Monday 31 December 2012

Greg Klymkiw takes a good, healthy DUMP upon the very WORST that Cinema had to offer in 2012. The TEN WORST MOVIES OF 2012.

The Worst Movies of 2012
By Greg Klymkiw

2012 could well have been much worse than it was, but for the most part, the year yielded a lot of great stuff. That said, there's more than enough celluloid trash to kvetch about and believe me, you'll find plenty of my kvetching here. Contenders I mulled over for inclusion that you won't find here included Ben Affleck's overrated racist compost toilet Argo, the absolutely pointless, boring and abominable Hitchcock, Brandon Cronenberg's dull, humourless and idiotic Antiviral, Spielberg's plodding Lincoln, the bloated Les Miserables, and a whole raft of mediocre comedies, horror films and pretentious art films. Consider them all runners-up.

Here, though, for your edification are my absolute Top Ten Worst Films of 2012. Technically there are a few more than 10 on my list, but three of the films are so interchangeable that they ended up being listed as a tie. The worst trend this year was to hire directors who can't direct action and/or suspense to handle films replete with action and/or suspense. The bottom line is that the films listed below were awful enough to bring out the ornery, rascally rabbit in me.

As per usual, I present the titles in alphabetical order.

Read 'em and weep!

Klymkiw's 10 WORST movies of 2012

Didn't Sam Raimi already make this movie?

The Amazing Spider-Man dir. Marc Webb

Pitching the Turd: So, uh, let's do the origin of Spidey again, but with a new cast and let's make sure it's not as good because people will come anyway. Oh, let's get the director of Hilary Duff and Miley Cyrus music videos. He'll know what to do.

Catching the Turd: The bland, tasteful hack-manship of this movie slides down one's gullet not unlike the ease with which sewage spills into water treatment tanks. With by-the-numbers direction that delivers the all-too-familiar Spidey origin story (which Sam Raimi already did with so much force and panache - not that long ago), we basically get a slight reworking; a barely competent lame-duck that's little more than a cash-grab. The movie is dull and depressing, but even more so are the boneheads who paid money to see it. Are contemporary audiences so stupid that they require these endless reboots? Are they so bereft of attention spans that they need a pallid re-telling of Spidey's origin so soon? Have they become such lambs-to-the-slaughter suckers they'll contribute readily to putting money in the pockets of the unimaginative business school graduates pretending to be studio moguls? The answer it would seem is a resounding "Yes!"


Gee, this movie seems awfully familiar.

The Avengers dir. Joss Whedon

Pitching the Turd: Asgard's exiled Loki, hooks up with evil aliens to steal a cube of power. He hypnotizes Hawkeye and Professor Selvig to assist him. Nick Fury pulls in Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor and The Black Widow to fight the power from the outer reaches of the universe. The super heroes squabble. They kiss and make up. They fight the bad guys. They win. The Earth is free.

Catching the Turd: Television writer-director Joss Whedon accomplishes the sort of thing TV directors and other filmmakers bereft of any real cinematic voice employ. Endless closeups, more shots and cuts than Sergei Eisenstein would have ever imagined being used (and he used plenty), no sense of spatial geography, genuinely good fight choreography butchered by excessive cutting, a grating, pounding soundscape, a thunderous score and a whole lot of thunder signifying not much of anything. The whole affair is executed with a cudgel. It's depressing to realize that audiences have become so numbed by bad filmmaking they'll have no difficulty embracing these loathsome efforts. Joss Whedon is not a filmmaker. Like the woeful J.J. Abrams, Christopher Nolan and others of this overrated, untalented ilk, Whedon is a hack. There's nary a single shot in the film that suggests he has a filmmaker's eye and though he apparently has a good reputation as a writer in television (I don't bother to watch television), he clearly hasn't got what it takes to generate a script with the sweep and true spectacle needed for a feature. Oh, and the movie bored the shit out of me.

TIED WITH . . . 

Pardon me, I'm looking for Bridget Fonda.

The Dark Knight Rises dir. Christopher "One Idea" Nolan

Pitching the Turd: Gotham City is crime free. Harvey Dent has become Jesus Christ and Commissioner Gordon is feeling guilty about suppressing the real truth for the "good" of the city. Batman is off the radar whilst Bruce Wayne mopes about in seclusion with his loyal butler Alfred. A plucky cat burglar who looks like Anne Hathaway with body paint for clothes, takes a shine to Bruce as does a wealthy socialite who looks an awful lot like the French woman who played Edith Piaf (only without the "ugly" makeup). Out of nowhere comes an incredibly bland villain with a bunch of tubes and steel pipes in his face. It's impossible to understand half his dialogue, but no matter, he's there to do evil, not to be understood. He's a terrorist bent on giving the city back to criminals. This will never do, of course, so Batman comes to the rescue, but not before an endlessly drawn out sequence in some weird-ass pit in the middle of nowhere as Bruce needs to climb out of the hole to triumphantly beat the bad guy. Oh yeah, there's a nice young cop who believes in Batman and lends a hand. His name is - WAIT FOR IT - Robin. Alas, no homoerotic subtext here. Nolan leaves that bit o' business twixt Bruce Wayne and Alfred.

Catching the Turd: Christopher Nolan has a very distinctive style. It doesn't mean he can direct. He's dull, dour, pretentious, humourless and has absolutely no talent for directing action sequences. He does, however, usually have one idea.

I'm an auteur, don'cha know?

I can act, write & direct. Just like Orson Welles.

When acting I have one expression.

Here it is again. Enjoy!

Friends With Kids dir. Jennifer Westfeldt

Pitching the Turd: Two fuck buddies see how marriage and kids have ruined the carefree lives of all their friends until they realize that it's okay to be more than fuck buddies and ruin their own lives too.

Catching the Turd: Easily the most nauseating film of the year that forces an interminable wait to discover if the most sickening romantic movie couple in recent film history will eventually find happiness with each other. Before the inevitable no-brainer is revealed we have to put up with TV-sitcom-styled dialogue trying pathetically to be sophisticated, fired out in Howard Hawks-like rat-a-tat-tat fashion, purportedly in homage to classic romantic screwball comedy, but in reality, simply masking how shallow all the characters are, including everything that spews out of their mouths. We are therefore forced to wallow, like pigs in a trough full of horrendous upper-middle-class values in these repugnant empty vessels - either to remind us how wonderful the lifestyles of bourgeois sheep are or as a carrot of "success" to dangle before those who aspire to emulating these frightful people and their negligible existence. Especially grotesque is the bourgeois breeder mentality that infuses all the characters - particularly our two main characters. There's a selfishness and immaturity that we're all supposed to, uh, "relate" to. I'd personally find it easier to relate to Manson Family values than these petty, machine-tooled "sophisticates". And lest we forget, this painful, pus-filled boil of a movie stars the hideously unwatchable Jennifer Westfeldt, one of the most woefully inexpressive actresses I've ever had the displeasure to witness on a big screen. Not only does she have a clumping, clod-hopping gait, but her face is weirdly frozen. Westfeldt is clearly too young to have been mainlining Botox, but I'd hate to think how immobile her expressions would be if and when she does partake in this hideous, dehumanizing butchery. Of course it's Westfeldt who is responsible for this abomination as she also wrote (in a manner of speaking) and directed (as it were) what is easily one of the worst romantic comedies of the new millennium.

