Friday, 25 March 2016

BICYCLE THIEVES - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Quintessential Neo-Realism on Criterion

Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Dir. Vittorio De Sica
Scr. De Sica, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Gerardo Guerrieri, Cesare Zavattini
Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell,
Gino Saltamerenda, Vittorio Antonucci, Giulio Chiari

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The sheer weight of a great film's importance can often be incalculable and this is certainly the case with Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves, a movie that never ceases to render its emotional wallops with the force of a battering ram no matter how many times one sees the picture. It is the quintessential drama about poverty and easily the preeminent work of neorealism from post-war Italian Cinema.

The picture is untouchable.

Like the best neorealism, De Sica uses a cast of real people instead of professional actors (not a single person in the film seems out of place, delivering performances that are nothing less than pitch-perfect) and he shoots the film in locations where the story is actually set; so real and immediate to the period that we can still see the rubble of bombed-out buildings from WWII. There are moments when (and again, no matter how many times one sees it), that it's impossible to feel like you're watching anything other than the real thing, a story with the force of a cinéma vérité documentary; its drama so cleverly, brilliantly constructed that one does not see a single seam, not even a stitch.

First and foremost, De Sica and his clutch of writers trust in the simplicity of great stories. Bicycle Thieves, on its surface can't be more simple.

Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani), his family living in the dank, paint-peeling impoverishment of a slum walk-up, finally gets a job in the utter destitution plaguing post-war Italy. The job requires him to have a bicycle. His loving wife Maria (Lianella Carell) sells all the sheets from their beds to pay for a pawn ticket to get hubby's bike out of hock. On his first day of work, Antonio's bicycle is stolen.

No bike. No job.

He has a day and a half to find his stolen bike before his next shift. With the help of son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) and best friend Baiocco (Gino Saltamerenda) a long, desperate and frustrating search leads to bupkis. Not even finding the thief (Vittorio Antonucci) yields fruit. Fraught with anguish, Antonio appears to have only one choice, a choice that will lead to salvation or (especially given the relatively recent and proper translation of the film's title from "The" Bicycle Thief to Bicycle "Thieves") even more pain and humiliation.

That's it.

Of course, there's so much more. Great storytellers realize that a clear, simple narrative is what's required to render a film that yields complexities extending well beyond the simplicity of the story itself. It's the springboard by which the film keeps us glued to the screen and then keeps us thinking about what we've seen (and often weeping) long after the word "FIN" hits the final title card.

From the beginning to the devastating end, De Sica places us deep in the heart of a world where the divides between rich and poor are so glaring, one feels just how prescient the film is (in spite of being set in Italy over 50 years ago). The divides we witness are not unlike those facing the world even now.

The film is populated with a multitude of the poor, yet there is one shot after another wherein someone of considerable privilege enters the frame, strutting through without a care in the world; a primly-dressed young fop blowing bubbles in the blazing sun, a vile upper-crust pedophile attempting to lure Bruno with the promise of a bicycle bell, a wealthy family dining in a restaurant with such manners and delicacy that Bruno is almost ashamed to eat his fried mozzarella sandwich with his hands, and most notable are the bureaucratic clerks behind windows to disdainfully serve the great unwashed.

There's even a strange sense that anyone with a job is endowed with a certain degree of entitlement, though wisely, the picture also includes those workers who display a near-resigned (though genuine) commitment to helping those in need. When Maria attempts to hock the family sheets, the pawn clerk argues that her sheets are used, but the look of desperation in Maria's face when she explains that three of the sheets are brand new and Antonio's noble discomfort when he asks for a bit more money are enough to change the clerk's mind and he generously offers extra cash he really shouldn't.

A glimpse into the hock shop's storage room is another exceptional example of De Sica's use of real locations. From Antonio's POV we see a huge wall piled high with bedsheets and, one of the many times during the picture in which we're reduced to tears, is when we (and Antonio) realize that the sheets indeed garnered a fair price as a worker climbs a heaven-touching ladder to deposit them near the top with all the other sheets of "lesser" value.

Another phenomenal use of locations is when Antonio visits a tiny vaudeville-styled theatre in which his friend Baiocco is directing an "unsophisticated" musical number and we're greeted with a faded backdrop on the stage, a handful of gaudily-attired performers, a few rows of decidedly uncomfortable seats and a group of poverty/labour activists (seemingly the real thing) demanding access to the theatre for their meeting. And, of course, the next day, we witness the kindness of Baiocco and his fellow water-truck labourers as they stop work on their paid jobs to help Antonio find the bicycle.

De Sica's overall direction is masterful. There are moments of dread and suspense which are so harrowing that I continue to be on the edge of my seat, each and every time I see the picture. After Antonio gets his bike back, there are a series of shots showing that Antonio's bicycle appears unattended as his attention is drawn to a few other matters. The first time I saw the film, these shots had me squirming. Given that I knew the title of the film and the manner in which the shots are framed, I still remember the dread I felt that the bicycle might be stolen here (it isn't, not yet).

Even more astounding is how I continued to feel queasy upon seeing the film just recently (and in spite of the fact that I've watched the movie once or twice a year over the course of forty years). One scene after another displays moments of situations similar to the aforementioned and my initial feelings from my very first viewing never dissipate. I think I get sick to my stomach even more. It's not unlike seeing superbly constructed set-pieces in a Hitchcock picture. I find myself thinking, "Oh God, no! Please, not that!"

And, you might ask, why is a bicycle so important to Antonio's new job? First and foremost, the job itself offers generous monthly wages (relatively), a monthly family bonus and other assorted benefits. This is because Antonio is working for a film exchange specializing in the shipping and distribution of Hollywood movies and P.R. materials. Antonio is armed with a clutch of posters, a brush, a bucket of glue and a ladder to tool all over a wide city route on his bicycle in order to put the glossy adverts up. It's not just a job, it's a great job.

And I reiterate: No bike. No job.

Though I don't think De Sica is overtly heavy-handed in doing so, it's clear that we're meant to think about the kinds of films being publicized; films representing the American dream factory, far removed from the kind of film De Sica himself has made and most of all, representing the kind of hopes and dreams the post-war poor can't even begin to imagine for themselves. Antonio is putting up a poster featuring the dazzling Rita Hayworth when his bicycle is stolen. Sadly, it's not gorgeous Rita who is literally distracting him, but his job. (Curiously, David O. Selznick even considered an American remake of Bicycle Thieves starring Gary Cooper which, thankfully, never saw the light of day. I'm sure it would have been a great Hollywood picture, but I can't imagine it would have represented the honest emotion De Sica is clearly going for.)

