Saturday, 22 April 2017

LET THERE BE LIGHT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Pick - Fusion is no illusion

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.

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

Let There Be Light, from EyeSteelFilm, enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.

HOPE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Pick - Zweig Casts New Gaze on Fonyo

The following is a review of the new film HOPE, a sequel to Alan Zweig's HURT (winner of the Grand Prize in the prestigious 2015 Toronto International Film Festival’s 40th anniversary Platform competition). The subject of both films is cancer survivor and Canadian hero Steve Fonyo. When you finish reading the review, feel free to read my Open Letter requesting Steve Fonyo's reinstatement to the Order of Canada HERE.
Canadian Hero Steve Fonyo Seeks Redemption.

HOPE (2017)
Dir. Alan Zweig
Starring: Steve Fonyo

Review By Greg Klymkiw

During the extraordinary opening shot of Alan Zweig's HOPE, it's impossible not to think about the words from Matthew 6:22, "The eye is the lamp of the body," especially within the context of the old expression, the eyes are windows into the soul. Indeed they are. As King David says in Psalm 101:
I will not look with approval
on anything that is vile...
My eyes will be on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me.
David slew Goliath for the glory of God and the freedom of his people, but even heroes fall. David fell hard, but he eventually sought redemption. After many trials, King David of Jerusalem let the light back in:
"Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit."
The eye that Zweig's film opens on, in extreme close-up no less, belongs to Steve Fonyo. The camera pulls back slowly from within the iris to reveal the full watery ocular orb of the film's subject, a genuine hero, a man who fell hard and as this film opens, he begins a journey to let light back into his life.

Fonyo is a man who is given, by the film itself, a shot at hope - the hope that he will find redemption by finding the strength within himself to change his life, to heal his body and mind, to move forward, to get better. But will he? Is he even capable of it? The cameras trained upon him provide some answers, but only the viewer can judge, and even then, it's all going to be up to Fonyo. And as HOPE proves, it's not an easy ride.

In 2015's HURT, we learned that Fonyo, like David, did indeed slay the Goliath that is the disease of cancer when he made an 8000 km cross-Canada run on a prosthetic leg in 1984-1985 to raise over $14 million for cancer research. We learn about his brave, virtually Herculean achievement and we watch as he is bestowed with the Order of Canada.

However, much of HURT charts Fonyo in a living Hell, the results of 30 years of abject poverty, homelessness, struggling from the diseases of alcoholism and drug addiction and often living against the backdrop of the criminal underbelly. This once bright-eyed youthful hero is now a middle-aged miasma of inner demons. Even his Order of Canada is disgracefully revoked by callous pencil-pushers in the Canadian Government. By the end of HURT, with a tiny shred of hope dangling itself before Fonyo, he is brutally assaulted in a home invasion and barely survives a coma and massive stroke.

HOPE opens not long after these events. In a superbly structured opening credit sequence we get the whole backstory and Zweig launches us immediately into Fonyo's new challenge - to enter a top-flight rehab facility in Powell River, British Columbia. We follow Fonyo and his girlfriend as they pack up their squalid digs in Surrey, hit the road and eventually part company as he enters the facility. We follow Fonyo's experience in the facility and the aftermath in which Fonyo hopes to begin a new life in the veritable Garden of Eden, Powell River. We meet with his chief analyst, his oldest friend and biggest supporter during the historic run and yes, Zweig's penetrating eye gives us a glimpse into the fractious love twixt Fonyo and his girlfriend (occasionally venturing into bilious George and Martha territory).

Of course, Zweig, as in all of his films, is present; off-camera, but his unmistakeable voice of gravel pierces through like some omniscient spirit. Supporter and needler, prodding Fonyo to cough-up hard truths, Zweig not only creates cinema, but takes the very act of cinema to the extremes of being the very helping-hand Fonyo needs. (Zweig, the ever-present pitbull, seems vaguely suspect of Fonyo's 12-Step Higher Power choice in the faith of the Jehovah Witness Church, but his probing is always tinged with care and genuine love.)

Most viewers want things served up simply. They won't get that here. Yes, Zweig's film is the very reason why Fonyo makes this decision to go into rehab and bravely the cameras keep rolling as Fonyo somewhat petulantly puts this juju on Zweig. He makes it clear that he's doing this for the film and that he expects the film (and filmmaker) to provide him with what he needs. One of the more fascinating moments is when Fonyo's analyst admits to Zweig that the rehab process might go more smoothly if the film wasn't being made at all. He claims that even when the cameras aren't rolling, Fonyo responds to the therapy as if he was on camera.

Well, of course he would. This is a guy who had cameras on him constantly during his greatest achievement thirty years ago. He's used to the cameras being there and even though three decades have passed, it's old hat for Fonyo. Being in the public spotlight and working it as well as he did is kind of like learning to ride a bicycle.

Is the film, in this sense, exploitative? Sorry, folks. What film isn't? Exploitation in cinema is at its worst when there is a pretence to try and hide exploitative elements. The best cinema lets it all hang out - warts and all. HOPE exposes its own warts as well as its subjects.

This is an extraordinarily moving experience. I can't even begin to affix a value, numerically or otherwise, to the amount of tears I squirted throughout this film, the number of times my breath was taken away by a great shot, or cut or riff in the score. HOPE overflows with heartbreak, melancholy and yes, on occasion, even something approaching joy. There are times when we feel like we're peering into Fonyo's soul beneath the layers of the many masks he dons.

This is the beauty of cinema, however, especially when wrought by a true master like Zweig. The eyes are everything - those of the subject, the filmmaker and the camera lens itself.

HURT so often felt like it was infused with the spirit of the 70s existential palookaville angst of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. HOPE continues this feeling, but at times we feel like we're in John Cassavetes A Woman Under the Influence/Killing of a Chinese Bookie territory. Add the light (albeit murky) of redemption to this mix and you have the documentary equivalent of Coppola's achievement when, with The Godfather: Part II, he made a sequel as stirring, powerful and vital as The Godfather. When a film knocks us on our ass, we seldom expect its sequel to do the same thing. With HOPE, Zweig achieves this with the same dogged, gritty artistry that's made him one of Canada's greatest filmmakers.

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

HOPE enjoys its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.

Friday, 21 April 2017

UNARMED VERSES + VANCOUVER: NO FIXED ADDRESS - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Picks: A Tale of Two Charlies (Officer and Wilkinson), Two Docs, Two Cities & Home.

Home. In Toronto. In Vancouver. Displacement in both.

Unarmed Verses (2017)
Dir. Charles Officer
Prd. Lea Marin

Vancouver: No Fixed Address (2017)
Dir. Charles Wilkinson
Prd. Tina Schliessler

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Allow me to make some introductions.

