Wednesday 31 October 2012

THE WOMAN - DVD Review By Greg Klymkiw

From the demented minds of Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum comes this  utterly sickening horror nasty involving the kidnapping of a sexy feral woman, her violation and revenge. 

The Woman (2011) dir. Lucky McKee
Starring: Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers, Angela Bettis, Lauren Ashley Carter, Zach Rand, Shyla Molhusen


Review By Greg Klymkiw

The Cleek family are living the American Dream! Chris (Sean Bridgers) is a successful back country real estate lawyer with loads of cash, oodles of prime land, a beautiful, devoted wife Belle (Angela Bettis) who puts June Cleaver to shame, three lovely kids including his chip-off-the-old-block son Brian (Zach Rand), a cute-as-a-button little girl with a name to match, Darlin' (Shyla Molhusen) and Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), an intelligent, attractive teenage Emo girl privately suffering morning sickness due to possibly being impregnated by her Dad. In the barn are some crazed German Shepherds and a blind, naked feral woman raised with the dogs and tended to by Brian who physically abuses them.

Like all corn-and-steak-fed American men, Chris wakes early in the morning, eats breakfast lovingly prepared by Belle and then, packing a scope rifle and adorned in hunting garb, he smiles and declares how much he loves the quiet of the country before revving up his ATV and tear-assing into the woods for some hunting. To complete this portrait of All-American bliss, one of his hunting trips yields a live trophy - a buxom, beautiful, feral woman from the backwoods that he manacles in the fallout shelter where she is forced to eat food from the floor and/or a Tupperware container and gets scrubbed raw by wifey after being good and hosed down by Dad. When she's first introduced to the family, one of the kids asks if they can really keep her. The answer from Dad is a resounding: YES! After all, she needs to be civilized - a charitable act on Dad's part; even more charitable considering she's already bitten off his ring finger when all he wanted to do was inspect her teeth.

Trussed up and manacled in the dank fallout shelter, the civilization process includes being raped late into the night by Chris while son Brian watches jealously through a peephole. The lovely daughters sleep soundly in their warm, comfortable beds and wifey Belle weeps in the properly accoutered conjugal boudoir at the thought of hubby getting his manly satisfaction elsewhere and, of course, as any eager All American Boy would do, the feral woman, is eventually tortured with wire cutters and sexually abused by the randy little chip-off-the-old-block.


Love it or leave it.

As rendered by director Lucky McKee and his co-screenwriter Jack Ketchum, The Woman is, without a doubt, one of the most foul, wanton and viciously humorous movies of the new millennium. It also seems to be a part of a new wave of films (including those of the brilliant Bobcat Goldthwait) which take family dysfunction several steps further - where dysfunctional depravity has become the norm.

McKee has his actors play everything in a straight deadpan. There isn't a single, out-of-place performance in the entire movie. McKee's mise-en-scene is distinctively sun-dappled-with-dollops-of-blood-and-nastiness and the movie works as both vicious satire and thriller. To say the movie is brutal, would be an understatement of the highest order, but the horrors on display never feel cheap and exploitative the way most torture porn horror films are. This is a savage, raw-nerve-ending-exposed portrait of life in the mean, new America.

As such, it's an unflinching, unyielding ride on the locomotive of excess that has turned one of the world's strongest nations into a veritable third-world country. The movie requires a strong stomach and open mind - anything less and you'll feel like you stepped into your worst nightmare.

So grit your teeth, gird your loins and, enjoy!

"The Woman" was a closing night film at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011. It's currently available on Blu-Ray and DVD via Bloody Disgusting and The Collective. Special features include a mediocre "making-of", deleted scenes and an okay short Film entitled "Mi Burro".

Tuesday 30 October 2012

THE DIVIDE - DVD and BLU-RAY review by Greg Klymkiw

THE DIVIDE: Anchor Bay's Post Apocalyptic thriller replete with BABES, MILF, PSYCHOS, TOUGH GUYS, BLOOD, SEX, MICHAEL BIEHN

The Divide (2011) dir. Xavier Gens
Starring: Michael Biehn, Laura German, Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Eklund, Rosanna Arquette


Review By Greg Klymkiw

We've seen it before, but we all know it's the ride that counts, and if nasty, darkly humorous, character-driven dystopian science fiction is what you're into, The Divide is one chilling, hair-raising, white-knuckle roller coaster charging into the horrors of a crazed post-apocalyptic Hell. In fact, the primary setting for the film is beneath ground in the laundry and storage rooms of an apartment building that's been otherwise levelled in a full-scale nuclear attack upon the city of New York.

It's Hell, alright. Though we're without the traditional trappings of Hades hellfire and bubbling lava, there's certainly plenty of roiling emotion within the ravaged, terrified, paranoid and even sociopathic minds of those who find themselves trapped in this coffin below the inferno of radiation and mass destruction.

Mickey (Michael Biehn) is the wired and wiry cigar puffing ruler of the roost - the building's super who lives in the basement and has equipped it with all the elements necessary to survive in the event of a Post-9/11 attack that makes the destruction of the Twin Towers seem like a zit-burst. He agrees to take in a few survivors, but as the story progresses, he clearly seems sorry he bothered. After all, this is his home, his own personal safe harbour and he expects compliance and downright subservience in accordance with his rules and manner of living. Alas, some of his charges are live wires - questioning his moves and motives every step of the way.

In this role, Biehn is nothing short of brilliant. In the late 80s and early 90s, he was one of the most exciting young actors in American cinema and poised to be a star with considerable leverage and longevity. As the stalwart hero in several James Cameron classics; The Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss, as well as his complex and electrifying performance in William Friedkin's criminally neglected courtroom thriller Rampage, Biehn eventually became a solid working actor - appearing in a lot of crap - always doing fine work, but ultimately rising as far as anyone could above substandard material (exceptions to this were his appearances in Bereavement and Planet Terror, both fine films), however, his performance in The Divide is not only dazzling, but rendered in a movie worthy of his considerable talents. It's not quite what you'd call a comeback role, since he's never really been gone, but I'd still say it's a breakthrough performance and one that makes me hope he'll be on the receiving end of increasingly better roles. (I'd happily, for example, donate my right testicle to science to see him opposite Michael Shannon in a new William Friedkin picture. Hey, a boy can dream, can't he?)

Happily, Biehn is surrounded by a terrific cast in a movie that's directed with all the pizzaz and unyielding aplomb of the talented Xavier Gens (I loved Hitman. With Gens at the helm, The Divide is one splendidly horrific tale that features a microcosmic look at humanity under duress. We have a young, married couple on the brink of divorce, a tough-minded African American who senses their protector is hiding something, a middle aged Mom (the welcome presence of Rosanna Arquette) with a terrified young daughter and two foul bad boys who get a whole lot badder than we're prepared to imagine.

And then there are the armed, weird-ass scientists in protective garb - kidnapping surviving children and performing the most horrendous experiments upon them.

And, lest we forget, there's the septic system. Once the ragtag band of survivors are literally welded into the underground coffin with no means of escape, we discover that a swim through a tunnel of fecal matter is the only way out. Any guesses whether someone eventually wades through the gloppy, glistening, stench-ridden tunnels?

As tensions rise, so do the acts of inhumanity - bullying, beatings, murder, torture, and even forced sexual slavery. If you're looking for a shred of hope, you might not find it in The Divide, but like all well constructed drama of this kind, the thing you look for in earnest amidst the depravity, comes from the unlikeliest places at the least expected moments. Yes, humanity is buried deep within this pit of horror.

Without question, the tense human conflict and emotion of this film is charged to the max. Gens seldom lets us rest easy as an audience. We always have to be on our toes - evil lurks around every corner and the movie jolts us time and time again. This is not to say the exploitative elements are paint-by-numbers. They're earned. They're rooted in character and story. The movie terrifies, dazzles AND moves us tremendously. Most amazingly, we almost NEVER leave the confines of the basement. Lesser films blatantly use this as a cost-cutting measure, but in The Divide, it never seems like a story rooted in a machine-tooled setting to yield maximum production value for minimum dollars. So many lower-budgeted genre films are too self-aware of these limitations and we're taken out of the drama because of it.

Not so, here.

To coin a phrase from George Romero's Dawn of the Dead: "When there's no more room in Hell, the Dead will walk the Earth." In The Divide, it's the other way around. Hell is above ground and the living dead walk BELOW the Earth.

And in this Hell, there's plenty of room for the living dead.

The Divide is available on DVD and BLU-RAY via Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada. The best buy is the combo disc with both formats. My first viewing of the movie was on a big screen at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and weirdly, my memory suggests that the picture looked way better in that format than at home on TV. This probably had more to do with the intensity of the movie, however. Also, the commentary track on this is another example of why I detest commentary tracks that are not properly moderated or led by directors who are natural at it like Scorsese or Jewison. At the end of the day, none of this detracts from the overall quality of the film and genre fans of post-apocalyptic tales should enjoy it as much as I did

Monday 29 October 2012

SINISTER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hohum Script, but super stylish direction, a terrific Ethan Hawke performance and creepy scares-a-plenty help deliver the goods!

