Friday, 29 June 2012

BOY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Some Kiwi Treacle to warm your cockles or to upchuck bile. The highest grossing New Zealand movie of all time. Surely this must say something. What, exactly, I'm not sure.

Boy (2010) dir. Taika Waititi

Starring: James Rolleston, Taika Waititi, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu


Review By Greg Klymkiw

Call me cold-hearted. Call me an asshole. Call me a curmudgeon. Call me anything you like. You can even call me Shirley. Whatever epithets you fling my way, nothing will change the fact that I pretty much detested Boy.

Yes, I know. It's New Zealand's darling. It's the highest grossing indigenous picture from Kiwi Island of all time, a film festival favourite, a winner of numerous Grand Prizes, Jury Accolades, Audience Awards and the recipient of a ridiculous number of rave reviews (including some from critics who should know better). Really. The last time I checked it had some ridiculous 87% on the meter over at Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score of 70%.

Are these people out of their minds?

Or am I?

After all, how could anyone detest such a harmless piece of fluff?

It's easy.

The movie is very warm and fuzzy.

It's awash in (UGH!!!) nostalgic pining for the 80s.

It's about poor, but happy Kiwi aboriginal people.

It's a movie where the protagonists are Michael Jackson lovers.

And it's whimsical.

Have I mentioned the whimsy, yet?

Well, now I have.


Is there any word in the English language that releases more bile than that? If there is, I'd like to know what it is.

Or maybe it doesn't make you vomit. Maybe, you'd actually enjoy this treacle involving the title character (James Rolleston), a lad whose Mum has died (boo-hoo-hoo), lives in a squalid, old house full of goats, chickens and a veritable ant colony of his cousins and half cousins and God knows what other relatives Granny is taking care of?

Have I mentioned yet that they're poor, but happy?

Maybe you'll flip completely over the lad's whimsical imagination that conjures up fantasies of his brother (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) having (UGH!!!) magical powers.

Maybe you'll be doing the bloody Moonwalk when Boy indulges himself in fantasies and fan worship of Michael Jackson.

And maybe, just maybe, you'll find it touching that Boy pines for his Dad (Taika Waititi) - M.I.A. from the family unit for many long years and probably in prison as opposed to being on the grand adventures the lad imagines his erstwhile progenitor to be having.

Maybe you'll rejoice when Dad finally shows up and proves to be a loveable rascal. Accompanied by a couple of bumbling thugs, they've really returned to find the money they stole and buried in a field across from the family home. Maybe you'll be slapping your knee uncontrollably over the fact that Dad forgets exactly where he buried it and everyone begins digging holes all over the property.

Lord knows, I was trying to laugh, but was distracted by just how good to be alive this movie was supposed to be making me feel. (I remember seeing Rain Man first-run and as the end titles came up, I looked blankly at my friend and he looked blankly at me, and in perfect deadpan he remarked, "I guess we're supposed to feel something, huh?")

And when the moments came when Dad talks about how much he loved Boy's Mum, I know I was supposed to be moved to tears, but was distracted by a movement in my bowels. I did not succumb. I clenched my gluteal muscles with all my strength and kept watching.

I didn't want to miss a thing.

And I didn't.

Somehow I don't think my life was richer for it.

What I do know, is that my life was indeed richer for seeing Matthew McConaughey forcing someone at gunpoint to fellate a KFC drumstick in William Friedkin's Killer Joe.

Choose your whimsy wisely, ladies and gentlemen.

You might find it in the most unexpected places.

"Boy" is playing theatrically via Mongrel Media and premiered first-run in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

In order to support this site, you might wish to buy some good movies from New Zealand by clicking directly on the links below:

Thursday, 28 June 2012

JAWS - Review By Julia Klymkiw (Cub Reporter) - For Universal's 100th Anniversary, a new Spielberg-approved restoration of his modern horror classic is playing theatrically and launching in Toronto at TIFF Bell Lightbox. 11-year-old Klymkiw Film Corner Cub Reporter Julia Klymkiw weighs in with her thoughts!

JAWS (1975) dir. Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw


Review By Julia Klymkiw - Cub Reporter

When I first saw Jaws I was 4-years-old and it was on DVD. I watched it at home on our television set. I loved it so much that I watched it over and over again. Seven years later, I went to see it on HD and on a huge screen in a real movie theatre. This was the first time I ever saw it this way and it felt like I was watching a whole new movie.

Jaws is so suspenseful you forget you are watching a film. You are Krazy-glued to your seat and unable to leave. The shark attack at the beginning of the movie makes you feel like you're right in there with that poor girl who gets eaten alive and you're the only one who survived.

The village the movie takes place in reminds me of where my own cottage is. What happens to the people there is what I imagined could happen here in real life. That's how realistic the movie is. Lucky for me, though, is that there are no sharks near my cottage because they need salt water to live.

The story is basically about a shark attacking people and after a certain amount of kills, three brave men: the sheriff, an old sea captain and a young rich guy who studies sharks, go out onto the ocean to hunt it down.

What makes the movie so suspenseful and scary is when the attacks happen you hear screaming and then the camera goes underwater to see the person who is being killed and there's a lot of blood. The movie goes back and forth between shots like this. One time, during an attack all you see is a lot of blood and a body part floating down to the ocean floor.

You almost never see the shark and this makes it super scary. Near the end when you do see the shark it is beyond scary. This is what makes horror movies really good. The other thing that makes the movie good is all the stuff that is like real life. There a neat scene where the sheriff is very tired and his little boy copies all the stuff his Dad is doing. All kids do stuff like that with their Dads. Even though a movie is make believe it is stuff like this that makes you believe everything you see.

When my Dad took me to the press screening of Jaws, he said he saw it way more times than me and that even though he knew he would enjoy seeing it again that it wouldn't scare him at all. This made me laugh quite a bit because Dad jumped out of his seat quite a few times - along with me, of course.

I told Dad that maybe it was because we were seeing it on a humungous screen in a real movie theatre that it scared him so much.

He agreed with me.

Now, you agree with me and go see Jaws on a big screen.

"JAWS" is playing in a director-approved restored HD master at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto and at select venues across the globe. For TIFF showtimes and information, visit their website HERE."

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

JUAN OF THE DEAD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Playing at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012 Summer Series, this Cuban zombie-splatter-satire is so wonderful, I can't imagine Mikhail (I AM CUBA) Kalatozov making a better zombie movie!

Juan of the Dead (2011)
dir. Alejandro Brugués
Starring: Alexis Díaz de Villegas, Jorge Molina, Andrea Duro,
Andros Perugorría, Jazz Vilá, Eliecer Ramírez, Antonio Dechent


Review By Greg Klymkiw

Zombies in Havana.

Zombies in Pittsburgh.

American apocalypse.

Cuban apocalypse.

S.W.A.T. teams.


Shopping mall.

Uh, Cuba.

Worlds apart?

No way, José!

Same diff.

And then some.

Superbly written and stylishly directed by Alejandro Brugués, Juan of the Dead is no tobacco leaf rip-off of UK's Shaun of the Dead. Given that Juan is set against the backdrop of a Totalitarian country ruled by a socialist dictator, the movie is clearly as high-concept and satirically sharp-edged as George A. Romero's classic Dawn of the Dead.

Romero's picture is scary as hell, funny, gory and intelligent. Brugués scores on three of those four - it's never really scary and only vaguely suspenseful. This, however, isn't a complaint. It scores even more points in the humour/satire department than its similarly named happy-go-lucky-blood-gusher from Blighty.

Almost from the beginning the laughs come fast and furious and never let up. Unlike the amusing, but overrated Shaun of the Dead, the humour in Juan veers from full blown black satire to a genuinely funny picture where many of the laughs are rooted in story and character.

This is what places the picture several notches above the rest.

Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) and his best friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina) are a Cuban Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Rooted far closer to Miguel de Cervantes than most contemporary zombie pictures, this is a story of friendship, love, loyalty and family. Juan isn't deluded like Quixote, per se, but suffers from the typical 40-something malaise of mid-life crisis that afflicts men all over the world - all the more pungent since he's lived his whole life under Fidel Castro's yoke. He's always been poor and virtually unemployed. His semi-estranged daughter Camila (Andrea Duro - a criminally gorgeous mouth watering babe) lives primarily with her mother in Miami and has grudgingly come for a visit with the Dad she's never really known or accepted.

