Wednesday, 21 June 2017

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

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

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

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

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

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

There will be war.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

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

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

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 June 2017

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

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

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Criterion cover-art by Daniel Clowes.

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

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

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

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

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

I won't argue with that.


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

Saturday, 17 June 2017

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

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

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Wonder Woman is in wide release via Warner Brothers.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

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

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

Friday, 2 June 2017

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

Valuable addition to the history of African-American Cinema

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What she finds is as heartbreaking as it is liberating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He asks Sara what the thesis of her paper is.

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

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

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

I'm down with that.

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

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


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

Thursday, 1 June 2017

PART FIVE: NETFLIX (CANADA) IS POO, SHUDDER IS GOLD: More Reviews By Greg Klymkiw of amazing cool movies on the magnificent online streaming service. Here you will read my reviews of 31, BLACK CHRISTMAS, BUG, HE TOOK HIS SKIN OFF FOR ME and IT FOLLOWS.

Preamble: I tried Netflix Canada for the free one-month service. It took one day to realize I would never pay for it. Shudder launched October 20, 2016 (in Canada, the UK and Ireland). It took less than one hour to decide it would stay with me forever. Shudder is overflowing with a magnificently curated (yes, CURATED, and not merely programmed) selection of classics, indie, foreign and mainstream cinema. Yes, it's all horror, all the time, but depending upon your definition of horror, there is plenty to discover here that's just plain great cinema!
31, It Follows, Black Christmas,
He Took His Skin Off For Me, Bug

First up is a review of Rob Zombie's genuinely great 31, followed in alphabetical order by reviews of Black Christmas, Bug, He Took His Skin Off For Me and It Follows.

Rob Zombie is the real thing. There, I've said it!

31 (2016)
Dir. Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs,
Malcolm McDowell, Tracey Walter, Judy Geeson, Lew Temple,
Jeff Daniel Phillips, Richard Brake, E.G. Daily

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Chainsaws and carnies and blood-spurting victims
Malcolm McDowell and Rob Zombie's saintdom
Carnage and torture
My heart soars and sings
These are a few of my favourite things

I love Rob Zombie. Not just Rob Zombie, the musician, but Rob Zombie the director. His first feature House of 1000 Corpses was a promising debut, but it was his sophomore effort The Devil's Rejects, a blood-soaked miasma of horror and black humour that really convinced me that this dude, as a filmmaker, was indeed the real thing. Hell, I even loved his universally reviled remake of John Carpenter's Halloween. I personally preferred it to the original.

Ah, but his new film, 31, is something else altogether. It's definitely his best movie and one of the finest horror movies of the new millennium. Zombie's feel for the gritty, grainy savagery of 70s horror has never been sharper and what's delightful is that it doesn't at all feel like a skilful fanboy homage to the likes of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wes Craven's Last House on the Left and so many other post-Vietnam/post-Watergate scumbag grim-fests, but as a movie, it feels like it could definitely find room on the same mantle as those masterworks.

It's October 31. Halloween. A ragtag group of misfits in a travelling circus find themselves driving their Winnebago on a lonely stretch of highway in some godforsaken rural American Hell. They're on their way to a gig in an out-of-the-way town of inbreds and make the mistake of filling up at a gas station presided over by a grinning, slow-witted, but decidedly creepy pump-jockey (played by the irascible character actor of Repo Man/Raggedy Man fame, Tracey Walter).

This is just the kind of place that alerts nefarious locals that some "fresh meat" is headed their way. Sure enough, as the sun comes down, our delightfully potty-mouthed heroes are shanghaied by mysterious hooded figures and find themselves prisoner in a dank old house. Here, a trio of rich old reprobates, led, no-less, by Malcom McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), inform them that they are part of a deadly survival game involving substantial wagers. It doesn't take long before they're assailed by an army of psychotic killers, all bearing delectable monickers like Sick-Head, Psycho-Head, Schizo-Head, Death-Head, Sex-Head and the most deadly and evil of all, Doom-Head.

To quite a famous tagline: "Who will survive? What will be left of them?"

