Friday, 17 March 2017

AN AMERICAN DREAM: THE EDUCATION OF WILLIAM BOWMAN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Canadian Film Fest 2017 Opening Night - Finkleman Satire Worthy, But Misses Mark

Shooting ducks in a barrel not the aim of great satire.

An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman
Dir. Ken Finkleman
Starring: Jake Croker, Diana Bentley, Shiloh Blondel, Jan Caruana, Precious Chong

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Most Canadians with taste, intelligence and hailing from a far superior generation than afforded to the world via millennials, are well acquainted with the considerable gifts of writer-director-actor Ken Finkleman, the Winnipeg born-and-bred auteur. He, along with many stellar 'Peggers, warmed his ass on the University College radiators at the esteemed University of Manitoba before going on to a content creation career, and though most will not forgive his contributions to Grease 2, Airplane 2, Who's That Girl and Head Office, he holds the distinction of creating - bar-none - the very best piece of Canadian television (ever) with his original first 13 episodes of the CBC series The Newsroom in the 1996-1997 seasons and its limited followup More Tears in 1998 (with its deliciously savage satirical portrait of the ultra-conservative Canuck politician/golfer Mike Harris). Though many unimaginative pundits referred to Finkleman's TV work as a poor man's "Larry Sanders Show", they were, as per usual, wrong. The first 13 episodes of Finkleman's bold, brilliant satire, set behind the scenes of a national newsroom, and its sequel with Finkleman's character as a documentary film producer, still deliver the kind of on-the-edge laughs and observations most purveyors of comedy can only dream of.

I only wish An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman was a return to that form, but alas, as satire, it takes its aim at America with all the grace and subtlety of North Western Ontario hosers shooting ducks in a barrel.

In the tradition of such Candide-Gulliver-like satires, most notably Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man!, Finkleman delivers the episodic tale of William Bowman (Jake Croker), an all-American football star hopeful whose life is irrevocably altered by a horrific accident that sends him on a journey of equal parts sadness and madness. He becomes a media sensation, but his fame exacts a horrible toll upon him.

Taking potshots at politics is one thing, but Finkleman trains his aim upon America and frankly, the country is increasingly and alarmingly a place that has become a nation of self-parody. This is clearly the point of Finkleman's bold, brave film, but its satire often seems strangely pitched in ways that are closer to "spoof" rather than the kind of cutting edge one expects from this kind of picture. Things feel too rooted in sarcasm and there's a wonky blend of playing things "straight" and over the top. God knows one doesn't want Finkleman to try aping Lindsay Anderson, but O Lucky Man (and its precursor If) had a glorious consistency of tone that An American Dream desperately needs. In fact, the movie feels a lot closer to Anderson's scattershot Mick Travis finale Britannia Hospital. This is not a good thing.

What is a good thing is that Finkleman's film exists at all. It's often maddening for all the wrong reasons, but there is absolutely no denying there's anything currently out there like it. I wish it wasn't so self-conscious, so aware of itself. Yes, it's clever, but it's never very funny. Its savagery feels machine-tooled. This is, though, reason enough for celebration. Better machine-tooled satire than all the machine-tooled dross that passes for cinema in America today.


An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman is the opening night gala at Toronto's Canadian Film Fest 2017.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Yet Another Reason Why The Royal in Toronto is the BEST Indie Cinema, not just in Toronto, but Canada (and one of the best in the world). The fabulous first-run product is not matched by any screen in the country. Currently playing is the fine indie UK zombie picture THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS - on the big screen, where it's meant to be seen! The Royal has the best sound and picture in the city (by day, it's Theatre D Digital, a sound mixing studio for the movies). The seats are super-comfy too.!!! Review By Greg Klymkiw

Glenn Close is a mad scientist. Typecasting.

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
Dir. Colm McCarthy
Scr. M. R. Carey
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Twelve-year-old Melanie (Sennia Nanua) wakes up in a dank cell, hops out of bed and places herself into a wheelchair. The door opens. Two heavily-armed soldiers train their guns upon her as she's muzzled and strapped securely - treated like a kind of pre-teen Hannibal Lecter and wheeled into a room full of other similarly-secured children.