Zombies will change all this.

When the movie begins, Juan and Lazaro are lazily fishing under the bright Cuban sun. In no time, Lazaro catches a bite and reels in a hungry, water-logged and rotting zombie. Luckily, they're armed with a trusty harpoon gun.

Back on land, hell is about to break loose or as a great sage once said: "When there's no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the island of Cuba!"

Zombie attacks become more frequent. The government television broadcasts warn of insurgent activities overseen by the evil American empire. Juan, for the first time in his life, sees an opportunity to turn his life around and even gain the respect he so desperately craves from his daughter. He forms a ragtag group, trains them and before you can say, "CHE! CHE! CHE!" he's turned the crisis into a business opportunity - offering to dispatch the zombified loved ones of distraught families. Eventually, he receives a clarion call and his entrepreneurial pursuits turn to fighting zombies for a greater good.

Let's not forget that the film is set 50 years after the revolution. The glory days that never were are far from over. Havana and the country itself are still run by a strict state-controlled bureaucracy. Part of the pleasure here is the satire Brugués wends through a very humanist tale that, in turn, is magnificently sewn into an apocalyptic zombie picture.

I made a point after first seeing the movie to see it again. I simply could NOT get the picture out of my head. The second viewing was a revelation - it's not just good, it's terrific. The movie holds up superbly on a second viewing and while the shocks and surprises of the carnage-factor are slightly dampened, everything else about this intelligent, fun picture is heightened.

Try to see this movie without reading any reviews or puff pieces (except for mine, of course) - I've read a few myself since seeing the movie and was flabbergasted that even critics who wanted to NOT give away some of the surprises managed to do so in a way that prepared audiences for what they going to see by prefacing their noble attempts at spoiler-avoidance by strongly hinting at what they were trying to avoid in print.

The carnage that is wreaked from beginning to end is some of the most stunning, glorious, shocking and laugh-out-loud-funny zombie splatter ever rendered in any motion picture. The laughs outside of the purview of the gore are savage, nasty. juvenile, intelligent AND good-natured.

The makeup effects and overall production design (by art director Derubín Jácome) are as first-rate as one would NOT expect from a film like this. As well, the mise-en-scene is genuinely so magnificent and cinematic that I suspect we're going to be seeing a lifetime of great work from director Alejandro Brugués. Working with cinematographer Carles Gusi, we're treated to numerous shots that are almost painterly in their virtuosity and the sense of geography during the carnage is worthy of masters like John Woo - particularly in his early HK phase.

Most importantly, the shooting and Mercedes Cantero's superlative cutting charge each action scene with dramatic beats and not the usual contemporary herky-jerky nonsense that makes no cinematic sense other than to bludgeon an audience. Here, we get bludgeoned in the way cinema is designed to bludgeon us - great shots (with tempered variation) and great cuts by filmmakers who are hard-wired with filmmaking artistry into their very DNA.

Frankly, this Cuban zombie-splatter-satire is so wonderful, I can't imagine Mikhail (I AM CUBA) Kalatozov making a better zombie movie!

"Juan of the Dead" is playing as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF) Summer Edition. For ticket information, visit their website HERE."

Friday, 22 June 2012

THE GOLD RUSH - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Two versions of Chaplin's classic are lovingly restored on the great new Criterion Collection Blu-Ray

The Gold Rush (1925/1942)
Dir. Charles Chaplin

Starring: Charles Chaplin, Georgia Hale, Tom Murray, Mack Swain, Malcolm Waite.

***** (1925)
**** (1942)

Review By Greg Klymkiw

By his admirers, Charles Chaplin is embraced for the abundance of sentimentality in his work and by those who dare posit themselves as detractors, he is admonished for it. The fact remains that Chaplin would hardly be Chaplin if his work was not sentimental. I, for one, so often find myself in an absolute rage when the word "sentimental" (like "melodrama") is, in a contemporary context, used pejoratively and often with no context. Most critics and artsy-fartsies unfairly (and myopically) jerk their knobby knees oh-so reductively. This simplistic, dismissive categorization of sentimentality in art, displays both laziness and a holier-than-thou intellectual snobbery. Using one word like a cudgel to pound away at a dramatic technique that enhances an audience's emotional connection to theme, action and style is an easy way out for these cretinous curs.

Yes, if executed badly, sentimentality is intolerable. However, when functioning from the highest plane of artistic endeavour, sentimentality is - in form and feeling - one of the most effective ways for an artist to elicit visceral and intellectual responses to their material. No matter how excessively it's employed, if it's right for the material, the period it reflects, the period from whence it came and hewn into the style of the work, there's not a damn thing wrong with it. When worked by expert hands - sentimentality can be effectively used consciously and/or unconsciously (the latter a natural product of period, material and/or style).

In spite of the considerable virtues of sentiment as a legitimate storytelling tool, critical volleys of the word almost always imply that any work with any sentiment is inferior to any work that avoids all sentiment.

Brian Wilkie's great 1967 essay entitled "What is Sentimentality?" notes that the word "sentiment" as defined by both critics and academics in this simplistic fashion is, finally, "unhelpful" and most of all, "misleading." It asserts that this one word is enough and that adequate elucidation beyond using the word is unnecessary.

When Wilkie examined twelve literary style handbooks he discovered that two of them discuss sentimentality at length without explaining or bothering to define the word and that ten of them "define the term in essentially the same way, with some, but surprisingly little variation in wording, emphasis, and illustrative detail." Wilkie goes on to note that "sentimentality, according to the current definitions, violates decorum in a special way: the violation is a quantitative one, an 'excess' [of manufactured feeling]."

Over the course of cinema's history some of the greatest filmmakers have been charged with stylistic overuse of sentimentality - a criticism grounded rather easily and unimaginatively in the realm of Wilkie's aforementioned discovery. To name a few film directors so charged (and the list of literary figures is astronomical - Dickens and Saroyan to name a couple of my favourites) are: D.W. Griffith, Frank Capra, John Ford, George Stevens and Steven Spielberg.

No slouches in the great filmmakers of all time sweepstakes.

And lest we forget, the Little Tramp, Charlie Chaplin.

Though Chaplin's comic masterpiece The Gold Rush might be less infused with overt sentimentality than many of his other pictures, it is worth considering the contemporary knee-jerk use of the word in the context of what's present on the Criterion Collection's magnificent new Blu-Ray release of this truly great picture.

Chaplin was a groundbreaker in many areas associated with the development of cinematic storytelling language, but perhaps most notably in his belief that silent cinema and the art of pantomime, could live happily in a world of talking pictures (notably City Lights and Modern Times which in 1931 and 1936 respectively were made after the invention, release and acceptance of "talkies"). That said, Chaplin, erred when he transformed his 1925 version of The Gold Rush into a new form wherein he replaced title cards with his own off-screen narration while additionally rendering cuts and modifications that repressed the film's sentimentality.

I'd like to think that EVERYONE knows what The Gold Rush is about, but what I wish for and what actually is are two different things. It's a simple tale involving The Little Tramp (Chaplin) and his adventures during the title time period in the Klondike. The Tramp happens upon two men in the icy, snow-packed mountains of the Yukon Gold Rush during a massive snowstorm. One is prospector Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain) who has discovered a motherlode and the other, Black Larsen (Tom Murray), a dastardly wanted criminal looking for an easy score.

Eventually, The Tramp meets and falls in love with Georgia (Georgia Hale), a beautiful dancehall girl who is attached to the brutish, abusive Jack (Malcolm Waite). Embroiled in a rivalry between Black Larsen and Big Jim, our moustachioed hero with the baggy pants and funny waddle is torn between doing the right thing and making his unrequited desires for Georgia requited.

The movie is chockfull of magnificent Chaplin comedy set pieces: A wind storm that keeps bouncing him in and out of a rickety snowbound cabin; hunger pangs forcing Big Jim to imagine The Tramp as a chicken ready to be gutted, cleaned and cooked; the Tramp staving off starvation and unwanted cannibalism by turning his shoe into a meal; and performing a dance with dinner rolls during one of the most magical dream sequences ever committed to film.