Charles Officer, meet Charles Wilkinson. You are both named Charlie. You are both important Canadian filmmakers. You both have films enjoying their respective world premieres at the 2017 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival. Both are terrific pictures about the importance of home in two Canadian cities - one's in the east, the other in the west. You have both made films that couldn't be more different and yet, they both skilfully and artfully address how urban "development" is destroying the fabric of community.

Officer has made some of the most poetic dramas and documentaries ever to be made in Canada (Nurse.Fighter.Boy, Mighty Jerome). Wilkinson has led the charge with some of the most important documentaries wrought on the subject of the environment (Peace Out, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World).

They have both made new films that would make for an absolutely perfect double bill.

Unarmed Voices? We all have a voice!!!

Shot in a Cinéma Direct style, but with plenty of exquisitely moving poetic sequences, Unarmed Verses follows 12-year-old Francine Valentine, a sweet, smart and talented young lady living in Villaways, an isolated community housing project in Toronto. She's especially gifted in Language Arts and has a decided penchant for poetry. She's a member of an arts collective in the project and her primary narrative through-line is prepping her "words" for an eventual musical turn in a sound studio. There's a mighty shroud hanging over her, though. The home she's always known, the community she's come to embrace, the friends and family she loves, will be uprooted when Villaways will be demolished and everyone within it will be displaced for at least four years.

Ultimately, this is a film about community and empowerment. For little Francine, empowerment comes from art and personal expression.

At one point, her sweet voice tells us:

"We all have a voice, we just have to find different ways to use them."

The film is an extraordinary experience. It manages to have its cake and eat it too by lifting us up and breaking our hearts.

Vancouver. A sad symphony. Will humanity prevail?

Wilkinson's Vancouver: No Fixed Address is equally powerful. Blending his often painterly visual style with an incisive journalistic sense of exploration and order, he hits the subject of urban "development" with the precision of both a surgeon and marksman. We're dazzled and informed with the history of the city, its changes, the influx of new immigrants, the skyrocketing costs of living, the impossibility of property ownership/rent and yes, homelessness. One of the extraordinary attributes of the film is its use of music. This is no traditional score. Focusing on a wide variety of (mostly) street musicians, their melodies are not only used to drive the visual, but they astonishingly come together in a symphonic fashion.

Though it couldn't be more different in its overall mise-en-scene, Vancouver: No Fixed Address still reminded me of Walter Ruttman's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. Ruttman, of course, charted his "great city" in one day. Wilkinson trains his eye upon his "great city" over the course of several days and weeks (and from a historical standpoint, decades). Where both works meet, however, is in the use of symphonic properties to tell their stories cinematically.

Wilkinson interviews a diverse group of subjects (including David Suzuki), but one of the most moving and poignant is a retired movie theatre manager who loves Vancouver dearly, but cannot live on his meagre pension in a home of his own. He lives in his van. To escape the winters, he drives to Mexico and lives modestly, but even during the rest of the year, Vancouver can get mighty cold. It rains frequently and the "wet cold" cuts deep - like a knife.

There is another form of "cold" Wilkinson exposes - development, fuelled as it is by filthy lucre. Movingly, there is balance in this portrait - it's the people. Humanity wins.

THE FILM CORNER RATING (for both films): **** 4-Stars

Unarmed Verses is an NFB production. Vancouver: No Fixed Address is a Knowledge Network Exclusive. Both films enjoy their World Premieres at Hot Docs 2017.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

TOKYO IDOLS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hot Docs 2017 Hot Pick - Creeps Worship Little Girls

"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?"

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** Four Stars

Tokyo Idols, from EyeSteelFilm, enjoys its Toronto Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

DO DONKEYS ACT? - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Pick - Grace of Ungulates

These two sweeties from Do Donkeys Act? in identical pose
I've seen my own sweeties strike on my hobby rescue farm.

Do Donkeys Act? (2016)
Dir. David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Starring: Willem Dafoe

Review By Greg Klymkiw
"Obviously these other beings do not speak with a human tongue, they do not speak in words. They might speak in song, like many birds, or in rhythm, like the crickets or the ocean waves. They may speak a language of movements and gestures, or articulate themselves in shifting shadows... Step into shade. Listen close." - David Abram, Becoming Animal, opening title card in the film Do Donkeys Act?
Full Disclosure: I own donkeys.

Even if I didn't, I'd love this gloriously poetic film. Much like God Knows Where I Am, last year's masterpiece by the Wider Brothers, Do Donkeys Act? is a documentary that blasts through the preconceptions of the form and delivers precisely the genuine, and I think, true promise of cinema - that of an art form infused with lyrical, almost dactylic qualities. This is not to say that such works must be bereft of "narrative", some of the very best which display these properties embrace a dramatic form. When you see movies like this, you know you are in the presence of greatness.

Do Donkeys Act? is nothing if not great.

The unmistakeable eyes and demeanour of a poet.

David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, the directing team of Girl Model, 2011's powerful, moving exploration of Japan's exploitation of teenage girls from Eastern Europe, train their cameras upon altogether different living beings that have been desecrated, abused and subjected to appalling inhumanity.

Donkeys.

On the surface, the film, like the best art, is simple. We follow donkeys from their admittance to a series of heavenly refuges, the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, England, Cork, Ireland, Guelph, Canada and upstate New York, and then through a variety of medical/grooming procedures, their daily lives and finally, the sheer peace of what will be their existence until they leave this Earth. Simple? Yes, but as such, it yields a bounty of complexities - some fact-based, others philosophical and finally, pure, raw emotion.

Of course, it is lovely to see the donkeys interacting with their kind, caring human charges, but even more astonishing is seeing these sweet four-legged ungulate mammals communicating with each other.

Though it is a work that blends the great pioneering approaches of Michel Brault and the other legendary Québécois practitioners of Cinéma Direct via the National Film Board of Canada (NFB/ONF) as well as the great Cinéma Vérité artists Chris Marker and Jean Rouch, I was even reminded of the unfettered filmmaking style of cinema's greatest storyteller Robert Bresson. This is not only because of Bresson's dazzling Au hasard Balthazar (its main character being, yes, a donkey) and the occasional references by Redmon and Sabin's film to the Bresson picture, but like Bresson we experience both emotion and ideas by the power of the image itself and the lean stripping away of overt manipulation.

Donkeys living in peace. As should all creatures.