It's time for school.

Melanie's high I.Q. and vivid imagination is more than enough to earn her the distinction of being teacher's pet to instructor Helen Justineau (babe-o-licious Gemma Arterton). The crusty head of security Sgt. Eddie Parks (still handsome and oddly rugged Paddy Considine) treats the child like a psycho monster and has no use for her. Mad scientist Dr. Caroline Caldwell (a very creepy - naturally - Glenn Close) has been performing a whole whack of grotesque experiments upon the kiddies, but has some very special plans for this child - a girl "with all the gifts".

It's no surprise that Melanie's favourite story is "Pandora's Box" since she clearly holds much in the way of "evil" that she wants to release in order to cling to the "hope" she most definitely can provide to the world.

There is, you see, a fungus. It has spread like wildfire and turned most of the world into "hungries" (as they're referred to by the mean-ass Sarge).

And what precisely are they hungry for?

Human flesh, of course.

She's perfectly normal, though she wants to eat people.

Melanie is a "hungry", but she's definitely not like the others and Doc Caldwell has her eye on the child to provide an eventual cure/antidote.

Every single time I hear about and/or see a new movie with zombies (or any crazed undead afflicted with a "virus/disease/fungus"), my heart begins to sink and my eyes start to glaze over, but when I see something like The Girl With All The Gifts I get all hap-hap-hap-hap-happy again. Yes, there's life left in old chestnuts and Colm McCarthy's film of writer M.R. Carey's screenplay (based upon his book) is proof positive of this.

As is my wont, I knew nothing about the movie before seeing it, and I'm especially grateful to have entered into the film's world in total ignorance. Once hell breaks loose, and oh, it does with horrifying abandon, we're plunged into a living Hell of ravenous, bloodthirsty zombies.

She's not interested in eating anyone at the moment.

The military base falls to thousands of carnivorous creatures and our protagonists - child, teacher, doctor and soldier - begin begin a terrifying danger-fraught odyssey across a topsy-turvy blood-soaked United Kingdom. Director McCarthy handles the proceedings with all the skill and style required to keep us on the edge of our seats. There's one sequence in particular where the "humans" must wend their way through hundreds of "sleeping" zombies which not only provided me with all the necessary bowel gurgles I enjoy during horror pictures, but also inspired the unloading of some heavy matter. (If you see the movie in public, please wear adult diapers.)

This is one scary-ass movie.

That the film eventually creeps into been-there-done-that territory during its final third is a wee bit disappointing, but the picture ultimately delivers on plenty of shocks, chills and thrills and yes, manages to infuse its occasional stock moments with the kind of humanity that finally raises things well beyond the "stock"-in-trade of such items.

An interesting side note is that half of the film's £4 million budget came from the BFI Film Fund (one of their largest investments - ever) and Creative England (the largest investment it's ever made). These are the kind of government-infused cultural initiatives I can support wholeheartedly. I'm assuming/hoping the bureaucrats left the filmmakers alone to make the movie they wanted to make. As a Canadian, I can sincerely hope we see similar government-funded cultural support from Telefilm and its ilk.

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

The Girl With All The Gifts premiered at the TIFF 2016 Midnight Madness series. It is a Saban Films release and is playing theatrically at The Royal Cinema in Toronto on the following dates:

2017-03-18 4:30 PM
2017-03-18 9:00 PM
2017-03-20 9:00 PM
2017-03-21 9:00 PM
2017-03-22 9:00 PM

Friday, 10 March 2017

KONG: SKULL ISLAND - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Saved By Great Monsters, John C. Reilly

John C. Reilly: The only thing resembling a human being.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Scr. Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Sty: John Gatins
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson,
John Goodman, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Why it took four writers to come up with the lame, dull Kong: Skull Island screenplay is beyond me. Then again, given the sheer emptiness of most studio pictures these days, it shouldn't surprise anyone since it takes a whole lotta boneheads to generate a whole lotta stupid. An American President called Donald Trump is proof of that.