I'm going to find you and I'm going to… Oh, Shite! Wrong movie.

The Grey dir. Joe Carnahan

Pitching the Turd: Liam Neeson, a sharpshooting wolf killer and co-workers from an Arctic Oil Rig are on a plane that crashes in the middle of a wolf pack's happy hunting grounds. The coterie of macho wolf-bait is the usual assortment of miscreants - leading to all manner of personality conflicts amidst the very real threat of being devoured and/or freezing to death.

Catching the Turd: A new film from the director of The A-Team, Smokin' Aces and Narc is NOT, I assure you, a ringing endorsement. Joe Carnahan shoehorns fake existential male angst into a straight-up action thriller, bone-headedly assuming he'll lift the material out of its genre roots. He's a snob and an incompetent one at that. The wolf attacks are directed with all the style of an apprentice butcher raising his sledgehammer tentatively over the skull of a cow before letting it sloppily crash down upon the bovine cranium. The action is almost always in closeup and utilizes lazy herky-jerky shooting in tandem with Attention Deficit Disorder quick cutting.

As you can see, I have extremely large lips.

The Hunger Games dir. Gary Ross

Pitching the Turd: Based on the first of three bestselling books by Suzanne Collins, children are forced to murder each other on live television.

Catching the Turd: This might have made for a decent picture if it came closer to Norman Jewison's Rollerball crossed with Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale - the cool dystopian future vision of the former and the utterly insane ultra violence of the latter. However, to make a dream picture like this, even with the dreadful script based on a dreadful book would have required something resembling a director which, helmer Gary Ross clearly isn't. In fact, Ross reaches his filmmaking nadir with this. He's yet another director who has absolutely no idea how to direct suspense and action. Full of annoying shaky-cam and endless, cheap-jack quick cuts, he's all bluster and not much else. He has no idea of spatial geography, his camera placements are all a big mess and there is nary a thrilling moment in the entire movie. Add to the film's ineptitude a plodding 142-minute running time and it's a recipe for guaranteed international worldwide boxoffice success amongst audiences who are collectively not unlike Winnie The Pooh - being, as he was, a bear of very little brain..

There are no leading roles for women, but I will do quite nicely.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey dir. Peter Jackson

Pitching the Turd: Let's take a slender novel and blow the first part of it up to a 170-minute movie. It's Tolkein's precursor to The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo leaves the Shire with Gandalf and a bunch of Middle Earthlings to get something (or to do something, or to meet someone or to. . . whatever) and have them walk for a long time and punctuate the walking (and talking) with occasional fights with monsters and bad guys. Eventually, they'll get what they're looking for (sort of) and the movie will prepare us for a sequel.

Catching the Turd: The Hobbit is a lame ride. The movie is interminably boring, the action scenes are surprisingly and rather lamely directed, the special effects are predictably - uh, digital - many of the set-pieces are structured like video game roller coaster rides and worst of all, the stalwart Viggo Mortensen hero-type is unbearably awful and has absolutely no screen presence. None whatsoever. Where they dredged that loser up was beyond me until I checked out his credits after seeing the movie and saw he was a longtime TV actor. Oh, and it's just under three hours long. I assure you that one never gets that precious time back.

You'll be happy when I give myself a Cesarian. Not much else to enjoy here.

Prometheus dir. Ridley Scott

Pitching the Turd: Scientists go to another planet and discover that it was once populated by alien beings who were responsible for creating life on Earth until they were wiped out by the nasty monster aliens from Alien. Yes, Alien - which makes this a prequel, no less, and with that great film's original director. Anyone who thinks Prometheus should be viewed as a stand-alone piece and NOT a prequel to Alien (as some have suggested, including the director) is an idiot. It's a prequel all right.

Catching the Turd: Prometheus is all sizzle and no steak. There's way too much boring New-Agey stuff, no real scares (save for one that is ripped off from the original Alien) and a much larger cast to give the aliens more to eat (though it means little because we never get to know any of them as characters). The movie is rife with BIG IDEAS, but most of them are introduced, then dropped in favour of forward thrust and pyrotechnics. Even more offensive is the predictable conclusion that offers up a sequel or two. I saw it coming from very early on and prayed the story WOULDN'T go where it did. It did. So much for shocker endings; though in fairness, a gibbon might have some trouble predicting the outcome.

What's my motivation, Oliver? Schwance, baby, schwance.

Savages dir. Oliver Stone

Pitching the Turd: The idiotically named "O" is the coffee table centrepiece in a groovy menage with her dope dealing boyfriends Ben and Chon. These guys make wicked dope, live the high life in their California dream house and boink the beautiful, but vapid O. When a Mexican drug cartel run by a Latina she-bitch seeks to muscle-in on their action, their dream comes crashing to a halt when O is kidnapped by the baddies and held hostage until they do the deal.

Catching the Turd: Easily Oliver Stone's worst movie ever. With a trio of bland lead characters and a clutch of over-the-top villains, there's little to keep our interest. I have no problem with the heroes being dope dealers who are simply trying to protect their turf - my problem is that they're such dull, hippy-dippy and ultimately, empty dope dealers. And while the villains all chew the scenery, none of them feel like they're especially having any fun doing it. The movie is a misfire from beginning to end. All it has going for it is the violence which, I'll admit is staged with Stone's trademark style and efficiency, but because there's virtually nothing in the movie that's remotely engaging, even the well-staged carnage feels like a waste. The whole picture feels phoned-in.

BOND: She's all mine, Raoul. Hands off. RAOUL: Oh, Bond. She's more than enough woman for both us. M: Oh, for Jesus H. Christ's sake! Drop your goddamn drawers. I can take both of youse Nancy-Boys on, plus Mr. Kincade and his bleeding stupid hunting dog. KINCADE: Och! Welcome to Scotland.

Skyfall dir. Sam Mendes

Pitching the Turd: James Bond views M as his Mommy because he was orphaned as a child. A terrorist who used to work for M is now trying to discredit her. The terrorist once looked upon M as his Mommy too because, like Bond, he was orphanedBond goes after him. Any guesses as to the outcome? I, for one, was looking forward to s scene where Bond and The Terrorist threw their arms open to each other and invite M for a bit of Mommy-Love Daisy Chain action. It didn't happen, but as I'm a professional (don'cha know?) I did not let it affect my assessment of the film.

Catching the Turd: Problem: Sam Mendes can't direct action. Problem: Sam Mendes can't direct (even though he continues to fool critics and Oscar voters otherwise). Problem: Sam Mendes has no sense of fun, nor anything resembling a sense of humour. These are big problems. Mendes is not only an overrated director, he's a magician, though not the kind that creates screen magic, but the sort who truly bamboozles audiences, studio heads, producers, financiers (and, sadly, reviewers) into thinking he's good. It must be the accent. He's a poseur of the highest order and has never made a decent picture. That said, I put these prejudices aside because I love Daniel Craig as Bond (in Casino Royale only, though) and I love James Bond (in many of his incarnations over the decades). I enjoyed the first two minutes of Skyfall, but as soon as the big action set-piece began, my heart sank. The entire opening has little sense of spatial geography, far too many closeups, a ridiculous number of cuts and only a handful of wide shots to take in the action. Car chase, motorcycle chase, foot chase and finally, spectacular leaps on top of a moving train do little more than exhaust the audience. Mendes cudgels us into submission. This isn't suspense, nor is it especially exciting. It's cacophony, pure and simple. Once again, we have an action sequence in a contemporary film that fakes its way through - driving the action NOT with dramatic beats, but with sledgehammer cuts inspired by explosive and/or grating, screeching sound. During the car chase sequence we never get a clean exterior shot of the car that Bond and Moneypenny are in. Mendes peppers the chase with closeups of things the car smashes into from interior POVs, but we never get a sense of the real danger, destruction and urgency. It's all bluster. So is the rest of the movie - boringly bombastic and no fun at all. Oh, and to all those who thought Javier Bardem was a great Bond villain - think again.

