Friday, 29 March 2013

BEYOND THE HILLS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Cristian Mungiu delivers harrowing masterwork in the tradition of Dreyer's great work focusing upon the exploitation of women within fundamentalist religions. Playing theatrically in Canada at TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX in Toronto via Mongrel Media.

Beyond the Hills (2012) *****
dir. Cristian Mungiu
Starring: Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Women who confess during their menstrual period are sinners. Afflicted with the said Woman's Time, they do not dare enter a church (Orthodox, of course - other denominations are unholy). It's highly inappropriate to expose the "dirty" condition of vaginal discharge to the face of God or his representatives.

In fact, women who commit any sins whatsoever are shit out of luck in Eastern Rite Christian religions and their penance for any affronts to Our Lord will rate more vigorous, painful prostrations than a priest can shake his censer of incense at. Related to this is that most orphanages (in virtually any former Communist state in Central/Eastern Europe) boot out their charges penniless at age 16-18. The young women who are lucky enough to be earmarked to serve God as a Nun are the few who can avoid being sold into sexual slavery upon leaving the orphanage.

Many of these women recruited to serve God have ironically already suffered abuse at the hands of orphanage officials who notoriously (and for a price), would look the other way while little girls in their care were forced to pose for child pornography. And then, once the "lucky few" chosen to serve God enter the religious institutions, they are repressed, humiliated and indoctrinated into a life of endless exploitation within the Eastern Rite worship of Christ.

I try to reserve the word "masterpiece" for motion pictures that have lived a bit longer in the world than this one, but I'm pretty convinced Cristian Mungiu (director of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) has created a film of lasting value. In its own way the film tells an extremely vital tale in a manner that contributes both to cinema as an art and perhaps even more importantly, to humanity.

So yes, Beyond the Hills is a masterpiece. It tells the harrowing and moving story of two friends who took separate paths after their release from a Moldavian orphanage and charts their heartbreaking reunion some years later. Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) joined a nearby monastery to become a nun under the strict patriarchy of an Orthodox priest referred to as "Papa" (Valeriu Andriuta). Alina (Cristina Flutur) has been living "alone" in Germany and working, so she says, as a waitress. Her plan is to extricate Voichita from the monastery so they can rekindle their deep love and friendship together.

God, or rather, religious hypocrisy and hysteria has other plans. What follows is as nightmarish an exploitation of women as the forced sex trade - the creepily insidious manner in which women are forced into the sexist, misogynistic and subservient roles that are so prevalent in cultures rooted in the centuries-old Eastern Rite religious traditions. Even more horrendous are the deep-seeded attitudes these cultures have towards orphans (also rooted in sexism and misogyny). For a huge majority of Eastern Rite followers, orphans take on the sins of their mothers and as such, our two central characters were born into a world that believed them to be lesser human beings because of this.

Mungiu charts the final weeks of the orphans' friendship in a style that is somewhat reminiscent of that employed by Carl Dreyer - most notably in the religious-themed Day of Wrath and Ordet. Visually, Mungiu's images are occasionally stark, but unlike the austere qualities Dreyer imbues his visuals with, Mungiu's frames are much more packed with details that border on neo-realism. Dreyer's approach is obviously more classical (in his own demented, compelling fashion), however he was so ahead of his time in terms of exploring themes of religious repression/oppression upon women. With Mungiu, and Beyond The Hills specifically, it feels like Dreyer has spawned a younger contemporary director to tackle similar themes in equally brilliant ways. Even more extraordinary is that BOTH directors - separated by decades - speak universally, and NOT ephemerally on this theme.

With Beyond the Hills, nothing in terms of production design ever seems less than real, but where Mungiu and Dreyer share approaches can be found in the tableau-styled takes and, of course, in the stories that are told. Dreyer might be one of the great film artists to have committed himself to the thematic concerns of women amidst religious and/or societal repression and their exploitation within these worlds. Clearly with the horrific tale of abortion, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and now Beyond the Hills, Mungiu continues in Dreyer's bold thematic and narrative tradition of placing women and their suffering in patriarchal worlds.

Mungiu's screenplay is quite exquisite. There is, on the surface, a relatively simple plot which allows him to layer numerous complex psychological layers and points of view (though the focus is always clear when it needs to be). His cast acquit themselves beautifully with the gorgeous writing he's wrought for them and the long, simple takes allow his cast to naturally bring the story beats alive and to play out in ways that never seem false or predictable.

Furthermore, and with the same mastery brought to bear in Dreyer's great work, Mungiu establishes a pace that is so hypnotic that the film's running time never seems as long as it actually is.

"Beyond The Hills", distributed by Mongrel Media, is playing theatrically in Canada at the Toronto International Film Festival's TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX.   For further information and tickets, visit the TIFF website HERE.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

EMPEROR - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Setting a movie in the period just after Japan's surrender in WWII is rife with possibilities. Alas, this dull, by-the-numbers, glorified TV movie discovers none of them.

I'm Popeye the Sailor Man.
I'm reconstructing the Isle of Japan.

Emperor (2012) *
dir. Peter Webber
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Matthew Fox, Eriko Hatsune

Reviewed by Greg Klymkiw

General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) and his right ball, General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) show up in Japan after the big ones have dropped and have orders to investigate Emperor Hirohito and a whole whack o' his military advisors as war criminals. They're under s strict deadline to do so and the whole affair seems doomed to failure because of the complexity of the issue and also the reluctance of Japanese higher-ups to participate - in some cases expressed by committing suicide. Fair enough - we're purportedly in for a thinking man's version of events during a period that's seldom been dealt with by the movies.

Alas, what a lifeless, dreary affair it all is. Oh, and not much in the way of "thinking" is on display.

The aesthetic offences of Emperor pile up like so many needlessly filled body bags. All stacked up like some beanstalk to the land of the giants betrays how not to make a movie. Fe-fi-fo-fum, I smells da' blood of an Uh-Mare-y-Kun!!! And it shore don't smell good.

The first (and maybe biggest) mistake is choosing to tell the story of the early days of Japan's reconstruction after Hiroshima and Nagasaki from an American perspective. How are we supposed to give a shit whether MacArthur and his protégé Fellers achieve their goals when the Americans are little more than occupying forces in a nation wherein 200,000 innocent civilians have been decimated by Uncle Sam's atom bombs? That Americans have the nerve to seek redress via war crime prosecution is, frankly, abominable and it's impossible to appreciate the film on that level - especially since America is as guilty of war crimes as anyone else in the many wars of the 20th century and beyond.

The second egregious failing is the film's clumsy attempts to insidiously mask the absurdity of all this by offering a two-sides-to-the-story sense of balance. I suspect we're supposed to believe the film's "sensitive" portrait of the interrogated Japanese officials as much as we're to accept Fellers' expression of shock at the shanty town conditions of the Hiroshima survivors by forcing himself into their bar to drown his sorrows (as an act of commiseration) and, lest I forget, the trite, hackneyed manner in which Fellers and his Japanese translator reach mutual respect and understanding of their common goals and differences.

The most horrendous nod to balance are the endless flashbacks to happier times when Fellers woos a Japanese exchange student. This results in a series of mawkish romance sequences that make The Notebook seem tough-minded and cynical. Imagine syrupy romps amongst bamboo trees swaying in the wind as seemingly digital coloured leaves flitter from the heavens. Ugh!

Oh, and this entire romantic subplot is pure fiction - no doubt to temper the foul reality of this shameful period of American history and deliver a feel-good (albeit tear-jerking) impetus for Fellers to "do the right thing".