SINISTER feels occasionally familiar, but it's superbly directed. Following a down-on-his-luck alcoholic crime writer as he squares off with demons, the real kind as well as those haunting his psyche, makes for one scary movie. As our hero's self-worth dwindles amidst supernatural shocks and an abundance of creepy psychological shivers, one wishes the script was up to the director's flourishes.

Sinister (2012) ***
dir. Scott Derrickson
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, James Ransone, Michael Hall D'Addario, Clare Foley

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Let's say you have this annoying habit of continually moving your family near sites of horrendous, violent crimes so you can more accurately write your true crime tomes. Given how disturbing this is to those you love, promises are made to the wife and kids that it won't happen again.

But old habits die hard.

So whaddya do? You go and move your family right smack dab INTO a house where something very, very evil once transpired. You don't tell them and hope, living in a small town, that they'll never find out. Are you really that stupid? Or is it the screenplay that's a tad bereft of grey matter? Whichever one it is, there's no denying you're a sick puppy and someone's going to pay for your boneheadedness (or the script's).

You are, however, a writer fallen on hard times AND an alcoholic. Your actions are ultimately understandable. You want to recapture your former glory. You're sure this foul crime can be solved and that you're the man to do it. You want to listen to your wife's pleas that you give up writing and get a "real job", but you're an artist (of sorts) and you simply can't. You need to get your mojo back.

Besides, if you didn't do what you just did, there wouldn't be a movie called Sinister which, in spite of the familiar and/or plot-hole-ridden script, still manages to be of the creepiest pictures of the year.

Why? Well, first and foremost, you're portrayed by the terrific Ethan Hawke, an actor who is becoming so much better with the ravages of time. Now at an age betraying some hard miles, Hawke is becoming the ultimate handsome, but grizzled anti-hero a la 70s actors who took all those wrong forks in the road to be part of a narrative fraught with urgency, desperation and a doomed, compulsively watchable quality. In fact, we pretty much guess where your character and family's going to end up, but it matters not - it's the ride that counts.

And yes, Sinister is a generally satisfying ride. Once Hawke and his family settle into the troubled domicile, it doesn't take long for bad shit to start happening. Especially creepy are the ancient A/V materials that keep mysteriously appearing - 8mm film reels and a projector.

What's on the reels is abominable. You can't get enough of watching the horrific images. Night after night, you belt back gallons of booze and sit transfixed as a series of violent deaths are unspooled. Alas, if any of your kids watch these images, the consequences will be dire. You don't quite know this yet, but in the footage, what you do know is what you see - grim flashes of something not unlike . . . a demon.

This is not good.

Hell is about to break loose.

When it does, director Scott Derrickson, who has been wending his way though the flawed narrative and muting as many of its speed bumps as possible, he delivers one shocker after another. Sinister made me jump out of my chair on numerous occasions - not too many cheap scares either, but the kind that are rooted in the pure, creepy crawler horror one ultimately expects from a top-flight genre picture.

Feel free to bring a pair or two of "Depends" in case you soil yourself. I was glad I did.

"Sinister" is in wide release via Alliance Films.

Sunday 28 October 2012

ARGO - Reviewed By Greg Klymkiw - Propaganda 4 U & Me

In the hit film "ARGO", racism and ethnocentrism are both aimed squarely at Iranians with a vengeance. They are portrayed as savage, devious and, as a bonus, stupid grinning bozos too enamoured with American popular culture to do their jobs properly. The fact that the 1980 storming of the American embassy in Tehran and the subsequent hostage-taking was, in fact, brought about by America's greed, deception and need to control the rest of the world to serve the needs of its elite corporate rulers, is virtually ignored by the movie save for a tiny mention that's tossed up to please Liberals, then thrown away in the cacophony of raging Iranians, so those same Liberals can feel good about being on side with the movie - shoulder to shoulder with the Right Wing. Christ, this movie is reprehensible on every conceivable level.

ARGO (2012) **
dir. Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Everybody loves ARGO.

Well, on the surface, there's no reason for anyone to hate it. Directed by Ben Affleck who affably plays CIA "extractor" Tony Mendez, it's a perfectly competent fictionalized portrait of the real life rescue of American embassy workers in Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis.

Personally, I have little use for the picture. I'll admit the movie has a clutch of fine performances (notably Affleck himself and a shamefully underused Victor Garber as the Canadian Ambassador who hides the American hostages in his own home) and that Affleck as a director handles a number of sequences with reasonable intelligence and some surprising flair. In particular, I was impressed with the entire unique set-up of the rescue, a tense scene in the Tehran Market and the final 15 minutes or so during the "escape" - especially when some Iranian border guards get bamboozled by the magic of movies - a scene that's as tense as it's vaguely offensive.

Still, I am indifferent to the picture on one hand and a bit disgusted with it on the other. My indifference has much to do with where the emphasis of the rescue is placed and my disgust is with the fake Liberalism used to mask the intentional (or, possibly unintentional) propagandistic elements and its racism (or at best, I'll allow ethnocentrism and/or intolerance) towards the Iranian people.

The emphasis upon Tony Mendez is, for me, a surprisingly dull and easy approach to the story. Much time is spent developing Mendez, a brilliant CIA operative who specializes in rescues. Frankly though, I could care less about someone who - no matter how good he is at his job - still works for one of the most evil entities on the planet. Secondly, the piddling problems Mendez encounters with his marriage and, by extension, the lack of physical proximity to his son, seem pathetically limp compared to those Americans who are hiding in Iran, those who are held hostage and in particular, the Canadian diplomat and his wife who risk their lives hiding the American embassy workers in their own home.

A much better, but probably less commercial movie exists where more emphasis is placed on the trapped Americans than Mendez. Affleck and his writers spend some time with them, to be sure, but the movie that will probably never be made would have immersed us wholly in the terrifyingly claustrophobic situation they found themselves in, but most importantly it would have thoroughly involved us in these people as human beings rather than the Syd Field 101 paintbrush swipes of "character" they get in the current movie.

What's especially disingenuous (and kind of insulting to the survivors) is how the movie expects us to FEEL for them BECAUSE they are AMERICANS rather than people. They're character types with only one extra thin layer of flesh. But, Good Goddamn, they is 'Murrikins and they need sum reskoo'in, y'heah?

Why should this surprise me? A somewhat rhetorical question, I fear, since the movie has been skilfully crafted as entertainment designed to reel in as much revenue as possible and generate boxoffice legs with its jingoistic (albeit more insidiously subtle) propaganda.

The Canadian protectors, the Ambassador and his wife, are given considerable short shrift in this affair. I'm not just saying this because I was born on Canadian soil and far more proud of the role Canada played in the whole affair, but part of me thinks the Canadian ambassador and his wife had a whole lot more to lose than Mendez. He's worrying about his stupid marriage and whether or not his brilliant scheme will have the rug pulled out from under it by the bureaucrats. Worse yet, poor Mendez wins an award from the CIA for his actions, but for security reasons, nobody will ever know save for himself and a small group of colleagues (at least until the sealed files are opened long afterwards).

Do I hear violin strings?

Hark, I do.

Cry me a fucking river.

Let's look at our Iranian brothers and how they're portrayed. There's nary a one of them who go beyond type (though we're shown ONE "good" Iranian who doesn't betray the Canadian Ambassador and his American "house guests"). During Argo's opening scenes we're plunged into that day in 1980 when thousands of angry Iranians marched upon the American embassy and eventually set foot on "American" soil to take Uncle Sam's workers as political prisoners. In an admittedly skillful blend of news, archival and recreated dramatic footage, we see the good, decent, terrified, clean and well-dressed Americans quivering, but ultimately maintaining a professional calm while thousands of screaming, jabbering "Ay-Rabbs" foam at the mouth with anger and blood-lust.

This is how the movie opens.

As the racism and ethnocentrism in the picture progresses, the Iranians are portrayed as evil, devious or worse, stupid bozos more enamoured with American popular culture than doing their jobs.

The fact that this situation has been brought on by America's greed and deception (that began 30 years BEFORE the events of this film), is virtually ignored by the movie (save for a tiny nod that's revealed early on, then thrown away in the cacophony of raging Iranians).

Pardon me all to Hell, but I find this utterly reprehensible.

Will there ever come a time when we'll see a mainstream American movie unapologetically point fingers directly at its own country's subservience to wealth and oligarchical rule as being the real cause of this strife and, in fact, where we find ourselves now? The ignorance and fundamentalism of the Middle East is frankly no worse than that which exists in America (and throughout much of the West). As well, on both sides of the fence there are reasonable, intelligent, caring people, but in Hollywood, the notion that they exist in Iran is snubbed entirely.

The 70s, once again, was a period in American film history when mainstream Hollywood was more than happy to scrutinize the relationship between corporate rule and politics in the good old U. S. of A. The list of harrowing, intelligent, entertaining and even commercial films that ploughed into this territory is almost without limit. The films, as they rightly should, acknowledged the decency of the American people, but condemned those Americans who pulled the strings for personal wealth of a very small minority. (Let's not forget, for example, Cimino's brilliant, powerful and audacious ending to The Deer Hunter that manages to have its cak and eat it too by expressing both love AND disgust for America in one fell swoop.)

