will be imperative if the quality-level is to continue onwards and upwards. (One also hopes this gets a better marketing push and theatrical release than the perfunctory lame-ass treatment the first picture got via Cineplex Entertainment. The picture needs a kick-ass trailer on as many screens as possible, well in advance of the film's opening - which will hopefully be on at least 100+ screens and even better, just before Christmas - Yes! The movie has a Christmas setting!)

Another WolfCop is such a marked improvement and fulfills the initial promise of both the franchise and the filmmaker. This film superbly builds on the "universe" he laid out and takes it up several notches. With Dean's continued creative involvement, it's going to be onwards and upwards. And speaking of onwards and upwards, yes, we get a Mt. Everest-calibre shot of wolf dick. Welcome to Canada!

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½

Another WolfCop enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia 2017

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Docs at FANTASIA 2017 - Greg Klymkiw Reviews: 78/52, LET THERE BE LIGHT, TOKYO IDOLS

The 2017 edition of the FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL in Montreal is one of the biggest and best celebrations of genre in the world. And they screen documentaries too.

Here are reposts of my reviews of 78/52, LET THERE BE LIGHT and TOKYO IDOLS - all perfect Fantasia material and very much worth seeing if you already haven't.

Walter Murch analyzing the editing of PSYCHO. Wow!

78/52 (2017) ***½
Dir. Alexandre O. Philippe
Starring: Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Richard Stanley, Scott Spiegel, Leigh Whannell, Bret Easton Ellis, Illeana Douglas, Marli Renfro, Tere Carrubba, Stephen Rebello, David Thomson, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"I felt I'd been raped," says Peter Bogdanovich after describing his first helping of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. He's one of many worthy interview subjects to talk about the shower scene in Psycho. His description of the audience reaction to the sequence in the Times Square cinema he saw it in, is alone worth the price of admission to 78/52.

Happily, Phillipe's documentary offers a sumptuous buffet of perspectives.

Some of the best include:

- an astonishing dissection of the editing from Walter Murch (so amazing that one could have simply made an entire film of Murch discussing it with clips);

- a series of insightful analyses from the brilliant Hardware director Richard Stanley whose passion and appreciation seems so deliciously bonkers (and spot-on) that his demeanour seems almost malevolent in its glee;

- Janet Leigh's nude/stunt body double Marli Renfro who not only provides a cornucopia of production tidbits, but does so which such natural zeal and talent one wonders what we lost from her not being a more prolific actress in movies herself;

- filmmakers Eli (Hostel torture-porn-gore-meister) Roth, Neil (The Descent) Marshall and Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), all proving they've got the chops to be film professors of the highest order if directing ever turns out to be a dead-end for them and;

- ace composer Danny Elfman brilliantly discussing Bernard Herrmann's game-changing, shriek-and-heart-attack-inducing string score.

Of course, no such documentary would be complete without a stellar passel of eggheads and Phillipe doesn't disappoint in this regard by including film critics/historians Stephen Rebello and David Thomson, PLUS an art history expert casting light on the strange Baroque painting Hitchcock chose as the instrument by which Norman Bates would, peeping-Tom-like, spy upon Janet Leigh.

Oh, but there are several questionable inclusions in the picture which only serve to add unnecessary longueurs and head-scratching to the whole affair. I mean, really. Was it absolutely necessary to waste our time with the "insights" from those responsible for the Saw sequels and Hostel IV? And come on, why even acknowledge that Gus Van Sant's idiotic remake of Psycho exists, much less spending any time on it whatsoever?

However, this is kind of like picking out undigested bits of corn and peanuts from a good, healthy turd deposit and 78/52 is, for most of us fanboys, robust and satisfying.

The ultimate fusion reactor is within our reach.
Let There Be Light (2017) ****
Dir. Mila Aung-Thwin, Van Royko
Review By Greg Klymkiw
"Stars have a life cycle much like animals. They get born, they grow, they go through a definite internal development - and finally they die, to give back the material of which they are made so that new stars may live." - Hans Bethe, "Energy Production in Stars"
Fusion is the future of energy. It is created by slamming two hydrogen nuclei together. When these two positives collide, we get - Voila! - mega energy. Simple, yes? Uh, no. Our sun, and in fact all stars, are essentially fusion reactors. To create energy from fusion, we essentially need to create our own version of the sun.

Sounds like science fiction to you, right? Well, mankind has been actively studying the potential of fusion for over 50 years and now, with the complex participation of 37 countries and the best/brightest scientific minds, this reality is so close, yet so far.

Let There Be Light is a fascinating, gripping study of what might be the most expensive scientific experiment ever undertaken (ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor).

Filmmaker Mila Aung-Thwin with co-director/cinematographer Van Royko serve up everything you always wanted to know about fusion, but were too uninformed to even bother asking about. Using a dazzling blend of animation, digital effects, penetrating interviews and stunningly shot coverage of the complex mechanics and construction of an actual star-making machine deep in the bucolic countryside of France, this is a science-based documentary with a difference.

It's absolutely thrilling, because what we're watching are real scientists racing against the clock to make this important dream a reality. It's a Michael Crichton thriller come to life, only the stakes are much higher. What Let There Be Light serves up is the future of the Earth itself. Stakes don't get much higher than that.

"I want to save my innocence." Indeed.

Tokyo Idols (2017) ****
Dir. Kyoko Miyake

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In contemporary Japan, there are over 10,000 young girls who are "idols" and they have millions of "fans" - most of whom are unmarried, middle-aged men of the geek/nerd persuasion. You learn something new everyday. It's especially nice when you learn it from movies as good as Tokyo Idols.

I also have to admit that part of the flesh-crawling fun the movie provided me was due to the fact that my first screening of Kyoko Miyake's compulsively fascinating documentary feature was punctuated by a series of exclamatory utterances from my viewing-mate, a very smart, together and funny 15-year-old girl (my daughter, of course). Her jaw was hitting the floor throughout the movie and I've never seen her eyes so wide. Here are but a few of her verbal responses:

"ffffuuucccckkk!!!"

"eeeeweewwwwwww!!!"

"Dad, this is SO not right."

I couldn't really disagree with her. Most of the movie follows the adventures of 19-year-old Rio who longs to be a famous pop-star. She is part of the humungous coterie of teenage girls in Japan with similar aspirations. They call themselves "idols". The other half of the equation are the fans (referred to as "otaku") and Miyake trains her lenses equally upon Koji, a 43-year-old dweeb who lives virtually every waking hour of his life in lavishing copious worship upon her.