Happily, one thing that Do Donkey's Act? does not strip away is the use of words. Though the film's soundtrack is exquisitely laden with natural sounds (most notably the beauty of the donkeys' braying), there is a "score" of lovely poetic voice-over performed with power and grace over images by Willem Dafoe. I watched this film not knowing until the end title credits that Dafoe was the voice speaking the "poetry" of the language. This was an extra-special treat for me. Throughout the movie I kept thinking, "Jesus, who is this dude? He's amazing!" Well, and so, it turned out, he is (was). In a way, this overall approach reminded me of the brilliant way Terence Davies used the poetry as "score" in his Emily Dickinson biopic A Quiet Passion.

When images and words are infused with poetic grace, you soar in ways that so few films can inspire. Here, however, we have a subject that's more than worthy of this, creatures of the most sublime qualities of grace.

I know all too well. After I write this review, I'm on my way to feed carrots to Shasta and Cindy, my sweet, gentle and graceful donkeys.

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

Do Donkeys Act? is a Blue Ice Docs release and enjoys its North American Premiere at Hot Docs 2017 in Toronto.

After its first steps, the baby rests.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A CAMBODIAN SPRING - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Pick ***** vérité

Buddhist Monk vs Cambodian Military.
Peaceful Activism vs Violence and Corruption.
WHO WILL SURVIVE?
WHAT WILL BE LEFT OF THEM?
A Cambodian Spring (2017)
Dir. Chris Kelly
Starring: Venerable Loun Sovath, Toul Srey Pov, Tepp Vanny

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In spite of the "democratic" elections of puppet Prime Minister (dictator) Hun Sen and a "free market" economy since 1993, innocent people continue to be murdered, beaten, tortured, lied to, wrongfully imprisoned, cheated and robbed by the Cambodian Government. Since 2009, Sen has been in collusion with a whole passel of scum-buckets to continue the perpetration of said murders, beatings, torture, lies, theft, incarceration and (to add insult to injury) environmental decimation. Sen's cabal of collaborators in these crimes against Cambodia include The United Nations, The World Bank, the European Union, the Shukaku Development Corporation and perhaps, most shockingly of all, the highest authorities in the Buddhist Church.

A Cambodian Spring, shot over six years, has its fair share of uplifting and triumphant moments. In spite of them, though, this is a shocking and devastatingly sad story.

Winning battles is nice, but when the enemy is corruption, there's only one winner.

And it's never "the people".

The movie serves up compulsive viewing. Director Chris Kelly employs a Direct Cinema approach (I prefer the classic 50s/60s Quebecois term "Cinéma Direct") by training his cameras on Venerable Loun Sovath, Toul Srey Pov and Tepp Vanny - three Cambodian activists fighting against the corruption of the Cambodian Government as it seeks to displace the people living around the Boeung Kak Lake in the city of Phnom Penh. The goal of the government is to completely fill-in the beautiful lake and create development opportunities for PM Sen's rich buddies. This involves the expropriation of the homes of the residents. The scum bucket corporation in charge of all this, is offering each affected family $500USD (at best) for houses they worked like slaves to own. Once ejected with this pittance, they'll never be in a position to own homes ever again.

With this highly charged situation, Kelly wisely focuses on the chief activists and his cameras capture three compelling "characters".

Venerable Loun Sovath is a monk committed to adhering to the teachings of Buddha to help his people against these injustices. Alas, officials from the highest levels of the Buddhist Faith are colluding with the government and scumbag corporate interests and they do everything in their power to make Sovath's fight a living Hell. (One interesting thing is that no policeman or military thug would dare arrest a Buddhist priest and the Cambodian Buddhist order actually has its own police force to arrest their own.)

Toul Srey Pov and Tepp Vanny are close friends living in Boeung Kak who work in tandem to spearhead actions against the government and corporate thugs. Pov is the behind the scenes "brains" of the formidable female duo and Vanny is the public face of the struggle. Vanny is a fiery speech-maker and eventually becomes anointed in the world's eyes, especially when Hilary Clinton, as Secretary of State under the Obama administration, bestows Vanny with both an award and highly adulatory words of support (in public and private).

Though Sovath is clearly the obvious butt-kicker figure amongst this trio, the real emotional core of the story lies in the friendship between the two women. The Cinéma Direct approach clearly serves the whole narrative, but it's especially effective at capturing the eventual erosion twixt the women and sadly displays how governments and corporations - one and the same, really - win the war by laying a divide-and-conquer groundwork for their nefarious activities.

The film opens with a scene infused with nostalgia and melancholy. At the end, Kelly repeats the entire scene. The effect is emotionally stirring - devastating, really. I defy anyone not to be weeping openly at the scene.

The journey is a rollercoaster. Its highs are high, the lows are low. By the end, we are as defeated as the people of Cambodia and the residents of Boeung Kak. Even after an apparent government concession, the film bears witness to innocent people having their homes stolen and demolished before their very eyes.

And these two great women, Toul Srey Pov and Tepp Vanny, are reduced to being mortal enemies - wedges of pettiness have been clearly and intentionally driven between them.

One waits in vain for one final Frank Capra flourish to make things right. It never comes. Life, just isn't like the movies.

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

A Cambodian Spring from EyeSteelFilm, enjoys its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2017 in Toronto.

Monday, 17 April 2017

OPEN LETTER from Greg Klymkiw to: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadian Governor General His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston & Queen Elizabeth II: I respectfully ask you to REINSTATE Stephen Charles "Steve" Fonyo, Jr. as an Officer in the Order of Canada. Come to see the World Premiere of a new film by the multi-award-winning Canadian filmmaker Alan Zweig entitled HOPE during the 2017 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and hang your heads in shame if, after seeing it, you do not reinstate Mr. Fonyo to this Order which he DESERVES to be an honoured member in.

Open Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor General David Johnston and Queen Elizabeth II in honour of a new film by Alan Zweig entitled HOPE which receives its World Premiere at the 2017 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto.
Top Row: (left to right) Governor General David Johnston, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Queen Elizabeth II. Middle Row: (left to right) Steve Fonyo runs for CancerOrder of Canada MedalSteve Fonyo after post-home-invasion-induced stroke. Bottom Row: (left to right) Scenes from Alan Zweig's new documentary HOPE showing Steve Fonyo watching Alan Zweig's HURT and receiving a thunderous standing ovation at TIFF 2015 in the historic Elgin Wintergarden Theatre.

Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,
Governor General David Johnston and Queen Elizabeth II:

I am writing to request that you reinstate Mr. Stephen Charles Fonyo, Jr. as an officer in the Order of Canada.