Yes, Mendez had a great idea - to pretend he and the trapped Americans were a Canadian film crew scouting locations in Iran for a trashy science fiction exploitation movie. Yes, Affleck delivers a great, commanding performance as Mendez, as do John Goodman and Alan Arkin as the Hollywood guys who secretly and selflessly assist with this ruse to free the Americans in Iran. But that's not what the film is lacking. It has no moral centre - especially not within a more balanced political context.

At the end of the day, ALL cinema is political (to varying degrees). Hell, even a Pauly Shore comedy is "political". ARGO is a rescue film, to be sure, but one that is set against a political backdrop - a political backdrop in which America has wreaked considerable havoc upon (to this very day). To ignore this (or worse, pay brief lip service to it as Affleck's film does before flushing it), as 95% of the critics polled on Rotten Tomatoes have done speaks as much about the dying art of film criticism as well as how American Cinema, more than ever before, is linked almost inextricably to the New World Order that really controls America.

Examining the film by using the strict definitions of the word "racism", ARGO is, as a story, completely and utterly discriminatory with respect to Iran (and the Middle East in general). Other than Mendez, the film's script simplistically glosses over every other character - any of whom are far more interesting than Mendez. This is where the script errs as "art", but as "industry", it's perfect. Alas, the best films strive for a balance or a bit of ambiguity which, interestingly enough, can actually up the dramatic stakes and tension rather than muting them. Affleck is probably a bit too single minded for that. What he ultimately delivers is a modestly successful (in artistic terms) rescue story. End of story.

Granted, Affleck has been influenced by the memoirs of Mendez himself. No offence to Mendez. He does what HE does which is, by all accounts, very well accomplished. He told HIS story from HIS perspective. He can't be blamed for the film's failure as art, only Affleck can be chastised for his poor choice.

That said, I'm certainly not looking for the BEST or most "accurate" rendering of the story anyway. I do, however believe, given all the elements one could choose to focus on within two hours, that the underlying material offers any number of compelling tales. Affleck chose the simplest, easiest and frankly, most susceptible route to promote neanderthal politics. It is perfectly acceptable to criticize his choice and by extension, to imagine one (of many) approaches that might have rendered a genuinely great film. It's not great, either. Not even close.

Even WITH the script AS IS, I wonder what Pollack, Lumet, Frankenheimer, Siegel or (especially) Pakula or Kaufman (think back on their gifts of creating paranoia of the highest order during the 70s) might have brought to the directorial table to strip away the jingoistic elements of the tale and examine, in an entertaining way, the completely fucked American belief that the country can do no wrong.

In spite of ARGO's occasional virtues, I still can't help but think that a better movie could have been made without the propagandistic sledgehammer and that subsequently (and I think, more harrowingly) could have brought us "in" to the story via the Canadian Ambassador and the trapped Americans themselves. What we're left with is a CIA lifer who, in spite of the brilliantly unorthodox methods he employs in this case (and presumably others), is that he's just doing his job and, as his character keeps repeating throughout the film, doing what he does best.

Sickeningly, in this day and age, what drives ARGO is someone who is just doing his job, and even though Mendez might well be a Schindler-like figure above all else within the CIA - especially for what he accomplished in Iran - he did it for a regime that asked for what it got in the first place, an agency which, in spite of the inherent goodness of those it purports to protect, the American people, is as evil as those throughout history whom we should never, ever forget.

God rest their souls, but I suspect both Leni Riefenstahl and Sergei Eisenstein are beaming as they look down from the celestial celluloid Heavens, waiting for Affleck's eventual ascension to join them in a Holy Trinity of using art to extol the virtues of butchers.

However, I ultimately believe ARGO is MEDIOCRE propaganda that contemporary audiences in these days of civilization's decline are gobbling up like hogs at a trough. That's extremely depressing to me. (Come to think of it, I'll take ONE of Leni Riefenstahl's pubic hairs or perhaps TWO of Eisenstein's nostril hairs over ALL that someone like Affleck has to offer at any given moment.)

ARGO is a watchable movie. It plays into the fears of those manipulated by the New World Order. Time, it seems, for Oscar to come a calling.

"ARGO" is playing in wide release all over the world. And yes, it's a hit. Hooray for Hollywood!

Saturday 27 October 2012




By Greg Klymkiw

Moviegoers love the Cineplex Entertainment Mobile App. Not only can you buy tickets, find venues & showtimes, watch trailers & “exclusive” puff pieces on all the big pictures, detailed movie info is available that includes a synopsis and above the line credits. To the left you’ll find phone captures of movie info for two Canadian films: Sarah Polley’s feature documentary “Stories We Tell” & Brandon Cronenberg’s “Antiviral”. Both include synopses. Alas, Cineplex informs us that the Director, Cast, Writers and Producers cannot be identified: “Names Not Available”. To the right you’ll find movie info for two major Hollywood releases, “Paranormal Activity 4” and “Alex Cross”. No lack of Director, Cast, Writer and Producer info. The commitment (as it were) to Canadian Cinema proudly continues. A commitment to take pride in.

Cineplex Entertainment might argue this information hasn’t been provided by the Canadian Distributors (which save for a couple of key exceptions is, admittedly, an oxymoron). While this might indeed be the case, Cineplex could, perhaps, proactively ask the distributors and/or publicists for this information and if this proves unsuccessful, there are plenty of sources where this information is available. One might expect that proactive attempts to supply this information to their customers might not be a problem for the largest exhibitor in Canada – a Canadian company with a virtual exhibition monopoly and the cash flow to do so.

On Dec. 31 of 2011 in my first Annual List of Top Ten Heroes of Canadian Cinema, I included some rather interesting remarks about Cineplex Entertainment's - ahem - commitment to Canadian Cinema: I will reprint it for you now with a few salient additions.

Here it is! Enjoy!

I first saw Don Shebib's classic Canadian feature Goin' Down the Road when I was a kid at a huge first-run theatre in Winnipeg. I loved it then and loved it more every time I saw it. When I heard Shebib had crafted a sequel, I was imbued with a bit of healthy skepticism. That said, I was still excited to see it. I was out of town for the first two weeks of the film's theatrical run at Cineplex's flagship Toronto venue, the Varsity Cinema. When I returned during the film's third week of release, I hightailed it down to the Varsity (not bothering to check the showtimes as is my wont) and was shocked (genuinely) that it wasn't playing. I quickly accessed my iPhone movie listings and was even more distressed that the movie, at least for that evening, was playing absolutely nowhere in Toronto. There was, however, one lone screening the following evening at the Royal cinema, everyone's favourite indie venue in Little Italy. What shocked me even more was that Barbara Willis Sweete's film adaptation of Billy Bishop Goes To War was the other film playing at the Royal the same evening - first run and ENDING!!!

Okay, my fault for being out of town, I guess. Excuse me all to hell for expecting movies with a reasonable pedigree by Canadian standards were (a) not available on any Cineplex screen in the country's largest city and that (b) they were both ending.

No matter, I sashayed on down the next night to The Royal. I really enjoyed Billy Bishop. I first experienced it as a kid in Winnipeg when John Gray and Eric Peterson presented the play at the Manitoba Theatre Centre's Warehouse venue. I loved it then and was delighted to see a film that preserved its theatrical roots. My first thought was, "Hmmm, there are wads upon wads of people my age and older who love this play ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY. This would have been a perfect film to platform wide in the Front Row Centre Events that Cineplex has been exploiting in big cities and beyond." I played out a release pattern for the film in my mind whilst waiting for the Shebib to begin unspooling at the Royal: Coast-to-coast, hugely hyped one-or-two-shot screenings of the film at the premium Front Row Centre prices. You'd have to blow a decent whack o' dough on advertising, BUT, with the same kind of thought and elbow grease that USED to go into marketing ANY movies (never mind Canadian films), there would be all sorts of alternate advertising venues with far more reasonable ad rates than traditional outlets anyway. As well, there would be an inordinate number of cross-promotions and tie-ins with theatre companies and arts groups across the country. Hell, target theatre schools also - not just including private companies, or even secondary schools, but given that virtually every post-secondary institution has a theatre program, promote the picture there. In any event, my fantasy release of Billy Bishop then included regular screenings one week later in many of the same venues it played at in the Front Row Centre release. Those post-Front-Row screenings may or may not have had numbers to sustain the secondary runs that long, BUT, the important thing is that Canadians would have been able to see the movie on a BIG SCREEN in a COMMUNAL ENVIRONMENT. This, in turn, would have created a far more advantageous bed of hype and anticipation for any number of home entertainment venues.

Alas, the way in which both Billy Bishop and Shebib's sequel were released feels like home penetration was the only real goal.

Whose fault was it?

Well, I'll admit I can't be sure if the film's distributor considered the aforementioned Front Row Centre theatrical penetration idea, nor do I know if they even offered the movie to Cineplex in that format or just the good old-fashioned approach. What I can say is this. SOMEONE should have thought about it and SOMEONE should have committed to playing these and other films in this fashion. In fact, give the success of these types of special event showings in the Cineplex chain, you'd think someone there might have thought about approaching the film's distributor about mounting the films (and others) in this fashion.