The movie also has a dark side - exploring greed and avarice in American culture (albeit from a historical perspective) and examining the lives of the rich in contrast to the desperation of the poor. Especially poignant is Chaplin's depiction of the "outsider" society of those who have traversed great distances to toil amidst the hardships of the north - desperately clinging to the hope that they'll strike it rich, but more often than not, spending what little gold dust they scrounge up to drown their sorrows in cheap booze at the dancehall.

Georgia Hale's performance is, in particular, quite an extraordinary portrait of an impoverished young woman seeking to make a living in this frigid domain of broken dreams. She is, on the surface, happy-go-lucky, but beneath her spunky smile and somewhat garish dolled-up appearance (that doesn't hide her beauty, but makes you realize what's beneath the visage, both on a physical and spiritual level), we ultimately see a woman who recognizes the sad truth of her station in life - including what will, no doubt, become of her - especially if she sticks with the exploitative misogynistic Jack.

Chaplin in his familiar Tramp role displays a similar duality. He is, of course, Chaplin, the bewildered and seeming naif reacting to every conflict with a plucky determination. Sadly (and alternately funny) is the fact that he's an even bigger outsider in this world of outsiders. Chaplin is nothing short of brilliant here - rivalling the sublime qualities he brought to his Tramp role in City Lights. Moments when his character has no choice but to remove the mask of resilience are, in a word, heartbreaking.

Everyone, in the world of the Klondike seems to wear a mask. Even Big Jim, brilliantly played by the legendary Mack Swain, is at first surly, eventually acquiescent and during a bout of amnesia, desperately befuddled. And deep, deep down he possesses a heart (pun intended) of gold.

The only characters who don't have much in the way of masks (in the tradition of both melodrama and in many instances, life itself) are the villainous (vaguely concealed pimp) Jack and the utterly reprehensible Black Larsen. As played by Tom Murray, Larson's bad to the bone and his only convincing mask of benevolence (if one can call the fake visage even remotely "benevolent") is when he seeks to get something utilizing a strategy that's slightly beyond his usual bludgeon-happy manner.

These performances are great in either version of the film, but in the 1942 recut, they lose quite a bit of their impact (as do the film's stunning visuals) with the annoyingly cloying Chaplin voiceover. While Chaplin clearly laboured upon the recut prodigiously to make a better movie - extending and shortening scenes with alternate takes, his narration quashes the beauty of the pantomime and hence dilutes the story's inherent power.

Worse yet, the love story in Chaplin's preferred 1942 re-release cut is what suffers immeasurably - especially in the final reel where the mad, passionate and yes, sentimental conclusion to the romance between the tramp and Georgia is muted. The movie from 1942 feels like it ends far too abruptly and I defy anyone who chooses to watch the 1925 version first to feel likewise.

For those, like me, whose first helpings were the 1925 cut, the disappointment in the 1942 reworking is extremely palpable. The laughs are still there, but not as funny with the narration and the pure sublime sentimental dollops throughout the film and at the end are either lessened or completely eradicated. I can say quite honestly that even in blasted out 16mm dupes of dupes of dupes of the tattered, abused and forlorn 1925 version, I found myself weeping as hard as I was laughing. The 1942 cut evoked some laughter, but nary a tear was shed.

Still, what's extremely valuable are the complete restorations of BOTH versions and frankly, audiences have the most perfect opportunity to experience both of Chaplin's versions - diluted and undiluted.

Oh, and the glorious sentimentality of The Gold Rush (1925) - so simple, so pure and so lasting. Whether intentional or not, Chaplin muted sentiment in the latter version and I fear that contemporary audiences might prefer 1942's rendering since, as Brian Wilkie asserts, the narrow common definition of the word causes people "to equate sentimentality with all expressions of deep feeling . . . so that, out of an instinct for safety and a fear of ridicule", many will allow themselves "to enjoy only that . . . which is tight-lipped or ironic or in other ways hard-surfaced." In these dark days, when sentiment is embraced on emotional and intellectual levels, it's so easy for individuals to "be hurt and often alienated" when told, in effect, that their "values are meretricious."

Bring it on, I say. Embrace your meretriciousness, load up with a box of kleenex, sit back and let Chaplin's sweet, beautiful and delicate magic devour you whole.

Besides, you're only going to be considered truly meretricious by eggheads and pseuds.

The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of "The Gold Rush" is a must for all cineastes and certainly all Chaplin completists. Both versions are worthy of in-depth study and the cornucopia of phenomenal extra features provide considerable critical, production and restoration background. This is easily one of the best Blu-Ray discs in the format's history. As per usual, I do provide the following advice. Watch the 1925 version first (it includes a brand new recording of Chaplin's original score) and then watch the 1942 Chaplin-preferred cut. (Many great directors have fiddled with their masterpieces - Charlie's forgiven, though not for the cavalier dismissal of the original prints and elements that were, thankfully pieced together in the best possible presentation here.) After watching both versions, THEN dive into the depths of astounding extra features which will provide considerable illumination.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

A HOLLIS FRAMPTON ODYSSEY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The legendary experimental American filmmaker is given a magnificent platform via the Criterion Collection to showcase the art Frampton created during his tragically short life.

A Hollis Frampton Odyssey (1966-1979)
dir. Hollis Frampton


Review By Greg Klymkiw

Experimental movies are cool. Or at least they can be. Like any genre, there's good, bad, in-between and yes, great. Traditionally, experimental film has no real concern with narrative and yet, non-narrative experimentation - at least some of the best work - can be as structured as a narrative film that adheres to the Syd Field or Robert McKee approaches to visual storytelling.

Hollis Frampton, subject of the magnificent and insanely exhaustive Criterion Collection Blu-Ray A Hollis Frampton Odyssey was very much a structuralist. Identified as such by P. Adams Sitney, the foremost academic scholar on experimental cinema, Frampton's films would be, according to Sitney, "predetermined and simplified" and that this overall, almost carved-in-stone minimalist structure was what leapt from the formative pre-shooting stage to the film itself.

When one compares this to traditional narrative filmmaking we see in the best work of directors like Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese a not dissimilar approach. All of them will map out precise visual renderings by way of storyboards of the equally worked-out screenplays and, for the most part, adhere strictly to the structure already worked out. While Frampton's work may be structured with seemingly rigid approaches, the final products are often playful and poetic. I'd go so far as to suggest that Spielberg, Hitchcock and Scorsese often utilize elements of play and poetry in their narrative work which, like Frampton, take them well out of the range of machine-tooled cultural "manufacturers".

The road to Hollis Frampton's own odyssey is rooted in the 1920s when experimental cinema began and throughout three decades, seemed to be the exclusive domain of Europeans. Man Ray, Dziga Vertov, Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, to name but a few, delivered primarily non-narrative works that were often referred to as avant-garde. These works adhered to movements from the period that included the Surrealists, Dadaists, Lettrists and even, hilariously, Ultra Lettrists.

Whatever movements these filmmakers were part of - the films emphasized impressionism and poetry. At times, the "experiments" revolved exclusively around the medium of film itself, whereas others used the medium to experiment with new ways to express thoughts, ideas, philosophies, political ideology and basic human emotion.

In many cases, especially with Soviets like Sergei Eisenstein, Olexander Dovzhenko and Vsevolod Pudovkin, experimental technique and narrative were married to provide alternative approaches to cinematic storytelling that departed from the Hollywood Machine.

What's especially important to observe, though, is just how important experimental film has been to the medium, the art, the craft of cinema - period. Slavko Vorkapitch, for example, developed any number of cinematic vocabularies that became part and parcel of the Hollywood Machine - Vorkapitch even became the prime mover and shaker of montage in mainstream American filmmaking.

Even clearly populist filmmakers looked to experimental tradition for inspiration. George Lucas, for example, was an adherent and student of the Canadian avant-garde master Arthur Lipsett. Though Lipsett's influence is more obvious in THX-1138, one can find it healthily on display in American Graffiti and the various Star Wars films.

And though there was a smaller tradition in experimental cinema in America, this changed almost overnight in the 1950s when the likes of Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas and Kenneth Anger took the film world by storm. America became a hot bed of avant-garde cinema and yielded two important streams of academic study in the field of "alternative film". The late Black Mountain College was an early post-secondary institute and counted Arthur (Bonnie and Clyde) Penn as one of its most important teachers and of course, there's the world famous San Francisco Art Institute that became the home of teacher/filmmaker George Kuchar. Penn, of course, utilized numerous experimental film techniques in all of his Hollywood features while Kuchar astoundingly looked to Hollywood melodrama - especially that of Douglas Sirk - and fashioned his own transgressive approach to story that was rooted in the mainstream.