Steve Fonyo, a Canadian Hero and cancer survivor, raised over $14 million for cancer research when, for over one non-stop year between 1984 and 1985, he ran 8000 km across Canada with a prosthetic leg. For this remarkable achievement he was awarded with membership in the Order of Canada. After suffering for three decades from abject poverty and various addictions while living within the dark underbelly of the criminal class, Mr. Fonyo was unfairly transformed into a pariah by pencil pushers in our nation’s capitol and turfed from the Order of Canada. If he’d been suffering from a disease like cancer, this would have been unthinkable. Because he suffered from the diseases of alcoholism and addiction to crack and other drugs, he was fair game for humiliation by the Canadian government.

Where was the Government of Canada during this Canadian Hero's 30 years of Hell? Oh sure, you might think that a hero can help himself. But you know what? From time to time, even heroes need a helping hand some time. Mr. Fonyo's struggles were public knowledge. Was there nobody in the entire bureaucracy of the Canadian Government who might have picked up a telephone to say, "Steve, is there anything we can do to help?" But no, it was obviously a lot easier to turf him from the Order of Canada.

In 2015, Mr. Fonyo made a personal appearance at the World Premiere of the film HURT during the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by Alan Zweig, the film told his story and Mr. Fonyo was honoured with a standing ovation by a full house in the historic Elgin and Wintergarden Theatre in downtown Toronto. The film itself was bestowed with one of the highest honours in contemporary film history when it was awarded the prestigious 2015 Toronto International Film Festival’s 40th anniversary Platform competition (named after Jia Zhang-ke’s acclaimed 1998 epic).

HURT was chosen from hundreds of movies in a showcase devoted to shining a light upon 12 international feature films made by exceptional filmmakers doing bold, original work. It was the only Canadian film in competition. That it was awarded the Grand Prize by a jury that included Claire Denis, Agnieszka Holland and Jia Zhang-ke might be reason enough for this film about Mr. Fonyo to attain a lofty status, but it is an indisputable fact, borne out by critical accolades and wide audience acceptance that it is a film of greatness. It will live eternally as one of the most original, compelling and heartbreaking films of the new millennium.

Most of all, it reflects Canadian history and captures the heart and soul of a true Canadian hero, Mr. Stephen Charles Fonyo, Jr.

Now, there is HOPE.

Mr. Zweig. has created a sequel to HURT which details Mr. Fonyo's brave struggle in rehab. HOPE will receive its World Premiere at the 2017 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto (the festival runs April 27-May 7, 2017.

I will not say much about the film here as I'll be officially reviewing it in due course, but in the world of documentary, HOPE is a sequel of such grace and power that one could liken its achievement to that of Francis Ford Coppola when he did the unthinkable and forged a masterpiece with The Godfather: Part II, his sequel to The Godfather.

HOPE is a film that gives all of us hope and frankly, it is a film that provides ample reasons as to why Canada MUST reinstate Mr. Fonyo's membership as an officer in the Order of Canada. What makes HOPE and HURT special is that they are not only great artistic achievements, but they go above and beyond the call of duty - these films, by the very act of their creation, ACTIVELY provided the kind of help, compassion and caring to a great Canadian Hero that the Canadian Government with callous, cruel, myopic meanness was unable to do.

So, Mr. Prime Minister, Honourable Governor General and Your Majesty, perhaps one or all three of you can visit the Hot Docs website and purchase tickets to see the film. Perhaps when you show up to one of the screenings you can DO THE RIGHT THING and announce the reinstatement of Mr. Fonyo's membership as an officer in the Order of Canada.

The film is playing:
Sat, Apr 29 7:00PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Sun, Apr 30 10:30 AM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Sat, May 6 12:30 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

The presence of all or one of you, or even one of your representatives at the aforementioned screenings would be a few extra maraschino cherries on Mr. Fonyo's favourite food, the banana split.

But you know what? A straight-up banana split would do. I humbly and respectfully ask you to please reinstate Mr. Fonyo's membership as an officer in the Order of Canada.

Sincerely,

Greg Klymkiw
Filmmaker, Film Critic, Canadian

Sunday, 2 April 2017

THE VOID - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Lovecraft/CronenbergStyleHorror meet Astron6Dudes

These dudes are not looking to burn crosses.

The Void (2017)
Dirs. Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski
Starring: Aaron Poole, Kathleen Munroe, Kenneth Welsh

Review By Greg Klymkiw

God knows all artists seek to move forward. I'm the last person to have a problem with this. Sometimes though, with even the best intentions, the runner stumbles.

With The Void, the brilliant Astron-6 dudes Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski have served up something altogether distinct from their previous work (Manborg, Father's Day). The results are a mixed bag o' nuts. This would be fine if the bag was replete with pecans instead of way too many hazel nuts, Brazil nuts, almonds and (ugh) walnuts. Well, these things happen sometimes.

It all depends on the dexterity of the Bulk Barn scooping.

Blending H.P. Lovecraft Cthulu-like shenanigans with Cronenberg-inspired body horror and a few 80s Lucio Fulci smatterings, The Void spins a gory yarn involving a local-yokel lawman (Aaron Poole) and a variety of medical personnel, patients and safety-seeking rednecks in a remote rural hospital on the eve of it being shut down forever (shades of Assault on Precinct 13 here). On one deep, dark night, a whack of creepy hooded figures (vaguely resembling KKK types) have surrounded the joint whilst inside, a creepy old Doctor (Kenneth Welsh) is unleashing some extremely ungodly results of his twisted experiments.

Yup, there are hooded psychos outside and monsters inside. And babes.

Sounds good to me.

The only problem, however, is that too much of the movie unfurls with humourless portent and though there are a few dollops of genuine suspense mixed with a cornucopia of grotesque practical creature F/X and more than a few rivers and splatters of glorious crimson, things settle into a been-there-done-that rhythm and this is certainly not the kind of by-rote playbook one expects from Messrs Gillespie and Kostanski. These guys have been responsible for some of the most original genre films of the past decade, but The Void offers too much treading on familiar turf.

That one of the patients in the hospital is a pregnant woman set to pop and that the lawman and his estranged wife (who is a nurse at the hospital) have a backstory involving a pregnancy gone wrong is kind of sickening. And it's not good sickening, but the "Oh God, not this again" kind of sickening.

One of the more annoying aspects of this Canadian film is that it goes out of its way to set itself in America (replete with stars and stripes flying on the flag outdoors and sheriff/State Trooper types), even though the movie's been shot in Northern Ontario and has received Canadian taxpayer dollars to partially finance it. There's absolutely no artistic grounds for this decision. It's not like the film explores any real political/social/cultural context and frankly, Northern Ontario is chockfull of its own brand of weirdness. Also, given the dire contemporary political situation in Canada (and rural Ontario in particular) with substandard public health, these are elements that could have cleverly fleshed out the familiar machinations of the plot and characters. These guys have already made movies set in plenty of magical never-never-lands. Here they're in a relatively naturalistic setting and no attempt is made to exploit the indigenous qualities of where the movie has actually been made.

