Monday, 30 September 2013

BLACK SWAN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The Red Shoes meets All About Eve, Showgirls and Repulsion

Black Swan (2010) ****
dir. Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I am breathless, speechless and frankly, so knocked on my ass as I attempt to write this, that I fear that no words will ever adequately describe the elation I feel at having experienced what might be the best movie of the year, the decade and possibly one of the best pictures of all time.

I love this movie to death!

Is it that obvious?

With Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky, the brilliant director of Pi, Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler, has etched in stone his right to be called one of the greatest living film directors in the world. This is such a passionate, sexy, suspenseful, artful and wildly melodramatic movie, that even now I'm obsessed with seeing the picture as many times as possible.

Even one more viewing will do in order to pinch myself to see if I am dreaming how utterly stupendous it is.

I suspect, I'm not dreaming, however - Black Swan feels like it is exactly the sort of film we'll all look back upon as a milestone in cinema history.

It's Powell/Pressburger's The Red Shoes meets Mankiewicz's All About Eve meets Verhoeven's Showgirls with heavy doses of Polanski's Repulsion - and then some!

Aronofsky etches the unforgettable tale of Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballerina driven to achieving the highest level of artistry; brutally encouraged by crazed impresario Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), thwarted by her possessive, narcissistic mother (Barbara Hershey), terrified at the prospect of failure exemplified by an aging prima ballerina (Winona Ryder) and most of all, facing the threat of extinction by Lilly (Mila Kunis), an earthy rival with less technique, but greater raw passion - something Nina desperately needs to wrench from the depths of her soul to move beyond mere technical virtuosity.

The strongest comparison point is the aforementioned Powell/Pressburger 1948 masterpiece The Red Shoes, a staggering, highly influential motion picture - the stunning ballet sequences were a huge inspiration to Scorsese for the staging and mise-en-scene of the Raging Bull boxing matches. Powell/Pressburger wanted to make a movie that captured dance the only way motion pictures truly could - not from a proscenium, but on stage - as close to the action as possible.

Aronofsky follows suit with Black Swan and in some ways he matches the Powell/Pressburger approach with considerable aplomb. Where Aronofsky's approach differs is in his use of movement. Powell/Pressburger favoured exquisite compositions from a mostly-fixed camera position with the occasional dolly or crane shot, but often creating movement through delicate montage. Aronofsky, on the other hand, moves and swishes his camera with a sort of controlled steadi-cam abandon. I say "controlled" as this is no mere display of annoying shaky-cam techniques - the handheld movements are gorgeously composed and not a single move feels out of place, indulgent or downright sloppy.

In Aronofsky's mise-en-scene, the camera floats and glides with calculated abandon. In fact, I'm rather embarrassed to admit I caught myself - several times - rocking back and forth, to and fro and in a state of amusement-park-ride bliss. In fact, I've never seen dance sequences on film that inspired me to move in my seat as the image unspooled. I seldom move - period, but that's another story and significant only in that Black Swan compelled me to not remain static and slumped into my chair. And this was not only the case with the dance scenes, but with virtually every moment in the picture.

At times it compels one to literally jump from one's seat during set-pieces of slam-bang suspense. Other moments inspire one to sit forward, eyes up to the screen and literally on the edge of one's seat - at times, in mouth-agape awe at the sheer genius of the filmmaking and at others, because the action is so thrilling that to sit back becomes near-impossible. And then there are the numerous cringe-inducing moments where one squirms and sinks into one's seat, clinging for dear life as the picture deals with the grotesquely painful physical injuries and deformities that dancers - especially ballerinas - are prone to; split, oozing toenails, dislocated joints and other such gnarly realities of the dancing trade. I have not uttered the words "Jesus Christ" so many times in one picture - in utter disgust at witnessing the physical torture these women endure. Nina in particular is afflicted with an obsessive streak to the point where she scratches at her shoulder blades and leaves blood and pus-oozing open sores. And worse, to stop herself from scratching, she continually cuts, trims and buffs her nails to a point where her fingertips, fingernails and cuticles are a raw, pulpy mess.

Jesus Christ!

And the melodrama: O, the melodrama! Some consider melodrama a dirty word. Well, anyone who does is a total knot head. It's a completely legitimate genre. There's bad melodrama and there's good, if not great melodrama. Black Swan is in the latter category. O, glorious melodrama! This great movie, replete with catty nasties of invective hurled with meat cleaver sharpness, literal cat fights, mother-daughter snipe-fests, masturbation, lesbo action, anonymous sex in nightclub washrooms and delicious over-the-top blood-letting, all add up to one motherfucker of an ice cream sundae with not one, not two, not three, but a barrel-full of maraschino cherries globbed with pools of glistening syrup on top.

The performances in Black Swan are perfectly pitched to the heights of melodrama that the film itself achieves. Miss Portman captures her character's intensity and frigidity with such perfection that Nina's gradual soul wrenching ascent/descent takes on the heft of pure tragedy. She commands the screen with such assured bravado that it's probably safe to suggest that hers will be the performance to beat in the year's upcoming awards season. Mila Kunis is gorgeous and sexy. Her chemistry with Portman crackles with the sheer electricity of opposites attracting. Winona Ryder delivers an exceptionally mature tragic portrait, full of bile, resentment and tragedy - a worthy successor and rival to the suffering bitch goddess Susan Hayward. Barbara Hershey wanders through the Grand Guignol territory of those immortal Robert Aldrich heroines of the 60s and drags us deep into the demonic bilge barrel of great movie harridans. And last, but certainly not least, Vincent Cassel is one sexy beast - the perfect ballet impresario: one part genius, one part cocksman, two parts Mephistopheles.

Some critics have referred to Black Swan as "The Red Shoes on acid.". They couldn't be more wrong. The Red Shoes is already on acid.

From my vantage point, Black Swan is pure crack cocaine, and as such, inspires more and heavier doses.

Sunday, 29 September 2013




Oct. 9, 2013

So, a little update here. Tarek Loubani and John Greyson were thankfully and unexpectedly freed from prison early Sunday, October 6, 2013 and planned to leave soon after a bit of recuperation in a Cairo Hotel. Upon attempting to leave, however, the idiot Egyptian government had placed them on a stop-list and they were not allowed to board their plane. No need to go into the moronic details as to why they must stay in Egypt, but frankly, these are not free men until the backwards military-controlled government lets them leave - as they should. News of their release from prison has been acclaimed by Canadians across the country, though a couple of mentally defective "journalists" (if one wants to call them that - one of them's a plagiarist, the other a right wing simpleton) did their best to slag them publicly. As only knuckle-dragging Tea-Party wannabes take either "journalist" seriously, it's of no matter. The Egyptian government is still criminally investigating the two Canadian heroes who, in the case of Loubani offered medical aid, and in the case of Greyson, documented the brutal murder of those protesting military takeover of a government that was democratically elected. In a public statement, the two were thankful for both the support they received at home, Egypt and the world. Also thankful for their release, they expressed deep concern for all the other innocent Egyptian citizens being held in prison without charge.

Again, I can only ask:

What, Mr. Harper, are you doing about this?

