Friday 13 September 2019

Rankin's Feature Debut, World Premiere @ TIFF 2019 / By Greg Klymkiw

The Twentieth Century (2019)
Dir. Matthew Rankin
Starring: Dan Beirne, Louis Negin

Report and Review By Greg Klymkiw

The festivities surrounding the World Premiere of Matthew Rankin’s glorious feature film The Twentieth Century at TIFF 2019 got off to a delightful start when I received a communique from him hoping that I might be able to muster the added “psychic energy” to attend yet another social event.

You see, I’d been kvetching to Matthew about the ridiculous number of film festival social events I had been attending (including a four-hour-long stint at the Canadian Film Centre BBQ on Sunday in which I traversed my way through amongst the throngs on the lawns of the North York Windfields estate).

I was keen to celebrate Matthew’s formidable achievements and when he extended an invitation to a soiree hosted by his Quebec-based distributor Maison 4:3, I was, in fact, thrilled to accept his gracious entreaties. Though Matthew and I hang our hats these days, respectively in Montreal and Toronto, we are both Winnipeggers born-and-bred and any excuse to hang out in our homes away from our Prairie Hearts/Roots, is enough of a cause for celebration.

However, when Matthew provided the address to the fête, my jaw dropped and I wondered if he had concocted a friendly ruse to send me into the heart of darkness in the east end of downtown Toronto. You see, the celebratory event would be taking place just behind a notorious rooming house that doubles as a brothel for street hookers and a home for malcontent veterans.

This same location was also just across the street from a park filled with enterprising purveyors of crack cocaine, meth and other mind-altering delights.

“Seriously, Matthew, is this REALLY where the party is?” He confirmed the address. The cockles of my heart warmed to a comfortable level of Hellfire. 

Gotta love Montreal film distributors!

The party itself was on the top floor of a gorgeous brownstone and outfitted with all manner of delectable comestibles and libations. A special treat included an array of candies (which I filled my pockets with to eventually give to the daughter of Coppers director Alan Zweig).

And, get this: bowls of cigarettes were available.

This was truly a first.

I’ve been going to film festival parties for decades and I have NEVER seen oodles of free cigarettes available on the buffet tables. (Though, in fairness, during one of my sojourns to the Berlin Film Festival in the late 90s, the Berlinale marketplace was crawling with young ladies dressed as Cowgirls handing out mini-packs of Marlboro cigarettes.)

But this was indeed a first! Cigarettes with pita, dips and candies knocked this event right out of the park. Though I had quit smoking cigarettes months ago, I did indeed break down and join Matthew’s producers out in the back alley for several smokes, a grungy locale conveniently perched behind the aforementioned rooming house of dubious repute.

Curiously, given the wide availability of hallucinogens in the park across the street, no such treats were available at the party - at least not in plain view.

And then, on Tuesday came the main event - the official world premiere at the huge packed house at the Ryerson Theatre on Gerrard. This yielded yet another first. The Midnight Madness director of programming Peter Kuplowsky was adorned in full Royal Canadian Mounted Police regalia. Prior to introducing Matthew and the film, Kuplowsky took to the stage and sang “Oh Canada” in both English and French. Hundreds of audience members stood at attention and sang our national anthem along with him.

Needless to say, the movie was a huge hit - greeted with laughs, gasps and applause. Matthew was accompanied after the screening by his entire cast and a spirited Q and A ensued.

The movie is great, to be sure, but the film's mad inspired genius was matched by the showmanship of a truly magnificent party and premiere. Winnipeggers and Montrealers are an unbeatable combination, mais non?

And now, as to a few ruminations on the greatness of Matthew Rankin and the great movie itself...

I wish I could remember the precise year I first met Matthew Rankin, but I do recall it was on the grounds of the Windfields Estate which houses “Uncle” Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre (CFC) during the annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) CFC BBQ. In those halcyon years I taught and mentored young filmmakers there, sharing an office (the late E.P. Taylor’s office, no less) with John Paizs (a pioneer of independent filmmaking in Winnipeg).