There's also something a bit weird about the look of the movie. Maybe it was the DCP press-screened in advance of its theatrical release, but so much of the film was nicely shot with solid compositions and a fine lighting/colour palette, that when the action shifts to the dank, dark corners of the hospital, everything feels murky - not in a good way, either. It felt like there was something off with either the colour timing or the lighting. Given that The Void was shot by one of the country's best cinematographers this really made no sense. If anything, these sequences were begging for a controlled murkiness - deep rich blacks might have been ideal. It's a real head-scratcher, especially considering the visual aplomb of Gillespie/Kostanski's previous work.

Still, it's a horror movie. Are there scares? Yeah, a few. But given the pedigree of the filmmakers and a first-rate cast of terrific Canuck thespians, The Void feels curiously lacking. I could make a joke using the film's title, but I'll bite my tongue on that one.

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

The Void plays in limited theatrical release via dFilms at the Royal Cinema in Toronto and will be available on iTunes on April 7, 2017.

Friday, 24 March 2017

she came knocking - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Canadian Film Fest 2017 - Short Chills Bigtime

The eyes have it. The eyes always have it.
she came knocking (2017)
Dir. John Ainslie
Scr. Ainslie and Kimberly-Sue Murray
Starring: Kimberly-Sue Murray, Christian McKenna, Janet Porter

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A pretty young Uber driver (Kimberly-Sue Murray) shows up to collect a fare in a quiet, leafy Toronto neighbourhood and comes face-to-face with something insidious and decidedly unexpected. She knocks on the door. It opens so violently, both she and the audience jump. On the other side of the divide, a tall, brawny, bearded, bulletheaded creep (Christian McKenna) with "prick" written all over his face greets our wide-eyed, hoodie-and-cut-off-shorts-adorned beauty with a mean-ass, "The fuck do you want?"

This is clearly not her fare. What is clear, is that bullethead is a mean, abusive sonofabitch and that his female companion (Janet Porter) is trapped in an altercation in which he's got the upper hand and keeping her against her will.
A shameless abuser answers his door.

This is all plenty disturbing, but even more alarming is the telephone call twixt our Uber Babe and a 911 dispatcher who claims a police car will not be sent out since no act of domestic violence, nor threats have been uttered. It's obvious to our leading lady and us, that all is not right in this household.

There are, unfortunately, laws - laws to protect perpetrators, to offer no solace to victims and to put the common sense of those who bear witness into question.

John Ainslie's grim, scary movie she came knocking is one of the best short dramatic films I've seen in years. His taut direction keeps us squirming in our seats from beginning to end and the screenplay (by Ainslie and star Murray) offers ultra-charged suspense, vital social commentary and perhaps most wisely, serves up the notion of two sides (and often many more) to all stories.

An act of violence that occurs in the film never comes as a surprise, but that's not what the picture boils down to. Though the denouement is hardly ambiguous, it's supremely, throat-catchingly infused with the kind of food-for-thought that is rooted, where it should be: emotionally, dramatically, incisively and effectively.
Watching: Creepy. Scary. Necessary.

Though it works perfectly as a short film, it leaves us wanting to spend far more time with its characters. One can imagine the whole situation playing out as a delectably layered cat-and-mouse suspense picture over a feature length. The only thing that doesn't quite work is that the film plays out with a mostly percussive musical score. There's nothing especially wrong with the music, but the movie cries out for no score. The film is so beautifully shot (compositions bordering on greatness), played so perfectly by its actors and edited with such precision that the picture's "musical" qualities might have been better served by the bolder choice of utilizing soundscape over score. (The film ends with a dazzling image, a hideous breath on the soundtrack and a knock-you-on-your-ass cut to black/title that the score not only feels redundant over picture, but even over the end title credits.)

Ainslie directed the Polanski-inspired feature The Sublet and contributed to writing the screenplay for the cult feature Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. He's clearly a force and talent to be reckoned with. Let's hope he makes a new film. And soon.

The Film Corner Rating: **** 4-Stars

she came knocking premieres at the Canadian Film Fest 2017 in Toronto.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

THE HERETICS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Canadian Film Fest 2017 - Aesthetic Heresy 4 U

Who doesn't love lesbo action in horror movies?

The Heretics (2017)
Dir. Chad Archibald
Scr. Jayme Laforest
Starring: Nina Kiri, Jorja Cadence, Ry Barrett

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Who doesn't love human sacrifices and devil worship? I know I do. That said, I much prefer seeing these devilish shenanigans in movies that aren't as irredeemably dreadful as The Heretics. This latest low budget horror picture from Black Fawn Films and its chief creative cook and bottle washer Chad Archibald has the dubious distinction of being one of the worst horror films I've ever seen - and that takes some doing.

On the plus side, the movie is replete with babes. One cannot quarrel with horror movies starring babes - however, if they're not naked, as they are not in The Heretics, then one must not only quarrel, but declare all out war. There is one sex scene that has nudity, and while one cannot quarrel with this, the babe doing the bumping and grinding upon the pelvis of a happy fellow is so obviously a body double for the babe who should be naked, but isn't, that all one wants to do is throw in the towel. There is also, happily, some lesbo action. One can NEVER quarrel with lesbo action, but when there isn't enough of it and it's sans nudity, then all one can really do is relax one's sphincter muscles and let loose upon the sapphically-challenged gymnastics.

That's pretty much it for the movie on the plus side, and it comes with qualifiers, so really, there's nothing much good about the movie at all.

Who doesn't love human sacrifice and devil worship?

Well, there are two elements of some genuine merit. Director Chad Archibald is enough of a pro that the camera is usually where it's supposed to be. In a movie that is afflicted with a boneheaded, muddled screenplay, his professionalism is certainly a tender mercy. The other positive element are the costumes and masks for the demon worshipping denizens of the night - very nicely done, but in service to a moronic movie.

Most of the blame must be foisted upon the purported screenplay by Jayme LaForest. Though one must also blame the production company for approving such a dreadful property and a director for even bothering to helm it, the fact remains that someone had to write (or rather, not write) this thing.

In a nutshell, we've got a brunette babe suffering from nightmares. She lives with her Mom in some nondescript suburban dwelling and attends "group". What kind of "group" it actually is seems a bit difficult to ascertain (or maybe I just couldn't bother to figure it out), but it definitely seems to be some kind of self-help kaffeeklatsch in a community hall. Our brunette babe goes to "group" with a lanky carrot-topped babe and the two of them are lovers.

Great eyes almost make up for a lack of acting talent.

