Thursday, 31 January 2013
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009) *
dir. Jan Kounen
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Anna Mouglalis, Elena Morozova, Grigori Manoukov and Anatole Taubman
Review By Greg Klymkiw
You know a movie about the affair between Igor Stravinsky and Coco Chanel is going to be as entertaining as anal fissures when the camera glides along lugubriously for no rhyme nor reason save for the pretension of its director as characters stare endlessly at each other or at nobody or nothing in particular and worst of all, when the opening set piece - an attempt to recreate the disastrous premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps is presented with all the "style" of those dull performing arts TV specials so popular in the late 80s and early 90s.
While it would be unfair to slog the rich production design and often gorgeously lit cinematography, it's as staid and overtly arty as most everything else in this movie. The picture is often gorgeous, but to what end? The drama is so mute and dull, the performances so sub-Masterpiece Theatre, the screenplay so bereft of any true passion or conflict, that the picture is little more than a foreign language Merchant-Ivory costumer (sans the occasionally trashy/arty Merchant-Ivory aesthetic).
So what do we get? A largely passion-free ill-fated romance between Coco and Igor. Coco, still pining for her dead lover Arthur "Boy" Capel, attends the premiere of Stravinsky's work. In spite of the jeers of derision from all the snooty French people in the audience, she recognizes in Stravinsky's work the same sort of commitment to expanding the boundaries of music as she is endowed with expanding in the world of fashion and perfume. Given, however, director Kounen's middle-of-the-road rendering of the ballet is, one wonders why she doesn't join the rioting Gallic upper crust types. But no, instead she offers Stravinsky and his family a safe haven in her country mansion and her patronage.
This is followed by much staring and a plethora of unmotivated camera moves.
Almost one hour into the movie, we get our first sex scene between Coco and Igor. And what a doozy! It's about as sexy as one of those unmotivated camera moves. Watching it, I longed for an episode of Red Shoe Diaries, but sooner than you can say "cum shot", Kounen cuts out of the dishwater dull gymnastics on the rug and gives us some nice shots of foliage.
Speaking of "Red Shoes" (minus the "Diaries" part), any movie that features ballet needs to include dance sequences that at least match if not better the great Powell-Pressburger classic The Red Shoes. If not, it's best to just forget it. Emulation of performing arts specials on television just doesn't cut it. Darren Aronofsky knew this all to well - hence, the brilliant Black Swan.
And if you're going to ask your actors to strip down and pretend to have sex, you kind of need to shoot them with some panache.
The second coital snore-fest is bookended with endless shots of Stravinsky's wife looking dour and more unmotivated camera moves, and worse yet, some incredibly hopeless still-life shots of, well, not much of anything really. A few dull conversation scenes about, not much of anything follow and Coco is off on a business trip, leaving Igor in her mansion alone with his wife and family. This, happily, gives us an opportunity to watch Igor play chess with his son, followed by a snail-paced conversation between Igor and his wife where she finally reveals, "I feel like I don't know you anymore." Seeking something even more scintillating, helmer Kounen takes us back to Coco as she spends an eternity sniffing perfumes in her lab and finally, she hits pay dirt and discovers Chanel No. 5 - certainly reason enough to celebrate and return to her country home for another dull round of sex with Igor.
At approximately 75 minutes into the picture, Coco offers Igor's wife some free perfume while Igor plays croquet with the kids. A ridiculous conversation ensues between the two ladies where wifey begs Coco not to interfere with Igor's music. This leads to wifey telling Igor she smells the decay of her own insides as if she were dead. Yup, that sure would make any man's schwance rise to the occasion. Igor and wifey stare at each other and we cut to another boring sex scene twixt Coco and Igor and more unmotivated camera moves and skewed angles during pillow talk.
When Coco makes another trip away from home we are treated to shots of Igor lying on the ground, walking around and wifey sitting forlornly on a swing.
Do I need to go on?
I thought not.
However, indulge me.
We get a dull dinner scene with Diaghlev and Nijinsky. It's actually quite a feat making a dinner party with those two light-in-the-loafers funsters boring. My hat off to our helmer.
After what seems an eternity, Igor's wife and family finally leave so Igor can romp about in Coco's love nest all by his lonesome. Coco reads a letter from wifey and Kounen brilliantly reveals an imaginary wifey behind Coco's back whispering her contemptuous thoughts into her ear. Gee whiz! I cant say I've seen that before.
Soon enough, Igor begins writing music furiously, but when he needs to saw off a piece of Coco ass, she rebuffs him. He goes back to his music, composes a masterpiece, drinks himself into a stupor and Coco loads him into a bathtub without offering even a hand job. Scintillatingly, we get to see Igor lying in the bath alone for quite some time.
Eventually, Chanel No. 5 becomes popular and Igor achieves the fame he deserves.
Both become old.
Alone and adorned with bad, heavily applied makeup to remind us they are old, 'tis only the memories of their passionless affair that keeps them going, no doubt, to their respective deaths.
And what of me? Or you, the audience?
We are left only with the feeling that we've lost 120 precious minutes of our lives watching pretentious art house drivel.
It's a wonderful life, mais non? Yeah sure! Pass me a bottle of Chanel No. 5 so I can chug it back and drown out my sorrow.
"Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky" is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Wednesday, 30 January 2013
My article from the Winter 2013 issue for the legendary Joe Kane's magazine PHANTOM OF THE MOVIES' VIDEOSCOPE about the Canadian Film Centre's now-sadly-in-hiatus-whatever-the-fuck-that-is-supposed-to-mean WORLD WIDE SHORT FILM FESTIVAL. I review a selection of 3 terrific genre pictures screened at this important, but now-sadly-in-hiatus-whatever-the-fuck-that-is-supposed-to-mean film festival: The visionary grim fairy tail THE CAPTURED BIRD by Jovanka Vuckovic, the deliciously sick REQUIEM FOR A C.H.U.D. by Stephen Stubbs and the exquisite Swedish entry THE UNLIVING by Hugo Lilja. Article By Greg Klymkiw - Reprinted Here By Permission
|Winter 2013 Cover of Phantom of the Movies' VIDEOSCOPE|
|JPG scan of my article on 2012 CFC World Wide Short Film Festival|
Joe Kane began writing about genre films for The Monster Times, then he served as the genre movie columnist under the monicker Phantom of the Movies and in recent years, through his company Phanmedia has published numerous books and the terrific magazine Phantom of the Movies' VIDEOSCOPE. I've been a fan of Joe's forever and I'm very honoured to now be contributing to his cool magazine. Feel free to order copies of his books and even a subscription to the magazine via the following links below. Buying Joe's work by using the clickable links below will also assist with the ongoing maintenance of this site.