An ideal way of presenting two sides of a complex struggle is how Clint Eastwood attacked it with his two, near-epic WWII pictures Letters From Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers. Clint's a real filmmaker, however, unlike the clowns who made Emperor (in particular the dullard director Peter Webber who has never made a good movie).

Emperor's third dive into the latrine are its sub-par technical achievements - everything from the flat lighting and dull compositions to the production design at all levels that seldom gives the impression that the sets and/or costumes have been imbued with a living and/or lived-in quality. Overall, it has the look of something aimed exclusively for TV, DVD and/or VOD consumption. There's sadly little to recommend it as a feature length drama that has some sense of time, place and sweep. The movie looks cheap - aimed ever-so obviously at audiences who've lost all sense of taste and discrimination.

Last, but not least, the performances of the two leads are downright miserable. Tommy Lee Jones does little more than mug and growl his way through the picture with MacArthur's trademark corn cob pipe jammed twixt his lips. It's like watching Japan's reconstruction being presided over by Popeye the Sailor Man. At least Jones looks like he's having fun.

Matthew Fox, however, is a complete washout. Upon seeing the movie, I was shocked that anyone would cast such a dour, lifeless sad sack with absolutely no screen presence. It feels like he occupies 2/3s of the film's shots, but he fades into the frame with less life than the shadows of the Hiroshima victims (who, incidentally, afforded a few de rigueur mentions in the picture. While watching the movie, I had no idea who Fox even was and during the dull bits (close to 100% of the picture), I was wracking my brain to remember what pictures I'd seen him in. A quick glance at Fox's Wikipedia emtry, I realized why I hadn't seen nor even remembered him - aside from a couple of forgettable movies, he's been almost exclusively working in television.

I don't watch TV. Sadly, watching Emperor, I realized I watch more TV than I give myself credit for since far too many movies these days are little more than TV on a big screen.

"Emperor" is in very limited theatrical release via Mongrel Media.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

WAKE IN FRIGHT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Canadian Director Ted Kotcheff's 1971 Classic exploration of machismo on the Australian outback now on the big screen and Blu-Ray. Savage, brutal and horrifying depiction of life in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

Wake in Fright – also known as: Outback (1971) Dir. Ted Kotcheff
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty, Al Thomas, Jack Thompson, Peter Whittle and Sylvia Kay


By Greg Klymkiw

It seems unthinkable in this day and age of film preservation and restoration that a motion picture classic made – not during the silent period of the early 20th century, but in 1971, a Cannes Palme D’Or nominee no less, and often cited (along with Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout from the same year) as the beginning of Australia’s revitalization as a filmmaking force – was one week away from having all of its original negative elements destroyed. After a two-year search all over the world at his own expense, the film’s editor Anthony Buckley finally discovered the elements in the bowels of the CBS vaults in Pittsburgh (no less) in a pile of items marked to be “junked” (industry parlance for “destroyed”) and, I reiterate, ONE WEEK from the date he found them.

Because of his Herculean efforts as well as the frame-by-frame restoration by the National Film and Sound Archives of Australia and Deluxe Labs, Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright (released outside of Australia as Outback) has a new lease on life – to shock and mesmerize audiences all over the world. Screened at Cannes in May of 2009 (only one of two features ever to be screened on two separate occasions at Cannes) and in a special presentation featuring Kotcheff in a personal dialogue on the film at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, Wake in Fright stands as one of the most powerful explorations of male savagery in the context of a topography that seems as rugged and barren as the surface of the Moon. In a world of Samuel Fuller and Sam Peckinpah, Kotcheff’s brilliant film holds its own.

I first saw the movie when I was about 13 or 14 years old as Outback during a late night showing on the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) when, during this time, Canadian content guidelines allowed for the broadcast of ANY film that came from Britain’s Commonwealth to meet said guidelines. (Because of this, we saw some really fine movies and TV series during the 60s and 70s.) It was a movie that completely bewildered and obsessed me. Even a full frame standard telecine transfer did not detract from its strangeness, its terrible and terrifying beauty and its depiction of a world so foreign to my own, yet seeming to be imbued with a quality that suggested to me, even then, that what I was seeing was the stuff of life itself. For over thirty years I looked and waited, seemingly in vain, to see it again. To think I almost didn’t have that opportunity because of the aforementioned disappearance and death sentence is now, after seeing it again much older and (hopefully) wiser (on a big screen in a pristine, lovingly restored 35mm print), makes me feel like I have been witness to a miracle.

And what a miracle this movie is! Kotcheff, the Canadian born, raised and trained director (trained via and not unlike Norman Jewison, within the legendary CBC television drama department of the late 50s and early 60s), has made his fair share of good pictures – most notably the Berlin Golden Bear Award winner The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the droll Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? and the first and, by far, the best of the Rambo pictures First Blood – but nothing in his canon comes close to the mind boggling perfection of Wake in Fright.

Stunningly photographed by Brian West, the picture opens on one spot of the desolation that is the outback of Australia and the camera proceeds to do a slow 360 degree turn – shocking us with the reality that the land is the same whichever direction one looks and that it seems to go on forever. Into this environment we’re introduced to the impeccably groomed and fussily attired schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond) who is about to leave the two-building rail town for a much-needed vacation to Sydney.

Grant describes his position as being enslaved to the Ministry of Education as they have required all new teachers to post a one-thousand-dollar bond to ensure they serve their entire first term in the most desolate postings imaginable. During a stopover in the bleak mining town of Bundanyabba, Grant meets Jock (played by legendary Aussie actor Chips Rafferty), an amiable policeman who plies him with beer. Soon our hero drunkenly indulges in a frenzied gambling spree and loses all of his money. Stranded, perpetually drunk and eventually and brain-numbingly hung-over, Grant is hosted by a motley crew of locals (several hard drinking macho men and one extremely horny single female) who proceed to take him into the very heart of the Australian darkness.

It appears Australians enjoy getting loaded and going out into the wilderness in the middle of the night to mercilessly slaughter kangaroos for fun.

The kangaroo hunt sequence is utterly sickening. It's impossible to believe it was all captured without using real kangaroos really being shot. Well, believe it. This was the 70s. People made real movies then and the sequence involves real kangaroos, real firearms and real carnage. It's supposed to be sickening an horrifyingly real - and it is. Enjoy!

Grant is practically force-fed steady supplies of beer, seduced by the lonely woman (which is scuttled when he pukes while trying to penetrate her), taken on a mad, drunken and vicious kangaroo hunt and finally locked in a sweaty, smelly and almost violently homoerotic coupling with the mad alcoholic doctor Tydon (a malevolent Donald Pleasance).

Donald Pleasance proves to be not too pleasant.
At first, we are shown a passive observer, but as the film progresses, he regresses to the same savage state as the men he initially holds his nose up to and he decidedly and actively engages in acts so barbaric that he is forced to confront his inner demons and is sickened to the point of contemplating suicide.

Not unlike the world of playwrights Eugene O’Neill and Edward Albee, we find ourselves in the realm of alcohol-fueled depravity and game playing. Like any respectable Walpurgisnacht, booze is sloshed into empty cups with abandon and full cups are drained greedily, but these pagans who celebrate ARE the tortured spirits walking amongst the living and any bonfires they create seemed to be aimed squarely at themselves. Furthermore, the movie presents a “Paradise Lost” situation where depravity is merely presented and much like John Milton’s “hero”, Grant makes a conscious choice to immerse himself in the foul macho shenanigans like a pig in shit.

