Friday 31 August 2012

MALL GIRLS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Polish director Katarzyna Roslaniec made this dazzling debut at TIFF 2009. She's back at TIFF 2012 with a new film, "Baby Blues". "Mall Girls" is an extremely moving portrait of young teenage women and recommended viewing before or after seeing "Baby Blues".

Three years ago, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2009) presented an extraordinary feature length debut by director Katarzyna Roslaniec called "Mall Girls".

Coming to TIFF 2012 is a new film from this talented director. Entitled "Baby Blues", it will be showing at TIFF 2012 Monday September 10 Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 9 6:00 PM, Wednesday September 12 Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 4 9:00 PM and Saturday September 15 Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 2 12:15 PM.

I have had a chance since I first saw "Mall Girls" to see it a couple of more times. Here's a new revised version of a piece I first wrote in 2009.

Mall Girls
(2009) ***1/2
Dir. Katarzyna Roslaniec
Starring: Anna Karczmarczyk,
Dagmara Krasowska, Dominika Gwit, Magdalena Ciurzynska

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The most alarming trend in Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of Communism has been the sexual exploitation of women. In spite of the promise of a new life through capitalism and the free market, pretty much all of these countries have suffered a drastic rise in poverty and homelessness.

Add to the mix an Old World patriarchy that remains entrenched in Slavic cultures, a veritable explosion of organized crime and an increasing demand for sexual services – life for many young women has become desperate, cheap and dangerous. The combination of basic needs not being met and an ever-multiplying Western-styled consumerism creeping into the consciousness of the people through advertising has meant a rise in women either choosing to be prostitutes, or worse (as so expertly detailed in investigative journalist Victor Malarek’s shocking book “The Natashas”), women are duped and/or kidnapped and subsequently forced into prostitution. One million women per year from Eastern Europe disappear and are sold into sexual slavery.

Mall Girls, a Polish film by director Katarzyna Roslaniec, is a terrific feature length debut. Focusing upon the lives of several disadvantaged 14-year-old girls, it is an exquisitely directed piece of filmmaking.

Using a swirling, occasionally jittery camera and settings that offer stunning contrasts between the colour-dappled world of the mall where the girls find true happiness and the dank hallways and scuzzy, cramped apartments in housing projects where the grime and poverty ache with despair, Roslaniec creates a visual palate that reflects the dichotomous lives of the girls. We see both the dreams (the mall, consumerism and easy money) and the realities (squalid homes where physical abuse and poverty run rampant, cramped classrooms presided over by frustrated teachers and sordid backdrops for all manner of sexual activity).

When I first saw the film, I felt quite strongly that an intermittently fine screenplay betrayed this perfection by veering into territory that seemed too expected and finally, much too convenient. Luckily, the film holds up very well on subsequent viewings in spite of this.

I still feel like the story rushes to a conclusion that strains the credibility the film garners in its first two-thirds. I wonder now, too, if this is less a script problem as perhaps one that occurred with respect to exigencies of production (perhaps on-set rewriting to compensate for lack of time to garner all the elements on the page) and/or post-production (where the result might have been a lack of footage to begin with or a second-guessing of what footage existed). Or, perhaps this is precisely the way the director wanted to make it. And there are also several elements within the screenplay that do work beautifully in tandem with other elements that work very well.

My quibbles aside, Roslaniec ends the film with such a daring and evocative final shot, that one forgives and frankly forgets the script’s eventual deficiencies in its last act. Film, after all, is a visual medium and as such, the final image speaks volumes.

The movie is dazzlingly directed and Roslaniec elicits fresh, natural and realistic performances from her young cast. All these elements combine to exquisitely capture the contrasts in these girls’ lives. Between their burgeoning sexuality and their willingness to risk it all for emotionless, loveless sex in exchange for money and other favours, the film delivers reality-based polar opposites to render a very solid narrative conflict that drives the film forward.

Mall Girls very successfully navigates the area of public school peer pressure and the various rollercoaster-like emotional rides these women are taken on, and indeed, choose to take.

This touching portrait of how womanhood in European cultures rooted in a Slavic tradition is assaulted, perverted and exploited is imbued with a very indelible reality. In a society and culture so full of promise, it bitterly offers only despair and easy ways to make poor and often tragic choices.

Countries like Poland, Russia and Ukraine have an ages-old history of a warrior mentality. It might take another thousand years to fully dissipate. Though in fairness to those traditions, one could also point to Western influences as having their own form of negative impact upon the treatment of women. To blend that with a male-centric combatants' mentality is a highly combustible mixture.

"Baby Blues", the new film from Kasia Roslaniec plays TIFF 2012. For ticket info, visit the TIFF website HERE.

Thursday 30 August 2012

IT RAINS IN MY VILLAGE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Anticipating numerous exciting films at this year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2012) that are from countries that were once part of the former Yugoslavia, this classic Serbian film is not only worth seeing, but suggests that not much has changed save for the borders.


It Rains In My Village (1969) dir. Aleksandr Petrovic ***1/2
Starring: Ivan Paluch, Annie Girardot, Eva Ras
Review By
Greg Klymkiw

A simple minded young woman begs for food from a rail worker who's been ogling her. Dangling a bit of his lunch as if it were a carrot before a horse, he leads her into a field and rapes her. Later, she staggers through the woods gnawing on a crust of bread and another man drags her into the bushes and rapes her. After satisfying his urges, he takes her to a wedding celebration where she is encouraged to humiliate herself for the amusement of all the townsfolk gathered there and is furthermore urged to humiliate the bride by removing the newly married woman's veil and headpiece and wear it while dancing to the music of a traveling Gypsy folk band. Much later on in the movie, the bruised, bloody, savagely beaten corpse of the same mute, mentally challenged young woman lies on a wooden bench in a filthy shack, her eyes frozen - open in terror - her last emotion before the last beat of her heart.

This is Serbia.

The young woman's name is Goca (Eva Ras) and while she is not the protagonist of Alexandr Petrovic's powerful, semi-neo-realist drama It Rains In My Village, it is her heart and soul that seems most central to the despair related in the narrative.

Telling the simple tale of a handsome, shy swine herder Trijsha (Ivan Paluch) who is drunkenly duped by his equally jack-hammered buddies at the local bar into marrying the mute, mentally challenged Goca, this is a film that never holds back in exposing the brutal, ignorant alcohol-fueled misery of life in a Serbian village in 1968. This is a patriarchal world where women are seen, but not heard - save for their fake cries of ecstasy while being drunkenly ploughed or the cries of pain and terror as they're beaten by their Neanderthal husbands.

Goca, being mute, cannot scream. Her eyes, however, tell tales beyond any words.

Trijsha toils with his herd of swine, spending as much time away from his wife and their eventual newborn child as possible. He spends downtime in the bar, bowling with his buddies on the rickety makeshift alley and drinking.

Always drinking.