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Tuesday, 29 January 2013
Bomber (2009) ***
dir. Paul Cotter
Starring: Shane Taylor, Benjamin Whitrow, Eileen Nicholas
Review By Greg Klymkiw
A terse, tight-lipped old Brit and his seemingly vivacious wife coerce their touchy-feely layabout son into driving them to a village in Germany to fulfil Dad's decades-old obsession of finding a building dotted on a 60-year-old aerial photo and in this odyssey on the backroads of Europe, the family reaches new understandings about each other and Dad finds redemption in the unlikeliest of places.
Road trips in the movies are certainly not without merit. Tried and true, this is a genre wherein an old chestnut of a story premise will not trouble anyone due to familiarity with the narrative backbone if the ride itself proves rewarding.
Given the title Bomber, one has a fairly good idea what the "secret" revelation and need for redemption will be in this film written and directed by Paul Cotter, but again, that's less important than the journey itself. For such yarns to still have punch, there are several questions that need to be answered in the affirmative. Is the pilgrimage rife with drama and emotion of the highest order? Is it compelling? Is it plausible? Are the literal twists and turns in the road carefully and evocatively mirrored with twists and turns of the thematic and psychological kind? Are they layered, original and, most importantly, entertaining and thought provoking?
These then, are the challenges, not only of the filmmaker in general, but frankly, the reviewer who must assess the worth or lack thereof in this specific film. And the answer to each question above is, rather maddeningly - yes... and no.
Bomber is certainly a film worth seeing, though the whole is definitely not equal to the sum of its parts. Granted, with any film, one takes away individual moments, scenes, sequences and the like, holding on to them long after we've seen the picture, but I think what separates the good from the great in cinema (we can leave the mediocre and merely wretched behind in discussing this work) is when everything comes together in the actual process of watching the film - when what we see while we see it is as seamless as possible, so that questions about character, motivation and plot are answered in due course as the picture unspools. Questions should (almost) always come after. Analysis and thought about what we've seen is richer when the picture delivers a narrative that has as few speed bumps as possible to take us out of the drama, unless taking us out of the drama is an intentional tool to enhance the drama as the film progresses.
For example, Bomber has an uphill climb in gaining our avid interest. This is not a case of a film leisurely giving us necessary information in order to lull us into acceptance of the narrative and/or tone and pace, but rather the fact that the picture seems to start off on the sort of footing that strains credibility in the actions of the main character - who, as it turns out, is not necessarily the father figure, but the son.
At the outset, we are introduced to the son as he tries silently waking while his live-in girlfriend sleeps. Alas, she wakes up and he needs to explain to her that he's popping out to see his parents off on their trip to Europe. The girlfriend reminds him they have an important commitment and that he must not blow it "again". He emphatically assures her he won't, but just as forcefully insists how important it is he visits with his parents.
So far, so good.
He shows up at Mom and Dad's house, helps them pack their car, says his goodbyes and offers his well wishes. We're given an excellent series of clues and character traits about all three characters and their relationships with one another. The son hugs and kisses Mom. When he goes to give Dad a hug, it's rebuffed in favour of a handshake. It's true-to-life, intriguing and entertaining.
And then... Dad and Mom start the car, back out of the garage and... KAPUT! The car dies.
This is where you start to get a sinking feeling as the next series of shots are of the son transporting Mom and Dad to Germany in his van - accompanied, sadly, by some horrendous up-tempo folkie tune. We don't actually see the son's decision to screw things up with his girlfriend (presumably yet again) and drop everything to drive his parents which, in and of itself is not a big problem, but because considerable running time passes with ho-hum driving shots and scant few clues as to how the son agrees to let this happen, all one thinks while watching is, "Why the hell is he doing this?" and "Oh, give me a break, I'm not buying this." Not only is credibility being strained, but also we're not given enough clues for quite some time as to why the son would do this. All the while, we're taken out of the narrative and left with borderline cutesy-pie quirkiness.
Annoying as hell, really. Here we are at the beginning of the road trip and we're NOT buying it, but instead are forced to feed upon a few jaunty dollops of whimsy. Ugh!
Eventually, we come to understand the son's motivations, but frankly, this has taken far too long to occur and it becomes a real chore to stay with the movie. Once we eventually do, there are considerable pleasures to be had, but they come in fits and starts - the entire film being marred by either lapses in credibility or forced quirkiness.
All that said, when the film is clicking, it's funny, bittersweet and often very moving. The trio of performances from Shane Taylor, Benjamin Whitrow and Eileen Nicholas are uniformly fine. Whitrow, in particular offers up knockout work. The scene where he finally encounters what he's been looking for sees him deliver such a moving monologue that we're riveted and though his "audience" in the film is finally less than enthralled, we're moved and shattered to see this character redeem himself. When he discovers the real truth behind the thing he's been haunted by for over sixty years of his life, I defy anyone to control the opening of their tear duct floodgates.
Bomber is without question a flawed work, but in spite of this you'll experience any number of moments so profoundly moving that you'll be grateful to have experienced the parts, if not the whole.
"Bomber" is available on DVD from Film Movement.
Monday, 28 January 2013
THE KID WITH A BIKE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne deliver another harrowing cinematic plunge into ultra-neo-realism and it's now available to us as an exquisite new Director-Approved Criterion Collection Blu-Ray Special Edition
|Cécile De France and Thomas Doret|
The Kid with a Bike (2011) ****
dir. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardennes
Starring: Thomas Doret, Cécile De France, Jérémie Renier, Egon Di Mateo
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Nobody makes movies like Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardennes. One picture after another - stripped bare of overt sentimentality - and yet always packing the sort of emotional wallops seldom attained in contemporary cinema. Their camera is both an observer and participant in the dramatic action - sometimes separately and often in complete harmony. The tales are simple - in a sense, almost conventional - yet you always feel you're watching a new take on the human condition. And the performances - always raw and real - which is why the heartache their work engenders hits you where it hurts the most.
The Kid With A Bike is ultimately no exception, though it has the distinction of feeling far more hopeful than one would expect given its harrowing depiction of a childhood sullied by paternal rejection. 12-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) has been abandoned by his father in a state orphanage. The child refuses to believe he'll never see his Dad again. More importantly, Dad promised to buy him a bike and he's insistent the promise was real and that everything is in its proper place, including his Dad. The orphanage officials assure him that his father no longer lives at his last known address and that they cannot find him.
Cyril still exists in a state of innocence pure enough to discount what he's told. He must find out for himself what the truth is behind his father's absence and the whereabouts of his bike. Escaping the clutches of his charges, Cyril heads out to his Dad's last known address and discovers a truth too hard for him to believe. This child is now potentially on the verge of accepting that he is truly alone and that the love and nurturing he expects from his father will simply never come to any realistic fruition.