Some might take 31 to be a vile, reprehensible bucket of swill. Well, it is, but it's stylish, sickeningly, morbidly funny and terrifying thrill-ride blessed with a memorable cast, great villains (one of them is a midget adorned with a swastika-emblazoned wife-beater shirt and groomed like Der Führer) and nerve-jangling suspense. Zombie's lithe, gorgeous real-life wife Sheri Moon Zombie provides a magnificent kick-ass heroine and it's wonderful to see 70s stalwarts like Meg Foster and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs strutting their still-considerable stuff.

This is first-rate low-budget splatter mayhem with plenty of directorial chops guiding us into a macrocosmic Walpurgisnacht of America - an America in which we can truly believe that a man called Donald Trump could be handily elected as President of the United States. 31 is the cinematic equivalent of pickling brine being force fed down our gullets. And Jesus, it tastes so good.


Santa Claus is probably scarier that "Crazy Billy".

Black Christmas (1974)
Dir. Bob Clark
Scr. A. Roy Moore
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder,
Andrea Martin, Marian Waldman, John Saxon, Doug McGrath,
Lynne Griffin, Art Hindle, Les Carlson, Nick Mancuso

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A lone figure stumbles through the snowy bushes surrounding a gorgeous old mansion. He's breathing heavily. We only see what he sees, we do not see him. Through his POV we see warm light pouring out of the windows and the sparkle of Christmas lights. As he gets closer to the house, his breathing becomes more heightened as he looks into the windows and spies a bevy of young beauties. He passes by a sign noting that the old manse is a sorority house. He then begins the arduous task of climbing up the wall and eventually into a remote attic.

Bad shit is going to happen.

Now if the aforementioned seems familiar to you, it should. It's the opening few minutes of Black Christmas, but most of all, it's an approach to horror film malevolence that's been used ad nauseam by virtually every slasher picture ever made. The whole killer POV thing was first popularized in North America by Bob Clark's Yuletide Horror Classic and if you first saw it in 1974 like I did, you'd be jaw agape at its original creepiness (unless you, like Clark, had been a giallo fan and seen a whole whack of Bava and Argento pictures by that point).

But that, frankly, isn't the only original, terrifying and brilliant ingredient of terror in the picture. Working from a layered and beautifully written screenplay by A. Roy Moore, Clark fashioned a horror movie that's as kick-ass scary as it was then and aside from a few elements ripped-off by subsequent films, Black Christmas is replete with all sorts of superb touches that most horror films made afterwards can only dream of.

In spite of the raft of pictures in North America that were influenced by Black Christmas, it still feels like it hasn't dated. Sure, there are obvious elements that could only have existed in the 70s and don't exist now (rotary dial telephones, the insane methods of tracing calls in the "old days", clothing and hair styles which, frankly, have come and gone so many times, they feel contemporary, etc.), but the fact remains that Clark's directorial style and the clever touches in the script are only of their time in so far as they feel ahead of their time. In terms of contemporary filmmaking, the style and craft is miles ahead of most genre pictures being made now.

Hell, I'd argue it almost feels like a contemporary film that is a period picture.

Right from the start, scribe Moore quickly lets us know that someone is living in an attic which hasn't been entered in a long time. In fact, it's either been long forgotten or isn't even known about. Ah, but the lovely young ladies downstairs in the sumptuous, comfortable sorority house living room know nothing about malevolence - never mind the evil which lurks within their home and hearth away from home.

They're busily preparing for Christmas celebrations in the sleepy college town which include dolling the sorority house up for the party they're going to be hosting for orphans, making last minute travel preparations to go home for the holidays, giving their den mother a sexy gift and dealing with the men in their lives.

Moore's writing is exceptional throughout, but especially in establishing full-blooded characters - most of whom we're going to care about, and one of whom will be a fairly convincing red herring.

Then the phone calls begin. The girls have received them before. This time, the calls appear to be far more disturbing than they ever have been. The language and threats are so extreme that these days, many audiences would be as shocked as they were in the 70s, but I'd argue even more so since most English language films made now would never utilize such violent language so grotesquely and effectively.

Then the murders begin. The first killing is so shocking we can't quite believe our eyes - especially considering who gets killed. Hitchcock did this in Psycho, but at least his first victim was seen lolling half naked in the sack and was an embezzler to boot - not so here.