Hollis Frampton began his career as a poet and photographer. He subsidized his art by working in an ad agency. Much like the Kuchar Brothers, who also toiled in advertising, Frampton practised and polished elements of basic craft but at the same time, found ways of subverting these elements in his personal work. When Frampton finally began experimenting with film in the mid-1960s, he was poised to embark upon an artistic journey that would render one of the most important bodies of work in cinema history.

A Hollis Frampton Odyssey is, without question, one of the seminal achievements in what could be seen as the ART of home entertainment creation, production and distribution. Assembling, restoring and providing a wealth of supplemental materials focusing upon this visionary and highly influential artist has been rendered with such loving care that Criterion continues to maintain their well-deserved reputation of going above and beyond the call of duty in their service to preserving the art of cinema (rivalled only by that of Milestone Film and Video whose recent commitment to the work of Lionel Rogosin and their ongoing restoration of silent cinema also places them in this pantheon).

The Criterion disc places 24 of Frampton's films in three sections comprising "Early Works" (including his groundbreaking feature film Zorns Lemma, films from his Hapax Legomena cycle and several key works from the stunning, though sadly unfinished Magellan cycle.

The early works are probably going to be the most decidedly challenging films for the uninitiated to get through, but in them, we see the beginnings of Frampton's exploration between sound and image that he eventually tackled full force in Hapax Legomena and there are (at least for me) considerable visual and experiential pleasures to be found in Process Red, Carrots & Peas and Lemon.

Watching the disc from beginning to end speaks volumes of the care taken by the Criterion team to curate the films. The cumulative effect of screening the early short works prior to watching the feature length Zorns Lemma ultimately yields the riches inherent in the said early titles, but also delivers a perfect platform to succumb to the sheer, unadulterated joy to be found in Frampton's feature.

Zorns Lemma has the distinction of being the first experimental film to screen at the prestigious New York Film Festival - a tradition boldly continued to this day. The festival is both elitist and populist in the same breath as it showcases a small, exclusive number of works while at the same time aiming, as an "audience" festival to pack the house at Lincoln Centre. Films as groundbreaking as Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris and as delicate and sensory as the short experimental work URDA/Bone by Charles Officer and Ingrid Veninger have unspooled upon the NY Film Festival's screens.

As a producer myself, my New York Film Festival experience with Guy Maddin and our collaboration on Careful, the wholly insane camp homage to German expressionism, Leni Riefenstahl and the "mountain" films of Dr. Arnold Fanck, was something I'll never forget. Thousands of film lovers eye-balling something so out-of-step with contemporary cinema was utterly goose-flesh-inspiring. So much so, I'd have gladly donated a testicle (or two) to be present for the NYFF's screening of Zorns Lemma.

Frampton's feature is structured in three parts. The first has Joyce Wieland reading from a scary, imposing Puritan text book for young children - used to teach reading and writing with any number of fire and brimstone Old Testament references. The second and longest section is a mind boggling montage of letters and words, bouncing from still frames to moving images and focusing primarily upon a rigid adherence to alphabetical formalism as we're treated to a delightful series of actual New York City signs. The third section, after the first two is heartbreaking and profoundly moving as we see a couple in the distance walking slowly and endlessly through a field of snow.

The Hapax Legomena films are a perfect bridge from Zorns Lemma to the Magellan cycle. The former dives headlong into Frampton's obsession with the relationship between image and sound (and provides an unofficial Frampton autobiography to boot), while the latter presents works of extraordinary poetic lyricism and playful qualities as Frampton circumnavigates the world through the world of cinema, much like the famed explorer Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the globe during the early part of the 16th century.

Experimental cinema - especially in this package of Hollis Frampton's works - should always first be viewed experientially. Just sitting back and letting "IT" happen to you is not only pleasurable, but at times becomes impossible to do and you find yourself mysteriously and surprisingly engaged in a form of dialogue with the film. Frampton not only brilliantly EXPLORES the relationship between film and audience, but creates a relationship in and of itself.

Hollis Frampton died at the age of 48 from cancer. He was plucked from us far too early. The Magellan films, once complete, would have provided an epic work based upon the calendrical cycle and as such, would have delivered one movie for every day of the year.

Seriously, if this isn't cool, nothing is.

"A Hollis Frampton Odyssey" is available on Blu-Ray and DVD via the Criterion Collection. The restoration and picture transfers are stunning and happily, the sound is presented in uncompressed mono - the way it should be experienced. The extra features - many of which include interviews, footage and "commentary" from Frampton himself - are a treasure trove of insight into the artist and his extraordinary work. If you've never seen Frampton's work, or haven't for a long time, I highly suggest watching all the films first - from beginning to end before you dive into any of them extras. Let your senses and intellect mingle with his art. Get to know the artist through his work first - THEN get to know him with the terrific additional features. Most importantly, those who care deeply about film should NOT rent this. BUY IT!!!


Friday, 15 June 2012

THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH - Review By Greg Klymkiw -

The Woman
in the Fifth

dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Ethan Hawke,
Kristin Scott Thomas,
Joanna Kulig,
Samir Guesmi

Review By Greg Klymkiw

While there is much to admire in Pawel Pawlikowski's film adaptation of a book by Douglas Kennedy, the movie is finally a big mess. Its chief failing is a preponderance of half-baked artsy ambiguities that - within the context of its genre, the psychological thriller - begin to annoy and finally, dissatisfy.

Things begin promisingly, though.

A disheveled academic and one-book-wonder author played by Ethan Hawke, arrives in Paris to re-establish ties with his estranged French wife and daughter. There are hints of mental illness and abuse that result in his comely ex calling the police to invoke the power of a restraining order.

Hawke flees.

Under considerable duress and jet lag, he falls asleep on a bus. His luggage and wallet are pilfered during his deep slumber and the friendly folks at Paris Transit boot him off the bus at the end of the line.

The end of the line.

This should have been my first hint that I was now on the Hershey Highway of Pretension, but when Hawke stumbles into a strange bar and pension run by a charmingly sleazy Samir Guesmi and his voluptuous Polish squeeze played by Joanna Kulig, mild intrigue in the proceedings won the day.

When he happens upon an exotic Eastern European beauty played by Kristin Scott Thomas who takes a special interest in his schwance, I was especially hooked.

When Guesmi offers Hawke a mysterious job in exchange for room and board, the work and setting are so creepy and perverse I was transfixed.

When Guesmi's Polish sex kitten spreads her milky thighs for some prodigious Ethan Hawke pronging, the movie reeled me in hook, line and sinker.

Man, things are damn peachy in Paris for unwashed, unshaven and unstable American academics.

How peachy are they?

They're so peachy that even an unwashed, unshaven and unstable American academic can land the best poon-tang the City of Light has to offer.

Alas, the whole movie is a tease. Rich atmosphere, fine performances and a few genuine moments of suspense are not enough to deliver a satisfying movie. Red herrings are piled on top of red herrings and then, more red herrings. We keep watching in hopes that things will begin mounting and that the picture is going to deliver a Polanski-styled wallop.

It doesn't.

By the end of the picture you're left with too many questions, no answers and a dissatisfying denouement. The movie tries to have its cake and eat it too by setting up the aura of a thriller, dabbling with cerebral elements and not paying off.

Not good enough, Pawel. You clearly have some gifts as a filmmaker, but you need to remove that butt-plug of pretence if you want to blend a thriller with art film tropes.

If anything, The Woman in the Fifth reminded me less of Polanksi and more of Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger. With oodles of mystery and ambiguity within the context of an American in a strange land, the Italian maestro's film is richly layered, gorgeously structured and the ambiguity is woven seamlessly into its narrative and thematic elements - unlike Pawlikowski's inconsequential offering,

Antonioni offers plenty of fat on a silver platter to chew on.

Pawlikowski, on the other hand, tosses us gristle on the dog-shit-dappled sidewalks of Paris - to nibble on in the futile search for something resembling satisfaction.

"The Woman in the Fifth" is currently in theatrical release via Mongrel Media.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

"i am a good person/i am a bad person" and "Modra" and "Only" - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hot on the heels of a Major Career Retrospective at the Canadian Film Institute in Ottawa, one of this Country's Great Filmmakers will have her Features screened in Toronto at the Royal Cinema! Miss them at your peril.