The Dardennes Brothers plunge us into a number of twists and turns in his life where hope gives way to disappointment in light of what he discovers. In spite of the hard knocks he experiences, a very unlikely salvation is just around the corner - salvation that he literally runs into. Luckily, his potential salvation, a beautiful, but emotionally distant hairdresser Samantha (Cécile de France) is also alone. Not literally, mind you - she has a significant other, but her eventual devotion to Cyril far exceeds what she can give to another and Cyril is just what she needs to love right now.
Alas, for a confused, emotionally traumatized little boy, the temptations of the outside world include the need to be accepted by peers - many of whom are petty criminals and looking for boys like him to use, exploit, then abandon. If there is a fear the Dardennes Brothers focus on it's the emotional holes in the disenfranchised that force them to fill in the gaps with the sort of short term gain that leads to so many children turning into statistics that nobody would wish upon anyone in the formative years of their life.
And there is the bike of the film's title - representing flight and freedom to be sure, but also mobility, possession and a mode of transport that can choose one of two paths; happiness or despair.
The Dardennes Brothers are Masters of Despair, but as such, they're also the Masters of Hope. The Kid With A Bike provides many ways out for young Cyril, but the endless, frustrating conflict is which fork in the road he'll take. Most importantly, it's Cyril's journey in the process of choosing that keeps us glued to the screen.
Childhood is where it all begins. Damage done in this period of innocence becomes all too great a hurdle and the genuine power of this film is seeing Cyril's attempts to surmount the heights inflicted by "damage", but also finding ways to accept the unconditional love of a stranger - a love that might well go a long way to creating a child who will eventually become a man and one who is able to shed the layers of dead flesh that have accumulated in a short life of suffering. Alas, in childhood, things move very slowly, so no matter how short the proceedings are, a month of suffering can feel like years and in turn add so many more years of bad decisions and ultimately, regret.
Again, another great work from these treasures to the art of cinema and one that is not to be missed.
"The Kid With a Bike" is available on a Director Approved Criterion Collection Special Edition Blu-Ray (or if you must, DVD) with an exquisite 2K digital transfer, supervised by director of photography Alain Marcoen, a conversation between film critic Kent Jones and directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, interviews with actors Cécile de France and Thomas Doret, "Return to Seraing", a half-hour documentary where the Dardennes revisit five locations from the film, the trailer and a lovely booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoff Andrew.
Sunday, 27 January 2013
BULLHEAD (RUNDSKOP) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Staggering Belgian crime melodrama: Absolute MUST-SEE - Opens Theatrically in UK & available in North America on BLU-RAY & DVD
Bullhead (Rundskop) dir. Michael R. Roskam (2011)
Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval, Jeanne Dandoy
Review By Greg Klymkiw
It's all about meat.
Then again, why wouldn’t it be?
Michael R. Roskam's unique and harrowing crime melodrama Bullhead is a dark, classic tale of friendship and betrayal against one of the most original backdrops ever utilized in a gangster picture. Hallmarks of the genre – double crosses, filthy brute force, intimidation of the worst kind and Goodfellas-styled hoods are transplanted into the roles of two-fisted laconic farmers, veterinarians and feed suppliers.
In Belgium, no less.
It's film noir crossed with a sprawling, operatic, Visconti-like virtuosity, yet tinged with the earthy stench of cow shit mixed with the sour metallic odour of blood.
A super-buff stud works out maniacally in the dark after plunging steroids into his firm, sleek buttocks.
A cow's belly is sliced open without painkiller - whereupon, a pair of huge, powerful hands rip a calf from within and deposit the dazed newborn covered with glistening viscera into a filthy metal tub.
A brick is lifted high in the air - seemingly trying to touch the heavens before it is slammed down repeatedly to smash a pair of testicles to a pulp.
An ecstasy-and-booze-filled ladies man is dragged out of the glare of a lone street lamp and hauled into the shadows of night where he's so viciously beaten that he'll live his life as a vegetable.
Covert dinner meetings between thugs - fuelled by booze and sumptuously-prepared steaks - occur surreptitiously on farms, in barns and within feed warehouses. Deals, deliveries and alliances are discussed as forks and knives dig savagely into slabs of meat on platters garnished with little more than boiled potatoes - soaking up pools of blood and fat that ooze from the steroid-enhanced comestibles.
Bucolic Belgian farmlands at dusk and twilight mask an evil criminal world of organized steroid users and purveyors - peddling livestock pumped to the max with growth-and-fat-enhancing drugs.
This is one great and original gangster picture. From the innocence of childhood to the corruption-tarnished cusp between youth and middle age, writer-director Michael R. Roskam charts the friendship between Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Diederik (Jeroen Perceval). As kids they are groomed for a life in illicit meat manufacturing and their lives are as inextricably linked as they are estranged after an early tragedy results in a dizzying criminal ascension and a downward-spiralling fate.
Roskam's screenplay brilliantly lays out a myriad of crooked relationships, complex and virtually impenetrable "business deals" and friendships that are as intense as they are fraught with guilt mixed with immoral layers. The ins and outs of the "mysteries" become as obtuse as those in The Big Sleep. At times, we think we have a grasp on what's happening, but the layers of plot are ultimately too thick to follow. It almost doesn't matter. What we know for certain is that bad shit is coming down. That's all we really need to know.
Through it all is the staggering performance of Matthias Schoenaerts - brooding, physical and steeped in humanity. His eyes are extraordinary - shifting in one moment from soulful to dead like a shark.
Roskam's mise-en-scene is first rate. His compositions are painterly and the cinematography manages to capture a sense of dreariness so that it's positively exciting - etching night exteriors like masterly impressionist paintings and dramatic picture compositions that are as thrilling as they're simplistically evocative in terms of both spatial geography and the ever-shifting dynamics of the characters.
The pace is out of this world. It's not machine-gun-like in any way, but weirdly evokes the country life - it's slow, but never lugubrious. Roskam hooks us like a Master and leads us where he needs to and wants to - on HIS terms and those that the story demands.
Early in the film, we hear a life manifesto that boils down to one thing - everything is fucked.
And so it is in Bullhead. It's gloriously, deliriously and viciously fucked - an amoral, cynical, nihilistic and narcissistic 70s style of nastiness brought miraculously to life in a contemporary world of cow shit and gangsters.
We even get some redemption, but a steep price is paid for it.
As it should be.
"Bullhead" is opening theatrically in the UK and is available on Blu-Ray and DVD in North American via Drafthouse Films. It played in Canada at Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival 2012. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ORDER DIRECTLY FROM THE AMAZON LINKS BELOW AND ASSIST IN THE MAINTENANCE OF THIS SITE.