Booze is the only thing that seems to numb the pain, but it never really does the trick. Trijsha falls madly in love with Reza (Annie Girardot) the new teacher who comes to town. She's from the city, and unlike the local women, she's her own woman. She takes whomever and whatever she wants - using her beauty and seemingly insatiable appetite for sex. Trijsha's stud qualities keeps her amused for awhile, but when she dumps him for a new succession of suitors, he drinks himself blind, beats his wife to death, drinks more, passes out and allows his elderly father to take the rap for the murder.

Other than booze, the only other thing that seems to mean anything to anyone in the village are the folk songs of their ancestors - played by gypsy musicians at weddings and in the local bar. Folk music fills the open air and permeates the spirits of the men as they continue to lead the brutal, aimless lives.

Though they live under the shadow of Communism, the Orthodox Church still, in its blessed patriarchy, reigns over all and whatever spare money anyone has goes to rebuilding the church - a ramshackle, bombed-out mess from the war. Their pathetic attempts to hold a Communist Party meeting is an excuse to drink and discuss what they need from the party. The needs are for the collective, so to speak, but they're self-serving and certainly no in the supposed spirit of the movement.

The village teems with mud, puddles and pigs (not just the men). Life plods along, punctuated by occasional bursts of violence and the denizens of the village hurling insults at each other - fuelled by macho posturing and, of course, booze. This is life as it was during Communism, but it's obvious it always was this way and would, in fact remain - long after the fall of Communism.

In life, squalor, ignorance and repression breeds more of the same and this is easily one of the most savage indictments of poverty I've ever seen. It's also a raw, unflinching portrait of life in Eastern Europe - a life that is sadly, not much different now. (Hey, it's not just Serbia. Recent trips to Ukraine suggest this way of life permeates many other Slavic countries. Life was always cheap in the "Old Country" and continues thus. Watching this movie made in 1968 shocked me as I felt like I was wandering through villages in contemporary Ukraine.)

Director Petrovic brings his roots in the documentary tradition to full bear in this classic of Eastern European cinema. My longtime e-pal and colleague Michael Brooke recently reminded me of the great Petrovic picture I Even Met Happy Gypsies and how Emir Kusturica owed his entire career to that movie. That is indisputable. Certainly all through It Rains In My Village, Kusturica was always in my mind. God knows I love Kusturica, and It Rains In My Village is a film that had a similar emotional response from me, though frankly, I found it had even more resonance than even my favourite Kusturica Underground. The performances Petrovic elicits in Village aren't pitched as high and, in fact, there are few films that feature a performance as delicate and exquisite as that delivered by Eva Ras as the doomed Goca. For me, it's on a par with some of the best work from Giulietta Masina. Like the aforementioned Petrovic picture I Even Met Happy Gypsies, It Rains In My Village was in competition for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, but seems to be largely forgotten.

This must change.

It Rains In My Village is definitely an important work to be seen. It's available as part of the on-demand MGM Limited Edition Collection DVD-Rs. Its subtitles have been poorly translated and given that folk music is so important to the movie, it's a shame nobody bothered to translate any of the songs sung by the gypsy bands in the film. My knowledge of Ukrainian and Russian are rudimentary enough that I was able to make out the gist of the songs due to the similarity of many words in Serbian, but I know I was missing many of the subtleties and poetic qualities of the lyrics. This movie, if not all of the work by Petrovic deserves better than this and one hopes that wither Criterion or Kino will dive in to the rescue. The picture transfer comes from a mediocre source, but the grain is clearly intentional, so this is not as much an issue.

Thursday 23 August 2012

ELECTORAL DYSFUNCTION - Review By Greg Klymkiw - "Daily Show" Correspondent Mo Rocca leads us through the completely idiotic and corrupt American electoral system in this info-packed PBS doc.

Electoral Dysfunction (2012)

dir. Leslie D. Farrell, Bennett Singer, David Deschamps

Starring: Mo Rocca


Review By Greg Klymkiw
"Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein." - Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982. Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Those paragons of freedom - Iran, Libya and Chechnya - do NOT guarantee the right to vote. Thankfully, democracy rules the day in most of the world's leading nations. Countries of every stripe, from Canada to South Africa and beyond, all officially guarantee their citizens the right to vote.

The United States of America, however, does not offer this right to its citizens. In fact, take a humungous magnifying glass (as Mo Rocca does quite literally in the film Electoral Dysfunction) to peruse the hallowed document that spewed forth a new nation: There's not a single reference to the right of its citizenry to vote anywhere in the "hallowed" American Constitution.

The nation's founding fathers wrote and signed a constitution bearing one simple point - the House of Representatives are to be elected. End of story. How and by whom is nowhere to be found. Amendments involving issues of discrimination in the voting process also half-heartedly exist, though none explicitly state the obvious.

The simple, clear words guaranteeing the right to vote are not. They exist only in the imaginations of those Americans who think it is their God-and-constitutional-given right to do so.

This is but one of many odd things I learned about our neighbours to the south in the new television documentary entitled Electoral Dysfunction. The movie is a cheerful, breezy and informative exploration into the mess that is the American electoral process. Every state has its own rules and methods of allowing people to vote and in recent elections this has reared its head in very ugly ways - leading to the clearly illegal theft of Al Gore's win over George W. Bush and the improprieties exercised in the 2008 election.

Using the witty and winning Mo Rocca, a former Daily Show correspondent as our host through the gumbo that is American politics was a good move. The camera clearly loves Rocca and he's someone we feel comfortable with as our tour guide. The mistake the film makes - and it's one that seriously detracts from the picture's wholehearted success - is that the picture strives too hard to be satirical.

For satire to work, one must be committed to it without restraint. Furthermore, we cannot see its artists trying too hard to be satirically funny. Seeing the seams of knee-slapping inducement is a sloppy, easy way to elicit a response.

Electoral Dysfunction, with its annoyingly jaunty, tongue-in-cheek musical score and an even more troublesome insistence upon journalistic balance, results in a movie with no clear voice (like most "good TV"). It's on one hand cold and removed, while on the other, it tries too hard to be "entertaining".

Rocca has a voice, mind you, but it always seems that his style is being cramped by the film's dullsville lack of style and a narrative arc that's a whole lot slighter and tenuous than it needs to be.

More importantly, I find it disturbing that the movie doesn't delve deeper than the skin of the topic. I wanted someone - ANYONE - to take a stand right from the beginning as to WHY this electoral dysfunction exists.

Just how and where is this dysfunction rooted? What will it lead to? Why did the country's founding fathers avoid the issue of basic voting rights?

Given the near-Third-World state America is in due to 9/11, the massive financial frauds and the more insidious desires of corporate America to cull the world population down to 2 billion people, any movie dealing with the issue of electoral dysfunction needs to meet - head-on - why it is in the interests of very few to keep democracy at bay.

The movie doesn't do any of this in a meaningful way. That said, it's a decent enough, info-packed springboard for further discussion and study on the matter. Maybe someone out there with some style and genuine devil-may-care chutzpah will take this fascinating and vital issue to the next level.