Why not make Canadian Cinema an EVENT - to be cherished, celebrated and offered to Canadian audiences within the context of this specialized approach?

Here's the thing. The business has changed for the worst, but it's not impossible to reapply good old fashioned showmanship on both sides of the distribution and exhibition fence. I started my life in this business as both a writer ABOUT movies and then as a film buyer on behalf of independent exhibitors in the late 70s and early 80s. I lived through the "old ways", lamented the shift in delivery and accessibility of product and now I get absolutely livid when I see how complacent and lazy both sides have become.

Down the Road Again was an entirely different story. I loved the picture, but also conceded its theatrical appeal would be limited. Limited, yes - but there is an audience out there that would have loved to see the movie on a big screen. Part of this IS a distribution issue. However, I also think Canada's major exhibitor is shirking its place in creating a proper venue for Canadian cinema. I'm sure they'd argue that their responsibility is to their shareholders. Well, never mind Canadian movies, those shareholders are going to have very little to count on if things don't change in the exhibition industry. And yes, it IS the fault of exhibition - especially within major chains like Cineplex. They offer no real choice. Pure and simple. They rest on the laurels of whatever crap they're handed. (I live for much of the year in a remote rural area. Cineplex has a seven-screen multiplex. All the same movies are locked in there for ages. I can assure you that in the late 70s and early 80s, the small market audiences had FAR more CHOICE in what was available than they do now. And idiotically, it's not that the product is NOT there. There's tons of product. Much of it good and much of it never getting screen time. Yes, having to program and promote such product takes time and effort. Yeah? So? Do it. They call it elbow grease.

As for Canadian product, I will ultimately point an accusatory finger at Cineplex. Every major country outside of North America had or continues to have strict indigenous content quotas. Many of these countries have leaps and bounds on Canada by decades in this respect. Many of these same countries are making indigenous product that appeals to their national audiences and, in many cases, to international audiences. Much of this product isn't of the blockbuster variety, either. It often provides entertainment to niche audiences - theatrically. These audiences exist because efforts had been made in the past to ensure cultural sovereignty. These movies mostly do NOT compete with Hollywood, anyway. In fact, they enhance the viability and attraction to theatrical exhibition period.

I do not propose legislating this anyway. I frankly think it would be good for business if Cineplex undertook a major corporate responsibility in exhibiting Canadian films - EVEN IF THEY LOSE MONEY! Oh horrors! Isn't that horrible? Look, Down the Road Again needed far more marketing and promotion than it got. This is a distribution issue. That said, movies like this will NEVER find a theatrical audience if they are not out there. I personally think a movie like Shebib's sequel DEMANDED being placed in more cinemas across the country and held longer - even at a loss. Take one screen in every bloody multiplex and screen Canadian product exclusively. Take another screen in every bloody multiplex and program product of an indie nature exclusively - booking it, if necessary in a repertory style.

Cineplex is a Canadian company.

Forgive me for thinking Canada is different than our neighbours to the south. We are. We have higher literacy rates, more progressive values AND most of all, we ARE innovators. Cineplex should FORCE themselves to exhibit Canadian films - even at a loss. (I'm sure there are potential tax incentives that can be whipped up for this anyway.) Why, you say, at a loss? Because there could well be a pot at the end of the rainbow. If the product - good, bad, middle of the road - is made available on a consistent basis, audiences might eventually develop a thirst for a certain type of product that speaks to THEM. Look, it's worked everywhere else in the world - out there, beyond the confines of North America.

It was, however, legislated. I say again - why legislate? Cineplex as the most powerful exhibitor in the country should legislate it as cultural policy within their corporate mandate. They could actually become world leaders in this extraordinary move to actively build an audience. More importantly, they could take a leadership role even beyond Canadian product and offer theatrical accessibility to a far wider range of product. This, frankly, is good for Canada, good for foreign product, good for Hollywood, good for AMERICAN independents, good for cinema as the greatest artistic medium of all time and MOST IMPORTANTLY, good for the end-users, the customers, the myriad of movie lovers who have been lured away from the communal experience for many different reasons, but most of all, because of a lack of diversity in programming.

In the meantime, though, let us pause and acknowledge the true heroes of Canadian theatrical exhibition. It sure ain't Cineplex - at least until they consider getting their act together on this front. Canadian product has had a home at all my aforementioned picks for heroism accolades. Alliance Cinemas, the former AMC Theatres (now swallowed up by Cineplex Entertainment to give them a larger monopoly), Independent Canadian Exhibitors (The Royal, Revue, The Mayfair in Ottawa, The Projection Booth East and Central in Toronto, The Magic Lantern Carlton Cinemas in Toronto, The Bloor Hot Docs Theatre in Toronto, The Regina Public Library, the Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque, Canadian Film Institute, Excentris in Montreal, the Pacific Cinematheque in Vancouver, the Metro Cinema in Edmonton and all the other independent cinemas who make it their pride and joy to screen Canadian cinema). All of them regularly screen Canadian films - both first-run and second. TIFF Bell Lightbox in just over two years has displayed incredible courage and commitment to screening Canadian product theatrically. Even the tiny, fan-run Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF) screened what must be a record number of Canadian genre films (features and shorts) in 2011 and continued the tradition this year. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) also continues a leadership role in supporting Canadian film - not just with festival screenings, but such important initiatives as the Film Circuit (bringing fine cinema from Canada and the world to rural locales) and their ongoing work archiving and contributing to the restoration of Canadian cinema. Heroes deserving of special mention in the organization include Steve Gravestock who oversees all matters Canuckian, Colin Geddes who does Midnight Madness and selected whack-job stuff in other serctions and the incomparable Julie Lofthouse in the TIFF film reference Library.

Good on TIFF and all the aforementioned, but whose turn it is now? Allow me to quote directly for the Cineplex website:

"Cineplex Inc. ("Cineplex") is the largest motion picture exhibitor in Canada and owns, leases or has a joint-venture interest in 130 theatres with 1,352 screens serving approximately 70 million guests annually. Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, Cineplex operates theatres from British Columbia to Quebec and is the exclusive provider of UltraAVX™ and the largest exhibitor of digital, 3D and IMAX projection technologies in the country. Proudly Canadian and with a workforce of approximately 10,000 employees, the company operates the following top tier brands: Cineplex Odeon, Galaxy, Famous Players, Colossus, Coliseum, SilverCity, Cinema City and Scotiabank Theatres. Cineplex shares trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) under the symbol "CGX"."

Great! Let's see some of the real leadership and innovation that makes so many Canadians proud of Canada. Cineplex declares they're "Proudly Canadian". Great. Let's see it. For real.

Friday 26 October 2012


Children of the Dark, one of 3 SUPERB SHORT FILMS at THE TORONTO AFTER DARK FILM FESTIVAL 2012Reviewed By Greg Klymkiw

The Captured Bird (2012) ***
dir. Jovanka Vuckovic

Review By Greg Klymkiw

This high profile short,the directorial debut of “Rue Morgue” magazine’s former kick-butt editor Jovanka Vuckovic, features magnificent special effects from ace animatronics effects designer/supervisor Paul Jones (Silent Hill, INVASION [AKA Top of the Food Chain], Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Afterlife and Retribution) and brilliant cinematography by Karim Hussein (Subconscious Cruelty, Hobo With A Shotgun and Antiviral), Vuckovic delivers a delicious bonbon du cinema in spades. This grotesque taste-treat wherein a little girl's chalk drawing opens a door into a world of horrifying creatures suggests we can look forward to more chilling work from the clearly talented Vuckovic ("Rue Morgue's" loss, but in an odd way, their gain, since they'll have plenty of output from their former editor to actually write about over the next few decades.)

Frost (2012) ***
dir. Jeremy Ball

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A fine Canadian short drama directed by Jeremy Ball that expertly tells a haunting, mysterious tale against the backdrop of Canada's northern aboriginal peoples. This story of a young woman confronting a terrifying spiritual presence linked to her ancestry is blessed with a subtle apocalyptic subtext as well as narrative elements dealing with both quest and familial acceptance. It's super creepy AND it's actually ABOUT something - both of which go a long way to remove the ever-so faint whiff of "calling card" that wafts gently from it.