The killings become so vicious, the scares so intense that we're clutching our armrests or biting our nails with such horror that we could even injure ourselves (biting down to the cuticles and ripping away the fleshy bits on each side of the fingernails HURTS LIKE HELL). Amidst the chills and kills, Moore and Clark never forget the human factor nor the dramatic resonance the characters bring to the proceedings.

Delightfully, they also know the importance of how humour must be wended throughout - nothing tongue in cheek, but all connected to character and situation. Marian Waldman as the den mother with a taste for the sauce, Margot Kidder as a delectably foul mouthed heroine and Doug McGrath as the straight-faced dimwit police sergeant who comes across like a perverse cross between Buster Keaton and Don Knotts' Barney Fife, all contribute to some genuine knee-slappers.

In spite of stupid American flags everywhere to make the film more commercial, the atmosphere of the film is quintessentially Canadian - everything from the snow, the parkas, the boots, the toques, the scarves, the actual breath pouring out of peoples' mouths like clouds of smoke and the strange amalgam of WASP primness and hoser gaucherie. One harrowing sequence involves the whole college town engaged in a massive hunt for a missing girl in the bitter cold. This is imbued with that stalwart Canadian sense of commitment in the face of all the elements. A Canadian knows that no matter how cold it is, you just bundle up, eh.

There are a couple of logic lapses, of course, but you don't really begin to notice them until after you watch the movie and even then, after subsequent viewings, the movie is so wonderful you begin to supply your own explanations. My own, of course, seem perfectly valid to me.

And then, there is the killer, Billy. That's all we know or even need to know. We never see him, save for his murderous hands, we only hear him when he's breathing or making obscene phone calls and maybe, just maybe Clark reveals a teasing element or two which chill to the bone. Billy is a serial killer who puts Jason, Freddy and Michael to shame. We know what their respective beefs are, but with Billy, all we know is that he wants to kill. Somehow that's a lot more scary than the silly back-stories given to all the slashers who followed.

Black Christmas is not only a GREAT horror picture, but most significantly, you'll leave the cinema with a whole new appreciation for the word "fellatio". That, my friends, is worth its weight in gold.


Bug (2006)
dir. William Friedkin
Scr. Tracy Letts
Starring: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr.

Review by Greg Klymkiw

Without question, Bug is one of the most compelling, terrifying and compulsively watchable pictures to grace the screen in quite some time. Directed by William Friedkin, that venerable master of all that can be deliciously and artfully nasty-minded in cinema, it is a picture that some might even view as a bit of a comeback for the filmmaker who unleashed, among many others, The Exorcist, The French Connection and Cruising. I am, however, not all that fond of the notion of comebacks – especially as they relate to men of Friedkin’s talent and vision – as Norma Desmond said, “it’s the pictures that got smaller”, and certainly in the case of Friedkin, the motion picture industry and the marketplace itself has changed, and certainly not for the better.

Bug tells the seemingly simple tale of a lonely working class woman (Ashley Judd) who finds a glimmer of happiness with a mysterious handsome stranger (Michael Shannon), only to be drawn into his web of paranoia. By finding love, they also discover pain, and eventually true happiness proves to be as elusive and delusional as their respective and, finally, collective states of mind.

In the end, does this really sound that simple? To be frank, it isn’t. In fact, one almost wants to avoid lavishing too much (or even any) attention to the plot since, for most of the picture’s running time, Bug careens madly into very dangerous and surprising territory. So surprising, in fact, that one of the minor disappointments is that the script by Tracy Letts (from his play of the same name) veers into some not-so-surprising territory in the last third of the picture’s running time.

However, for the first two-thirds of the picture, one never really gets a handle on where it is going. And in an age of cookie-cutter story telling, being surprised with every turn is not only rare, but in the case of Bug, supremely engaging and, even during some especially stomach-turning moments, entertainment of the highest order.

Friedkin is responsible for so much of this. Based on a theatrical piece, the movie wisely does not betray its roots but enhances them in a wholly cinematic way. Since most of the picture involves two people (with a handful of occasional “interlopers”) in one motel room, this could have (in less capable hands) been a dull, dreary mess. Friedkin keeps us glued to the screen with a keen eye that makes every shot a pleasure to look at, but also resonating with dramatic intensity. Not that the style is intrusive or obvious – it is, in fact, a delicious bird’s eye view of two people spiraling into a pit of insanity presented with verve and honesty.