Oct. 1, 2013
So, Mr. Harper, we now know that Egypt has a whole grocery list of spurious charges again Tarek and John including:
(Suggestions below in open letter)

Sept. 30, 2013
“In the absence of charges, Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson should be released immediately." - Statement Released Late in the Evening of September 29, 2013 from the Canadian Prime Minister's Office (PMO)

This is good, but not good enough. If you haven't already, Mr. Harper, feel free to read the following open letter which offers some suggestions as to what you need to do.

All others who read this, feel free to forward this link to Prime Minister Harper via email at or tweet it to his official Twitter account @pmharper.

Sept. 29, 2013

To Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the matter of Egypt, Dr. Tarek Loubani and filmmaker John Greyson By Greg Klymkiw

Dear Mr. Harper: Two Canadians, Emergency Room Doctor Tarek Loubani and Film Director/York University Professor John Greyson, have been detained without charges in Egypt since August 16, 2013. You know they are innocent. You know they witnessed over 50 people mercilessly cut down in the streets of Cairo while Dr. Loubani compassionately sprung into healing mode to save lives while Mr. Greyson sprung into filmmaking mode and shot footage of the horrific carnage unfolding. You know they were "arrested, searched, caged, questioned, interrogated, videotaped with a ‘Syrian terrorist’, slapped, beaten, ridiculed, hot-boxed, refused phone calls, stripped, shaved bald, accused of being foreign mercenaries" and continue to be held in a prison in a country presided over by a government that staged a military coup to depose a democratically elected President. You know Egypt is currently led by Adly Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt. You have, as the democratically elected leader of our nation, allowed your fine Foreign Affairs officials and consular staff do their jobs to work through this regrettable situation via diplomatic means. You have even spoken out publicly about the arrest of these innocent Canadians. Now, Mr. Prime Minister, you must do what's right! You must muster all your powers of leadership and as the democratically elected head of our country, intercede personally on behalf of two Canadians who you should be proud of. When people were being cut down in the street like animals in a slaughterhouse, YOU, MR. PRIME MINISTER, YOU KNOW that one great Canadian bravely applied his skills and compassion as a Healer, while the other great Canadian bravely applied his skills and compassion as an both an artist and filmmaker to capture a visual record of this carnage.

Bravery, skill and compassion are attributes that have always made this country GREAT. You yourself have displayed these traits on a number of occasions. Now, however, is not the time to sit back and lightly take this egregious action against your citizens who ventured out beyond our soil to do what Canadians do best and were caught in a horrifying situation where they, as Canadians, continued to do what Canadians do best.

You, Mr. Prime Minister, must act. You must display bravery, skill and compassion.

You must pick up the telephone, sir. If necessary, you must board a plane, sir.

You must personally speak to Mr. Adly Mansour. You must remind him that these great Canadians have been treated worse than common criminals for displaying the attributes of great Canadians. To do less, sir, is an insult to all Canadians and besmirches the memory of so many of our brave Canadians who, in harm's way, have suffered or even died to do what was right. Mr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson were armed only with all the necessary paperwork and tools of their respective trades - no matter what their personal politics are, no matter that they might have, naively to some, travelled through a dangerous part of the world to get to another country altogether - I know, you know, Egypt knows, as does the world, that these men are innocent and have been held in horrendous conditions without charges.

You know all this and more, Mr. Prime Minister.

You also know that Canada has bestowed and continues with plans to bestow millions upon millions of dollars in aid to Egypt and in spite of this, said country is treating two brave Canadians with contempt and utter disregard for our (and their) country's generosity to Egypt.

You, Mr. Prime Minister are holding the cards.

These two Canadians need you to show personal leadership here and play your cards.

Let me tell you, something I know about these two great Canadians, Mr. Prime Minister.

I have never met Dr. Loubani, but because of a recent health scare, I encountered something that moved me deeply and made me feel as if I did know him. On the advice of my family doctor, I checked myself into an Emergency Room in a small town in Southern Ontario. I was treated with skill and compassion by a terrific doctor who found herself far from her home base to fill a need for a tiny country hospital. As I was lying on an emergency room bed, I spotted a button on her hospital garb. The button read: "FREE TAREK AND JOHN". As I saw that button, those words, I cannot even begin to describe the wave of emotion that coursed through me and caused my eyes to fill with tears. I managed to choke out the words: "You're wearing a 'Free Tarek and John Button.'" We spoke at length about the aforementioned situation in Egypt and I found out during the course of our conversation that Dr. Christine Richardson, the wearer of this button, the skilled, compassionate ER doctor who had just tended to me, was in fact a close colleague and friend of Dr. Tarek Loubani in London, Ontario. Dr. Richardson, the head of Department of Emergency Medicine and ER colleague of Dr. Loubani at the LHSC-Victoria Hospital spoke at length to me about his dedication to his patients and profession. I even appreciated the sort of humour reminiscent of the book, movie and TV series M*A*S*H that she displayed with respect to Mr. Loubani returning soon and safely so all his dedicated colleagues didn't have to keep filling in his missed shifts. Dr. Richardson kindly presented me with a mock hospital I.D. with Tarek and John's photos and the words "Free Tarek and John" emblazoned upon it. I will keep proudly wearing this badge along with the button I received from film director Sarah Polley.

I'm hoping I can soon remove both once you do the right thing.

As for Mr. Greyson, I do know him. As a human being, he is kind, gentle, sweet, good humoured and intelligent. As a teacher, I have known a myriad of students who worship the ground he walks on. As a filmmaker, Canada has few equals. Mr. Harper, I will share the following note I left on Mr. Greyson's Facebook page after hearing of his incarceration in Egypt: "My dear John: I will still never forget my first screening of ZERO PATIENCE so many years ago - stumbling (the only word to describe it) out of the cinema into the bright light of day - trembling, yet charged with elation; emitting streams of tears that wildly alternated between sadness and joy; profoundly and deeply moved by the content of the film whilst also getting that delicious goose flesh that overtakes me when I experience the work of genuine artistry that comes from someone who is so clearly the Real Thing. You've continued to provide a commitment to expanding the boundaries of an art and a medium that often feels more important to me than life itself. You continued to never suffer fools or foolish actions. You continued to place humanity at the forefront of your work and actions. You are a heroic figure to me. As you are now in the company of another true hero, your dear friend Tarek, in this horrendous situation, I can only offer my thanks to you for being YOU and my deepest prayers that both of you will be out of the clutches of these insidious powers so you can both continue your important and utterly selfless work. My love, admiration and energy is with you both."

Mr. Harper, two great Canadians are being detained in Egypt. Our foreign minister, Mr. John Baird claims to have had a "good meeting" with Egypt's foreign minister and Béatrice Fénelon from the Foreign Affairs department claims that "Canada continues to press at all levels, including directly with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, for a timely and positive resolution to this situation and in the absence of confirmation of the charges continues to call for the release of Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson."

Mr. Harper, we are long past the point of a timely resolution.