Saturday, 26 January 2013
END OF WATCH (on Blu-Ray & DVD) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - From its premiere at TIFF 2012, through to its theatrical release and now on a variety of home entertainment formats via VVS Films, this terrific cop picture from writer-director David Ayer kicked butt on a first viewing, but gets better, deeper and richer with subsequent viewings.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, America Ferrera, David Grillo, David Harbour,
Review By Greg Klymkiw
End of Watch gets better every single time I see it and let me assure you, my first and second helpings of this great cop drama were no slouches. My third helping was via Blu-Ray on a terrific home entertainment release from VVS Films and there's no two ways about it, writer-director David Ayer serves up a Grand Slam of a picture. It's one hell of a good show.
Some criticism had been levelled against Ayer's supposedly "inconsistent" use of shaky cam home movie footage blended with surveillance cam and straight-up coverage mediated not by characters, nor the watchful eyes of street cams, but director Ayer himself. There's nothing sloppy, herky-jerky nor confusing about the blend. Ayer, with the stunning work of cinematographer Roman Vasyanov, places you directly in the action of the cops - on and off their beat. However, there's a superb variation of shots and when needed, we get all the mediums and wides necessary to create visceral effects that are ALWAYS tied to the story-telling.
Working in tandem with Ayer's mise-en-scène is cutting by Dody Dorn that's never used in the now-fashionable wham-bam-thank-you-m'am style employed in most action films. Every visual and aural effect is rooted in story and Ayer's first-rate screenplay (replete with crackling dialogue and layered characters) is never given short-shrift by the visuals. Even more important is that it's never the horrendous let's-throw-endless-globs-of-shit-on-the-wall-and-figure-out-later-what's-going-to-stick direction so prevalent in the work of poseurs like Sam Mendes, J.J. Abrams and Christopher Nolan - none of whom have any idea how to shoot action and let their (mostly) sound cutters drive the beats with sound instead of picture.
What really stands out on Blu-Ray is David Sardy's first-rate score which not only creates all the necessary aural layering, but with some judicious additional use of hit songs by the likes of Public Enemy, also makes for a soundtrack album that works on its own as backdrop, driving and yes, if any scribes are reading this, magnificent writing music.
It's a terrific picture that delivers a major bang for its buck for ALL viewers. The guys wanting action will love it. The gals wanting to see a challenging "date" picture will love it. Ayer peppers the picture with a compelling character-driven tale full of love and tears.
The Blu-Ray and DVD are chock full of first rate extra features if you need that sort of thing, including a genuinely fine commentary from Ayer.
If you missed the movie theatrically and/or just want to see it again, this is a definite example of a home entertainment product you'll want to own. Screw renting, screw Netlix, screw legal digital downloads, screw streaming, screw pay-per-view - End of Watch is a keeper.
My original review from its Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2012) premiere and theatrical release is below. Buy it. Cherish it.
Watch it again and again and yet again.
I know I have.
My Dad was a cop for ten years. When I was a kid it was always fun seeing movies with him - especially cop and crime pictures since he always had more than a few things to say about the "Hollywood bullshit" or happily, the lack thereof. Curiously, it was the crime pictures like Scorsese's Mean Streets and Peter Yates's The Friends of Eddie Coyle that Dad always gave high marks to for capturing the side of life he spent a decade of his life fighting.
Most cop pictures left him cold save for their occasional entertainment value, but a handful of pictures stand out as movies he loved on several levels. Richard Fleischer's adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh's The New Centurions was one that Dad always felt came closest to recreating "the life" of cops behind the scenes while Friedkin's The French Connection captured the dull, dirty, mundane aspects of police work and finally, how Don Siegel's Dirty Harry came closest to showing the frustrations inherent in the job and how sometimes, a good cop just had to say, "Fuck the system," and do what needed to be done.
Somehow, I think Dad would have liked David Ayer's End of Watch a lot. Hanging by the slenderest of plot threads, this mostly episodic nosedive into every harrowing moment street cops face, makes for an always jolting ride through the dangers our boys in blue face everyday. The other plus to this very fine picture is both the writing and playing of the two loyal partners Brian Taylor and Mike Zavata - beautifully rendered by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña.
A cop's partner is his lifeblood. It's become a cliche in movies and TV, but in reality, the level of loyalty, trust and love a cop has for his partner is treated by most filmmakers in cliched or archetypal ways. It's a testament to writer-director David Ayer that he captures this camaraderie by leaping beyond the by-the-numbers mismatched-partners-who-learn-to-love-and-respect-each-other. From the start, we know these guys are made for each other. If anything, their love deepens and becomes even more demonstrative as the danger and violence in the film intensifies.
Ayer achieves this by using a storytelling technique that in and of itself has become a cliche in recent years, but he pushes it to such extremes that as the movie progresses, we become less concerned with form because of the form and Ayer's clever use of it. The opening few minutes, for example, are shot via a windshield-eye-view of the mean streets of a patrol car, accompanied no less by a portentous reality-TV-styled voice-over. At first you briefly think Ayer's gone nuts until he reveals that cop Brian is a part-time law student putting himself through university as a cop and is studying filmmaking as an elective. As such, he is shooting everything on the job to make a documentary as a class project.
I bought this hook, line and sinker.
When Brian's character is not shooting (and sometimes even when he is on-camera with his rolling camera), the rest of the film is mostly pieced together with a variety of surveillance cams and even through the cams the young electronically obsessed villains use. Add great dialogue, superb realist detail, actual locations plus magnificent performances and it all adds up to a terrific neo-realist-styled slice of life.
Ayer's writing for the cops is dead-on, but what's especially great is how he does not shy away from the banalities and cliches used by the South Central villains who do the dirty work for the cartels. Criminals at this level are boneheads of the lowest order - raised on dreadful television in cultural isolation of the lower order. Ayer takes a big chance here - allowing loftier than thou critics to point fingers at his less-than-balanced portraits of these disgusting thugs. Just as many cops are "dirty", an equal number (if not higher) of the vermin infesting our city streets like rats are zero-brained followers with no minds of their own save for the crap they've ingested in popular culture and from each other.
The narrative itself focuses upon the close friendship of the two cops, their love lives and the importance of family in all its forms - blood, community and crime. Taylor and his Hispanic partner Mike, go about their day-to-day exploits until they happen upon a group of deadly local dealers who are tied to vicious drug cartels. The two cops begin investigating until they get so close to the source of criminal power that the cartel orders hits on them.
So many films in recent years (including those Ayer has written and/or directed) have focused up the "dirty" cops. Reversing this trend with End of Watch is not only welcome but, I think necessary to bolster those in the force who genuinely embrace the protection of the citizenry.
To be a good cop in a world where crime is escalating and when administrative shackles are getting tighter and where cops are even forced into plying their trade by the powers-that-be in ways they know are unfair to those they're supposed to protect is narratively and politically satisfying as it is savvy.
It's the best cop picture in years!
"End of Watch" premiered in a Special Presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival, enjoyed a wide theatrical release and is available for purchase on Blu-Ray via VVS Films. Feel free to use the links below if you plan to buy the movie (and the highly recommended soundtrack album) via Amazon. Each time you click on those links and order direct through them, you're supporting the ongoing maintenance of this review site.