This is one daring, nasty piece of work and without question, the movie Kotcheff will ultimately be best remembered for. He not only elicits fine performances from a stellar cast, but his mise-en-scene is pretty much perfect.

It’s also no coincidence that he is Canadian and perhaps the perfect director outside of Australia to have tackled this story so rooted in that nation’s pathology. Given that the vast majority of Canada’s population resides within 100 kms along the Canadian and U.S. border, the rest of this vast country north of the 49th parallel is not unlike the world of the Australian outback. (To all non-Canadians: just think of a land populated by SCTV’s hosers Bob and Doug McKenzie – seemingly benign, but below the simpleton surface, a roiling, frustrated, angry, bitter nation of moose-hunting psychopaths.)

As well, it is no surprise that it was Anthony Buckley, the editor of the film, who searched high and low for the lost negative elements, since the cutting in this picture has few equals. For the most part, things are delivered at a steady, unobtrusive pace, but when we’re in the territory of dreams or overtly physical action, the editing veers from measured to positively Eisensteinian. At times, the action borders on the hypnotic, while at other points, it’s as jarring and disturbing as the images and action engaged in by the characters.

This action, as designed by director Kotcheff, is expertly blocked. His shot choices are impeccable and most importantly, he seems perfectly at home in capturing the claustrophobic nature of both barren exteriors and interiors – where the only way to break free is to rage against the dying of the light that has, for the characters who populate this world, become life itself.

This picture rages, alright!

It’s one hell of a ride and we’re all the better for it.

"WAKE IN FRIGHT" is currently playing in Toronto at TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX. Please do yourself a favour and see it on a BIG SCREEN. For tickets and further information, please visit the TIFF website HERE.

Then buy the Drafthouse Films Blu-Ray, or if you must, DVD.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

JOHN DIES AT THE END - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Don Coscarelli delivers a terrifying and funny foray into a fantastical world replete with gore, gags and HORROR GALORE

JOHN DIES AT THE END is the brilliant new film by Master Genre Director Don Coscarelli. Be on the lookout for my in-depth interview with Mr. Coscarelli that will appear in the May-June 2013 issue of the legendary Joe Kane's ultra-cool genre print magazine "Phantom of the Movies VIDEOSCOPE". Until then, here's my RAVE REVIEW of a new Horror Classic from the director of the PHANTASM films and the magnificent BUBBA-HO-TEP!!!

John Dies at the End (2012) ****

dir. Don Coscarelli

Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Glynn Turman, Clancy Brown

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Don Coscarelli is, without question, the real thing - a truly inspired Master of Horror. (He might also be certifiably insane, but what do I know? I'm no shrink.) As the director of cult classics like the Phantasm pictures (with Angus Scrimm as the diabolical wielder of blood suckin' and a spurtin' silver spheres) and the finest entry in that unbeatable genre of Elvis-duelling-with-dangerous-denizens-of-Ancient-Egypt Bubba-Ho-Tep, his latest offering is one mo-fo of an eye-popping mind-bender.

John Dies at the End gives new meaning to the oft-heard phrase in only the finest grease-laden, alley-cat-for-chicken-serving Oriental restaurants in the Occident - "Can you please pass the Soya Sauce?"

If you buy me a MEAT MONSTER today,
I will gladly pay you back on Tuesday.
Oh, and what a delectable platter of Szechuan Steak Coscarelli's new movie is - like mouth watering morsels of fine flank (of cow, NOT dog), marinated in the saltiest Eastern Black Gold and wokked within an inch of its life in an indelible mixture of oil, garlic, ginger, scallions and, of course, the distinctive pepper from the dried rind of the prickly ash tree. The picture serves up gore, shocks and suspense accompanied by healthy dollops of black humour and psychedelic surrealism that ranks right up there with a Dim Sum rice roll chock full of Luis Buñuel, Alejandro Jodorowsky and James Whale.

Damn! Before I get too hungry, allow me to dive directly in to what you're going to see in this contemporary genre classic. In a nutshell, two best buds, David (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes), are mega-slackers - not unlike Bill and Ted, only they're not stupid and they go on an adventure that is in no way, shape or form an EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (though we, the viewers, are afforded a most excellent adventure, indeed).

And how, pray tell do they find themselves on this harrowing journey up the river into a veritable heart of darkness? Simple. They've gone and ingested a completely mind-pummelling hallucinogen called - you guessed it (or not) - SOYA SAUCE.

Now, if you will, put on your mathematician's hat and add together every bad acid trip you've ever taken, multiplied by every single bad acid trip anyone's ever taken and our heroes are plunged with Hoover Dam ferocity into a world of scary shit where reality morphs with fantasy until the world of the trip becomes horrifyingly real to the extent where everything they think is real springs to life as a nightmare that never ends and keeps turning in on itself repeatedly and with more convolutions than the too-sickeningly-horrendous results of, say, Terence Malick on crack cocaine.

The hallucinogen itself is, you see, not some mere chemical. Soya Sauce is a living thing - a slithering, slurping glob of putrid viscous discharge that rips your sense of reality into a finely blended wad of chopped liver and KFC creamy coleslaw.

This stuff fucks you up big time. It scares the living faecal matter out of you, but worse, it - and most of all - what IT creates is alive. It's so alive, you can die at any time and frankly, you might actually be dead already - careening wildly from one horrendous scenario to another in a purgatory of horror with no end.

Add to this witch's brew the likes of Paul Giamatti as a sleazy reporter trying to get both the truth AND the Sauce, the brilliant Clancy Brown as an Amazing Kreskin-like Mentalist crossed with Tony Robbins and, like Hugh Hefner, always flanked (as it were) by a bevy of bodacious babes and last, but not least, one of the great living contemporary character actors Glynn Turman as a cop who meets way more than he bargained for when he's forced into dealing with a scourge that exceeds every slime-bucket he's ever had to deal with in leaps and bounds.

Coscarelli handles these proceedings with imagination, skill and one hell of a great sense of humour - NEVER tongue in cheek, but always rooted in the absurdist elements of the drama itself. Revealing anymore, however, will do you absolutely no favours. And as for the title, there's a damn compelling reason for you to keep watching. If John dies at the end, how, OH HOW will he finally bite the bullet within the context of this complete whack-job of an utterly inspired fright-fest.

"John Dies at the End" is playing across Canada for one night only as part of Raven Banner's visionary foray into the Cineplex Entertainment Front Row Centre events.


Here's a complete list of participating cinemas:

Lotus Land
Odeon Victoria Cinemas – Victoria, BC
Galaxy Cinemas Nanaimo – Nanaimo, BC
Colossus Langley Cinemas – Langley, BC
Silvercity Riverport Cinemas – Richmond, BC
Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas – Vancouver, BC
(NOTE: Dope Smoking not allowed in cinemas, so toke-up before you enter the premises and/or discreetly utilize the handicapped crappers. Do not forget to disarm smoke detectors and sprinklers.)

Stevie Harper KKK Headquarters
Scotiabank Theatre Edmonton – Edmonton, AB
Scotiabank Theatre Chinook – Calgary, AB
(NOTE: Cross Burnings not allowed indoors. Moonshine not for sale in cinemas, but can be smuggled in.)

Armpit of Canada
Galaxy Cinemas Regina – Regina, SK
Galaxy Cinemas Saskatoon – Saskatoon, SK
(NOTE: You must leave your livestock tethered to the front of the cinemas. Feel free to smuggle in your own smoked hog ears for good eatin' during the show.)