There are two sequences in two different public marketplaces that Antonio and Bruno find themselves in, desperately looking for the stolen bicycle. In the first, Antonio thinks he's found the frame of his bike at one of the stands and demands to see the serial number. The proprietors claim they run an honest business and insist they do not deal in stolen merchandise. We don't believe them for a second, but even though they do deal in stolen goods, De Sica shoots the entire series of shots comprising this that we understand why they would.

The second sequence involves Antonio and Bruno desperately searching the other market as rain pounds down torrentially. If it wasn't for the rain, we might even see tears and in one shot, Bruno's eyes appear moist beyond the mere rain pelting upon them with a gale force.

Herein and throughout, De Sica has us swimming in the turbulent sea of humanity.

And the humanity: Oh! The humanity, Oh! The humanity.


The new Criterion Collection release of Bicycle Thieves comes replete with a new digital restoration (4K on the Blu-ray), with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray; Working with De Sica, a collection of interviews with screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico, actor Enzo Staiola, and film scholar Callisto Cosulich; Life as It Is, a program on the history of Italian neorealism, featuring scholar Mark Shiel; a 2003 documentary from 2003 on screenwriter and longtime Vittorio De Sica collaborator Cesare Zavattini, directed by Carlo Lizzani; an optional English-dubbed soundtrack; and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Godfrey Cheshire and reminiscences by De Sica and his collaborators.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

ACROSS THE LINE, 20 MOVES, THE SABBATICAL - 3 2 C @ CFF2016 - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw

In light of the disgraceful wins for fake, non-Canadian co-productions at the 2016 Canadian Film Awards and the fact that Telefilm Canada and a whole lot of government agencies made the taxpayer-financed investments in the first place, the 2016 Canadian Film Fest at Toronto's Royal Theatre, cleanses the palate with three fine ALL-CANADIAN feature films: one charged with racial violence in the least likely place imaginable, another a breezy doc, and yet another, a witty prairie Canuck comedy. All three pictures are reviewed here at The Film Corner.

Two brothers. One's a pimp. The other's a new NHL star.

Across the Line (2015)
Dir. Director X
Scr. Floyd Kane
Starring: Stephan James, Sarah Jeffery, Shamier Anderson,
Lanette Ware, Steven Love, Denis Theriault, Cara Ricketts

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In the movies, racial violence and hatred has almost always seemed like the domain of urban concrete jungles in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and, among others, Detroit.

But in Halifax, Nova Scotia?

We're talking a big, old small town in Eastern Canada with fiddle players on every corner. The bustling metropolis of Metro Toronto has seen several Canadian films (like the classic Rude) dealing with the African diaspora in the land of Mounties and Beavers, but it's never seemed as mean-spiritedly infused with the kind of roiling racism just looking to explode in violence as the burgh detailed in Across the Line.

The picture focuses on Mattie Slaughter (Stephan James), a hot young hockey forward on the verge of a major N.H.L. deal whose rise to the top is affected by said racism in the seemingly quaint seaside Halifax Harbour and surrounding environs. Add to this a pressure cooker of challenges, many of which are placed in the path of any young man on the verge of sports superstardom, but for a Black kid in a tough school in a backwards backwater, they're exponentially multiplied.

Floyd Kane's script nicely balances a group of engaging characters in a setting that's not only wholly, indigenously Canadian, but is one we're not familiar with (yet feels altogether real). Mattie's brother Carter (Shamier Anderson) brings shame to the family as he pimps out teenage girls from the high school. The relationship between the Slaughter brothers, though not without precedents in the sports movie world, has enough touches of darkness to deliver the sibling strife not unlike Foxcatcher (though nowhere near the twisted Bros in Scorsese's Raging Bull).

Our hockey hero's peer group, Black and White include his friend John (Steven Love), who is dating the mixed-race beauty Jayme (Sarah Jeffrey). In spite of the friendship twixt the two lads, John always feels like Mattie's eye is roving towards the woman he loves.

He wouldn't be wrong about this either.

So suspects the venal, rich boy Todd (Denis Theriault) who is always quick to hurl racial epithets and instigate fisticuffs and/or bullying against Black students in the school. In a nutshell, tensions are running high and a race riot twixt Black and White seems inevitable.

One of the nice things about the movie is how we're pulled into a setting so antithetical to the cliches of other gangland warfare pictures about African-Americans/Canadians pitted against Whitey. No high-rise projects on view in this setting - the families live in Haligonian bungalows in the burbs and the parents are hardworking working stiffs (Mattie's Dad is a self employed cement finisher, Jayme's pops is a uniformed beat cop and John's Mom is a weary nurse).

At times Across the Line reminded me of Charles Burnett's classic of African-American "normal" life To Sleep With Anger, but also, it manages to seethe even a bit closer to Burnett's Killer of Sheep where a working stiff eventually questions the future quality of life for his family due to the overwhelming pressures of daily life amongst his fellow African-American friends and neighbours.

If Charles Burnett made a movie in Halifax, it might feel a lot like this one. Alas, there are moments where Across the Line doesn't quite work as well as it should. The film flip-flops between gorgeously observed, almost Neo-realistic touches to some semi-klunky, seemingly shoehorned-in TV-issue-of-the-week shenanigans. In a sense, the screenplay, which is full of terrific writing, also betrays itself by feeling a bit too worked and polished. There is, for example, a clumsy subplot involving one of the teachers, played by Cara Ricketts, whose experience with racial tensions in her past informs her teaching ethos in the present. This makes sense, but a very strange, near-breakdown sequence she has during a White vs Black school riot just doesn't ring true, except maybe on a CBC Sunday Night made for TV movie.

What does ring true, though, are the elements of the story involving Mattie needing to "keep his nose clean" to ensure himself an NHL spot. Each moment that threatens to upset this apple cart adds considerable conflict to the story which increasingly feels so unfair that we're open-mouthed at how racist the world of pro sports is - especially one so "white" and "Canadian" like hockey. It is implied constantly and even stated very clearly that because Mattie is Black, he's got to tip-toe around every eggshell.

Luckily music video director, Director X, has a decent eye and good sense of rhythm. Working in tandem with cinematographer Samy Inayeh, editor Dev Singh and a first-rate cast (Stephan James, Shamier Anderson and Sarah Jeffrey all deliver sprightly, star-making and camera-loves-them performances), much of the picture pulsates and sparkles with the stuff of real life and bigger conflicts which pull the picture out of its occasional TV-movie-like toe-dipping.

And hell, the picture's main backdrop involves hockey.

It doesn't get more engaging and Canadian than that.

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

Across the Line has its Toronto premiere at the 2016 Canadian Film Fest in Toronto at The Royal Theatre. It's an A71 release which opens theatrically in Canada just after the CFF on April 8.

ABOVE: The inventor of the Rubik's Cube, now and then,
and BELOW, the Cube's tireless promoter.