Koji has given up the notion of ever having a relationship with another woman. But make no mistake, he loves Rio. He knows he will never sleep with her and that they will never have a relationship beyond a bought-and-paid-for friendship. He's happy to pay money to shake her hand, have a conversation with her (usually involving expressions of his adoration) and attending all her concerts.

Rio, being long-in-tooth for an "idol" must work extra-hard to maintain her fan base and hopefully get a shot at stardom.

Rio is 19-years-old. As such, she is long-in-tooth.

The film also gives us glimpses into other "idols" and "otaku", but also unveils this very strange world in which teenage girls adorn themselves in schoolgirl outfits, gyrate onstage suggestively and belt out innocuous pop tunes. The men are genuinely lonely and bereft of any other purpose in life. They're also dedicated to doing anything and everything to help their "idols" achieve success. Yes, it's "genuine", but it's also sinister and at times, downright repugnant.

By far the creepiest instance of idol/hero worship involves a girl who is still, for all intents and purposes, a child. Yes, there are genuine child "idols" and plenty of creepy old dudes "devoted" to them.

These guys crave relationships with no commitment and most of all, want "friendships" with little girls. They're like pedophiles who get to do everything pedophiles do without actually committing criminal acts of sexual assault. Of course this is all occurring against the twisted cultural backdrop of anime and manga, often driven by pubescent/adolescent female victims and male demons with big dicks.

Middle-aged men with no lives worship teenage girls.

Ultimately, I like how the film just presents the worlds of idols and otaku without overtly drawing much in the way of "moral" conclusions. We're allowed to draw our own conclusions. Yes, by the end of the film, it feels like there are many unanswered questions, but for the film to go out of its way to answer them would feel disingenuous, and frankly, the kind of thing a dull, by-the-numbers filmmaker would do. It's obvious Miyake is anything but that.

Still, I do wish the movie addressed what might appear to be a very small number of female fans, but most of all, I might have perversely appreciated if the film had managed to get an otaku-dude jerking off to his "idol" paraphernalia, or at the very least admitting that he pulled his pud over these "little girls".

I have absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of these guys engage in plenty of schwance-stroking. As Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) in David Lynch's Blue Velvet says: "It's a strange world, isn't it?"

78/52, LET THERE BE LIGHT and TOKYO IDOLS are all playing at Fantasia 2017 in Montreal. For tickets, click HERE.

BABY DRIVER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Lead Character Needs to be Punched in the Face.

Baby needs to be punched in the face - and often.

Baby Driver (2017)
Dir. Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx,
Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Paul Williams, Sky Ferreira

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is an ace getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey), an Atlanta crime kingpin who never uses the same crew for the bank heists he masterminds, but happily breaks from protocol by using Baby each and every time. The kid is the best. He also owes Doc a whack of "tribute" dough and is paying down the debt. The kid suffers from the tinnitus he acquired in a car accident that spared him, but munched his Mommy and Daddy. He's perpetually plugged into classic R&B to drown out "the hum in his drum" and provide the necessary inspiration to put the pedal to the metal. When Baby isn't driving, he pretty much comports himself the same way. With tunes blasting through earphones, Baby bobs his head with the same metronomic rhythm that a cow chews its cud.

Baby might be the most annoyingly insufferable big-screen figure since Jar-Jar Binks (or, perhaps, Patch Adams or Sam Witwicky) and there isn't a moment this cutesy bonehead doesn't inspire me to want to punch him in the face - repeatedly, I might add. Almost as sickening is Baby's love interest Debora (Lily James), a vapid, toothy waitress who's clearly as empty as he is since she falls in love with him at first sight. Yes, she too needs to be punched in the face.

Look, I love Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead as much as the next fella, but his output ever since has adhered to the law of diminishing returns and Baby Driver is the nadir. Jam-packed with by-rote crime movie cliches in the guise of "homage", the picture seems machine-tooled to appeal to audiences as bovinely-brained as its lead character.

None of the endless car chases have any narrative urgency, nor are they ever rooted in anything resembling genuine desperation. I could almost accept this if Wright handled the heists and chases with some kind of genuine panache, but they're all a compendium of the usual contemporary ADHD editing with cameras all over the place and cuts driven by sound rather than picture. It's deathly dull. The stunt work is fine, but it seems to be captured by sight-bereft filmmakers.

A few nights after seeing this piece of shit I re-watched William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. and had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck during some of the most hair-raising, dramatically urgent car chase footage ever committed to film. No such hairs stood up for me during Baby Driver. In fact, I was often so bored that my mind wandered to the notion of shaving my flaccid pubic hairs to give me something to do whilst watching the tedious proceedings.

Even more egregious is that the whole thing is so moronically sun-dappled that Wright can't even muster up enough balls to generate the kind of gloriously downer ending a great crime picture demands. Baby is involved in several high-profile robberies and is an accessory to a whack of murders, but so many of the film's supporting characters attest to his goodness as a human being that he barely serves any prison time and by the end of the picture hops into some hot wheels with his moron girlfriend to trip the highways fantastic.

Leaving the cinema as Baby Driver ended, I not only wanted to punch Baby in the face, I just wanted to punch everyone happily leaving the cinema. The stupid grins plastered upon their satisfied visages all seemed worthy of rearrangement via my fists.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: * One-Star

Baby Driver is in wide release via Tri-Star and Sony Pictures.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Le Silence de la mer (The Silence of the Sea) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Haunting portrait of French Resistance during wartime at TIFF Bell Lightbox Summer 2017 series "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville" and available on the Criterion Collection.

A Nazi soliloquizes to silent listeners in Melville's debut.

Le Silence de la mer - The Silence of the Sea (1949)
Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
Nvl. Vercors (Jean Bruder)
Starring: Howard Vernon, Nicole Stéphane, Jean-Marie Robain

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There are many forms of resistance during an occupation. As Jean-Pierre Melville's debut feature film proves, the most powerful of all is silence. When an old man (Jean-Marie Robain) and his niece (Nicole Stéphane) are forced to billet Nazi officer Werner von Ebrennac (Howard Vernon) in their own home, they choose to contribute to the French resistance of German occupation by going about their lives as if their unwelcome guest doesn't exist.