Second Biggest Armpit of Canada
SilverCity Polo Park Cinemas – Winnipeg, MB
(NOTE: The rest of the province is mosquito-ridden swamp land populated by inbreds who do not watch movies or do much of anything besides fight and fornicate in the winter and fish with dynamite charges and big nets in the summer - beer included.)

Centre of the Known Universe (and surrounding environs)
Cineplex Odeon Devonshire Mall Cinemas – Windsor, ON
SilverCity London Cinemas – London, ON
Galaxy Cinemas Waterloo – Waterloo, ON
Cineplex Odeon Winston Churchill Cinemas – Oakville, ON
SilverCity Hamilton Cinemas – Hamilton, ON
Cineplex Cinemas Mississauga – Mississauga, ON
Cineplex Odeon Queensway Cinemas – Toronto, ON
Colossus Vaughan Cinemas – Vaughan, ON
SilverCity Fairview Mall Cinemas – Toronto, ON
Cineplex Odeon Yonge & Dundas Square Cinemas – Toronto, ON
Cineplex Odeon Eglinton Town Centre Cinemas – Scarborough, ON
Coliseum Ottawa Cinemas – Ottawa, ON
SilverCity Gloucester Cinemas – Ottawa, ON
SilverCity Sudbury Cinemas – Sudbury, ON
(NOTE: Torontonians proclaim that Toronto is the Centre of the Known Universe. Most of us know better - especially all the venues OUTSIDE the GTA)

La Belle Province
Cineplex Odeon Forum Cinemas – Montreal, QC
(NOTE: French people do not like horror movies as they are all Catholic. The few who do are politely asked to leave their separatist literature at home and refrain from screaming "Je me souviens!" every ten fucking minutes.)

Monday, 25 March 2013

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Remarkably stupid and propagandistic American action thriller delivers its goods in a honest fashion. It's an entertaining piece of crap.

A good day to die hard and kill half the population of North Korea when they take control of the White House

Olympus Has Fallen (2013) **
Dir. Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Rick Yune, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, Melissa Leo, Ashley Judd

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Olympus Has Fallen is - hands down - one of the stupidest movies made during the last decade and yet, in spite of its zero I.Q. the picture manages to deliver exactly what it promises; violence, American Propaganda, more violence, dreadful dialogue and even more violence (much of the aforementioned bone crunching and blood-letting handled decently).

Essentially, what we're served up is tale involving Secret Service Dude Gerard Butler. Having been busted down to a desk job after a mission goes horribly wrong, our hero finds himself conveniently located round the corner from the White House as North Korean terrorists mount an armed assault upon Washington, D.C.

Revenge and redemption are on the way.

Butler's best friend, President Aaron Eckhart and a few other high-on-the-totem-pole mucky-mucks are kidnapped by smarmy North Korean terrorist Rick Yune whilst his loyal hordes of faceless Koreans kill innocent bystanders and every single armed man in and around the White House. The Koreans are so vicious that they go to every dispatched American body and blow the brains out of the corpses - just to make sure. Worst of all it seems the nasty Korean pig wants to set off American nukes in a manner which will ensure consequences of the most dire kind.

Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett fret in the Pentagon while Butler infiltrates the White House and for the lion's share of the picture's running time, brutally kills one faceless Korean after another. In one of the most hilariously vicious scenes in movie history, Butler bludgeons someone repeatedly with the bust of Abraham Lincoln.

Between acts of violence, Butler growls zingers at the terrorist like: "Why don't you and I play a game of Fuck Off. You first." He also has some choice lines lobbed at the bureaucrats in the Pentagon who balk at providing him Top Secret information, even though he's their only hope: "I have the proverbial need to fuckin' know!"

Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) is a mediocre talent, but here he sets up a few genuinely decent suspense and action sequences. I have to admit being on the edge of my seat more than a few times. There's a dark, grainy mise-en-scene to the picture I also enjoyed.

The large all-star cast acquits themselves as expected. Gerard Butler is a more than average actor who finally gets his groove as an action star. David Yune makes for a deliciously smarmy villain as does Dylan McDermott. The balance of the cast all put in familiar competent performances. The biggest disappointment is Ashley Judd - not because of anything she does, but because she's such a radiant, sexy and fine actress and she's wasted in a thankless role.

Is the movie propaganda? It sure is. For some reason, though, maybe because it doesn't purport to be truthful in order to distort like Ben Affleck's bonheaded Argo, I was able to enjoy it on its own moronic terms.

"Olympus Has Fallen" is currently in wide theatrical release via VVS Films.

Sunday, 24 March 2013


Raven Banner Launches Exciting
Genre Film Series Across Canada

by Greg Klymkiw

Raven Banner, the exciting genre-friendly company that specializes in strategic project management of innovative independent motion pictures is launching an extremely exciting series for genre fans in Canada. Sinister Cinema is a brand new monthly showcase of what promises to be some very cool horror movies. In addition to the movies, there will be a grand sense of showmanship allowing for added value goodies (consider it DVD/Blu-Ray extras - LIVE at Big-Screen venues). Personal appearances, Live Q & A's and exclusive pre-recorded intros plus interviews are just some of the planned delights to enhance the movie-going experience. The movies will screen at 25 Cineplex Entertainment screens across Canada. The venues are:

Lotus Land
Odeon Victoria Cinemas – Victoria, BC
Galaxy Cinemas Nanaimo – Nanaimo, BC
Colossus Langley Cinemas – Langley, BC
Silvercity Riverport Cinemas – Richmond, BC
Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas – Vancouver, BC
(NOTE: Dope Smoking not allowed in cinemas, so toke-up before you enter the premises and/or discreetly utilize the handicapped crappers. Do not forget to disarm smoke detectors and sprinklers.)

Stevie Harper KKK Headquarters
Scotiabank Theatre Edmonton – Edmonton, AB
Scotiabank Theatre Chinook – Calgary, AB
(NOTE: Cross Burnings not allowed indoors. Moonshine not for sale in cinemas, but can be smuggled in.)

Armpit of Canada
Galaxy Cinemas Regina – Regina, SK
Galaxy Cinemas Saskatoon – Saskatoon, SK
(NOTE: You must leave your livestock tethered to the front of the cinemas. Feel free to smuggle in your own smoked hog ears for good eatin' during the show.)

Second Biggest Armpit of Canada
SilverCity Polo Park Cinemas – Winnipeg, MB
(NOTE: The rest of the province is mosquito-ridden swamp land populated by inbreds who do not watch movies or do much of anything besides fight and fornicate in the winter and fish with dynamite charges and big nets in the summer - beer included.)

Centre of the Known Universe (and surrounding environs)
Cineplex Odeon Devonshire Mall Cinemas – Windsor, ON
SilverCity London Cinemas – London, ON
Galaxy Cinemas Waterloo – Waterloo, ON
Cineplex Odeon Winston Churchill Cinemas – Oakville, ON
SilverCity Hamilton Cinemas – Hamilton, ON
Cineplex Cinemas Mississauga – Mississauga, ON
Cineplex Odeon Queensway Cinemas – Toronto, ON
Colossus Vaughan Cinemas – Vaughan, ON
SilverCity Fairview Mall Cinemas – Toronto, ON
Cineplex Odeon Yonge & Dundas Square Cinemas – Toronto, ON
Cineplex Odeon Eglinton Town Centre Cinemas – Scarborough, ON
Coliseum Ottawa Cinemas – Ottawa, ON
SilverCity Gloucester Cinemas – Ottawa, ON
SilverCity Sudbury Cinemas – Sudbury, ON
(NOTE: Torontonians proclaim that Toronto is the Centre of the Known Universe. Most of us know better - especially all the venues OUTSIDE the GTA)

La Belle Province
Cineplex Odeon Forum Cinemas – Montreal, QC
(NOTE: French people do not like horror movies as they are all Catholic. The few who do are politely asked to leave their separatist literature at home and refrain from screaming "Je me souviens!" every ten fucking minutes.)