Where's the loo? I have the runs. So too will you.

The Woman in Black dir. James Watkins

Pitching the Turd: A widowed young 19th-century London`lawyer (Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe) journeys to an isolated village to save his ailing career and settle an estate which, not surprisingly, bears a heavy curse that befalls anyone who spies the creepy title apparition within its borders. Our hero spends an inordinate amount of time in the crumbling Victorian manse, getting several up-close-and-personal ocular treats of the pseudo-J-Horror ghost and when he does, a child in the village dies. Though we can see this coming from a mile away, the movie pretends it's going to be a surprise that the lawyer's winsomely cute tyke will be visiting the countryside with his Nanny. Oops.

Catching the Turd: This lame attempt to rekindle the atmospheric glory of Hammer Horror films flops. Good intentions are not enough. Sometimes movies need something resembling a real filmmaker at the helm. Alas, this movie is rendered by a director with no discernible style who likes the idea of making a Hammer picture, but not, it seems, actually doing one. The results are dire. Instead of Christopher Lee ogling heaving bosoms, the movie serves up little more than Daniel Radcliffe porn.

I'm soooooooo serious, yes?

We Need To Talk About Kevin dir. Lynne Ramsay

Pitching the Turd: Lots of bopping around in time and space with dollops of obtuse dreams, a mire of precious imagery, confusing narrative details and oh-so earnest performances delivers a film about a psychotically dysfunctional family.

Catching the Turd: It's a cerebral, trick-pony approach to horrific events in a family's life that's not only disingenuous, but vaguely offensive - artistically and morally. Reprehensible "art" cinema for pseuds.

Saturday 29 December 2012

THE DAY - Review by Greg Klymkiw - Lame, ultra-low-budget post-apocalyptic cannibal thriller a dull loser.

The Day (2011) *1/2
dir. Doug Aarniokoski
Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Ashley Bell, Cory Hardrict, Dominic Monaghan, Shannyn Sossamon

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Okay, so we all know when we’re watching a genre picture that’s low-to-no-budget - we’re out in a wilderness setting with one primary location and a relatively small cast. This normally isn’t a problem when the filmmakers go out of their way to make up for a lack of dough by:

(a.) Taking the genre into territory we’ve never quite experienced before and/or;

(b.) Maintaining a sense of dark (and hopefully not tongue-in-cheek) humour and/or;

(c.) Showcasing really good writing in terms of character, theme and dialogue.

This, I think, is especially important for post-apocalyptic thrillers, because the last thing you want to offer fan-boys is a dour, humourless, low-to-no-budget post-apocalyptic thriller.

This is often, shall we say, apocalyptic in more ways than one.

The Day hits zero out of three on the aforementioned checklist of low-to-no-budget genre thriller requirements. It’s a dour, humourless been-there-done-that post-apocalyptic thriller with by-rote writing that no doubt thinks it’s smart. The screenplay by Luke Passmore loads up all the clichés of the genre with a heap of dull blah-blah-blah in confined spaces and stock characters (the cool collected leader, the kick-ass babe with smarts (as it were), the loner kick-ass babe who is seemingly off her rocker, the supposedly funny team member who is sick and holding everyone back and, for the life of me, I can’t even remember who the fifth team member is, but I can assure you he’d probably be more memorable if I bothered to watch the movie again.

The picture focuses on one day in the life of five apocalypse survivors trying to stay a step ahead of crazed cannibals (identified by an “I’m a cannibal” tattoo) looking for fresh meat. Food is in short supply so humans are the best bet for good eating. The one-day-in-the-life conceit could have been interesting, but it’s not fully exploited in any meaningful and/or useful fashion. The device appears to be there because the filmmakers think they're being clever and/or have used it as a let’s-keep-exigencies-of-production-in-mind convention.

None of this is surprising since the movie is all about setting up expectations and then not delivering (and when it does, it's much ado about nothing). For example, early on in the film, the survivors come upon a seemingly abandoned farmhouse. We sit back in anticipation as director Doug Aarniokoski draws out the “suspense” whilst our team slowly susses out the situation. This drags on for what feels like an eternity until… nothing.

All seems well.


We then have to suffer through a whole lot of dialogue where the actors get to emote and be characters we could care (less) about and it then seems to take another eternity before something vaguely exciting happens. When it does, it’s exactly what I predicted when they first discovered all was well. I have no doubt you'll figure it out too. My apologies, then, for having seen too many movies and knowing exactly where things are going, If you’re going to make a picture like this for no money you better damn well think of shit that geeks like me aren’t waiting for. Or, if you do utilize obvious genre tropes, you better damn well do something interesting and/or funny with them. Instead, the movie plods along with no surprises, no thrills and nothing new under the sun. At times, it’s hard to believe the movie is only ninety minutes. It's so dull it feels like ninety hours

About the best one can say is that The Day is at least professional and borderline competent. The performances are as fine as they can be under the circumstances and director Aarniokoski (director of the incomprehensible hack job Highlander: Endgame and the ludicrous Animals) handles the suspense and action with rudimentary competence. This, however, is hardly a compliment. If the movie had at least been utterly incompetent, it might have been blessed with something resembling entertainment value.

The Day had its unveiling at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2011). If it's theatrically released, civilization as we know it will be dead. You can find it on DVD and Blu-Ray from eOne Films home entertainment.

Friday 28 December 2012

SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Classic Ingmar Bergman Gets The Criterion Touch

Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) ****
dir. Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Eva Dahlbeck, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ulla Jacobson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Harriet Andersson, Margit Cariqvist

Review By Greg Klymkiw

“A romantic comedy by Ingmar Bergman”

So proclaim the opening titles announcing the great artist’s authorship of the magnificent movie, Smiles of a Summer Night. For those who know the Master for his trilogy of despair and agnosticism (Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, The Silence) or his wrenching portrayal of cancer amidst the most harrowing of sibling rivalries in screen history (Cries and Whispers) or the strange autobiography-dolloped, borderline Grand Guignol Grimm-like fairytale and Strindbergian domestic drama Fanny and Alexander, the notion of a romantic comedy by Ingmar Bergman might well strike some as an oxymoron.

It makes perfect sense, though. Bergman’s picture might not seem like the bauble usually associated with the genre of romantic comedy, but it blends all the requisite tropes of the form and does so with a haunting melancholy that places it squarely at the top of the heap. While an early work from Bergman, it displays the assuredness, skill, artistry, sensitivity and poetry of a Master. It is a true delight that is as funny, frothy and entertaining as it is deeply and profoundly moving. In fact, my recent screenings of the picture on the delicious new Criterion Collection Blu-ray release might force my hand to elevate the movie to my personal Bergman favourite.