What I recall about first meeting Matthew was coming face to face with this insanely young, dashing, erudite gentleman and member of the Winnipeg Film Group (WFG) who sought me out amongst the throngs of TIFF denizens prowling the rolling lawns in search of free booze and hamburgers. Matthew might well have been in search of similar libations and comestibles, but I remember this first meeting very fondly due to the fact that I was in the presence of a filmmaker from Winnipeg, my old “Winter City” (a phrase I continue to coin and rip-off from Paizs who placed the term in the mouth of his immortal title character in the legendary WFG short The Obsession of Billy Botski).

I was immediately drawn to Matthew, this brilliant young fellow whose acute cinema literacy was at a highly advanced level, but that he also amazingly seemed to have an encyclopaedic knowledge and love of those in Winnipeg who came before him. He not only knew and loved the 100+ years of Cinema History, but he was able to rattle off scenes, shots and dialogue from a myriad of WFG films. And now, here we are in 2019. When I first got wind of the title of Matthew's film I assumed it would be an homage to the great 1934 Howard Hawks pre-code screwball romantic comedy Twentieth Century with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard (a movie I’m not embarrassed to admit to having 40+ viewings under my belt). Rankin’s film is definitely in the spirit of that magnificently insane movie - it’s decidedly screwball, wildly romantic and blessed with style to burn. However, as I used to say to all my young filmmakers, it’s important to ingest 100+ years of history to not only “rip-off cool shit”, but to take that influence and use it as a springboard for their own unique voice. Rankin’s film is easily just as funny as the Howard Hawks picture, but it’s pure Rankin.

Over the years I was so privileged to discover and revel in Matthew's work. The Twentieth Century brings me back to everything I loved and continue to love about his short films: the classic piece of prairie post-modernism, Death By Popcorn: The Tragedy of the Winnipeg Jets (which Rankin co-directed with the estimable Mike Maryniuk and Walter Forsberg); the magnificence that is Mynarski Death Plummet, the only film to ever detail the bravery of that famous Manitoba “Moose Squadron” gunner (and with clear, glorious nods to Powell/Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death); and of course, Rankin’s Cannes Film Festival hit, The Tesla World Light which so grandly plunged us into the magnificent synaesthesia of the visionary Serbian-American engineer-inventor Nikola Tesla. (Of course for me, on a personal level, one of the cool things about The Twentieth Century was seeing Matthew pay homage to a number of films made in Winnipeg that I had actually produced.)

And here’s the amazing thing - Rankin’s work reflects elements of Canadian history that are all but forgotten and ignored. Though some might have a smattering of knowledge with respect to the clearly insane Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (Dan Beirne), the central figure of The Twentieth Century, Rankin plunges us into the early political life of that complete and utter madman in ways that no mere biopic would ever be able to do. (King's perverse relationship with his Mother played by the initimitable Louis Negin is definitely a high point in the film's perversity sweepstakes.)

The Twentieth Century is a kaleidoscopic dreamscape, the likes of which we’ve never quite seen. And it’s not only gorgeous to behold, but it’s laugh-out-loud funny. And yes, it is infused with love for the sheer joy of cinema. Seeing this movie reminds me of why I fell in love with movies in the first place.


The Twentieth Century: World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2019) Midnight Madness series

COPPERS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2019 - Zweig Explores the Humanity of Policing

Coppers (2019)
Dir. Alan Zweig

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It seems that with each film by Alan Zweig I have the same response after I view the new work for the first time. My response goes something like this:
Great. Yet another masterpiece of filmmaking. When will Canadian filmmaker Alan Zweig go wrong? When will the runner stumble? Ever? Or will he continue to feed the soul of the world with one terrific picture after another?

Thus far his output includes such critically acclaimed and award-winning work as There is a House HereWhen Jews Were FunnyHurtHope15 Reasons to LiveA Hard NameI, CurmudgeonLovable and Vinyl.
If his newest film, Coppers, is any indication, there’s no stopping him.

This raw, nerve-jangling, darkly funny and extremely moving documentary portrait of retired police officers has its World Premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Zweig’s frank, incisive interview style is always the hallmark of his work and no-more-so does it shine than it does here. In the film, Zweig betrays his deep-seeded hatred and mistrust of cops – something he developed from his many years of driving cab on the night shifts of some of Toronto’s meaner streets. But like all of his previous work, he is genuinely interested in learning something new about the subjects and worlds he chooses to focus upon. What he learns in these explorations is dazzlingly applied to letting us learn things as he does.