And now, the MOVIES.

I've seen two of them and THEY FUCKING ROCK!!!

My critical accolades or lack thereof
are not available for the rest at press time.

My Review of "John Dies at the End" is available by clicking HERE

March 27, 2013: Don (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) Coscarelli's blackly humourous fright-fest John Dies At The End

May 9, 2013: Rue Morgue founder and publisher Rodrigo Gudiño's feature debut The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh

May 30, 2013: The Best Fucking Horror Movie of 2012, American Mary

June 19, 2013: Sicko Ryuhei (The Midnight Meat Train) Kitamura's No One Lives


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

THE LAST POGO JUMPS AGAIN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Epic Documentary on the history of Punk Rock in Toronto will speak to anyone and everyone who lived in a place and time where an iconoclastic music scene was the tie to bind all those who were mad as hell and couldn't take the boring Status Quo anymore!!!

The Last Pogo Jumps Again (2012) ****
Dir. Colin Brunton, Kire Papputs

Review By Greg Klymkiw
PREAMBLE - Winnipeg's Punk Scene
So, like, some dude who works on the docks, his name is Réjean, corners you in a stall at Jilly's and says: "Suck my dick". We've all been there before. Right? Both parties are too skint to hit the V.I.P. room for some private dancing and before you can say, "Gimme summa lovin'", you're greedily gobbling the knob of this bearded, seven-footer with a plaid shirt and hoping for a nice reach-around. We've all been there. Right? So, okay, what if the same dude traps you in the shitter and growls, "Slaveto my dick!" - you're going to be, like, "The fuck, Réjean? You want me to WHAT?" From the late 70s until I can't remember when, the aforementioned conversation played out in my mind whenever I drove by an old garment district building in the Market Square area of Winnipeg that featured this spray-painted graffiti prominently displayed on its grey cement wall:
Moments after I first read those words (in double-take, mind you) I knew the graffiti was that great song "SLAVE TO MY DICK" by Vancouver punk band, The Subhumans. Some moron with a can of spray paint was shit-facedly inspired to splooge the words via aerosol in a prominent location. The bonehead placed the words "slave" and "to" too fucking close together. This might not be true, but I remember the graffiti remained for decades after it first appeared - a beacon at the entranceway to this 7 or 8 square blocks in downtown Winnipeg that had become the stomping grounds of artists, actors, filmmakers, junkies, drunks, hookers and, of course, punks. It was a scene, know what I mean? And for about four years, the punk scene fuelled the crazy alternative film making scene at the Winnipeg Film Group. I can't think of a single person in their mid-40s-50s from the 'Peg who makes movies and WASN'T part of that scene. Great 'Peg punk and new wave bands - and I mean GREAT bands - belted out the coolest sounds imaginable. Bars like the Royal Albert or, my favourite, the "Chuckles" (or to malcontent veterans, the St. Charles Hotel) featured gig upon gig with local Winnipeg Punk/NewWavers like the Popular Mechanix, Personality Crisis, Dub Rifles, Lowlife, The Stretch Marks, Discharge, The Psychiatrists, The Bristow Hoppers - the list goes on and on - and bookers (often Winnipeg band members themselves) peppered the local acts with whatever punks from Toronto, Vancouver or the USA who could get their shit together enough to play the 'Peg. I was running a West-End movie theatre that played mostly cult films, sometimes sprinkled with live acts ("Nash the Slash VS. Eraserhead" read one of the immortal handbills). The "Scene" would come see a movie or two, blast down to the garment district, catch a punk band, then head to Walter and Megan's Lithium Cafe to belt back joe with tired hookers and their hopped-up pimps. This happened pretty much every night for many moons.
It's funny now, how many film or media people frolicked about the punk scene. John Paizs directed the quaintly perverse cinematic equivalent to 'Peg Punk with his brilliant short film The Obsession of Billy Botski and, years later he used the great Popular Mechanix song "IceBox City" during a joyous dance sequence in his immortal feature length cult classic Crime Wave. Guy Maddin blew his inheritance from Aunt Lil (her beauty parlour became the studio set for Tales from the Gimli Hospital) on 78 recordings of fruity 20s/30s tenors from this amazing store in Minneapolis, but also collected the most amazing number of punk albums which he purchased from Winnipeg's immortal Pyramid Records. Guy would gather everyone round to his place, quaintly adorned with his late Aunt Lil's doilies, and spin Richard Crooks singing Stephen Foster's "Old Black Joe", then switching from 78 to 33rpm, he'd announce something a bit more "challenging" was on its way - code for: this is some good shit I got from Pyramid Records and it's going to blow you the fuck away. In delicious contrast to "Old Black Joe", the needle gently found its groove and the room swelled with the aural explosion of Feederz crooning "Jesus Entering From The Rear". Radio producer John Copsey (he wears suits now) led a punk band that devoted themselves to worshipping the survivalist movement as preached on Winnipeg's community cable station TV show "Survival" featuring yours truly and Guy Maddin as apocalypse-welcoming rednecks. Lead singer of several great Winnipeg punk bands was none other than heartthrob Kyle McCulloch who starred in virtually every early John Paizs and Guy Maddin film and eventually became a head writer on TV's South Park. And lest we forget, Canada's highly esteemed journalist and political pundit in all media, Mr. Andrew Coyne, took to the stage with several other burgeoning writers from the University of Manitoba newspaper and in punk tradition, nary a one of them could actually play, but they gave their all as The Nimrods.
Happy times for many. Times that led to even happier times - for some. All were ultimately inspired by Winnipeg's punk scene, but most of all, the brilliant local artists - the musicians who made you soar higher than a kite with kickass punk/new wave music were the big motivators who instilled a more anarchic, freewheeling, devil-may-care spirit in so many of us to push the limits of our own lives and artistic pursuits. The music, unlike the arts inspired by it, had NO outlets of support to take the music and musicians to the next natural level. There were a few limited tapes or EPs cut, a handful of extremely indie albums, but this genuinely brilliant period of Winnipeg music - post The Guess Who and pre The Crash Test Dummies - lives in the minds, memories and movies of all those who loved it deeply and were fuelled by seeing it LIVE - night after night after blessedly blasphemous night.

It took about 30 seconds of screen time for me to feel a surge of the old excitement I used to get in my late teens and early 20s in the aforementioned Winnipeg Scene. Here I was, watching The Last Pogo Jumps Again, the alternately thrilling and depressing but ultimately powerful story of the Toronto Scene de la PUNK and it mattered not that it was Toronto. Hell, I kind of felt like I was back in Winnipeg all over again.

I embraced the crazy, scrappy, downright dangerous insanity of this terrific documentary and fully accepted its body, its blood - like an unholy sacrement drained and scourged from the everlasting soul of Sid Vicious himself who died, NOT for OUR sins, but for his own and for the rest of us who were willing to commit our own - no matter how heinous or benign. This downright wonderful picture by Brunton and Papputs is a sacrament and I accept its fuck-you-filmmaking-moxie as much as I allow its people, places and music into my very soul as if they were my very own.

