Wednesday, 25 April 2018

THE ACCOUNTANT OF AUSCHWITZ - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2018 Hot Docs Hot Pick: ***½


Nonagenarian Nazi Oskar Groning

The Accountant of Auschwitz (2018)
Dir. Matthew Shoychet

Review By Greg Klymkiww

I have to admit that before seeing this movie, the story of Oskar Groning had somehow escaped me. I still don't know why. After all, it's not everyday a nonagenarian stands trial for being an accessory to the murder of over 300,000 people, but so be it, the story escaped my purview. Then again, in recent years, I've tended to avoid reading conventional news sources and since I try not to watch television, I guess anything's possible. Well, thank stars for the movies. I'm still obsessed with watching at least one movie a day and I'm especially grateful for film festivals like Hot Docs which allow me to binge on documentaries.

I suspect I won't be the only one to learn this, but what I learned from Matthew Shoychet's slick, informative and extremely proficient documentary, is that in 2015, Oskar Groning faced prosecution in Lüneburg, Germany for his part as a junior SS officer at the Auschwitz extermination camp during World War II. His time there was to function as a low-level bureaucrat, but frankly, this is the sort of bureaucracy that sends chills down the spine. Groning's job was to take charge of all the prisoners' personal possessions - most notably, their money and valuables.

Yes, as the title of the film declares, Groning was indeed The Accountant of Auschwitz.

Interestingly, the film seems less interested in detailing Groning's activities in the camp, nor is it, in any way, shape or form a biographical documentary, but rather, Groning's trial is used by the film to provide a far more important context for larger issues.

First and foremost, what one takes away from the film, is Germany's utterly horrendous historical record for prosecuting war criminals. The movie takes great pains to deliver the facts on this truly shameful atrocity. That Germany let thousands upon thousands of war criminals go untried and unpunished is an abomination, but even more telling is how the country is scrambling to make up for these sins by dragging nonagenarians onto the stand - now!!!

It's been well over six decades since World War II ended. Germany had plenty of time to mete justice, but not only dragged its jackbooted heels (so to speak), but how, other than a few token death sentences, most of those prosecuted and found guilty, served terms that were hardly commensurate with their foul crimes. If anything, this is the biggest shocker of Shoychet's film.

The other shocker, of course, is Groning himself. His prosecution was actually possible due to the fact that he was so disgusted by Holocaust-deniers, that he denounced these idiots by publicly discussing his role at Auschwitz and describing the atrocities he witnessed.

The Accountant of Auschwitz is full of shockers! This is the sort of compulsive television documentary that keeps you glued to your seat as it delivers one jaw-dropping revelation after another. It also asks many important questions. They're so important, I'm not going to reveal them here, because it's part of the film's aesthetic to not only pose them, but wend these questions skilfully within the narrative fabric of the film. They're shockers, too. One shocker after another.

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

The Accountant of Auschwitz enjoys its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2018.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

THE CLEANERS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2018 Hot Docs Hot Pick: ***** 5-Stars


The gatekeepers of online morality are censors.

The Cleaners (2018)
Dir. Hans Block, Moritz Riesewieck

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The scariest word I've heard in quite some time is:

"DELETE"

and it's a word we hear, almost mantra-like in the chilling documentary The Cleaners, a scary portrait of content moderators in the world of social media.

So what, precisely, does a content moderator do? Well, as we discover, they are employees of entities like Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms that have become an almost inextricable part of all our lives. Their job is to scour the internet looking for anything that contravenes company policy, community standards and yes, in many cases, illegal acts (images of child pornography). The offensive material is deleted, and as we experience in the film, it's with a simple keystroke and the utterance of that dreaded word:

DELETE.

Filmmakers Block and Riesewieck focus primarily on a handful of content moderators working in Manila and what we learn early on is that they are not directly employed by any of the aforementioned social media giants, but rather, companies that have been outsourced to provide these services. We're given scant information about how these moderators are actually trained, but what we see and learn is mighty scary.

The moderators are there, in effect, to provide censorship. This would be fine if we were dealing strictly with cut-and-dried materials like child pornography and hate crime/racism, but it goes far beyond this. Nudity, sexuality, acts of violence in war, political satire and/or any personal expression outside of the norm is fair game.

Though the moderators have specific guidelines, this requires them to constantly make judgement calls about what gets deleted and what doesn't. For example, we follow one of the moderators and discover that she is a devout Catholic. Her rabid Christianity is clearly at play in her decisions to "delete".