Children of the Dark (2012) ****
dir. Scott Belyea

Review By Greg Klymkiw

WOW! This is a deeply moving post-apocalyptic thriller with superb production value, gorgeous photography and the most impressive mise-en-scene I've encountered in a genre short in some time. Programmed at Toronto After Dark to precede the feature film Citadel, I somehow repressed the idea I was watching a short film and actually thought I was seeing Ciaran Foy's film. When Children of the Dark drew to its haunting, breathtaking close I was gobsmacked. I was so into the emotional layers of this movie - it's genuinely more mature than many genre shorts (and features for that matter) - that I was mildly disappointed it had to end. Exploring a world gone awry through the eyes of children can so easily fall into cliche. Belyea's film doesn't at all. It's mixture of that which is horrifying, sad and deeply truthful. It even suggests we might eventually see a feature from this filmmaker that is imbued with the qualities of Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, Rene Clement's Forbidden Games or Louis Malle's Au Revoir Les Enfants. A tall order, but this short is THAT terrific. Whether in wartime or a dystopian near-future, the role of children is one that requires taste, delicacy and an unerring eye for human behaviour. If children are our hope amidst a world without any shred of it, then their stories must retain humanism without sliding into soap opera. In fact, their desire for hope and connection, as exemplified in Belyea's work, does that astounding double duty of being as profoundly moving as it is deeply, disturbingly dark. By the way, though disappointed it was over when it was, I must stress that the short has a perfect ending. It's certainly not the filmmaker's fault that his movie was so good I forgot where I was while watching it. Happily, Citadel proved to be a contemporary masterpiece. Belyea's short, in retrospect and within the context of Citadel, also provided a great evening at the movies - a great appetizer to the main course.(And dessert, available, at the TAD pub night afterwards.) Perfect short. Perfect feature. Perfect programming. Perfect festival. Bravo all round!

Thursday 25 October 2012

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF 2012)

WTF!!! Is it possible - even remotely - for a movie called "UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING" to actually be… uh, well, uh… good? Maybe even, like, a bit… uh, better ? Than good? Another WTF: Dolph Lundgren is, uh, great in this picture! No, really. Genuinely great! Yeah. Dolph Lundgren. No kidding. He's WTF-ing amazing!

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)  *** + 1 Pubic Hair
dir. John Hyams
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Scott Adkins, Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Let's imagine a slightly different career trajectory for David Lynch. Supposing Lynch, after making Eraserhead, was NOT approached by Mel Brooks to make the moving and harrowing The Elephant Man. Let's imagine he was instead approached by Golan-Globus to direct an action picture. If this had happened, I suspect it might have been a lot like Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.

As directed by John Hyams (son of stalwart hack Peter Hyams, director of a crapload of super-entertaining movies like Outland, Capricorn One and my personal favourite, The Relic), this fourth official instalment in the action early 90s franchise is completely and utterly insane. First unleashed in 1992 by Roland (he of little brain, but occasional filmmaking chutzpah like Independence Day) Emmerich, Universal Soldier was an idiotic, but supremely well made and entertaining SF action thriller featuring an army of killing machines who died in battle, but were revived almost Frankenstein-like to kick mega-butt. I can only vaguely remember the picture other than the fact that I'm pretty sure I enjoyed it.

Watching this John Hyams reboot, I have to admit my memories of Emmerich's original film became even more vague. This is the reboot to end all reboots. It's that good! (And don't ask me about the sequels, because I can't even remember if I saw them or not and I'm too lazy to check my archives.)

Here, Hyams introduces a fresh Universal Soldier played by Scott Adkins. Forced to witness the execution of his wife and child he's beaten so severely that he spends several weeks in a coma. When he comes to, all he can remember is the tragic occurrence and believe you me, he is hell bent on revenge.

Continually haunted and taunted by the face of his family's killer, Adkins embarks upon an odyssey of payback. He's pursued by the killer and pretty much everyone else who has a speaking part in the movie.

A parallel story, involving Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren deals with the fascistic efforts of the universal soldiers to create their own self-ruled para-military elite. Lundgren, now craggy faced and lined with age, is an especially zealous orator and we're blessed with a few moments where Hyams shoots him a la Riefenstahl's cinematic deification of Hitler in Triumph of the Will (and which Roger Corman aped brilliantly when he focused upon William Shatner's white supremacist in 1962's The Intruder).

We're murkily, but mysteriously yanked in and out of scenarios that may or may not be dreams and all throughout, we are treated to one magnificent action set piece after another.

Hyams breathlessly directs the action with the assured hand of a master - no mere competent hack, Hyams seems poised to become a huge international talent. The choreography, the fine sense of geography, his faith in nicely composed shots that hold long enough to deliver vital story information (as each shot is a genuine dramatic beat) and to allow full, clear exploitation of the carnage all contribute to the impression that he's the real thing and then some.

The movie keeps slipping in and out of the brain damage suffered by Adkins character and at times we're plunged into a crazed borderline nightmare-scape reminiscent of the kind Lynch crafted in so many films from Blue Velvet to Mulholland Drive. As well, Hyams's application of a vaguely Bunuelian mise-en-scene is what aims this instalment of Universal Soldier into a whole new and exciting direction.

The bottom line is this - Hyams has crafted one of the most bravura action pictures of the year and if the narrative is ultimately less complex and/or even clear than it should be, Hyams's directorial aplomb covers all that up very nicely.

Most of all, though, with this picture and his work in the new Expendables action franchise, Dolph Lundgren seems to have come nicely into his own after so many roles in so many ho-hum action pictures. There's a lot to be said for getting old in all the right ways. Somehow, the hard miles etched onto his mug and a renewed spark in his line delivery makes Lundgren an exciting NEW force to be reckoned with.

"Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning" was unleashed at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012. Visit the website HERE.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

CITADEL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF 2012)

CITADEL: The fears of the disenfranchised (which indeed could be all our fears) drive this creepy and terrifying dystopian shocker .

Citadel (2012) ****
dir. Ciaran Foy
Starring: Aneurin Barnard, Wunmi Mosaku, James Cosmo, Jake Wilson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I always wondered if I would be able to offer safety and protection to those I love if confronted with the need to choose physical violence. Being an ex-cop/ex-athlete's son, I received plenty of dirty pugilistic tactics in those halcyon days when folks didn't bat an eye over playground scuffles. I eventually put Dad's counsel to use on a particularly vile bully. It worked so well that my opponent's face was exquisitely rearranged and from that point on, nobody, I mean NOBODY, ever bothered me again. I knew I was able to employ similar techniques if it ever happened again and went through life with no worries. But that's ME. What could/would happen if I needed to protect someone else? Could/would I be able to do it again? Would it be different? Worse yet, what if I was not able to deliver the goods? That's very scary. That, I can assure you.

This is a key element permeating Ciaran Foy's stunning feature film Citadel.

As an adult, I encountered an especially dangerous situation. Some time ago, after an extended sojourn across the Atlantic, I returned to discover my apartment had been burgled. It was an easy place to burgle, but unexpected since my beloved and I lived in a "protected" building. Bikers and dealers lived there and as such, was one of the safest places for anyone to live (save for the potential of being caught in crossfire which, thankfully, never happened).

But, burgled we most certainly were. The immediate concern was twofold. Whoever did it wasn't especially concerned about the "protected" aspect of the building and might well have been completely insane (we lived round the corner from an outpatient clinic specializing in emotionally-challenged mental defectives) or worse, the perp was a junkie (most of whom wouldn't be desperate enough to hit a "protected" domicile). This was someone who simply didn't give a rat's ass. They must be feared at all costs. One must be prepared to do whatever it takes to stop them in their tracks.

Secondly, I was sure the psycho would return.

Each night I'd rest easy with a baseball bat beside me and sure enough, soon after the burglary and in the pitch of black, I heard a huge crashing sound. Lo and behold, a dark figure stood at the foot of the bed. Springing into action, I grabbed the bat and threatened to crush the whacko's noggin like a watermelon. As quickly as he appeared, he disappeared.

A funny thing happened after this incident. My initial exhilaration immediately transformed into complete and total terror when thoughts of what could have happened had I remained asleep or if, God forbid I tussled with the fucker and screwed up. And here's the rub - my fear had nothing to do with what could have happened to me. It had everything to do with what might have happened to my wife. Scenarios danced through my brain and I became so paralyzed with fear that I insisted we move in with friends until we could pack up and move as pronto as possible.

The worry and fear I experienced over this has only multiplied exponentially now that I'm a father. Could I? Would I? Damn straight! I'd be a take-no-prisoners pit bull if either my wife or daughter needed my protection. No fear in that at all. It's the other fear, the one that cuts deep. That's the fear none of us want to feel.

The greatest fear, they say, is fear itself and now, my fear boils down to this: What if I failed to protect? What would the consequences be? Not to me, per se - I don't give a shit about ME, I care only about protecting those I love.

How would this fear transform itself in the aftermath of FAILURE to deliver protection?

These are very real things we all, to varying degrees, must deal with.

They also happen to be the very things that drive Citadel, one of the best films of the year.

Cinema, and in particular those films which are rooted in genre can actually work as first-rate entertainment or top-drawer roller coaster rides, but are magnified a thousandfold when they're rooted in themes and actions that come from very real places. This is something that Val Lewton knew very well. He was the first person within Hollywood's mainstream studio system to tell real stories, about real people with real fears - all against the backdrop of genre pictures designed to bring much-needed returns into a near-bankrupt studio.

This bold move on Lewton's part changed genre films forever. He was the great 40s producer who ran RKO's horror division in the wake of two debilitating financial disasters (surprisingly, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Andersons), but he did it in ways that his bosses and the rest of the industry would have been appalled by - if they actually realized what he was doing and if his gamble did NOT pay off as handsomely as it did with films like The Cat People (marital strife), The Curse of the Cat People (loneliness and introversion amongst children), The 7th Victim (the danger of cults and those most susceptible to them) and, among others, I Walked With a Zombie (mental illness).