First and foremost, it presents Bergman’s unflagging talent for creating complex and compelling characters of the female persuasion. His touch for this rivalled, if not exceeded that of such distinguished fellows as Carl Dreyer (Passion of Joan of Arc) and Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story). Against the backdrop of early 20th century Sweden, a man’s world – as it were – we see a delightful tale unfold in which the women have the clear upper hand in their brilliant manipulations of all the dull-witted gentlemen, especially in matters of the heart (and, if truth be told, mind).

Bergman serves up a delicious stew of characters – all involved in various infidelities, yet looking for the one true love to infuse their lives with exclusive devotion. Fredrik Egerman (a shockingly funny Gunnar Bjornstrand) is a dull, middle aged, meticulously manicured lawyer who is married to the pert, nineteen-year-old sex kitten Anne (Ulla Jacobsson). He seems to have it all – except his new near-child bride who is still a virgin. The marriage has not been consummated due to Anne requiring some easing-in time. Fredrik waits ever-so patiently to dip his needy Nordic wick into his comely wifelet's burgeoning fleur de volets humide de la viande.

Complicating matters is the presence of his dour son Henrik (Bjorn Bjelvenstam), fresh from the seminary and on the verge of taking his oath of chastity. Henrik is constantly the target of the household’s sexy maid Petra (Harriet Andersson) who seeks to corrupt his aching appendage. At the same time, the son who clings to his virtue is madly in love with his Dad’s young bride. Henrik is torn between carnal lust, true love and devotion to God. Dad, of course, can see the attraction between his son and wife and knows he must act fast to make Anne all his before Sonny Jim manages to slide in his Swedish schwance and burst the hymen he longs to perforate.

Fredrik enlists the services of his former lover, the staggeringly gorgeous and popular stage actress Desiree Armfelt (the uber-radiant Eva Dahlbeck) to assist him with deflowering his bride. Desiree has always had a soft spot for Fredrik and agrees to take the mission, but is armed with a secret plan to get back her beloved Fredrik.

To further complicate matters, Desiree is having an ongoing dalliance with the married military man Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jari Kulle). Malcolm’s wife Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist) is aware of her hubby’s infidelities – even engaging in open discussions with him about them. She wants her incorrigible hubby exclusively to herself and teams up with Desiree to make this a reality. Two scorned women are a veritable army of love.

The rest of the comedy takes place on the estate of Desiree’s mother Mrs. Armfeldt (Naima Wilfstrand) who agrees to set the stage for a magnificent coup de l’amour. Fredrik, his wife and son, Carl-Magnus and Charlotte and even the Egerman housemistress Petra are all invited for a weekend frolic on the grounds of the majestic sun-dappled Armfeldt manor in the country.

Here, the magic of love must, during a summer night, work overtime to bring the right combinations together. According to the Armfeldt groom Frid (Ake Fridell), the summer night is endowed with three smiles. The first is when young lovers open their hearts and loins – this, is when true love occurs. The second smile is reserved for jesters and fools – when love strikes those unable to truly experience love – where the mask of seeming mirth and/or ignorance provides a solace that is fleeting, ephemeral and ultimately intangible. As the dawn begins to peek from the out of the horizon, the final smile of night is reserved for the rest – the sad and dejected, the sleepless, the lost souls, the frightened and the lonely.

This is the love that the majority of humanity must settle for.

And this is the Bergman we’ve come to know and love – a man who investigates humanity with an eye of unwavering truth, melancholy and raw emotion.

Smiles of a Summer Night is an astonishingly universal work and has as much relevance to the present, and no doubt the future, as it did upon first release. It wasn’t the first romantic comedy Bergman made – he’d dabbled in it a few times prior to 1955, but those works, while modestly entertaining, are slight in terms of their ambition and I suspect work less successfully because of their contemporary settings.

The turn of the 19th to 20th century seems an ideal context to present a tale for all times. I will always recall Norman Jewison discussing his use of the diaphanous, near Ancient-Roman costuming of the female characters in Rollerball in order to present his sci-fi future in a futuristic world that would not seem dated. And Damn, Uncle Norman succeeded in spite of the male characters’ 70s sideburns – because of this introduction of elements of the past. The past makes all that is old new again.

There, I’ve finally done it. I’ve mentioned Rollerball in a review of an Ingmar Bergman movie. But bear with me – it makes sense. I’ve often found that rooting about in the past (or elements of it) allowed for an excellent looking glass into our own time and, by extension, the future. With Smiles of a Summer Night, Bergman’s use of an earlier age is what contributes to his ability to oddly contemporize, if not outright universalize this comic tale of love, infidelity and the power of female sexuality.

It is, of course, the wits and wiles of Woman that Bergman places his faith and trust. It is Desiree who notes that men “never know what’s best for them” and how women must “set them on the right track”. What, however, is the right track? Since pure, unbridled love – according to Bergman – can only be celebrated by the very few, then it stands to reason that the rest are the deluded, the pawns of the summer night and the smiles of Heaven, or, if you will, fate. This is what has the final word over all who populate the Earth – that power which can never truly be wrested away from the force of nature itself.

Bergman is, however, a formidable force of nature, of art, of the magic of cinema. His deft handling of this gorgeous, moving and funny romantic comedy is exquisite. Often, Bergman will settle his camera on a lovely eye-level medium composition – one that rivals and ultimately bests Howard Hawks, the master of 20th century romantic comedy himself.

A sequence that is perhaps the single greatest example of the genre in terms of writing and staging involves Fredrik, Desiree and Carl-Magnus – wherein our unlikely romantic hero, the dullard man of law declares, “A gentleman doesn’t face his rival deprived of his trousers.” Here, Bergman presents a long series of magnificent frames with very few cuts and where the actors deliver rapid-fire verbal exchanges within a fixed point of perspective. Upon the unexpected arrival of Carl-Magnus who has a mere 20-hour leave from military duty (6 hours for travel to and from, 9 hours with his mistress and 5 hours with his wife), a terrified Fredrik opines to Desiree: “Perhaps I could hide.” Her response: “We are not on a stage, dearest Fredrik.” In reality, it is not a stage of the theatre, but it is certainly a stage of life wrought by the Master that is Ingmar Bergman.

Fredrik sums it all up: “But this is still a damned farce”.

And so it is – a farce a la Bergman.

The sequence features several lengthy two-handers and three-handers – often lasting a full two minutes or longer where there are no cuts. In spite of this, the screen is awash in action and movement – pure cinematic expression.

Not only is Smiles of a Summer Night a perfect example of Bergman’s mastery of cinematic language from the perspective of camera but also his screenplay is complete and utter perfection as he juggles and finally fits together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is love. A great sequence involves our near-child bride Anne as she restlessly moves from room to room in Fredrik’s home – desperately searching for something to do and meeting both resistance and failure to make something, anything out of her daily existence until finally, sadly and with profound humanity, she settles in a room with her beloved budgies – beautiful, delicate, twittering creatures that, under her gaze, continue to live and breathe inside a cage. What might have been heavy handed symbolism in the hands of virtually every screenwriter or director is rendered fresh and moving in the hands, pen and eyes of Bergman.

Smiles of a Summer Night might well be the greatest of all romantic comedies – a pinnacle ascended at the half-century mark of cinema’s history and one that has never and will likely never be reached again.