What's especially impressive about the film is that it employs a fair bit of journalistic balance, but not at the expense of the film's artistry and certainly not at the expense of presenting a point of view that's as progressive as it is scary. What these moderators do is clearly not a good thing. The social media giants are succumbing to all sorts of pressures to restrict/control content - worst of all, from governments that would block the platforms without censorship.

Structurally, the film is cleverly designed to present a myriad of characters and viewpoints. For the most part, the moderators seem like reasonable and intelligent young people, but they are bound both by policy and the fact that they have no choice but to make personal decisions based on their interpretation of said policy. The film also presents the viewpoints of several artists and activists - we see their work, the very valid reasons for its creation and dissemination and then, shockingly, we see moderators discovering the material, applying "policy" to it and then issuing the decree:

DELETE!

We hear about and occasionally see the sort of disturbing and even horrific material these moderators are constantly subjected to and sadly, we learn about how some content moderators are driven to taking their own lives. In countries like the Philippines, we learn that finding a life beyond poverty drives a lot of intelligent young people into the business of content moderation - but for them, the effects can be devastating.

We see American politicians within the context of public hearings as they grill representatives of social media giants about content policies as they relate to child pornography, political interference and terrorism, but clearly the politicians, no matter how well meaning, are completely clueless about social media and the internet in general and the various Google/Twitter/Facebook reps are little more than slick flacks.

What haunts you, long after the film is over are the evocative shots of the moderators themselves as they work. The cameras are trained upon their eyes as they consume endless images on computers screens. If we are looking into the windows of their collective souls, we're looking into hearts and minds of a world mediated by corporate greed, corruption and dedicated to suppression to maintain the highest profit margins possible.

Ultimately, nobody profits - least of all, humanity.

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

The Cleaners enjoys it Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs 2018 in Toronto.

Coincidentally, Michael Walker, a brilliant young Canadian artist who posts his beautiful work to hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram had his account removed by the social media giant the very week I saw The Cleaners.

Yes, someone uttered the words DELETE and with a keystroke, this artist's work was removed.

Feel free to protest this affront to free speech. In the case of Mr. Walker's work, this is a clear act of Homophobia, no doubt perpetrated by a "content moderator" applying flawed, personal standards based on corporate policies that are skewed to protecting only profit margins.

Here is Michael's Story:



Tuesday, 13 February 2018

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Romero Zombies on Criterion!!!



Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Dir. George A. Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"Kill the brain, and you kill the ghoul." - Scientist

"If you have a gun, shoot 'em in the head. That's a sure way to kill 'em. If you don't, get yourself a club or a torch. Beat 'em or burn 'em. They go up pretty easy." - Sherriff

Science and law enforcement make for good bedfellows - especially when the unburied dead come to life and seek out the living to snack upon.

The late George A. Romero's 1968 horror classic worked like a charm when I first saw it as a kid and continued to cast its magic spell as I continued to watch it umpteen zillion times over the decades. No matter what format I viewed Night of the Living Dead on - 35mm prints, 16mm prints, tv broadcasts, the myriad of bootleg public domain VHS tapes that floated around forever and a very decent Elite Entertainment DVD release from 2009, this was a movie that never failed to creep me out.

However, seeing it on the brand new Criterion Collection Blu-Ray, it feels like I'd never seen the film ever before - what an amazing experience it was to watch this beautifully restored edition supervised by Romero himself before his tragic, untimely death. Seeing it this way was at least as thrilling, shocking and supremely entertaining as when I was first slammed in the face with the two-by-four that is this genuinely great motion picture.

Of course, zombie and living dead extravaganzas have become so ingrained upon the collective psyches of movie-goers that most of them must view each movie with an air of been-there-done-that, but his original film is so infused with an acute political consciousness and clever satire, that the only movies that come remotely close to its power are Romero's first two sequels Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.

Shot in beautiful black and white, we follow the mousy Barbra (Judith O'Dea) as her obnoxious older brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) drives her out to a graveyard in a remote rural location outside of Pittsburgh. When a pasty-skinned old man lopes onto the scene, Johnny teases his sister that the lumbering dude is "coming to get her". It turns out Johnny's right. He's viciously attacked by the ghoulish septuagenarian and then, Barbra becomes the quarry once her brother's been handily dispatched. She madly races to an old farmhouse and as night falls, the house becomes surrounded by similarly psychotic ghouls.