One night, our toothy brunette (yes, the leading lady has one nice set of choppers, a great smile and gorgeous ocular orbs) is kidnapped and shoved into a Winnebago. She's secreted away to a cabin in the woods by some geeky guy who secures her with chains. Meanwhile, lanky Red begins a search for her lover when the only policeman in town proves to be ineffectual.

Eventually, geek boy has sex with Toothy and she begins to grow wings.

In the meantime, Lanky Red murders Toothy's Mom and the town's only cop and hightails it to the Winnebago and cabin in the woods. It seems she's the sister of the Geek and there appears to be some strange conflict between the sibs. The Geek wants to save Toothy. Lanky Red Sis wants to sacrifice her.

And yes, there appear to be other "worshippers", but none of them are distinguishable as characters. Then again, not that there are any denizens of this underpopulated movie who can even remotely be considered as characters, but the movie seems unconcerned about this.

Not only is the movie lacking in even the most basic logic, but it's utterly humourless and worst of all, it is, in no way, shape or form, suspenseful. Why it exists is beyond me. Not that Archibald's The Drownsman was actually any good, but even it had a few decent frissons in spite of its pointlessness. His previous film, Bite, however, was not only skillfully directed, but grimly scary and yes, even well written by LaForest, scribe of this woeful demon-worship vehicle.

Not only is the narrative strictly dullsville, but the dialogue is pretty much incompetent. Unfortunately, it's the worst kind of "incompetent" - it's not even bad enough to be unintentionally funny.

This might be the greatest sin of aesthetic heresy.

THE FILM CORNER RATING:
TURD DISCOVERED
BEHIND HARRY'S
CHAR BROIL and
DINING LOUNGE

For the full story behind this LOWEST Film Corner Rating Visit HERE

The Heretics had its world premiere at Canadian Film Fest 2017

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

BROKEN MILE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Canadian Film Fest 2017 -Haunting mise-en-scene

Ugliest apartment in Toronto, maybe in all of Canada.

Broken Mile (2017)
Dir. Justin McConnell
Starring: Francesco Filice, Caleigh Le Grand, Patrick McFadden, Lea Lawrynowicz

Review By Greg Klymkiw

You know, ugly can be good. Toronto, for example, is plenty ugly. In fact, it might be one of the most monstrously, obscenely, hideously repulsive cities in Canada (and this takes some doing - especially since Calgary exists). Happily (for inveterate Toronto-haters like me), it's never looked more grim than it does in Broken Mile, a visually dazzling sophomore dramatic feature by Justin McConnell who directed, wrote, photographed and edited this oddly compulsive urban neo-noir thriller.

Shaun (Francesco Filice) wakes up in a puke-filled bathtub in an ugly apartment and discovers that his girlfriend Sarah (Lee Lawrynowicz) is bereft of life. There's clearly something shady about her stone-cold stiffness and he takes an immediate powder instead of calling the cops. In his mad dash to an awaiting Uber, he bumps into pal Kenny (Patrick McFadden) and hysterically, mysteriously apologizes to him. Shaun heads to an unbelievably ugly apartment complex and visits his ex-girlfriend Amy (Caleigh Le Grand) who, not surprisingly, lives in an ugly suite with grossly-patterned wallpaper and adorned with decidedly unstylish IDomo-like furniture. He enlists her help and the two of them spend a frantic night running from a (now-gun-toting) Kenny through one of Toronto's ugliest neighborhoods.

A showdown is inevitable as the mystery slowly unravels.

Ugliest apartment complex in Toronto, maybe all of Canada.

There is much to admire in McConnell's film. First of all, he's chosen to allow the drama to unveil as one long extended take with no cuts for the entire 82-minute running time. I'm normally not a fan of any trick pony cinematic shenanigans like this, especially when the "trick" is the only thing that makes the work palatable (the most egregious being dullard Christopher Nolan's backwards-play in his intolerable and overrated Memento). When there's good reason for such chicanery, I'm all for it.

Of course Rope, Timecode and Russian Ark are the most famous examples of the extended take approach and it can certainly be a worthy way to tell a story on film. The desperation of both the situation and characters in Broken Mile are ideal stomping grounds for its director's decision and so much of the film is compelling and suspenseful. Early on in the proceedings, there's an especially fine sequence in which McConnell trains his lens upon the main character as he sits in the back of an Uber vehicle whilst the unseen driver jabbers on to him. The sense of naturalism here is dramatically palpable and damn entertaining.

As the film progresses, the trick-pony stuff continues to infuse the work with all manner of delectably tantalizing properties. What's less successful is the narrative itself. We always feel like there's more here than what meets the eye, but as the movie careens forward, there are a few lapses in logic that feel like "flaws", but are in fact elements built into the narrative which most savvy viewers will recognize as being far less than what crosses our ocular gaze. I pretty much pegged exactly who was who, what was what and how/when we were going to get there. That the denouement is not fraught with darker and "bigger" elements which most noir-like pictures have going for them is a bit of a comedown - especially since we can see it coming.

This might be an unfair complaint since so much of the movie succeeds on a kind of neo-realist level. The world the characters inhabit is so dull, ugly and drained of life that it was a treat to see so many grim interior and exterior locales (many of which are so grotesque that this Toronto-hating critic has, over the years, gone out of his way to seek them out to keep things "interesting").

I also love how "uncool" everything in the movie is. The apartments that the characters live in are so gross - especially the aforementioned joint Amy resides in - and the car the "villain" drives is ridiculously uncool - a super-ugly normal minivan far better suited to someone's Dad rather than a young, purportedly hip denizen of downtown Toronto. There is also a scene in one of Toronto's dingiest Vietnamese Pho restaurants. I've been there many times and it warmed the cockles of my heart to see it in a movie. (The characters also walk by one of the strangest greasy spoons in the city, which is just around the corner from the Pho joint, but sadly, there are no scenes there. Probably because it closes at 4PM and doubles as an accountant's office and tailor shop.) Not only are the selection of locations a treat, but the garish natural lighting and first-rate compositions deliver some mighty juicy goods for us to slurp down with relish.

This is one solid picture and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing more from this do-it-all dude.

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

Broken Mile enjoys its Toronto Premiere at the Canadian Film Fest 2017

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

AN AMERICAN DREAM: THE EDUCATION OF WILLIAM BOWMAN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Canadian Film Fest 2017 Opening Night - Finkleman Satire Worthy, But Misses Mark

Shooting ducks in a barrel not the aim of great satire.