"Electoral Dysfunction is currently playing at the Montreal World Film Festival:

31 August 2012 • 12h30 • CINÉMA ONF
1 September 2012 • 21h30 • CINÉMA ONF
2 September 2012 • 14h30 • CINÉMA QUARTIER LATIN 15

It will enjoy a limited theatrical release at the Quad in New York, followed by broadcast on PBS.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Lumière d’été - Review By Greg Klymkiw - This glorious melodrama, dappled with rich globs of perversely dark comedy and emotional beats to inspire veritable torrential downpours from one's tear ducts, is yet another classic from director Jean Grémillon during the Nazi Occupation of France.

Lumière d’été (1943)
dir. Jean Grémillon
Madeleine Renaud,
Pierre Brasseur,
Madeleine Robinson,
Paul Bernard,
Georges Marchal,
Marcel Lévesque,
Raymond Aimos,
Léonce Corne,
Charles Blavette,
Jeanne Marken,
Henri Pons,
Gérard Lecomte

Review By
Greg Klymkiw

Jean Grémillon is a revelation. Anyone who cares about moving pictures (and loves the medium as much, if not more than life itself) will want to discover this mad genius who is clearly as important to French cinema (and the art of movies) as Jean Renoir.

Lumière d’été is yet another great picture Grémillon made during the Nazi Occupation of France during World War II and, like so many French pictures, concerns itself with those damnably, eternally and irrepressibly entertaining affaires de cœur.

Though repressed and vilified by the notorious collaborationist Vichy government, the movie seems less a criticism (and if so, submerged) than a representational view of a time and place that might only exist under such a turncoat regime. In a sense, and most fascinatingly, the film's critical eye upon Vichy might be seen to be as blatant as it is submerged.

The setting is a remote hotel high in the mountains - gorgeously designed with expansive picture windows to provide both a great view and watchful eyes upon the valley below. Bearing the name L'Ange Gardien (The Guardian Angel), it overlooks the intrusive activities of a demolition company that is in the process of constructing a dam - destroying the valley's natural beauty and assaulting the eardrums of all its inhabitants.

These intruders work with the full support of the "establishment" and in so doing, at least within narrative terms, it's not a stretch to think that Grémillon and his screenwriters, including the legendary Jacques (Les Enfants du paradis) Prévert, were pointing a finger, at least metaphorically, upon the Vichy and by extension, the Nazis. This seems likely since the movie includes, very early on and throughout, the war-like explosions coming from the seemingly endless rock blasting.

As such, Grémillon achieves the seemingly impossible. He serves up a piping hot platter of delectable cinematic comestibles that condemn, expose and/or, depending how you choose to take it, examine the strange world wrought under the Vichy whilst providing the double-scoop indulgence of luxuriating in its own sumptuous, glorious and thoroughly compelling melodrama. We, of course, luxuriate with it. Grémillon and his collaborators in front and behind of the camera work overtime to deliver a movie so infused with emotional resonance that one is hit with scene after scene that will inspire several torrential downpours from one's tear ducts.

Blending high-stakes emotions that are as truthful as they are extreme, Grémillon dapples his multi-bi-polar world with many surprising moments of deep, delicious and decidedly dark humour. Commenting hilariously at every turn of the action that unfolds - not to mention almost every line of consequence uttered by the hotel guests and/or in retort to the duties he's ordered to perform, the crotchety old servant Monsieur Louis (Marcel Levésque) wanders in and out of the proceedings like some one-man, one-line Greek Chorus. Levésque, for those who care (as should ALL!), is that he's the inveterate scenery-chewer who was immortalized by Louis Feuillade as Mazamette in Les vampires, his great 1916 serial.

He's such a great presence here. In fact, it doesn't take long for Monsieur Louis to eventually becomes a kind of "What the fuck!?" surrogate for us, the audience. Believe me, it comes in mighty handy - especially since the romantic entanglements, jealousies, anger, repression and nutty obsessions that roil madly during this one fateful weekend at the L'Ange Gardien mount with every passing scene.

The hotel is run by the middle-aged beauty Cri-Cri (Madeleine Renaud) who holds a torch for her rakish rich lover Patrice (Paul Bernard) who, in turn, develops un unhealthy obsession with the beautiful, young Michèle (Madeleine Robinson) who shows up at the hotel to meet her untalented alcoholic artist boyfriend Roland (Pierre Brasseur) who is more interested in where his next drink is coming from and drives the young beauty into the arms of the jaw-droppingly hunky miner Julien (Georges Marchal).

What we get is no mere doomed ménage à trois as might be expected from a tale involving affairs of the heart, but rather, a magnificent roundelay of obsessional love that, for lack of a better term, is best viewed as a ménage de l'abondance.

Here's the roadmap of love and regret:

Cri-Cri loves Patrice. Patrice murdered his ex-wife out of love for Cri-Cri. Cri-Cri gave up a promising and exciting career to disappear into the mountains with Patrice. Years pass. Neither is getting any younger and yet, marriage is not even a dim hope.

Michèle is devoted to Roland, but he's a major fuck-up. Patrice has his eye on Michèle. This makes Cri-Cri jealous. It also disturbs Roland. More importantly, Michèle has her eye on Julien and he's jealous of both Patrice and Roland. Patrice, in turn, is jealous of Julien. Roland, ultimately is happiest when he's pissed out of his skull.

And then there's the eternal watcher Monsieur Louis. His response to everything is a deadpan: "Why not?"

Why not, indeed!

Slowly, but surely, all the mad passions collide during an insanely opulent costume ball that Patrice throws at his mansion. Egos collide with all the requisite Grémillon aplomb and here, his kino eye renders some of the most gorgeous, sumptuously malevolent and romantic imagery in all of cinema.

And as if this wasn't enough, crazed conga lines, a drunken Hamlet, a desperate Ophelia, a stalwart stud, a woman scorned and a creaky, spindly, old William Tell with an apple on his head all become unwitting targets of a madman (mad with love and jealousy, of course). In no time at all, Lumière d’été careens wildly from a Cinderella ball on acid to a terrifying drunken drive along the mountain highways and finally, to a mad climax involving unexpected gunplay and disaster in the air on a cable car suspended precariously above the valley.

At times, you simply won't believe your eyes.

And this, my friends, is cinema!

"Lumière d’été" is available on DVD via the stunning three-disc Criterion Collection "Eclipse Series 34: Jean Grémillon During The Occupation". If you are considering the idea of purchasing this set of great pictures, please do so directly from the links below which will assist greatly with the maintenance of this site:

Greg Klymkiw's review of "Remorques" can be read HERE.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

A BETTER LIFE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - A great performance by Demián Bichir and surprisingly solid direction from the usually unexceptional Chris Weitz are finally let down by a lazy by-the-numbers screenplay.

A Better Life (2011) dir. Chris Weitz
Starring: Demián Bichir, José Julián, Joaquín Cosio


By Greg Klymkiw

The ads for A Better Life proudly proclaim: "From The Director of About a Boy". This is hardly a ringing endorsement. It's also misleading.