According to a Toronto Star news article dated September 28, 2013, Badr Abdelatty from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry claims “there is a solid basis, according to the attorney general’s office, to charge them in the near future [and that the prosecutor] will continue the investigation, and the extension of (the men’s) arrest every two weeks will continue until they finish.”

As of this morning, September 29, 2013, John and Tarek have been ordered to spend 45 more days in prison.

You must take a genuine leadership position.

Messrs. Loubani and Greyson are waiting for you to take a genuine leadership position.

Canada is waiting for you to take a genuine leadership position.

Mr. Harper: Be a leader, be a hero, be a Great Canadian. Pick up the phone. Hop a plane.

Do what you MUST do.

I'm sure Mr. Adly Mansour appreciates Canada's benevolence.

I'm sure Mr. Adly Mansour respects you and your leadership.

Do the right thing, Mr. Harper.




Saturday, 28 September 2013

AUTUMN (HARUD) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 3 Years after its premiere, this great film remains unavailable.

Autumn (AKA Harud) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2010. It's not only one of the most extraordinary first features of the new millennium, but an exquisite work of film art which can be spoken of and remembered in the same breath as work by Satyajit Ray, Carl Dreyer and Yasujiro Ozu. The movie has been on my mind of late - especially given the degree to which racial and religious strife continue to plague the world. I am especially sickened and appalled to note that not a single Canadian, American or UK distributor has had the taste, intelligence and/or cojones to bother making this terrific film available. I urge you to petition your local art cinema, film society or cinematheque to do everything in their power to programme this film.

If you want to buy it sight unseen, I've seen DVDs available in various Toronto India Town stores (and assume other cities have such outlets). I suspect these are probably bootlegs, so you might wish to order an import copy via Amazon which appears to offer it via affiliates carrying the film from what appears to be an official Indian distributor. Better yet, petition distributors and/or cinema programmers to do their fucking jobs and acquire/play it. An avid audience exists for this movie. With some elbow grease (uh, a bit of work), its audience might even be more substantial than merely "avid".

Autumn (2010) ****
dir. Aamir Bashir
Starring: Shahnawaz Bhat, Reza Naji

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The proper pacing of a movie can be a seemingly amorphous goal for many filmmakers. The whole problem, I think, is in the notion of whether something is too slow or not fast enough and what precisely defines and contributes to an audience detecting, then reacting to a picture when it lugubriously shuffles along. That said, and where the confusion can come in is when even a break-neck speed in terms of cuts, movement and/or line delivery contributes immeasurably to creating a dragging effect. Audiences (and I'd argue most reviewers) aren't always aware that it's a supersonic speed that, more often than not, induces boredom and/or sore asses.

I have often tarred and feathered the cinematic output of Iran (and recently added Kyrgyzstan to my ass-numbing-by-country list), but of course, it has less to do with my desire to be obnoxious than with the fact that there ARE rules to the grammar of cinema - the biggest being that a filmmaker must ALWAYS be serving the story (or structural framework) and its forward movement (even when it means moving here, there and everywhere), and furthermore, serving the dramatic beats in a style and manner that hammers them home in the best fashion.

Autumn (AKA Harud) is a stunning film from India that is, for the most part, snail-paced. In spite of this, I cannot recall a single moment when my mind wandered or when my eye strayed to my iPhone to check email. My eyes were super-glued to the screen. I couldn't take my precious asymmetrical globes off the picture if I tried.

Part of this is director Aamir Bashir's desire to tell his story in a manner in which it's all important for us to experience the minute by minute, hour by hour, day in and day out emptiness in the lives of Kashmir's young men. Living amidst violence, terrorism, poverty and a bleak future, our central character Rafiq (Shahnawaz Bhat), after an unsuccessful try at militancy following the disappearance of his brother exists in a perpetual walking cat-nap, alternately loafing with his friends and working a dead-end job (morning newspaper delivery). Life for Rafiq moves slowly and is punctuated only by bursts of violence around him.

Through the course of the film, scattered gunshots are heard, bombs go off and at one point, he and his buddies find a man on the verge of dying with a gaping bullet wound to the belly (which eventually leads Rafiq to a slightly better job after they save the man).

Though haunted by his brother's disappearance, Rafiq wishes to move on. There is the overwhelming feeling of the inevitable - that his brother has been kidnapped by the security forces and/or killed and certainly, Rafiq seems to accept this, but his parents refuse to believe their eldest son is dead. This cloud of non-acceptance hangs over their home like a heavy, dark cloud. At one point, Rafiq's father Jusuf (Reza Naji) suffers a nervous breakdown - adding more strife and tragedy to a situation foreign to most of us in the West, but a matter of course in so many other parts of the world.

This is the story of a world where death, destruction and corruption are endless and by extension, while life is cheap and can end very quickly, life, while it goes on, seems to be an endless, plodding state of aimlessness and despair.

Director Bashir captures this so eloquently through a camera-eye that seldom moves and captures the day-to-day mundane activities of Rafiq - it's as if the very act of living feels like an eternity - like death itself. Shots will often hold longer than audiences might be used to, but the detail and observation within these shots is so exquisite that we experience a highly evocative portrait of a life lived merely for the sake of survival.

This is NEVER boring - it is the stuff of great drama - etched with the kind of command one usually experiences in the work of such masters as Yasujiro Ozu, Satyajit Ray or Carl Dreyer, but almost never in the work of young, contemporary filmmakers. Bashir is, by trade, an actor, but I sincerely hope he continues to find subject matter that inspires him as much as that on display in Autumn so he can give up his "day job" and dazzle us again and again with his astounding command of cinematic storytelling.

This is a story that DEMANDS a measured pace. The picture is almost neorealism in extremis and there is little by way of overt lyricism - save for the few lyrical moments in the lives of the characters; most notably when Rafiq's chum sings a haunting song as the young men laze about under the autumn sky and the lads encourage him to enter a television variety show for amateurs with talent and, most importantly, when Rafiq becomes drawn to taking photographs using his late brother's camera. The pace is what PRECISELY allows for small moments like these to take on almost mythic proportions within the narrative itself.

Too many art and/or independent films almost annoyingly wear their slow pace like some badge of honour. This is why such pictures give this slower approach a bad name - their "artistry" feels machine-tooled.

Not so with Autumn. This is one of the most stately and profoundly moving films I've seen in recent years. It is replete with compassion and humanity, using an exquisite, delicate pace to examine and remind us how precious every second of life on this earth is.

"Autumn" ("Harud") premiere4d at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010. Disgracefully, no North American or British distributor has ever bothered to pick it up. The film is available only from an Indian distribution source via affiliates with various Amazon sites.

Friday, 27 September 2013

PANDORUM - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Derivative script & one awful performance, BUT dazzling direction.

Pandorum (2009) **1/2
dir. Christian Alvart
Starring: Ben Foster, Dennis Quaid, Antje Traus, Eddie Rouse
Review By Greg Klymkiw

Pandorum is a derivative celluloid gumbo of Alien, Event Horizon, The Descent and a few hundred other movies of a similar ilk. It's infused with some of the stupidest dialogue imaginable and the peformance of one of the picture's leads is so godawful, it's hard to believe he was once a good actor. And yet in spite of ALL this, the picture manages to succeed on a level of pure visceral thrills and the giddy directorial flourishes of Christian Alvart who energizes the proceedings with the kind of kid-in-a-sandbox joy that allows us the feeling of being invited into said sandbox to have one grand old time with him.