Friday, 25 January 2013
KRIVINA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Great New Canadian Feature Film Begins Its Theatrical Run in Canada at Toronto's Royal Theatre before rolling out in a platform release across Canada. Powerful anti-war dream film has direct stylistic connection to the earliest days of English Canadian cinema.
|KRIVINA debuts theatrically at Toronto's Royal Cinema January 25 - 31, 2012 with showtimes daily. Q&A sessions with Cast and Crew Members after EVERY show. For further information and to buy tickets in advance, please visit the Royal's website HERE.|
Krivina (2012) **** dir. Igor Drljaca
Starring: Goran Slavkovic, Jasmin Geljo, Edis Livnjak, Minela Jasar, Jelena Mijatovic, Petar Mijatovic
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Not a single shot is fired in director Igor Drljaca's stunning feature debut Krivina, but the horror of war - its legacy of pain, its futility and its evil hang like a cloud over every frame of this powerful cinematic evocation of memory and loss. The film's hypnotic rhythm plunges us into the inner landscape of lives irrevocably touched by man's inhumanity to man - a diaspora of suffering that shall never escape the fog of war. They might not be dead, but they might as well be, and in a sense, so should we all.
Miro (Slavkovic) lives in the New World. That is to say he's an immigrant to Canada. Having left the former Yugoslavia when Civil War broke out, he's moved from city to city, job to job and home to home. Hearing that his childhood friend Dado might be alive, Miro leaves the grey, lifeless Toronto - a city of cement and darkened office tower windows, a city so cold, so strangely inhospitable that a reconnection with his homeland, his past and finally his memories of a time when his own country was at peace is what grips him to embark upon an odyssey like no other. Though he searches for Dado, he is essentially searching for himself. War and flight have chipped away at his soul until almost nothing is left within.
Perhaps he will find peace. Until he does, Miro's not unlike another screen character most of us know - a man haunted by war and living in an environment that, in its own way, is as inhospitable as the one he left behind. Like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, he is "God's lonely man" and most of all, one who almost defines the words screenwriter Paul Schrader placed in the mind of the Taxi Driver: "Loneliness has followed me my whole life." Miro's odyssey of despair, however, will not be relieved by a hail of bullets - that would be far too easy, too American, if you will. If the pain is to be relieved at all, it will be through his past - perhaps and hopefully a past unfettered by the pain of war. Maybe, just maybe, he'll be able to look into the eyes of his old friend and find a mirror of what life was like before it was, for all intents and purposes, destroyed.
It is of more than passing interest, at least to me, that my initial observation of Miro and the manner in which his character parallels that of Travis Bickle is one that's as rooted in the past as it is in the present (and ultimately, with little hope for the future). The late 60s and 70s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls period of American cinema spawned an incredible body of work that might best be typified as existential male angst and thematically, Drljaca's film settles comfortably in this thorny nest of despair. What's even more interesting is that Drljaca's film, in a historical context, feels like a natural extension of Canadian Cinema during the aforementioned period of angst.
American men, coming of age in their late 20s and early 30s, almost in a state of arrested development were typified in the cinema as man-boys infused with roiling turmoil and loneliness - with an inability to move forward. America had suffered through the Vietnam War, the Kent State Massacre, Altamont, a variety of anti-government riots and protests, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of JFK, RFK, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
One or two of these events would have been enough to jangle the nerves and stain the soul, but America's youth had been pummelled mercilessly with one horrific event after another wherein questioning their country (and its values, or lack thereof) extended to the pain of questioning themselves and their own place in this world. It's frankly no wonder the American cinema of this period is like a perpetual rendering of anguish, a veritable cinematic daisy chain of Edvard Munch's The Scream.
Canada was a slightly different story. We came out of the Expo 67 celebrations that infused us with a sense of nationhood and promise, yet roiling deep beneath the surface was the inequity and racism towards French Canadians in Quebec, the eventual FLQ Crisis where Prime Minister Trudeau instituted the War Measures Act (with Montreal jails and prisons serving as a Gitmo long before Gitmo). Racism and Anglo-Puritan-fuelled ethnocentric hatred towards anything not tied to the ruling powers of the Commonwealth was alive and well in the seemingly pure Canada. In fact, it was so muted, so subtle, it might have been equally (if not more) insidious than that plaguing America.
Canada was also not immune to the aforementioned strife within the United States. In fact, many of the nation's future great thinkers, academics and artists were young Americans who sought asylum in Canada from the draft in the USA. A good half of my own post-secondary teachers were astounding, exciting and brilliant young men from America who left their country behind because of the draft - better to be Canadian than walking around as an eventual pile of meat to be stuffed into a body bag for no good reason.
On an even more personal level, I had two extremely special expat Americans in my life who touched not only me, but a multitude of other Canadians. Movingly, both of them seem(ed) more "Canadian" than "Canadians" and their impact upon indigenous Canadian culture is unparalleled. (One being a great screenwriter and English professor, the other being dear departed film distributor and educator.)
Still, there was always something more benign about the Canadian experience during this time and this was certainly reflected in our national cinema. Whereas the existential male angst of American cinema was ultimately rooted in extreme overt violence (Taxi Driver, The Gambler, Fingers, etc.), the Canadian cinema of the same period delved into a similar existential male angst where violence was always deep below the surface.
A handful of examples include such Canadian film classics as: Zale Dalen's Skip Tracer, wherein a solitary psychopathic debt collector "legally" drives one of his "clients" via constant verbal harassment to commit a multiple homicide-suicide; or the fresh-faced young hockey player from small-town Ontario in George McCowan's hit film Face Off, who sublimated his desire for celebrity at all costs by turning to thuggish goon behaviour on the ice and driving away those who would give him love off the ice and; most tellingly and brilliantly, Peter Pearson's Paperback Hero wherein a small, isolated prairie town ne'er do well, played by 2001: A Space Odyssey's Keir Dullea, struts about in a studly manner, fucking any fuckable woman available to him and sporting a gun, cowboy hat and the borrowed Gunsmoke monicker of "Marshall Dillon" (with not-so-surprising tragic results, especially given the constant refrain of Gordon Lightfoot on the soundtrack singing "If You Could Read My Mind").
These are but three films of at least 30-40 titles that represent the beginnings of cinema in English Canada where despair is always present and violence burbles and bubbles deep in the soul and psyche of the angst-ridden Canadian male characters. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of this fascinating genre - there's still works by Don Shebib (Goin' Down The Road, Rip-Off and Between Friends), the true Master of Canadian existential male angst and Paul Lynch's despair-ridden The Hard Part Begins with Donnelly Rhodes as a washed-up country and western singer playing to ever-unappreciative audiences in small tank-towns.
The list goes on.