They have only one thing on their pea-brained minds - to kill the living and eat them.

Yes! Eat them!

Turns out there are other people in the house. They barricade themselves in, attempting to survive this onslaught of ravenous creatures. And what an onslaught it turns out to be.

Of course via television and radio, they discover that a plague of mass murder is occurring right across the state and yes, the unburied dead are rising to feed (literally) upon the living.

The dynamic in the house is fascinating, a microcosm of humanity. From the trembling Barbra to an obnoxiously selfish father, his caring wife, their sick daughter and a perky young couple, Romero's simple, but deft script delivers a group of survivors we are delighted to follow. And no such film would be complete without a hero. The resourceful, brave Ben (Duane Jones), kicks ass with the best movie heroes. And, astonishingly, Romero employed "colour-blind" casting - the film's hero is played by a terrific, handsome young actor and he is African-American. This was a big deal in 1968. That there are colour blind aspects to the character himself, makes it, even now, STILL a big deal.

Throughout the film, Romero paints a vivid portrait of redneck America as hayseed local yokels wander the highways and byways, taking sport in blasting the brains of the "living dead". It's a world gone crazily to Hell. Most tellingly, it's not really all that crazy. This is America in all its danger and "glory".

And that, might be the scariest thing of all.

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

Night of the Living Dead is available on a super-deluxe new edition on the Criterion Collection which includes a new 4K digital restoration, supervised by director George A. Romero, coscreenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R. Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner, a new restoration of the monaural soundtrack, supervised by Romero and Gary Streiner and presented uncompressed on the Blu-ray, Night of Anubis, a never-before-presented work-print edit of the film, new program featuring filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez, never-before-seen 16 mm dailies reel, new program featuring Russo on the commercial and industrial-film production company where key Night of the Living Dead filmmakers got their start, Two audio commentaries from 1994 featuring Romero, Russo, producer Karl Hardman, actor Judith O’Dea, and others, Archival interviews with Romero and actors Duane Jones and Judith Ridley, New programs about the film’s style and score, New interview program about the direction of ghouls, featuring members of the cast and crew, New interviews with Gary Streiner and Russell Streiner, Newsreels from 1967, Trailer, radio spots, and TV spots, plus an essay by critic Stuart Klaxons.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

GREG KLYMKIW'S BEST FILMS OF 2017 presented in alphabetical order - By Greg Klymkiw

Greg Klymkiw selects
THE 20 BEST FEATURE FILMS OF 2017
(in alphabetical order)

BITCH tied with MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND
Women are knocking genre cinema out of the park this year and turning it topsy turvy in all the right ways. Marianna Palka's provocatively titled Bitch is a savage feminist satire that's as creepy as it is funny and it takes the kind of unexpected narrative turns that are not only aesthetically tantalizing, but yield the kind of original and utterly uncompromising work that restores one's faith in cinema. Stranger even still, is that it slowly develops into a deeply moving tale of redemption as a philandering, mean-spirited husband is faced with huge challenges when his loyal, long-suffering wife turns into a "dog". Most Beautiful Island, is a terrific debut feature from Writer-director-Star Ana Asensio that captures the lonely, desperate lives of illegal "aliens" in New York with an indelible sense of observation that borders on Neo-realism. The final half of the picture, once Luciana enters the secret, horrifying dangerous world where illegal aliens are used as pawns for the rich in a deadly game, is unbearably suspenseful. Asensio paces these sequences with a creepy-crawly slow burn and it's impossible to sit still. Squirming is the order of the day for anyone watching this section of the film.

BREADWINNER, THE
From Aircraft Pictures and director Nora Twomey comes The Breadwinner, a harrowing, thrilling and inspiring film (blessed with a great screenplay adaptation by Anita Doron) of the young adult novel by Deborah Ellis in which a young girl in Afghanistan must pose as a boy in order to help her family when their patriarchal head is imprisoned. The suspense during the final third is almost unbearable. This is one of the best animated feature films I've seen in years.

CAMBODIAN SPRING, A
Director Chris Kelly serves up compulsive viewing as he employs a Direct Cinema approach by training his cameras on Venerable Loun Sovath, Toul Srey Pov and Tepp Vanny - three activists fighting against the corruption of the Cambodian Government. Yes, the film is not without uplifting moments, but the cumulative effect is sheer devastation and some very harsh realities that elicit copious tears.