The plot is pretty straightforward. The Earth is a mess. A humungous spaceship with 1500 crew members is sent into deep space to another Earth-like planet. The journey is so long that several crews rotate in the ship's operation. When not at work, the crew members are shoved into icy pods where they live in a state of suspended animation.

Senior officer Dennis Quaid and a subordinate (Ben Foster) soon wake from their slumber, find themselves locked in a tiny room with no crew to greet them and no realize they have no way out. Eventually, Quaid stays behind to navigate while Foster makes his way through a heating duct and into the ship itself. Once out into the ship proper, Foster encounters a fetching Ninja-trained female soldier of the German persuasion (Antje Traue) and a kung-fu fighting Vietnamese crew member. Their mission is to get through the ship to reset the nuclear reactor in order to restore power to the ship, but first, they must fight a seemingly infinite army of bloodthirsty monsters who are suitably cool looking and one delightfully crazy cannibal (delectably played by Eddie Rouse). As well, they have to fight the "pandorum" - a deep-space disease that causes massive paranoia and psychotic behaviour.

Amidst several violent, terrifying set-pieces, they all learn to respect each other and as the dangerous journey ventures deeper into the bowels of the ship they all come to (Ugh!) understand each other.

Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya!

We've seen it all before, but this still works on a roller coaster ride level - the jolts of suspense and at times, utter horror, are thrown at us with style and aplomb. It's well photographed and, for the most part, Alvart's mise-en-scene lacks the confusing geography so often inherent in most other contemporary action thrillers and the pathetic herky-jerky incompetence of such boneheads as J. J. Abrams who continues to astonish with his inability to craft action scenes.

Most of the performances are terrific, too, but Dennis Quaid, looking a bit bloated, blotchy and disinterested, is completely in the let's-get-this-over-with-so-I-can-cash-my-cheque zone. That said, his sleepwalking seems perfectly in keeping with the picture's B-movie roots. In fact, Quaid almost appears to be turning into his generation's version of ex-Mr. Shirley Temple stalwart of 50s Bs, John Agar.

I can live with that! I do hope Mr. Quaid can.

There's even a surprise ending (kind of in the original Planet of the Apes zone) that genuinely worked on jaded-seen-it-all-old-me. When a by-the-numbers plot can actually deliver on an ending I have NOT already predicted within the first ten minutes of a picture (coupled with its considerable style, thrills and chills), I'm happy to recommend such a picture even to discriminating fans of such genre pieces.

The "Pandorum" Alliance DVD/Blu-Ray release comes replete with all the usual making-of extra features which will satisfy fans of this sort of thing, but I personally hate it when too much is given away about the filmmaking process - especially special effects. It takes away all the magic for me.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

EUROPA REPORT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark 2013 Spotlight Sceenings - GREAT SCI-FI

Europa Report (2013) ****
Dir. Sebastián Cordero
Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist, Sharlto Copley, Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Dan Fogler, Isiah Whitlock Jr.

Review By Greg Klymkiw

On October 4, 2013, a dull, predictable, badly written and clearly expensive space thriller that's already amassed as of today a ridiculous (but hardly surprising) 95% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes will open wide on several thousand screens in uselessly annoying 3-D and make no mistake, Gravity, its most exciting feature being Sandra Bullock floating around in her undies, will be a huge hit. Tonight at 7pm at the Scotiabank Theatre, the visionary Adam Lopez's Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013 pre-festival Spotlight Screenings presents a one-time only big-screen unveiling of a terrific science fiction space shocker called Europa Report. It's easily one of the best science fiction films I've seen in years and had me charged with excitement from beginning to end. I don't expect you to heed the following as all of you are suckers for first-rate studio-manufactured hype, but in all honesty, anyone seeing Europa Report - especially on a big screen - will have no reason to bother with Gravity.

Philip Gelatt has written a first-rate screenplay that charts a myriad of characters and perspectives as a private corporation launches a historic manned flight to Jupiter's Moon of Europa, a huge orb covered completely with ice and most probably having one of the likelier possibilities of life in our solar system due the presence of water - almost always a sign of life creation and sustenance.

An international crew of six astronauts are onboard for the mission and director Sebastián Cordero astonishingly covers every key detail of the trip via an insane number of POVs from the cameras set up by the corporation in any place that will conceivably capture the journey and discoveries in detail. I'm no scientist, but enough of a space buff to know that screenwriter Gelatt has done a phenomenal amount of research to provide elements that always feel real and from what I can tell, only a handful of aberrant manipulations strictly for dramatic purposes.

The mechanical and practical details of the trip, the richness of characters and dialogue, a clutch of superb performances and visual effects that are nothing less than dazzling, all contribute to a corker of a space thriller with a genuine, as opposed to by-rote layer of humanity (the latter afflicting Gravity to annoying degrees) that is as moving as the movie is thrilling and suspenseful.

The Moon of Europa has long held a great degree of fascination for both scientists and astronomy nuts and the filmmakers successfully exploit this so that they preach to both the converted and those who aren't. The magnificent score and soundscape jangle the nerves when necessary, and make us soar when we need it. As on any such mission, we see such dedication and sacrifice, but the movie also doesn't shy away from fear, disbelief and desperation.

As such, it's a phenomenally entertaining and almost literal journey into deep space. By the time we get to the Moon of Europa, we're as poised as the crew to make as many discoveries as possible. The moon is, of course, fraught with danger and the filmmakers work overtime to keep us on the edge of our seats.

And of course, what ultimately drives the film is the potential of the crew to discover life - it might be simple or complex, benevolent or dangerous or completely non-existent, but this is what ultimately infuses a great level of awe and spirituality in this journey.

It's ridiculous to think that Magnet Releasing by-passed a theatrical release, offering instead (this past August), a whack of VOD opportunities. If you're in Toronto tonight, you're in for a real treat - a movie that demands a big screen, but does so without the usual dumbing down of the material and reducing it to little more than an amusement ride - kind of like Gravity, or virtually every other contemporary film set in space. Europa Report is definitely a ride, but it's sure not dumb.

For information on the Toronto After Dark screening, visit the website HERE.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

KAW - Review By Greg Klymkiw - A loathsome CANADIAN genre film that has absolutely no right to exist because it's so depressingly mediocre and doesn't even deserve the hallowed gifts of such lower ratings on my critical chart like "One Pubic Hair" or "The Turd Behind Harry's".

Kaw (2007) *
dir. Sheldon Wilson
Starring: Sean Patrick Flannery, Kristin Booth, Stephen McHattie, Rod Taylor

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Kaw proved to be quite a revelation. Why had I never heard of it before? How could I have possibly missed a motion picture about a sleepy farming community that is under attack by flocks of crows afflicted with mad-cow disease? This sounds like the sort of picture I live for. I mean, really. Crows? Afflicted with mad-cow disease? Pecking people to death?