This should come as no surprise to Friedkin followers. His early career as a documentary filmmaker in addition to his years of experience as a visual storyteller serves him very well. He has also adapted theatre to the big screen – most notably with the slightly dated, but still groundbreaking motion picture of Mart Crowley’s play The Boys In The Band. Friedkin is not one of those filmmakers who fall into the cliché of having to unnaturally “open up” a theatrical work and/or gussy it up with overly fussy visual details. Friedkin embraces the proscenium in a variety of inventive ways – preserving the claustrophobic intensity of the piece, but allowing it to still breathe as a work of cinema.

But perhaps Friedkin’s greatest gift as a storyteller is his audacity. When necessary, he will push the boundaries, up the ante and shove us headfirst into territory that most filmmakers who prefer to hide from or even worse, try to mute. Not Friedkin. He ‘rub our noses’ in the worlds of his various films and succeeds admirably.

Can anyone forget how far Friedkin took us in The Exorcist? Developing compelling characters and charting their journeys with the precision of a master documentarian and slowly building to a series of crescendos in which he earned and flung all manner of visceral atrocities in our face. Friedkin ensured that The Exorcist would be a true classic with lasting value by never forgetting that movies are a rollercoaster ride and that one must build to the peaks and valleys of terror with skill and precision to make sure that the moments of viscera stay with us forever.

With Cruising, Friedkin blended the tried and true ‘policier’ with a descent into a sexy, thrilling, Bosch-like world of gay S&M clubs. Some found this offensive and/or homophobic - too bad for them. They lose. It was supposed to be thrilling. And so it was.

And in The French Connection who can ever forget the moments of utter terror behind the wheel of Gene Hackman’s speeding car as it tore through the grubby, crowded streets of New York in pursuit of a train?

With Bug, Friedkin takes us on an equally compelling rollercoaster ride. As thrilling and memorable as the ride is, there is a point in the story where one gets a nagging feeling that it could go in a certain and potentially ho-hum direction, but because the picture has been surprising you all along and because the ride has been so happily infused with style, you repress your doubts and believe it will go into more unpredictable directions. The ride continues and it is still thrilling, but the eventual outcome was what you will, no doubt, have predicted at that earlier juncture. This is a bit of a drag.

But no matter: there are so few movies around these days as provocative and stunningly directed as Bug that one can forgive a flaw that would sink most other pictures.

The performance Friedkin coaxes from a slightly de-glammed, but still delectably sexy Ashley Judd is a tour-de-force – ranging from shy submission to out and out over-the-top insanity. Michael Shannon has had plenty of time to perfect his performance as the paranoid war vet on the stage, but he seems as fresh as if he were doing it for the first time. And in a supporting role as Judd’s psychotically abusive ex, Harry Connick Jr. shocks and surprises with a performance that is as sexy as it is terrifying.

Bug is a must-see motion picture. Even if you end up hating it, you’ll probably admire it anyway for both audacity and Friedkin's relentless directorial virtuosity.


He Took His Skin Off For Me (2014)
Dir. Ben Aston
Scr: Maria Hummer
Starring: Anna Maguire, Sebastian Armrest

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Having seen more short films than anyone in their right mind should (in addition to the ludicrous number of features I've seen in my life), it's especially gratifying to see a polished gem like this one - and not just polished, not just a gem, but a film that brilliantly contributes to expanding cinema's boundaries.

After spending 13 years as a senior creative consultant and teacher at Uncle Norman Jewison's film school the Canadian Film Centre and presiding over the mentorship of Jesus-H-Christ-Knows-How-Many short films, I'm relatively well versed in what it takes for young filmmakers to generate truly original and cutting-edge work in such a setting (often quite impossible given the pressure placed on them by - ugh - "industry stakeholders"). Since the mid-90s, far too many burgeoning filmmakers have squandered the opportunity (especially, though not exclusively in North America) to generate short films that work, quite simply, as good, if not great, films - period. Too many have been drawn to the "Look Ma, I can use a dolly, but have nothing to say" calling card nonsense which allows them a shot at camera jockeying series television (not too egregious in Jolly Old Blighty, though) or worse, making short-form versions of feature films they almost never end up making. It's enough to make a movie lover sick to the stomach. Once in awhile, though, once in a Blue Moon, once upon a mattress (as it were), a short film comes along - from a film student in an academic setting - that blows the living pants off everyone who sees it. He Took His Skin Off For Me is just such a film.