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

CURE FOR WELLNESS, A
Director Gore (The Ring) Verbinski delivers one of the strangest pieces of gothic shenanigans in long time as a young corporate executive is sent on a bizarre mission to a mysterious wellness clinic in the Swiss Alps so he can obtain a signature from his company's CEO. What he discovers is sheer creepy-crawly terror. Stylish, indulgent and endowed with an effective slow-burn pace, this feels like a Hammer Horror movie as directed by Michael Cimino on lithium.

DARKEST HOUR
In Darkest Hour, director Joe Wright expertly weaves the tale of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the early days of WWII - from his appointment as PM and through to his historical "we shall fight on the beaches" speech to parliament. Gary Oldman plays the irascible orator with verve and passion. In many ways, Oldman is the movie. The film is little more than war propaganda, but it's first-rate war propaganda and the fictional sequence involving old Winnie riding the London Underground is insanely, gloriously stirring and moving. His performance overall, moved me to tears.

DISAPPEARANCE
I do so enjoy entering a frigid cinematic icebox to revel in the spectacle of a parent and adult child acrimoniously slashing away at each other. Boudewijn Koole's extraordinary film is a magnificent new entry into this time-honoured/tested/proven dramatic tradition and serves up plenty of roiling bitterness amidst aching convulsions twixt a Mother and Daughter in the icy climes of rural Norway. Lots of sex, death and ice-fishing for good measure.

DISASTER ARTIST, THE
Based on the memoir by actor Greg Sestero, director-leading-man James Franco and co-star (his real-life brother Dave Franco) take us into similar territory Tim Burton occupied with his glorious biopic Ed Wood. Here we get the strangely moving, heartfelt and often hilarious tale of Tommy Wiseau, the "auteur" who made The Room (often considered the best bad movie ever made). I still haven't seen Wiseau's film, but it hasn't been an impediment to my thorough enjoyment of Franco's film.

DO DONKEYS ACT?
David Redmon and Ashley Sabin train their cameras upon living beings that have been abused and subjected to appalling inhumanity. We follow the film's four-legged subjects from their admittance to the heavenly refuges of donkey sanctuaries, then through a variety of medical/grooming procedures, eventually their daily lives and finally, the peace of what will be their existence until they leave this Earth. Astonishing Direct Cinema images are accompanied by poetic narration, beautifully delivered by Willem Dafoe.

EUTHANIZER
Though this is not a period piece, its aesthetic feels gloriously in line with the existential angst (primarily of the male persuasion) that so defined the cinema of the 70s. This first feature from Finland by Teemu Nikki is the deeply shocking, insanely romantic, sickeningly horrifying, bleakly/blackly funny and often graceful tale of a car mechanic who moonlights as a discount pet euthanizer. It's a revenge picture. It's a love story. And yes, it is hallucinogenically original.

FIRST REFORMED tied with TWIN PEAKS (THE RETURN) SEASON THREE
Two elder statesmen of American Cinema did some of their greatest work in 2017. Paul Schrader knocks it out of the park with this compulsive psycho-thriller about an alcoholic priest (Ethan Hawke - never better) haunted by his son's death, obsessed with a young widow (Amanda Seyfried) and facing a deep crisis of faith. Imagine Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light crossed with Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest and Schrader's own classic screenplay for Taxi Driver. Chillingly austere. David Lynch pulled off this seemingly impossible task - he return to the Twin Peaks world of his legendary Mark Frost collaboration and did so with mind blowing style, compulsive narrative aplomb and sheer avant-garde experimentation. It's technically a TV series, but in reality, it's an 18-hour-long feature film - so much so I wish he'd release it on Blu-Ray as one long movie sans closing credits (though including the closing visuals for each and every "episode").

FLORIDA PROJECT, THE
A sleazy motel in Florida, just outside Walt Disney World, a precocious, vibrant little girl, her drug addicted hustler single Mom and a kindly caretaker (played by Willem Dafoe no less) are the backdrop and characters in Sean (Tangerine) Baker's magical ode to childhood amidst squalor. A gloriously original film that both soars and breaks your heart.