Silence proves to be a formidable weapon. Le Silence de la mer is based on the secretly published novel by Jean Bruder under the nom-de-plume "Vercors", published and circulated in France during the Occupation. So horrific is the power of Melville's adaptation that the film succeeds as one of the most chilling anti-war films ever made and this from a picture that seldom leaves the confines of a cozy, bourgeois country living-room. What a gloriously mad first feature film, but one that radiates the sheer abundant cinematic glory that is Jean-Pierre Melville.

The first two-thirds of the movie involves the old man and his niece sitting quietly - the old man reading and/or smoking his pipe whilst his niece intensely embroiders. The Nazi officer pays them nightly visits. He acknowledges and respects their resistance, their cold, borderline cruel silence.

Still, this does not deter him from trying to establish a human connection. He wanders about the living-room, speaking in soliloquy. His words are always gentle, mannered and cultured. It doesn't take long to figure out he isn't the usual garden variety Nazi Officer. It seems that Werner von Ebrennac has the soul of an artist and he holds a deep love and admiration for French culture.

Many of his monologues are heart-achingly beautiful observations on art, language, music and literature. He even reveals tidbits about his life in Germany, some very personal. When he tells the story about his one great love and how he was eventually driven from her when she displayed a deep-seeded cruelty he could have never before imagined, we are allowed to see the pain and disappointment in his eyes. We are allowed to feel for him as a human being. His hosts, however, remain unmoved - at least on the surface. No matter what he says, the old man and his niece remain impassive - and, silent.

Their silence does indeed border on cruelty, though our Nazi doesn't see it that way. He acknowledges their right to silence. Astonishingly he seems to welcome it as the right of any countryman to resist their occupation at the hands of an enemy.

He occasionally veers into political territory - dangerous territory indeed since he betrays considerable naiveté and in so doing he attempts to provide a perverse justification for Germany's occupation of France. This eventually proves to be his biggest mistake because eventually he comes face-to-face with the true reality of his country's motives, their final solution.

Eventually a word will indeed be spoken from the "resistance". When it comes, it's excruciatingly painful. I personally find myself gasping and on the verge of weeping every time I experience this moment.

There's something so perfect, so indelible about this motion picture. Melville, a French Jew who was a resistance fighter during WWII, made this film not long after the war. Given the horror, danger and cruelty he experienced, one might have expected a very different film on his feature debut, but no, he is, after all Jean-Pierre Melville. Le Silence de la mer seems to set the stage perfectly for the compassion and humanity he displayed throughout his career.

He's achieved the impossible. He allows us to see cruelty in resistance and humanity in a Nazi. Just thinking about this makes me want to weep with joy.

And sadness.

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

Le Silence de la mer (The Silence of the Sea) plays at at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Summer 2017 series "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville". It is also available on a gorgeous Criterion Collection Blu-Ray and DVD that comes complete with a new high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, Melville's first film, the short 24 Hours in the Life of a Clown (1946), a new interview with film scholar Ginette Vincendeau, Code Name Melville (2008), a seventy-six-minute documentary on Melville’s time in the French Resistance and his films about it, Melville Steps Out of the Shadows (2010), a forty-two-minute documentary about Le silence de la mer, an interview with Melville from 1959, a new English subtitle translation, plus a booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and a selection from Rui Nogueira’s 1971 book "Melville on Melville".

Monday, 10 July 2017

L'ARGENT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Bresson's final film gets the Criterion treatment.

Robert Bresson's last film might be his greatest...
and the Dude made one great picture after another.

L'Argent (1983)
dir. Robert Bresson
Starring: Christian Patey, Caroline Lang, Sylvie Van den Elsen, Vincent Risterucci

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Robert Bresson died in 1999. During his forty years as a director, he made only 15 feature films. He was uncompromising.

On one hand, it seems disgraceful it was so difficult for him to secure financing. On the other, when one looks at filmmakers of equal genius (albeit very different filmmakers), the ease with which they were able to grind out film after film left quite a few stinkers in their canons and as their careers progressed into their august years, the work itself adhered strictly to the law of diminishing returns. For me, Ford and Capra (who, in fairness often took gun-for-hire gigs with studios) are those who fall into this category. There were exceptions to the rule like John Huston, who made his fair share of stinkers, but in his last years generated several terrific pictures and in the case of The Dead, his last film, a bonafide masterpiece.

L'Argent was Bresson's last film and made 15 years before his death. I hate to imagine what those final 15 years were like NOT making a film, but one hopes he took some solace in the fact that this was exactly the sort of final work that every artist dreams of leaving behind.

Not only is this picture the ultimate Bresson film - a culmination of his deeply original approach to cinematic storytelling - but is, in fact, a deeply important film; artistically and morally. This is a film that, on its surface seems utterly stripped of redemption for its lead character, for the world and finally, for humanity. This, I believe, IS purely surface. L'Argent may well be one of the great humanist works of the 20th century - up there with the greatest films of Jean Renoir, if not in a stratosphere far above.

While Bresson's work was always secular in its humanism, there was also an adherence to faith - lapsed or otherwise and importantly, never in the sense of religious humanism. L'Argent presents a world where any sense of faith is betrayed and/or quashed and yet, in spite of this (and in spite of the almost cold, calculatingly precise manner in which the tale is rendered), this might well be Bresson's most emotional and affecting film - his most profoundly moving work.

It should probably come as no surprise that L'Argent is based on a literary work by Leo Tolstoy - a writer who practically defined the modern art of narrative (as I'd argue Bresson did with cinema), a great thinker/philosopher (again, not unlike Bresson) and a believer in both faith and a higher power, but ultimately eschewing the corruption and hypocrisy of organized religion (and again, Bresson being cinema's Tolstoy in this regard). Where Bresson and Tolstoy appear to part, at least literally, is that Bresson chose to base his film upon only Part I of Tolstoy's novella "The Forged Coupon" and not touch Part II of the work - the part wherein redemption was sought and found.

For Bresson's great film, this was a brave, brilliant and strangely apt choice.

There is, finally, something mysteriously affecting in Bresson's almost under-a-microscope study of how one immoral action sets off a chain of events, domino-like, of one unethical act after the other until we are faced with the ultimate evil, actions of the most viciously immoral kind - conducted with no remorse, no feeling (not even hate, it seems) and certainly - no redemption.

The tale Bresson spins is relatively faithful to Tolstoy's (though updated to contemporary France). A forged bill is passed on to a hapless soul who is powerless to fight the punishment he receives after unwittingly passing on the fake money. Losing his job and any reasonable prospect of employment to support his wife and child, he takes on the job of a getaway driver during a heist. He is caught, sentenced to prison and loses his child to a fatal illness and his wife who decides to move on and begin a new life. Upon his eventual release from prison, he has nothing. His soul seems drained and his actions become increasingly violent.