20 Moves (2014)
Dir. Harv Glazer

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Did you buy a Rubik's Cube in the 1980s? I did. I tried it once and the puzzle so infuriated me, that I tossed the brightly coloured plastic cube in the trash and never though about it again until seeing Vincenzo Natali's 1997 science fiction thriller Cube (wherein an assemblage of potential victims are trapped in a humungous Rubik-like cube and we delight in their paranoia, claustrophobia and grisly deaths). After that low budget genre classic, I gave little more thought about le cube Rubik until seeing 20 Minutes.

As the picture unfurled, I realized I'd be watching a feature length documentary on that idiotic puzzle game which bored and infuriated me over three decades earlier. Needless to say, I suspected I'd be taking a 75 minute nap.

I was wrong. This conventional, but skillfully assembled, downright entertaining and often fascinating look into the life of inventor Erno Rubik's hugely successful puzzle game had me hooked almost from the beginning. Hell, better to be hooked by a movie than some stupid puzzle I couldn't solve (my gaming needs as a lad were simple: pinball machines, Asteroids and eventually straight-up shooter extravaganzas).

Something an elderly Rubik himself says at the beginning of the picture (amidst a whack of de rigueur interviews with celebrity admirers) intrigued me immediately. He claims not have been the inventor, but rather, someone who "discovered" the cube. Given the insane worldwide success of the cube, his heartfelt modesty seemed refreshing, but also a perfect way in to the story that unfolds.

We spend a fair bit of time with Tom Kremer, a toy inventor and promoter who brought the Rubik's Cube from its humble origins in Communist Hungary to the rest of the world. He's a great "narrator" for the film and his own story is as fascinating as that of the Cube and feels inextricably linked.

Spanning the decades between the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, through to the crazy 80s and eventually to the present, Canadian director Glazer keeps us riveted to the screen with a series of great interviews with various toy company impresarios, a rich and judicious use of first-rate archival footage and a pace just breathless enough to keep you wanting more, but allowing you to savour all the salient details of a damn remarkable story. We learn about the Cube as a game sensation, but also as both a learning tool and an inspiration (quite literally sometimes) to visual artists. Imagine, if you will, hundreds, if not thousands of Rubik's Cubes being manipulated and placed together to great stunning pop-art and art works of the highest order.

In its own way, 20 Moves is as much about the Cube as it is a tale about capitalism coming to communism - about creating a fad, watching it die, then seeing it resurrected for all time - a feel-good movie about geeks and for geeks.

Hell, I might rue the day I ever saw Glazer's picture. Even now, I plan to buy a brand new Rubik's Cube - just to give it another try. And why not? I am, after all, a geek.

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

20 Moves has its Toronto premiere at the 2016 Canadian Film Fest in Toronto at The Royal Theatre.

Hands up! Be honest!
Who doesn't enjoy middle-aged schlubs
romancing HOT young babes?

The Sabbatical (2015)
Dir. Brian Stockton
Scr. Stockton, Whittingham
Starring: James Whittingham, Laura Abramsen, Bernadette Mullen,
Mike Gill, Candy Fox, Paul-Gui Crapeau, Kevin Allardyce

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Be honest. You love comedies about schlubs who get a new lease on life when they nab themselves a hot filly, don't you? Virtually every Woody Allen comedy falls into this hallowed category as do several Judd Apatow pictures. In contemporary movies, the schlubs are usually portrayed by the likes of Seth Rogen, Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Adam Sandler, John C. Reilly or Kevin James (amongst many other fine examples of schlubs who get hot babes). The babes are oft-played by the babe-o-licious likes of Mila Kunis, Amy Adams, Katherine Heigl, Drew Barrymore and Megan Fox.

My personal meter for schlub/babe comedies is the aforementioned Woody Allen's magnificent Whatever Works, a movie that inspired many critics and audiences to vomit over the pairing of Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood, but for me, offered plenty of knee-slappers and the occasional stiffie.

But, only in the movies, you say?

There always seems to be a backlash against such pairings in films as if they're not at all realistic. Let me let you in on something, they're a lot more common in real life than people will admit to.

The math is simple.

Women are more mature then men and older men offer an element of intellect/experience that younger men are woefully unable to provide to many younger women. This is especially common in the halls of academia where one might be more likely to find individuals endowed with exceptional brains on both sides of the equation.

If for some reason, these assertions offend you, I pity you. It's only because you haven't personally experienced the joys of schlub-babe romance.

A new gunslinger has ridden his horsy into Schlub Babe Movie Town packing mega-six-shooters fully loaded with this great cinematic tradition. Brian Stockton's very funny feature film The Sabbatical even manages to take a few steps into, shall we say, "mature" territory. Closer to stories where schlub-babe relationships remain unrequited, is not unlike any Woody Allen comedy sans boinking, and then replaced with the mind-matched intercourse on display in such schlub-babe masterworks as Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation.

The biggest distinction of all is that Stockton's film is not set against the backdrop of New York or Tokyo or anything even remotely considered smoothly urbane, but rather in the Canadian prairie city of Regina. Comparing Regina to a similar Canadian city, Winnipeg, a friend of mine nailed the town perfectly: "Well," he postulated, "Winnipeg, unlike Regina, has at least one of everything."

It is into this city of prairie splendour, drab architecture, comfy suburban bungalows, alternating skies of blue and grey, a distinctive car-culture which renders public transit a choice only for the biggest losers and, of course, snow for 10 months of the year, we are introduced to one of the biggest schlubs in recent movie memory. James Pittman (Co-writer of The Sabbatical) is a fine arts professor at the illustrious University of Regina.

I'm not making this up.

There really is a University of Regina.

With a successful, best-selling, critically acclaimed street photography book under his belt, you'd think our schlub was set with a job for life. Alas, with budget cuts, James is warned he better have a new book by the end of his sabbatical since he hasn't published anything since his last hefty high-toned coffee table tome hit the stalls over a decade ago. So now, instead of a whole year of loafing, he might actually have to do some work to save his job.

To make matters worse, his wife Jillian (Bernadette Mullen) is a scientist who is on the verge of launching her breakthrough discovery - reproduction without men. She even insists hubby get sterilized, going so far to make the appointment for him and constantly reminding James when he'll be having his vasectomy. To top it all off, his rankings on the fame-meter have plunged, whilst his wifey is a fame-meter shooting star. Adding insult to injury, he's misdiagnosed as being prone to dizzy spells. Because of this, his drivers licence is confiscated until he's successfully completed a battery of tests.

One afternoon, feeling schlubier than he's ever felt in his life, James half-heartedly wanders around taking pictures until he spies something truly inspirational. He aims, shoots and gets a great shot of Lucy (Laura Abramsen) a gorgeous babe who registers an expression of melancholic sexiness.