Here is a complete list of the screening times at the Royal Cinema, 608 College Street, Toronto. There will be Q&A’s with director and cast following each screening. As well,revenue from "i am a good person…" go into a filmmaking fund. Details HERE!!!

Screening Times: Thursday June 14 OPENING 9:30pm – i am a good person/i am a bad person | Friday June 15 7:00pm - i am a good person/i am a bad person 9:30pm – i am a good person/i am a bad person | Saturday June 16 – SPECIAL TRIPLE BILL DAY. $20 to see all 3 movies! 4:30pm i am a good person/i am a bad person – ONLY 7pm – MODRA 9:30pm | Sunday June 17 4:30pm - i am a good person/i am a bad person 7pm - i am a good person/i am a bad person 9:30pm – MODRA | Monday June 18 7pm – i am a good person/i am a bad person 9:30pm – i am a good person/i am a bad person | Tuesday June 19 7:00pm - ONLY 9:30pm – i am a good person/i am a bad person | Wednesday June 20 9:30pm – i am a good person/i am a bad person | Thursday June 21 9:30pm – i am a good person/i am a bad person

i am a good
i am a bad



Review By

A dervish derives inspiration from God and does so with complete and total devotion, honouring the Creator with continuous, strenuous forms of physical manipulations, such as exercise or dance that involve literal whirling at breakneck speeds.

Influenced by John Cassavetes, Mike Leigh and Jean Renoir, Canadian filmmaker Ingrid Veninger is also developing an approach to her humanist form of dramatic cinema that is clearly all hers.

In fact, Veninger might well be cinema’s only living equivalent to a whirling dervish. Like a dervish, she honours her Creator (cinema), her prophets (Cassavetes et al), then whips her creative concoction into a frenzy – literally living and breathing cinema – producing film from within herself, her devotion and life itself.

With her previous work and second feature as a director (she’s written, produced and acted in so many more), Modra, a personal dramatic exploration of her Slovakian roots, Veninger was on the cusp of embarking upon the film festival circuit.

This got the dervish whirling.

She wrote a script about a filmmaker taking a trip to Europe to present her film on the film festival circuit. She cast herself as the filmmaker Ruby, and her own real-life daughter, talented young actress Hallie Switzer (female lead of Modra) as Ruby’s daughter Sara. With ace cinematographer Ben Lichty and sound recordist/boom operator Braden Sauder, Veninger and Switzer blasted across the pond from Canada to Europe and made a movie. The screenplay, already workshopped and in final draft, accompanied the group who knew that as long as the structure of the story was adhered to, there would potentially be room for rewriting depending upon the exigencies of production.

The movie, i am a good person/i am a bad person, is funny and heartbreakingly moving, and while full of ‘realistic’ touches, it never descends into Canadian Cinema Dreariness 101 and is, in fact, imbued with a sense of scope to allow its tenderness and intimacy to shine in all the ways they should in movies.

The world is, of course, replete with father-son pictures, but mother-daughter relationships – in terms of numbers and quality – pale in comparison. This is a film that contributes admirably to this relatively rare tradition.

Ruby is a loveable scatterbrain. Her film, a crazed, seemingly political avant-garde celebration of – ahem – the penis, is set to premiere overseas at the – ahem – Bradford International Film Festival in dear Old Blighty. Eighteen-year-old Sara is dragged along on the trip to be her mother’s assistant, though one gets the feeling that deep down, Mom craves some one-on-one quality time with her burgeoning daughter.

Sara is decidedly serious – in general, but especially on this trip – and Mom’s carefree spirit is driving her up the wall. Mom, not totally oblivious to this, is still intent on having a good time.

Things in Bradford reach a bit of a head and it’s decided that Sara will go to Paris on her own to visit with relatives whilst Ruby will forge on to a screening at the Arsenal Cinema in Berlin.

As mother and daughter each face personal challenges, it also becomes glaringly apparent how much they need and love each other.

I suspect it might not be too much of a spoiler to suggest that hard decisions are wrought and events inspire more than a few tears from even the most hardened viewers. Those who stick with the seemingly freewheeling spirit of the picture are rewarded a thousandfold during the extremely moving finale.

Filmmakers of all stripes will, I think, get a kick out of the sequences shot in Bradford and Berlin. How many times have filmmakers heard the rather embarrassed words from festival directors – as Ruby does in the film – ‘It’s a much smaller house than expected, but they’ll no doubt be a spirited bunch.’

It’s also worth mentioning that i am a good person/i am a bad person is full of humour – gentle bits of human comedy and full-on Bridesmaids-style blowjob gags (pun intended) and scatological humour.

Happily, this doesn’t temper any of the sentiment, but in fact, enhances it. And unlike Bridesmaids, i am a good person/i am a bad person NEVER overstays its welcome. The picture is taut, trim, hypnotic and passionate.

Kind of like a whirling dervish.

Modra (2010)
dir. Ingrid Veninger
Hallie Switzer,
Alexander Gammal

Only (2008)
dir. Ingrid Veninger
Simon Reynolds
Jacob Switzer,
Elena Hudgins Lyle

Review By
Greg Klymkiw

Consider this review a love letter to a true artist, an artist who has created a film so delicate, inspiring, moving and heartbreaking that it connects with all who see it on a very personal level.


To now begin.


You were born in the former Czechoslovakia – Bratislava, to be precise – but you are too young to have experienced the phenomenal rise to power of Alexander Dubcek and his extraordinary Prague Spring – the grand cultural explosion that infused a national pride that threatened to topple Russian domination.

As a young adult, you knew the Prague Spring was cool – not only was there Milan Kundera’s great book The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but there also existed Philip Kaufmann’s sumptuously romantic and sex-drenched film rendering of it.

And as much as Kaufmann brought the Russian invasion so sadly to life on film, you can’t – try as you might – remember being clutched in your mother’s arms as your family flees the Russian tanks rolling in during that horrendous year of 1968 when the Spring turned to a communist-ruled Winter once more.

Or perhaps you remember all too well.

The brain is a powerful machine, as is the soul. Your parents’ reminiscences of that time, your experience of being the child of immigrants who were forced to leave everything they loved behind to give you the life you never would have had under communism, your sense of childlike wonder that grew within you and stayed in your heart long beyond childhood – all this and more still might have managed to retrieve these memories and allow you to blossom into the artist you are – to blossom within your soul, the soul of a Slovak!

You grew up in Canada – as Canadian as maple syrup (but with more than a few dollops of Neil Young) – and yet something nagged at you about your beginnings, your parents’ struggles, the painful inability to connect with family left behind (for fear of communist reprisals against them) and always wanting to discover your roots.

At the age of 17, you visited the ‘old country’ and reconnected with your family and ethnicity. Returning to Canada, you worked as an actor, a producer and eventually a director.

You are Ingrid Veninger – an auteur of the highest order: the real thing and then some.

Frankly, there’s a film in the above, but as an artist you have taken it so much further in your extraordinary solo directorial feature debut Modra. After producing such ground-breaking Canadian feature films as Peter Mettler's Gambling, Gods and LSD and Charles Officer's Nurse Fighter Boy, co-directing with Officer the fabulous experimental short URDA/Bone that premiered at the New York Film Festival and the exquisite feature film Only, co-directed with your greatly talented friend and colleague Simon Reynolds that was feted with a screening at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and festivals all over the world, you took the next logical step and solo-directed Modra.

Your co-directorial feature effort Only, was comprised of tiny, tender moments and infused with the warmth and love of family. Only starred your son Jacob Switzer as a young boy living in a small Northern Canadian town who, along with a young girl the same age, discovers the simple pleasures of life, the glory of nature and most importantly, love.

Modra stars your 17-year-old daughter Hallie Switzer as Lina, a young lady who, like yourself, takes a trip to the ‘old country’ to connect with her roots. Having just broken up with her boyfriend, she drags along a platonic pal Leco (Alexander Gammal) who has a bit more on his mind than friendship.

During the weeklong trip, both kids discover that they have little in common and romance is not going to be part of the equation. However, all of Lina’s old world relatives think they’re a couple. As Lina finds her roots, she finds herself and so does Leco. Most importantly, they discover the value of connecting as human beings and the true power of friendship and shared experience.