On the surface - this is a movie that shouldn't work - at least not by the standards of many un-cool fuck-wads who make cultural decisions in this country at both the public and private sectors - propped up comfortably on the nests they feather atop the podiums they take their dumps-a-plenty from as if they were showering the Great Unwashed with gold. It shouldn't work, but it does. Some might say it is solely about a subject only 100 or so people might get into. They'd be wrong. Others will complain (usually without seeing it) that the movie is too long - 3 hours and 20 minutes PLUS an intermission. Again - WRONG. I saw a much longer version and then this shorter version and frankly, I wish the filmmakers stuck to the original length. In fact, they could have made it even longer for some extra-sweet fuck-you cherries on the ice cream sundae.

Some might say the movie is a mess. Yeah, it is - sort of, but brilliantly and subversively it's a documentary equivalent to the punk scene itself and that's one of the many things I admire about it.

Here's the deal, when legendary Canadian film producer Colin Brunton was a teenager, he worked as an usher at the Roxy Theatre in Toronto - a deliciously fucked joint on the East End that combined 99-cent double features of art films and art sleaze with a kick-ass music scene. This temple of all things anti-peace-love-and-prebyterianism-a-la-Toronto was the jumping off point for so many who would contribute to one of the most thrilling music in the country.

Eventually the Scene moved further west in the otherwise Presbyterian pole-up-the-ass city. Pockets of fuck-you exploded at the New Yorker Theatre, along Spadina, in Kensington and, of course, Queen Street West when it wasn't full of fuck-wit rich people pretending to be poor. And the biggest fuck you explosion in Toronto was the exciting punk rock new wave scene.

Brunton and Papputs focus on a two year window - beginning at the Roxy and New Yorker Theatre gigs and ending with the famous Last Pogo when the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen decided to flush punk off its stages forever and a legendary concert that eventually culminated with a visit from Toronto's Finest Porkers with their night sticks and guns to boot the bands off the stage and patrons out onto the street. In reality, the window of this history is probably a wee bit larger, but what happens within the period the filmmakers choose to focus on is pretty much the trajectory that occurred not only in Toronto, but Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal - anywhere in Canada that had a vibrant punk scene, lots of devoted fans and absolutely no support from most of the mainstream media and a total fucking from the music business (like, what else is new?). The music business - virtually non-existent in Canada anyway - chose to ignore the Scene and for the one or two bands they took a passing fancy to, they basically sucked them RAW and DRY.

Uh, and like, what else is new?


Brunton was fully enmeshed in the whole Scene and chose to document the Last Pogo concert at the Horseshoe with a 16mm camera ('natch). This resulted in a scrappy little movie called ... come on, give it a guess ... come on, you can do it - Yesiree-Bob!!! You win the fuckin' Kewpie Doll - it was called The Last Pogo.

That was then - this is now and during the past six years the filmmakers embarked on an odyssey to interview as many members of the Scene as possible and create a document that would serve as an artistic and living testimony to a slice of Canadian popular culture that many would prefer to forget and/or even refuse to acknowledge it even (or ever) existed.

And The Last Pogo Jumps Again is a joy - a real joy. Blending new and archival interviews and footage with all the onstage and behind the scenes players, the movie tells a tale as inspiring as it is sad - but what keeps the whole thing buoyant is the mad genius on view in both the words and performances of the likes of D.O.A., The Viletones, Teenage Head and all the rest of this Scene of gloriously talented purveyors of fuck-you-and-the-horse-you-fucking-rode-in-on. Some of those interviewed keep playing, others have morphed their love of music into other areas of the music business while some have chosen to grow up and get real jobs - and it's a testament to the obsessive qualities of the filmmaking itself that it's simply impossible to NOT like anyone in the picture.

Some of the interview highlights for me were poignant moments with the late Frankie Venom of Teenage Head, the brilliant, erudite Andy Paterson of The Government and without question, the vitriol-and-venom spewing Steve Leckie from the Viletones - a poet, an artist, a gentleman curmudgeon of the highest order.

The Last Pogo Rides Again definitely feels like a Joseph-Conrad-like boat ride into some kind of Hell that always feels like a Heaven as imagined by Anton LaVey. Brunton and Papputs are the two halves of Willard on a mission that seems to have no real end. And if there is a heart of darkness on display, a Kurtz, if you will, it feels like every Status Quo fuck-wad that ignored this exciting scene.

And it's an important film. So much of Canada's truly vibrant culture has been squashed or ignored. Here's a film that holds up a slice of it that not only created great work in and of itself, but was an inspiration and seed for so much that followed in a variety of artistic mediums.

Never mind the cornucopia of great artists, filmmakers, writers, playwrights, actors and other truly gifted iconoclasts who sprouted from Toronto's Punk Scene - they're out there, doing their thing - they know who they are and so do we. But a word about the visionary Colin Brunton: he might well be the true soul and pulse of indie filmmaking in the Toronto Scene and even to this day, one feels his visionary influence upon the first two great rock pictures directed by Bruce McDonald. Roadkill and Highway 61 feel very much like they're as much Brunton's sensibilities as they are McDonald's. What sets Brunto apart from most producers in this country is that he doesn't come from some bullshit rarified place - he's the real thing. He's been there. He's done that. And all his collaborations feel like they're moulded and charged by his love for film, his knowledge of ALL the rules - artistically AND practically - so he can motherfucking break them when necessary and finally, his genuine life experience which he injects into every project he undertakes.

He's all over The Last Pogo Rides Again, but he clearly has a collaborator in Paputts that shares this crazy-ass vision. They clearly make a great team because they've made a great movie.

See it. Or die, motherfucker!

"The Last Pogo Rides Again" has its World Premiere in Toronto as part of Canadian Music Week at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on March 23rd at 1:00pm. CMW is a grand event and ultimately the ideal venue to launch this film.

That said, I expected a larger profile film-related launch - like say the upcoming Hot Docs Film Festival. However, Colin Brunton is one savvy fucker and no doubt chose CMW over Hot Docs. The Hot Docs folks are, no doubt, thoroughly pissed off that they're not launching this great film. They'd have filled every seat in the house over the course of their festival. Good for Brunton and Paputts, though. They'll have all those seats in their pockets and then some if they choose a theatrical launch. That said, I can hardly wait for some kind of deluxe Blu-Ray - a numbered limited edition Box-set with the full version of the movie I originally saw - maybe even a LONGER one, tons of the good shit that hit the cutting room floor, commentaries galore and, for good measure a two-by-four-across-the-teeth soundtrack. Tickets for the World Premiere can be had for only !0 FUCKING BUCKS - is that a DEAL or what, fuckers? You can even order Tix by clicking the handy-dandy link HERE. So Do IT. The fuck else you doing on Saturday? Jerking off? Thumbing your asshole? Or sticking your dick through a glory hole to get some chump to slaveto the fuck out of it? Just see the fuckin' movie!!!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

SKULL WORLD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Feature Documentary Offers Mild Entertainment But Shies Away From The Tough Questions

Skull World (2013) **1/2
dir. Justin McConnell
Review By Greg Klymkiw

Maybe it's just me, but if I was going to spend two years shooting a documentary about a 30-something gravedigger living in a godforsaken suburban wasteland where he and other like-minded and mostly single men of a similar age engage in Box War role playing games, chances are pretty good I'd be looking for some answers - REAL ANSWERS. To do that, I'd have to be a prick - like most reporters and documentarians, really. At first, you're their best friend, but you use that to whatever degree you have to in order to yank shit out of your subjects that's going to go way beyond the surface. I have no problem with that approach at all - when you're making a documentary focusing upon oddball (some might say aberrant) activities - you need to go the distance in order to truthfully examine certain elements of the human condition.