And here were are, in Canada, over 30 years later, and Igor Drljaca - whether intentionally or not - has picked up the baton of this strange form of Canadian drama. The big and most interesting difference is that the 60s/70s Canadian pictures in this genre focused primarily on White Anglo Saxon Protestants. Krivina deals with surface despair and inner violence within the context of recent immigrants to Canada - and in this case, they are immigrants who have experienced the savagery of war in their countries of birth.
|EXISTENTIAL MALE ANGST in CANADIAN CINEMA - FULL CIRCLE:|
SKIP TRACER (Top Left), FACE OFF (Top Centre), PAPERBACK HERO (Top Right), THE HARD PART BEGINS (Middle Left), GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD (Bottom), KRIVINA (Middle Right)
Krivina is Canadian to the hilt, though unlike its 60s/70s predecessors, we're dealing with "New" Canadians. This, in so many ways, is a natural thematic visit to a time and place that obsessed young Canadian filmmakers at the dawn of English Canadian cinema. A new day in our cinema is dawning and it's a very good sign that our cinematic storytellers, from all walks of life, are reflecting our culture as mediated through their own personal experience - one that truly does mirror the multicultural makeup of Canada.
Goran Slavkovic as Miro delivers a performance of mind blowing beauty and simplicity. His subtle, reactive qualities work perfectly within Drljaca's mise-en-scène which, in and of itself is one that through its simplicity yields complex tableaux and a dexterous, yet deeply felt narrative that, much like life itself, fades in and out of time, alternating between "reality" and a dream state. It's never confusing, but very unsettling. In spite of these disturbing qualities (and maybe because of them), we're always rooted in the sort of humanistic elements that remind us continually of how the best filmmakers (Renoir for example) can touch both our hearts and minds by rooting us in a reality that can only exist in both cinema and life itself and in particular, a cinematic world that reflects life as only cinema can.
The film's soundscape (a haunting score, strains of folk music, digital manipulation of natural and unnatural sound) transforms Miro's (and our) experience with throbbing, oppressive tones. Like an irregular heartbeat, the layers of sound strain desperately for life, to move on, to not give out until Miro, this human vessel of blood - the life force that courses through the thin meandering highways and byways of veins and arteries - searches, perhaps in futility, for a sense of peace, of contentment.
War, however, has a way of touching every soul that crosses its path. As Miro talks to one person after another on his journey, we see the toll of war etched into the ethos of those who continue to live and this clearly affects Miro as it does us. Director Drljaca achieves the near-impossible - using the poetic qualities of cinema (so seldom exploited to their fullest), that we are narratively and thematically plunged into an experiential work of art that affords us the unique opportunity to find within ourselves the sense of loss that war has instilled in the characters, the world at large and, in fact, all of us - whether we have experienced it or not.
In countries within the Balkans and Eastern Europe, blood always seems to be imbued with properties that are genuinely replete with the seeming eternal suffering of our ancestors - the blood ties us to each other and yet, it the force that inspires so many of us to look inward for answers.
Do we find them?
Yet another question in search of an answer.
Krivina is an extraordinary film - a personal vision that genuinely affects our sense of self to seek out our own worth, our own place in the world. And it moves us - beyond words - just as the film itself thrives best by using the language of cinema: the visual, the aural and the spiritual. Like Olexander Dovzhenko, Sergei Paradjanov and, to a certain extent, Tarkovsky, Drljaca achieves what I believe to be the fullest extent of what cinema can offer - the ability to touch the souls of its characters and, in so doing, touching the souls of those lucky enough to experience the magic that can only, I think, be fully wrought by cinema.
That the film is written and directed with grace and intelligence, photographed with necessity, genuine beauty and "terrible" beauty, blessed with an astounding sound design and score are all more than enough to rejoice in the fact that a powerful new voice in world cinema has found its way to the screen.
I reiterate - no bullets are fired and yet, Krivina might well be one of the greatest anti-war statements ever etched on film. The movie is, sans blasts from automatic assault rifles, explosions from bombs and mines, the screams of death and pain, the blood that spills into the soil, a film that is replete with violence - the violence of both memory and loss.
Until the world of man can move beyond its primitive state, this violence will haunt us all and until such a time and place that we're ready for a more positive state of existence, we can be grateful that artists exist to provide work that has the power to touch us all.
Krivina shook the foundations of my soul and moved me to both tears and an almost transcendent state of both despair and hope. Hope overcame despair, however, and I feel my life has been altered by a consummate work of art. Cinema is truly a great gift to mankind. It should not be squandered solely on ephemeral trifling. It must inspire thought, elicit emotion and change our lives.
I am grateful to Krivina. It succeeds in these goals.
Some try. Some fail. Some don't bother.
Director Igor Drljaca and his talented team of artists go the distance and then some. They have made a film for the ages.
A HEAD-SCRATHCHER FOR ALL TO CONTEMPLATE:
After a triumphant debut at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2012), KRIVINA will make its International Premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. Hilariously and pathetically, Canada's official federal agency to support Canadian Cinema, Telefilm Canada, invited the film to apply for Marketing Assistance Funds to promote the movie to international audiences at Rotterdam, then turned around and denied the film funding under its appallingly ethnocentric and discriminatory policies that will only acknowledge a film's "Canadian-ness" by the languages spoken in the film. To qualify for ANY Telefilm assistance, a film must be in English or French (Canada's "official" languages), though there are grudging exceptions on a case-by-case basis to acknowledge the languages of Our First Nations.) KRIVINA, a powerful anti-war film about the effects of the Bosnian War upon immigrants who fled to Canada to seek a better life is mostly in the Bosnian and Serbo-Croatian languages. Makes sense to me. The last time I checked, Canada, by the tenets of Pierre Trudeau's historical policies when he was Prime Minister, is in fact, a multicultural nation. Wander into virtually any "ethnic" business, bar or cafe in either French or English Canada and tell me how much English or French you actually hear. Yet another disgraceful cultural policy to drive nails into the coffin of Canadian Culture because bureaucrats seem unable to get their narrow minds around the fact that things don't always fit into the nice little boxes designed to make things easier for bureaucrats to assess projects with tick-boxes and/or handy-dandy check-lists rather than having to, uh, maybe, uh, think. Luckily, this is one of the best and most critically acclaimed films of the year and puts many of the Telefilm-supported films with substantially huger budgets to shame, so without the agency's help, I'm hoping domestic and international audiences will have enough advance notice to make a point of seeing the film. So, just go see it! You'll be rewarded with a transcendent and moving motion picture experience.
If you have any interest in seeing these terrific Canadian Films from the 60s and 70s, feel free to order from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca by clicking directly on the links below. Purchasing the films in this fashion will assist with the ongoing maintenance of this site:
Thursday, 24 January 2013
dir. Aktan Arym Kubat
Starring: Aktan Arym Kubat, Taalaikan Abazova, Askat Sulaimanov, Asan Amanov and Stanbek Toichubaev
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Is there anything more boring than movies from Iran?