Let me be first in line, please.

Alas, such a motion picture did not open theatrically, and I was forced to experience it for the first time on DVD because, as it turns out, Kaw apparently premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel (or, as it is now known in its idiotic re-branded form, Syfy). As I live in Canada, I do not get Syfy. Even if Canada DID get it (or if this movie aired on Canada’s own Space or TMN), I would still not have seen it since I have not had cable television since 1983 and have no intention of getting it ever again.

In any event, it seems that people still make movies for television. In fact, some actors appear almost exclusively in this medium. Sean Patrick Flannery (otherwise known as Sean Who?) plays the stalwart small-town cop attempting to save his fellow townsfolk from the mad-cow-afflicted crows in Kaw. He has, apparently, made many movies for television. This explains why he was not familiar to me. The same thing happened a few years ago when I was watching the pallid American remake of The Grudge and wondered why I could not figure who the mousy, uncharismatic leading lady was. I eventually found out she was the star of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer which I had never seen before because I do not watch television and I had managed to successfully repress her loathsome manifestations in the few pathetic theatrical motion pictures she actually did appear in.

What I know for sure is that I can be proud to be Canadian since Kaw was made in Canada with many Canadian actors, some Canadian producers and with money from the gouvernement du Canada. Though I saw an American flag flying in the small town the movie is set in, I became even more instilled with pride because I realized it was probably some small town in Southern Ontario and that it looked a lot prettier than many small towns in America.

with a Hutterite responsible
for Mad-Cow Disease which
crows eat and subsequently get
peckish (as it were)
for human flesh.
This sounds a whole lot better
than it actually is!
One happy accident that occurred whilst watching this movie was discovering that Rod Taylor is still alive and he’s a terrific actor who deserves much better than being wasted in thankless roles like this one, a kindly small-town doctor. Taylor, as many of you know, was a big star in the late 50s and early 60s and most notably as the square-jawed leading man in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, a film that Kaw pathetically attempts to homage.

Kaw is not terrible. Well, it is, BUT, if you had absolutely nothing to do and found yourself semi-brain-dead in front of a television set, you probably wouldn't feel like you had wasted 90 minutes of your life. You might discover the movie clipped along reasonably, featured Rod Taylor (and the eminently watchable character actor Stephen McHattie) - if your semi-brain-dead state allowed you to recognize them - that it's not without some decent special effects (aimed specifically at you, the semi-brain-dead viewer) and finally, that it's relatively bereft of awful dialogue and instead includes a checklist of perfunctory dialogue. This all, however, is what makes a movie like this even more depressing. I actually kept wishing it would be jaw-droppingly awful, so at least it would have been fun. Instead, it was straight-ahead, humourless and maddeningly borderline competent.

This sort of competence (especially of the borderline variety) does not necessarily make for entertaining movies. I mean, come on, this is about crows with mad-cow disease for God’s sake! Can we lighten up a little folks and have some fun?

Watching this movie kept me thinking about some of the fabulous creature features of the 70s and 80s from people like Roger Corman, Joe Dante and (I kid you not) John Sayles. Movies like Piranha (not the stupid 3-D remake) and Alligator had a delightful trash sensibility and tons of humour mixed with the gore. I even thought about movies like Frogs (from the late, great Canadian TV director George McCowan, who also directed the classic Canadian hockey picture Face Off) and William T. Girdler's Grizzly, an American cellar-dwelling indie from the 70s which was also imbued with pulp sensibilities. I thought about The Birds and Jaws – both “A” pictures to be sure, but full of virtuosity and humour.

And then I thought about Kaw and the humourless competence that rules every frame.

The DVD release of Kaw features a variety of extra features, but the best one is an interview with Rod Taylor who is gracious, funny and full of wonderful anecdotes. Alas, he's forced to talk about Kaw and mentions that he took the role because, unlike Hitchcock’s The Birds, the mad peckers here had a reason for killing people. My heart sank. Taylor was too gracious to admit he took this piece of garbage for the paycheque and came up with some lame excuse. Rod, darling, one of many things that makes The Birds so creepy, so chilling and so scary is that there is NO reason for the birds to kill.

Kaw, however, gives us a moronic reason. Some repressed Hutterites with fake beards (which should be funny, but is not here) don't report that their livestock have mad-cow disease and the crows start to feast on the disease-ridden bodies, which, in turn, drive all of them insane. Now if you’re going to have a mind-numbingly stupid reason behind the carnage, please have the good taste to make a pulpy, funny, completely whacked movie instead of something that is merely competent (and I repeat - borderline competent).

Finally, perhaps the important thing I learned watching Kaw was this – if Kaw is the sort of thing made for television on a regular basis, I’m sure glad I don’t have cable.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

ANNA KARENINA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Of all people, the Russians can never get Anna Karenina right.

Anna Karenina (2009) **½
dir. Sergei Solovyov
Starring: Tatyana Drubich, Oleg Yankovskiy and Yaroslav Boyko

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Hailed as one of the great novels of all-time, Lev Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina has been adapted into so many film and television versions, one wonders if we will ever get the ultimate cinematic rendering of this great story. It has not happened yet, and this new Russian mini-series, whilest blessed with sumptuous production design and decent performances, is ultimately, at its best, not much more than watchable.

This oft-told tale of tragic romance, infidelity and social commentary is, on the page, an extremely complex work, yet when one boils it down to its essentials, Tolstoy hung the layers of the world he created on a very solid and simple narrative coat rack and delivered a subtle stylistic use of language to create the feeling of a steam engine hurtling its characters in steady forward motion with all the requisite jostles, twists, turns and abrupt, though always temporary stops.

The simple love triangle involves Anna, the title character (played beautifully in this version by Tatyana Drubich) and how she escapes a loveless marriage to the bureaucrat Aleksei (Oleg Yankovskiy) when she meets and begins a passionate, scandalous affair with the dashing Count Vronsky (Yaroslav Boyko – definitely dashing, supremely charming and a most excellent choice for this role). A brief reconciliation with her husband eventually gives way to a return to the Count and the two lovers are ostracized by the society they both were once an integral part of. Anna, fearing the Count is unfaithful to her, eventually, and in despair, hurtles herself in front of an oncoming train.

That, in a nutshell, is the narrative coat hanger and after seeing many film and television adaptations of the novel, I am inclined to think that the best attempts to render the story visually are the ones where the filmmakers do not stray too far from the simplicity of Tolstoy’s dramatic story structure and leave the dense novelistic complexities aside. To date, my favourite versions of this tale remain David O. Selznick’s production of the Clarence Brown-directed film starring Greta Garbo and Alexander Korda’s production of the Julien Duvivier-directed rendering that stars Vivien Leigh.

Oddly enough, it is the two Russian versions I’ve seen that I like least (though don't get me started on the pretentious Joe Wright/Tom Stoppard version from 2012). The 1967 Mosfilm production is not without merit, especially with its elephantine 70mm treatment, but it feels like a half-epic; not long enough to flesh out the aspects of the novel usually left out of the film adaptations and long enough to be tedious. This might have a lot to do with the disjointedness of the film and the fact that it’s caught in the horrible middle of including too much and not enough.