To say this movie had me squirting tears would be an understatement. I chocked up emotionally at several points, but also wept tears of appreciation for the movie’s consummate artistry. While Modra, much like Only, feels unscripted, it IS, in fact, beautifully scripted, and the natural performances of the kids, the real friends and relatives in Bratislava and your magnificent probing directorial eye, add up to a film where art meets life, and in so doing, creates a lovely collection of those precious cinematic pieces of time that make us realise again how precious life is, and at the same time, what a glorious, wonderful gift the art of movies is.

My love letter draws to a close.

It’s nice to review movies this way – especially when they're so infused with love.

If you wish to own these Ingrid Veninger productions on DVD, consider ordering them hereby clicking the following links:

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Vanessa Redgrave's nude scenes and Ennio Morricone's score are the only items of considerable merit in this convoluted, pretentious thriller.

A Quiet Place In The Country (1968) dir. Elio Petri
Starring: Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave

Review By Greg Klymkiw

This is a strange, perverse, but ultimately pretentious Repulsion-styled thriller with Franco Nero as an artist who is going completely out of his mind and may or may not be haunted by the ghost of a woman he may or may not have murdered. His patron is a wealthy woman played by Vanessa Redgrave. He may or may not be having sex with her. The movie is replete with plenty of cool images, an amazing Ennio Morricone score and more nudity from Vanessa Redgrave than I ever thought humanly possibly. And it's great nudity, too. What a babe!

That said, I really couldn't make any sense of this. It's not suspenseful enough to work fully as a thriller - especially since its plot is such a mess - and it's not much of an art house item (or is, depending upon how you feel about arthouse picture) as it feels annoyingly, boneheadedly precious. Shockingly, it received a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in the late 60s. Must have been a slow year.

As a "head" film in the tradition of Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo or Holy Mountain, it also doesn't really cut the mustard since it never feels like it's about ANYTHING. Whether one is willing to acknowledge that Jodorowsky makes movies that ARE about something is not at issue here, they at least feel like they MIGHT be about something.

A Quiet Place in the Country is an overwrought acid trip that I ultimately didn't "get", but it's a definite curiosity piece and well worth seeing on that basis alone.

I might actually even watch it again.

Just to see if I missed something.

Just to see if it might be better than I'm giving it credit for. Or not.

It still makes for compelling viewing. One can't say that about too many movies as flawed and head-scratching as this one is. And it's one of the only films I find Vanessa Redgrave to be really sexy in.

Genuinely sexy.

That's something, mais non?

"A Quiet Place in the Country" is part of the MGM DVD-R on-demand series. It's a decent transfer from excellent source material and available either through special order online or at specialty video retailers. In Toronto, Canada the best place to purchase such titles directly in a retail setting is at the Sunrise Records flagship store at Yonge and Dundas.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

HERO'S ISLAND - Review By Greg Klymkiw - James Mason as Blackbeard the Pirate gnaws the scenery deliciously in this fun boys' adventure tale.

Hero's Island (1962) **1/2

dir. Leslie Stevens

Starring: James Mason, Kate Manx, Warren Oates, Rip Torn, Harry Dean Stanton, Neville Brand, Robert Sampson and Brendan Dillon

Review By Greg Klymkiw
"Revenge. Revenge. Revenge. I am the devil! Oh yes I am. I have lived in Hell. I have wrecked and burned one hundred ships. And I don't pull a plough!" - James Mason, Blackbeard the Pirate, Hero's Island

What's not to love about James Mason?

He was, without question, one of the most versatile screen actors of all time. It's impossible to take one's eyes off the guy and that distinctive mellifluous voice worked perfectly whether he played a hero, villain or everything in between. Who will ever forget him in any number of roles that he might as well have patented: Johnny McQueen in Odd Man Out, Carol Reed's classic crime thriller about "the troubles"; the ill-fated Hendrik van der Zee in Albert Lewin's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman; the two-faced Roman turn-coat Brutus in Julius Caesar, the doomed boozer Mr. Norman Maine in A Star is Born; the suave villain VanDamm in Hitchcock's North By Northwest; the lecherous pedophile Humbert Humbert in Kubrick's Lolita; the heavenly bureaucrat Mr. Jordan in Warren Beatty's Heaven Can Wait; his stunning supporting turn as Paul Newman's nemesis, the sleazy, slimy powerful lawyer Concannon in Sidney Lumet's The Verdict.

Of course, my favourite Mason performance is that of the breeding plantation owner Warren Maxwell in the best movie of all time, Richard Fleischer's Mandingo where, sporting a first-rate accent of the Deep South, Mason reeled off one great line after another - the best being advice he imparts to his son: "Your wife craves you has wenches. She wants for you to have wenches. Keeps her from havin' to submit."

Oh, and have I mentioned yet that he played Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? Captain FUCKING Nemo!!!

The above are some of his quintessential roles, but as a producer, he also generated a handful of extremely interesting films - Michael Powell's deleriously sexy Age of Consent where he played the middle aged artist who falls in love with a mostly nude 22-year-old Helen Mirren and most notably as the prescription-drug-addicted Ed Avery in Nicholas Ray's astonishing Bigger Than Life.

One of the pictures Mason produced was, however, completely unknown to me until recently. It's a corker of an 18th century boys' adventure story called Hero's Island.

Written and directed by Leslie Stevens (who would go on to direct William Shatner in Incubus, the only feature film made entirely in Esperanto), we follow the adventures of Devon and Thomas Mainwaring (Kate Manx and Brendan Dillon respectively), their two children and their loyal friend Wayte (Warren Oates) - indentured servants who have recently been given their freedom and bequeathed an entire island in the Carolinas. Here they look forward to a new life of freedom and as landowners no less. Alas, the Gates family - inbred fishermen led by Enoch (Robert Sampson) and his knotheaded brothers Nicky (Rip Torn) and Dixie (Harry Dean Stanton) are laying claim to the island and order the settlers out. In an altercation, they murder Devon's husband. She's devastated, to be sure, but she orders Wayte not to seek vengeance through violence. As an indentured servant, she was raised in the (I kid you not!!!) Quaker Christian tradition.

Things change when a bearded sailor who goes by the name of Jacob (James Mason) is washed ashore, tied to a plank and bearing a sign that reads: "Dead Man". Clearly there is more to him than meets the eye. He's cultured, well-versed in the seafaring tradition and still has his fancy sabre strapped to him. Wayte immediately suspects Jacob is someone rather notorious who has been the victim of a mutiny. This would be true. He is Blackbeard the Pirate.

Well, this is a pretty good deal for all concerned. Blackbeard can handle these yahoos no problem.

When the Gates brothers bribe the evil governor, Kingstree (Neville Brand) and his henchmen on a neighbouring island to take back the land by force, Blackbeard decides he's not about to risk his freedom (being a wanted man and all) for the sake of a piece of rock in the open water.

This, is clearly NOT a good deal for all concerned. How will a Quaker woman and her children going to handle this one?

Well, she is a gorgeous Quaker woman and her kids are blonde cherubim and when Blackbeard witnesses Kingstree committing a horrific, merciless act of murder (no, I won't spoil it and tell you who it is), he clearly must leap into action.

Carnage ensues and, happily, the Quaker woman discovers the value of firearms.

This IS America after all.

Okay, I'll be honest here and say that Hero's Island is clearly no undiscovered cinematic diamond mine, but as far as swashbuckling adventures go, it's a solid vein of Amethyst. First off, we've got James Mason. 'Nuff said. Secondly, take a look at that supporting cast - Warren Oates, Harry Dead Stanton, Rip Torn and Neville Brand! 'Nuff said. Thirdly, Kate Manx (the director's real-life wifey) is mighty babe-o-licious!

From a directorial standpoint, Stevens handles the proceedings with solid craft and even attempts a few daring approaches to the material - one of which is a terrific, long single take where Manx and Mason each reveal their innermost turmoil to each other. There are also a couple of tremendous POV shots from behind Neville Brand (a really great villainous turn, by the way), one of which has his tall black hat in the foreground and James Mason walking towards him - arms outstretched like Christ. Finally, there's a really well-choregraphed sabre duel between Mason and Brand that puts many contemporary herky-jerky action scenes to shame.