Well, how about movies from Kyrgyzstan?
From director-star Aktan Arym Kubat, The Light Thief is a dull, slender, well-meaning, mildly quixotic trifle that is paced slower than the Mesozoic Era and makes considerable inroads for the country of Kyrgyzstan to steal the Dullsville crown from our Iranian brothers.
This twee little item has our protagonist whimsically plodding through a tiny town in the middle of Nowheresville - helping poor pensioners by fiddling with their electricity meters so they can get a break on their bills. He is eventually discovered, fired and in the process, battles post-Soviet corruption to milk the town dry, finding more inner peace and redemption than he bargained for.
Isn't that nice?
This is not an awful picture, but I do wonder why these things continue to get made. I can only assume there are enough segments of the movie-loving public - so starved for something new and different - that they're willing to settle for featherweight "art" like this.
It's a nice looking film, but with the accent on "nice" rather than visually sumptuous or dazzling. Kubat's compositions are always very pretty, but the camera holds on many of them for what seems like an eternity. Precious little happens in these shots - save for twee little moments from the neo-realist school of filmmaking with, weirdly, far too many daubs of whimsy, which might all might have been vaguely interesting if it hadn't been so annoying.
Make no mistake. We're not in the territory of Bela Tarr Dullsville - thank Christ! (Though even that would have proven more intolerable since Tarr at least drags us through muck while Kubat tiptoes through the Kyrgyzstanian tulips.)
There's some filmmaking talent here, to be sure, but the almost unbearable tweeness of the proceedings induces the double threat of inducing a sore ass AND the rising of bile.
I can imagine someone liking this sort of thing and for what it is, it could have been worse. That said, it's yet another example of the kind of rarefied nonsense that appeals to granola-munching poseurs.
Great movies - even those that deal with the smaller moments in life - need to make them feel BIGGER than life itself to exist on a big screen. The Light Thief, however, feels so tiny and inconsequential.
And, uh... lest we forget - twee.
Wednesday, 23 January 2013
DARK ALIBI - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Phil Karlson, legendary director of "The Phenix City Story", "99 River Street" and "Kansas City Confidential" does a bang-up job with this Monogram-produced Charlie Chan picture with the estimable Sidney Toler.
dir. Phil Karlson
Starring: Sidney Toler, Mantan Moreland, Benson Fong, Ben Carter and Teala Loring
Review By Greg Klymkiw
When 20th Century Fox finally decided to give the Charlie Chan series a rest after several years of excellent product (second features with Grade A treatment), the stalwart poverty row company Monogram Pictures grabbed the franchise's torch and generated a series of ultra-low budget Chan adventures.
While there isn't a single Monogram Chan that comes close to the even the most run-of-the-mill Fox productions, I still and will always have a special place in my heart for them. A good part of this fondness might well derive from extremely early childhood memories.
For whatever reason, it was the Monogram Chans that played endlessly on the bottom dwelling independent American TV station KCND in Pembina, North Dakota that beamed its wonderful signal into Winnipeg to save us from the mostly execrable two Canadian TV stations we received locally. I didn't actually see the Fox Chans until my early teenage years and by then, the Monograms were firmly entrenched within my movie-absorbent brain and the memories, even then, were always warm and fuzzy.
Looking at the Monograms now, I still love them for the aesthetic elements that comprise virtually every picture in their Chan canon. The stock footage for establishing shots, the perfunctory sets, the small number of interior locations with scenes stretched beyond the limit to keep camera and lighting set-ups to a minimum, the lack of any A-list talent on camera (but some very fine character actors in support) and the clearly sub-par writing; all contribute immeasurably to my enjoyment of them.
Not that I laugh derisively or take "guilty" pleasure in seeing Grade-Z production values, but rather, I enjoy them the same way one enjoys comfy old slippers long past their age of, shall we say, freshness.
Call them, if you will, the Kraft Dinner Chans.
Most of these pictures retained the services of Sidney Toler (who so expertly took over the role at Fox from Warner Oland and eventually made it exclusively his own) and when Toler was clearly unable to continue due to cancer, Roland Winters took over for six pictures and while not up to Toler and Oland, at least delivered the strangest interpretation of Chan ever set forth on celluloid.
Dark Alibi is one of the very best Monogram productions. In this episode of the franchise, the venerable sleuth of the Asian persuasion coincidentally happens to be leaving the office of an old pal, a public defender who is assailed by the desperate daughter of an innocent man on death row. What's a Chan to do? Well, of course he needs to help the young lass out. And so begins a race against time as Chuckles needs to save the woman's father AND find the real killer. Chan's theory is that someone has figured out how to forge fingerprints. No mean feat. Will Chan do it? You bet he Chan!!! (Kind of like "Bob the Builder" - YES HE CAN!!!)
Several elements are at play in making this the best Monogram Chan.
First and foremost is the fine direction of Phil Karlson who spent many of his early years toiling in the trenches of Monogram and other Poverty Row studios - delivering genre pictures that were always a cut above the rest. In the 50s, Karlson would go on to direct some of the finest noir crime thrillers ever made - most notably The Phenix City Story, Kansas City Confidential, Scandal Sheet and the especially harrowing 99 River Street. In the 60s he made one of Elvis Presley's best, Kid Galahad, and the following decade he made the great 70s noir Framed and one of the biggest vigilante pictures of all time, the original Walking Tall.
With Dark Alibi, Karlson outdoes himself within the typical Monogram constraints. The numerous dialogue scenes, which in many other hands would have been mind-numbingly dull, are rendered with efficiency and style. Karlson's wide and medium compositions are especially well framed and his blocking is always lively and he keeps the dialogue brisk and crackling. He even manages to pull off two first-rate set-pieces; the opening heist with lots of shadow and key light and a terrific sequence involving an eerie, well-stocked theatricasl supply warehouse. There's also a rip snorting prison shootout which is a definite rarity in Chan mysteries and as such is a welcome bonus.
Secondly, the film has a great sense of humour. The comic rapport between Mantan Moreland (playing Birmingham Brown, Chan's loyal driver and manservant) and Chan's Number Three son, Tommy (Benson Fong) is always lively. The two actors clearly had fun playing off each other and by extension, we enjoy it also. Their routines vary from utterly insane conversations punctuated with Chan's deadpan disapproval of their laziness to the two of them getting into a variety of sticky wickets by ignoring Chan's orders for them to sit still. Moreland, the chubby, almost cherubic African-American comedian with bulging pop-eyes gets to play a few scenes with his equally brilliant straight man Benjamin Brown. Their unfinished sentence routines are especially brilliant displays of coming timing and wisely, Karlson shoots them in a simple medium proscenium which is instinctively the right thing to do, but also a nod to the vaudeville style of their gags.