An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman
Dir. Ken Finkleman
Starring: Jake Croker, Diana Bentley, Shiloh Blondel, Jan Caruana, Precious Chong

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Most Canadians with taste, intelligence and hailing from a far superior generation than afforded to the world via millennials, are well acquainted with the considerable gifts of writer-director-actor Ken Finkleman, the Winnipeg born-and-bred auteur. He, along with many stellar 'Peggers, warmed his ass on the University College radiators at the esteemed University of Manitoba before going on to a content creation career, and though most will not forgive his contributions to Grease 2, Airplane 2, Who's That Girl and Head Office, he holds the distinction of creating - bar-none - the very best piece of Canadian television (ever) with his original first 13 episodes of the CBC series The Newsroom in the 1996-1997 seasons and its limited followup More Tears in 1998 (with its deliciously savage satirical portrait of the ultra-conservative Canuck politician/golfer Mike Harris). Though many unimaginative pundits referred to Finkleman's TV work as a poor man's "Larry Sanders Show", they were, as per usual, wrong. The first 13 episodes of Finkleman's bold, brilliant satire, set behind the scenes of a national newsroom, and its sequel with Finkleman's character as a documentary film producer, still deliver the kind of on-the-edge laughs and observations most purveyors of comedy can only dream of.

I only wish An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman was a return to that form, but alas, as satire, it takes its aim at America with all the grace and subtlety of North Western Ontario hosers shooting ducks in a barrel.

In the tradition of such Candide-Gulliver-like satires, most notably Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man!, Finkleman delivers the episodic tale of William Bowman (Jake Croker), an all-American football star hopeful whose life is irrevocably altered by a horrific accident that sends him on a journey of equal parts sadness and madness. He becomes a media sensation, but his fame exacts a horrible toll upon him.

Taking potshots at politics is one thing, but Finkleman trains his aim upon America and frankly, the country is increasingly and alarmingly a place that has become a nation of self-parody. This is clearly the point of Finkleman's bold, brave film, but its satire often seems strangely pitched in ways that are closer to "spoof" rather than the kind of cutting edge one expects from this kind of picture. Things feel too rooted in sarcasm and there's a wonky blend of playing things "straight" and over the top. God knows one doesn't want Finkleman to try aping Lindsay Anderson, but O Lucky Man (and its precursor If) had a glorious consistency of tone that An American Dream desperately needs. In fact, the movie feels a lot closer to Anderson's scattershot Mick Travis finale Britannia Hospital. This is not a good thing.

What is a good thing is that Finkleman's film exists at all. It's often maddening for all the wrong reasons, but there is absolutely no denying there's anything currently out there like it. I wish it wasn't so self-conscious, so aware of itself. Yes, it's clever, but it's never very funny. Its savagery feels machine-tooled. This is, though, reason enough for celebration. Better machine-tooled satire than all the machine-tooled dross that passes for cinema in America today.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** Three-Stars

An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman is the opening night gala at Toronto's Canadian Film Fest 2017.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Yet Another Reason Why The Royal in Toronto is the BEST Indie Cinema, not just in Toronto, but Canada (and one of the best in the world). The fabulous first-run product is not matched by any screen in the country. Currently playing is the fine indie UK zombie picture THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS - on the big screen, where it's meant to be seen! The Royal has the best sound and picture in the city (by day, it's Theatre D Digital, a sound mixing studio for the movies). The seats are super-comfy too.!!! Review By Greg Klymkiw

Glenn Close is a mad scientist. Typecasting.

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
Dir. Colm McCarthy
Scr. M. R. Carey
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Twelve-year-old Melanie (Sennia Nanua) wakes up in a dank cell, hops out of bed and places herself into a wheelchair. The door opens. Two heavily-armed soldiers train their guns upon her as she's muzzled and strapped securely - treated like a kind of pre-teen Hannibal Lecter and wheeled into a room full of other similarly-secured children.

It's time for school.

Melanie's high I.Q. and vivid imagination is more than enough to earn her the distinction of being teacher's pet to instructor Helen Justineau (babe-o-licious Gemma Arterton). The crusty head of security Sgt. Eddie Parks (still handsome and oddly rugged Paddy Considine) treats the child like a psycho monster and has no use for her. Mad scientist Dr. Caroline Caldwell (a very creepy - naturally - Glenn Close) has been performing a whole whack of grotesque experiments upon the kiddies, but has some very special plans for this child - a girl "with all the gifts".

It's no surprise that Melanie's favourite story is "Pandora's Box" since she clearly holds much in the way of "evil" that she wants to release in order to cling to the "hope" she most definitely can provide to the world.

There is, you see, a fungus. It has spread like wildfire and turned most of the world into "hungries" (as they're referred to by the mean-ass Sarge).

And what precisely are they hungry for?

Human flesh, of course.

She's perfectly normal, though she wants to eat people.

Melanie is a "hungry", but she's definitely not like the others and Doc Caldwell has her eye on the child to provide an eventual cure/antidote.

Every single time I hear about and/or see a new movie with zombies (or any crazed undead afflicted with a "virus/disease/fungus"), my heart begins to sink and my eyes start to glaze over, but when I see something like The Girl With All The Gifts I get all hap-hap-hap-hap-happy again. Yes, there's life left in old chestnuts and Colm McCarthy's film of writer M.R. Carey's screenplay (based upon his book) is proof positive of this.

As is my wont, I knew nothing about the movie before seeing it, and I'm especially grateful to have entered into the film's world in total ignorance. Once hell breaks loose, and oh, it does with horrifying abandon, we're plunged into a living Hell of ravenous, bloodthirsty zombies.

She's not interested in eating anyone at the moment.

The military base falls to thousands of carnivorous creatures and our protagonists - child, teacher, doctor and soldier - begin begin a terrifying danger-fraught odyssey across a topsy-turvy blood-soaked United Kingdom. Director McCarthy handles the proceedings with all the skill and style required to keep us on the edge of our seats. There's one sequence in particular where the "humans" must wend their way through hundreds of "sleeping" zombies which not only provided me with all the necessary bowel gurgles I enjoy during horror pictures, but also inspired the unloading of some heavy matter. (If you see the movie in public, please wear adult diapers.)

This is one scary-ass movie.

That the film eventually creeps into been-there-done-that territory during its final third is a wee bit disappointing, but the picture ultimately delivers on plenty of shocks, chills and thrills and yes, manages to infuse its occasional stock moments with the kind of humanity that finally raises things well beyond the "stock"-in-trade of such items.

An interesting side note is that half of the film's £4 million budget came from the BFI Film Fund (one of their largest investments - ever) and Creative England (the largest investment it's ever made). These are the kind of government-infused cultural initiatives I can support wholeheartedly. I'm assuming/hoping the bureaucrats left the filmmakers alone to make the movie they wanted to make. As a Canadian, I can sincerely hope we see similar government-funded cultural support from Telefilm and its ilk.