If truth be told, I can almost even forgive inept imbecility. What I can't forgive is tedium and this mostly horrendous reboot of the Kong franchise is nothing if not mind-numbingly boring for most of its interminable 118-minute length. Much of what makes the movie dull are the missed opportunities it took four writers to conjure up.

Things begin promisingly enough with the pre-credit sequence. It's WWII and two soldiers - one American, the other Japanese - crash on the remote Skull Island. Ah, tantalizing! Perhaps we will be afforded a lovely action-packed nod to John Boorman's Hell in the Pacific? But, no. We're handed two dull anonymous actors - no Lee Marvin or Toshiro Mifune here. Jesus, I'd have even settled for something resembling Peter Sellers/Burt Kwouk Pink Panther martial arts slap-schtick shenanigans. That, however, would be too politically incorrect by contemporary standards (and sadly, the movie's endlessly shoe-horned P.C. sensibilities are another big problem with the picture). So instead, we get a dull sprint up a mountain and our warring soldiers meet with a far more formidable enemy - Yup, you guessed it, King Kong, the big hairy ape. (But don't worry, ain't nothing too Eugene O'Neill about this hirsute monkey.)

Our movie launches into an annoyingly wham-bam credit sequence detailing American history from the last Great War and eventually leading up to the turbulence of the 1970s. Thank God it stops here - a real decade. Alas, the period detail, in virtually every respect, is woefully inadequate - most annoyingly with the contemporary-speak of the dialogue and the decidedly 2017 timbre of the delivery of said dialogue.

Of course, this being 2017, in spite of the movie being set in the 1970s, we don't get to meet a cool adventurer seeking passage to Skull Island, say along the lines of showman Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong in the 1933 version, Jack Black in Peter Jackson's 2005 entry) or even a delectably sleazy oilman like Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin in 1976). What we get is the supremely unimaginative, ineffectual government hack Bill Randa (John Goodman) and his earnestly plucky African-American geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins). Randa is such a useless schmo that it takes his right-hand Houston to convince a Senator to bankroll the expedition.

Welcome to 2017. And not that I have a problem with this smooth young Black male weaselling dough out of the Senator instead of boss man Whitey, but it might have been far more interesting to have a character like Randa, written-for and played by someone with some balls, like Laurence Fishburne for example. The role of this character, or character-type, requires - Nay, demands someone in his august years (or at least in the case of 1976's Grodin, one of those 30-something guys who feels like he's in his 50s or 60s) and more importantly, someone who has the smarts to squeeze oil out of an empty drum.

But, I remind you - it took four writers to generate this screenplay.

Can't go too wrong with a cute prehistoric muskox.

So, off to Skull Island we go. Randa assembles a stock, boring team that includes former British Special-Ops mercenary James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, a great actor in a nothing role), gung-ho army dude Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, a great actor, but more boring than usual in this stock role), looking for more carnage now that the Vietnam War is over and perhaps most sickeningly, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson, a great actress with a completely idiotic role), a self-proclaimed "Anti-war photographer" (whatever that's supposed to mean). Of course the team is replete with other soldiers, scientists and bureaucrats in order to provide ample food for the monsters.

The movie plods through all of its uninspired machinations as our team essentially needs to get off the island as soon as they land on it - there are monsters, after all. Our leading lady is, of course, not the "beauty who killed the beast", but rather, the beauty that the beast thinks is kind of okay and not a danger to him. Our leading man is boring and does little more than argue with the gung-ho army guy and acquiesce to the madman's needs to kill monsters to avenge the deaths of his soldiers. Of course, the ineffectual adventurer Randa is so useless that we almost forget he's in the movie until he gets eaten. Then, we get to forget about him all over again.