The retired cops he interviews open up to Zweig and their stories are often horrifying. The movie hits the ground running with one officer’s recollection of her first night on the job when she was forced to save a victim of a violent crime with an empty pizza box. I’ll let you discover on your own why she needs this cardboard receptacle and how she uses it, but it’s worth noting that what Zweig sets up is an extremely effective mode of conveying the horrors cops face everyday by doing interviews in moving vehicles as his subjects drive through the mean streets of their former beats and are reminded continually of events that continue to haunt them.

He revisits the cops in a multitude of settings that allow for continual variations in their respective states of being and memories.
I think anyone who thinks they know what being a cop is like or thinks that all cops are scum incarnate, will have their eyes opened. And yes, occasionally all those negative aspects of policing do indeed rear their ugly heads in the film. One of the things I responded to on a personal level, was getting to know these men and women and their lives as officers, but at the same time feeling a sense of familiarity with the subjects – the stories they tell, the manner in which they communicate, often felt queasily recognizable to me – not because of the clichés we’ve become used to in film and television policiers, but I kept seeing and hearing things I heard from my own father who served as a policeman for ten years until the pressure and horrors of the life forced him to leave the force and make a new life for himself.

Like many of the officers depicted in the film, though, there were aspects of the life that never seemed to escape him. For me, I kept seeing something in the eyes of all the officers in Zweig’s movie – men, women, of colour, or not – a sense of having seen things that never leave their hearts and minds, reflected in their gaze so many years after. Even now, I can see that incalculable, almost indescribable pain in my own father’s eyes.

With Coppers, it’s clearly apparent that bad, evil, racist cops exist, but at the same time, Zweig also allows for an alternate perspective – a perspective that he himself discovers on his journey as a filmmaker. Though this might seem like an oxymoron, it’s anything but. Coppers explores the humanity of policing. By putting faces and emotions to the lives of these officers we experience something genuinely unique. We hear about their horrific experiences – everything from blood-spattered homicide scenes to domestic abuse cases and beyond.

Contrasting this are the results of constant exposure to things most of us can only imagine – results that include suicide, depression, PTSD, alcoholism, domestic disfunction and often a need to seek early retirement from a profession that is deeply damaging and disturbing.
I hesitate to use the word “sympathetic” to describe the approach, but it is most definitely humane. In spite of this humanity, or perhaps because of it, Zweig’s film doesn’t veer from the ugly side of policing – especially within the organization itself.

One of the stories involves the first Asian woman to work in the Toronto Police Department – the racism and sexism she faces from her colleagues and superiors is beyond the pale. The police service bureaucracy upholds her as a “poster girl” for diversity within the department, yet behind the scenes she is treated with disdain and overt hatred. We get a sense of her dreams and optimism at the beginning, but how her feelings are decimated and betrayed at every turn.

Yes, the film provides plenty of horror stories from out in the field, but doesn’t veer away from the cruelty exhibited behind closed doors. The implications are clear – if this is the kind of behavior exhibited towards officers by colleagues and superiors, how far does this extend to the communities the department is charged to “protect and serve”?
What’s wonderful about Zweig’s documentaries is that you always feel like you’re seeing something new, fresh and exciting from a filmmaking standpoint.

He utilizes a number of recurring visual motifs in the lives of these retired officers that are not only effective storytelling techniques, but are genuinely cinematic. In film after film, Zweig displays a unique voice and style that is all his own. He makes documentaries, but he is not a documentarian (a word I hate and often relegate to the lowest order of those cranking out dull informational docs with no voice or real perspective). Zweig is a filmmaker, an artist – of the highest order. Coppers is a great movie and not to be missed.