Upon committing an utterly heinous and unpardonable sin/crime, he calmly turns himself in - not out of redemption or guilt or compassion, but to further an opportunity to be incarcerated with the person who passed him the bill in the first place - to exact cold, calculated revenge (and by this point, without even the extreme emotion of hatred - revenge becomes almost a base need).

It is here where Bresson offers one of the most astonishing final images and cleaves it off literally with a picture cut to black that is so exquisite, so precise, so emotionally and viscerally powerful, that experiencing it invokes a physical response that is literally breathtaking.

Tolstoy offered us redemption. Bresson denies it to us. Two different approaches to the same material, however, yield similar results. We so desperately cling to the hope that redemption will come to Bresson's central character, that it's our hope, that is, finally, the redemption. Bresson allows us to seek humanity in ourselves through the inhuman actions of another.

This is a masterpiece.

To not see it, to not acknowledge this, to not revisit this great work again and again and again is to deny cinema and the power of cinema - one that even Tolstoy himself in his final years lamented not having an opportunity to tackle.

Cinema is a great gift.

Bresson, however, was the greatest gift to cinema and L'Argent is his greatest film.

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

L'Argent is now available via the Criterion Collection with a new restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, the press conference from the 1983 Cannes Film Festival, a new video essay by film scholar James Quandt, the trailer, a new English subtitle translation, an essay by critic Adrian Martin and a newly expanded 1983 interview with director Robert Bresson.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

EXPERIMENT IN TERROR - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Restored nail-biter @ TIFF BellLightbox

Blake Edwards serves up the epitome of cool.
"Take off your clothes. You want me to take them off for you? Then take them off."
- Ross Martin as Red Lynch in Blake Edwards's Experiment in Terror.

Experiment in Terror (1962)
Dir. Blake Edwards
Scr. The Gordons (Mildred & Gordon)
Starring: Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Ross Martin, Stefanie Powers

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The villain's name is Lynch. The heroine lives in a neighbourhood called Twin Peaks. The square-jawed, monkey-suited hero is an F.B.I. agent.

Doing the math, geek?

Don't worry. Even if it's not adding up for you, there's plenty more on display than mere cinema-geekery in Experiment in Terror, the consummate 1962 thriller by Blake Edwards that puts most contemporary nail-biters to shame. (Yeah, Get Out, I'm talking to YOU!)

Late one fine San Francisco evening, gorgeous bank teller Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick, dolled-up in only the finest array of designer wear) is accosted in a suburban garage, from behind naturally, by a dark figure who manhandles her appropriately, guessing her measurements with dazzling precision.

He demands, through a gravely asthmatic voice, that she will steal $100K, following his instructions to the letter. Oh, and she better not go to the police. If she disobeys him, he plans to rape and murder both Kelly and her lithe little teenage sister Toby (Stefanie Powers). Hell, he might still do it anyway. Just for fun.

What's a girl like the impossibly gorgeous Kelly Lynch to do? Well, call the F.B.I. of course and be lucky enough to get the handsome agent John Ripley (Canada's own Glenn Ford) on the line. Big mistake. No sooner does she get off the blower when the predatory attacker suddenly appears, belts Kelly to the floor and crunches his nicely-polished black shoe on her throat. He knows everything. He sees everything. And she better not screw up.

What follows is a terror-infused cat and mouse game. Villain Red Lynch (Ross Martin) is quickly revealed to us (and the cops), but he's one slick dude and though he might be arrogant and totally bat-shit crazy, the man is a mastermind. Every step of the way he manages to outsmart the cops and the picture spins like a whirling dervish through several edge-of-the-seat set pieces and finally climaxes during a ball game in a packed-to-the-rafters Candlestick Park.

Some might find it a bit strange that such a crackling terrific thriller came from Blake Edwards. Yes, he did indeed deliver the hugely successful Breakfast at Tiffany's, the ubiquitous Pink Panther series, 10, one of the best romantic comedies of the 70s and the beloved gender-bending musical-comedy Victor/Victoria, so he's not the first guy one thinks of as someone who's going to deliver a picture as downright throat-catching as Experiment in Terror. But you know, Blake Edwards can and has been cool. He was, after all, the creator of the hard-boiled private-dick series Peter Gunn and here he assembled a top-flight cast, dazzling Phillip Lathrop black and white cinematography on location in San Francisco and a jazzy, jangling score from Henry Mancini.

And then there's Ross Martin as rapist, forger, armed robber and psycho killer Red Lynch - he's easily one of the nastiest, scariest villains in screen history. His thin lips, Cheshire grin, over-the-top wheezing and off-the-Richter-scales slime-bucket attitude all contribute to the creation of a gloriously chilling and, dare I say it, cooler-than-cool madman of the highest order.

He looks great in drag, too. Well, uh, not really "great", per se, but Jesus Christ, I'd hate to meet him in the Ladies Room. Oh, and in Experiment in Terror, we most certainly do meet him there. Damn, it's scary!

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

A restored digital print of Experiment in Terror plays at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

OUTRAGE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Ida Lupino's Groundbreaking 1950 Film About Sexual Assault and Its Aftermath on 35mm at TIFF Bell Lightbox

If you're rich, you can attend a special "Patrons Circle Silver + Event" at TIFF Bell Lightbox (July 10) of Ida Lupino's Outrage, the groundbreaking 1950 film about a woman's sexual assault and its aftermath. According to the TIFF bumph:

"In our continuing mission to transform the way people see the world through film, we are pleased to invite Patron Circle Members at the Silver Level and above to attend Outrage..."

Lovely!

So, what this means is that you can come to this special event IF you are a Silver+ patron of TIFF. So pull out your cheque book and feel free to shell out: $4000 for a Silver Membership or $6000 for a Gold Membership or $8000 for a Platinum Membership or, if you're especially well-heeled, please cough up $12000 for a Leadership Membership.

Here's what you'll get:

"The evening begins with a cocktail reception on the stunning TIFF Bell Lightbox rooftop terrace overlooking Toronto's skyline. Continuing in-cinema, the courageous activist, author, and educator Jane Doe will join us to delve into the film's subject matter through the lens of her expertise on sexual violence and its systemic connections. Be a part of the change you want to see in the world, and join us for what is sure to be an engaging, informative, and inspiring event."