Happily, the movie introduces us to Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly, playing the older version of the American soldier introduced at the beginning of the movie). Marlow has been living on the island since WWII in the protective custody of the island's indigenous Native population. Thank God! A real character with an irascible sense of humour. Reilly not only makes us laugh, but he's really the only person we care about. Stupidly, the writers have relegated Marlow's Japanese counterpart to that of a corpse - someone who is talked about fondly, but whom we don't get a chance to know. It would have been amazing to have a great veteran Asian actor quipping with Reilly and doing battle with the monsters, but you know, there were only four writers, so you can't expect creative miracles.

Even more boring than most of the film's non-characters are the island's tribesmen. What a ho-hum lot. They appear to be pseudo-Buddhist types who do little more than cast inscrutable glances every which way. This is strangely even more ethnocentric (and perhaps even downright racist) than the previous incarnations of "ignorant", "bloodthirsty" "savages" in the 1933 and 2005 versions. At least those people had something resembling "life" infused in their ooga-booga personae.

Kong looks forward to some yummy octopus tentacles.

Other than Reilly's delightful performance, the only thing else left are the monsters. I won't bother attributing any of the picture's "success" in this regard to the by-rote direction of Jordan Vogt-Roberts (his boring nods to Apocalypse Now notwithstanding), but rather, all the magnificent SFX geniuses who designed the myriad of creatures. Kong's battles with the other behemoths are pretty damn spectacular and perk things up ever-so thrillingly. There's a phenomenal aquatic cage match twixt Kong and a humungous octopus which culminates in a wonderful moment in which Kong slurps up a few tentacles. One can, I suppose, attribute this to one of the four writers. Kudos, dudes!

That said, all previous incarnations of the Kong story were a whole lot more than just the monsters. They had, uh, characters, a solid story arc and were chockfull of wonder. They were sheer magic. There's nothing like that here - just a whole lotta tedious expository (and stupid, 'natch) nonsense to setup the inevitable sequels and franchise "universe". I'm coming to hate that word. "Universe" should conjure up feelings of expanse and possibility - not more of the same.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *½ One-and-a-Half Stars

Kong: Skull Island is in wide release via Warner Brothers

Thursday, 9 March 2017

LOGAN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Dreadfully Directed Action Scenes Drag Picture Down

It sure would be nice to see this grizzled mug in a real movie.

Logan (2017)
Dir. James Mangold
Scr. Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant,
Richard E. Grant, Dafne Keen, Eriq La Salle, Elizabeth Rodriguez

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Logan is the best X-Men movie ever made, but that's not really saying much since all of them have been pretty unwatchable to date. This "final" installment in the long-running film series based upon the Marvel Comics adventures of crime-fighting mutants has one big thing going for it - star Hugh Jackman.

Living in hiding as an anonymous limousine driver in Texas, our title character is slowly dying from the adamantium coursing through his veins. His ability to heal from wounds is seriously affected by this. He's caring for the dementia-riddled telepath Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who lives secretly in a dusty, rusting old factory just across the border in Mexico. Logan reluctantly becomes the chief protector of little girl Laura (Dafne Keen), a "wolverine" mutant just like he is. Pursued by the evil cybergenetic mutant Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and scumbag Transigen Corporation mad scientist Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) and the mutant-tracking Caliban (Stephen Merchant), our three heroes hit the highways and byways of America in search of a mutant paradise called Eden (existing across the northern border in Canada, no less).

It's a road movie punctuated by several ultra-violent set pieces.

Cute little girl a baby Wolverine with deadly moves.

The picture isn't really any good - the action scenes are all directed mostly in closeups and medium shots with far-too-much herky-jerky camera moves and ADHD-infused editing and the script defies the most basic logic of the premise it sets up. Since Logan is all too aware that they're being meticulously tracked, it seems especially dopey that he allows himself, the old man and little girl to hunker down with an innocent farming family for an evening on the road to Mutant Mecca.

Surely he knows deadly harm will come to the family - and, of course, it does.

There isn't a single unpredictable moment in the whole narrative. Given the overwhelming portent of co-writer and director James Mangold's mise-en-scene, it's also obvious that Logan and Xavier are doomed. Given that it's a superhero movie and that more sequels and/or a reboot are just around the corner, it's also obvious that the little girl and a whole whack of her mutant kidlet friends will beat the bad guys and make their way to asylum in Canada.