GOOD TIME tied with LOWLIFE
Crime was the indie order of the day in 2017. A bank heist goes horribly wrong. Two brothers are on the run. One gets caught, the other doesn't. The free bro begins a mad odyssey into an underworld of danger and violence to spring his incarcerated bro from the hoosegow. We never know where it's all going to go, but every turn it takes shocks, surprises and keeps us jacked. The Safdie Brothers write and direct within inches of their lives. The whole cast knocks us on our collective asses, but Robert (Twilight) Pattinson soars in ways most actors merely dream of. Though director Ryan Prows is clearly in Quentin Tarantino's debt with Lowlife, he wisely places most of the emphasis upon mad, wildly operatic melodrama. The movie is as moving as it is grittily shocking and deeply, darkly funny. Luchadores, those glorious masked wrestlers of Mexico are emblematic of all that is good and evil - heroes and villains to the common man, performing great feats of gymnastic warfare in the ring and dazzlingly costumed in ancient Aztec tradition. Set against a sleazy crime backdrop, we follow the adventures of wrestler El Monstruo who works as a strong-arm for an evil gringo gangster who kidnaps illegal "aliens" to use in the underground organ harvesting trade.

HOPE tied with THERE IS A HOUSE HERE
Most viewers want things served up simply. They won't get that with Hope. Alan Zweig's sequel to Hurt continues the story of fallen Canadian Hero Steve Fonyo who survives the hell of a home invasion assault and decides to enter rehab. The director bravely keeps the cameras rolling as Fonyo somewhat petulantly puts some major juju upon Zweig. Fonyo makes it clear he's only doing rehab for the film. He expects the film (and filmmaker) to provide him with what he needs. What he gets is so much more. What we, the audience get, is the light (albeit murky) of redemption and a movie of dogged, gritty artistry. With There is a House Here, Zweig takes us on a journey into the lives and land of those who live in the country's most isolated, Northern regions. With Tatanniq Idlout (Inuk rock star Lucie Idlout) as his tour guide, Alan Zweig seeks answers to questions he has about the Third World conditions in his own country. This is a film about seeking answers, about learning something its filmmaker wants to know, and in so doing, casting the glow of illumination upon us all - forcing us to confront how little we know about anything and how life (and filmmaking/art), should indeed always be about exploration.

I LOVE YOU, DADDY
Standup comic Louis C.K. writes, directs and stars in this gorgeously photographed (in monochrome no less) love letter to Woody Allen's Manhattan that finally lives and breathes on its own steam. This portrait of a father's relationship with his teenage daughter (and her affair with a man 50+ years her senior) is so piquant and moving that the tears it elicits from viewers are alternately due to laughter and the movie's deep emotional core.

LAST MEN IN ALEPPO
Last Men in Aleppo is a thrilling, exciting, terrifying, sad, sickening, brave, brilliant and deeply moving documentary portrait by Feras Fayyad of Syria's "White Helmets" - firemen, paramedics and other rescue workers who volunteer (with their very lives in many cases), to search through the carnage of fresh bomb strikes in the city of Aleppo to save those still breathing and to retrieve the remains of those who are dead. Adhering with considerable rigour to the style of Cinéma Direct, it follows two primary subjects as they plunge into the chasm of a living Hell. We not only fear for the lives of everyone onscreen, but the filmmakers. This is film artistry of the highest order.

SWAN, THE
Icelandic screenwriter-Director Ása Helga Hjörleifsdótirr adapts the Guðbergur Bergsson novel with taste, restraint and artistry of a very high order. A nine-year-old girl, living in state-imposed exile at her aunt and uncle's remote rural farm after a shoplifting conviction in the city, is a story so exquisitely, delicately unveiled that it confounds all expectations one might have of both coming-of-age and fish-out-of-water tales. Surrounded by fields, meadows and rugged, imposing mountains, these are wide open spaces that feel horrifically claustrophic. The film's tiny dollops of magical realism are perfect punctuation points to an experience that is as strangely creepy as it is deeply and profoundly moving.

UNARMED VERSES tied with VANCOUVER: NO FIXED ADDRESS
Two terrific documentary features directed by two guys named Charles. Charles Officer's new film is 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 that is on the verge of decimation. This is a very important film about home, community and how, in this modern world, it's on the verge of extinction. Charles Wilkinson has made some of the most important documentaries ever wrought on the subject of the environment (Peace Out, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World). His new film is, on one hand, a history of the great west coast Canadian city, and on the other, a powerful exploration of a housing crisis that's forcing people into homelessness and displacement.