At the halfway point of this truly majestic work, Desiree’s mother, invalided in her bed, but replete with all the experience that life has offered and that she has taken willingly, openly and greedily, looks to her daughter from a heartbreakingly, breathtakingly gorgeous long shot and says – to both her daughter’s POV and, by extension to us and the world:

“I am tired of people, but it doesn’t stop me from loving them.”

Bergman has delivered perfection.

He has delivered love the way only the medium of cinema can.

He loves his characters, he loves humanity and he loves us.

This is what greatness is.

This is art.
"Smiles of a Summer Night" is available on Blu-ray via the Criterion Collection in a gorgeous high definition transfer with a fine selection of extra features.

Thursday 27 December 2012

STAKE LAND - Blu-Ray/DVD Review By Greg Klymkiw - Vampires in a post-apocalyptic Bible Belt!!! Now how cool is that? It's plenty cool!

Stake Land (2010) ***1/2
dir. Jim Mickle
Starring: Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Kelly McGillis, Danielle Harris and Michael Cerveris

By Greg Klymkiw

Imagine, if you will, Cormac McCarthy's The Road madly copulating with Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. shooting the seed of post-apocalyptic despair that penetrates the foul egg of vampirism. And the result? The unholy vaginal opening eventually spits forth a cinematic love child that is Stake Land - an intelligent, super-cool, super-scary and super-knock-you-on-your-ass dystopic sci-fi horror picture.

It's the end of the world as we know it. A horrendous virus that's turned most of the world's population into vampires forces what's left of the non-blood-sucking-freaks into crazed survivalists.

Set in the heartland of America, the picture presents a portrait of humanity that's not so different from what already exists - ignorant, Bible Belt Christians bearing arms hole up in fortress (gated) communities - killing non-believers and only killing vampires in self-defence. They believe, wholeheartedly, that this pestilence has been wrought by God to rid the world of sinful degenerates.

Into this mess, we're introduced to the young boy Martin (Connor Paulo) whose parents have just been torn to shreds by vampires. He's rescued by the legendary Mister (Nick Damici), a no-nonsense vampire hunter who, like the character of Neville in Matheson's great novel I Am Legend, is known to all - especially the Bible-thumping survivalists - as the meanest, nastiest vampire killer of them all. And, not unlike The Road, man and boy engage in an odyssey across America in search of the "New Eden" (which is, apparently, Canada - and as a Canadian, I only take exception if the destination is Toronto, the smugly fuckling capital of the world.).

The central antagonist, the skin-headed, bible-spouting madman (with one of the best movie names since "McLovin') Jebediah Loven (played with all the relish one would want from a great screen villain by Michael Cerveris) is always on the prowl for Mister and especially, women for rapin' and a breedin'. Even the vampires seem benign compared to this nutcase.

In addition to Jim Mickle's tremendously directed suspense and action scenes, what separates Stake Land from all the rest is the fact that within the genre conventions of horror and the road movie, the writing is extremely first-rate and while I might have preferred it to be a bit less humourless, I'm thankful it didn't descend into the silly tongue-in-cheek laugh-fest-grabbing cesspool that Zombie Land annoyingly dove into.

The screenplay delivers a nasty, solid, straight-up 70s style dystopia - replete with the kind of natural social commentary that never feels like a sledgehammer. In fact, by setting much of the conflict against the backdrop of Christian fundamentalism, the screenplay does what great dystopian tales should do and provide a solid reflection of our contemporary world situation.

Written by star Damici and director Mickle, it's especially gratifying that the script distinguishes between fundamentalism and genuine faith - avoiding the kind of knee-jerk pot-shots levelled against Christianity. Into the mix, they've written a terrific role for Kelly (Top Gun, Witness) McGillis as a middleaged nun who is saved by Mister from a gang-rape led by Jebediah Loven.


I love that name.

Let's all say it together, shall we?


Now don't that make you feel good?

But, I digress.

The nun uses her faith to impart the kind of level-headed wisdom missing on both sides of the fence and the character is drawn by the writers so that she's not a total hook-line-and-sinker swallower of dogma, but a genuine human being who is also faced with a crisis of faith. Finally, though, her character embraces the sacrificial notion of Christianity and provides a tremendously powerful and movie story beat within the film. It's also nice seeing a mature McGillis who delivers a complex and heart-felt performance. And yeah, I still think she's a babe!

Intelligence and artistry aside, though, this movie delivers what all true genre fans would want. The carnage is superb, the makeup effects on the vampires is first rate (l love how they look like zombies/demons) and we also get a MAJOR babe in the form of the delectable Danielle Harris who is the token female eye-candy all genre films must have.

Most importantly, and especially given the title, I for one, was utterly delighted that Stake Land features several magnificent sequences involving the driving of wooden stakes into the hearts, throats and bellies of vampires.

These days, a good stake is rare indeed.

Wednesday 26 December 2012

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - An "Unexpected Journey" is putting it mildly. *YAWN*

Please, please, I beg of you. Leave the Shire. PLEASE! I can bloody well take no more of this goddamn peaceful, happy revelry.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) dir. Peter Jackson *
Starring: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher. James Nesbitt. Stephen Hunter, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"You don't seem too excited about seeing this," said my wife as I kept proposing that she and my daughter watch The Hobbit while I see something else in the multiplex. I had walked out of The Life of Pi and Cloud Atlas and was thinking perhaps I should try sitting all the way through one of those or possibly even see Killing Them Softly again - a movie I semi-liked.

"Well look," I reasoned, "Both of you have read the book and I haven't. Seeing as Jackson will undoubtedly be faithful to Tolkein, I'll tell what The Hobbit is going to be all about and you tell me if I've got it right."

Now, keep in mind that the wifelet and child both know I'm anal about not reading reviews, puff pieces or watching trailers for anything I see before I see it. Knowing that and based on previous experience involving my curmudgeonly dismissal over certain movies, they know all too well I might be right. Kindly, though with some trepidation, they allowed me to launch into my plot summary.

"Okay, so we're in the fucking Shire with Bilbo . . ."

My daughter smart-assedly interrupted: "You said you didn't know anything about the movie, how do you know it's about Bilbo?"

"Well, sweetie, I DO KNOW it's a prequel, so who the fuck else would it be about? Bilbo is the likeliest suspect. Now just listen and learn."

"Oh, fuck off, Dad."

I ploughed forth: "Okay, Bilbo's in the Shire. Everything is beautiful, in its own way. He loves his little Shire. Gandalf shows up and wants him to go on some kind of mission - probably because he believes in the little fellow's potential for greatness beyond the Shire. Bilbo prefers to stay in the Shire and doesn't believe anyone would want him for anything.

So basically, the first hour will be a whole lot of singing, Hobbit clog-dancing, all manner of revelry, but punctuated with occasional discussion about whether or not Bilbo should come along on this mission. By the time the first hour is over, Bilbo is on his way with Gandalf and the Seven Dwarfs. There'll be some Viggo Mortensen type who's pretty dashing and there will always be this cloud hanging over everything that Bilbo is fucking useless and shouldn't be there anyway.

Then there will be endless walking around. They'll meet a bunch of people, talk to them, then keep walking. More walking. Walking here, walking there and every so often there's going to be some fight with monsters or those fucking Orks or some crap like that and eventually they go head to head with whoever the villain is.