Stevens eventually made his mark in American television as the creator, writer, producer and occasionally director of such excellent series as the original The Outer Limits, McCloud, The Virginian and the original Battlestar Galactica. And, of course, lest we forget Stevens's most notorious achievement - the only feature shot completely in Esperanto - with Bill Shatner, no less. That's probably reason enough to see any picture this guy ever had anything to do with.

"Hero's Island" is a recent release from the MGM Archives. Like many studios we'll be seeing more and more of these on-demand DVDs. The problem is that it delivers movie fans a whole mess of films for premium prices and straight-up transfers to DVD-R. The widescreen transfer for "Hero's Island" looks just fine on a laptop, but leaves a bit to be desired on a bigger monitor. It's also hard to get these made-to-order titles. Only a few retailers stock any at all (in Toronto, Canada the Yonge-Dundas Sunrise Records carries a huge number of them) and the only other option is online ordering which not only costs the premium price but shipping and handling. This is well and good for titles people are willing to buy at any cost, but given that something like "Hero's Island" was unknown even to me (someone who has psychotically seen over 30,000 movies), it seems a shame that a decent James Mason swashbuckler isn't available at a more reasonable price point.

Monday, 11 June 2012

ONE MAN'S WAY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Don Murray rips the screen apart as the famed Christ-loving motivational guru Norman Vincent Peale.

One Man's Way (1964)

dir. Denis Sanders


Don Murray,
Diana Hyland,
William Windom,
Carol Ohmart,
Virginia Christine,
Veronica Cartwright,
Butch Patrick,
Tom Skerritt

Review By
Greg Klymkiw

- Don Murray as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale in One Man's Way
Are there any late Baby Boomers or early Generation X types who do NOT remember seeing well-worn, dog-eared copies of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale's huge best selling book "The Power of Positive Thinking" resting handily on their Dad's desk, book shelf, night table or bathroom reading rack? As a kid, I used to try diving into it, but found the book dull as dishwater. My Dad was, if I do say so myself, a brilliant marketing man who promoted beer in Canada at a time when traditional advertising of alcoholic beverages was illegal and rigorous promotional tie-ins (usually through sports - both amateur and professional) needed to be devised. In his wide territory, he made his company's flagship beer Number One and also tied the company into numerous world hockey championships. When I asked Dad about the book, he referred to it as the Bible for all successful businessmen and added, "It's one of the reasons your old Dad is the best goddamn beer salesman in the country."

Years later, I read Peale's book. Dad was right. It was super inspirational and full of numerous tips for success. It rocked. But for some reason, though, I never equated the book with Judeo-Christian beliefs and values. Maybe when you're brought up in that tradition, you just don't notice that sort of thing as much.

Or maybe, this was Dr. Peale's secret to success in his own life.

One Man's Way was, I must admit, a revelation to me in more ways than one. It's an old-fashioned biopic in the grandest Hollywood tradition, but for some reason, I'd neither seen it before, nor even heard of it. I'm glad, however, to have finally caught up with it. The movie answers more than a few questions I had as a kid about Dr. Peale, but it's also revelatory with respect to its star, Don Murray.

As Norman Vincent Peale, Murray is absolutely electrifying. In fact, it made me realize what a great actor he was. (He's currently in his 80s and still working.) But in his 20s and 30s, with that weird mixture of baby face, square-jawed tough man and blessed with the most piercing eyes, one has to wonder why he never became a bigger star. In the early 1950s he was a constant presence on the stage as well as numerous live television dramas during the Golden Age of American TV. In feature films he etched indelible portraits in Bus Stop (opposite Marilyn Monroe), A Hatful of Rain, Advise and Consent, Baby The Rain Must Fall and perhaps most memorably in The Hoodlum Priest. Then, through much of the late 60s and onwards, most of his work was in television - much of it fine, but often relegated to roles of cops, cowboys, politicians and lawyers (of the seediest kind). That said, his role as the villain in the 70s theatrical feature Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (the terrific Arthur P. Jacobs production that was woefully re-tooled as Rise of the Planet of the Apes) was and still is utterly delectable and creepy.

In One Man's Way, though, is where you really get a sense of how brilliantly he commanded the attention of a camera lens. He drew it towards him like a moth to a flame and as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Don Murray was totally on fire.

Directed by Denis Sanders, it has no strong auteurist imprint, but the proceedings are handled with the sort of proficiency needed to move the fine script by John (The Invaders) Bloch and Eleanore (Imitation of Life) Griffin forward and to capture Murray's blistering powerhouse performance as the preacher with a calling to change the lives of men everywhere.

The movie begins with Norman as boy engaging in fisticuffs with another lad during a church service and publicly embarrassing his Minister Dad (William Windom). Even worse is when Norman announces in front of his father's congregation that he doesn't believe in God and Dad orders him "out of God's House." Norman runs away, much to the horror of Mom (Virginia Christine), but Dad knows his son all too well. Sure enough, Norman sneaks into God's House and engages in a heart to heart with the Lord and then Dad. He's back in God's bosom, but vows that he'll never be a preacher like Dad.

Flash forward many years later and Norman (Don Murray) is working as a news reporter with a comely wise-acre hot-chick photographer (Carol Ohmart). They cover a brutal domestic murder and Norman starts to get a bad taste in his mouth. He admits to his editor he might not be cut out for journalism. His editor and female WeeGee-style partner are aghast since Norman is apparently a great writer.

Norman's response is simple: "I feel like I'm watching children playing in tall grass as a snake is about to strike. What do I do? I pull out my notepad."

And, as Hollywood would have it, a huge explosion rocks the neighbourhood on the heels of Norman's utterance of self-loathing. A gas explosion round the corner has blown half a building to rubble and the lone survivor is a little girl (Veronica Cartwright) perched at the top, too terrified to cross a plank of wood that's been extended to the next building in order to rescue her.

What's the son of a Preacher Man to do? He talks the child to safety with all the evangelical fervour of a man born to minister God's Word. He reminds the little girl that God is always "there with you". He quotes God's words: “I am with you always” Alas, this doesn't quite do the trick and the child screams and bawls when another explosion rocks what little of the teetering building is left. Well, now's the time to make God's word really count and Norman (via Murray's inspired, crazed delivery) passionately, almost mantra-like, orders the child to use God to help herself.

“Crawl along the board," he cries out. "It's a bridge, a bridge that God Himself provided. It's good [dramatic pause] and strong [another dramatic pause] and [then shouting with joy] plenty wide. Just say to yourself, 'With God’s help I can do it, with God’s help I AM doing it. GOD AND I ARE DOING IT.” (I'll refrain from any blasphemous jokes about God doing it with Veronica Cartwright, though it's very tempting.)

She repeats the words over and over as she crosses God's good, strong and plenty wide bridge. (I'll refrain from any blasphemous gags about the phallic qualities of the good, strong and plenty wide bridge, though the temptation is great.)

And Don Murray as Norman, his eyes bulging, his stiff jaw jutting and his million dollar smile beaming, screams out: "YOU AND GOD HAVE DONE IT!" (Ditto on blasphemous innuendo, though Eve be dangling that apple twixt her fingers before me.)

It's safe to assume that Norman Vincent Peale has heard the calling of the Lord. He turns in his "sword and shield" (pen and notepad), goes to the seminary, argues with all of his teachers, graduates with flying colours and is sent to minister the University Methodist Church in Rhode Island. Here he immediately wins over his flock with his own passionate interpretation of Psalms 118:24 - an appropriate opener to be sure: "This is the day the Lord hath made. And he made it for you and for me,” he bellows.

Earning a doctorate he moves to a physically larger church in Syracuse which has fallen on hard times. He begins to do everything in his power to promote the church. Every person he meets in the streets he cajoles into coming to worship. He even inadvertently asks a Jewish man to join the church. When the fellow of God's Chosen People reveals his religion, Norman insists: "Go visit your Rabbi, then. He’s a great guy. I met him just the other day." He adds with the wink of a used car salesman: "Your Rabbi and I, we both work for the same boss, you know. Shalom!"

Norman drives attendance to record levels and he works like a madman to eliminate the mortgage on the Church. He does, of course, butt heads with the Deacons who are appalled that Norman has had the "poor taste" to adorn the entire town with colourful flyers bearing the following copy:
"Lost Your Gal? In a Lurch?
Don’t Panic, Pal. Go To Church!"
One of the spluttering Deacons declares: "You cannot build the house of the Lord on the foundation of the Devil."