The latter picture is one of Working Title's bile-inspiring cookie-cutter Hugh Grant comedies-with-heart that, in spite of a central relationship involving a man and boy, bears little resemblance to this somewhat better movie. In fact, I suspect that anyone who liked the insufferable Grant picture will not like this one and alternately, those who either hated or would never go to About a Boy, might genuinely find merit in A Better Life.

Such are the vagaries of contemporary movie marketing.

The reality then, is that none of Weitz's previous pictures (American Pie, Down to Earth and - bleeech! - Twilight: New Moon) resemble this one.

Its closest relative outside of the, uh, Weitz canon, is Vittorio DeSica's haunting 1948 classic of neo-realism The Bicycle Thief, and as such I trust the above mentioned tag line is probably best not replaced by: "Kind of like The Bicycle Thief, but clearly not as good as the DeSica masterpiece."

That said, A Better Life is a decent enough picture that it can go down the gullet with relative ease by those not seeking explosions, rapid cutting and a cacophonous soundtrack.

It's at least about something – not a boy, mind you, but something.

Working from a screenplay by Eric Eason and screen story by Roger L. Simon, Weitz tells the semi-moving story of Carlos (Demián Bichir), an illegal alien and single father working as a gardener in Los Angeles. His young teenage son, Luis (José Julián), whiles life away watching garbage on television, wandering the streets with friends, being mildly attracted to gang life and skipping school.

Carlos is desperate to make their situation better, as he's beginning to feel an even greater divide between himself and his son. Fearing his spawn will seek out the wrong crowd and become just another statistic, he buys a truck, garden equipment and a healthy client-base from his retiring boss and sets up his own business. On the first day of the rest of his life, Carlos hires Martinez (Joaquín Cosio), a destitute migrant labourer, treats the man with overwhelming kindness and is rewarded (NOT!) when the hired hand steals his truck.

Carlos begins a desperate search to find the stolen truck and is joined in his quest by Luis. Here, Father and Son bond – like they never have before!

Cue the violins, please!

In spite of the narrative's been-there-done-that quality, the movie is often compelling. There are, however, two major problems with the picture and they are thus:

1. The screenplay loads up hurdle upon hurdle for poor Carlos. Each one seems more insurmountable than the last, and the suspense on this front is considerable. However, a pattern sets in far too early where there always appears some deus ex machina device – usually in the form of a decent soul (because to be human is to be saintly) and Presto! – a solution to the problem offers itself up. More often than not, Carlos aggressively and actively places himself in situations where he then passively accepts bone-tosses in positive directions. This is all just a tad disappointing, especially since Carlos doesn't actively solve any problems until he finds and extricates the truck. (I'm not spoiling anything. It's very clear halfway in that he's going to find his truck – mostly because the script telegraphs it from miles away due to the above mentioned easy-way-out mechanics.)

2. The ending is a total crock of bull droppings. It's pure, feel-good fantasy land. In addition to the annoying and incessant aforementioned hand-of-God rescues (which I was prepared to forgive - the way in which one forgives most contemporary TV drama writing), the final 10 or so minutes strains all credibility and goes completely out of its way to present – UGH! – hope.



Give me a break. It's not only a jaw-dropping stretch o' B.S. but works to scuttle a number of really fine elements – the most important being Weitz's surprisingly strong direction.

I was so impressed with the mise-en-scene. Every frame is packed with finely wrought kitchen sink details. The exterior shots are especially impressive. Every moment, every dramatic beat and virtually every exterior frame has a full life exploding behind and around the main action. The sense of place is extremely acute. It feels like Weitz is adhering strictly to a neo-realist approach by making us believe a whole world is pulsating, teeming with life and death.

The performances of all the leads are beyond reproach, but the true revelation – the one in which Weitz could/should be taken seriously as a filmmaker in spite of his less-than-stellar previous works – is just how good and real all the supporting, bit and background players are. When a filmmaker is as careful with background action as he is with that in the foreground and works to make it all seamless – creating a WHOLE WORLD, so to speak – he is no mere hack of the competent variety (as most of his previous work might suggest).

Weitz is totally on the ball in creating a world we want to believe in, and while he delivers the goods in terms of visual details and performance, he is saddled with lazy middle-of-the-road writing. He didn't write the screenplay, but as a director he must still take responsibility for it. I assume he must have approved it in some fashion.

I am, however, now excited to see when he makes a picture where the writing is up to the directorial prowess he displays here – when the script stops yanking us back, as it does in A Better Life, to the very real problem inherent in too many movies these days – the overwhelming, unearned notion that everything is fine.

It's not.

"A Better Life" is currently available on BluRay and DVD via E-One Entertainment.

Monday 20 August 2012

THE BOURNE LEGACY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Men in suits standing around under fluorescent lights and talking plus old-style, classically directed action scenes makes this Bourne reboot crackling good entertainment.

The Bourne Legacy (2010) dir. Tony Gilroy

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Joan Allen, Stacy Keach, Zejlko Ivanek, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney


Review By Greg Klymkiw

My idea of a great spy movie is men in suits standing around under fluorescent lights and talking. I don't really need to know what they're talking about - so long as it SOUNDS like THEY know what they're talking about and that whatever it is they're saying SEEMS to pertain to the story at hand. If they're looking at computer monitors, hugging phones to their ears and/or yapping via headsets, I'm super-okay with this. It's definitely a bonus if they're chain smoking, but in this day and age, I'm willing to (grudgingly) forgive a lack of cancer stick ingestion.

If a lot of the dialogue is expositional, this is not as bad as one might think as it assists in our being able to follow what's going on - sort of. It should still be infused with lots of jargon, double-speak and varying degrees of solemnity. It's best we not know too much. The gist is fine. In fact, if the actors are great, I suppose we don't really even need the gist.

The men should mostly be 40-80-something and must look like bureaucrats (which, lest we forget, spies ultimately are). Moustaches are nice, but a supremely clean-cut dome and mug can work just as well.

If they resemble Edward Norton - BONUS! If actually played by Edward Norton, this is, in the parlance of pinball aficionados, double boni.

In this day and age, it is acceptable if women are involved in the endless conversations, but I must admit, I prefer there to be as few of them as possible. If they are babes, this is clearly a bonus - so long as their hair (preferably blonde) is pulled back very tight. Brunettes are fine if they're Rachel Weisz and play scientists in white lab coats. The hair, in this case, does not have to be pulled back tight, but is preferred.

Between these seemingly bottomless pits of conversation, there should be a few good dollops of violence and at least three (my favourite number) nail-biting action set-pieces.

This all pretty much sums up Tony Gilroy's The Bourne Legacy, an extremely satisfying sequel/reboot to the popular Jason Bourne three-picture series based on Robert Ludlum's bestselling books. The first was launched capably by Doug Liman with The Bourne Identity and perfected by the magnificent Paul Greengrass with (the best of the trilogy) The Bourne Supremacy and (second best of the trio) The Bourne Ultimatum.)