Lovely!

If you can cough up $4K to $12K, you'll have the opportunity - just BEFORE a movie about RAPE - to slosh back cocktails whilst gazing upon TIFF's "stunning" view of the Toronto Skyline. If you can cough up $4K to $12K, you'll have the opportunity to join "the courageous activist, author, and educator Jane Doe" as she delves into film... "through the lens of her expertise on sexual violence and its systemic connections." If you can pull $4K to $12K out of your keister, you can "Be a part of the change you want to see in the world." (If you can manage to dredge up $2K for a Bronze Membership, you are welcome to attend, but alas, you will NOT be allowed to slosh back cocktails whilst gazing upon TIFF's "stunning" view of the Toronto Skyline just BEFORE a movie about RAPE.)

If you CAN'T cough up $4K to $12K to attend the July 10 event, you can STILL see Outrage on Thursday, August 24 during the TIFF Cinematheque retrospective "Ida Lupino: Independent Woman". There will be no cocktail party and, thus far, no word on a special presentation from Jane Doe. You will, however, eventually get to see this important film on 35mm, even IF you aren't loaded.

Lovely! The film, as always, should be the thing.


In 1950 Ida Lupino directed this important film
about sexual assault and its aftermath.

Outrage (1950)
Dir. Ida Lupino
Scr. Lupino, Malvin Wald, Collier Young
Starring: Mala Powers, Tod Andrews, Robert Clarke

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The grim stocky lunch counter clerk has had a long hard day serving up joe and burgers to a steady stream of warehouse district workers. Night is falling and though he tries to wipe the dank sweat from his pudgy face and hideously scarred neck, the stink of standing for hours on end has, no doubt, permeated into his grubby clothes and sticks to him like flies to shit.

Yeah, he's dirty, but not just in body. He's foul to the depths of his soul. And he needs to blow off some steam. He deserves it. He's a man, after all. But he is a man alone and has little more amidst the ennui of post-War America than to slink home to whatever squalid digs await him.

But hark! Opportunity comes sidling round the corner.

Whistling happily, striding along the empty alleyways after staying late at work, is pretty, young bookkeeper Ann Walton (Mala Powers). She's happy and confident. Why wouldn't she be? She's a strong, independent woman, heading home and infused with happiness that she's soon to be married to Jim Owens (Robert Clarke), a sweet young man who has just got a raise. Both of them are looking forward to an upwardly mobile life, eventually creating hearth, home and family - together.

Ah, if only life was so easy. Ann is about to be raped and everything she holds sacred is about to come crashing down upon her.

Welcome to the stunning, groundbreaking portrait of sexual assault and its aftermath from director Ida Lupino. Outrage was released in 1950 by RKO. It was only the second film ever made in Hollywood (the first was 1948's Johnny Belinda) to deal with this subject matter and though the themes and content would be enough to solidify its historical significance, it's an astonishing achievement of film art.

Lupino was a great director. She made six films (including Outrage, The Hitch-Hiker and The Bigamist) through the independent company she founded with her then-husband Collier Young and they stand as a testament to her commitment to presenting films about social issues - often about women and from a decidedly female standpoint. Here she brings all her vision to bear. It's a truly dazzling picture.

Lupino's eye is impeccable. Though this is clearly a product of its time (the word "rape", nor the phrase "sexual assault" are ever used), the universal properties of the film's perspective are, sadly and powerfully, as relevant today as they were in 1950.

When we first see the rapist and his initial encounter with Ann, his macho swagger is unmistakeable. There's a strange "innocence" to his flirting, at least initially. After all, she's a pretty lady patronizing his lunch counter and he notes that she's purchasing two takeout containers of cake to bring as a lunchtime treat for her "boyfriend".

He seems friendly at first, a bit of good-natured joshing about her dumping the dude and dating him instead. But ultimately, it's not good-natured at all. He's a fucking creep. He even begins to brag about his manly prowess. Brilliantly, Lupino allows the scene to play almost matter-of-factly, at least from Ann's perspective. She politely ignores his entreaties. She's a woman, after all, and must surely be hit on by most guys with a dick twixt their legs. Her response seems innocently a matter of course. What's not right is the way the clerk stares at her. She's a sex object - pure and simple.

During a seemingly sweet moment when she sits on a crowded park bench with Jim as he proposes marriage to her, Lupino focuses upon prying eyes. This time, it's not a guy who looks disapprovingly about the couple's open expression of love, but a woman. Society's disapproval is everywhere. Even after Ann is raped, disapproval comes under the guise of caring.

The rape scene, as directed by Lupino, still packs a punch - maybe even more now than it did in 1950. Conjuring every available filmmaking tool, she creates a visual and aural assault upon us as Ann is stalked through the labyrinthine warehouse district - canted angles, expressionistic shadows, eerily unsettling God-shots and the sounds of clicking heels on the pavement, leering wolf-whistles, the clatter of a tin can smashing on the pavement and a faulty blaring truck horn to drown out the sounds of her whimpering as the hulking mass of male dominance looms above her - to take from her what he wants.

Much later on in the film, after Ann's been assaulted and left town, there's a sequence almost more powerful than the harrowing rape scene Lupino previously depicts. Here Ann has tried to escape the "shame" and whispers her assault has engendered. She lives peacefully in a rural California enclave, surrounded by good, decent people, including Rev. Bruce Ferguson (Tod Andrews), a veteran haunted by the horrors of war who seeks his own escape by offering compassion, solace and ministry to those in need.

Under sunny skies, an outdoor harvest dance ensues. Ann is among friends and for the first time in a long time, she has some peace, some much-needed solace and company. What she doesn't need is a handsome predator, demanding a dance, insisting upon her attention. Yes, this man's pursuit is "innocent", but Lupino infuses his desires with a creepy, almost matter-of-fact predatory tone.

He wants what he wants.

He thinks he can take it.

And he doesn't understand the meaning of the word "No."

Outrage doesn't let up. Nor, it seems, do predators.

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

Outrage plays in 35mm in the TIFF Bell Lightbox series "Ida Lupino: Independent Woman".