And guess what? Bilbo saves the day! Everyone who doubted him has egg on their face and they all have to tell him how brave he was and hug him and soon it's going to be some idiotic daisy chain between a bunch of dwarfs."

I look at my wife and child with what I'm sure was an utterly detestable look of self-satisfaction. They are silent. I decide the time is right to go for the jugular.

"Ah, and I forgot to mention, we'll get at least ten minutes at the beginning of the movie with some flashback full of portent that outlines some previous situation with a bunch of characters we don't know yet and a ridiculous amount of exposition shoe-horned in so that we don't really know what the fuck is going on other than things were nice, now they're not so nice and some shit's gotta happen quick to make things nice again."

I was really feeling smug by this point.

"Am I right?" I chortled, "or am I right?"

"Look Greg," said my wife, "Let's just go see a nice movie together as a family."

Now how the Hell can I argue with that?

I WAS, however, right about the aforementioned prognostications about what we'd be sitting through. That said, even I agree that familiar journeys can be just fine on film since it's ultimately the ride that really counts.

Unfortunately, The Hobbit is a lame ride. The movie is interminably boring, the action scenes are surprisingly and rather lamely directed, the special effects are predictably - uh, digital - many of the set-pieces are structured like video game roller coaster rides and worst of all, the stalwart Viggo Mortensen hero-type is unbearably awful and has absolutely no screen presence. None whatsoever. Where they dredged that loser up was beyond me until I checked out his credits after seeing the movie and saw he was a longtime TV actor.

Oh, and it's just under three hours long (not including the interminable commercials and trailers). I assure you that one never gets that precious time back.

If this sounds like something you'd like, be my guest. My wife, who is a Tolkein fan, thought it was "okay" and my 11-year-old daughter really loved it and can hardly wait for the next instalment.

"The Man" wins again.

I give up.

The Hobbit is in wide release through Warner Bros. all over the fucking world.

Tuesday 25 December 2012



By Greg Klymkiw
I've seen over 100 feature documentaries this year. The best documentary of all of them is - BAR-NONE - Sarah Polley's astonishing STORIES WE TELL. It's a genuine, bonafide modern masterpiece and will live for many decades to come. Polley's picture is the best of the best and this in a year where documentary as a genre sang louder than ever. Without further ado (and now that we've got the declaration that Polley's film sets the bar very high), herewith are the best docs I've seen. There were quite a few others that were just fine, but simply didn't quite make this list. The titles cited here were those most memorable to me in terms of both subject matter and execution. Do whatever you can do see all of them. You won't regret a single second.
In ALPHABETICAL order, the Greg Klymkiw TOP DOCS of 2012 are:.

BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING dir. dir. Neil Berkeley
It's astounding to think that in the same year, this portrait of American artist Wayne White is unleashed upon the world along with the Norwegian Pushwagner - two films that are so geographically and culturally apart and yet, successfully deliver experiences that have the same goal - to joyously and delightfully celebrate art. Beauty is Embarrassing is one of the most entertaining and inspirational documentary portraits of an artist's process I've ever seen. So is Pushwagner. At some point, a double bill of these extraordinary works seems to be in order. A great deal of the credit for Beauty is Embarrassing's success must go to the extraordinary life, career and personality of its subject, Wayne White, a country boy raised in the great state of Tennessee who made the decision to take his talents to New York and then Los Angeles. White always looked back for inspiration and it's this strong sense of place, of memory, of reverence for who he is and where he's from which makes his work and subsequently this film so rich.

BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS*! dir. Frederik Gertten
The feelings engendered by the great paranoid thrillers of 70s American Cinema are alive and well again - crackling with the same terror, dread and mounting odds against one man or a handful of individuals who are fighting oppressive, almost dystopian, virtually Orwellian dark forces. The difference, though, is that our central figure is NOT Warren Beatty's reporter stumbling on political assassination conspiracies in The Parallax View, nor is he Donald Sutherland's Department of Health bureaucrat battling the ultimate scourge upon the human race in the 70s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and among many others in this tradition, it's certainly not Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman cracking Watergate in All The President's Men. What unfolds is a true story about Gertten himself - a documentary filmmaker embroiled in the dark, nasty manipulations of an evil corporate entity. In 2009, Gertten made Bananas*!, a shocking and moving film about the Dole corporation's irresponsibility to its own workers and how, in the name of profits, the company knowingly used pesticides that caused horrendous medical conditions upon fruit pickers. Gertten was sued by Dole and faced a barrage of Dole-influenced negative publicity that questioned his integrity as a filmmaker. He didn't give up and began documenting his nightmare which became this film. Like a Kafka nightmare through a David Lynchian dreamscape of terror, this great movie depicts an artist going through the legal torture inflicted upon him by a multinational corporation (and everyone on their payroll). It's stomach-turning.

DETROPIA dir. Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing
This harrowing exploration of Detroit's decline is not only a fascinating portrait of urban blight, but amidst the crime, poverty and decay, there's still a pulse and heartbeat of something very cool. Ghosts. It's a city full of ectoplasmic activity of days gone by and amidst its crumbling ruins, this is almost less a story of Detroit, but that of a great nation descending to levels of a Third World Country and a New World Order intent upon keeping it that way - to widen the gap between rich and poor even further in order to maintain power and wealth. Focusing on both sides of the wealth persuasion in Detroit (as nothing seems to genuinely exist in the middle) we follow a number of stories: from a young artist who enters long-abandoned, crumbling buildings to experience, photograph and capture what was once great within the crumbling ruins, to a woman who refuses to accept welfare handouts but because of recent cuts to bus services, she has no adequate way to get to her job and finally, an auto show where American dealers welcome a time when their own country will be operating similar to China in order to exploit the workers further and generate greater profit margins. When a city like Detroit goes down, America is not far behind.

dir. Lena Müller, Dragan von Petrovic, Vuk Maksimovic
"I said to the guy: 'Pay 99 euros and fuck all day! If you have no teeth, just lick her pussy.'" - Dragan Wende, brothel doorman, pimp and dealer in the all-new, reunified Berlin. This line from the subject of this documentary pretty much says it all. a strange and dazzling display of direct cinema that bounces between a cinéma vérité approach to the squalid reality of Dragan Wende's contemporary life, punctuated by garish 70s archival footage assembled like a weird combination of straight-up TV documentary of the period and the 30s/40s-styled Warner Brothers montages (often fashioned by the likes of Slavko Vorkapich and Robert Wise). Most of all, though, it is a documentary that feels very close to the world etched by John Cassavetes in his stunning crime drama The Killing of a Chinese Bookie or, for that matter, in Peter Bogdanovich's magnificent adaptation of Paul Theroux's Saint Jack - but here, Dragan is a real-life version of the characters played by Ben Gazzara in both films - sleazy, charming, corrupt, living on past glories and yet, so very, very cool.

THE END OF TIME dir. Peter Mettler
Nobody makes movies like Peter Mettler, so it stands to reason that when Peter Mettler makes documentaries, you're in for an experience like no other you've ever seen before. This hypnotic, riveting, provocative and profoundly moving exploration of time is one of the most original films of the new decade. And yes, time! TIME, for Christ's sake! Of all the journeys a filmmaker could take us on, only Mettler would have the almost-gentle Canadian audacity to explore the notion of time. And damned if Mettler doesn't plunge you into an experiential mind-fuck that both informs and dazzles. Lava flows both scarily and beautifully in Hawaii, Switzerland's particle accelerator seeks answers to the questions of creation, the place of Buddha's enlightenment reveals that the end of time, might just well be the beginning - all this and more are all under the scrutiny of Mettler's exquisite kino-eye (one of the best in the world, I might add). Mettler always journeys far and wide to seek answers, enlightenment and maybe, just maybe, both terrible and beautiful truths. And he lets us all come along for the ride.