Starring Matt Damon as an assassin employed and "programmed" by a secret inner chamber of the CIA, the Bourne pictures had less in the way of claustrophobic spy-speak in the bureaucratic back rooms and a lot more wham-bam action. Compared to those three, The Bourne Legacy feels like an art film, or at least, a second-cousin to Tomas Alfredson's recent version of John le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. All four pictures were written by Tony Gilroy, the extremely talented son of playwright/director Frank Gilroy.

As a director, Gilroy has left the semi-risible-semi-watchable Duplicity behind him and returned to the promise he displayed in Michael Clayton. The Bourne Legacy might actually be his best picture to date - lacking the fencepost-sitting of his Clive Owen-Julia Roberts comedy thriller and the occasional dark pretension of the George Clooney effort. This new Bourne picture bodes very well, I think, for us to expect future quality endeavours from this assured voice (and hopefully future instalments in the franchise).

Legacy introduces us to a new "Bourne" played with stalwart assuredness by Jeremy Renner. It appears the inner bowels of the CIA under the special project Treadstone (that originally yielded the "One-of-a-kind" Jason Bourne) has, in actuality, generated several superhuman killers and NOW, they want them all dead and to completely erase the whole operation (which includes killing anyone who works for it). Renner plays Aaron Cross, though for much of the film's running time he's nameless - so much so that some people assumed Renner had taken over the Bourne role from Matt Damon. (I was one of them.)

So, between endless scenes of glorious talking, Renner avoids assassination, hooks up with a Treadstone scientist (Rachel Weizs) marked for assassination and the two of them bop all over the world - kicking ass.

The writing is first-rate for the genre, all the performances are top-flight and what I really love about Gilroy's direction is just how old-school his coverage of action scenes is. They're nail-biting, visceral and relatively free of the spatially-challeneged herky-jerky variety. (The Greengrass herky-jerky is in a class by itself. He's a real filmmaker and he has total control of the footage. His compositions, though short, are painterly and we never lose a sense of where we are or where the characters are unless Greengrass WANTS us too.)

Most action-oriented franchises these days are pretty stupid and usually not all that well made. Some of them even fool critics and audiences into thinking the movies are actually good (e.g. Christopher Nolan's overrated, overhyped tripe and the utterly bland-o-rama and barely competent JJ Abrams, to name a couple of directors offering up roller coaster rides masquerading as movies).

The Bourne Legacy is good, solid filmmaking and delivers anything any fan of espionage-action films would ever want. While it feels like a teaming of Damon and Renner is inevitable, I certainly, on paper anyway, have no problem with the prospect of this.

"The Bourne Legacy" is currently in world wide release from Universal Pictures.

Sunday 19 August 2012

THE CINCINNATI KID - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Norman Jewison's lollapalooza of a movie that sizzles today as much as when it was first made.

The Cincinnati Kid (1965) dir. Norman Jewison
Starring: Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Ann-Margaret, Karl Malden, Tuesday Weld, Joan Blondell, Rip Torn, Cab Calloway, Milton Selzer, Jeff Corey


Review By Greg Klymkiw

These days it's hard to for me to watch Norman Jewison's The Cincinnati Kid without wondering about the picture that could have been if its original director Sam Peckinpah had not been replaced after only two weeks of shooting.

This, of course, is always the problem with knowing too much about a movie before you see it and why in recent years I've refused to watch trailers, read reviews and/or puff pieces and resist, as best I can, the onslaught of publicity accompanying virtually every new theatrical release. It's tough to do, but I've been pretty successful at having a relatively clean slate when I see movies now.

Not so with older films, though.

And knowing too much kept me away from The Cincinnati Kid for far too long.

My first helping of Jewison's thrilling, finely crafted ode to the world of back-room poker games was at the age of six or seven and I distinctly recall loving it for many years afterwards and trying to see it whenever it was replayed on television (uh, we didn't have home entertainment options other than broadcast television, kids, and some of us didn't even have cable television until we were in our teen years or older).

What I remember most is loving Steve McQueen. I can't think of any kids my age who DIDN'T love him. He was the antithesis to established stalwarts like John Wayne and even the up-and-coming (oh yes, there was such a time) Clint Eastwood.

Steve McQueen was cool! Super cool! His laconic, tight-lipped brand of manhood was what WE all wanted to be as red-blooded young males. The Duke was what we wanted our fathers to be and Clint was, well, Clint - a screen hero ON-screen, but untouchable as a persona - even in our imaginations.

Kind of like Jesus Christ.

With Steve McQueen, though, it was so easy to slip into his shoes in both fantasy and play. He was the modern man and most importantly, EVERY MAN. And damn, if boys did not want to be MEN! And the man we chose to be, the man we imagined we could be, was McQueen.

The other thing I remember loving as a kid was the WORLD of The Cincinnati Kid. Like The Hustler, it depicted cool guys smoking Marlies or Luckies, surrounded by gorgeous dames (yes, DAMES, not WOMEN) who adored them. And they played games for a living instead of working. And they played hard.

What wasn't to love?

As the years advanced, The Cincinnati Kid faded from my thoughts and Robert Rossen's The Hustler replaced it as the movie to beat in the men-who-play-games genre. This certainly made sense in terms of how my tastes developed - something about the hip, breezy mid-60s style of Jewison's approach to the tale began to pale against my discovery and re-discovery of late 50s on-the-sleeve male angst of Walter Tevis's novel of the poolhall-hustle and Robert Rossen's grim, sweat-drenched film adaptation.

In addition to this, I became increasingly obsessive with the work of Sam Peckinpah and upon learning that the iconoclastic genius had been the original director of The Cincinnati Kid, I immediately wanted to know more about THAT movie - a movie that didn't even really exist except in Peckinpah's mind and by extension, ours.

During most of my early adult life, the only information I could find on the matter was a handful of odd reports in the trades about how Peckinpah was behind schedule, over-budget and most of all, wasting precious shooting hours on lascivious nude footage of an actress in bed with Rip Torn, the co-star and chief villain of The Cincinnati Kid.

Peckinpah's firing from the picture led to a long period of inactivity. He had, as it turned out, become persona non Grata in Hollywood.

More years chugged by and long after Peckinpah's death, I continued to watch and re-watch his work, while through this time, all I could think about was how Peckinpah could have brought his penchant for the grubby grotesqueness of life to the world of hardcore poker players. God knows, Peckinpah lived life as mean and hard as the men in his films and looking at his most personal work, Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, the mere IDEA of Peckinpah directing The Cincinnati Kid was enough to get me salivating.

In 2001, David Weddle's great book "If They Move, Kill 'Em - The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah" was published and for the first time, it became clear what happened. Peckinpah was hired by one of the least creative producers in Hollywood.

An inveterate deal maker, Martin Ransohoff's company Filmways specialized in television commercials, and then rural-based TV sitcoms like "The Beverly Hillbilles", "Green Acres" and "Petticoat Junction" and years later, the long-running game show "Hollywood Squares".