Friday, 7 July 2017

BEFORE ANYTHING YOU SAY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Searing Domestic Two-Hander Soars

Kristen Harris and Darcy Fehr: Verbal Domestic Slug-Fest

Before Anything You Say (2016)
Dir. Shelagh Carter
Scr. Deborah Schnitzer
Starring: Kristen Harris, Darcy Fehr, John Bluethner, Toni Reimer, Graham Ashmore

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There's much to be said for the dazzling cinematic potential of watching two great actors verbally slugging it out against the backdrop of claustrophobic domestic strife and Shelagh Carter's Before Anything You Say does not disappoint in the long-honoured snipe-fest sweepstakes. Carter's previous outing Passionflower, a harrowing portrait of mental illness, solidified her position as one of Canada's leading practitioners of searingly glorious psychological melodrama and this new film manages to up the ante by delving into territory that blends the delectable properties of 70s "menopause movies" (typified by the likes of Gilbert Cates's Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams) and the sorrow-laden relationship gymnastics of Alain Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour).

Isobel (Kristen Harris) and Jack (Darcy Fehr) find themselves at loggerheads during a vacation in Paris. Jack has an opportunity to move to Bangkok and take a job that will see him working towards fighting against human trafficking. This means that Isobel must either drop her own career and join him or stay behind in their glorious house in their beloved winter city. Add to this mix of emotions is his adult son's disappearance.

Deborah Schnitzer's fine screenplay is well served by Carter's rich mise-en-scene which is supported by the sumptuous cinematography of veteran cameraman Ousama Rawi ("The Tudors", "Borgia" and such classic 70s films as Don Siegel's The Black Windmill and Edward Dmytryk's The Human Factor) and Taavo (The Hanging Garden) Soodor's impeccable production design.

One of the more perverse aspects of the picture is that so much of the film, set in Paris, is relegated to the scintillating verbal jousting between the couple in the cold atmosphere of an upscale hotel room and a touristy cocktail lounge. Here we are in a city of lights and romance, yet the film focuses its lens upon the claustrophic sniping of two people who are on the verge of a total breakdown.

Keri Latimer's haunting score and editor Chad Tremblay's hypnotic cutting both contribute immeasurably to Carter's pain-infused drama. Though this one-hour drama is lean and mean, one feels like it could well have sustained itself for even longer. This is one picture that would have benefitted greatly from overstaying its welcome.

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

Before Anything You Say premieres in competition at the 2017 Madrid International Film Festival

Thursday, 6 July 2017

TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN (Deux hommes dans Manhattan) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Melville in Manhattan Classic on 35mm at TIFF Bell Lightbox Summer 2017 series "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville" and via the Cohen Media Group Blu-Ray

Film Noir in 50s Manhattan: The only movie to feature director Jean-Pierre Melville in a starring role.

Two Men in Manhattan - Deux hommes dans Manhattan (1959)
Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring: Jean-Pierre Melville, Pierre Grasset

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The mission is clear. France's chief representative at the United Nations has gone missing. He must be found. This, of course, is a job made for two esteemed members of the press. Their journey is going to take them deep into the underbelly of Manhattan. On the grey well-worn streets, lit by the kind of neon one can only find in the city that never sleeps, dogged French reporter Moreau (Jean-Pierre Melville) and his sleazy pal, Paris Match photographer Delmas (Pierre Grasset), are all set to visit a first-class brothel in search of their quarry.

"It doesn't get much better than this," Delmas notes.

"You can judge a civilization by its level of prostitution," Moreau cracks.

Delmas responds with a wide grin: "Who said that?"

Moreau turns. With a knowing smile, he looks straight at his old friend Delmas.

"Delmas," he quips.

Well, of course. Moreau knows Delmas all too well. When a politician disappears, only a Paris Match photographer is going to know where to go. Oh, and do they go. They go-go-go into the backstage world of Broadway, dressing rooms, a recording studio at Capitol Records, only the finest gentlemen's clubs, the apartments of kept women, a furtive visit into a hospital housing a babe who's attempted to commit suicide and, of course, brothels.

The missing diplomat is, after all, French. Where else would two French dudes find another French dude? They must visit with actresses, singers, strippers and whores (of course). Their journey goes deep into the night and what they find is definitely the kind of sleazy mess tinged with tragedy that tests their mettle as men of honour (and dishonour).

Jean-Pierre Melville knows a thing or two about honour. His previous film, Bob le flambeur (1955) was all about that. He takes it several steps further with Two Men in Manhattan.

With Bob le flambeur, Melville also pretty much defined La Nouvelle Vague and its groundbreaking use of gritty Montmartre locations. Here he solidifies the path for the likes of those who followed in his footsteps: François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, et al - these guys owe everything to Melville. Here he blends his love of all things American and does it on the mean streets of New York City.

Cool guys, babes galore, rumpled trench coats, plenty of cigarette smoke and lots of hot jazz. And in Manhattan, no less. Delmas's line is prescient indeed:

"It doesn't get much better than this."

It sure doesn't.

Two Men in Manhattan is pure film noir with a twist of the French New Wave. Indeed, not too many movies can deliver on this level. A single frame of this picture puts most movies to shame.

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

Two Men in Manhattan - Deux hommes dans Manhattan plays on 35mm during the TIFF Bell Lightbox Summer 2017 series "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville" and is available on a Cohen Media Group Blu-Ray that includes a conversation between critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Ignatiy Vishnvetsky and an essay by Melville scholar Ginette Vincendeau.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

THE EXORCIST - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Original Theatrical Version of Friedkin Horror Classic Perfect! No Need To See "Extended Director's Cut" at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Just watch the original theatrical version. At home. Alone. On Blu-Ray.

THE EXORCIST is the best horror movie ever made!

The Exorcist (1973)
Dir. William Friedkin
Scr. William Peter Blatty
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb,
Father William O'Malley, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Peter Masterson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

No matter how many times I see William Friedkin's The Exorcist, it's like I'm seeing it for the very first time which, on a big screen, first-run, at the age of 14, beats pretty much any experience I've ever had. The picture not only chills to the bone, but it's so gorgeously crafted that seeing the movie is like being under hypnosis from beginning to end. I can't take my eyes off the screen - every beat, every cut, every shot, every sound infuses me with sheer, utter horror and its astonishing set pieces keep delivering a kind of explosive excitement that blows away the comparatively meagre joys bestowed via orgasm. Goddamn it, who needs orgasms when The Exorcist exists?

Thanks to William Peter Blatty's best-selling novel and screenplay adaptation, there is nobody alive on this earth who doesn't know what they're going to see - the simple, compulsive story about a demon that possesses 12-year-old Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), then compels her to commit some of the most vile acts imaginable until her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), in desperation (having exhausted every medical "cure"), turns to Fathers Karras and Merrin (Jason Miller, Max von Sydow) priests from the Jesuit Order, to do battle with the evil that's invaded her child. On the surface, that's pretty much it, though Blatty also managed to flesh out the narrative coat hanger with a host of beautifully etched characters to keep our eyes glued via our hearts and minds.