With Skull World, director Justin McConnell delivers a straight forward, amiable look at Greg Sommer and his pals as they construct elaborate costumes and play-weapons out of cardboard boxes. On weekends, scads of similarly adorned enthusiasts meet in the great outdoors and whack each other with cardboard. Eventually, Greg gets super serious about his hobby and begins to build a Canadian league of box-wearing combatants.

Fair enough. Different strokes and all that. God bless them, everyone.

But seriously, a 100-minute uncritical ode to these guys?

Look, the last thing one would want to do is make fun of them, right? Well, actually - WRONG! It'd be good for quite a few hearty guffaws and knee-slaps, but after awhile, this approach would start feeling super stale, super fast. Making fun of these guys would ultimately be like shooting cows tethered to a post with a rocket launcher - way too easy and rife with potential to get repetitive and dull.

McConnell takes his subjects seriously enough that he treats them with respect and genuinely wants to understand, and subsequently allow us to have some insight into their activities. It seems to me though that he's almost going out of his way to put them in a positive light, though as the film's on-screen "host" and narrator I do think he's completely on the level. He's a nice guy, not without talent and he so seriously wants to get his subjects' perspective that he even straps a camera to his head and jumps into the fray of a Box War.

Look, no problem. The movie has decent and occasionally exceptional production value, but there are so many loose ends that are touched upon, then left dangling. One of many examples is Sommer's job at the graveyard. Okay - let me at him. This is phenomenal stomping grounds for some serious lines of questioning. Even Sommer eventually quits the job to concentrate on his freelance work and the Box War activities which makes total sense, but he fleetingly mentions the vibes, the dark spiritual emanations that weigh him down emotionally.

Call me the biggest spoil sport in the world, but this is way more interesting than any of the Box War stuff. So interesting that it could have actually shed light on the Box War activities in truly incisive ways. We occasionally get shots in the early proceedings of Sommer at work - actually in freshly dug open graves. I longed for the filmmaker to dive in there with the camera and just start talking to the guy about his job. After all, Sommer's Box War persona is the "Skull Man" and he even admits how much he enjoys some of the darker, supernatural elements of heavy metal music.

God, this Greg Sommer guy is, to my mind, far more interesting as a human being than his hobby, but by focusing upon his obsessive involvement in the game itself and his need to legitimize it has only surface resonance. Sommer is clearly an artist. There's nothing "weird" about him, he's trying to push the boundaries of life - have fun, make art and furthermore, live his life as if it WAS a work of art.

For some, what's on display will be enough. Again, aside from feeling a touch longer than it needs to be, it's well crafted, BUT... a BIG BUT - it falls short of its potential.

The movie finally feels like an extended pilot for a speciality channel TV series rather than a theatrical documentary with real scope - one that finds truth and substance in Sommer's journey to the extent that it does him the justice I believe he deserves as a very complex individual and furthermore allowing the audience opportunities to examine their own lives by holding up the lives of Sommers and his cohorts as strange mirror images of all of us.

What's even more frustrating is that Sommer's work at the graveyard is just ONE of numerous interesting tidbits in his life beyond the Box Wars that are thrown at us and dropped. I wish the director had plumbed this stuff with far more diligence and intensity. I suspect he might have found himself with a movie that bordered on the kind of depth and importance that would have placed it well beyond its current ephemeral and meagre entertainment value, but his very approach hemmed him into a position that he perhaps had only one was to go with it - the one we see now.

For me, it's a major league drag. The movie dabbles with aspects that are potentially harrowing, but never delivers beyond what is served up on the surface.

Skull World gives us the bones, a genuine structure and story arc, but where's the real meat? The stuff we can REALLY sink our teeth into?

"Skull World" is playing at Toronto's Canadian Film Fest at the Royal Cinema on March 22.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

LEGEND OF A WARRIOR - DVD Review By Greg Klymkiw


I first saw this fabulously entertaining feature documentary one year ago. Now available on DVD, I've taken a third helping and the movie not only holds up for yet another ocular fix, but within the context of a home view, allows one to take in the more subtle, moving and emotional human elements beneath the considerable martial arts razzle-dazzle. This, of course, suggest the picture's sustainability for repeat viewing and at the very affordable Amazon price-point above, a much better hard-copy-buy than the much inferior download or streaming formats also available through other venues.  More on the DVD below the review of the film itself at the bottom of the page.

"Legend of a Warrior" was one of my top 15 films at Hot Docs 2012. It's now available on DVD from the National Film Board of Canada. The movie is a touching, well crafted father-son story set against the backdrop of martial arts and featuring plenty of real-life chopsocky in the gym where the director reconnects with his Dad, one of the most famous and respected martial arts trainers in the world.

Legend of a Warrior (2012) ***1/2 dir. Corey Lee
Starring: Frank Pang Lee, Corey Lee, Billy Chow

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There's nothing more exciting on film than movement. Yeah, sounds nuts, right? Movies are movement. Moving pictures. Motion pictures. The movies.

The movement I'm referring to, is when the camera captures a great dance number or chase scene or fight. In recent years, however, all three of those actions have succumbed to supplicating the vile MTV-and-post-MTV generations with annoying ADHD-styled shooting and cutting. You know the kind - the camera never rests for more than a few seconds on some poorly composed shot and is cut montage-like to fake the rhythm. Sound drives the cuts more often than not. Picture is secondary when it comes to conveying information, dramatic beats, emotional beats and/or to provide juxtapositional imagery to convey a thought or idea.

This drives me completely up the wall. It's lazy filmmaking and denies audiences the true power and beauty of an exquisitely choreographed dance, chase or fight.

Luckily, if Legend of a Warrior had nothing else going for it (and it has plenty to offer), it has the distinction of featuring a whole passel of terrific fight scenes (mostly within the context of training action in the gym). And Glory Be To The Mighty Lord of Cinema, the picture is shot the way pictures involving action should be shot - mostly in long, wide or medium shots and only punching in for anything closer when there's a reason to do so. Most of the time, the superb camera work hangs back and the editing is spare in all the right ways.

Given the film's title and the way I've chosen to lead my review, you might think I was describing a new action picture starring Jason Statham. Curiously, I first watched Legend of a Warrior at the previous instalment of the Hot Docs Festival just after seeing Statham's newest fight-fest Safe (which is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray).

Safe featured some spectacularly choreographed action and fights that were almost completely ruined by a boneheaded "director" who had no idea where to place the camera and tried to create thrills by throwing in as many closeups as possible with a ridiculous number of cuts. Legend of a Warrior, however, was a breath of fresh air (though with emphasis on training so well wrought cinematically, one could imagine the air tempered with the olfactory essence of sweat coming off the glistening bodies and raw pounding of fists and feet upon flesh and leather bags).

This is all the more gratifying when one realizes Legend of a Warrior is a documentary - a low budget one at that, though never betraying the meagre shekels and always maintaining first-rate production value within the context of a simple and solid story.

The picture's simple structure, however, yields considerable thematic complexity. I remember that my second helping of Legend of a Warrior happened to fall within the same period when I was immersed in the classic 50s Inagaki Samurai Trilogy from Japan where issues of honour, brotherhood and, most importantly the craft of shooting action was simple, straight forward and as such, very exciting and lodged very appropriately at  the forefront. The parallel themes shared by the pictures carried over to Legend of a Warrior with even more resonance than previous showings as I watched the movie alone in my man-cave with a pot of joe and plenty of cigarettes to accompany the on-screen HD action.