Lewton believed that what really scared people were those things they had to deal with everyday. He believed in doing this above all - setting wheels of reality in motion against a fantastical backdrop which yielded a much better chance of scoring at the box office. Without Lewton, one wonders if we'd have ever seen similar approaches to storytelling on the screen that have all become classics of both genre and cinema as a whole.

In The Exorcist, Demon Pazuzu's shenanigans (which included grotesque head-spinning, crucifix-as-dildo-masturbatory-action and green pea vomit expulsion), were preceded by an hour of screen time devoted to the creepy and increasingly painful poking and prodding of a 12-year-old girl by members of the medical profession. As realized by director William Friedkin, the cold and clinical approach to healing by inflicting the extremes of scientific exploration turn out to be equally harrowing as the grotesqueries of the Devil.

Robert Wise's The Haunting and Jack Clayton's The Innocents followed in Lewton's footsteps to explore mental illness within the context of seemingly straight-up ghost stories and, lest we forget, Nicholas Roeg's extraordinary Don't Look Now which begins with a child's accidental death, moves through to parental grief and eventually into territory of the most horrific kind.

With the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the increased likelihood of apocalypse as America ramps up its greedy desire to control oil in the name of fighting terrorism and the obvious New World Order desire to cull the world's population, we are living in dangerous times. So much so that writer/director Ciaran Foy wisely places Citadel, his dystopian tale of horror in the same footsteps forged by Lewton.

Foy's picture is, first and foremost, a film about crashing, numbing, unrelenting fear. It is a palpable fear that's brought on when the film's young protagonist watches - not once, but twice - as those he loves are brutalized and/or snatched away from him. His fear intensifies so unremittingly, with such grim realism, that we're placed directly in the eye of the storm that is his constant state of terror.

Contributing greatly here is lead actor Aneurin Barnard as the young father Tommy. He delivers a performance so haunting, it's unlikely audiences will ever shake the full impact of what he achieves. Off the top of my head, I can think of very few (if any) scenes he is not in. We follow his story solely from his sphere and given that the character is almost always in a state of intense apprehension, the whole affair could have been utterly unbearable. Thankfully, he breathes such humanity into the role that we not only side with him, but I frankly defy anyone to NOT see themselves (or at least aspects of who they are and what they feel) within this indelibly wrought character.

As the film progresses, Tommy lives alone in a desolate housing project - a single father alone with his baby. On the few occasions he must leave the house and enter a world of emptiness, squalor, constantly grey skies and interiors lit under harsh fluorescents, his head is down, his eyes only occasionally looking around for potential danger and/or to literally see where he is walking (or rather, scurrying to). Just as Tommy is constantly in a state of terror - so, stunningly, are we.

There are seldom any points in the proceedings when we feel "safe" and when an occasional moment of warmth creeps into Tommy's existence, the effect is like finding an oasis in the Sahara. Unfortunately (and brilliantly), Foy's screenplay doesn't allow safe harbour for too long. Dramatically, we're almost constantly assaulted with natural story beats that yank us from our (and Tommy's) ever-so brief moments of repose.

Tranquility is a luxury and Foy fashions a living hell plunges both the audience and Tommy into the here and now as opposed to a very near future. Citadel sadly reflects a reality that pretty much exists on many streets in every city of the world. This is an increasing reality of contemporary existence and like all great science fiction, the film's dystopian vision acts as a wakeup call that hopefully will touch many beyond the converted.

Things must change, or this is what more and more of us will be experiencing. We can, like Tommy does for a good part of the film, shove our heads, ostrich-like into the false safety offered under the sand, but sooner or later we/he will be ripped out of the temporary "safety" of darkness to face two distinct realities: the horror of the world and even worse, the horror of his/our own fear and cowardice. Neither are happy prospects to be emblazoned upon anyone's hearts and minds when the meeting of one's maker is not far behind.

Tommy will have to make the right decision. He'll need to become proactive in finding his inner strength to fight for what is right. The options are black and white. Fight and die trying or, just die.

Now, before you think I'm completely suggesting the film is more starkly depressing than Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light, first remember that this is, indeed a horror film and Foy jangles our nerves with the panache of a master. Have no doubts going in - this movie will scare the living bejesus out of you. It is, on that level, one hell of a ride.

The other happy element at play is a character Foy creates that is rendered by the phenomenal actor James Cosmo. Now if you thought Gene Hackman was suitably two-fisted as the stalwart man of the cloth in Ronald Neame's The Poseidon Adventure, he is, in the parlance of louts the world over, a "pussy" compared to Cosmo. Cosmo plays the most mentally unbalanced, kick-ass, foul-mouthed priest I've seen on film in some time - possibly of ALL time.

The Good Father knows the score, and then some. To paraphrase the tagline from the delightfully ludicrous Stallone cop picture Cobra: Fear's a disease. The Good Father is the CURE!!! The few people left of good character in this world of empty, battle torn housing projects rife with crime, all believe Father Cosmo is completely off his rocker. The Good Father's unnamed in the film, but in honour of Cosmo's stellar performance, I'm naming him - at least for the purposes of this written response to Foy's remarkable film.

Father Cosmo adds one extremely salient detail to Foy's film - humour. Great genre pictures always have some element of humour - not of the tongue and cheek variety, but the kind that's rooted in the central dramatic action of the narrative.

The other great thing about Father Cosmo is his Faith - and believe me, it's not necessarily residing in honour of the God of Abraham.

Father Cosmo really only has faith in one thing amidst the dark dystopian days - survival. At first, Tommy is intimidated by the curmudgeonly bonkers priest, but over time, it becomes obvious this slightly fallen Man o' God is the only one who makes sense. Something is rotten to the core and Father Cosmo has a plan to root out the pestilence.

You see, there is an infection.

Have I mentioned the infection yet?



I'll let you discover it yourself.

As my regular readers are aware, I do everything in my power to know as little about a movie before I see it. I was so happy to know NOTHING about this movie prior to seeing it save for the title. The fact that I saw it at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival was also, by osmosis, a bit of a giveaway since this stellar event's programmers are delectably twisted sick puppies.

That said, I knew nothing - just as I hope YOU will keep things before seeing Citadel. The script, as well written as it is, hit a few (perfectly acceptable) marks that telegraphed a handful of items to me (and no doubt to a select few others), so there is little gained in pointing in their direction. In spite of this, I was quite unprepared for the full, heart-stopping, scream-inducing (yes, I screamed like some old grandmother), vomit-inspiring, drawer-filling (with, of course, your excretion of choice - I demurely keep mine to myself) and a flat-out dizzying, jack-hammeringly appalling climax of pure, sickening, unadulterated terror.

This is one mighty mo-fo of a scary-ass picture. The mise-en-scene is dazzling and the tale is rooted in both a humanity and reality that will wallop close to home for so many. There's nary a misstep in any of the performances and as the movie inches, like Col. Walter E. Kurtz's "snail crawling along the edge of a straight razor", Foy plunges us into an abyss at the top of the stairs.

In Apocalypse Now, Kurtz summed up the image of the snail on the straight razor thusly: "That's my dream!"

Frankly, Citadel is MY dream of one great horror movie.

Fuck it! It's no dream.

Citadel is a bloody nightmare!

"Citadel" was recently unleashed at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF 2012). Visit the festival website HERE. "Citadel" is currently slated for theatrical release in Canada on November 16 via the best distributor in the country, Mongrel Media. If you missed it at TADFF 2012, you have no excuse to miss it now. It must be seen on a big screen with an audience. Though certain, shall we say, odours, will be palpable in the auditorium, it will be well worth it.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES -Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF 2012)

Is that really Pussy Galore holding an automatic weapon? Indeed it is. Honor Blackman makes this  dull, derivative zombie comedy ALMOST watchable. 

Cockneys VS. Zombies (2012)
dir. Matthias Hoene
Starring: Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Harry Treadaway, Rasmus Hardiker, Michelle Ryan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

God knows I love a good horror picture, but I'm getting so tired of zombie movies that when something like Cockneys VS. Zombies comes along, I almost never want to see a zombie movie ever again. The title was almost enough to tell me what I'd be in for, though, as a lover of genre fare, I filed away my preconceptions and prostrated myself before it, waiting to see if the picture's celluloid schwance would connect with my prostate gland in a pleasing manner.

Alas, the picture missed its target altogether. Sitting through the movie created nasty fissures requiring healthy applications of Anusol. So slight, so lacking in the laughs it promised (save for an overabundance of hoary gags and lines not even worthy of a "Carry On" picture) and finally, a horror-comedy so ludicrously replete with carnage, but nary a single decent scare, I scratched my noggin, gouging gaping holes in my scalp to ascertain why the audience I saw it with were guffawing and slapping their collective knees so heartily.

Cockneys VS. Zombies is little more than Shaun of the Dead, but dwelling in a sewer several notches below.

A handful of bumbling bank robbers (wanh-waaannnhhh) in the East End of London, score a humungous sum of cash to help their Grandfather relocate to a decent retirement home since mega-development will be swallowing up his beloved domicile. The old fart is to be placed in some squalid public digs out in the middle of nowhere - hardly suitable quarters for a crusty, curmudgeonly war veteran.