FINDING NORTH dir. Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush
49 million American citizens have, at any given moment, no idea where their next meal is coming from. Many of those affected by hunger are children. The rates of unemployment and poverty are skyrocketing. So too is obesity and Type 2 diabetes - especially amongst children. In this important feature documentary by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, the reality of poverty slams you in the gut - time and time again. The cinematic litany of wrenching emotion from the poor and starving is evocatively rendered and delivers maximum impact where it counts - firstly on an emotional level and then as a call to action. the cameras do not lie. I watched, enraged, as one well-meaning politician after another delivers words of agreement and encouragement, their faces revealing only resulting ineffectuality, their words, seemingly truthful, but ultimately hollow and their subsequent actions even more useless and infuriating. Impassioned lobbying on behalf of regular folk inspires the government to rob Peter to pay Paul. Or rather, they steal from the poor to give to the poor.

FORTUNATE SON dir. Tony Asimakopoulos
This stunning personal documentary is a perfect companion piece to Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell. Telling a brave and identifiable story about love, loyalty and family that extraordinarily mirrors the lives of all who watch it, the picture demonstrates the inescapable truth that love is not easy. For love to BE love, for love to really count, it takes work, courage and fortitude. It means giving up ephemeral happiness for the happiness of endurance, of perseverance, of never giving up - the happiness and fulfillment that really counts. Tony Asimakopoulos is one of Canadian cinema's great unsung talents. His work has been charged with a unique underground flavour - a kind of Greek-Scorsese "boys in the 'hood" quality of obsession, dapplings of George Kuchar melodrama and lurid high contrast visuals. And Fortunate Son is, quite simply, a genuinely great film.

GIRL MODEL dir. David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
The exploitation of Russian girls as young as age 13 in Japan is examined in a chilling portrait of shattered hopes and dreams within a modelling industry that values youth, beauty and the sexualization of pre-pubescence. Japan, it seems, always needs meat - fresh, tender, young meat. In the Land of Nippon, the vast publishing industry can never get enough young models to feed the bottomless pit of periodicals that place emphasis upon extolling the virtues of creamy, white, wide-eyed, innocent and highly sexualized female flesh. And as this chilling documentary points out - the younger the better. The harrowing film focuses upon a 13-year-old girl flung into the nightmare of exploitation in Japan and a former child model who acknowledges the horror and pain she went through, yet continues to procure young Russian girls to satisfy the perverse lust of Japanese men. This is an important film. See it with your daughters.

THE GUANTANAMO TRAP dir. Thomas Sellim Wallner
This eminently fascinating and moving film was inspired when the filmmaker was placed on America's terror watch list for five years when he refused to take part in a retinal scan. His shock and anger was so considerable that the impetus was initially vengeance. As he proceeded, he realized he needed to strip away his voice as much as he could in order to present the effects of war upon humanity. Focusing on the illegal kidnapping of several innocent people, their subsequent incarceration on Guantanamo and being held without formal charges, hearings or trials for years and being tortured in order to spill their guts about spurious accusations of terrorist activities, Wallner's film is a stunning examination of an America that operates as one of the most corrupt oligarchies in the world. Insanely going to war to enhance the economic power of the rich, America has duped millions upon millions of its own citizens and both foreign and domestic lenders out of billions of dollars - sending the world into a major economic crisis. The America that now exists has reduced the majority of its populace to an existence of poverty and near-Third World conditions while spending billions on a false war on terrorism. In spite of it all, Wallner keeps his cool, focusing on those betrayed by America and in so doing, delivers a picture that stands powerfully on its own two feet as one of the great humanist documentaries of the new millennium.

HERMAN'S HOUSE dir. Angad Bhalla
This is an extraordinary film about extraordinary people in a country that has sadly learned nothing since 1776 but the right of might, the power of the dollar and the exploitation of the poor - a country that purports to be the most powerful democracy in the world, but is little more than a backwards Totalitarian State - run by a greedy, mean-spirited, prejudiced Old Boys Club. To paraphrase Michael Corleone in Godfather II: They're all a part of the same hypocrisy. The people, the Real People, are the victims. Surprisingly they persevere. The tale told is that of a passionate young artist who attempts to give hope to Herman Wallace, a man incarcerated within the American prison system - tortured for over 40 years due to the inhuman experience of spending all that time in solitary confinement. The "real people" shed their victimhood by fighting back - not with fists, but with the weaponry of activism, the fighting spirit of the soul. This is a movie that will anger, frustrate and yet finally, move you to tears as it explores real compassion and understanding amongst those with the only power they have - their hearts, their minds and most of all, imagination.

America loves rape. It's used as a weapon to both violate and steal. When America goes to war, its boys need to fulfill their manly desires for power, violence and subjugation in order to properly serve their country (and their own sick desires), so they happily rape whomever they like amongst civilian populations or partake in various exploitative offshoots akin to rape when civilian women of all ages are sold into sexual slavery. Perhaps the most appalling and shocking of all rape cases can be found in the hundreds of thousands of sexual assaults perpetrated by American soldiers upon American soldiers. This is not a typographical error. Kirby Dick's film presents a shocking portrait of rape within America's own armed forces and the general acceptance and covering up of these actions. The film focuses on several women and men who all suffered rape at the hands of their fellow soldiers and in many cases, their superior officers. Dick's approach is simple - he lets the victims speak for themselves, buttressing their horrendous experiences with a few salient facts, along with interviews from those trying to fight this injustice and those who remain blind to it, and as such, are complicit in these heinous crimes. The victims seek compensation, acknowledgment, justice, sweeping change and/or medical support. We follow their attempt to mount a class-action suit that results in a ludicrous Supreme Court decision that when one decides to serve in the military, rape is, quite simply, an "occupational hazard".

PEACE OUT dir. Charles Wilkinson
This a powerful, persuasive and important film that focuses upon the environmental decimation of Canada's northwest. It's about energy and the horrible price we all pay for our hog-at-the-trough need for Hydro. The picture takes you by surprise and leaves you breathless. Diving into this vital film, we're witness to activist cinema of the highest order. Clever, subtle juxtapositions, smooth transitions between the beauty of nature, the destruction of the environment, the fluorescent-lit government and/or corporate offices, the dark, almost Gordon Willis styled shots of energy executives and in one case, an utterly heartbreaking montage of energy waste set to Erik Satie's Gymnopedie #1 - all of these exquisitely wrought moments and more, inspire sadness, anger and hopefully enough of these emotions will translate into inspiring action - even, as a Greenpeace interview subject suggests - civil disobedience.