Coppers: World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2019)

Sunday 16 September 2018

THE FIREFLIES ARE GONE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Sébastien Pilote Scores Again

The Fireflies are Gone (2018)
Dir. Sébastien Pilote
Starring: Kapelle Tremblay, Pierre-Luc Brillant

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Who is Sébastien Pilote? Seriously, who in the hell is this guy, anyway? These were the questions I asked myself upon seeing Quebec-based Canadian filmmaker Sébastien Pilote's extraordinary first feature film Le Vendeur. This stunning Québec-made kitchen-sink drama was so raw, real and infused with a seldom-paralleled acute pain that the film's quiet power betrayed its creator's cinematic genius immediately.
Starring the magnificent Gilberte Sicotte as an ace car salesman in a small factory town in Québec on the brink of total financial collapse, this staggeringly powerful, exquisitely-acted and beautifully written motion picture was, for me, the first genuine Québec heir apparent to the beautiful-yet-not-so-beautiful-loser genre of English-Canadian cinema of the 60s and 70s (best exemplified by films like Don Shebib's Goin' Down the Road, Peter Pearson's Paperback Hero and Zale Dalen's Skip Tracer).
As if making a modern masterpiece of Québec cinema as a first feature wasn't enough, he’d knocked one out of the park before that with his early short film DUST BOWL HA! HA!  It featured Andre Bouchard as a hard-working family man in small-town Québec who stoically maintains his dignity in a world where nothing and nobody escapes the crushing weight of the financial crisis. This turned out to be one of the best short films I had ever seen – period – a phenomenal drama, so graceful and so simple, that upon seeing it I felt about as winded as I did after I first saw Le Vendeur.
With his second feature Le démantèlement, I had MORE reason to ask, just who in the hell is this guy anyway?
Starring the legendary Gabriel Arcand as a Québec sheep farmer forced into selling off his beloved home and livelihood to help his daughter was a movie that extraordinarily blended a neo-realist sensibility in a great, thought-provoking drama that was visually astonishing – gorgeously captured by cinematographer Michel La Veaux in a classical tradition not unlike that of the late Haskell Wexler's heartbreakingly beautiful work in Bound For Glory.
And then, his third feature film, The Fireflies Are Gone came along. Wow! He’s the real thing! No doubt about it.
Amusingly, when Mr. Pilote invited me to the Canadian premiere of his film, he expressed considerable trepidation. He was worried I wouldn’t like his third feature because it was such a departure from his previous work. His concerns were unfounded. I loved it so much that I saw it twice at TIFF.
I urge everyone to see it.
First of all, it bears many hallmarks of what makes Pilote’s films special: it’s set in small town Québec, it blends neo-realist qualities with classical filmmaking and is finally infused with moments of humanity that are so indelible that it leaves one deeply moved. Where it departs is that the central character is female and that the movie displays considerable charm and humour.
The characters in Pilote’s previous features were nearing the end of their “productive” lives, but not so here. Léonie (Karelle Tremblay) can hardly wait for high school to end and actually begin her life as an adult. Existence in this small Saguenay town is stifling, but she finds solace in her friendship with the much older Steve (Pierre Luc-Brilliant), a guitar teacher who lives in a suburban basement with his mother.
The two of them while away their time playing music together, wandering the empty streets and hanging out eating poutine in a local greasy spoon, but alas, Léonie is restless. She’s also not getting along with her Mom (and Mom’s new-ish husband) and though she enjoys visiting with her estranged Dad, he too does little to fill the void in her life.
Much is made of how the fireflies in the town have disappeared due to the factories belching out pollution, but it’s not just industrialization that has decimated this once beautiful rural paradise, but small mindedness. Léonie, like those fireflies might have to leave, but if she does, will her light ever be replaced?
It’s an eternal question and one that Pilote posits brilliantly in his gorgeous, magical movie. 


The Fireflies are Gone is a Contemporary World Cinema presentation at TIFF 2018.

Thursday 13 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 12 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 11 September 2018

BEN IS BACK - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Addiction Drama With Thriller Elements

Ben is Back (2018)
Dir. Peter Hedges
Starring: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It's interesting that there are two major American films this year (in addition to a number of foreign language entries) playing at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) that deal with the subject of drug addiction amongst adolescents. Clearly this is an epidemic world wide and obsessing our filmmakers. Given the power of cinema and its unyielding nature as an art form, this is a year that historically we will look back upon, not just from a standpoint of film history, but history period.