This, of course, does not seem to be the problem with Solovyov’s TV mini-series version. In many ways, it might actually be the ultimate version in terms of remaining as faithful to the events of Tolstoy’s novel. And though it is well made and is endowed with an adherence to the text, there is something lacking in the medium it presents itself in. With an episodic structure that features numerous fades-to-black and fades-up-from-black for what appear to be outs and ins around commercial breaks, it lacks the kind of bigger-than-life sweep one wants from the story. While the production seems perfectly serviceable for television consumption, it just does not have what it takes to raise itself to the stylistic heights of either Brown or Duvivier’s versions which both have the stylistic, very theatrical (big-screen) and expressionistic flourishes of cinema.

It is interesting that late in life Tolstoy lamented the fact that he had yet to find a medium of artistic expression that would be ideal for what he really wanted to do. I always find this lament so strange given his ground-breaking literary achievements, but it is a fact that he did indeed feel this way and even dabbled with using the stage to create a multi-dimensional rendering of his prose. Alas, he found that the proscenium was also too constricting. When he finally realized that the medium of film was just what the doctor ordered for presenting stories in a truly multi-dimensional platform, he was in his final years and the medium was still at its earliest stages.

I look back at most of the film and television adaptations of Tolstoy’s work, including this new version of Anna Karenina, and it is with a considerable degree of wistfulness that I dream and wonder what magic Lev Tolstoy might have wrought if God had given us another century of this great artist to ply his trade as an auteur of cinema.

This all said, I had an engaging discourse on Anna Karenina with a number of talented screenwriters over at Karen Walton's writing forum "inkcanada" which, got me to thinking about how, what and why a truly great film adaptation of this kept eluding us. Writer Lisa Hunter seemed to think that the claustrophobic aspects of Tolstoy's tale were always ignored by the filmmakers and that an approach to the material similar to that which was employed by director Frank Perry and screenwriter Eleanor Perry on Diary of a Mad Housewife might be just what the doctor ordered. I can't say I disagree completely. The prolific husband and wife team of Frank/Eleanor yielded some of the best American films of the 60s and 70s including The Swimmer (hunky Burt Lancaster bedding down suburban housewives as he makes a tour of backyard pools), David and Lisa (the classic teen-nutbars-in-love drama with Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin), Last Summer (the ultimate sad swinging' threesome picture of the hippie era) and, of course, Ladybug Ladybug (still one of the most powerful indictments of nuclear war ever made). Thinking on the matter, I believe Ms. Hunter's assertion that the sort of style and approach the Perrys brought to Mad Housewife (and ALL their work, frankly) might well have been the ideal approach to something like Anna Karenina.

In spite of this, though, I'm still holding out for a Russian to do this picture properly. No offence to my non-Slavic types, but there is something about the soul, the ethos, the DNA of Slavs (or at least Europeans from especially repressed, patriarchal cultures) that makes them the ideal choices in translating great works of Eastern European literature to the screen (and you also don't get better actors in the world than thespians of the Russian/Ukrainian/Polish/Ashkenazy persuasions).

Interestingly, filmmaker, Rama makes the point that there have been no (and yes, even to my normally encyclopaedic film geekery) decent adaptations of Karenina by women. That said, I suspect if the brilliant Ukrainian director Larissa Shepitko hadn't died at such a tragically young age, we might well have seen her tackle Karenina. Her feature output was limited to the astonishingly moving feminist (well before its time) Wings (aka Krylya) and one of the greatest, most savage anti-war films - ever - The Ascent. Both of these are imbued with an especially "Slavic" sense of claustrophobia which, as Lisa pointed out, would have been ideally suited to Tolstoy's narrative.

However, I do think Anna Karenina NEEDS the "external glamour", but it needs to (a) be there in contrast to the more stifling qualities of the work and (b) to be deftly handled so that the "open" sense of glamour takes on stifling qualities. With The Ascent, Shepitko rooted us on the snowy Belarus expanse of its WWII battlegrounds and yet, she focused quite brilliantly on the gruelling and, yes, claustrophobic sense of being pinned down by enemy bullets.

For me, there's no ifs, ands or buts. It takes a Slavic soul to dive into Tolstoy - or, at least, someone who understands the Slavic soul in order to render its qualities in universal ways. I think that if Sergei Paradjanov (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors) had had an interest in such stories, his poetic (and Gay) qualities might have been ideally suited to Anna Karenina as frankly, so would have Olexandr (Earth/Zemlya) Dovzhenko's. Alas, most of the Russians who've tackled Karenina have been of the bargain basement Grigiori Chukrai (Ballad of a Soldier) variety and more suited to classical styles of cinematic storytelling. Worse, of course, are the relatively contemporary Russian TV directors who are little more than style-bereft camera jockeys not dissimilar to those who primarily work in American/Canadian television.

This, of course, is why I object to ANY assertion that the miniseries might be an ideal form for the tale. Aside from the potential of being saddled with a by-the-numbers director, the very structure of miniseries teleplays would be ill-suited to the material and render the scope of the story to its detriment - placing too much emphasis on the cliff-hanging rather than philosophical/poetical qualities. I think theatrical approaches, but of the more epic variety (Bondarchuk's umpteen hour theatrical version of Tolstoy's War and Peace being a good example) would be the ideal way to go. Even the theatrical sensibilities of someone like Philip Kaufman seemed better suited to the epic sweep of CHARACTER which, he demonstrated so ably in his almost idiotically romantic adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

As far as Brits go, they've done their fair share of fine, but still insubstantial TV version and I maintain THEATRICAL sensibilities are the ideal approach. The ideal LIVING contemporary choice to direct a great version of Anna Karenina would probably be Terence Davies. His film adaptation of Edith Wharton's House of Mirth still seems to be one of the greatest approaches to the "stifling" worlds of patriarchal society and their effect upon independent-minded women. That film, along with The Deep Blue Sea, place Davies in the same powerful pantheon of such subject matter as Carl Dreyer (most notably The Passion of Joan of Arc and Gertrud).

Ah well, a great film of Anna Karenina will still come. Hopefully it will be in my lifetime. Maybe also in my lifetime we'll see a truly great adaptation of Tolstoy's Resurrection (with apologies to Rouben Mamoullian's close-but-no-cigar MGM epic from 1934 and a really cool Solares-directed version from Mexico!!!!). At the end of the day, though, discussing Tolstoy's cinema-ready literature as opposed to what passes for writing these days seems a worthy pursuit - even if this 2009 Russian version seems a few bricks short of the load the tale needs.

Monday, 23 September 2013

MOTHRA (aka MOSURA) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - One of the great Toho monster classics from Ishiro Honda

The Ito Sisters (aka The Peanuts)
Mothra (aka Mosura) (1961) ***
Dir. Ishiro Honda
Starring: Frankie Sakai, Kyoko Kagawa, Jerry Ito, Emy Ito, Yumy Ito, Takashi Shimura

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The threat of nuclear annihilation has always been a theme at the forefront of science fiction, but nowhere is this more profound than in the cinema of Japan. The devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki loomed large within the frontal lobes of most filmmakers from the land of Nippon, but at Toho Studios, a long-running series of fantastical pictures that began with 1954’s Gojira (aka Godzilla), took the islands of Japan by storm and crossed the waters to tantalize audiences worldwide. The director who is associated most closely with these pictures is Ishiro Honda, a visionary whose work is often ignored, neglected and/or derided by many critics.