Needless to say, the two start chatting and it's like they've known each other their whole life. Quips fly like a 30s/40s romantic comedy and when James hires the lovely, charming Lucy to be his personal driver, it seems like a match made in heaven. Of course, she has a boyfriend who's moving in with her and he's married.

Ah, details.

Their courtship is truly chaste, but also so delightful that we're waiting for him to dump his too-famous wife and for Lucy to turf the goofy, kind-hearted, but clear intellectual inferior to James. Until that can happen (if it can happen), we're treated to one hilarious set piece after another including James meeting his Fine Art rival, a blind photographer and engaging in a joyous round of joining some young people int a healthy round of shooting fireworks off - at each other.

However, fun as this all is, the potential of the platonic possibly moving well beyond that keeps gently roiling. I must remind you, however, that this is a Canadian comedy, and as such, I can't promise you more than bittersweet melancholia which, in and of itself, is truly moving and satisfying within the context of the film.

Conflict indeed exists in The Sabbatical, but it's incredibly gentle and low key. In fact, things never go as far as anyone in the film imagined they would, but we, as an audience, delightfully discover that in Canada, as in life, what we really want and need is hidden under the most delicate veneer.

And maybe, just maybe, if we, like our schlub James, settle for something, perhaps even settle for the forest we can't quite see for the trees, then happiness, true happiness is but a hop, skip and a jump away.

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

The Sabbatical has its Toronto premiere at the 2016 Canadian Film Fest in Toronto at The Royal Theatre.

Friday, 18 March 2016

KNIGHT OF CUPS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Terrence Malick's Cinematic Athletic Cup

Terrence Malick's Malodorous Gems of Wisdom

Knight of Cups (2015)
Dir. Terrence Malick
Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman,
Antonio Banderas, Brian Dennehy, Freida Pinto, Imogen Poots,
Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer, Wes Bentley, Armin Mueller Stahl, Ben Kingsley

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Athletic cups come in pretty handy. They hold onto the crown jewels for dear life, protecting them from injury, sealing them in and collecting pools of nourishing, cheese-like smegma, the nectar of the Gods. This is the grand achievement of filmmaker Terrence Malick.

With Knight of Cups, Malick's created cinema's first-ever motion picture athletic cup, encasing his sweaty, salty, malodorous gems of wisdom so they can mummify and be preserved for all time. In fact, his new film might go well beyond that of an athletic cup - it's not unlike a jar of sour pickles in a brine of horse piss. The contents ain't Kosher, but they're ripe and juicy.

Knight of Cups is the scintillating portrait of a screenwriter (Christian Bale) who spends far more time wandering the beaches, streets and garden parties of Los Angeles than actually doing any writing. He is searching, you see. But for what? For what is he searching for? When he looks up at the sky, which he does quite often, he is greeted with the voice over of God (sounding suspiciously like Ben Kingsley).

"Pieces, fragments of a man," intones the voice.

"Where did I go wrong?" asks the screenwriter. "I'll throw my life away."

"Don't go back to being dead," is the retort of portent.

The screenwriter does what any screenwriter who looks at the sky too much would do. He heads out to Sunset Boulevard and visits a psychic. She begins to do his Tarot cards, but her reading confuses him even more.

"Which way should I go?" he asks.

Well, quicker than you can say "athletic cup", the screenwriter is back on a beach. He's not alone. There are frolicking babes with him, but alas, they offer little solace. He walks away to be on his own, to do what he does so well. He broods. God knows we can all relate to this. Who needs babes when brooding is so much more satisfying?

In fact, the picture contains a few barrel-loads of Christian Bale brooding.

"Howdy Doody!
Terrence Malick is the name.
Terrence Malick is my game.
I once made great movies!

Malick also breaks the movie up into chapters based on tarot cards. You don't really need to know what the cards represent, though. Malick provides explanations for you with his visual poetry which, for the most part attempts to be simplistically obtuse in all the ways Malick's become famous for since he stopped making movies people might actually enjoy.

In the chapter entitled "The Hanged Man", the screenwriter wanders through skid row and ogles alkies. "I just wanna feel, something," he intones. With a blank face, he meets up with his brother and informs us: "I loved my brother. I hated him too." This is first rate story telling. Instead of showing us the hows and whys, Malick just has the character tell us what the conflict was (and is). We also get to meet the screenwriter's father played by Brian Dennehy. He's a ranting and raving prick, though he keeps his ire to himself in what appears to be an endless monologue directed at nobody in particular. Oh, and we see some chick playing a harp. A fucking harp!

Thanks to the aforementioned, Malick has fully explained what a Hanged Man card means.

In the chapter entitled "The Hermit", the screenwriter continues to be surrounded by babes, but tellingly, he is so alone. Luckily, Malick clears matters up for us by having a bunch of dogs dive into a pool in slow motion to retrieve balls. Luckily, they are not Christian Bale's balls. Malick has encased the Bale Crown Jewels with an athletic cup.

Malick also makes this whole business abundantly unclouded by revealing that the screenwriter is attending a seemingly endless garden party with a bunch of rich assholes diving into a pool - just like the dogs! Only there are no balls for them to retrieve.

The screenwriter has been brooding this whole time and eventually he thinks he's floating. Alone. Hence, "The Hermit" and hence, the next chapter entitled "Judgement" wherein the screenwriter's character moves considerably forward by brooding. Then again, you'd brood to if you discovered that your wife was the insufferable Cate Blanchett.

Malick astutely hired the insufferable Cate Blanchett

"Do you remember how happy we were?" Cate asks. "You became so cruel and unkind."

The aforementioned is another example of Malick brilliantly avoiding any drama by having the characters talk about past, present and future conflict. Especially poignant is a scene where the couple appears to have been arguing, but the screenwriter seeks solace by staring at some guy blowing dead leaves around. In direct contrast to all this Bale-brooding, we learn that Blanchett wanted babies, in spite of the fact that she specializes in providing palliative care to people with infectious flesh disorders/diseases like leprosy.

This is no Isle of Molokaii. 'Tis only Los Angeles, but man, leprosy runs rampant.

Blanchett pointedly accuses Bale, as they walk around endlessly, looking at everything but each other: "You didn't want to be inside our marriage or," she adds with considerable heft, "you didn't want to be outside it either."

Have I mentioned that the running time of this movie is just over two fucking hours? Hell, it could have been twice the length for all its heady hardware. Witness: The screenwriter is constantly surrounded by women, yet he broods. At several points, he finds hissef in the company of nekkid broads and yet, he broods. "That's what damnation is," he opines. "Pieces of your life never coming together."