Ben is Back is an original screenplay by director (Dan in Real Life, The Odd Life of Timothy Green) and novelist (What's Eating Gilbert Grape) Peter Hedges. The film it most resembles is Felix Van Groeningen's Beautiful Boy (also at TIFF 2018). That film involves a father and son struggling through the child's drug addiction. Here, the film focuses upon a mother and her son struggling through the child's drug addiction. That both are major and relatively mainstream American films both at TIFF 2018 is not without interest. One is, however, clearly superior to the other. It's not Ben is Back.

It should be said, though, that Hedges' film is not without considerable merit. That it lacks the pedigree of Van Groeningen's film being based upon not one, but two, true-life memoirs is not its central flaw. The writing Hedges crafts is often complex and intelligent and is indeed flavoured with touches that seem "real". Not surprisingly, it has "novelistic" properties in terms of its structure and I admired that it tries things we don't often see in most contemporary films. However, some of what it "tries" is not always successful.

Ben is Back unfurls a narrative set within a 24-hour period (I loved this macrocosmic aspect of the storytelling) in which a teenage drug addict (opioids), played by Hedges' real-life son, actor Lucas Hedges, returns home from rehab for a one-day holiday reprieve with his family. His mother (quite dazzlingly portrayed by Julia Roberts) is thrilled to see him, in spite of the pain he's caused to both himself and the family. He presents the picture of a young man well on his way to recovery. Doubts however remain and continue to creep into the proceedings. When a break-in occurs in the family home while they're all attending a Christmas concert, this results in the disappearance/pet-napping of the family's dog. Ben is convinced the dog has been snatched by one of several scuzzball drug dealers from his past. He and his Mother, together and separately, begin a suspenseful odyssey into the underbelly of the illicit drug world.

An easy, somewhat flippant, but not altogether inaccurate description of Ben is Back might be: "Beautiful Boy with thriller elements". These thriller elements are handled with plenty of directorial prowess and though the journey that mother and son take together is not without interest or merit, we are, during the second half of the film, occasionally taken out of the "addiction" story and faced with the realization that we're watching a movie about people trying to find their stolen dog. I do not wish to criticize this story element - it's bold, brash and original. Alas, it occasionally FEELS like an obvious conceit and as such, we become too aware of the "mechanics" of the film. This does indeed take us out of the narrative thrust.

Happily, the performances in the movie are first rate and in spite of the weird flaw in structure/delivery, the movie is so much more original and compelling than most contemporary American films. Perhaps I doth protest too much, but in comparison to Van Groeningen's film, or, for that matter Baldvin Z's utterly astounding Let Me Fall, it pales slightly in comparison.

It's wonderful seeing Julia Roberts work her magic in this film. She really is a great actress. One chillingly happy moment has her trashing a scumbag doctor who got her son hooked on pain medication. Her victory is petty, but damn, it's still satisfying.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ 3-and-one-half Stars

Ben is Back is a TIFF 2018 Special Presentation.

Monday 10 September 2018

A STAR IS BORN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Horrid, Unnecessary Remake of Classic Tale

A Star is Born (2018)
Dir. Bradley Cooper
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliot

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I have absolutely no problem with remakes. Taking a great story and creating a new adaptation within a different cultural/societal context can yield considerable fruit. A Star is Born has several terrific incarnations. It also has a couple of abominable ones.

It all began in 1932 with George Cukor's marvelous What Price Hollywood? in which a waitress (Constance Bennett) is swept off her feet and turned into a star by an alcoholic film director (Lowell Sherman) who eventually commits suicide after shaming himself, and by extension, the woman he loves.

Producer David O. Selznick though, finally perfected the story in 1937's A Star is Born when the script, co-written by Dorothy Parker and directed by William A. Wellman, paired a big movie star on his way down (Frederic March) with a burgeoning actress (Janet Gaynor). They fall in love naturally and the fading star turns Gaynor into a huge star, but his battles with booze eventually create a situation wherein he realizes that he is dragging down the woman he loves. He commits suicide, not so much out of self-pity (though there's considerable self-loathing on his part) and his death is a sacrifice to "save" the career and life of the woman he loves. The movie is just about perfect and is still one of the most vivid portraits of the Hollywood studio system ever made.