Not to downplay Blatty's writerly achievements, but the movie is finally as great as it is because of William Friedkin's command of cinematic language. This man knows how to use his camera to rip our very guts out and there are few American directors who have been able to so as consistently and successfully as he has. Film after film (The French Connection, Sorcerer, To Live and Die in L.A., Cruising, Killer Joe), William Friedkin manages to slam us repeatedly in the face with a two-by-four and eventually send us soaring out of the cinema with a buoyancy most filmmakers can't even dream about, much less achieve.

My most recent helping of The Exorcist was, in this day and age, the best possible way to see it. I sat alone in my house, at night, with my telephone off, every light extinguished, the sound cranked and braced upright in a not-too-comfortable position (when we worship, we're not supposed to be comfy) in front of my HD monitor as the Blu-Ray player began spinning. Though I'd have loved to see it on a big screen, my only recent option would have been the TIFF Bell Lightbox special Cinematheque screening and alas, I'd have had, in that venue, to see it with other people in a rarefied atmosphere of "knowing" cineastes - a far cry from repeated screenings during the film's first year of release in a 2000-seat, packed-to-the-rafters picture palace and surrounded by audiences silently observing the proceedings - silently except for those moments when you'd hear hundreds of people gasping and screaming.

Even more problematic about seeing it at TIFF is their egregious choice to screen the "extended Director's Cut" (billed somewhat erroneously on their website sans the word "extended"). Nothing beats Friedkin's 121-minute theatrical cut. The near-horrendous 132-minute "extended Director's Cut" not only destroys the film's impeccable pace, but adds several sequences that should have remained as optional special features on Blu-Ray/DVD releases. The worst additions include the infamous "spider walk", a clunky dialogue scene between the exorcists twixt bouts in the little girl's bedroom and worst of all, an obvious "positive" ending.

Usually billed as The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen, this version of the film is only worth seeing for the exercise of viewing a director ruining what was already perfect (lest we forget Spielberg's not-so-special Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition or George Lucas's nutty tinkering with Star Wars). This so-called "Director's Cut" of The Exorcist has no place in a Cinematheque - the version being screened is little more than a cash-grab and a perverse nod to appease original writer-producer Blatty.

Oh, but the original theatrical version is a treat - a treat to end all treats! The opening scenes in Northern Iraq as Father Merrin presides over an archeological dig is still one of the creepiest sequences ever committed to film. The blazing sun, the sand and grit, the sweat pouring off everyone's faces, the desperation with which the good Father shoves heart pills down his gullet, the discovery of an evil-infused artifact, horses charging out of nowhere down a narrow street, armed Iraqi soldiers cocking their rifles, wild dogs snarling, growling and fighting in the desert and Merrin's face-to-face regard of an oversized sculpture of the demon Pazuzu, its grim visage and huge, erect lance-like penis; images crafted to jangle and disorient us, naturalistic sounds to shred our eardrums and a documentary-like eye to make us believe - really believe!

And in the words of Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer: "You ain't seen nothing yet!"

Friedkin's cameras take us from these exotic sites and plunge us into the world of Washington D.C.'s leafy, "safe" Georgetown neighbourhood and he begins the ever-so slow burn as a happy child transforms into a hideous, scarred demon - spewing vomit and expletives and yes, eventually masturbating with a crucifix, shoving her mother's horrified face into her bleeding vagina, demanding she lick the crimson oozing from between her legs.

And almost as horrifying are the battery of medical assaults upon the child, as nasty and intrusive as those of the demon, captured with a clinical Neo-realist fervour by a director at the top of his game.

Oh, and the exorcism! The chants and Holy Water, so rhythmically entrancing that I found myself, time and time again, on the edge of my seat, filled with creepy-crawly gooseflesh and my eyes welling up with tears.

Oh, this is cinema! In all its glory!

And to watch The Exorcist is indeed the ultimate experience of giving oneself to the visceral, the spiritual, the kaleidoscopic joy and horror of worship.

This is what it's all about!

This is cinema!

THE FILM CORNER RATING:
(Theatrical Cut): ***** 5-Stars
(Extended Director's Cut): ** 2-Stars


The Exorcist (Extended Director's Cut) is a TIFF Cinematheque Special Screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. Skip it. Just see the original theatrical cut of The Exorcist on the Warner Bros. magnificent Blu-Ray "The Complete Anthology" which has everything you'd ever want - a completist's wet dream.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Bob le flambeur - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Classic Melville Heist Picture at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox in summer 2017 series "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville" and via the O.O.P. Criterion Collection DVD.

Aging high-roller takes the biggest gamble of them all.

Bob le flambeur (1956)
Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
Scr. Melville & Auguste Le Breton
Starring: Roger Duchesne, Daniel Cauchy, Isabelle Corey, Guy Decomble, Gérard Buhr

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"I was 14 when I left my mother... I returned 10 years later, early one morning. I saw an old woman on her knees, scrubbing away, as she always had. That's how I recognised her. I left without a word. Then I sent her a postal order each month. One month it was sent back. She had stopped scrubbing." - Bob Montagné in Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le flambeur

In the moments between night and day, by the dawn's early light, in Montmartre, that hallowed, hilly zone of solemnity and sleaze in Paris, resting somewhere between the Heaven of the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur at its highest point and below it, the Hell of nightclubs, cheap hotels, cafes, whorehouses and gambling dens, the distinguished trench-coat-adorned silver-haired old fox Bob Montagné (Roger Duchesne) takes one last roll of the dice.

Craps.

It's been a long night and Bob's wiped out. He steps out onto the lonely morning streets, looks into a storefront reflection, straightens his tie and, taking in his weary visage, remarks aloud: "A real hood's face."

And so it is, but he's definitely not your run-of-the-mill garden variety miscreant. Bob Montagné is a class act. He's practically royalty, at least by the standards of magical Montmartre. Sure, he's been in an out of stir for most of his life, but amongst the post-war criminal class of France, he's pulled off some of the most daring heists, and as such, commands respect from thugs and cops alike.