Of course, the bumblers are not hardened criminals. They're doing a good deed, so we're supposed to empathize with them. When some bonehead construction workers release a whole army of the living dead upon the east end of London (a symbol, no doubt, of what havoc gentrification can wreak), our heroes manage to get away sans police interference, but instead must kick zombie ass to keep the money and their otherwise worthless lives.

Eventually, they band together with the seniors who turn out to be amazing zombie whackers. The sight of a Geritol-imbibing Honor Blackman blasting the heads off zombies with an automatic assault rifle is not without merit. And yes, it is indeed THAT Honor Blackman - "Pussy Galore" from Goldfinger.

There was probably a good picture buried in here somewhere, but everything is played out so clumsily and at such a high pitch, that the whole experience is merely exhausting. The proceedings clod-hop about by rote with an annoyingly jaunty manner that nothing ever manages to surprise us at any turn.

It's great seeing Honor Blackman on a big screen again. She not only kills zombies, but turns on the old "Pussy Galore" charm to elevate her to maximum GMILF levels. Alan Ford as Grandad also delivers a solid piss and vinegar performance and there are moments of mild entertainment when he puts his war-mongering prowess to good use.

These are, however, meagre delights. They make one wish for a better movie to see both of these great actors strut their stuff in. For now, though, all those with crushes on Honor Blackman who possess a GMILF fetish, please lineup for Cockneys VS. Zombies at your earliest opportunity.

"Cockneys VS. Zombies" played at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF 2012). For further info, please visit the festival website HERE.

Monday 22 October 2012

DOOMSDAY BOOK - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF 2012)

3 Apocalyptic SF visions
2 of Korea's finest directors

Doomsday Book (2012) ***
dir. Kim Jee-woon and Yim Pil-sung

“A Brave New World” ***
“Heavenly Creature” ****
“Happy Birthday” **

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The omnibus film, the portmanteau if you will, or, if you're not fond of a cool monicker for this interesting genre, the anthology film, can be a mixed blessing as it's comprised of several short stories linked by theme and for a variety of reasons, not all of them are going to be as good as some, while others can be downright dreadful.

Seeing short films - one after another - can often be downright exhausting. This is always a problem at film festivals that present short film programs or, for that matter, short film festivals period. You watch a film. Let's say it's terrific. It runs an intense 15 or so minutes. As soon as it ends, no matter how thematically linked the overall program is, you need to reboot yourself and get into a whole new headspace for a whole new story. Sometimes, you see a short and it's so damn good that anything that follows it is, even if it's genuinely good also, can actually pale in comparison. It's the tough-act-to-follow syndrome. Shorts worked in the old days of film exhibition because there was always a variety of programming - two feature films, a short "drama", a short "musical", a cartoon, a newsreel and, of course, previews of coming attraction. These days, a perfect place for one short is just before a feature and ideally, shorts - in and of themselves - are best viewed with breaks between theml

Watching shorts within the context of a feature is just as difficult, if not more so. When you watch a feature, there's the expectation of following one set of characters through one primary narrative thread, but within an omnibus feature, its makers have to construct an overall arc with several separate stories.

The best features of this variety tend to be linked with a wraparound story. A simple example is the 70s Amicus production of Asylum. Directed by the famous cinematographer Roy Ward Baker, the story begins with a young psychiatrist being interviewed for a job in an asylum. He's given a test - interview several inmates and render a series of diagnoses. He visits each inmate and they each have a horrific story to tell. Through the film, we follow the psychiatrist. What will he discover? Will he get the job? Or, will this job interview unexpectedly culminate in something as horrific as the tales told to him. Along with several films made during this period, it's a corker of a tale and one fine example of how an omnibus film should work.

One of the best omnibus items is the classic 1945 Dead of Night. The whole picture is wonderful, BUT, one story involving a ventriloquist and his dummy is so brilliant, so expertly performed by Michael Redgrave, one leaves the theatre thinking only about the one story. Everything else, admittedly fine, falls by the wayside.

Thematic omnibus films are much trickier to pull off and frankly, I don't think any of them work perfectly. Cristian Mungiu's Tales from the Golden Age works best in recent memory as it's tied into a specific historical period and we get to experience a number of recurring incidents and character types within the context of the whole. Mungiu also crafts the tales to provide an overall arc.

The new Korean film Doomsday Book is a thematic omnibus film in the science fiction genre. Focusing upon apocalyptic visions, it's a very mixed bag since it begins with a solid story, dovetails into a genuinely great story and ends with a mildly engaging, but in comparison to the middle story, the feature's crowning glory is anything but.

All this said, the film is worth seeing. The first story, “A Brave New World”, is a darkly humorous and terrifying tale of a zombie epidemic. We follow a central character, a sort of nebbish type who's browbeaten by his domineering mother and his search for love. He unwittingly is responsible for a deadly virus and we chart its growth along with his own tale of emancipation and finding love. It's an entertaining bauble and it sets us up for what we believe will be a terrific overall experience.

The second tale, “Heavenly Creature”, is so powerful, so emotional and so profoundly moving, that the first film is almost erased from our memory banks. It's a simple evocative tale of a robot that develops feelings. We chart the robot's journey to a high form of spiritual enlightenment and the eventual distrust amongst extremists that such a "machine" will be a threat to humanity.

The final tale, “Happy Birthday” is a chaotic, stylistic mess about a family sniping at each other in a fallout shelter during armageddon. It's overwrought and not especially funny. Most of all, it's positioning at the end of the portmanteau is a big disappointment as it comes close to tainting the sublime qualities of the middle tale.

I suspect, on the whole, Doomsday Book might - even with this disappointing final story - have worked so much better with a solid wraparound story instead of placing so much faith in theme to tie it together.

Once the film hits DVD, I highly suggest turning the player off just after the middle tale. Better yet, though the first story is not without merit, you might be better off making use of the menu screen to select the first two stories and watch them, if possible, as separate entities.

Speaking of shorts, Doomsday Book during its TADFF 2012 presentation was preceded by Frost, a fine Canadian short drama directed by Jeremy Ball that expertly told a haunting, mysterious tale against the backdrop of Canada's northern aboriginal peoples. This story of a young woman confronting a terrifying spiritual presence linked to her ancestry had enough of a subtle apocalyptic subtext as well as narrative elements dealing with both quest and familial acceptance that made it fit perfectly into the Doomsday Book omnibus. I should have left after “Heavenly Creature”. In retrospect, Ball's short and the first two shorts in Doomsday Book made for an excellent feature film.

"Doomsday Book" screened as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF 2012). For further info, feel free to visit the festival's website HERE.

Sunday 21 October 2012

AMERICAN MARY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF 2012)

The Soska Twins present the Canadian Premiere of their creepy, stunningly directed and viciously dark-humoured psychological thriller AMERICAN MARY at Toronto After Dark (TADFF 2012).

American Mary **** (2012)
dir. Soska Twins: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Tristan Risk, Antonio Cupo, David Lovgren

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The scalpel enters a full, fleshy breast and delicately, almost sensually circles the areola's entirety whilst blood oozes out, the surgeon's fingers gently tracing her handiwork.

Both nipples are eventually removed.

The next procedure involves surgically removing all physical receptors of pubic ecstasy and stitching shut the vagina of the aforementioned nipple-bereft body, save, of course, for the smallest allowable opening for the expulsion of urine.

The surgeon is spent, stunned, but satisfied - secure in the knowledge that her first stab (so to speak) at body modification is a success. The client eventually expresses sheer joy over her all-new sexually adhedonic state; how perfectly she's been able to fulfil her own personal essence of womanhood via the excision of those physical extremities which alternately offer enticement and pleasure. Whatever you say, babe. In the words of Marlo Thomas: "Free to be you and me."

Can movies possibly get any better than this?

Well yes, they most certainly can and do, but it doesn't change the fact that American Mary is a dazzlingly audacious sophomore effort from the Vancouver-based twisted twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska (who made a promising debut with their micro-budgeted 2009 effort Dead Hooker in a Trunk).

With this new picture, the sisters are on (at least for some, if not many) shaky moral ground (and/or crack), but happily, they maintain the courage of their convictions and do not tread lightly upon it. There are no half-measures here to even attempt making the picture palatable to the gatekeepers of political correctness (those purported knot-headed pseudo-lefty Great Pretenders who reside just to the right of Mussolini, Stevie Harper or Mitt Romney - take your pick). I'd even vigorously argue that non-fascist PC-types will, in fact, find the picture more than palatable. The rest of us will get it, groove on it and celebrate its excellence.

This movie is some mighty nasty stuff - replete with elements of slashing satire that hack away and eventually tear open "normally" accepted versions of right and wrong whilst grasping the exposed nerve endings of morality, holding them taught and playing the jangling buggers like violin strings. The picture will provoke, anger, disgust and scandalize a multitude of audiences, though chances are good that the most offended will be those "smugly fuckling" (phrase courtesy of the late, great CanLit genius Scott Symons) aforementioned poseurs who claim to be outside the mainstream, but have their noses deeper up the rectal canals of fascists than the bloody Tea Party.