He might be looking for love, but it's in all the wrong places - mostly like the cheesy lint collecting in his sweaty navel which, he gazes at constantly (when he's not looking up at the sky).

One of the women he avoids loving asks, "What do you want from me?" The screenwriter replies, "To weave the spell of you. To make you dream." Then, as an aside, presumably for us, the audience, he adds, "Dreams are nice."

Malick shows this to be true, not by actually visualizing it, but by having Bale say, "Nobody cares about reality anymore." He follows this up with our screenwriter having empty stage-whispered conversations in a strip club. He astutely tells one of the strippers: "You live in your own little fantasy world, but you can be anything you want to be." The stripper retorts: "You can be an asshole, a saint and God."

"There's no such thing as forever," the screenwriter asserts as proceeds to push a chick around in a shopping cart.

Then he stops to look at Palm Trees.

Ever-so briefly, you stop watching the screen to check the time.

You say to yourself in an internal voiceover: "Fuck, there's still an hour left of this shit."

Unlike the rest of the sparse audience, most of whom have long-ago staggered out of the cinema, you stay in your seat, nailing your feet to the floor. If Christ had to suffer on the Cross for Our sins, the least you can do is suffer for having believed Malick is still capable of making movies as great as Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The New World.


Knight of Cups plays at select cinemas via Broad Green Pictures.

Monday, 14 March 2016


BROOKLYN & ROOM are NOT Canadian Movies:
OUR BILDERBERGIAN (pathetically so)

Commentary By Greg Klymkiw

The 2016 Canadian Screen Awards in Film were, for the most part, a disgrace. This is not so much the fault of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television who preside over the event (formerly known as the Genies, and before that, the Etrogs), but rather, the blame lies in the pathetic entirety of the Old Boys' Club which presides over the mainstream status quo of feature films in this country.

In a nutshell, many of the top CSA awards were bestowed upon non-Canadians and pretend-Canadian films. It's the pretend-Canadian pictures that are the latest problem in the continued lateral moves plaguing Canadian Cinema - one Judas (or, if you will, Judii) after another, betraying truly indigenous cinema. Canadian Cinema, at least in the world of the Status Quo Old Boys' Club is so pathetically Canadian, that one can never really talk about the art and industry of our cinema as spiralling into the shitter - THAT would at least be something - but no, we're talking about the especially woeful Canadian trait of the slavering mouth chasing after its own golden anal leakage in a seemingly infinite circuitous movement.

Yes, everything in the universe revolves as it should, especially in Canadian Cinema. There's a spanner in the works, though. It's a slow burn. Like Woody Allen's Alvy Singer (as a child) notes in Annie Hall: "The universe is expanding...the universe is everything, and if it's expanding, someday it will break apart, and that will be the end of everything."

Alvy's doctor tries to placate the child by placing the lad's depressive ruminating in the context of a problem that will only be happening in the distant future. "We've gotta try and enjoy ourselves while we're here," chortles the scary Brooklyn paediatrician.

Well, in Canadian Cinema, there are a few who have the luxury to "enjoy" themselves while they're here. This, of course, includes all the self satisfied nest-feathering pig farmers - bureaucrats, supposed captains of industry and all the other purse-string-and-power-holders - bestowing the slop and, lest we forget, the private club of anointed hogs feeding at the trough provided by the aforementioned bearers of the nourishing mush.

In a sense, our power brokers are doing little more than fattening select livestock for slaughter, or in the parlance of chicken farmers, they're not using "laying" feed (which allows chickens to live out their lives providing yummy eggs) but are, instead, doling out "finishing" feed, to plump the buggers up for the neck wringing and eventual evisceration.

Now, again, this is Canada. We have the patent on lateral moves and as such, I reiterate, we're not really swirling into a sewer. Not yet, anyway.

As Alvy Singer reminds us, "The universe is expanding" and expansion means eventual destruction, but like everything about Canada, impending doom crawls along the edge of a straight razor at a snail's pace. 

Let's look at one film which our Canadian bureaucrats are especially proud of. It's called Brooklyn, an Irish tale about an Irish lassie making the big post-WWI sojourn across the pond to the new land of America and settling in the ethnic melting pot of Brooklyn, New York. The film stars Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, and Julie Walters in the key roles. None of these actors are Canadian. The film is directed by John Crowley, screen written by Nick Horby and based on a book by Colm Tóibín. None of these gentlemen are Canadian.

In fact, did anything in the aforementioned summary make you think the film was even remotely Canadian?

Though the movie provided me with little more than the occasional rising of bile and nasty anal fissures whilst watching it, Brooklyn has many admirers amongst the international critical establishment and has garnered extremely substantial box office receipts.

In fact, let me say now that it is a movie my own late Mother would have loved profusely. Mom was Canadian and my educated guess as to her admiration for it, does not, however, make it a Canadian film and in all honesty (in the interests of full disclosure), dear Mom detested pretty much all of the films I produced which were Canadian. She was not fond of movies about necrophilia (Tales from the Gimli Hospital), WWI mustard-gas-induced forgetfulness and electric sodomy machines (Archangel), incest (Careful), AIDS and euthanasia (The Last Supper), pornography (Bubbles Galore) and Gay sexuality (Symposium), etc.

"Why don't you do something that normal people would like?" she'd ask, ad nauseam. Like most "normal" people, she'd have been much happier if I had produced a movie like Brooklyn and if something that unthinkable had happened, I must admit I'd have done exactly what the Canadian producers did and taken advantage of every scrap of available Canadian taxpayer dollars via the international co-production agreements and federal/provincial tax credits to get it made.

I wouldn't have done this, of course. I'd have preferred to make a movie about the immigrant experience in Canada and the myriad of great stories which exist about that.

Telefilm Canada and the rest of its ilk in the public and private sector, however, have no real interest in the wealth of great Canadian literature about immigrants. Almost all of these books lie dormant in terms of film adaptation.

One of my great dashed dreams was to produce a film of John Marlyn's "Under the Ribs of Death" about immigrants in north end Winnipeg, but the response from "powers-that-be" at the time was always the same: "Too expensive" and "Who cares about Winnipeg?" I suspect the response would be the same today. Marlyn's book was never an international best seller and wasn't about the immigrant experience IN AMERICA. This is not sour grapes, by the way, just an acknowledgment of reality.

Canada's entertainment power brokers want to be star fuckers.

They're pathetic that way.

And now, because of Brooklyn, they'll have had their stars and fucked them too. Most of all, they'll have fucked Canadians (up their assholes sideways with a red-hot poker) into believing, Spanish Inquisition-like, that Brooklyn is a Canadian film. At the very least, Telefilm Canada and other government financing/funding agency bureaucrats want the country's ruling politicians to know how Canadian it is to ensure continued coffer leakage into their coffers so they can keep their cushy government jobs and provide more money to their friends in the Canadian film industry who are allowed to gobble from their by-invitation-only troughs.