VIOLET
Grief is the subject of the extraordinary feature-length debut by Bas Devos, a film that is indelibly infused with the delicate beauty and subtlety of everything its title, Violet, represents. Devos takes us on the haunting journey of a frail adolescent as he wends his way through a mourning process that is filled with such sadness and confusion that the film is as unbearable as it is compulsively relentless in its exploration of loss. The filmmaker wisely employs the standard-frame Academy ratio, used to such astonishing effect in Son of Saul by Laszlo Nemes. This is cinematic storytelling in its most powerful, evocative form. Devos uses image to express emotion, but to also evoke it within us.

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY
In What Will People Say, the teenage daughter of hard-working immigrants living in Oslo, is at odds with her fundamentalist family, then kidnapped and shipped to Pakistan where she is to be "trained" to be dutiful. This is an extremely promising debut feature for actress/art director Iram Haq. Replete with glorious cultural details and stirring family drama, Haq layers her film with a myriad of complexities beneath a solidly simple coat hanger. It is a movie as filled with joy, love and sheer humanity as it is with chilling, suspenseful tension.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

GREG KLYMKIW'S TEN BEST SHORT FILMS OF 2017 in alphabetical order - By Greg Klymkiw


I saw over 100 short films this past year.

These are my 10 favourites from 2017.


Greg Klymkiw selects
THE TEN BEST SHORT FILMS OF 2017
(in alphabetical order)


BARGAINING WITH THE FUTURE
Lasha Mowchun's moving, poetic and playful documentary about climate change.

BICKFORD PARK
Dane Clark & Linsey Stewart's sweetly, enchantingly melancholy romantic pas de deux.

CHARLES
Dominic Etienne Simard's gorgeous, bittersweet (mostly) monochrome life journey.

DOMUS
Rhayne Vermette's experimental bio-doc is an exquisite two-by-four to the senses.

HOMER_a, HOMER_b
Milos Mitrovic & Conor Sweeney's creepy duo of low-fi Homer Simpson madness.

SHADOW NETTES
Phillip Barker demonstrates angling with one visual jaw-dropper after another.

SHE CAME KNOCKING
John Ainslie's grim, scary thriller is a creepy throat-catcher of a very high order.

TESLA WORLD LIGHT, THE
Matthew Rankin's glorious, dreamy ode to Nikola Tesla soars like no other.

THREADS
Torill Kove's lovely and simple animated tale about the threads that bind us all.

WE FORGOT TO BREAK UP
Chandler Levack's compulsive slice of life builds cleverly to glorious musical 3rd act.

Monday, 6 November 2017

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY - Review by Greg Klymkiw - Dazzling Cukor Dazzling Criterion


The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Starring: Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, John Howard
Ply. Philip Barry
Scr. Donald Ogden Stewart
Dir. George Cukor

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There are three significant men in the romantic life of socialite Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn). Born into wealth and privilege, she's dumped the irascible rich boy/playboy C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) and has rushed into the complacency of marrying George Kittredge (John Howard), the dweeb-ish self-made millionaire.

But, there is a dark horse for her affections charging across the horizon of romance.

Tracy, however, is a force to be reckoned with - perhaps one of the most dazzling, significant female characters in the entire history of Hollywood romantic screwball comedies. Each of these men adore and appreciate her, but for very different reasons. It's these reasons, or rather, declarations, that brilliantly say as much about the individual male characters, as they do about Tracy herself.

Tracy is a walking, talking, living, breathing contradiction. In that sense, she's a full-blooded human being - one we could all do well aspiring to.

Perhaps the most interesting observation comes from Macauley "Mike" Connor (James Stewart), the reporter charged with Tracy's upcoming high society wedding. He's as full of contradiction about Tracy as Tracy is herself when he says (during one of the most romantic/funny scenes in movie history):
"You're wonderful. There's a magnificence in you, Tracy... a magnificence that comes out of your eyes, in your voice, in the way you stand there, in the way you walk. You're lit from within, Tracy. You've got fires banked down in you, hearth-fires and holocausts... No, you're made out of flesh and blood. That's the blank, unholy surprise of it. You're the golden girl, Tracy. Full of life and warmth and delight."
Ah, but the man she is about to marry, sees no real mystery. He declares:

"You're like some marvelous, distant, well, queen, I guess. You're so cool and fine and always so much your own. There's a kind of beautiful purity about you, Tracy, like, like a statue."

A statue? Uh, she's really going to marry this clown? He likens her to an inanimate object - albeit an objet d'art, but an object nonetheless. Worse yet, Kittredge adds that it's these inanimate qualities that "... I first worshipped you for from afar".

Tracy's having none of it:

"I don't want to be worshipped," she declares. "I want to be loved."