Based on a short story and screenplay by Maria Hummer, director Ben Aston has crafted a delectably creepy, darkly hilarious and jaw-droppingly perverse love story which traverses the mine fields of contemporary notions of sacrifice within the context of male-female relationships (though, frankly, any significant other coupling might well apply). Sacrifice in relationships has always been at the forefront of any deeply passionate and lasting union, but in recent decades, with the steady collapse of traditional family units and the rightful advance of women in modern societies, sacrifice, it seems can often take on the most ludicrous extremes. Here, Hummer and Aston, cleverly focus on the more traditional aspects of a relationship - one that seems to be a reflection of the kinds of traditions which can spell death for any relationship - where the rituals of what it means to be "traditional" settle into a kind of dull-as-dishwater existence of comfort and expectation.

Here, we have a couple who seek to put some pizzaz and pep back into their love. When the hubby makes an extreme sacrifice to literally remove his outer layer of flesh, things are clearly new and exciting, but once the relationship begins to settle back into familiar territory, it seems that the irreversible sacrifice is all for nought.

There are several elements which make the film work as well as it does. First and foremost is the simple approach it takes to rendering the tale. The filmmakers do not shy away from utilizing a borderline literary voiceover which is not only deftly scribed, but played with a delicate deadpan. The actions of the characters are also played straight and if there's any tongue-in-cheek at all, it seeps quite naturally from the proceedings due to the Buster-Keaton-like visages applied by both leads. The almost matter-of-fact acceptance of the inconvenience-factor in having no skin (trails and stains of blood that need to be endlessly cleaned) is what has us alternately laughing and grimacing. Aston's compositions and colour-schemes are also imbued with an aplomb that borders on muted - not unlike the approach David Lynch takes in his best work where the utterly insane proceedings are all the more insane because nobody on screen (or off, for that matter) is going out of their way to point a finger at it.

It's also gratifying to see that the special makeup effects are rendered without digital manipulations. This always adds a remarkably naturalistic touch to tales of the fantastical. This is especially important here given the fact that the film is often rooted in a kind of skewed realism that reflects the lives of so many (if not all).

This is a thesis film generated at the London Film School.

Bravo! He Took His Skin Off For Me a great short film no matter how, when or why it was generated. That it is the work of young talents, however, speaks volumes about their considerable talent, promise and yes, any powers-that-be that allowed them the freedom to create a work of singular and lasting value.


It Follows (2014)
Dir. David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It's early morning magic hour. A stately home rests quietly in a leafy suburb. The front door bursts open. A babe in her undies races outside, her melons bobbling. In no time at all, she'll be found horribly mutilated. Dead, in fact. Granted, we're in Detroit, one of the most poverty-stricken, crime-ridden and decrepit cities in America, but this grotesque sequence has played out in a bucolic setting, far away from the urban blight.

What gives?

Well, after this shocking preamble to David Robert Mitchell's It Follows, we meet our heroine Jay (Maika Monroe) and in no time we find out exactly what the deal is. She too lives in a 'burb o' Detroit and when she goes on a date with a hot hunk, she's so charmed, she hops into the back seat of his car, tosses off her panties and lets him deliver one right royal solid boning. As our babe lolls about in post-coital bliss, the hunk goes to the trunk to retrieve something. When he returns, he smothers the scantily clad missy with a chloroform-soaked rag. When she wakes up, he's got her strapped into a wheelchair - in her undies, 'natch. He forces her to look at something and what he shows her is so jaw-agape ghastly she can't quite believe her gorgeous eyes as she trains her gaze at IT.

Make no mistake, IT is real, alright, and now, IT is after her. According to the stud-hunk, the only way to get rid of IT is to pass IT on through sexual intercourse. He offers Jay a bit of solace when he says that IT should be no problem for her to pass on since, she's a girl and most any red-blooded male will want to nail her. Once she convinces her friends that she's cursed, they all make like Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Delightfully enough, the notion of passing on the curse sexually allows for some added boinkage in addition to the carnage and shock-til-you-jump jolts. And, of course, the movie gives us IT.