And on the humour front, no Chan picture can be without the hilarious aphorisms spouted by the wise Asian detective. Dark Alibi is full of them. Some of my favourites in the picture include:
"Ancient proverb say: One small wind can raise much dust."
"Honorable grandmother always say: Do not think of future - it come too soon."
"Remember old saying: Earthquake may shatter the rock, but sand upon which rock stood still right there in same old place."
"Skeletons in closets always speak loudest to police."
"Ugliest trade sometimes have moment of joy. Even gravedigger know some people for whom he would do his work with extreme pleasure."
Of course, all of the above are delivered by Toler with a straight face and full portent in his voice, while with others, one catches that tell-tale Toler eye-twinkle. In either case, they're always knee-slappers.
Chan's witty aphorisms and the antics of Mantan Moreland and Number Three Son are often cited, wrongly, as racist. Uh, this is the 40s. It's a different time and place and as such, reflects said time and place. If one responds positively to the Chan series at all, it seems impossible to me how anyone could take serious exception to any of Chan's aphorisms, his son's laziness and Moreland's hilarious antics and line-readings. If anything, one could charge the films with being ethnocentric, but there is none of the implied hatred inherent in the humour that seems to be a necessary ingredient to label something as racist. The humour is gentle and, in its own cockeyed way, rather respectful of Asian and African-American culture. Moreland in particular is a great comic actor - truly great! Denigrating his style of humour by contemporary standards of political correctness frankly detracts from acknowledging his comic genius. That, for me, is far more offensive than any stereotypes Moreland propagates.
Finally, the third element contributing to the picture's lofty position at the top of the Monogram Chan heap is that the script, while hardly a work of genius, delivers a decent mystery with a genuinely surprising conclusion. It also features the aforementioned fingerprint forgery idea which, as ludicrous as it sounds, actually works in a relatively convincing fashion. It is also endowed with a race-against-time structure that definitely heightens the suspense.
Dark Alibi is a solid Monogram Picture, indeed, and an excellent addition to the studio's contribution to the cinematic Chan canon.
"Dark Alibi" is part of a four film box set from TCM via Warner Home Entertainment. A wise programming choice was to include Toler's last and Winter's first renderings of the role. The transfers are all decent, but one wonders why so much money was lavished on the handsome packaging of the films in a nice cardboard box with great graphics and no effort put into the uninspired menus and lack of decent extras.
Tuesday, 22 January 2013
GORBACIOF: THE CASHIER WHO LIKED GAMBLING - DVD Review By Greg Klymkiw - Horrendous art film about a smelly old gambler and his thing for a beautiful, young Asian woman is recommended to film festival programmers only, but nobody else.
Gorbaciof - The Cashier Who Liked Gambling (2010) *1/2
dir. Stefano Incerti
Starring:Toni Servillo, Mi Yang, Hal Yamanaouchi
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Do you, perchance, salivate over the prospect of watching a beautiful young Asian woman lovingly massage the dirty, stinking gnarly toes of an old Italian tough-guy-sad-sack-loser-gambler-thief who thinks he's Buster Keaton (albeit with a birth mark on his balding forehead)?
Well then, have I got a movie for you!
Gorbaciof - The Cashier Who Liked Gambling is exactly the sort of movie film festival programmers, purported film critics and pseuds-who-patronize-film-festivals-to-pretend-how-much-they-like-art-films just love to bits.
The rest of us can feel free to vomit anytime.
Starring the great actor Toni Servillo (who played the corrupt longtime Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti in the fabulous Il Divo) is the title character in this film. While his world weary, hang-dog mug is fascinating to look at, especially as he wanders about like a cross between Humphrey Bogart and Rondo Hatton, adorned in cheap sport coats and greasy, slick-backed hair, the fascination only lasts so long.
On one hand, the bare bones of the story could have worked. By day, Gorbaciof is a petty clerk in a prison who takes cash deposits from visitors, processes their deposits and places them in a safe he has access to. By night, he's an inveterate gambler who patronizes the back room of an Asian cafe in order to play relatively high stakes poker with the Asian proprietor, a sleazy Italian mob-tied lawyer and many other unsavoury types. He stakes himself by lifting money from the deposits, taking a huge chance that he'll be able to replace the dough next morning - provided he doesn't lose.
That said, the cafe is run by the proprietor's daughter, played by the gorgeous Asian actress Mi Yang. Gorbaciof is smitten with her Oriental charms and when her Dad needs a gambling-related bail-out, he unwisely uses his stake money and winnings to help the unlucky proprietor out. When Gorbacioff begins losing, he gets deeper and deeper in debt with his "borrowings" and soon, he succumbs to securing loans from the sleazy lawyer. He also begins openly courting the daughter and she slowly starts to fall for him, while he lavishes her with gifts and outings.
Needless to say, there's only one way this story is going to go.
Imbued with elements of noir and 70s existential male angst in addition to Servillo's weighty presence plus some truly stunning gritty cinematography, the picture could have been a winner. Alas, several crucial elements render the film dead on arrival.
First of all, the picture goes out of its way to create a central character who is a man of few words. This shouldn't have been a problem, but the manner in which it's executed certainly is. Playing up the silent man stuff so relentlessly, it doesn't take long for it to feel like a major and obtrusive contrivance. Even the fine Servillo seems unable to carry this off since the film strains to keep dialogue from him to such a ridiculous degree that it feels forced.
Secondly, making Yang's character unable to speak Italian is another major flaw. The character quickly descends into the cliche of Asian women being docile and mute.
Thirdly, the contrivance of a love story between two people who cannot communicate verbally is not without merit, but within the context of the ethnic stereotype and the silent trait of the central character, it again feels like a contrivance.
(As a sidenote - contrivance and manipulation are not a bad thing, but they are when you can see them play out so obviously.)
Finally, there's something vaguely offensive of presenting an Asian woman so purportedly lonely and bereft of human contact that she's willing and able to submit to the dubious charms of this misfit Rice King. It could have worked so magnificently if the filmmakers had chosen to present her as someone with some spunk, individuality and the ability to converse, however the whole thing smacks of contrivance again. Oooohhhhh, two people, separated by language, find each other through the universal language of love.
It's sickening - pure and simple.
Even more sickening is when she massages his feet.
I don't, however, think I need to remind you again of that repellent image. It was enough to make me want to douse my eyes with the kind of heavy-duty optical wash used in factories when horrendous accidents occur.
Even now, I am compelled to wish, as Kirk Douglas wished in The Detective Story for the ability to remove my brain and hold it under a tap of water to clean the "dirty pictures" that were put in there.
And even now, the bile rises at the very thought of those gnarly toes being stroked and massaged by those delicate hands.
This is a memory I desperately need to repress.
And so you will also.