It's the philandering scoundrel C.K. Dexter Haven who seems to nail Tracy to the cross of self-discovery when he charges:
"You'll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you've learned to have some regard for human frailty."
Dexter's quips, as rendered so cuttingly by the epitome of romantic male leads, Cary Grant, cut especially deep. This one in particular gets to the core of Tracy's journey throughout the film, an odyssey in which she learns that class, in all the meanings of the word, should intimately be all about examining and accepting the frailties of all humanity (including one's own).

In so doing, love is indeed the ultimate goal, but that's the genius of this film. We're not just talking about romantic love, but love and acceptance in all its forms. Directed within an inch of its life by the peerless George Cukor and gorgeously adapted by Donald Ogden Stewart from Philip Barry's hit play, The Philadelphia Story has all the nuttiness, romance and machine-gun-fire dialogue one would want from the genre. However, it goes that extra distance. It has heart, soul and the kind of intelligence that makes it universal.

The picture might have been made in 1940, but it speaks to all ages for all time.

I guess that's why they call 'em masterpieces.

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

The Philadelphia Story is available on a gorgeous Criterion Collection Blu-Ray that includes a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, an audio commentary from 2005 featuring film scholar Jeanine Basinger, In Search of Tracy Lord, a new documentary about the origin of the character and her social milieu, a new piece about actor Katharine Hepburn’s role in the development of the film, two full episodes of The Dick Cavett Show from 1973, featuring rare interviews with Hepburn, plus an excerpt of a 1978 interview from that show with director George Cukor, the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film from 1943, featuring an introduction by filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, a restoration demonstration, the trailer and an essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

THE SWAN, THE SHAPE OF WATER - TIFF 2017: One Sang, the Other Didn't - Capsule Reviews of a winner and a loser at TIFF 2017 by Greg Klymkiw

TIFF 2017 featured a Feature Debut that Soared and A Veteran's Work That Sank

Capsule Reviews of The Swan and The Shape of Water
By Greg Klymkiw


SWAN, THE ****
Dir. Ása Helga Hjörleifsdótirr
Icelandic screenwriter-Director Ása Helga Hjörleifsdótirr adapts the Guðbergur Bergsson novel with taste, restraint and artistry of a very high order. A nine-year-old girl, living in state-imposed exile at her aunt and uncle's remote rural farm after a shoplifting conviction in the city, is a story so exquisitely, delicately unveiled that it confounds all expectations one might have of both coming-of-age and fish-out-of-water tales. Surrounded by fields, meadows and rugged, imposing mountains, these are wide open spaces that feel horrifically claustrophic. The film's tiny dollops of magical realism are perfect punctuation points to an experience that is as strangely creepy as it is deeply and profoundly moving.

SHAPE OF WATER, THE *
Dir. Guillermo del Toro
I love listening to Guillermo del Toro talk about classic cinema. Damn, I wish he made movies as engaging and exciting as his rapturous lectures, but I've mostly not responded to his work. This abominably twee fairy-tale-rendering of Jack Arnold's Creature From the Black Lagoon is full of "progressive" touches completely out of touch with the period in which the film is set. Worst yet, we must suffer through Sally Hawkins (as a mute janitor no less) falling in love with a smelly fish-man trapped by nasty Michael Shannon in a research facility. It's so sickening, one doesn't so much think about the pretentious "shape" of water, but rather the "stench" of the water creature's genitals.

The Swan and The Shape of Water played at TIFF 2017

Monday, 18 September 2017

FIRST REFORMED, THE FLORIDA PROJECT, I LOVE YOU DADDY - TIFF 2017 - More 4-Star **** Pictures Dazzle at TIFF - Capsule Review Roundup By Greg Klymkiw

The terrific pictures at TIFF 2017, just kept on on coming.

3 Four-Star Capsule Reviews of
First Reformed, The Florida Project, I Love You Daddy


By Greg Klymkiw

FIRST REFORMED ****
Dir. Paul Schrader
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried
One of the elder statesmen of American Cinema has possibly pulled off his greatest work with a dense psychological thriller. Paul Schrader knocks it out of the park with this compulsive tale of an alcoholic priest (Ethan Hawke - never better) haunted by his son's death, obsessed with a young widow (Amanda Seyfried) and facing a deep crisis of faith. Imagine Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light crossed with Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest and Schrader's own classic screenplay for Taxi Driver. Chillingly austere.