1954, however, brought the greatest version of the film to life when George Cukor returned to the story he first made in 1932. Here he paired James Mason as Norman Maine, a big movie star in serious decline who meets aspiring singer/actress Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland), makes her a star and eventually, sacrifices himself via suicide when his alcoholism not only drags him down, but threatens to destroy the woman he loves. Oh, this version is wonderful! It doesn't get better than Judy Garland and James Mason and Cukor at the peak of his powers.

Alas, 1976 brought us the Frank Pierson-directed abomination starring Kris Kristofferson, a boozing rock star who meets Barbara Streisand, a burgeoning singer. Same deal. They fall in love, he makes her a star, and eventually he dies. The problem with the story is that there's no sacrifice. He gets boozed up and dies in a car accident. That's not the only problem, though. The movie is miserably written, virtually non-directed and little more than a showcase for Streisand. The picture stinks to high heaven.

Though Bradley Cooper's 2018 version of A Star is Born pretty much stinks, it's a masterpiece compared to the dreadful 1976 version. Director Cooper plays an alkie rock star who meets the execrable Lady Gaga, falls in love with her, makes her a star and eventually commits suicide in an act of sacrifice.

This new version of the film does offer a decent performance from director Cooper, but his skills as a director are woeful. Most of the movie is shot in dull closeups and not even the musical numbers have a sense of scope or sweep to them. Lady Gaga is a supremely mediocre actress and it's almost impossible to listen to her thudding dull monotonous line readings. Even worse is the music in the film. It's so mediocre, I'd not even dare to call it music. (At least the horrendous 1976 version had genuine songs written by real songwriters like Paul Williams.)

How anyone could even begin to enjoy this new version of the film is beyond me. It's incompetently directed, has a dreadful score and a complete washout in female lead Lady Gaga.

Look, there are three great versions of this story. Do yourself a favour and watch them instead. And if truth be told, the soundtrack for the awful 1976 version offers some decent tunes worth listening to (as opposed to Cooper's growling and Gaga's caterwauling).


A Star is Born is a TIFF 2018 Gala Presentation.

Sunday 9 September 2018

FIRST MAN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Lame Space Race Picture

First Man (2018)
Dir. Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy

Review By Greg Klymkiw

If you're going to make a true-life dramatic recreation of a piece of space exploration history, wouldn't it make some sense to ask yourself, "How am I going to create a film that is at least as good as Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff?"

The classic 1983 epic about the early days of space travel, based on Tom Wolfe's bestseller of the same name, focused on test pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) and the astronauts who comprised the Project Mercury team (including stars Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn, Fred Ward and Lance Henriksen) and led the world into space travel. Kaufman's film is a dazzler - groundbreaking special effects, brilliant satire, thrilling personal/professional drama, swirling romanticism and, much like Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, is one of the few films that actually gives us a sense of what space travel must really be like. There's nothing quite like it.

First Man by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) focuses upon Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), the first human being to actually set foot on the moon in 1969. Written by the normally talented screenwriter John Singer (Spotlight) and based on the James R. Hansen book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, this is a screenplay that plods along with cliches - focusing, almost by-rote on TV-movie-like family drama, de rigueur preparation and training and the eventual journey and moon landing.

The whole movie feels like a been-there-done-that affair. It doesn't help that we have to stare at the supremely overrated, dewy-eyed, annoyingly soulful and humourless hunk Ryan Gosling.

Even worse are the endless jittery closeups used to replicate the actual space travel. Yes, I'm sure the litany of technical/science experts provided insight for Chazelle to create this mise en scene, but given the cinematic brilliance employed by Kaufman in his film (never mind Kubrick), this cliched shaky-cam approach is all sizzle, but no steak.

The movie feels dead. Even the sequences involving Armstrong's first steps upon the moon surface have a kind of blah "quality" to them. There's no oomph or dramatic/emotional resonance to any of it.