The predictability factor in movies like this goes without saying, so it seems silly to dump on Logan just for that. What can receive a nice smelly turd-release is that the movie fails as a decent rollercoaster ride since Mangold simply has no talent for staging action scenes - all of which are a total mess. Given the astonishing craft of action movies like John Wick and its sequel, when will the studios realize they need to hire directors who know how to direct action? The math on this is pretty simple - long shots, longer takes, first-rate stunt work, a solid sense of geography and edits that are "story" influenced, not merely kinetic.

Well, the math might be simple, but it takes the cinematic equivalent to Einstein to pull it off with aplomb (something Mangold is bereft of). Not that previous X-Men helmsman Bryan Singer is God's Gift to cinema, but even he has certain basic skills to carry this sort of thing off with a relative degree of competence. What Singer lacks is anything resembling a distinctive voice. Mangold, for better or worse, has one - his pictures all have a dreariness to them that borders on, interesting (not really a compliment), but which tends to have some effect in his chamber pieces like Cop Land, his 3:10 To Yuma remake and even his first foray into X-Men territory The Wolverine. He's kind of like Christopher Nolan, but with far less in the way of pretension (and unlike Nolan, he occasionally displays something resembling a sense of humour - a bit dry, but it's there at least).

Logan does, however, have the estimable Hugh Jackman at its core. Jackman has genuine star power. The camera loves him and he's a much better actor than most of his films allow him to be. And Good God, the man is aging beautifully. Clint Eastwood has thirty years on the guy, but Jackman is giving that delicious old coot a decent run for his money in the brawny decrepitude department.

Someday, Jackman will star in a real movie. Maybe he will even play Clint Eastwood's son or baby brother someday. I look forward to that movie.


Logan is in wide release via 20th Century Fox.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Yet Another Reason Why The Royal in Toronto is the BEST Indie Cinema, not just in Toronto, but Canada (and one of the best in the world). The fabulous ongoing Royal series RETROPATH presents Leonard Kastle's brilliantly lurid THE HONEYMOON KILLERS - on the big screen, where it's meant to be seen! The Royal has the best sound and picture in the city (by day, it's Theatre D Digital, a sound mixing studio for the movies) and the Weegie-like monochrome of this great film is going to look more gorgeous than ever. The seats are super-comfy too.!!! Review By Greg Klymkiw

CELEBRATE the 66th Anniversary of the EXECUTION
of The Honeymoon Killers Ray and Martha
at the Royal Cinema on March 10, 2017
On March 8, 1951, the loving couple of Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez were electrocuted at Sing-Sing Prison. On March 10, 2017, you can CELEBRATE the 66th anniversary of their EXECUTION at Toronto's illustrious Royal Cinema during a RETROPATH screening of Leonard Kastle's THE HONEYMOON KILLERS. At 7:00 PM there will be a special pre-show featuring some of cinema's deadliest duos, and a pop-up in the lobby featuring local artists with incredible work for sale! Artists present are: ALEXANDRIA ANN WIDGERY GIAMOS is a part time witch, full time queer feminist who makes handmade magical goods, ALEXA TRILLI, an internationally collected glitter artist and Toronto illustrator TREVOR HENDERSON. And then, the lights will go down low for the screening of the movie proper at 8:00 PM. The Royal Cinema is located at 608 College Street, Toronto, Ontario.

The Honeymoon Killers (1969)
Dir. Leonard Kastle
Starring: Shirley Stoler, Tony Lo Bianco, Doris Roberts,
Dortha Duckworth, Marilyn Chris, Barbara Cason,
Mary Jane Higby, Kip McArdle, Mary Breen

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Though one wishes to imagine the movie Martin Scorsese might have made from Leonard Kastle's screenplay of The Honeymoon Killers, it's probably best left unimagined. Scorsese was quickly fired by the producer for being too pokey on the shoestring $150K budget, whereupon Kastle was selected to replace him.