That said, if Akira Kurosawa is to be considered the John Ford of Japanese cinema, I’d argue quite strenuously that Honda is the Nipponese Spielberg – an entertainer of the highest order, an expert stylist/craftsman and a serious film artist. Like Spielberg, Honda created a wealth of product that appealed to kids of all ages – from east to west and back again!

Sadly, in the Western world, Honda’s work was so manipulated by American distributors that his dark, thrilling morality tales of nuclear mutated monsters were often reduced to the most basic elements of the monster movie genre with much of the political subtext removed in order to remain palatable to the narrow interests of the Occidental world. With substantial re-cutting and dialogue dubbing, most Western audiences lost out on the opportunity to not only enjoy rip-roaring entertainments, but also do so with considerable food for thought.

More Peanuts Than You
Can Shake a Stick at!!!
In 1961, Honda’s Mothra was a slight change of pace from his dark horrific explorations of the effects of nuclear radiation. The message of peace is still front and centre, but the delivery of this important missive has a colourful, fantasy-infused lightness. Dappled, as it is, with this lightness of tone and touch is what gives the audience a fresh perspective and creates a creature-feature endowed with a very unique vantage point. And WHAT a vantage point we get with the delectable Peanuts.


When a strange island is discovered in an area spoiled by nuclear contamination, the world comes face to face with a civilization that devotes itself to worshipping the splendours of the natural world. On this island are two beautiful miniature women – fairies who sing the loveliest of melodies. When an unscrupulous promoter kidnaps and subsequently forces them to perform in his circus, a ragtag group of journalists seeks to rescue them – especially since the tuneful crooning becomes mournful and summons the awakening of the ancient monster Mothra. This snail-like behemoth eventually cocoons and transforms into a horrifying winged beast hell-bent on rescuing the fairies and wreaking major havoc upon the towns and cities of Japan - most notably, Tokyo.

The real life singing sensation twins (the Ito sisters), known to the world outside of this film as “The Peanuts”, play the lovely fairies and are imbued with a truly great screen presence and always in ever-so delightfully fine voice - so much so that one can never get enough of them. Then again, when it comes to peanuts, you can never have just one.

Blending slapstick humour with the sort of destruction one expects from Honda’s monster pictures, Mothra is a magical and supremely entertaining thrill ride. Amidst the serious thematic concerns about Western greed and exploitation the entire concoction delivers a fine homage to King Kong and a delightful mix of laughs and thrills. The humour is, thankfully, not tongue-in-cheek, but rooted in the characters and situations so that, while broad, it never renders the picture into a knowing gag-fest.

Delightful Mothra Promo
Items - Peanuts Figurines
The hallmark of Honda’s work is undoubtedly his handling of the carnage and Mothra does not disappoint in this regard. When our title monster transforms into a flying avenger, the force of its wings beating is enough to create hurricane-like winds that send cars, trucks and tanks hurtling into skyscrapers.

A considerable chunk of the running time in the first half is devoted to a debate between the forces of exploitation and those who desire a more harmonious relationship to the forces of nature. Within these debates, humour abounds – thanks mainly to the comical turns by the blustery Frankie Sakai as the rotund reporter “Bulldog” and the fiery female photographer Michi (played by the delightful Kyoko Kogawa of Tokyo Story fame). Jerry Ito is a deliciously slimy villain while fave Kurosawa thespian Takashi (Ikuru) Shimura makes a welcome appearance as the news editor who lights a flame under his writers’ butts and has them become actively involved in the proceedings.

Ultimately, lovers of Japanese monster movies will get their fair share of peace through superior firepower as the title monster must be cruel to be kind as it cuts a huge path of destruction in its instinctive, single-minded purpose to rescue the twins. It’s a terrific monster movie and one of the best from Toho Studios.

Aficionados of this fare will especially be delighted, but even for those not immersed in the canon of Nipponese behemoth pictures, the pleasures to be derived are immense indeed: great carnage, lots of laughs and a worthwhile message about peace and ecology – the latter of which is way ahead of its time.

And of course, where else are you going to find monsters and the Peanuts sharing the silver screen?

Sony’s great DVD collection is an especially worthwhile buy for anyone who worships this genre. You not only get s fantastic commentary by Honda scholars, but the transfer to DVD is gorgeous - with deep blacks to offset the vivid colours. Most importantly, the original Japanese version with English subtitles can be viewed along with the truncated, dubbed American version. The only flaw is the horrendous packaging with all three discs in the collection packed onto one spindle – each movie on top of the other and a definite accident waiting to happen. “Mothra” is available on Sony’s “Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection” with two other Ishiro Honda classics “H-Man” and “Battle in Outer Space”.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

SEPTIC MAN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TORONTO AFTER DARK FILM FESTIVAL 2013 - FantasticFest2013: True Tragedy Reflected in Cronenberg-like Film.

Septic Man (2013) ****
Dir. Jesse Thomas Cook
Starring: Jason David Brown, Molly Dunsworth, Robert Maillet, Julian Richings, Stephen McHattie, Tim Burd, Nicole G. Leier
Review By Greg Klymkiw

Any movie that opens with a weepy babe (Nicole G. Leier) taking a severely punishing crap replete with dulcet echoes of spurting, plopping and gaseous expulsions whilst said babe alternates twixt the release of putrid faecal matter with cum-shot-like geysers of stringy rancid vomit launching from within her maw, splattering triumphantly upon the grotesque tiles of a dimly lit toilet adorned top to bottom in slime, sludge, blown chunks and excrement, should be enough to alert viewers they're in for one mother-pounder of a wild ride into the deepest pits of scatological horror hell.

Septic Man, a new movie from the talented young Canadian horror auteur Jesse Thomas Cook (Monster Brawl) and the visionary independent production company Foresight Features takes the cake (of the urinal variety) for serving up one heaping, horrific platter o' genre representation of the real-life deadly water contamination that occurred several years ago in the bustling Southern Ontario burgh of Walkerton - known around the world for its inbreeding and, of course, the famous E-coli contamination of its drinking water.

The Walkerton tragedy occurred in May of 2000 when some 5000 people flooded (so to speak) the hospitals with severe cases of bloody diarrhoea and a bevy of other tummy-related ailments. Heading up the Walkerton Public Utilities Commission were the Koebel Brothers, two real prizes who'd held their jobs for over thirty years in spite of having absolutely no qualifications to do so. Stan and Frank, fulfilling the respective responsibilities of manager and water foreman, claimed the drinking water was just fine - pure, clean and safe to drink.