Ransohoff initially thought of The Cincinnati Kid as a western with playing cards instead of guns and was thrilled to have Peckinpah, the director of the acclaimed western Ride The High Country on board. Peckinpah started the project that had no script save for a long treatment by Paddy Chayefsky. Eventually, the treatment was cobbled into a screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr. and Terry Southern. Peckinpah took the writing he liked best and made the movie his own. And as always, he did a lot of the writing himself - uncredited, of course.

Ransohoff, for his part, wanted to make - no kidding, these are his words - a "Popsicle".

Shooting in black and white, Peckinpah retained a labour riot from Ring Lardner's script, dehumanized the female characters - objectifying them - not out of misogyny, but as a realistic comment on this male-dominated sub-culture of high-stakes back-room poker and, as was Peckinpah's wont, he added higher levels of violence and sex.

What a movie!

It was, however, never finished.

Ransohoff viewed two weeks of rushes, declared them as "dour" and promptly fired Peckinpah.

Peckinpah's previous picture, Major Dundee - a film that had "masterpiece" written all over it until the moronic producer on that one, Jerry Bresler, took the picture away from "Bloody Sam" in post-production and butchered it - going so far as to maliciously and intentionally sabotage the picture and lay blame on its director.

Bresler obsessively chided Ransohoff in the early going of The Cincinnati Kid - claiming a "maniac" was now at the helm. Peckinpah ignored all stupid suggestions from Ransohoff (which, it seems, were ALL stupid) .

Once shooting began, Ransohoff never went near the set. He sent a bum boy to spy while he busied himself on deal-making for future productions and oversaw his myriad of television productions - no doubt spending an inordinate amount of time auditioning swine for the role of "Arnold the pig" on the series "Petticoat Junction". The spy told tales out of school to his boss - all of which have since been publicly refuted by all major players on the set.

For his part, Peckinpah staged a fight scene, a chase scene and a labour riot with 200 extras. According to numerous witnesses on-set, he latter sequence was brilliantly and efficiently shot in ONE DAY!!!

Hardly the work of an out-of-control maniac.

Alas, Ransohoff wanted his "Popsicle" and did what needed to be done. He hired Norman Jewison. Surely the director of 40 Pounds of Trouble and Send Me No Flowers was just what the doctor ordered.

Jewison, as it turned out, had no intention of making a "Popsicle". He had already made his fair share of cinematic frozen lollies (exquisitely wrought, I might add) and was ready for a change in direction. For Jewison, entertainment would be the order of the day, but not at the expense of drama nor capturing a sense of time and place.

Seeing The Cincinnati Kid recently on Blu-ray, I was delighted that it held up magnificently. Everything I loved about the picture as a kid was there - and then some. In fact, seeing it recently, I was - on one hand sorry I avoided seeing it again for such a long time, but on the other, I was delighted to have done so as it seemed as fresh, vital and entertaining as when I first saw it. (Added life experience - including a 4-year stint surrounded by gamblers as a bet seller at a racetrack and seeing a few thousand more movies both didn't hurt.)

Jewison himself refers to the picture as his "Ugly Duckling" - that special favourite that provided his crossover from early-60s rom-com purgatory to a world where he delivered some of the coolest and most important American pictures of the last half of the 20th Century (In the Heat of the Night, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rollerball, Fiddler on the Roof and Moonstruck).

This classic gambling picture stands on its own as one of the best of its kind.

McQueen plays Eric Stoner (nicknamed the "Kid"), a poker player of the highest order who is just as happy cleaning out dubious lower-drawer sleaze balls in crummy joints as he is in more upscale surroundings. In fact, he probably enjoys the sleazier games, but like all those who prefer a steady diet of tough, but tasty flank steaks, he needs a tender filet Mignon to remind him what his ultimate goals are - wealth and more importantly, total domination.

When the Kid finds out that primo gambler Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson) is coming to town, he asks his old pal Shooter (Karl Malden) to set up a match. Malden once held the top-dog spot until Lancey gutted him many years ago and has since built his reputation as an honest dealer and match-maker. Shooter promotes a warm-up round and pits Slade (Rip Torn), a local sleazy "businessman" against Lancey. Slade is gutted mercilessly. He blackmails Shooter to fix the deals in the Kid's favour to get revenge on Lancey.

When the big game comes, the Kid wins so many hands he suspects something's up. He confronts Shooter privately and not only demands fair deals, but - almost in retaliation - beds down Shooter's woman Melba (Ann-Margaret) and in the process, cheats on his own woman Christian (Tuesday Weld). When the next round begins, the Kid fixes it so that Shooter is retired from dealing. The wise-cracking old dame Lady Fingers (Joan Blondell) controls the deck. No cheating now. And the Kid begins his handiwork - winning hand after hand and gutting top-dog Lancey.

The final hand, to determine the ultimate winner, is one of the most thrilling set-pieces ever committed to celluloid in an American film. It's a scorcher - cards dealt, lots of sweat, billows of smoke, money piled up, poker faces betraying little, but extreme closeups of eyes betraying all. The cutting in this sequence, as it is through most of the film, is expertly rendered by editor Hal Ashby (who eventually went on to direct such classics as Being There, The Last Detail and Shampoo, to name but a few).

I love watching card games on film. Many critics complained that The Cincinnati Kid paled in comparison to The Hustler because pool was more visual and hence, more cinematic. What a crock! You either buy into the world of this film and, in particular, card playing - or you don't. Given the picture's success upon its first theatrical release as well as its staying power, the movie made card playing as thrilling as any sporting activity on film. In fact, there's only one picture that bests it in terms of on-screen poker playing - that being Martin Campbell's James Bond reboot Casino Royale with Daniel Craig. That's not a bad run. It took 40 years for someone to edge out The Cincinnati Kid in the poker-on-film sweepstakes and, I might add, only by a hair.

Jewison's picture soars on a number of fronts. With cinematographer Philip Lathrop and a first rate production design team, Jewison drains the picture of primary colours which delivers a unique and visually stunning antiquity. During the poker scenes, the blood red on the face cards jump out with far more power than any 3-D effect - overused with such abandon now - and it's this combination of light and design that delivers a contemporary flavour to the proceedings. So much so, that the movie seldom feels dated in terms of its mise en scene.

Only the 60s hair-dos of the female leads betray the period in which the movie is shot - but this, has more to do with the numb-nuts Martin Ransohoff and his desire for a "Popsicle" instead of a movie. In fact, one of the producer's arguments with Peckinpah was his insistence that the picture's focus should be on the love triangle between Steve McQueen, Ann-Margaret and Tuesday Weld (will Steve choose the "good" girl or the "bad"?).

Interestingly, Jewison seems as disinterested in the love triangle as Peckinpah was. For Peckinpah, women just didn't figure prominently in such a world (save for charming tough old birds like Lady Fingers). Again, this had nothing to do with a misogynistic view (an erroneous, easy and oft-volleyed criticism), but rather, Peckinpah's exploration of worlds that, by there very nature harboured misogyny.