But you know what? I've always hated nest-featherers - especially those who purport to actually care about our culture. They're like some puny, pitiable Bilderberg Club of Canadian Cinema.

I don't fucking care if Brooklyn provided employment. Support for the arts does stimulate the economy, but said support should not be Workfare for crews, actors, etc. and it most certainly should not be corporate welfare to Canadian producers who know how to fill out the endless forms required for this largesse.

In Brooklyn's case, I don't care that Montreal continued the tradition of standing-in quite nicely for old New York. Numerous genuine NON-Canadian films have shot and continue to shoot in Montreal for similar reasons and at most, take advantage of tax credits. They do not, however, purport to be Canadian (this would embarrass them, anyway) and the Canadian Government doesn't claim them as Canadian, either (though they'd probably prefer to, but their guidelines keep them from doing so).

I especially don't care that some deft Irish/UK producers hooked up with some enterprising Canadian producers to finagle a whack of bucks from the Canadian government.

None of this matters because:

Brooklyn is NOT a Canadian film.

Room, of course, is the other Canadian movie that's not really Canadian, but our power-brokers want you to believe it is of the Holy Canuck Order. I love Room and I am thrilled it got made. In fact, its filmmaker, Lenny Abrahamson shares similar traits to some of Canada's greatest filmmakers (Egoyan, Maddin, Rozema, Paizs, McKellar, Harkema, etc.) and as such is, to my way of thinking, an honorary Canadian. Its writer Emma Donoghue is a recent landed immigrant to our shores, so she at least counts as a Canadian for real.

Speaking of Donoghue (more on her later, actually), Room was the recipient of the 2016 CSA Golden Screen Award. Formerly known as the Golden Reel, this has always been the most embarrassing award doled out by the Academy. It honours the highest grossing Canadian film in Canada. Ugh! How fucking pathetic! We're ultimately honouring art and each year we're congratulating a film strictly on the basis of how many tickets it sells. The last time I checked, I don't recall the Oscars EVER officially doing likewise. Doing this is so petty and provincial, it makes me shudder every time the award is announced.

In the early years of the awards, the first three winners of this prize were Lies My Father Told Me (1976), Why Shoot The Teacher? (1977) and Who Has Cut The Wind? (1978), all of which were Canadian to the max. What this proves is that there genuinely WAS a time when Canadians wanted to see REAL Canadian movies about the Canadian experience. Over the years, the award began to be dominated by that of the Meatballs and Porky's ilk, broad Quebecois knee-slappers like Ding et Dong and Les Boys or horrendous English-Canadian turds like Passchendaele which had their huge grosses bought and paid for through the largesse of Telefilm Canada, various other government agencies and Cineplex Entertainment. And sure, there were occasional Canadian films of quality which won the award like those of the wonderful Denys Arcand (Decline of the American Empire, Jesus of Montreal), David Cronenberg's Crash and Jean-Marc Vallée's C.R.A.Z.Y. - proof that Canadians paid oodles of dough to see Canadian movies of quality.

But I ask you?

Air Bud? (Flying Basketball Playing Dog) Pompeii? (Cheesy sword and sandal disaster movie epic with laughable digital effects) The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones? (A horrendous attempt at a new Twilight-like teen franchise with a Rotten Tomatoes aggregate of 12% and the Forbes Magazine declaration that the film's opening gross was "a full-blown disaster" and "the biggest bomb of the weekend") Resident Evil: Apocalypse? Resident Evil: Afterlife? Resident Evil: Retribuition? (All three films featuring Milla Jovovich with her painted-on attire and lithe form battling zombies)

These were all Canadian films and they were honoured for their box office grosses in Canada. Given that The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones was such a huge flop, its grosses were still high enough to outdo every other Canadian film in its year of release. Yup, something to celebrate, alright - a Canadian film that did so poorly that it still managed to beat every other Canadian film in the box-office sweepstakes.

(As a side note here, the CSA offers a Golden Screen to television drama based on the highest ratings. I can accept this, but they also offer a similar award to the highest rated Canadian reality-TV program. This is akin to celebrating the fact that millions of gibbering gibbons scarfed down beer and pretzels while watching this crap. Then again, I guess it's not so different that celebrating the same audiences plunking coin down at the ticket wickets to see Resident Evil: Apocalypse or any other pictures in the Milla Jovovich canon.)

And so, we are brought back, full circle to Room (2016's award winner for highest grossing Canadian film in Canada). The nice thing about this award is that Telefilm Canada generously provides a cash prize of $40K (in useless Canadian dollars given the exchange rate right now against the American dollar).

However, as promised earlier, we're getting back to Room writer Donoghue.  She was the cash prize recipient of the Golden Screen, which, she generously donated to the Canada's stellar ImagiNative film festival of aboriginal/first nation cinema.

Here's the disgrace, the embarrassment. Telefilm Canada provides this prize to the central creative forces behind the camera and above the line. The winner of the dough is the writer and director. (Oddly, not the producer. It says what Telefilm really thinks about the creative elements producers should bring to the table.)

But get this! Telefilm will only give the cash to Canadians. Since director Abrahamson is a non-Canadian, he gets bupkis. Since the award is meant to be shared, Telefilm Canada gets to keep $20K and give the other $20K to Room's writer. Perhaps the bean-counting loser bureaucrats could have doled out the entire $40K to Donoghue? That would have been the magnanimous gesture (and the great Canadian aboriginal festival would have been $20K richer).

And you know what? By denying dough to a non-Canadian director seems to indicate more than penny-pinching. For all of Telefilm Canada's crowing about their great Canadian film Room, they can't really believe it is THAT Canadian, after all. 

And they're right. Room is NOT a REAL Canadian film.

Telefilm has essentially created a pathetic conundrum for both the Academy as well as genuine Canadian talent with their mixed-message need to star-fuck.

Let's see how this works:

Several of Room's actors are Canadian including the brilliant young Jacob Tremblay (in spite of his CSA nomination and win in an inappropriate category), the always astonishing Tom McCamus, the eternally vivacious Wendy ("What red-blooded Canuck lad DOESN'T have a crush on her?) Crewson and, additional able support from Amanda Brugel, Joe Pingue and Cas Anvar.

Here's the problem, though.

The Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress CSA Awards were respectively doled out to Room's Brie Larson and Joan Allen respectively. Now, don't get me wrong here - Larson and Allen are great actresses and their work in the film is exemplary. Larson especially takes things to a completely different level and delivers a performance that's not just great in this year - it's a performance that stands up there with the best of the best and will resonate for all time.

Unfortunately the nominations and wins for Larson and Allen in the CSAs gobbled up nominations and wins for CANADIAN actresses.