IT is a formidable supernatural villain. If this is the first thing you've read about the movie, read no other reviews, puff pieces and any other literature which might provide TMI. It's a lot scarier, creepier and deliciously perverse if you go in without knowing anything more than this - IT follows you constantly and IT will kill you if IT catches you. If this happens, the curse reverts to afflicting the entire line of boinkers who've preceded you.

Though the movie doesn't quite go into the sickeningly, darkly hilarious territory of David Cronenberg's Shivers (which also featured a sexually transmitted horror), It Follows is a solidly directed shocker with plenty of homages to John Carpenter's output from the late 70s to early 80s. If Mitchell's screenplay is, save for its supremely original "villain", a bit too reliant on well-worn tropes of the genre, his filmmaking is both dazzling and assured. He's the real thing. He handles the proceedings with great style, visual flourish and far more intelligence than your run-of-the-mill horror-fest. Then again, it also has what any horror movie needs - babes, root-slipping and killing.

We even get some scary sojourns into the downtown decrepitude of Detroit. This stuff in the abandoned Detropia of Motor City is so creepy, one almost wishes most of it were set there. If Mitchell generates a sequel, maybe, just maybe, he'll oblige us. As someone who loves a good horror picture and having been conceived in Detroit, I, for one, can hardly wait. My drool is dripping and pooling up like the thick, crimson rivers of blood which permeate the ever-so-delightful It Follows.



Saturday, 27 May 2017

THE TRANSFIGURATION - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The tragedy of adolescent vampirism (and another reason why Toronto's The Royal Cinema is the best indie theatre in Canada).

Teen lovers in dangerous times.

The Transfiguration (2016)
Dir. Michael O'Shea
Starring: Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Aaron Clifton Moten

Review By Greg Klymkiw

We've all found ourselves in public washrooms when, whilst relieving ourselves, we hear the sounds of voracious sucking and slurping coming from within the hidden sanctity of a closed-door stall. Our thoughts turn to all manner of carnal activity, but never do we imagine that a vampire is dining upon the jugular of a victim. Well, it is indeed the activities of a supernatural bloodsucker revealed to us at the beginning of The Transfiguration.

The Nosferatu in question turns out to be the sweet-faced 14-year-old Milo (Eric Ruffin), a frequently bullied introvert who lives in a Queen's high rise housing project with his older brother Lewis (Aaron Clifton Moten), a PTSD-suffering veteran of the Middle East conflicts and shattered by the tragic death of the boys' mother. Milo loves vampire movies and he definitely qualifies as a movie geek of the highest order since he collects all his favourites (Martin, Near Dark, Let the Right One In, etc.) on - I kid you not - VHS dupes. When he meets Sophie (Chloe Levine), a fellow teen resident of the complex, they hit it off big-time and for a first official date, he takes her to a Manhattan revival house to see F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu on the silver screen.

In spite of the film's supernatural element - Milo is, after all a genuine vampire - I find it difficult to classify the picture as a horror movie. Yes, it has dollops of tension and suspense throughout, but if anything, it's a deeply moving love story about two lonely kids in New York who develop a very special bond. Director Michael O'Shea's screenplay is fuelled by humanity. He addresses the loss of parents, loneliness, bullying, life in the inner city projects, gang culture and even ethnocentrism/racism by way of rich kids coming into the neighbourhood to buy drugs, assuming they can approach a teen for these purposes just because he's African-American.

Most of all, though, the film explores the hopes and dreams of the young lovers and sensitively delves into the ultimate tragedy of their love.

O'Shea's film is a deliberately paced, beautifully observed take on vampire lore that's replete with appealing, natural performances and a bevy of touches that are occasionally in the realm of Neo-realism. We see a New York we seldom experience - even plenty of ocean views via the Queens neighbourhood of Rockaway Beach. The movie pulsates with life and if Vittorio De Sica had ever thought about making a vampire movie, it would probably have resembled The Transfiguration.

My only warning to viewers is this: Bring Kleenex and lots of it. As I sat shuddering and sobbing during the end title credits, I was sure glad I had plenty of tissue on my person.


The Transfiguration9to plays theatrically in Canada at The Royal Cinema in Toronto via Strand Releasing.