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

The Girl With All The Gifts premiered at the TIFF 2016 Midnight Madness series. It is a Saban Films release and is playing theatrically at The Royal Cinema in Toronto on the following dates:

2017-03-18 4:30 PM
2017-03-18 9:00 PM
2017-03-20 9:00 PM
2017-03-21 9:00 PM
2017-03-22 9:00 PM

Friday, 10 March 2017

KONG: SKULL ISLAND - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Saved By Great Monsters, John C. Reilly

John C. Reilly: The only thing resembling a human being.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Scr. Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Sty: John Gatins
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson,
John Goodman, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Why it took four writers to come up with the lame, dull Kong: Skull Island screenplay is beyond me. Then again, given the sheer emptiness of most studio pictures these days, it shouldn't surprise anyone since it takes a whole lotta boneheads to generate a whole lotta stupid. An American President called Donald Trump is proof of that.

If truth be told, I can almost even forgive inept imbecility. What I can't forgive is tedium and this mostly horrendous reboot of the Kong franchise is nothing if not mind-numbingly boring for most of its interminable 118-minute length. Much of what makes the movie dull are the missed opportunities it took four writers to conjure up.

Things begin promisingly enough with the pre-credit sequence. It's WWII and two soldiers - one American, the other Japanese - crash on the remote Skull Island. Ah, tantalizing! Perhaps we will be afforded a lovely action-packed nod to John Boorman's Hell in the Pacific? But, no. We're handed two dull anonymous actors - no Lee Marvin or Toshiro Mifune here. Jesus, I'd have even settled for something resembling Peter Sellers/Burt Kwouk Pink Panther martial arts slap-schtick shenanigans. That, however, would be too politically incorrect by contemporary standards (and sadly, the movie's endlessly shoe-horned P.C. sensibilities are another big problem with the picture). So instead, we get a dull sprint up a mountain and our warring soldiers meet with a far more formidable enemy - Yup, you guessed it, King Kong, the big hairy ape. (But don't worry, ain't nothing too Eugene O'Neill about this hirsute monkey.)

Our movie launches into an annoyingly wham-bam credit sequence detailing American history from the last Great War and eventually leading up to the turbulence of the 1970s. Thank God it stops here - a real decade. Alas, the period detail, in virtually every respect, is woefully inadequate - most annoyingly with the contemporary-speak of the dialogue and the decidedly 2017 timbre of the delivery of said dialogue.

Of course, this being 2017, in spite of the movie being set in the 1970s, we don't get to meet a cool adventurer seeking passage to Skull Island, say along the lines of showman Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong in the 1933 version, Jack Black in Peter Jackson's 2005 entry) or even a delectably sleazy oilman like Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin in 1976). What we get is the supremely unimaginative, ineffectual government hack Bill Randa (John Goodman) and his earnestly plucky African-American geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins). Randa is such a useless schmo that it takes his right-hand Houston to convince a Senator to bankroll the expedition.

Welcome to 2017. And not that I have a problem with this smooth young Black male weaselling dough out of the Senator instead of boss man Whitey, but it might have been far more interesting to have a character like Randa, written-for and played by someone with some balls, like Laurence Fishburne for example. The role of this character, or character-type, requires - Nay, demands someone in his august years (or at least in the case of 1976's Grodin, one of those 30-something guys who feels like he's in his 50s or 60s) and more importantly, someone who has the smarts to squeeze oil out of an empty drum.

But, I remind you - it took four writers to generate this screenplay.

Can't go too wrong with a cute prehistoric muskox.

So, off to Skull Island we go. Randa assembles a stock, boring team that includes former British Special-Ops mercenary James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, a great actor in a nothing role), gung-ho army dude Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, a great actor, but more boring than usual in this stock role), looking for more carnage now that the Vietnam War is over and perhaps most sickeningly, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson, a great actress with a completely idiotic role), a self-proclaimed "Anti-war photographer" (whatever that's supposed to mean). Of course the team is replete with other soldiers, scientists and bureaucrats in order to provide ample food for the monsters.

The movie plods through all of its uninspired machinations as our team essentially needs to get off the island as soon as they land on it - there are monsters, after all. Our leading lady is, of course, not the "beauty who killed the beast", but rather, the beauty that the beast thinks is kind of okay and not a danger to him. Our leading man is boring and does little more than argue with the gung-ho army guy and acquiesce to the madman's needs to kill monsters to avenge the deaths of his soldiers. Of course, the ineffectual adventurer Randa is so useless that we almost forget he's in the movie until he gets eaten. Then, we get to forget about him all over again.

Happily, the movie introduces us to Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly, playing the older version of the American soldier introduced at the beginning of the movie). Marlow has been living on the island since WWII in the protective custody of the island's indigenous Native population. Thank God! A real character with an irascible sense of humour. Reilly not only makes us laugh, but he's really the only person we care about. Stupidly, the writers have relegated Marlow's Japanese counterpart to that of a corpse - someone who is talked about fondly, but whom we don't get a chance to know. It would have been amazing to have a great veteran Asian actor quipping with Reilly and doing battle with the monsters, but you know, there were only four writers, so you can't expect creative miracles.

Even more boring than most of the film's non-characters are the island's tribesmen. What a ho-hum lot. They appear to be pseudo-Buddhist types who do little more than cast inscrutable glances every which way. This is strangely even more ethnocentric (and perhaps even downright racist) than the previous incarnations of "ignorant", "bloodthirsty" "savages" in the 1933 and 2005 versions. At least those people had something resembling "life" infused in their ooga-booga personae.

Kong looks forward to some yummy octopus tentacles.

Other than Reilly's delightful performance, the only thing else left are the monsters. I won't bother attributing any of the picture's "success" in this regard to the by-rote direction of Jordan Vogt-Roberts (his boring nods to Apocalypse Now notwithstanding), but rather, all the magnificent SFX geniuses who designed the myriad of creatures. Kong's battles with the other behemoths are pretty damn spectacular and perk things up ever-so thrillingly. There's a phenomenal aquatic cage match twixt Kong and a humungous octopus which culminates in a wonderful moment in which Kong slurps up a few tentacles. One can, I suppose, attribute this to one of the four writers. Kudos, dudes!

That said, all previous incarnations of the Kong story were a whole lot more than just the monsters. They had, uh, characters, a solid story arc and were chockfull of wonder. They were sheer magic. There's nothing like that here - just a whole lotta tedious expository (and stupid, 'natch) nonsense to setup the inevitable sequels and franchise "universe". I'm coming to hate that word. "Universe" should conjure up feelings of expanse and possibility - not more of the same.

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

Kong: Skull Island is in wide release via Warner Brothers