Jewison appears to be a good sport about indulging Ransohoff's overwhelming aesthetic obsession - the ladies are there as eye candy. Nothing more, nothing less. In fact, the ending that appears on the Blu-ray release is NOT Jewison's preferred ending, but rather, Ransohoff's - which, idiotically attaches a happy conclusion to one of the love relationships and detracts from Jewison's powerful choice (closer, no doubt to Peckinpah's).

With a huge, fine cast all delivering to-die-for performances, The Cincinnati Kid is a wonderful movie. Edward G. Robinson (who replaced an ailing Spencer Tracy) turns his role of the wise old poker hand into one of the screen's most memorable characters. Robinson commands every shot he's in with the sense of power, confidence and gentlemanly style the role demands.

Karl Malden, always the stalwart supporting player - deftly blends the attributes he was most gifted with: the almost pathetic sensitivity of his "Mitch" from A Streetcar Named Desire and the roiling conflict of love and nastiness he exuded as Anthony Perkins's father in Fear Strikes Out.

Of course, Rip Torn - surely one of the greatest screen actors of all time - weirdly chews the scenery with, I kid you not, restraint. There's not one likeable thing about the character he plays and yet, when he's on-screen, it's impossible to take one's eyes off him.

Two blasts from the past (even by 60s standards in the nostalgia sweepstakes) manage to add mega-wattage to Jewison's picture. I loved seeing Cab ("Minnie the Moocher") Calloway - so dashing, so stylish, so cool! And a thorough delight is getting ganders at the sashaying, ballsy Joan Blondell as the hottest, sexiest MILF who ever dealt a straight-up hand of poker. Throw in a snake pit of ferociously brilliant character actors like Jack Weston, Milton Selzer, Jeff Corey and the rest - down to even the extras and background players who always look like they belong in the film's world - and you have a picture that sizzles = as much today as in the 60s.

It's a lollapalooza!

Jewison has every right to be proud of it.

As for Peckinpah's version, all we can do is dream about the movie that never was, but could have been. After his firing from the picture, Peckinpah's life spiralled downwards. According to actor-director L.Q. Jones in David Weddle's book:

"It totally destroyed him for a long time . . . nobody would hire him, so he couldn't make movies. That's like telling a preacher he can't go to church. That's Sam's church. So what do you do? You go to pieces, which is what he did."

But years afterwards, Peckinpah directed The Wild Bunch.

He found his way back again.

"The Cincinnati Kid" is available on Warners Home Entertainment. The Blu-ray is a stunning transfer and beautifully captures Jewison's mise-en-scene and Philip Lathrop's great cinematography. One of the fabulous special features is a commentary track from Norman Jewison. Uncle Norman delivers great commentary. Along with Martin Scorsese, I'd argue Jewison's director commentaries are the finest wrought on all home entertainment mediums. He's seldom anecdotal, never dull and always full of great material on the art of filmmaking. If you're interested in purchasing the film, free feel to use the Amazon links below and, at the same time, support the maintenance of this site.

Saturday 18 August 2012

THE DEEP BLUE SEA (now on BLU-RAY and DVD from Mongrel Media) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - If you missed it theatrically, now is the time to catch up on this sumptuous screen adaptation of Terrence Rattigan's play by Terence Davies, the UK's most important living filmmaker. Available on an extras-packed Blu-Ray from Mongrel Media.

The Deep Blue Sea (2011) dir. Terence Davies
Starring: Rachel Weizs, Simon Russell, Tom Hiddlestone


By Greg Klymkiw

I used to think Terence Davies might well have been one of the most important living British filmmakers. I was wrong. He is, without question, Britain's most important living filmmaker. From his trilogy of mesmerizing shorts to his latest work, The Deep Blue Sea, Davies is easily as important to the history of Great Britain's cinema heritage as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger or any of the greats of the 1960s British New Wave were.

Working in a classical style with indelible compositions, creating a rhythm through little, no or very slow camera moves and infusing his work with a humanity seldom rivalled, Davies recognizes the importance of cinema as poetry – or rather, using the poetry of cinema to create narrative that is truly experiential. (I doubt any audience member will forget the haunting underground tracking shot during the Blitz in this new picture – as evocative to the eye, ear and mind as anything I’ve seen.)

I’d go so far as saying that Davies might well be the heir apparent to film artists like Alexander Dovzhenko and Sergei Paradjanov – exploiting the poetic properties of cinema in all the best ways.

The Deep Blue Sea is a heartbreaking, sumptuous and tremendously moving adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s great play of the same name. Rattigan’s theatrical explorations of class and sex have made for rich film adaptations, most notably The Browning Version, Separate Tables, The Winslow Boy and The Prince and the Showgirl.

Rattigan, given the discriminatory criminalisation of homosexuality in England (his frequent collaborator, the closeted director Anthony Asquith, was the progeny of the man who signed Oscar Wilde’s arrest warrant) chose to primarily reflect on gay issues and culture by utilizing a critical dramatic look at the often troubled lives of straight couples.

Nowhere is this more powerfully rendered than in The Deep Blue Sea, which Davies has adapted with considerable homage to the play’s tone and themes while using the source as a springboard for his own unique approach to affairs of the heart. (While Davies oddly reduces the role and importance of the play’s one clearly gay character, one suspects he did this to focus more prominently on the trinity of its central characters.)

Here we feel and experience the tragic tale of Hester (Rachel Weisz), who leaves her much older, though loving husband, the respected judge Sir William (Simon Russell) when she meets the handsome, charming Freddie (Tom Hiddlestone), a former RAF pilot who allows her the joys of sex for the first time in her life.

Alas, Freddie’s a bit of a rake and soon tires of domesticity, and Hester is driven to seriously contemplating suicide. Sir William, of course, wishes desperately to have her back. The eternal dilemma is that Freddie doesn’t love Hester as much as she’d like, nor does Hester feel as much love for Sir William as he does for her.

This is a beautifully acted piece through and through. Most astonishing is the performance Davies coaxes out of Rachel Weisz - it's as infused with heartbreaking tragedy as the great work he pulled from Gillian Anderson in his perfect film adaptation of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth.

Davies dazzles and moves us with his humanity and artistry. His attention to period detail is, as always, impeccable. He plunges into a world far removed from our own and creates a double ice cream scoop for those who love his work. Both art direction and cinematography evoke both the period of post-war Britain and the movies of the period - specifically the melodramatic womens' weepies.

His use of music is equally impressive. He plays out the ill-fated triangle to the gorgeous underscoring of Samuel Barber's exquisite violin concerto and another double ice cream scoop comes via his trademark stylistic touch of presenting period songs. Yes, we indeed do get a welcome return to pubs thick with smoke and filled with songs sung by its inebriated denizens. Harking back to Distant Voices, Still Lives, the songs here are not so much a counterpoint to the drudgery of the characters’ lives (like they were in the aforementioned), but directly reflect the overwhelming malaise born out of repression and class.