Is this a petty, provincial, insular, protectionist and myopic concern? To some, it could be seen that way, but in reality, these awards are to celebrate and promote the achievements of Canadians in the motion picture arts. (Some might say that if the BAFTAS can honour non-Brits, the CSAs can honour non-Canadians. Uh, has anyone noticed UK has a feature film industry? They've had it for quite some time now.)

If the CSA awards are to TRULY honour Canadian films AND Canadian co-productions, then they get a major FAIL grade on that front. Let's be honest. The lion's share of media coverage has extolled and will continue to tub-thump the virtues of non-Canadian actresses and the average Canuck will ONLY learn that Canadian films are "growing up" and using "REAL" stars/actors that they know and love from AMERICAN film and television. The punters are going to assume ALL Canadian films will and should be just like AMERICAN films. That's the last thing anyone in Canadian Cinema needs, but it's also the last thing we need to be promoting.

Granted, there have been precedents for this in past CSAs since the beginning of time - non-Canadians have definitely taken home the CSA, Genie and Etrog gold. So what? If more and more fake Canadian films are going to be financed by the Government of Canada and other Canadian public/private entities in order to up the star-fuck ante, to dally with OSCAR, GOLDEN GLOBE and other glories, can our OWN awards not carve out their OWN niche for our OWN Canadian artists? Is this unreasonable? Is this really so petty, provincial, insular, protectionist and myopic?


If Telefilm Canada and its ilk are now going to be pathetically seduced by star fucking, you can bet such work will explode with ferocity in terms of Canadian money being shovelled into the maws of co-productions, especially those which are this breed of fake Canadian films. These are films that have NO interest in Canadian life and/or culture which, I'm sorry, IS indigenous, IS distinctive and IS decidedly different from the American experience.

A perfect recent example of a REAL Canadian movie is David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars. This is one of the best films of the new millennium - period - Canadian or otherwise. What makes the film so savagely satirical, chilling, jaw-agape shocking and piss-your-pants funny is that it IS Canadian. Yes, it's written by an American. Yes, it's set in America, Los Angeles no less. Yes, it's about the AMERICAN film industry. Yes, it focuses on a variety of New-Agey nuttiness that seems peculiarly indigenous to America (L.A. in particular). Yes, a good chunk of it, mostly exteriors, were shot in America. Yes, it stars mostly non-Canadian actors like Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson, though it does have superb support from Canucks like Sarah Gadon, Eric Bird, Ari Cohen, et all.

And yes, Maps to the Stars is an international co-production, utilizing financing from America, Germany, France and Canada. And yet, because of the fact that it's directed by David Cronenberg, imbued as he is with a singular vision that is uniquely Canadian - a perversity and way of looking at the world that can only come from being Canadian (and keeping him firmly amongst similar Canadian auteur stylists like Egoyan and Maddin), Maps to the Stars feels resolutely, indigenously and ultimately Canadian. Who else but a Canadian filmmaker of Cronenberg's calibre could provide the deftly nasty and (at least for this fella) knee-slappingly hilarious take (and genuine birds' eye view) on Bruce Wagner's great writing?

It takes a poet of cinema to create films like Maps to the Stars and Canadian Cinema has never shied away from visual poetry (in spite of the many power brokers over the decades who've tried to snuff out this "tendency"). Hell, as an international co-production, Cronenberg's picture even brings a formidable Canadian force to the table in one of its three producers, the estimable and highly creative Martin Katz. To believe in and support Cronenberg's vision, to actually get the film up and running, took a pit bull - but one imbued with a superb sense of cinema literacy and impeccable taste. In an interview (a great interview at that) with Real Style, Katz brilliantly, and with aplomb, nails the essence of the film a year before it was unleashed as "an absurdist comedy about the entertainment business". It not only distils the picture's creative essence perfectly, but was a clearly integral pitch in harnessing all that needed to be corralled in order to make Cronenberg's great film a reality.

It is Canadian and a co-production and one that I'd be proud to proclaim as a Canadian film.

The problem, finally, is not so much the Canadian Screen Awards, the problem is that many Canadian producers lack the vision and imagination (of Katz, for example) to present international co-productions to the money people, international co-productions that ARE Canadian first and foremost. Ultimately, the guiltiest of all the parties are those bureaucrats crossing Ts and dotting Is, ravenously and slavishly making the whole star-fuck happen to please their boss, le Gouvernement du Canada. They want to have their pouding chômeur and eat it too.

As for co-productions being honoured by the CSAs, the answer is simple: Add a category for international Canadian co-productions for feature films as the Academy has done for television drama.

The only category in co-productions that they wouldn't have to do this for is in Feature Documentary. The nominees for 2016 feature documentaries included genuinely Canadian docs like The Last of the Elephant Men, The Amina Profile, Hadwin's Judgement, How To Change The World and, of course, the grand prize winner, Alan Zweig's mind blowing Hurt. Our documentary producers are interested in Canadian stories and/or Canadian perspectives upon international events.

They're not whores - well, not obvious whores, anyway.

As for non-Canadian stars (or key non-Canadian craftspeople involved) in Canadian films being honoured, co-productions or not, the answer is also simple: Add special citations and round them up into a gorgeously edited presentation of film clips with appropriate commentary for the TV broadcast Gala. (And while they're at it, DON'T leave out docs and shorts for the broadcast which, as the CSAs do now is so petty, so insulting and so infuriatingly Canadian.)

Restructuring to have a citation process for non-Canadian elements would add nomination and awards opportunities for Canadians who would otherwise be shunned and shut out of the process of celebration and promotion.

And you know what?

It'd still allow for some star-fucking.

Or in the immortal words of the immortal Clarence Carter:

When I start makin' love, I don't just make love
I be strokin', that's what I be doin', huh
I be strokin'

Anyone interested in buying Canadian Films (fake Canadian, or otherwise) can click on the following Amazon links and in so doing, support the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner:

Friday, 11 March 2016

THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY (aka GRIMSBY) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - It's Hilarious. Sue me.

The Brothers Grimsby (2016)
Dir. Louis Leterrier
Scr. Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston, Peter Baynham
Starring: Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Rebel Wilson, Isla Fisher,
Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Gabourey Sidibe, Annabelle Wallis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Anal penetration, eating out and pronging fat girls, working class inbreds, brother-on-brother scrotum sucking, flatulence, elephant vulvas, elephant semen and AIDS-ridden blood being swallowed by a few special guests, are just a few items of hilarity Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Ali G, The Dictator, Bruno) tosses like shit against the wall to see what sticks in his latest gross-out comedy The Brothers Grimsby (released in UK as Grimsby).