Norman uses Christ to defend his methods and says that the Sermon on the Mount was how the Word was spread back in the olden days, but now, "God has given us other ways to get to men’s hearts."

For Norman, these "other ways" are ad copy.

And, of course, Norman finds love. He pursues Ruth (the wonderful late Diana Hyland), a beautiful, young college girl who spurns his advances thinking that a "good time gal" like her would never click with a Man of the Cloth. This is nonsense, however. Especially in Hollywood terms. They not only meet cute (she rear-ends his car), but as Norman himself says, "God’s most potent chemistry is when the attraction is mutual." And it most certainly is.

Hyland, by the way is extremely fetching in this role. She too toiled mostly in television during her career which was tragically cut short when she died of cancer. Most audiences will remember her from The Boy in the Plastic Bubble which she starred in with John Travolta. She and Travolta became a passionate item in real life (she was 17 years older than he was) and apparently, he was with her when she died and furthermore, was so traumatized by her passing that he wasn't seriously involved with any woman until he married Kelly Preston many years later. Rumour mongers and tabloids insist both she and Preston are beards to mask his purported gay proclivities. Whatever the truth, she was stunningly gorgeous, had great screen presence and in One Man's Way, she fills the love-interest role with sauciness and passion.

The remainder of the film details Norman taking over a huge Church in New York where he continues his hucksterism to boost attendance, becomes a popular radio personality, an advice columnist in Look Magazine and then puts the Lord's Words into his own and writes his bestselling self-help book "The Power of Positive Thinking".

The conflict between Norman and the established old guard of organized religion here takes centre stage and it's a fight to the finish. And WHAT a finish! Norman, on the verge of resigning is witness to one of God's miracles! Surely this will convince him to stay in the pulpit "for as long as God needs me."

This movie is one rip-snorting entertainment. The accent is on a driven iconoclast and in many ways the picture can work as either an affirmation of God or simply an affirmation of One Man's power.

Either way, it's an immensely uplifting picture and Don Murray gives such a great performance, one can only wonder why he wandered (mostly) through the vast wasteland of network television for the next four decades.

Perhaps, as Norman Vincent Peale and his ilk would say, it was God's Will.

One Man's Way is another release from the MGM Archives. It appears that most, if not all of these titles are not actual MGM productions (those are now part of the Warner Brothers library), but are rather all the independent films MGM picked up for distribution. The movie exists as an on-demand DVD-R. It's a no-frills affair with a premium price and a straight-up transfer. Happily, the source material is in excellent shape and the film looks pretty decent on a big monitor. This is especially a blessing since the movie is shot in full-bodied black and white by the legendary Director of Photography Ernest Laszlo (D.O.A., The Big Knife, Judgement at Nuremberg, Kiss Me Deadly, Stalag 17, While The City Sleeps, etc.)

Like all on-demand archives titles, only a few retailers stock any of them at all (in Toronto, Canada the Yonge-Dundas Sunrise Records store has a great selection) and the only other option is online ordering which not only costs the premium price but shipping and handling. I have a feeling, however, that this title is going to sell very well and ultimately should have had a proper DVD release.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

MR. LUCKY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Cary Grant's Dark Side Exposed in Crime Drama

Mr. Lucky (1943) dir. H.C. Potter
Starring: Cary Grant, Laraine Day, Charles Bickford, Paul Stewart, Gladys Cooper


Review By Greg Klymkiw

As a light romantic leading man, endowed as he was with infinite charm and that distinctive, mellifluously clipped delivery, nobody will ever really come close to the perfection that is Cary Grant. When we see his dark side - which is rare - there's no question he has had few equals as an actor. In spite of its cop-out conclusion, Grant presided over Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion with equal parts charm and malevolence. His brave work playing against type as a layabout Cockney in Clifford Odets's magnificent downer None But The Lonely Heart is, perhaps, the ultimate testament to his versatility.

Though he collaborated with Hitchcock four times, (Hitch loved him more than any other actor - including James Stewart), I think it's Grant's collaborations with the great George Stevens that yielded two of his finest performances: In Gunga Din, Grant proved he was equally at home in rock 'em sock 'em boys' adventure and in the exquisite, almost-criminally forgotten Penny Serenade, Grant not only wrenches tears from us, but delivers one key scene where he breaks down with such sadness, desperation and unflinching raw emotions, that one almost wishes he made more pictures like it - even if it were at the expense of forgoing some of his magnificent comedy.

Mr. Lucky is a picture I saw many times during those halcyon days of the seeming innocence of my childhood. From my first helping on a Sunday afternoon television broadcast to the numerous times I hunted down listings for it and watched the picture each and every time I could, it was a movie that - even then - obsessed me. I recall sensing just how odd it was - it felt, for much of its running time, like a breezy comedy, though with few laughs. When the laughs come, though, they're big, but for much of the picture, its wispy veneer needs only a few scratches to reveal a dark tale of deception and redemption.

I finally re-visited the picture for the first time in some 40-or-so years and was delighted to find its as strange, confounding and eminently compelling as it ever was.

Grant plays Joe Adams, a gambler, con man and owner of a gambling boat who fakes his death to avoid the draft (WWII) and assumes the identity of a lower-drawer dead thug called Joe Bascopolous. When he discovers that his new "identity" is a wanted three-time loser, he needs one major score so he can take it on the lam. He finds the perfect mark in the rich society gal Dorothy Bryant (Laraine Day) who is leading a major War Relief campaign. He charms her - of course - and convinces her to hold a major casino event that he will run for her. His goal, is to run the casino, steal the dough and hit the road - or in his case, the high seas.

It's a perfect sting.

The spanner in the works is that he genuinely falls in love with Dorothy. With the law on his tail, however, and Zepp (the deliciously smarmy Paul Stewart), his nasty, greedy partner putting the screws to him, Joe finds himself in a major pickle barrel.

Love or survival? These are his choices.

As directed by H.C. Potter, Mr. Lucky, is shrouded in portent. There's no doubt about it - the picture is strange. Some might say "flawed", but I think the movie's blend of doomed romance, redemption and desperation against the backdrops of both world war and the criminal underworld, is what makes it one of the most tantalizingly original films of this period and perhaps one of the best works to come out of RKO, the studio that gave us King Kong, Citizen Kane and the atmospheric Val Lewton horror pictures.

Potter was a brilliant Broadway stage director who made very few films. As a filmmaker, his output was erratic, but when he was good, he was great. His film version of the hit Olsen and Johnson Broadway show Hellzapoppin' was inspired insanity of the highest order and his helmsmanship of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (which also starred Grant), rendered one of the best film comedies of the 1940s. I also hold a special soft spot for his film adaptation of William Saroyan's Pulitzer Prize winning play, The Time of Your Life which featured one of James Cagney's best performances ever.

Mr. Lucky is a film that grapples with issues of shirking duty, responsibility and love. It's an incredibly complex and sophisticated work and even more surprisingly, was a huge hit for RKO. Perhaps the truly hilarious comedy set pieces were enough to inspire audiences of the day - God knows the sight of Cary Grant learning to knit is a mega-knee-slapper. But for all of the mirth, it's an extremely dark movie and is, in fact, rather daring in terms of blending light comedy with big themes that surely must have resonated with wartime audiences. They had to accept - even if the role WAS played by Cary Grant - that the protagonist was a liar, cheat, criminal, unrepentant womanizer and draft dodger.

Much as I'm going to sound like some old curmudgeon, I think the audiences of that time were, frankly, smarter. I find it hard to imagine a picture as strange and compelling as Mr. Lucky being a big hit in this day and age.

Mr. Lucky is available on DVD via the Warner Home Entertainment Archive Collection. This, of course means, a special order online of a DVD-R pulled from best available sources - at a premium price and including shipping costs. Of course, you'll find some retailers and rental houses do, indeed, carry it. In Toronto, Canada the best place is Sunrise Records' flagship store at Yonge and Dundas. Check your independent dealers. The transfer on this picture is pretty decent, but for the big bucks the studio is asking, you get the movie and a trailer in a keep case. I could care less about extras, however, as the movie is all I really want. $30 for a DVD-R is highway robbery. Alas, the studios know there are enough nutcases out there willing to pay it for movies they want.