He's a high-roller, you see, and everyone loves Bob: he's worshipped by the sweet young criminal Paulo (Daniel Cauchy), whilst the grizzled police lieutenant Ledru (Guy Decomble) considers him his best friend (and indeed owes his life to him) and, of course, there's a woman - the beautiful young Annie (Isabelle Corey), who adores him for his fatherly influence and generosity. Yes, everyone loves Bob, except for the foul pimp and stool pigeon Marc (Gérard Buhr). Bob has even less use for Marc, a piece of excrement on two legs who beats his women, sells anyone out for the right price and even tries to lure Annie into his stable.

Right from the opening frames of Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le flambeur we know we're about to enter the world of the criminal class, but for the most part, "class" is the order of the day for men like our title character. Bob's also down for the count, but he's not there for long. He springs up with one last plan to restore himself. As an inveterate gambler, he knows all too well how much dough collects in a casino after a long night and he decides to put together a crack team to pull a heist on the mighty Deauville gaming emporium.

The magical world of Montmartre:
Wet streets, nightclubs, cigarettes and dice.

Best laid plans, however, can go awry, but the manner in which Melville explores this is one of the reasons why Bob le flambeur is a masterpiece. Let's put aside the fact that the picture's sense of atmosphere is so thick you can cut it with a knife, that its touches of Neo-realism make us feel like we're living, breathing and even smelling a world most of us will never know, that its eventual and shocking bursts of violence knock us on our butts and indeed influenced every crime picture that followed in its wake.

Let's put all that aside for a moment. Let's marvel at the sheer, brilliant simplicity of one key stroke of narrative genius:

Bob le flambeur is a heist film in which part of the caper itself involves its mastermind playing the tables of the casino he's going to rob and just as he's about to risk committing a crime that might land him in the hoosegow for a very long time, his rolls of the dice start to yield him a fortune that he's never seen in his life - a fortune that might indeed exceed that of what he could ever hope to rob from the joint.

Damn, this is genius.

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

Bob le flambeur screens at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox in the summer 2017 series "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville" and, via the O.O.P. Criterion Collection DVD which includes an interview with Daniel Cauchy and an archival Gideon Bachman radio interview with Jean-Pierre Melville.

Monday, 3 July 2017

RIFIFI - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The greatest heist film ever made screens at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox in the Summer 2017 series "Panique: French Crime Classics" and is also available on a gorgeous Criterion Collection Blu-Ray/DVD


Rififi (1955)
Dir. Jules Dassin
Scr. Dassin & René Wheeler
Nvl. Auguste Le Breton
Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner,Robert Manuel,
Jules Dassin, Janine Darcey, Magali Noël, Claude Sylvain

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The major set piece of this extraordinary French crime film by blacklisted American director Jules Dassin is a breathless thirty-minute-long heist sequence that is shot with natural sound, no dialogue and no music.

It's pure cinema!

It's also one of the most nail-bitingly suspenseful scenes in movie history. We've come to know the characters, we understand the high stakes for all of them if they don't pull off the big steal and worst of all, we're well aware of what will happen if they're caught - especially the desperate old man, Tony "le Stéphanois" (Jean Servais). He's just served five years of hard time for a heist gone wrong and his only choices in life amount to petty crime, gambling and/or getting caught and being tossed back into the hoosegow until he's dead (or as close to dead as he'll ever get).

These men are criminals, but we want them to succeed. It's post-war France and the opportunities for men who've known only one way to survive are pretty much non-existent. They live by a strict code of honour and they'll steal, but they won't kill (at least until they are pushed to the limit to do so). There's clearly honour amongst these thieves (save for the slimy, greasy, lazy borderline pimps who weasel into the proceedings later on) and we never once feel like there are viable options for our main characters.

And so, we follow them willingly and almost complicitously into the breach - an insanely daring heist that requires split-second timing, impeccable teamwork and one hell of a massive whack of horseshoes worth of luck stuffed up their respective and collective keisters.


If the heist was only thing Rififi had going for it, there's no doubt the picture would be highly regarded, but that its bookends are as solid and compelling as all get out place Dassin's movie on s pedestal that holds some of the greatest crime pictures ever made. The manner in which Dassin shoots the heist is completely in keeping with his approach to the rest of the movie. Shooting almost exclusively on location captures the naturalistic feeling of the film's hard-boiled tale. Much like his groundbreaking American crime pictures (Naked City, Brute Force) which, broke American cinema out of the studio bound mould and took them onto the streets a la the Italian neorealist movement, Rififi is a glorious blend of stylized frissons within the framework of life itself.

Dassin, of course, had a tiny budget and little time to shoot the film, so he personally scouted all the locations in order to get a strong visual sense in advance to allow for impeccable planning. In many ways, Rififi is a model picture for independent, low budget approaches that are still infused with the highest degree of production value. Within Dassin's impeccable eye for visual detail, he's doubly blessed by working with the genius production designer Alexandre Trauner who manages to deliciously goose the look of the film.


Narratively, the tale is tough-minded and even romantic, but the attention to the details of the lives of the criminals and the heist itself (including the meticulous planning) give it the crank it needs to always keep us glued to the screen. As well, there's no overwhelming (and annoying) sense of the proceedings ever diving into moralistic waters. We believe in these men AND their criminal intent. We want them to succeed and if things go wrong and all becomes futile, Dassin sets the picture up in such a way that we're going to feel and care deeply about whatever plight the characters suffer. It helps, also, that the casting is impeccable - especially Servais as the world weary "le Stéphanois", Dassin himself as the funny, sprightly and finally, almost tragic figure of the ladies' man, as well as the other disparate and memorable members of the team.

The importance of Rififi as both dazzling entertainment, but as well, its place in laying the foundations for crime pictures that followed as well as the whole French New Wave that would come a few years later is, frankly, incalculable. All its historical significance aside, it's one hell of a good show! Rififi is brutal, harrowing and darkly funny and it seldom got better than this. The dames are dames, its heroes noble and the villains are pure filth. Sure, the movie trades in on the tropes of the genre, but does so expertly within its overwhelming naturalism that nothing ever feels cliched and is, in fact, far fresher than most films made today.

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

Rififi screens at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox in the Summer 2017 series "Panique: French Crime Classics" and is also available on a gorgeous Criterion Collection Dual Format Blu-Ray/DVD release complete with New 2K digital restoration, my favourite uncompressed monaural soundtrack, a very inspirational interview with director Jules Dassin, set design drawings by art director Alexandre Trauner, still, trailer, an optional English-dubbed soundtrack (especially handily for additional screenings to just study Dassin's visuals and a terrific essay by Jim Hoberman.