What remains is still one of the most mouthwateringly lurid films of the 20th century. Not that Kastle's approach to this take on the true-crime drama of the "lonelyhearts killers" was exploitative, but it derives its layers of scum quite honestly due to the realistic, monochrome and almost documentary-like approach to the material. Yet, in spite of the neo-realist flavour infusing the picture, Kastle also bathes the material in a perverse romanticism and we get, first and foremost, a love story - albeit one in which its lovers are psychopaths.

Spring boarding from events which originally took place during the post-war years of the 40s and setting them in the 60s when the film was shot, we're told the tale of Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler), a morbidly obese nurse from Mobile, Alabama who meets the sexy, charming conman Ray Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco) from a lonely hearts club correspondence. Long before internet dating sites, those in need of love would write good, old fashioned love letters to each other via clubs which advertised their services in sleazy "women's" magazines and tabloid newspapers.

The flowery correspondence twixt the two leads Ray to make a trip down to Mobile from New York. Martha lives with her dementia-addled mother (Dortha Duckworth) and has only one real friend, the libidinous Bunny. Ray has come to dupe Martha into emptying her bank account, but instead, he falls madly in love with her, and she with him.

Eventually he reveals his "business" to Martha and the two of them carry on as lovers, but pose as brother and sister, which makes them an ideal team to perpetrate fraud upon lonely spinsters. In no time, however, simple fraud turns to murder and the pair begin to kill their victims. Committing murder seems to spark their libidos even more. After Martha gruesomely, brutally and repeatedly smashes a seventy year old woman's head to a pulp with a hammer, the two retire to the boudoir as Ray, hard-on raging, orders Martha to keep the lights on. "I want to make love," he coos.

Their love knows no bounds, it seems. However, the scams they're perpetrating often place Ray in positions where the "lonely hearts" are demanding sex from him. Worse yet, Ray even seems attracted to some of the women which only causes Martha to become both jealous and even more brutally murderous.

It's only a matter of time until they're caught and as in the real-life case, both of them are put to death in Sing Sing Prison's electric chairs. Kastle, as writer and director, never lets up on the romantic connection between Ray and Martha. Sacrifices are made for love and in spite of the horrific nature of their crimes, the film actually moves us during its final moments. In fact, we're moved quite deeply.

One of the interesting aspects of creating a borderline melodrama of this love is the brilliant notion to use Gustav Mahler's alternately heart-wrenching and sweetly beautiful 6th Symphony as the only score. Written by Mahler during a period of considerable strife in his marriage to Alma Mahler, the work has often been referred to as "The Death of Love" symphony. What makes it work so beautifully is that it needs to convey deep love in order to detail the death of love and used as score in The Honeymoon Killers, it carries us along with as much joyous emotion as it does with its disturbing, dissonant riffs.

There isn't a performance in the film that ever seems out of place. but ultimately, it's Stoler (she played the concentration camp commandant in Lina Wertmuler's Seven Beauties) and Lo Bianco (oft cast as a gangster and cop who transcended the cliches he was forced to inhabit and delivered the brilliantly complex performance in Larry Cohen's God Told Me To) who both keep our eyes glued to the screen. In another time and place, these two render performances that would at least have garnered major nominations and possibly even awards, but in 1969, were relegated to a few decent critical notices and little else.

There have, of course, been a number of film versions of this story, but none of them have the power of Kastle's version to both horrify and move us. It's an extraordinary work and one which continues to live on as a genuine classic.


AFTER YOU SEE The Honeymoon Killers at the Retropath screening at Toronto's Royal Cinema, DON'T FORGET that it is available on a gorgeously transferred Criterion Collection Blu-Ray which comes complete with an all new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, a detailed interview with writer-director Leonard Kastle from 2003, interviews with actors Tony Lo Bianco and Marilyn Chris and editor Stan Warnow and a genuinely great new video essay, “Dear Martha . . . ,” by writer Scott Christianson, author of "Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House". Feel free to order the film directly from the Amazon links below and contribute to the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner: