Saturday, 8 September 2018

BLIND SPOT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Real Time Devastation from Norway

A parent's worst nightmare comes to life in real time.

Blind Spot (2018)
Dir. Tuva Novotny
Starring: Pia Tjelta, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Nora Mathea Øien

Review By Greg Klymkiw
One trick pony movies, those pictures built upon a "gimmick" of execution (Christopher "One Idea" Nolan's 2000 neo-noir Memento, with its lugubrious, humourless "let's tell the story backwards" approach being the most egregious example for me) are seldom works that can live beyond their silly little stunts. Alexander Sokurov's impressive one-take 2002 feature Russian Ark, however, lives well beyond its clever conceit and yields considerable richness on repeated viewings (unlike the aforementioned Memento which gets more infuriating with subsequent helpings).

Actress Tuva Novotny's debut feature Blind Spot is certainly a dazzling feat of technical wizardry, but its emotional core is so solid that the real time with which the story unfolds never feels like a masturbatory imposture, but a valid dramatic approach to a narrative that is, to use a perfectly apt cliché, every parent's worst nightmare. The film wends its way through events in the life of a Norwegian family in a 102-minute running time that takes us, second by second on a journey that is always harrowing.

The story begins with a fixed camera upon a high school gym class and we watch as a group of young women go through their rigorous activities. Soon enough we settle on Tea (Nora Mathea Øien) as she and a friend make their way into the change room, go about the business of towelling-off, showering, changing etc. and eventually walk out together into the hallways of the school. The friends walk home, casually and naturally talking about the day's events, homework and focusing primarily on an upcoming mathematics assignment. They eventually part and it's here where I realized that there has yet to be a single cut.

The long take continues. We follow Tea as she walks up several flights of stairs to her family's flat. Once inside, we observe her mother Maria (Pia Tjelta in an intense, bravura performance) rushing about with Tea's little brother. The teenager leaves a friendly voicemail for her father Anders (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), jots an entry in her journal and eventually, leaves the frame.

And then, off-camera, IT happens.

Novotny's mise-en-scene creates a sense of portent throughout. We know something is going to happen and we sense it's not going to be good. Yet, when it does happen, we are as much in the dark as Maria until she discovers the unthinkable. From this point we experience the mother's desperation, the long wait for an ambulance, the trip to a nearby hospital (though it never feels "nearby" enough). The long take never lets up, but it is to the film's credit that we're ultimately more focused on the drama rather than the conceit.

Once in the hospital we follow the events as they would naturally unfold, the POV focusing on characters such as a compassionate nurse, the emergency room team leader and the family. Novotny's deft screenplay parcels out information which naturally provides context for the tragic events, but most astoundingly, creates a realistic dramatic arc for the 102 minutes that doesn't in any way, shape or form give us false closure nor, like life, does it provide any easy, pat answers.

Life is drama and Blind Spot brilliantly proves this.


Blind Spot has its International Premiere in the Discovery Series at TIFF 2018.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

GLITTER'S WILD WOMEN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Women Making Movies

A film festival with no viewers? It's the wilderness out there.
Glitter's Wild Women (2018)
Dir. Roney
Starring: Grace Glowicki, Cotey Pope

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Suppose you make a movie. Well, obviously you want people to see it and maybe, just maybe, you decide to launch the film by hosting your very own film festival. You make your own flyers, post them around, set up a makeshift theatre in your front yard and then, wait for the crowds to pour in.

This is, in a nutshell, what the two young women (Grace Glowicki, Cotey Pope) at the centre of Roney's debut film do. It is, however, a bit more complicated than that. Their lives and, by extension Roney's film itself become infused with magic. Inspiration is all around them, to be sure. They live in an isolated country house surrounded by peace and natural beauty. They spend inordinate amounts of time watching 70s movies with tough, kick-butt female heroines, they drive along the empty highways and byways of the rural municipality they find themselves in, emulating the poses and dialogue of the movies, but using that inspiration as a springboard for their own imaginations.

And of course, they harvest the mysterious glitter infusing their bucolic surroundings. Glitter, you see, especially in the world of magic realism (which Roney's film has in spades) has oh-so mysterious ways. However, magic will only get you so far and these two women have a lot more going for them. They mine the gold with sheer determination.

This is one fine debut. The Vancouver-born Roney, who studied at Ryerson University, displays an assured hand behind the camera. She guides this tale with a talent that seems natural. She feels like someone with filmmaking hard-wired into her DNA. Her compositions are rich, she has a natural propensity for hitting the proper dramatic beats to drive the film forward (with plenty of cinematic poetry) and she elicits fine performances from her two leads.

There is, as it turns out, a strange melancholy to the fun proceedings. These women, these friends, these artists, are working in the wilderness and I can't help but think of the patriarchal nature of the film industry itself. They're on their own and it shouldn't have to be that way. So while Glitter's Wild Women offers plenty of entertainment value, it also delivers plenty of food for thought.

As it should be, really.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***1/2 Three and a Half Stars

Glitter's Wild Women premieres in the Short Cuts program at TIFF 2018.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

ENDZEIT (Ever After) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Original Zombie Apocalypse Film

All female filmmakers yield original zombie apocalypse.

Endzeit - Ever After (2018)
Dir. Carolina Hellsgård
Scr. Olivia Vieweg
Starring: Gro Swantje Kohlhof, Maja Lehrer, Trine Dyrholm

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A plague has descended upon the Earth and as per usual, the zombies outnumber the living. Only two plague-free cities exist, in Germany, of course. They stand alone as fortresses against the hordes of slavering, flesh-eating creatures. Life within in them is, however, anything but normal. The citizens must slave constantly to keep the zombies out and every so often, if someone working along the fences isn't careful, the claws and jaws of a monster reach through to tear out a chunk or two of living flesh. Inevitably, the victim must be dispensed with - a bullet or blow to the head or, on occasion, a simple decapitation is the only solution.

And life, such as it is, goes on.

Sound familiar so far? Sure, why not? We've seen movie upon movie with similar situations and themes, but happily, Endzeit (Ever After) is unlike any of them. In fact, this is one of the most original apocalyptic zombie movies ever made.

Our story begins in the city of Weimar where young Vivi (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) spends her days in a huge old house, reflecting upon the tragedies which befell her family. Eventually, she finds herself outside on the perimeters of the city, assisting other plague survivors to reinforce the walls. Here she meets the tough-minded Eva (Maja Lehrer) and the two of them eventually escape Weimar together aboard an unmanned supply train headed for the city of Jena which, word has it, might provide more hope and humanity. Opposites not only attract, but compliment each other perfectly. When the train breaks down, the two women must wend their way across the harsh dangerous landscape on foot.

Yes, there are the usual challenges - bloodthirsty zombies at every turn - but eventually, they face something altogether new and mysterious. This is where Endzeit creeps into territory of the most original kind. Not only is emphasis placed on their burgeoning friendship and growing love, but it's what they discover that plunges the film into miraculously fresh territory. Nature, you see, has its own plans for the world and it is this biological shift that's truly surprising.

Surprise is the key word here - not in any typical genre film fashion. In spite of the traditional apocalyptic coat hanger with which the film adorns itself with all manner of deep philosophical rumination, we find ourselves always compelled to stay with these women on their journey in what proves to be a very brave, bold new world.

Olivia Vieweg's rich screenplay, based upon her graphic novel, takes us on roads seldom travelled in horror films and Carolina Hellsgård's direction manages to keep the forward thrust of the narrative taut whilst allowing for plenty of deep, slow-burn atmosphere. (And make no mistake, the slow-burn eventually yields an absolutely terrifying and thrilling series of climactic moments that elicit plenty of nail biting.)

Endzeit is creepy and scary, but it's also deeply and profoundly moving. One hesitates to reveal to much more. My own viewing was blessed by knowing very little about the film and the ride it took me on was equally dazzling and thought-provoking.

As the end credits unspooled, I discovered that every major key creative element of this zombie film was created by women. I'd still like to think that this is a work created by film artists of the highest order, no matter what their gender. However, another part of me thinks that women can and do see the world differently and in the case of a post-apocalyptic zombie movie, they have yielded a film that focuses upon that which truly haunts humanity in times of great tragedy - how our own actions to maintain survival at any cost creates that which haunts us the most - the ghosts and memories of those left to die. Finally, Endzeit is a horror film that is happy to scare us, but does so by being less interested in viscera and far more concerned with regeneration and love.

This is a good thing, a very good thing and I, for one, want to see more of this in the movies.


Endzeit - Ever After has its World Premiere in the TIFF 2018 Discovery Series.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

LET ME FALL (Lof mer ad falla) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Great new Baldvin Z @ TIFF 2018

The love, pain and confusion of teen years lasts a lifetime.

Let Me Fall - Lof mer ad falla (2018)
Dir. Baldvin Z (Zophoníasson)
Scr. Birgir Örn Steinarsson, Baldvin Z
Starring: Elín Sif Halldórsdóttir, Eyrún Björk Jakobsdóttir, Kristín þóra Haraldsdóttir, Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir, Þorsteinn Bachmann

Review By Greg Klymkiw

And it ain’t gonna rain anymore
Now my baby’s gone
And it ain’t gonna rain anymore
Now my baby’s gone

Now the storm has passed over me
I’m left to drift on a dead calm sea
And watch her forever through the cracks in the beams
Nailed across the doorways of the bedrooms of my dreams

- Nick Cave "Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore" (covered in the film by Zoe-Ruth Erwin)

High school student Magnea (Elín Sif Halldórsdóttir) is armed with a wad of cash she's secured up-front from a burly, bearded miscreant looking for jailbait sex in his suburban Reykjavik home (adorned, no less, with photos of his wife and kids). She has no intention of delivering the foul goods he's after. She produces a blood-filled hypodermic needle and threatens to stick the sweaty corpulent pig if he doesn't let her leave untouched.

After beating a hasty retreat with her collaborators-in-duping-pathetic-slobs, Magnea sits in the back seat with her best friend Stella (Eyrún Björk Jakobsdóttir) and their pimp-like beau in front. As the opening credits for Let Me Fall unspool, the camera holds close on Magnea's face as she stares out the window of the fast-moving car. To the casual observer, her face might seem blank, but as the lens remains fixed upon her visage, it's a picture that tells a story of deep pain, pain that's going to become more acute as the next 136-minutes of the new film by the gifted director Baldvin Z unfolds.

Based on interviews with the families of drug-addicted teens, the screenplay by Birgir Örn Steinarsson and Baldvin Z, yields one of the most shocking, compelling and profoundly moving films ever made about addiction. It's a story that spans from late childhood to young adulthood (the older Magnea and Stella are respectively played by Kristín þóra Haraldsdóttir and Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir), charting a friendship rooted in love, co-dependency and finally, the sort of betrayal that enslavement to the needle can lead to, a betrayal that changes the lives of both women forever - horrifyingly and sadly irrevocable.

The four actresses playing these two women over several decades provide work that is nothing less than stellar. Running the gamut of emotions and actions, this is extraordinary work. As presented in the film, the friendship between Magnea and Stella is so rich and complex. Though Magnea feels like a "follower" to the "tutelage" of Stella, one eventually gets a sense that Magnea is, indeed the stronger force and as such, this is what leaves her open and vulnerable to both Stella's base needs to fulfil her own addiction and, in a sense, her desire to have an upper hand. This all said, love and friendships are never simple and the power dynamic between the two women is handled so deftly and intelligently - like all great drama, we are constantly surprised by the roads the characters travel - together and individually.

And yes, though the film focuses primarily on these two young women, it also touches upon the struggles endured by Magnea's parents and in particular her loving father (Þorsteinn Bachmann). At first shocked that his academically gifted daughter succumbs to behaviour that hardly seems commensurate with her huge potential, he attempts to provide as much love and support as he can. Addiction, however, proves to be a greater lure than parental love. Some of the most wrenching, heartbreaking scenes in the film come from Bachmann's performance, the quiet sadness on his face, the desperation in his eyes and eventually, the explosive anger he emits when confronting a man who has sexually enslaved his daughter. At one one in the film, when the Father comes to the realization that there is nothing more he can do, it's impossible not to be moved to tears by Bachmann's performance.

Then again, it's impossible not to be moved to tears throughout the entire film. From the opening shots of Magnea's youthful face, so full of portent, to the final images of her older, drug-ravaged face as we hear Zoe-Ruth Erwin's evocative cover of Nick Cave's "Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore", this is a film that never flinches, never hides from the veracity of life. Let Me Fall is a rollercoaster ride of despair, desperation and deceit. It's about avoiding hard truth and then, once facing the truth, not even knowing what it is anymore.

This is a great movie! Baldwin Z's direction is masterful and uncompromising. As a sidenote, I watched the movie with my 17-year-old daughter. She was utterly transfixed and when it was over, she declared: "Dad, I've never seen a movie about kids like this in my whole life that was so true." For me, I can think of no higher praise.


Let Me Fall (Lof mer ad falla) has its World Premiere at TIFF 2018

Monday, 30 April 2018

WOMEN OF THE VENEZUALEN CHAOS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hot Docs 2018 Hot Pick

Through the eyes of its women, a country crumbles.

Women of the Venezuelan Chaos (2017/2018)
Dir. Margarita Cadenas

Review By Greg Klymkiw

To see a formerly progressive democratic nation crumbling under the weight of corruption, incompetence and dictatorship of Nicholas Maduro's foul reign is one thing, but to view it through the eyes of five brave women from very different walks of life is something else altogether. This not only provides a personal, human (and humane) perspective, but does so by creating a fascinating glimpse into the realities of a gender that is clearly on the frontline of a country's war upon its own people.

Women of the Venezuelan Chaos proves that a clear, simple approach to a complex issue is often the best way to explore it. Director Margarita Cadenas delivers a clutch of macrocosmic views that allow for a much larger bird's eye view of the current tragedy facing Venezuela, a beautiful country, rich in oil, other abundant natural resources and industry. With its 30,000,000+ population, situated at the northernmost reaches of South America, this is a country that should be thriving. These days, the only people who are flourishing seem to be the deeply corrupt totalitarian government that brutalizes the majority of its citizens, the corporate hogs who rape the country of its riches and an ever-exploding criminal element.

Survival is what appears to drive those who must do the real living and dying of Venezuela. For them, quality of life is existence fuelled by sheer endurance. The government spouts positive propaganda to its citizens and the rest of the world. The reality is in direct opposition to what its dictatorship wants everyone to believe.

Bookended by the simple facts of this current existence, Cadenas provides us with five stories. The first is that of Kim, a nurse who must provide for her family by working 12 back-breaking hours in a hospital everyday. Though she appears to be better off than most, she must seriously consider fleeing Venezuela in search of a better life. The threat of violence surrounds her, anything of value in her home must be hidden from thieves and worst of all, her primary job in a hospital is fraught with frustration since anyone admitted there must actually bring their own supplies with them to be treated.

María José is a community worker living in a relatively secure Caracas neighbourhood, but with one child and another on the way, she is forced to stockpile basic goods like diapers and non-perishable foods in anticipation of the new mouth to feed since basic items are scarce and can only be purchased on the black market for many times more than their actual worth.

Eva is in her early twenties and lives with her son, mother and extended family in South America's largest, most dangerous slum. The only thing that drives her is waiting in lines, often for days, to secure a number to wait in line for basic foods to live on.

Luisa is in her late 70s and lives with her husband. Both are retired police officers. Their grandson, who used to live with them, was an actual member of parliament in the opposition party who was illegally arrested and incarcerated without formal charges or a trial - for years.

Finally, we get the most harrowing story of all, that of Olga, a forty-something mother of three children whose home was illegally raided by police searching for a crime lord. She watched, with a gun shoved in her mouth, as her 16-year-old boy was shot. He slowly died before her very eyes until the cops came to the conclusion that they were in the wrong place. That the boy, a suspected "criminal", was shot, unarmed, in cold blood, is shocking and appalling. That he, and by extension the whole family, were not in any way, shape or form connected to a criminal element, is not only the height of Totalitarian stupidity, but even by Venezuela's lame standards of jurisprudence, illegal. Justice and yes, even revenge, keep her going.

Though in each story, Cadenas allows each subject to simply recount their respective stories, this is no mere "talking heads" experience. Even if it was, these are pretty compelling and forceful stories. But no, cinematographer César Briceño shoots these sequences with exquisite compositions, capturing the indelible qualities of the subjects' faces, allowing us to dive into their eyes in order to experience the pain of their existence and to get beautifully, naturally lit shots of their homes and beyond, on the highways and byways of world outside these fragile sanctuaries, the physical environments with which they live and work. This is dazzlingly-directed work by a clearly gifted filmmaker. Her subjects express deep emotion, Cadenas captures said emotion unflinchingly and we experience it. Also driving the film is a powerful and alternately passionate and dissonant score by Rémi Boubal. The editing and structure, is so simple and effective, and the film offers plenty of evocative and poetic interludes during the stories themselves and in between.

There is bravery here on two levels. Firstly, is the bravery of the filmmaking itself. Choosing this seemingly simple approach is what allows for political, social and emotional complexity. Secondly, there is the sheer bravery of the subjects - not just for their suffering, strength and ingenuity, but that they have exposed their lives and stories in a country which goes out of its way to silence those who would dare criticize it. And sometimes, the silence is permanent.

The bravery of the filmmaking and these women feels representative of the courage and fortitude of the vast majority of Venezuela's population. Even more, it is a perfect representation of the evil and cowardice of Venezuela's ruling powers. One can only hope that this is a film that will open the eyes of the world to this government's actions. That over one million people have had to flee the country is a disgrace. Yes, one hopes the rest of the world will open their collective arms to those who leave, but it would ultimately be far more advantageous for the rest of the world to pressure the country's totalitarian rulers to genuinely restore the nation to its former glory - to allow those who do most of the living and dying in Venezuela, to do so in peace and with dignity.


Women of the Venezuelan Chaos enjoys its Canadian Premiere in the Oxfam Canada-sponsored "Silence Breakers" program at Hot Docs 2018.

BACHMAN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hot Docs 2018 Hot Pick: Solid BTO frontman BioDoc

Guess Who/BTO guitarist is always takin' care of business.

Bachman (2018)
Dir. John Barnard

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"Randy Bachman was The Guess Who... he had an expanded mind from the beginning." - Neil Young on Randy Bachman's removal from The Guess Who and the guitarist's avoidance of all the usual trappings of rock and roll - namely booze and drugs - and the man's inherent greatness without anything more mind altering than making music.

Much as I loved and will always love The Guess Who (who couldn't love songs like American Woman, These Eyes and Laughing?), my generational and personal rock and roll touchstones will always be BTO, Bachman Turner Overdrive. Takin' Care of Business, Let It Ride, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, Roll on Down the Highway and so many more are a veritable litany of hard driving Canadian prairie rock and roll that took the world by storm and blasted on millions of automobile tape decks.

Bachman is a solid biographical documentary of Randy Bachman, one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and of course, the writer (or co-writer) of hit after hit after hit. Skilfully blending a cornucopia of rich archival footage and all-new interviews with the likes of musicians Neil Young, Alex Lifeson, Chad Allan, Paul Shaffer, Fred Turner, actor Bruce Greenwood, music historian John Einarson and many family and friends, director John Barnard serves up a detailed portrait of this seminal Canadian rocker.

Hitting all the salient points of Bachman's life, we get glimpses into his earlier childhood as the surviving twin of a German Dad and Ukrainian Mom in the legendary North End of Winnipeg where he lived at the corner of Seven Oaks and Powers. He was showered with plenty of nurturing and love and his work ethic was clearly instilled within him by his Dad, an optometrist who would often ask his kids, "Do you like to work at nothin' all day?" (Sound like a familiar lyric?)

Bachman went to music school, of course. It was clear he had gifts, but he had little interest in his first instrument, the violin and very quickly he discovered and fell in love with the guitar. As a teenager, he was mentored by the great Lenny Breau and he soon hooked up with songwriter-singer Chad Allan (at the urging of bassist Jon Kale) and the trio added drummer Gary Peterson to the mix and Bachman was playing with Chad Allan and the Expressions. The group had an early hit with a rousing, seminal 1965 cover of "Shakin' All Over" by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. Their twangy, reverb-heavy and zippily discordant rendition hit the top of the Canadian charts and even penetrated the American charts quite substantially. The group eventually became The Guess Who.

Bachman, while he always flirted with a "lighter" sound, was ultimately more at home with an edgier, more hard driving beat and when the group came across North End Winnipeg bad boy Burton Cummings, Allan stepped down from the band he founded and The Guess Who began their meteoric rise.

Barnard's film certainly doesn't skimp on the magnificent creative energy twixt Bachman and Cummings, but nor does it shy away from detailing the clear differences between the two men in temperament. Bachman was a big brother, almost father figure to the entire band. We learn that he rooted the wild boys in reality, but eventually Bachman's no-booze-no-drugs-no-womanizing began to wreak havoc with the group's mojo. Bachman was a straight arrow family man (who converted to Mormonism in order to woo his first wife). We learn that Cummings especially began to resent Bachman's authoritarian air and in a shocker, Bachman was forced out of the band.

In the film, utter incredulity is expressed by Neil Young (who claims that as a kid, it was Bachman who influenced him). "Randy was The Guess Who," says the rocker, who also lived in Bachman's hometown of Winnipeg before leaving for Thunder Bay and other points east.

Eventually, we are treated to Bachman reuniting with Chad Allan for the band Brave Belt, but this was a short-lived partnership. Bachman, we learn, was convinced to hear one burly Fred Turner belt out his live cover of "House of the Rising Sun" at the legendary Marion Hotel. Bachman, a devout Christian and non-drinker, didn't even want to enter the bar and heard the first few minutes of Turner from an open exit door.

The rest, is indeed, history - rock and roll history. Bachman Turner Overdrive (BTO) left everything behind like so much dust in the wind.

The film also charts, Bachman's "third act". At one point Bachman admits that when you hit the top, there's only one way to go, and yes, we get a glimpse into some very lean years. However, the film also charts Bachman's various reinventions musically and yes, his long, distinguished career as a radio host of CBC's "Vinyl Tap".

Now, does the film dig deeper beyond what one might expect from a solid, traditional musical biography? Not often, but the movie still makes for compelling viewing. What one takes away is a portrait of a driven, musically gifted workaholic who never seems to ever be on camera without a guitar in his hands. One of the more entertaining aspects of the film is Bachman's relationships with his managers - first his savvy, congenial brother Gary and in direct contrast, Vancouver's Bruce Allen, a perfect partner for the driven Bachman. Amusingly, the film reveals Bachman's "Papa Bear" qualities, but in terms of Bruce Allen, he's reduced to a baby pitbull to Allen's mega-pitbull vice-like jaws on all things.

While it's easy to live without interviews with Burton Cummings in the movie (he's nicely represented by all the archival material and the various interviewees' recollections), my only real quarrel with the film is the short shrift it gives to what I believe is arguably the best work Bachman ever did - his astonishing Any Road album and its classic ode to the wild rock and roll days of Winnipeg, Prairie Town (featuring Neil Young and Margo Timmins on not just one, version of the song, but two). This was as perfect an album as one could imagine from someone who'd already delivered so much great stuff that one couldn't imagine him ever outdoing any of it. But with 1993's release of Any Road, Bachman hit some kind of stratospheric creative nirvana. Its absence, beyond a couple of token nods, at least to any die-hard Bachman aficionado, seems borderline heretical.

But, this is a nitpick. Bachman delivers the goods. It takes care of business, and then some.


Bachman enjoys its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2018.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

SHIRKERS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hot Docs 2018 Hot Pick: ***** The Joy of Cinema

A movie about the movie we deserve to see.

Shirkers (2018)
Dir. Sandi Tan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Movies are my life - my whole life - and as such, the idea of someone with filmmaking hardwired into their DNA making a movie that completely vanishes without a trace, never to be seen by anyone, not even the filmmaker, is so tragic and downright appalling to me, that the very idea is enough to send shivers down my spine and even inspire emotions of deep sadness. Seriously, just thinking about it, causes my eyes to well up with tears. Sure, any artist that loses their work, especially work that's unfinished, seems utterly unthinkable, beyond the realm of possibility, so preposterous, that the very thought is one that shouldn't even be fathomed.

And yet, this is what happened to filmmaker Sandi Tan.

However, one quarter decade later, she returned to filmmaking and created Shirkers, a personal documentary of her inspiring and yet, horror-filled journey. All the excitement and artistry of her youth explodes with this first-rate picture that feels like it was directed with that rare within-an-inch-of-her-life fervour - a compulsive, thrilling movie alternately infused with the passion of youth and alternately, the benefit of life experience.

The story she tells here is at once a time capsule of a specific place and period as well as being a deeply moving and inspirational exploration of the creative spirit.

As a counter-culture-punk-rock-movie-loving teenager growing up in Singapore during the 1980s, Sandi made a feature film in the early 1990s with the help of her best friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique - a road movie about a female serial killer that was definitely in the zeitgeist of such counter-culture film heroes as David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch, the cooler-than-cool Heathers and even pre-dating the likes of Terry Zwigoff's adaptation of the Daniel Clowes graphic novel Ghost World. Given that Singapore had virtually nothing resembling a film industry, this was a Herculean feat. Also given the political and cultural repression, it's astounding that Tan and her friends not only secured bootleg videos and cassette tapes of forbidden movies and music, but also published a raft of cutting edge fanzines. These brilliant, vibrant young women not only rode the waves of alternative visions, they were the waves.

There was, in all this, a dark horse - a forty-ish mentor with a mysterious past, one Georges Cardona. The married-with-children American expatriate not only ran a ramshackle little film school, surrounding himself with (mostly) teenage girls, but he was a genuine lover of cinema who imparted his knowledge and excitement upon Tan and her friends. He'd spend endless nights with the young ladies, driving the streets of Singapore, regaling them with cinema lore.

There's no two ways about it. He knew a few things and was really good at imparting his knowledge. He was super-charismatic, but he was also clearly a creep. In this current environment of the #metoo movement, one can't get away from the fact that his methods and motives were not only suspect, but downright innapropriate. But as Tan's extraordinary personal journey unfolds, the steely blue shark eyes of Cardona masked something even more insidious and, if possible, more cruel.

Utilizing archives and videotape from the period, footage from the unfinished movie itself, a glorious new sound design and beautifully shot all-new footage, Tan renders a movie that more than fulfills the promise of her early and, tragically (through no fault of her own) unfinished work. In some ways, this is a movie that most filmmakers dream of making. Tan goes the distance here, and then some. Shirkers not only delights and tantalizes us, but provides a compelling mystery story that is punctuated with a beautifully edited and structured series of shocking revelations.

As a sidenote, there's a reason why the unfinished film is currently unfinished, but frankly, I was, and continue to be inspired by the notion that it could definitely be finished. Yes, with a complete rethink and utilizing some utterly insane, inspired post-modern techniques. Then again, maybe it's a case of that was then, this is now. I don't think so, but the most important thing is what appears before us now, a brand new movie of mad genius and imbued with the qualities of the kind of work that genuine movie-lovers thrive on. Shirkers, as it stands, is a film of deep, lasting value.

And yes, it's a profoundly moving experience. The final third plunges one into an explosion of emotion. By the end, we get a series of events and a gorgeously edited montage that had me squirting Old Faithful-like geysers of tears. One leaves the movie theatre elated - yes, there's melancholy to be sure, but what ultimately consumes us is the promise of even greater work to come from this natural filmmaker and most of all, a picture that reminds us of the joy and beauty of cinema itself.

It doesn't get better than that.


Shirkers enjoys its Canadian premiere at Hot Docs 2018.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hot Docs 2018 Hot Pick *****

Everything You Always Wanted to Know
about Mr. Rogers, but Didn't Think to Ask

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)
Dir. Morgan Neville

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I always assumed Mr. Rogers was a sicko. My bad. You see, I never actually watched his insanely long-running television program for kids and based all my assumptions of the seemingly square, sweater-adorned, gentle-voiced host upon the very few clips that I'd seen and mostly, the ridiculous number of parodies that filled the airwaves of TV sketch comedy (and notably, Eddie Murphy's legendary rendering that even now reduces me to convulsive fits of laughter).

Not only does Morgan Neville's beautifully crafted biographical documentary portrait dispel all myths anyone could have about Fred Rogers, but presents a figure who towers above most TV personalities as a genuine visionary and to boot, seems like the kind of human being most of us can only dream of being.

On the surface, Won't You Be My Neighbor? might be mistaken for a skilful, highly competent movie about a beloved American pop-culture icon and while it is those things, it's so much more. Blending oodles of footage from the series, a whack of behind-the-scenes archival items, gorgeously rendered contemporary interviews and a cornucopia of rich material spanning over five decades, Neville takes it all to the next level, delivering first-rate filmmaking - artistry of a very high level. Then again, this makes some sense - he is, after all, the director of the incisive documentary about backup singers 20 Feet From Stardom and the truly penetrating, groundbreaking look at the William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal debates Best of Enemies (which managed to transcend its compelling subject matter to deliver a staggering portrait of the historical period it represented and give us a genuine glimpse into the humanity of its extremely polar-opposite subjects).

What we learn from Neville's great film is that Rogers was committed to creating a safe space for all children to be entertained and to learn - to embrace them with love and respect. Even more importantly, Rogers tackled issues of death, divorce, illness, race relations and a plethora of other concerns facing children. His program not only featured an African-American playing a neighbourhood cop, but in a very racist America, Rogers tackled integration by sharing a wading pool with him. Hard to believe that a White Man and a Black Man cooling their bare feet together was considered groundbreaking and even controversial when it first happened, but let's not forget this was in America and that sadly, even now, it would be viewed as heresy by many of our nutjob neighbours south of the 49th parallel (including, no doubt, Donald Trump).

One of the interesting aspects the film reveals is that Rogers was indeed a devout Christian and ordained minister, but never did he publicly proselytize this faith. Yes, he might well have borrowed liberally from the teachings and legacy of Christ, most notably in terms of love, acceptance and forgiveness, but he was also inclusive and accepting of all faiths, colours and cultures.

Structurally, the film draws us in from the get-go, but as it proceeds, it creates a number of emotional layers that sneak up on us. This is genuine filmmaking. We're not only dazzled and moved by the artistry of the work, but I have to admit, that at a certain point, Neville caught me off guard with a couple of lollapalooza sequences that had me in tears. By the end of the film, I felt like I hadn't stopped weeping (both sad and happy globs of salty fluids from my ocular orbs) for what seemed like over half the film's running time.

The elation continued long after I left the cinema. It's with me still. This is what great cinema can and should do. Its effects should transcend the ephemeral and be with us forever. Won't You Be My Neighbor? is just such a film. It brands itself, albeit joyfully, upon everyone.


Won't You Be My Neighbor enjoys its International Premiere at Hot Docs 2018 and opens across North America in June via Focus Features.

Friday, 27 April 2018

DEATH BY POPCORN: THE TRAGEDY OF THE WINNIPEG JETS - Review By Greg Klymkiw: Hot Docs 2018 Hot Pick - REDUX series

Little did Burton Cummings know that the WHA Jets
would be gone with the wind, forever.

Death By Popcorn: The Tragedy of the Winnipeg Jets (2006)
Dir. Matthew Rankin, Mike Maryniuk, Walter Forsberg

Review (sort of) By Greg Klymkiw

In honour of the Hot Docs 2018 25th Anniversary, ace programmer/critic Kiva Reardon put together a selection of Canadian documentaries in a series entitled "Redux". When she asked me to recommend Canadian documentaries from the city of Winnipeg, I put together a long and detailed list of films I loved from my beloved Winter City where I'm currently residing and helming the legendary Winnipeg Film Group as its Executive Director.

From that list, which I might publish sometime since it contains fairly extensive assessments of said films, Kiva chose Matthew Rankin, Mike Maryniuk and Walter Forsberg's classic piece of prairie post-modernism, Death By Popcorn: The Tragedy of the Winnipeg Jets. The film, of course, targets that horrible time when Winnipeg lost its beloved team. However, the team is back and actually in the midst of playoff fever.

For me, the real tragedy of the Winnipeg Jets was not losing the team, but rather, that the Winnipeg Jets joined the NHL and that furthermore, the beloved WHA disbanded. (The other tragedy was the decimation of the historic Winnipeg Arena in favour of a cold, corporate, ugly new arena in downtown Winnipeg which was built on the spot which once housed the beloved, historic Eaton's department store at Portage and Donald. But, I digress).

In any event, I'll just reprint Kiva's capsule note in the Hot Docs 2018 program book which quotes me extensively. I do this because I am, like most Winnipeggers, in need of a nap.

Here it is:

SUGGESTED for Redux by Greg Klymkiw, executive director of the Winnipeg Film Group, Death by Popcorn is an unsung Canadian tragicomedy. "A collaboration," writes Klymkiw, "twixt the inimitable Matthew Rankin (heir apparent to John Paizs and Guy Maddin), Mike Maryniuk (who just had a world premiere at Rotterdam) and Walter Forsberg (a film archivist with uber-artistic flair)," the found-footage documentary explores the star-crossed romance between Winnipeggers and their ill-fated Jets. Containing footage from the local news and Jets games, and including familiar faces like Wayne Gretzky and Gary Bettman, Death by Popcorn is a postmodern portrait of corporate greed and Winnipeg itself. Though a sell-out at the Winnipeg Cinematheque upon its release, Death by Popcorn seemed destined to suffer the same fate as the NHL team it followed, as copyright issues plagued subsequent screenings. Now, come relish the highs and lows of the film billed as "sadness on ice."


Death By Popcorn: The Tragedy of the Winnipeg Jets, plays at Hot Docs 2018 in the Redux series.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

THE OSLO DIARIES - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2018 Hot Docs Hot Pick: ***** Five-Stars

Arab-Israeli peace talks at centre of dazzling doc.

The Oslo Diaries (2018)
Dir. Mor Loushy, Daniel Sivan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There are documentaries that get by on compelling subject matter alone. There are others that apply the standards, such as they are these days, of journalism and render work that makes for compelling television. Then there are documentaries that are pure, dazzling cinema with all the scope, poetry and virtuosity that place them upon the pedestal of art. When such films are also infused with journalistic principles that don't get in the way of great filmmaking and have vital, coercive and downright imperative subject matter, then what you get is something like Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan's The Oslo Diaries.

Loushy and Sivan have delivered the goods before with 2015's Censored Voices, one of the most profound anti-war films made in our new millennium, a staggeringly original and deeply poetic exploration of the 1967 Arab–Israeli Six Day War. Like that great film, The Oslo Diaries does not rest on the run-of-the-mill laurels so many documentaries are content to perch themselves upon.

Focusing on the secret 1992 peace talks in Oslo between participants on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the equation, this is a film that is at once hopeful, but also feels as dangerous and tense as a great espionage thriller - keep in mind that these talks were so secret that the participants were actually breaking the law by holding them. Imagine peace talks that could have resulted in substantial prison time.

As well, the visual juxtaposition between sunny Israel and frigid, wintry Norway, creates the kind of cinematic shorthand that only great filmmakers truly understand in terms of rendering work of lasting value. There's nothing ephemeral about the filmmaking, nor the subject matter. Then again, the notion of peace being ephemeral is not only scary, but is one of the things that forcefully drives the movie.

Another great juxtaposition is the judicious use of archival footage from the period (including the Camp David accord with Bill Clinton, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat) with contemporary interviews (including the last interview ever given by Shimon Peres before his 2016 death).

Finally, the pièce de résistance are readings from the actual diaries kept by the secret peace talk participants and dramatized recreations of the talks themselves (chilly Kyiv, Ukraine standing in very nicely for chilly Oslo) and skilfully blended interviews conducted very recently.

This is a film that breaks rule after rule, but does so with such aplomb and intelligence and grace, that we are left with a picture that not only confounds expectations, but breaks rules for two of the best reasons I can think of: to create great cinema and to further peace. These are fine considerations. One wishes more pictures had such lofty goals and were able to pull them off as astoundingly as The Oslo Diaries.


The Oslo Diaries enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs 2018.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

THE ACCOUNTANT OF AUSCHWITZ - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2018 Hot Docs Hot Pick: ***½

Nonagenarian Nazi Oskar Groning

The Accountant of Auschwitz (2018)
Dir. Matthew Shoychet

Review By Greg Klymkiww

I have to admit that before seeing this movie, the story of Oskar Groning had somehow escaped me. I still don't know why. After all, it's not everyday a nonagenarian stands trial for being an accessory to the murder of over 300,000 people, but so be it, the story escaped my purview. Then again, in recent years, I've tended to avoid reading conventional news sources and since I try not to watch television, I guess anything's possible. Well, thank stars for the movies. I'm still obsessed with watching at least one movie a day and I'm especially grateful for film festivals like Hot Docs which allow me to binge on documentaries.

I suspect I won't be the only one to learn this, but what I learned from Matthew Shoychet's slick, informative and extremely proficient documentary, is that in 2015, Oskar Groning faced prosecution in Lüneburg, Germany for his part as a junior SS officer at the Auschwitz extermination camp during World War II. His time there was to function as a low-level bureaucrat, but frankly, this is the sort of bureaucracy that sends chills down the spine. Groning's job was to take charge of all the prisoners' personal possessions - most notably, their money and valuables.

Yes, as the title of the film declares, Groning was indeed The Accountant of Auschwitz.

Interestingly, the film seems less interested in detailing Groning's activities in the camp, nor is it, in any way, shape or form a biographical documentary, but rather, Groning's trial is used by the film to provide a far more important context for larger issues.

First and foremost, what one takes away from the film, is Germany's utterly horrendous historical record for prosecuting war criminals. The movie takes great pains to deliver the facts on this truly shameful atrocity. That Germany let thousands upon thousands of war criminals go untried and unpunished is an abomination, but even more telling is how the country is scrambling to make up for these sins by dragging nonagenarians onto the stand - now!!!

It's been well over six decades since World War II ended. Germany had plenty of time to mete justice, but not only dragged its jackbooted heels (so to speak), but how, other than a few token death sentences, most of those prosecuted and found guilty, served terms that were hardly commensurate with their foul crimes. If anything, this is the biggest shocker of Shoychet's film.

The other shocker, of course, is Groning himself. His prosecution was actually possible due to the fact that he was so disgusted by Holocaust-deniers, that he denounced these idiots by publicly discussing his role at Auschwitz and describing the atrocities he witnessed.

The Accountant of Auschwitz is full of shockers! This is the sort of compulsive television documentary that keeps you glued to your seat as it delivers one jaw-dropping revelation after another. It also asks many important questions. They're so important, I'm not going to reveal them here, because it's part of the film's aesthetic to not only pose them, but wend these questions skilfully within the narrative fabric of the film. They're shockers, too. One shocker after another.

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

The Accountant of Auschwitz enjoys its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2018.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

THE CLEANERS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2018 Hot Docs Hot Pick: ***** 5-Stars

The gatekeepers of online morality are censors.

The Cleaners (2018)
Dir. Hans Block, Moritz Riesewieck

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The scariest word I've heard in quite some time is:


and it's a word we hear, almost mantra-like in the chilling documentary The Cleaners, a scary portrait of content moderators in the world of social media.

So what, precisely, does a content moderator do? Well, as we discover, they are employees of entities like Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms that have become an almost inextricable part of all our lives. Their job is to scour the internet looking for anything that contravenes company policy, community standards and yes, in many cases, illegal acts (images of child pornography). The offensive material is deleted, and as we experience in the film, it's with a simple keystroke and the utterance of that dreaded word:


Filmmakers Block and Riesewieck focus primarily on a handful of content moderators working in Manila and what we learn early on is that they are not directly employed by any of the aforementioned social media giants, but rather, companies that have been outsourced to provide these services. We're given scant information about how these moderators are actually trained, but what we see and learn is mighty scary.

The moderators are there, in effect, to provide censorship. This would be fine if we were dealing strictly with cut-and-dried materials like child pornography and hate crime/racism, but it goes far beyond this. Nudity, sexuality, acts of violence in war, political satire and/or any personal expression outside of the norm is fair game.

Though the moderators have specific guidelines, this requires them to constantly make judgement calls about what gets deleted and what doesn't. For example, we follow one of the moderators and discover that she is a devout Catholic. Her rabid Christianity is clearly at play in her decisions to "delete".

What's especially impressive about the film is that it employs a fair bit of journalistic balance, but not at the expense of the film's artistry and certainly not at the expense of presenting a point of view that's as progressive as it is scary. What these moderators do is clearly not a good thing. The social media giants are succumbing to all sorts of pressures to restrict/control content - worst of all, from governments that would block the platforms without censorship.

Structurally, the film is cleverly designed to present a myriad of characters and viewpoints. For the most part, the moderators seem like reasonable and intelligent young people, but they are bound both by policy and the fact that they have no choice but to make personal decisions based on their interpretation of said policy. The film also presents the viewpoints of several artists and activists - we see their work, the very valid reasons for its creation and dissemination and then, shockingly, we see moderators discovering the material, applying "policy" to it and then issuing the decree:


We hear about and occasionally see the sort of disturbing and even horrific material these moderators are constantly subjected to and sadly, we learn about how some content moderators are driven to taking their own lives. In countries like the Philippines, we learn that finding a life beyond poverty drives a lot of intelligent young people into the business of content moderation - but for them, the effects can be devastating.

We see American politicians within the context of public hearings as they grill representatives of social media giants about content policies as they relate to child pornography, political interference and terrorism, but clearly the politicians, no matter how well meaning, are completely clueless about social media and the internet in general and the various Google/Twitter/Facebook reps are little more than slick flacks.

What haunts you, long after the film is over are the evocative shots of the moderators themselves as they work. The cameras are trained upon their eyes as they consume endless images on computers screens. If we are looking into the windows of their collective souls, we're looking into hearts and minds of a world mediated by corporate greed, corruption and dedicated to suppression to maintain the highest profit margins possible.

Ultimately, nobody profits - least of all, humanity.


The Cleaners enjoys it Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs 2018 in Toronto.

Coincidentally, Michael Walker, a brilliant young Canadian artist who posts his beautiful work to hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram had his account removed by the social media giant the very week I saw The Cleaners.

Yes, someone uttered the words DELETE and with a keystroke, this artist's work was removed.

Feel free to protest this affront to free speech. In the case of Mr. Walker's work, this is a clear act of Homophobia, no doubt perpetrated by a "content moderator" applying flawed, personal standards based on corporate policies that are skewed to protecting only profit margins.

Here is Michael's Story:

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Romero Zombies on Criterion!!!

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Dir. George A. Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"Kill the brain, and you kill the ghoul." - Scientist

"If you have a gun, shoot 'em in the head. That's a sure way to kill 'em. If you don't, get yourself a club or a torch. Beat 'em or burn 'em. They go up pretty easy." - Sherriff

Science and law enforcement make for good bedfellows - especially when the unburied dead come to life and seek out the living to snack upon.

The late George A. Romero's 1968 horror classic worked like a charm when I first saw it as a kid and continued to cast its magic spell as I continued to watch it umpteen zillion times over the decades. No matter what format I viewed Night of the Living Dead on - 35mm prints, 16mm prints, tv broadcasts, the myriad of bootleg public domain VHS tapes that floated around forever and a very decent Elite Entertainment DVD release from 2009, this was a movie that never failed to creep me out.

However, seeing it on the brand new Criterion Collection Blu-Ray, it feels like I'd never seen the film ever before - what an amazing experience it was to watch this beautifully restored edition supervised by Romero himself before his tragic, untimely death. Seeing it this way was at least as thrilling, shocking and supremely entertaining as when I was first slammed in the face with the two-by-four that is this genuinely great motion picture.

Of course, zombie and living dead extravaganzas have become so ingrained upon the collective psyches of movie-goers that most of them must view each movie with an air of been-there-done-that, but his original film is so infused with an acute political consciousness and clever satire, that the only movies that come remotely close to its power are Romero's first two sequels Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.

Shot in beautiful black and white, we follow the mousy Barbra (Judith O'Dea) as her obnoxious older brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) drives her out to a graveyard in a remote rural location outside of Pittsburgh. When a pasty-skinned old man lopes onto the scene, Johnny teases his sister that the lumbering dude is "coming to get her". It turns out Johnny's right. He's viciously attacked by the ghoulish septuagenarian and then, Barbra becomes the quarry once her brother's been handily dispatched. She madly races to an old farmhouse and as night falls, the house becomes surrounded by similarly psychotic ghouls.

They have only one thing on their pea-brained minds - to kill the living and eat them.

Yes! Eat them!

Turns out there are other people in the house. They barricade themselves in, attempting to survive this onslaught of ravenous creatures. And what an onslaught it turns out to be.

Of course via television and radio, they discover that a plague of mass murder is occurring right across the state and yes, the unburied dead are rising to feed (literally) upon the living.

The dynamic in the house is fascinating, a microcosm of humanity. From the trembling Barbra to an obnoxiously selfish father, his caring wife, their sick daughter and a perky young couple, Romero's simple, but deft script delivers a group of survivors we are delighted to follow. And no such film would be complete without a hero. The resourceful, brave Ben (Duane Jones), kicks ass with the best movie heroes. And, astonishingly, Romero employed "colour-blind" casting - the film's hero is played by a terrific, handsome young actor and he is African-American. This was a big deal in 1968. That there are colour blind aspects to the character himself, makes it, even now, STILL a big deal.

Throughout the film, Romero paints a vivid portrait of redneck America as hayseed local yokels wander the highways and byways, taking sport in blasting the brains of the "living dead". It's a world gone crazily to Hell. Most tellingly, it's not really all that crazy. This is America in all its danger and "glory".

And that, might be the scariest thing of all.


Night of the Living Dead is available on a super-deluxe new edition on the Criterion Collection which includes a new 4K digital restoration, supervised by director George A. Romero, coscreenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R. Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner, a new restoration of the monaural soundtrack, supervised by Romero and Gary Streiner and presented uncompressed on the Blu-ray, Night of Anubis, a never-before-presented work-print edit of the film, new program featuring filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez, never-before-seen 16 mm dailies reel, new program featuring Russo on the commercial and industrial-film production company where key Night of the Living Dead filmmakers got their start, Two audio commentaries from 1994 featuring Romero, Russo, producer Karl Hardman, actor Judith O’Dea, and others, Archival interviews with Romero and actors Duane Jones and Judith Ridley, New programs about the film’s style and score, New interview program about the direction of ghouls, featuring members of the cast and crew, New interviews with Gary Streiner and Russell Streiner, Newsreels from 1967, Trailer, radio spots, and TV spots, plus an essay by critic Stuart Klaxons.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

GREG KLYMKIW'S BEST FILMS OF 2017 presented in alphabetical order - By Greg Klymkiw

Greg Klymkiw selects
(in alphabetical order)

Women are knocking genre cinema out of the park this year and turning it topsy turvy in all the right ways. Marianna Palka's provocatively titled Bitch is a savage feminist satire that's as creepy as it is funny and it takes the kind of unexpected narrative turns that are not only aesthetically tantalizing, but yield the kind of original and utterly uncompromising work that restores one's faith in cinema. Stranger even still, is that it slowly develops into a deeply moving tale of redemption as a philandering, mean-spirited husband is faced with huge challenges when his loyal, long-suffering wife turns into a "dog". Most Beautiful Island, is a terrific debut feature from Writer-director-Star Ana Asensio that captures the lonely, desperate lives of illegal "aliens" in New York with an indelible sense of observation that borders on Neo-realism. The final half of the picture, once Luciana enters the secret, horrifying dangerous world where illegal aliens are used as pawns for the rich in a deadly game, is unbearably suspenseful. Asensio paces these sequences with a creepy-crawly slow burn and it's impossible to sit still. Squirming is the order of the day for anyone watching this section of the film.

From Aircraft Pictures and director Nora Twomey comes The Breadwinner, a harrowing, thrilling and inspiring film (blessed with a great screenplay adaptation by Anita Doron) of the young adult novel by Deborah Ellis in which a young girl in Afghanistan must pose as a boy in order to help her family when their patriarchal head is imprisoned. The suspense during the final third is almost unbearable. This is one of the best animated feature films I've seen in years.

Director Chris Kelly serves up compulsive viewing as he employs a Direct Cinema approach by training his cameras on Venerable Loun Sovath, Toul Srey Pov and Tepp Vanny - three activists fighting against the corruption of the Cambodian Government. Yes, the film is not without uplifting moments, but the cumulative effect is sheer devastation and some very harsh realities that elicit copious tears.

As events unfurl, this tale of a mother and son dealing with grief comes at us with a meticulous pace and plenty of cerebral mind-blowing explosions of visual fireworks. Director Seth A. Smith eventually unleashes all-out, drawer-filling scares and in one delicious set piece, the kind of sickening visceral splatter that horror aficionados will love. It's always lovely seeing a quiet, intelligent horror film that channels the energies and artistry of RKO's master of atmospheric chills Val Lewton (The Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Seventh Victim, The Body Snatcher).

Director Gore (The Ring) Verbinski delivers one of the strangest pieces of gothic shenanigans in long time as a young corporate executive is sent on a bizarre mission to a mysterious wellness clinic in the Swiss Alps so he can obtain a signature from his company's CEO. What he discovers is sheer creepy-crawly terror. Stylish, indulgent and endowed with an effective slow-burn pace, this feels like a Hammer Horror movie as directed by Michael Cimino on lithium.

In Darkest Hour, director Joe Wright expertly weaves the tale of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the early days of WWII - from his appointment as PM and through to his historical "we shall fight on the beaches" speech to parliament. Gary Oldman plays the irascible orator with verve and passion. In many ways, Oldman is the movie. The film is little more than war propaganda, but it's first-rate war propaganda and the fictional sequence involving old Winnie riding the London Underground is insanely, gloriously stirring and moving. His performance overall, moved me to tears.

I do so enjoy entering a frigid cinematic icebox to revel in the spectacle of a parent and adult child acrimoniously slashing away at each other. Boudewijn Koole's extraordinary film is a magnificent new entry into this time-honoured/tested/proven dramatic tradition and serves up plenty of roiling bitterness amidst aching convulsions twixt a Mother and Daughter in the icy climes of rural Norway. Lots of sex, death and ice-fishing for good measure.

Based on the memoir by actor Greg Sestero, director-leading-man James Franco and co-star (his real-life brother Dave Franco) take us into similar territory Tim Burton occupied with his glorious biopic Ed Wood. Here we get the strangely moving, heartfelt and often hilarious tale of Tommy Wiseau, the "auteur" who made The Room (often considered the best bad movie ever made). I still haven't seen Wiseau's film, but it hasn't been an impediment to my thorough enjoyment of Franco's film.

David Redmon and Ashley Sabin train their cameras upon living beings that have been abused and subjected to appalling inhumanity. We follow the film's four-legged subjects from their admittance to the heavenly refuges of donkey sanctuaries, then through a variety of medical/grooming procedures, eventually their daily lives and finally, the peace of what will be their existence until they leave this Earth. Astonishing Direct Cinema images are accompanied by poetic narration, beautifully delivered by Willem Dafoe.

Though this is not a period piece, its aesthetic feels gloriously in line with the existential angst (primarily of the male persuasion) that so defined the cinema of the 70s. This first feature from Finland by Teemu Nikki is the deeply shocking, insanely romantic, sickeningly horrifying, bleakly/blackly funny and often graceful tale of a car mechanic who moonlights as a discount pet euthanizer. It's a revenge picture. It's a love story. And yes, it is hallucinogenically original.

Two elder statesmen of American Cinema did some of their greatest work in 2017. Paul Schrader knocks it out of the park with this compulsive psycho-thriller about an alcoholic priest (Ethan Hawke - never better) haunted by his son's death, obsessed with a young widow (Amanda Seyfried) and facing a deep crisis of faith. Imagine Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light crossed with Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest and Schrader's own classic screenplay for Taxi Driver. Chillingly austere. David Lynch pulled off this seemingly impossible task - he return to the Twin Peaks world of his legendary Mark Frost collaboration and did so with mind blowing style, compulsive narrative aplomb and sheer avant-garde experimentation. It's technically a TV series, but in reality, it's an 18-hour-long feature film - so much so I wish he'd release it on Blu-Ray as one long movie sans closing credits (though including the closing visuals for each and every "episode").

A sleazy motel in Florida, just outside Walt Disney World, a precocious, vibrant little girl, her drug addicted hustler single Mom and a kindly caretaker (played by Willem Dafoe no less) are the backdrop and characters in Sean (Tangerine) Baker's magical ode to childhood amidst squalor. A gloriously original film that both soars and breaks your heart.

Crime was the indie order of the day in 2017. A bank heist goes horribly wrong. Two brothers are on the run. One gets caught, the other doesn't. The free bro begins a mad odyssey into an underworld of danger and violence to spring his incarcerated bro from the hoosegow. We never know where it's all going to go, but every turn it takes shocks, surprises and keeps us jacked. The Safdie Brothers write and direct within inches of their lives. The whole cast knocks us on our collective asses, but Robert (Twilight) Pattinson soars in ways most actors merely dream of. Though director Ryan Prows is clearly in Quentin Tarantino's debt with Lowlife, he wisely places most of the emphasis upon mad, wildly operatic melodrama. The movie is as moving as it is grittily shocking and deeply, darkly funny. Luchadores, those glorious masked wrestlers of Mexico are emblematic of all that is good and evil - heroes and villains to the common man, performing great feats of gymnastic warfare in the ring and dazzlingly costumed in ancient Aztec tradition. Set against a sleazy crime backdrop, we follow the adventures of wrestler El Monstruo who works as a strong-arm for an evil gringo gangster who kidnaps illegal "aliens" to use in the underground organ harvesting trade.

Most viewers want things served up simply. They won't get that with Hope. Alan Zweig's sequel to Hurt continues the story of fallen Canadian Hero Steve Fonyo who survives the hell of a home invasion assault and decides to enter rehab. The director bravely keeps the cameras rolling as Fonyo somewhat petulantly puts some major juju upon Zweig. Fonyo makes it clear he's only doing rehab for the film. He expects the film (and filmmaker) to provide him with what he needs. What he gets is so much more. What we, the audience get, is the light (albeit murky) of redemption and a movie of dogged, gritty artistry. With There is a House Here, Zweig takes us on a journey into the lives and land of those who live in the country's most isolated, Northern regions. With Tatanniq Idlout (Inuk rock star Lucie Idlout) as his tour guide, Alan Zweig seeks answers to questions he has about the Third World conditions in his own country. This is a film about seeking answers, about learning something its filmmaker wants to know, and in so doing, casting the glow of illumination upon us all - forcing us to confront how little we know about anything and how life (and filmmaking/art), should indeed always be about exploration.

Standup comic Louis C.K. writes, directs and stars in this gorgeously photographed (in monochrome no less) love letter to Woody Allen's Manhattan that finally lives and breathes on its own steam. This portrait of a father's relationship with his teenage daughter (and her affair with a man 50+ years her senior) is so piquant and moving that the tears it elicits from viewers are alternately due to laughter and the movie's deep emotional core.

Last Men in Aleppo is a thrilling, exciting, terrifying, sad, sickening, brave, brilliant and deeply moving documentary portrait by Feras Fayyad of Syria's "White Helmets" - firemen, paramedics and other rescue workers who volunteer (with their very lives in many cases), to search through the carnage of fresh bomb strikes in the city of Aleppo to save those still breathing and to retrieve the remains of those who are dead. Adhering with considerable rigour to the style of Cinéma Direct, it follows two primary subjects as they plunge into the chasm of a living Hell. We not only fear for the lives of everyone onscreen, but the filmmakers. This is film artistry of the highest order.

Icelandic screenwriter-Director Ása Helga Hjörleifsdótirr adapts the Guðbergur Bergsson novel with taste, restraint and artistry of a very high order. A nine-year-old girl, living in state-imposed exile at her aunt and uncle's remote rural farm after a shoplifting conviction in the city, is a story so exquisitely, delicately unveiled that it confounds all expectations one might have of both coming-of-age and fish-out-of-water tales. Surrounded by fields, meadows and rugged, imposing mountains, these are wide open spaces that feel horrifically claustrophic. The film's tiny dollops of magical realism are perfect punctuation points to an experience that is as strangely creepy as it is deeply and profoundly moving.

Two terrific documentary features directed by two guys named Charles. Charles Officer's new film is shot in a Cinéma Direct style, but with plenty of exquisitely moving poetic sequences. Unarmed Verses follows 12-year-old Francine Valentine, a sweet, smart and talented young lady living in Villaways, an isolated community housing project in Toronto that is on the verge of decimation. This is a very important film about home, community and how, in this modern world, it's on the verge of extinction. Charles Wilkinson has made some of the most important documentaries ever wrought on the subject of the environment (Peace Out, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World). His new film is, on one hand, a history of the great west coast Canadian city, and on the other, a powerful exploration of a housing crisis that's forcing people into homelessness and displacement.

Grief is the subject of the extraordinary feature-length debut by Bas Devos, a film that is indelibly infused with the delicate beauty and subtlety of everything its title, Violet, represents. Devos takes us on the haunting journey of a frail adolescent as he wends his way through a mourning process that is filled with such sadness and confusion that the film is as unbearable as it is compulsively relentless in its exploration of loss. The filmmaker wisely employs the standard-frame Academy ratio, used to such astonishing effect in Son of Saul by Laszlo Nemes. This is cinematic storytelling in its most powerful, evocative form. Devos uses image to express emotion, but to also evoke it within us.

In What Will People Say, the teenage daughter of hard-working immigrants living in Oslo, is at odds with her fundamentalist family, then kidnapped and shipped to Pakistan where she is to be "trained" to be dutiful. This is an extremely promising debut feature for actress/art director Iram Haq. Replete with glorious cultural details and stirring family drama, Haq layers her film with a myriad of complexities beneath a solidly simple coat hanger. It is a movie as filled with joy, love and sheer humanity as it is with chilling, suspenseful tension.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

GREG KLYMKIW'S TEN BEST SHORT FILMS OF 2017 in alphabetical order - By Greg Klymkiw

I saw over 100 short films this past year.

These are my 10 favourites from 2017.

Greg Klymkiw selects
(in alphabetical order)

Lasha Mowchun's moving, poetic and playful documentary about climate change.

Dane Clark & Linsey Stewart's sweetly, enchantingly melancholy romantic pas de deux.

Dominic Etienne Simard's gorgeous, bittersweet (mostly) monochrome life journey.

Rhayne Vermette's experimental bio-doc is an exquisite two-by-four to the senses.

Milos Mitrovic & Conor Sweeney's creepy duo of low-fi Homer Simpson madness.

Phillip Barker demonstrates angling with one visual jaw-dropper after another.

John Ainslie's grim, scary thriller is a creepy throat-catcher of a very high order.

Matthew Rankin's glorious, dreamy ode to Nikola Tesla soars like no other.

Torill Kove's lovely and simple animated tale about the threads that bind us all.

Chandler Levack's compulsive slice of life builds cleverly to glorious musical 3rd act.