It was hard slogging through this movie with memories of The Right Stuff dancing through my head. Not that I wanted the usually original Chazelle to approach the material in any sort of derivative fashion, but again, I reiterate: the bar for space travel movies was set so high by Kaufman that it flummoxes me that Chazelle chose such a dull approach to the material. When I think of the verve and excitement he demonstrated with the astonishing Whiplash, I expected so much more than something that feels so dull and familiar.

And here's something I never thought I'd find myself saying, but why, oh why does the film place absolutely no emphasis upon the planting of the American Flag on the surface of the moon? Yes, the flag is there. We see it clearly as Armstrong goes through his routines on the lunar surface, but given the importance of this flight to both the government and people of the United States, how can we not get a glorious moment where the flag is planted?

I'm sure this was an intentional omission on the part of Chazelle and his writer. God knows they wouldn't want to sully themselves with anything that might seem vaguely propagandistic. But you know what? This might have been one of many things to give this movie some life. Too much emphasis is placed on a kind of "documentary"-like approach.

But damn! This is a movie! It should be BIGGER than life, not smaller than one of America's most astounding historical achievements.


First Man is a TIFF 2018 Gala Presentation

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.

Friday 7 September 2018

BEAUTIFUL BOY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Devastating Addiction Drama

Beautiful Boy (2018)
Dir. Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There is a long history of films dealing with the illness of drug addiction. The best work tends to avoid earnestness and some of my favourites either capture the hallucinogenic properties of the disease itself (Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas might be the ultimate in this respect) or dramatically (or even melodramatically) chart the sufferings of those afflicted in a realistic (or Neo-realistic) fashion (Jerry Schatzberg's The Panic in Needle Park, Alex Cox's Sid and Nancy and Otto Preminger's The Man With The Golden Arm all chart "realism" most effectively, and affectingly). A bonus is when the films can do both as in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem For a Dream and Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy.

A great new film manages to do both, but not in ways one might expect. With the almost unbearably harrowing Beautiful Boy, Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown) makes his English language debut with this film adaptation of two published non-fiction accounts of addiction that each provide perspectives from the "outsider" looking in and the "insider" looking out. Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff have been expertly adapted into a screenplay written by Luke Davies and Van Groeningen.

Telling the story of New York Times journalist David Sheff (Steve Carell) and his relationship with teenage son Nicholas (Timothée Chalamet), Beautiful Boy charts the journey of both men through a grim and gripping rollercoaster ride through crystal meth addiction (in addition to copious ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana use). We begin with the boy's disappearance and his eventual return into his Dad's home, clearly under the influence of drug use. Nicholas agrees to a stay in a rehab clinic, but once he is released to a halfway house, the young boy's abuse of drugs increases exponentially. We proceed through a harrowing, almost cat-and-mouse game of parental care, the child's acquiescence and continual downfall. Eventually, tough-love must come into play.

Anyone who has experienced and/or witnessed the addiction of someone close will relate to this film, however, the picture's ultimate power is that it moves well beyond simple recognition and is ultimately a story of father-son love. Carrell and Chalamet deliver alternately grim and sensitive performances. Chalamet in particular captures the jittery telltale signs of meth addiction and the script beautifully charts the behaviour and mindset of addiction as it continually takes grip upon the boy's psyche.

Beautiful Boy never offers pat answers or explanations. That might be its ultimate power. It also is set with the world of a fairly affluent family unit. Some might find this a tad disingenuous, but frankly, addiction goes so far beyond class lines. It can happen to anyone, anytime and that the story is told against a bourgeois backdrop hammers home just how horrible a disease addiction is. In fact, one wonders, both during and after, about its effects upon all those afflicted with it no matter what their class or station.

And of course, it's impossible to ignore the fact that the film's title is derived from the song "Beautiful Boy", John Lennon's soulful, loving, and within the context of this film (and an element of the story itself), absolutely heartbreaking melody and lyrics.

Among the evocative lyrics in the song, one resonates both during and long after the film is over: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Oh indeed. Life happens and sometimes the best laid plans either get in the way or are unattainable. Love, understanding and perseverance go a long way, but with the disease of addiction, there are never, ever any guarantees.

The Film Corner Rating: ***** 5-Stars

Beautiful Boy is a TIFF 2018 Gala Presentation.

Thursday 6 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.