FLORIDA PROJECT, THE ****
dir. Sean Baker
In a sleazy motel in Florida, just outside Walt Disney World, we follow the lives of a precocious, vibrant little girl, her drug addicted hustler single Mom and a kindly caretaker (beautifully played by Willem Dafoe no less). This oddball backdrop and rich characters comprise Sean (Tangerine) Baker's magical ode to childhood amidst squalor. A gloriously original film that both soars and breaks your heart.

I LOVE YOU, DADDY ****
Dir. Louis C.K.
Standup comic Louis C.K. writes, directs and stars in this gorgeously photographed (in monochrome no less) love letter to Woody Allen's Manhattan that finally lives and breathes on its own steam. This portrait of a father's relationship with his teenage daughter (and her affair with a man 50+ years her senior) is so piquant and moving that the tears it elicits from viewers are alternately due to laughter and the movie's deep emotional core.

First Reformed, The Florida Project, I Love You Daddy all played at TIFF 2017

Sunday, 17 September 2017

THE BREADWINNER, DARKEST HOUR, THE DISASTER ARTIST - TIFF 2017 - Roundup of 4-Star **** Capsule Reviews By Greg Klymkiw


The terrific pictures at TIFF 2017, keep on coming.

3 Four-Star Capsule Reviews of
The Breadwinner, Darkest Hour & The Disaster Artist


By Greg Klymkiw

BREADWINNER, THE (2017) ****
Dir. Nora Twomey
From Aircraft Pictures and director Nora Twomey comes The Breadwinner, a harrowing, thrilling and inspiring film (blessed with a great screenplay adaptation by Anita Doron) of the young adult novel by Deborah Ellis in which a young girl in Afghanistan must pose as a boy in order to help her family when their patriarchal head is imprisoned. The suspense during the final third is almost unbearable. This is one of the best animated feature films I've seen in years.

DARKEST HOUR (2017) ****
Dir. Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman,Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas
In Darkest Hour, director Joe Wright expertly weaves the tale of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the early days of WWII - from his appointment as PM and through to his historical "we shall fight on the beaches" speech to parliament. Gary Oldman plays the irascible orator with verve and passion. In many ways, Oldman is the movie. The film is little more than war propaganda, but it's first-rate war propaganda and the fictional sequence involving old Winnie riding the London Underground is insanely, gloriously stirring and moving. His performance overall, moved me to tears.

DISASTER ARTIST, THE (2017) ****
Dir. James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Greg Franco, Seth Rogen
Based on the memoir by actor Greg Sestero, director-leading-man James Franco and co-star (his real-life brother Dave Franco) take us into similar territory Tim Burton occupied with his glorious biopic Ed Wood. Here we get the strangely moving, heartfelt and often hilarious tale of Tommy Wiseau, the "auteur" who made The Room (often considered the best bad movie ever made). I still haven't seen Wiseau's film, but it hasn't been an impediment to my thorough enjoyment of Franco's film.

The Breadwinner, Darkest Hour and The Disaster Artist are TIFF 2017 presentations.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

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

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

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

The phone rings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bickford Park delivers something far richer.

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

Bickford Park plays at TIFF 2017

Friday, 15 September 2017

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

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

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars

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

Thursday, 14 September 2017

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

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

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Euthanizer plays at TIFF 2017

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

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

Surprise backstage visit yields bigger surprise.

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

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

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

There will be a confrontation. Perhaps even a reckoning.

And there will be a song.

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

We Forgot To Break Up succeeds in an identical fashion.

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

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

We Forgot To Break Up plays at TIFF 2017

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

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

Jennifer Lawrence caught in Polanski wannabe.

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

Migraines are not pleasant.

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

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

A brutal murder is committed.

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

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

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

Meagre is indeed the operative word here.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: * One-Star

mother! plays at TIFF 2017.

Monday, 11 September 2017

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

Steve Buscemi delivers the performance of a lifetime.

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

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

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

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

The Death of Stalin plays at TIFF 2017.



Sunday, 10 September 2017

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

Good Boy/Bad Boy of Wimbledon find common ground.

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

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

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

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

THE FILM CORNER RATING: * One Star

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

Saturday, 9 September 2017

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

A father and daughter on the precipice.

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Will People Say screens at TIFF 2017

Friday, 8 September 2017

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

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

The Judge (2017)
Dir. Erika Cohn

Review By Greg Klymkiw

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars

The Judge screens at TIFF 2017