Strange as this might seem, the picture comes from a place deep in the heart, so deep that the twins don't bother ripping the pulsating muscle out, but rather, invoke the spirit that lies dormant within to deliver a surprising level of humanity to the proceedings. As far as the picture's carnage takes us we're allowed, in more than one instance to even be moved by the plight of some of the characters.

The screenplay, written by the Soska twins, is - on its surface only - a rape-revenge fantasy, but it goes so much further than that. It's a vital examination of subcultures representing people disenfranchised from the aforementioned accepted standards of human existence. In a world increasingly aspiring to the living death of homogeneity (this includes those who purport to be untouched by homogeneity), the characters will never fit any mould that represents "normalcy", no matter how hard they try.

Within the world of the film, those who refuse to conform (not because it's "cool" to do so, but because they simply cannot conform) seek avenues that will fulfil their basic needs as human beings, no matter how strange or repellent a majority finds them.

The tale told involves Mary (Katharine Isabelle), a med student struggling under the crushing weight of ever-mounting debt and the constant psychological abuse from her mentor Dr. Grant (David Lovgren), the chief professor of surgery - a field of practice she longs to serve in. In desperation, Mary scours the "adult services" want ads and is drawn to one with keen interest. Under the cloak of night she arrives at a nondescript warehouse in an industrial park that emits the thumping bass of dance music, a neon sign promising sensual delights and a burly doorman who immediately allows her entrance - as he clearly does to any babe seeking admittance.

Mary meets with the charmingly sleazy proprietor Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo) who scoffs a bit when she hands him her resume. The only pre-requisites to work in his club are a good overall "package" (which he discovers after telling her to strip to her undies and show-off her gorgeous body), an ability to deliver a fine massage (as she ably proves with her nimble surgeon's fingers) and a willingness to suck him off with skill and abandon (which, she sadly never gets to do). The job interview is interrupted with news that all is not well in another part of the club. Knowing Mary is a med student specializing in surgery, Billy asks her to join him.

In a dank, dungeon-like room within the club's bowels, Mary's eyes widen at a gruesome sight - nothing to phase a surgeon, but the context would be, at least initially, pretty bizarre to anyone - even her. Whatever goes on in this room, has gone seriously awry and as luck would have it, Mary is just what the, shall we say, doctor, has ordered.

For a wad of pure, hard, cold cash - the likes of which she's never held in her hands, Mary agrees to perform some illicit surgical magic which will not only make a wrong right, but provide a much needed service beyond simple lifesaving. The subject, twitching and bleeding on the filthy table, will most definitely require saving, but the painful manner in which he will be saved will provide him with added ecstasy.

Soon Mary is in demand amongst the body modification subculture who troll about the same underbelly as those who work and patronize the club (in addition to the genuine underground activities involving extreme masochistic indulgence - no healthy, mutually consenting BDSM here - this is a place where people go to be maimed, hurt and tortured).

The other subculture portrayed is that of the surgeons themselves. The Soskas create a creepy old boys club where the power of slicing into live human beings has engendered a world of ritual abuse. In the worlds of body modification and masochistic gymnatics, the subjects are ASKING for it. Not so within the perverse world of the surgeons. They use psychological abuse to break down their victims, then administer kindness and fellowship to lure them, then once their quarry is in their clutches, they use deception of the most cowardly, heinous variety to fulfil their desire to inflict sexual domination.

The body modifiers and masochists are pussycats compared to the surgeons who are portrayed as little more than pure exploiters. Their air of respectability as healers and academia is the weapon they use to commit violence and perpetrate subjugation.

Someone's gonna pay. Bigtime.

So, I'm sure you've already gathered that American Mary is not (Thank Christ!) Forrest Gump. We're bathing in the cinematic blood spilled into the tub that is this movie by the insanely imaginative Soska Twins - clearly the spawn of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Elizabeth Bathory with, perhaps, some errant seed from Alfred Hitchcock or William Friedkin.

One of the extraordinary things about American Mary is that it dives headlong into a number of subcultures, which, even if they've been completely and utterly pulled out of the Soska Sisters' respective Autoroutes de Hershey, they feel like genuinely real worlds. The locations, production design, art direction, set dressing and costume design for the various interior and exterior settings look lived in and completely appropriate to the scenes in which they appear.

Even the curse of most lower-budgeted Canadian films - that notorious lack-of-dollars underpopulation - is not especially egregious as some Canuck pictures since many of the settings demand it, while others are appropriately framed (most of the time) to mask it. As well, the Soska Sisters generally have a good eye for composing shots that provide maximum dramatic impact and the lighting and cutting is always appropriate to the dramatic action rather than calling attention to itself.

The performances are generally first rate and the background performers always look 100% right for the scenes. The fine acting, coupled with a script packed with dialogue that's always in keeping with both character and milieu rather than going out of its way to be overtly clever, also contributes to the overall sense that we're wandering through very real, albeit completely, utterly insane worlds. This is also not to say the film is bereft of stylish visual touches, but they're again used for dramatic effect rather than the annoying curse so many younger filmmakers suffer when they abandon narrative (or even dream) logic to say, "Look Ma, I can use a dolly." And believe me, when a shot and/or cut NEEDS to knock the wind out of us, it happens with considerable aplomb.

What sells the film is the world the Soska Sisters create. It's seldom obvious and more often than not we believe it - or at least want to. In many ways, the film is similar to the great early work of Walter Hill (pretty much anything from The Warriors to Streets of Fire) wherein he created worlds that probably could ONLY exist on film, but within the context of the respective pictures, seldom felt less than "real". (That said, Hill was ALWAYS showy, but he knew how to make it intrinsic to the dramatic action.) This makes a lot of sense, since it always feels like the Soska Twins are making movies wherein those worlds that exist realistically on-screen, but furthermore evoke a feeling that the film has been wrought in a much different (and probably better) age than ours.

Dead Hooker in a Trunk and especially American Mary, seem to exist on a parallel plane to those halcyon days of 70s/80s edginess reflected in the Amos Poe New York "No Wave" - not to mention other counter culture types who straddled the underground and the mainstream - filmmakers like Scorsese, Rafelson, Waters, Jarmusch, et al who exploded well beyond the Jim Hoberman-coined "No Wave". Their work even approaches a bit of the 80s cult sensibilities of Repo Man, Liquid Sky or even such generational crossover titles as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet) and the deranged work of more contemporary directors like Eli Roth, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino - all of whom "steal", to varying degrees, from earlier periods of film history, but use the work of previous Masters as a springboard to make the pictures all their own. (By the way, I'm not necessarily suggesting American Mary is culled from any of the aforementioned but rather, that the Soska Twins are clearly working in the same sort of exciting territory. It's especially dazzling when it's within a burgeoning stage of their development as film artists.)

A number of the cast members are truly first-rate. Katharine Isabelle as Dr. Mary has come long and far from her groundbreaking performance in the classic John Fawcett-Karen Walton werewolf picture Ginger Snaps. Here she delivers a courageous performance on a par with her turn as the cursed teen werewolf back in 2000. It's 12 years later and Isabelle has blossomed into a tremendously engaging screen personality. The camera might actually love her even more now that she's gained considerable physical maturity (and the Soska Twins have definitely used their four great eyes to work with their cinematographer Brian Pearson's additional two eyes to add to her stunning, real-woman looks). Isabelle's 12 years of toil in mainly television has given her a myriad of roles and experience, but in American Mary, her brave, deadpan (and often very funny) delivery blended with moments where the character is clearly repressing anything resembling emotion is the kind of thesping that demands more roles as terrific as this one. Please, get this woman out of Television Hell and put her on the big screen where she belongs.

Antonio Cupo as the sort-of male love interest is both sleazy and endearing (a pretty amazing double whammy). David Lovgren is suitably creepy and reptilian. Paula Lindberg as the nipple-extracted bombshell who also gets her vagina sewn shut and Tristan Risk as the body modified dancer who promotes Mary's talents far and wide, both transcend the expert makeup effects to bring their respective characters' spirits beyond the almost freakish intensity of their body modifications. And finally, no review of American Mary would be complete without a special nod to Nelson Wong who wins the alltime accolade for the scariest, creepiest, sickest, funniest rendering of a surgeon you hope NEVER to meet - even in your dreams.

American Mary is a true original. I recently had the pleasure to personally express to William Friedkin that his new film Killer Joe - in spite of how violent, scary, horrific, darkly funny, nasty and just plain vile it was - sent me out of the theatre in a state of sheer, unadulterated bouyancy. This pleased the Master, greatly. Somewhere out there in Canuckville's Lotus Land, I hope the Soska Twins realize just how utterly bouyant there own crazed, brilliant film is. And someday, I expect them to deliver one kick-ass devil-may-care Friedkin-like rollercoaster ride through hell after another.

I'm sure they'll do it.

"American Mary" had its Canadian Premiere at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF 2012) and will be released in Canada via Anchor Bay. For further info, feel free to visit the TADFF website HERE.