With the feature length Legend of a Warrior, director Corey Lee delivers a very personal documentary. Corey was born in Edmonton, Alberta. He's half Chinese and worries that both he and furthermore, his kids, need to discover their ethnic roots while they still have time to do so. The ticking clock is Corey's Chinese father. He and Dad have, for much of their life as father and son, been estranged. Corey decides to not only change this state of affairs, but to document it on film.

His Dad is the legendary Frank Pang Lee, a great master of the martial arts who not only runs his own gym in Alberta, but was the personal trainer to the equally legendary Billy Chow, the reigning world kickboxing champion through much of the 80s and a stalwart actor in over 50 martial arts pictures (having co-starred with the likes of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Jet Li, Jacky Wu and among many others, Donnie Yen). Frank's world famous self-designed White Crane technique is also the stuff of legend.

Speaking of legends, Frank is 70 years old. I can't actually believe he's 70. This guy is in stunning physical condition and to see him in action is utterly mind-blowing. Corey in contrast, is buff enough, but hasn't practiced martial arts for over twenty years. He decides the best way to get to know his father and reclaim his Chinese heritage is to train with Dad.

The training sequences are absolutely brutal - not in a nasty violent way, but in the visual/aural combination of punishing, almost obsessive physical exertion with the naturalistic sounds of the gym itself. And they are gorgeously shot and cut. (Someone give this director and his team an action picture to make.)

Through the film, we witness Corey getting into better shape and his kung fu seems to be progressing nicely during the weeks of training. What's not quite happening is the father-son thing he's been hoping for. This only starts to happen once the two of them take a trip to Hong Kong together. This leads to a scene in the film's final third which, in a drama, could have been machine tooled to pretty decent effect, but because this is a documentary, it takes on an added power. Suffice it to say that this aforementioned scene is tremendously moving. (I spewed more than a few geysers of liquid salt from my tear-ducts.)

Between training sessions and a glorious tournament sequence in Frank's gym, we get dollops of Frank's own story - his early years as a gang thug in China, the threat of communism and his eventual escape to Canada. Once in the New World, Frank's fighting prowess comes in mighty handy when he works a few local Edmonton dives as a waiter/bouncer. His exploits at tossing innumerable tough customers reach far and wide and soon, tough guys from all over Western Canada and the far north make their way to Edmonton to try their luck at NOT being turfed by Frank. It's like Frank became the gunfighter with a reputation that always needed to be challenged by young turks who thought they were tougher.

Ah, Alberta! Lotsa beef, lotsa horses and plenty of rough customers straight out of a Randolph Scott western (and in this case, cross-pollinated with some chop-socky).

Many of the early years of Frank's life are rendered via some very evocative animations (still drawings - almost like anime sketches with a few simple moves). These are deftly integrated into the film and even subtly cut into live action moments when necessary.

For the most part, this is a truly compelling documentary, but the two things that, for me, keep it from crossing into the overwhelming scope of a "theatrical" experience is that some of the narration is far-too on the nose (especially in the early going) and secondly, that the movie delivers on the emotional arc of the father-son story, but lacks a good final visceral punch. I was expecting, but never got, a final match between Corey and an opponent of equal calibre. The narration sometimes drove me a bit nuts - often delivering stuff we didn't need to know and if we did need to know it, I think it might have been better to just let the audience piece it together all on their lonesome.

Much of the voice-over was of the "I think this, I think that, I hope this happens, I hope that happens" variety. It often came over dynamic visuals and I'd have preferred a more cerebral approach to conveying these feelings. In a strange way, I'm even more convinced that the narration (though it works somewhat better within a home viewing context) might even be one of the culprits in delivering a wee bit of a letdown when we DON'T get a final match since it often does serve to build conflict that is paid off emotionally, but not visually and viscerally in terms of an expected kick-ass series of kicks and roundhouses.

This, however, is not ultimately going to deter anyone from enjoying the film at all.

It's a terrific story.

Interestingly, if I were the producer of the film, I'd be doing everything in my power to be selling the dramatic remake rights to a studio. There's a great martial arts movie with some heart here. A few embellishments wouldn't hurt, mind you - like a big match at the end of the movie, or better yet, add an underworld subplot requiring father and son to kick some gangster butt together. Or better yet, just try to make the movie without a studio. Get Chow Yun Fat to play Frank and concoct a good villain role and cast Jackie Chan against type in it. Toss Tony Jaa into the mix as Corey. And hey, set the damn thing in Edmonton. There's plenty of Ukrainians there. Toss some Uke mob action into the mix. George Dzundza would be a fantastic Uke mob boss.

Yeah, I know - that's a different movie, and kind of cheesy, but crazier things have happened in this gloriously nutty business.

"Legend of a Warrior" is a gorgeously transferred DVD with a variety of sound and language choices and as mentioned above, the price-point is more than enough to justify adding the title to one's documentary and/or martial arts collections.

There are disappointments, though. The packaging is a very nice "green" recycled plastic that holds the film safely with its covers. That said, the spectacular artwork of the poster and a very nicely designed back cover come (at least with my copy) as a separate slip cover that I presume I must somehow affix myself to the box.

The biggest disappointment is the lack of special features that frankly would have rendered a highly collectible home viewing product. The movie is so beautifully shot that it would have been nice if the whole package had included 3 versions - DVD, Digital AND, most importantly, a Blu-Ray disc.

The possibility for added value features would have been almost limitless and frankly, given the story and the legendary qualities of the director's father, this should have been issued in two versions - the current bare-bones product for cheapies and an amazing extra-packed super-deluxe collector's edition. A moderated commentary track with father and son would have proven amazing and an element much desired by the millions upon millions of fan-boy martial arts geeks, (Yes, Lee and some of the other figures in the film are THAT famous.) A second moderated commentary track with director, producer and cinematographer that spoke to specific elements of production would also have been welcome. 

Given that the film is a documentary, the amount of unused footage would have been more-than-available and useful for any number of specifically-themed making of documentaries - not glorified EPKs, but borderline films unto themselves - not unlike the great work Laurent Bouzereau has done for Criterion and Universal home releases. On top of that, I'm sure there are any number of scenes/sequences that hit the cutting room floor would have been superb additional features (and could also have been presented with a specific series of commentaries from the director). Finally, a nice glossy booklet, or even an attacked to the cover mini-book (a la some of the recent Warner and Universal special editions) could have included a director diary of production and post (even if there wasn't one, it's pretty easy to make one up, or at least generate a brief "memoir" piece), but also two additional essays from martial arts aficionados - one placing the documentary in a historical context within the history of martial arts movies and another being a critical analysis.

All this could have THEN been packaged in a limited edition box, numbered (say an initial run of 1000 copies), personally signed by the director and his father and made available to the willing collector market for product just like this. Given that the National Film Board of Canada is uniquely poised to release many of their own titles, I really think this title and maybe a few others would benefit greatly from this kind of geek-paradise packaging. Collectors will always pay a premium price if a product has a collectable quality and given the difficulty (and/or sheer laziness) pirates have with re-mastering full collectors' editions, even something like this - aimed at a market of Asian martial Arts fans - would, especially if marketed properly to the myriad of geeks in the world, been a great seller with considerable shelf life.

Maybe this can still happen. Video distributors double and triple dip on titles all the time. There's no reason the NFB couldn't do so also.