Seven people died and a veritable shit-load (as it were) fell ill. The nastiness could have been averted if the trusty local fellas hadn't lied through their teeth. During a subsequent criminal investigation, the Koebel Boys admitted wrongdoing of astronomical proportions - Stan falsified reports and Frank had been happily juicing on the job because his office was not equipped with a fridge to keep beer cold.

It is this very case, ripped from Canadian headlines and firmly lodged in the country's history of endlessly incompetent public service that clearly inspired writer-director Cook to cook-up (so to speak) this delectable sick puppy of a movie. With the assistance of Pontypool scribe Tony Burgess who shares the bottom half of the story credit, it's a simple tale with an accent on a claustrophobic setting. While some might compare Septic Man to the 80s Troma Films classic The Toxic Avenger, Cook's mordant wit, hallucinogenic horror styling, intelligent (albeit sledge hammer) social commentary and eye-assaulting viscous-splattering and pustule-sprouting imagery of the foulest kind, probably brings it much closer to David Cronenberg's early work (most notably Shivers, Rabid and The Brood).

Rather than Walkerton, Cook chooses to set his fictitious horror movie rendering of heinous incompetence leading to a major health crisis in his home town of Collingwood, Ontario. This, I will admit, is especially knee-slapping since Collingwood is known far more for tony tourism, upscale cottage country and a retirement community for rich old people as opposed to Walkerton's inbreeding claim to fame. While far more ludicrous, it is not, surprisingly, improbable.

Following the aforementioned opening five minutes of pre-credit babe-o-licious crapping and barfing, Septic Man introduces us to a televised report from Collingwood's Mayor (the indomitably brilliant Stephen McHattie) who, with the hilarious timbre of virtually every small town Ontario civic official intones the following with a perfectly appropriate straight face: "I’m gonna be honest with you, like I always am. I’m not going to pull any punches. We are in a heck of a goddamn situation here." He goes on to admit that his office has known for six weeks that the source of a local contamination is from the town's water supply, resulting in the deaths of 16 people and hundreds afflicted with ailments related to crypto sporidium and e-coli (including cholera). The Mayor goes on to announce a complete civilian evacuation of Collingwood orchestrated by military, law enforcement and federal officials.

While all hell breaks loose, we're introduced to the lone efforts of Jack (Jason David Brown), Collingwood's ace septic expert as he toils prodigiously in a stinking pool of sludge on the outskirts of a huge pollution-spewing factory that's emptying the most foul concoction of excrement, slime and dead rats into the town's water table. He's approached by Prosser (played with officious malevolence by one of Canada's finest character actors Julian Richings), a dapper gentleman who makes Jack a highly lucrative offer that just cannot be refused.

Prosser represents a "consortium". When Jack asks, "What's that?", Prosser simply declares: "Results, Jack." This implies that only a consortium, as opposed to government officials, are the only ones to acknowledge that our sludge-caked hero is the sole individual in town who has always been on top of various water-related issues. Furthermore, Prosser notes how Jack's efforts have largely gone been unappreciated by local authorities.

Jack wonders why he should risk staying behind when he has a responsibility to accompany his wife to the curling rink where Collingwood's residents are being bussed out. Prosser suggests that money will be the greatest incentive and a reward for Jack's service and prowess. He also throws in an offer wherein Jack will get a cushy desk job for life where he'll "do fuck-all but put your feet up." This is vaguely compelling, but Prosser seals the deal when he reminds Jack "Your wife probably smells shit every time you fuck her." Jack protests with, "Hey, my wife’s pregnant." Clearly the smell of shit hasn't kept the couple from procreating, but ultimately, Prosser's argument is genuinely the right thing to do.

"I’m a civic-minded shit sucker," Jack proclaims upon agreeing to the mission of delving deep into the bowels of the sewer system emptying into the water from the mysterious factory.

What follows is a lonely odyssey into the darkest depths of utter horror. Reality and nightmare become one as Jack uncovers a series of secret underground pipes and tunnels cluttered with corpses and body parts, then realizes he's trapped in a Knossos-like maze of filth presided over by two clearly inbred psychopaths, Lord Auch (Tim Burd) a nasty little thing with a mouthful of razor-sharp canines and a humungous, hulking, long-faced muscle man of few words (played by former WWF wrestling champ and star of such diverse genre favourites as 300, The Immortals, Pacific Rim and, of course, Cook's own hit Anchor Bay title from last year, Monster Brawl).

The special visual and makeup effects are, by the way, superb - right across the board - which comes as no surprise since the SFX team includes Canada's wizard of wonder Steven Kostanski (Astron-6, Manborg). Then again, one of the hallmarks of Foresight Features productions is the fact that so many of its key above the line creators have no problem doing double-triple-quadruple-quintuple and so on duties - immersing themselves in the entire process in a hands-on fashion. Cook, in particular, is a born filmmaker - cinema seems hardwired into his very DNA and he shares this quality with such new Canadian horror icons as Astron-6 and the Twisted Twins. This is how great low-budget movies get made, but more importantly, Foresight understands that you do NOT make low budget features that pathetically try to emulate the mainstream (including indies since most of them are bargain basement studio pictures anyway) - they seek to plumb depths that others do not dare dive into. They happily swim about in a world of shit.

Plumbing, of course, is exactly what this picture is all about and eventually, deep within the bowels of the factory's sewers, an infection sets in, and Jack begins to transform into something utterly hideous and horrific - something bordering, perhaps, on the immortal. Not unlike a number of seminal low budget cult films - David Lynch's Eraserhead in particular - Septic Man roams into nightmarish and hallucinogenic territory which is a delicious place for the film to go since it logically opens things up for all manner of illness.

Though there's a tiny bit of wheel-spinning that weights the picture down slightly in its middle portion, Cook has overall crafted a truly sickening, creepy and original horror gem that joins the ranks of Canada's west coast twins of the most twisted kind, the delightful Soskas who delivered American Mary and Winnipeg's Astron-6 who gave us the magnificent mega-bum-blaster Father's Day. Though some might feel Septic Man doesn't quite creep into modern masterpiece territory of the Soskas's body modification classic or the Astron-6 celebration of demonic sodomy, Jesse Thomas Cook with this and his supremely entertaining Monster Brawl is well on his way to carving a niche all his own into Canada's worthy tradition of audaciously sicko horror. Septic Man is definitely a step in the right direction and between all three Canucks, they form a mighty trinity of delectably diseased subjects. Ultimately, Septic Man is indeed, a masterpiece of terror.

In the name of the Father - Body Modification, The Son - Sodomy and The Holy Ghost - Excrement, young Canadian horror wizards are leaving the rest behind as mere dust in their tracks.

This is truly a must-see motion picture, but to be on the safe side, avoid eating Indian or Mexican cuisine prior to screening it (unless you truly feel the need to purge) and load up on the Tums for your tummy before dipping your toe into the exquisite cinematic cesspool of scary scatological horror that is Jesse Thomas Cook's brazenly foul Septic Man.

"Septic Man" enjoyed its World Premiere at Fantastic Fest 2013 in awesome Austin, Texas and will no doubt launch on home turd in October at the illustrious Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013 (unless, of course its programmers suffer from a brain fart of the highest magnitude on the Richter Scale of Good Taste).