THE PUNK SYNDROME dir. Jukka Kärkkäinen & J-P Passi
"Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day" is, without question, one of the greatest punk bands of all time. They are the unforgettable subjects of this breathtaking feature documentary that declares: "I demand your immediate attention or you die, motherfucker!" The film entertainingly, provocatively and powerfully focuses on this quartet of hard-core, kick-ass, take-no-fucking-prisoners mean-machine who pull no musical punches as they slam you in the face with repeated roundhouses - turning your flesh into pulpy, coarsely-ground hamburger meat. In true punk spirit, they crap on hypocrisy, celebrate a shackle-free life and dare your pulse not to pound with maniacal abandon. Their songs - many of them ripped straight from band leader Kurikka's diaries - take aim at government corruption, mindless bureaucracy and pedicures. Yes, pedicures! This is a band that writes and performs songs from the pits of their respective guts, from experience - their unique experience in the world as mentally disabled men. Brave, passionate and talented men. And yes, mentally disabled. And they are so cool. How cool? They record their first single on vinyl. That's how cool! Just like this movie!

PUSHWAGNER (2012) dir. August B. Hanssen, Even Benestad
Pushwagner rocks! It rocks hard! This has easily got to be one of the best documentaries I've ever seen about a contemporary living artist. And WHAT an artist! What a movie! On the surface, we learn very little about Norway's septuagenarian bad boy beat-punk maniac artist and yet we learn EVERYTHING we need to know. What's fabulous about the picture - among so many things - is that it never slips into the horrid doc-cliches of so many biographical portraits. We meet who we need to meet. We hear who we need to hear from. We learn what we need to know. No endless parade of ex-friends-lovers-family-pundits. No endless, boring details about his life (just the good stuff, thanks). No annoying insert shots. No twee solo guitar strumming or piano tinkles in the background (just a stunning, vibrant musical score from composer Gisle Martens Meyer). Even the central conflict of the film, the title subject's court battle to regain control of all his artwork that he mistakenly signed over to a former associate, is handled in a compact manner evocative of the artist himself. Mostly, all we need to know is what we get in spades - Pushwagner is clearly some kind of genius, an astounding artist and totally fucking cooler than cool!

ROOM 237 dir. Rodney Ascher Blending cine-mania with conspiracy theory, this clever & funny documentary opens your eyes wide shut to new insights on Kubrick's hiorror masterpiece The Shining - things that you never knew, and perhaps, were even too afraid to ask. Using a treasure trove of clips and stills from Kubrick's canon, director Ascher interviews five people who have spent an unhealthy number of their waking hours (over an ever MORE unhealthy number of years) studying and dissecting the hidden meanings they purport are found buried within The Shining. Ascher's picture is not a traditional making-of documentary or even a critical appreciation in the usual sense. Instead, we examine each one of the subjects' theories. All of them believe Kubrick used subliminal messages in the film and generated a high-profile horror movie to act as a mere foreground mask for its real meaning(s).

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN dir. Malik Bendjelloul
For over 50 years the virulently racist National Party policy of Apartheid in South Africa subjected its indigenous peoples to forced segregation. The resulting horrors must never be forgotten; nor should the struggle of the colonized nation's Black majority to free themselves from the brutal and degrading lifestyle imposed by the minority White rulers. In the 70s and 80s, there existed an unlikely (and unwitting) hero of the anti-Apartheid movement - a man of almost insurmountable artistic gifts who came to represent a ray of hope and inspiration - an American singer whose albums in South Africa yielded a superstar bigger than the Beatles, Bob Dylan and remarkably, Elvis Presley. It is the backdrop of Apartheid that Malik Bendjelloul's glorious feature documentary presents a biographical portrait of the film's primary subject. Bendjelloul, a storyteller par excellence, structures the remarkable movie as a mystery and blends a variety of tools including animation, news reel footage and a multitude of gorgeously lit and composed interview segments to investigate one of the great show business head-scratchers. The story of a musician who nobody had heard of outside South Africa and who disappeared as mysteriously as he came.

Polley Delivers Best Documentary of the Year

STORIES WE TELL dir. Sarah Polley
Sarah Polley’s latest work as a director, a bonafide masterpiece, is first and foremost a story of family – not just a family, or for that matter any family, but rather a mad, warm, brilliant passionate family who expose their lives in the kind of raw no-guts-no-glory manner that only film can allow. Most importantly, the lives exposed are as individual as they are universal and ultimately it’s a film about all of us. Love permeates the entire film – the kind of consuming love that offers (as does the film itself) a restorative power of infinitesimal proportions. Sarah Polley is often referred to as Canada's “national treasure”. She’s far more than that. She’s a treasure to the world – period. And so, finally, is her film.

dir. Xun Yu
Grandma Jiang is dying. Wracked with pain after suffering a massive stroke, she lies in her bed, physically unable to assume her usual perch in front of the family home on her beloved West Street (where she's lived for over 50 years). Xun Yu's beautiful, elegiac and sometimes heart-breaking film is a testament to Grandma Jiang and all those who lived their lives as she did. Though it's about death, this great documentary is also a celebration of life. Through the changing of the seasons, the increasing metamorphoses of West Street and the diminishing health of Grandma Jiang, Yu trains his eye upon the passage of existence. Simple, often beautifully composed shots in very long takes create a rhythm that is hypnotic and compelling. This is a document in its purest and most poetic form. Yu allows his camera to capture all the pleasures, sorrows and intricacies of lives that are well, and in some cases, not-so-well lived. Through his caring and carefully placed lens we come to know and care for Grandma Jiang and those around her as if we were there ourselves.

VITO dir. Jeffrey Schwarz
Growing up in New Jersey during the 1950s, young Vito Russo knew early on that he wasn't like the other boys. Though warm and quick-witted, he was smack in the middle of post-war Italian Catholic machismo and always felt out of place amidst the rough, and tumble posturing of his peers. Vito knew he was gay and that discrimination, disdain and outright hatred ran rampant. This, decided young Vito Russo, was wrong. And he was going to do something about it. Vito Russo fought for Gay rights, but in so doing, he fought for all of those who felt marginalized, disenfranchised, ignored, bullied and condemned. As a lover of movies, he also became the leading expert on gay images in cinema. Jeffrey Schwarz's superbly crafted feature documentary is dazzling! With peerlessly selected and edited archival footage, blended with new interview material, Schwarz delivers a movie that's as entertaining as it’s incendiary, as soaringly joyful as it is profoundly moving. See it, embrace it and demand that your Board of Education include it in their media libraries and demand that it be used in the social studies syllabi of all schools. It's one hell of a picture, but it also has the power to effect change for the better.

THE WORLD BEFORE HER dir. Nisha Pahuja
What is the future for the young women of modern India? Is it adherence to thousands of years of subservient tradition or finding success through beauty? Is it deepening their love for the Hindu religion through rigorous paramilitary training or maintaining their ties to religion and culture while engaging in the exploitation of their sexuality? The chasm between these two polar opposites couldn't be wider and yet, as we discover in Nisha Pahuja's extraordinary and compelling documentary feature The World Before Her, the differences are often skin deep as parallel lines clearly exist beneath the surface. All of this makes for one lollapalooza of a movie! Vibrant, incisive, penetrating and supremely entertaining, director Pahuja and her crackerjack team deliver one terrific picture - a genuine corker!
Here are a few fine documentaries (in alphabetical order, of course) that made my Close-But-No-Cigar Sweepstakes:
An Affair of the Heart by Sylvia Caminer
Legend of a Warrior by Corey Lee
Neil Young Journey by Jonathan Demme
Paul Williams Still Alive by Stephen Kessler
Queen of Versailles by Lauren Greenfield