It's the kind of movie that opens with a hot sex scene between Baron Cohen and his porcine wife (Rebel Wilson), both of them with strings of saliva twixt each other's mouths, plenty of sweat gushing from every pore and building up to a screaming mutual orgasm until our bad-haircutted, horrendously side-burned working class hero looks up to a dweeb sales clerk in a bed shoppe and says, "Yes, we'll take it."

If you laugh at that, as I did, you'll pretty much laugh at everything Baron Cohen and action director Louis Leterrier (Transporter, Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk) toss your way in this contemporary Corsican Brothers-like action comedy involving two brothers separated for close to 30 years. One is a working class slob in the hellhole of Grimsby, England, happily saddled with his fat wife and 12-or-so white trash progeny, who eventually meets up with his handsome brother, a suave, deadly MI6 spy and assassin. Of course, the "dumb" brother screws up spy brother's mission at an AIDS fundraiser and the two are teamed up to clear the spy's name and get the bad guys.

Amidst the knee-slappingly hilarious gags and decently-helmed action scenes, the 83-minute laugh riot only occasionally offers-up dull longueurs by inexplicably show-horning straight-faced sentimental flashbacks. That said, you will witness Rebel Wilson doing a Sharon Stone Basic Instinct moment. That alone is worth the price of admission and/or necessary barf bags.

In a nutshell of nut sucking, you will delight in a complete mess of juvenile humour involving the brothers hiding out in an elephant's vulva during mating season wherein they must sexually manipulate the endless penetration of massive elephant dicks so that voluminous sprays of semen soil them until they can wiggle their way out of this predicament as soon as possible.

There is, of course, the aforementioned scrotum sucking and you will never forget the look of horror on Donald Trump's face as Daniel Radcliffe's AIDS-infected blood jettisons into the mouth of the next President of the United States.

Look, this is what the movie is. I laughed like an idiot, along with my 14-year-old daughter in a small town theatre filled with guffawing inbred Canadian redneck hosers.

If this sounds like your cup of brown cabbage water faecal matter, enjoy, but don't say you weren't warned. If you feel likewise, sue me. Sometimes it is fun laughing at poor people.


The Brothers Grimsby is in wide release world wide via Sony/Columbia. It's garnered some of the worst box office grosses and reviews in the world. It won't stop many of you from laughing if you choose to give it a whirl before it's gone.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Predictable followup to alien thriller

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Dir. Dan Trachtenberg
Scr. Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Cloverfield by Matt Reeves and from a script by Drew Goddard, was a surprisingly effective science fiction horror thriller in the found footage shaky-cam style. Why it needed a $25 million budget was somewhat beyond me, especially when pictures with equally terrific effects and production value have been generated for a fraction of the cost. No matter, the cam-corder-captured party, followed by an alien attack and harrowing rescue effort, was a genuinely terrifying roller coaster ride - nicely directed and with some sharp writing.

The same cannot be said for 10 Cloverfield Lane. Though not a direct sequel, it's set in the aftermath of the alien invasion from the aforementioned surprise hit. Though designed as an extremely low budget horror film with a tiny cast and claustrophobic setting, one of its meagre virtues is that it has far more gloss and polish than the first sojourn into the Cloverfield world. It's shot straight-up in a classical mode, eschewing the previous picture's camcorder look.

Happily, original director (and co-writer) Damien Chazelle dropped the property like a hot potato when he received the dough he need to make the terrific Whiplash. Producer J.J. Abrams brought Dan Trachtenberg, ace director of T.V. commercials to the helm. Though this results in a great look, a shocking car accident sequence and two superb montage sequences, the picture is pretty much a snore.

When babe Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) takes off into the country to chill after breaking up with her boyfriend Ben (the voice of Bradley Cooper via a couple of telephone calls), her car goes off the road in the middle of the night. She wakes up to find herself chained in a stark basement. Soon, she's visited by Howard (John Goodman) her rescuer and host.

She's in shackles for good reason. There's been a chemical warfare attack and Howard needs to gently break the news to her. He doesn't want her to do something stupid and try to leave his fallout shelter, bringing instant death to herself and potentially letting the poisonous atmosphere inside. She eventually meets hunky local good old boy Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) who is also a resident of the well-built shelter.

For most of the movie, Michelle is looking for ways to escape since she thinks Howard might be lying. He also creeps her out. Eventually, the tension twixt the two turns deadly and a (purportedly) scary truth indeed looms outside.

All of this can be seen from miles away.

Unlike Cloverfield's svelte 85-minute running time, this second in what Paramount Pictures hopes will be a new franchise, is a lugubrious 105 minutes. There's plenty of dialogue - some of it good enough, but most of it awful - plus a narrative so predictable that it would take a major mental deficiency to not see where the picture is headed.

Sadly, we're forced to sit through the by-rote advances in the ho-hum plot. All (and I do mean ALL) the "shocking" revelations come precisely when they should, offering little surprise.

Each beat feels like Syd Field and/or Robert McKee 101.

(By the way, I think both Field and McKee - McKee perhaps less so - have a lot to offer, but for some reason mainstream studio plot construction "geniuses" can't seem to realize that both of the aforementioned screenwriting gurus encourage the notion of breaking the rules, but ONLY once the rules have been thoroughly understood, tried, applied, then made better by spring-boarding away from them.)

The three central actors perform this dross admirably, but nothing can really save the film from being utterly, thoroughly dull. This might have not mattered so much if the ride had offered up some genuine thrills, but alas it does not. It spring-boards into tedious familiarity.

Though I'm always happy to watch the great John Goodman, it's a bit disheartening to see him get so much screen time with a role as run of the mill as this one. Howard is an ex-military survivalist nutcase and child rapist. Goodman does his best to play things straight, but the role is so poorly etched that Goodman can do little but waste screen time deflecting his character's predictability. As such, he works very hard to deliver as interesting and blessedly low-key a performance as possible.

Paramount is making much ado about nothing in their efforts to convince audiences not to "spoil" the proceedings. Sadly, the movie does a pretty good job of that, all by its lonesome. Given the running time and dullish pace, the movie also gives us plenty of time to spot all the gaping plot holes. Many of them are so Mack-truck sized, they're impossible to avoid.

Worse yet, though the movie is a mere fraction of the Cloverfield cost, there are still any number of films which have far more skill and imagination at a mere fraction of this picture's "modest" $5 million budget. Just take a gander at any film from Collingwood's Foresight Features (Ejecta, Hellmouth, The Hexecutioners, Septic Man) and you'll see superb production value for thrifty bucks and imagination galore as opposed to predictability galore. As well, the Foresight Features pictures are actually about something which 10 Cloverfield Lane ultimately, is not.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *½ One-and-a-half-stars

10 Cloverfield Lane is in wide release via Paramount Pictures.