It doesn’t take much to give over to Davies's stately pace, and when we do, we’re drawn into a world that can only exist on a big screen, while at the same time providing a window on the concerns of days gone by that are more prevalent in our contemporary world than most of us would care to admit.

"The Deep Blue Sea" is now available on a gorgeous Blu-Ray release from Mongrel Media. Thankfully, the transfer maintains the gauzy, grainy, low-contrast drabness of post-war England that was so striking on the big screen. Those looking for the usual "crisp" qualities, need not bother, though I'd suggest the transfer does exactly what Blu-Ray should so and capture the theatrical experience for the home market as opposed to the sort of annoying "cleaning up" some transfers unimaginatively and erroneously provide. The extras are knockouts - from a fine moderated commentary with Davies to a bevy of excellent interview material, it's All-Davies-All-The-Time. One superb extra is a Davies master class and it's both fun and edifying to SEE his enthusiasm as he speaks eloquently about the filmmaking process. This is definitely a keeper. For those interested in purchasing the film, feel free to click directly upon the Amazon links below and assist with the maintenance of this site.

Friday 17 August 2012

MIDNIGHT SON (now on DVD from Mongrel Media) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The creepiest, sexiest and most romantic contemporary vampire picture is now on DVD. One of the 10 Best Films of 2011 this is a picture that deserves a hallowed place in any self-respecting genre geek's movie collection.

Midnight Son (2011)
dir. Scott Leberecht

Starring: Zak Kilberg, Maya Parish, Jo D. Jonz, Arlen Escarpeta, Larry Cedar, Tracey Walter


Review By Greg Klymkiw

Jacob (Zak Kilberg) is sick. Very, very sick. He leads a solitary existence in a basement apartment with all the windows sealed shut. By day, he is a brilliant young artist - painting variations on a similar theme: exquisite renderings of the sun. He pays his rent working as a night-shift security guard. He is so sensitive to the rays of the sun that his arm bears the horrendous scars of burned flesh.

Of late, he's been extremely hungry and in spite of wolfing down as much food as possible, he's becoming thinner and more pale. One night he collapses at work - blacking out completely. A doctor examines him and expresses concern that he is becoming anemic from malnutrition. This, of course, simply cannot be. He's eating more than a 500 lb. circus freak can ingest in a week.

The thing is, Jacob needs meat.


Pure and simple.

On his was home from the doctor visit, he buys a juicy steak from the butcher shop, fries it up and scarfs it down. Alas, he's still hungry. Eyeing the styrofoam platter his steak lay upon prior to ingestion, Jacob is especially drawn to the glistening droplets of blood dappling the white foamy surface. He voraciously laps up the treacly crimson goo.

This taste treat inspires yet another visit to his friendly neighbourhood butcher shop whereupon he buys an entire container of blood. He greedily guzzles the hemoglobin treat and feels energized like he hasn't in some time.

Jacob knows now what he needs to survive.

Jacob needs blood.

Such are the opening minutes of Scott Leberecht's Midnight Son, one of the most exciting feature length directorial debuts in years. Given what passes for vampires in these dark days of the ludicrous Twilight franchise, it seems almost insulting to toss this original and affecting horror movie (also scripted by Leberecht) into the same putrid bucket containing Stephenie Meyer's rank turds.

Still, we must call a spade a spade and a vampire movie Midnight Son most certainly is. As such, it's one of the creepiest, sexiest and truly most romantic vampire pictures to grace the screens in many a new moon.

Its unique blend of gorgeously gritty camerawork and equal dollops of both neorealism and existentialism, place the picture closer to the tradition forged by George A. Romero's Martin, Larry Fessenden's Habit and Abel Ferrara's double scoop of the horror brilliance that is Driller Killer and The Addiction.

What Leberecht brings to the table that's all his is a tremendous degree of heart. He manages to shock us, creep us out AND move us. This is an astounding achievement.

When Jacob meets the coke-addicted cigarette girl Mary (Maya Parish) they're instantly attracted to each other - two lost souls in the big city who deserve much more out of life and most certainly deserve each other. As played by the beautiful, sexy, but wholly real Parish, the character of Mary has what Twilight's Kristen Stewart is unable to bring to her vampire-loving heroine - a sense of humour and play. She's a character that the audience falls in love with because she has a perfect blend of bigger-than-life and girl-next-door properties (albeit slightly tarnished by the cards life has thus dealt her).

Jacob too feels like somebody we could know, or even be. He's trapped by circumstance and lonely out of necessity. That he should discover his potential soulmate at the worst possible time isn't just the stuff of great drama, it's rooted in realism - an experience so many have had when they find something or someone special, but the timing is so damned inopportune.

Leberecht's mise-en-scene is superb. He captures strange corners and pockets of Los Angeles with the same eye for detail Larry Fessenden brought to the Manhattan Habit was rooted in. Leberecht's choice of locations, shots and interiors never feel stock. Most of all, he delivers a side of L.A. we seldom see on film. It's gritty, all right, but the picture plunges us into the sort of strange places David Lynch himself might be envious of.

My personal favourite is a toxic materials dump in the rear lane of a hospital wherein we're introduced to one of the weirdest pushers we'll encounter in any recent movie - the sleazy blood peddling orderly (brilliantly played by Joe D. Jonz) who discovers a rare, but needy market for what he can provide - no clover, but plenty of crimson.

This is a mere appetizer of inspired casting.

Happily, Leberecht and his team had the exquisite taste to cast one of the greatest character actors working in American cinema today. Appearing as Jacob's only living cohort in the office tower, Tracey Walter plays the kindly night janitor who dispenses humour, wisdom and assistance. Walter has been in a zillion or so cool movies, but in the context of Midnight Son, it's especially cool to see him play a character that fondly reminds of the UFO-obsessed trash man Walter played in Alex Cox's Repo Man (another great picture with a unique sense of place).

Visually and narratively, Midnight Son leads us confidently into territory we almost never see, but even when things start to feel familiar, Leberecht throws us a curve ball - not just for the sake of tossing one our way, but because it's rooted in the emotion of the story.

One of my favourite trick pitches in Leberecht's movie falls into a category I like to call "Scenes We'd Like To See, But Never Will". Lo and Behold, though, I was resoundingly gobsmacked when the insanely ambitious Leberecht delivered the unthinkable.

Imagine a lovemaking sequence where a sexy lady has just snorted several lines of coke, then mounts her lover cowgirl style and vigorously rides that bucking bronco of vampiric prowess. In the throes of passion she's overtaken by a horrendous coke-influenced nosebleed, which geysers mightily onto Jacob's face. This would be a shocker for him in any context, but it's especially delightful as he happens to be a blood-starved vampire.

To that, I say: "Top that Stephenie Meyer!"

"Midnight Son" is available on DVD from Mongrel Media. It's a fine transfer, but the package is sadly bereft of extra features and frankly, the movie is so good, it demands a proper remastering and release on Blu-Ray. Until that time, however, it's a definite keeper for discriminating genre fans. Feel free to order the film directly from the links below which will assist in supporting the maintenance of this site.