Wednesday 20 February 2013

SINISTER - BluRay and DVD Review By Greg Klymkiw

SINISTER occasionally feels 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, indeed 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, the central character is 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 the writer and his 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.

Hawke can't get enough of watching the horrific images. Night after night, he belts back gallons of booze and sit transfixed as a series of violent deaths are unspooled. Alas, if any of his kids watch these images, the consequences will be dire. He doesn't quite know this yet, but in the footage, what he does know is what he sees - 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, delivers one shocker after another. Sinister made me jump out of my chair on numerous occasions when I first saw it on a big screen and it held up nicely on a second viewing. Happily, there weren't too many cheap scares, but the kind that are rooted in the pure, creepy crawler horror one ultimately expects from a top-flight genre picture.

Feel free to wear a pair or two of "Depends" in case you soil yourself.

I was glad I did.

"Sinister" is now available on BluRay and DVD via Alliance Films. The stunning HD transfer makes the most out the film's colour palette - especially the eerie grain on view in the 8mm footage in contrast to the "real-life" drabness of the setting. The extra features are definitely a treat. There are two excellent commentary tracks for the main feature. The best one is definitely Scott Derrickson who adds plenty of genuinely useful bits about the filmmaking process. The interesting one is with Derrickson and his co-writer where the emphasis is on story elements as they relate to a number of practical filmmaking elements. I was finally, not convinced the script was any better, but it was interesting to hear the perspective of the writers. The deleted scenes are the usual assortment of stuff that should have been cut, though you can watch them with Derrickson's commentary which provides added insight. A couple of dull, stock featurettes are thrown in for good measure. The BluRay combo comes with a downloadable digital copy.

If you're interested in purchasing Sinister, feel free to use the direct links below and you'll also be assisting with the overall maintenance of the site itself.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

ZERO DARK THIRTY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Countdown to Oscar 2013 (Nominated Films from 2012 I Haven't Written About Until Now)


ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012) ****
dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler, Chris Pratt, James Gandolfini

Review By Greg Klymkiw

ZERO DARK THIRTY is one of the best directed films I've seen in recent years.

In painstaking and riveting detail, the movie unfurls the brave efforts of the CIA to orchestrate the assassination an unarmed man in his sleep. You know the type - a man who wasn't all that heavily guarded and lived with a whole bunch of women and children, a man who could have effortlessly been taken alive and tried as a war criminal or, for that matter, a common criminal; a man, who at least to my mind, appeared to believe in something - certainly something well beyond what most Western power-brokers believe in and finally, a man whose actions - if in fact there exists conclusive proof of his involvement in 9/11 and other criminal terrorism WITHIN widely accepted standards of jurisprudence - are not beyond what has already been committed a thousand-fold by corporate (or colonialist) imperialists who hide their money-grubbing Totalitarianism behind the tenets of democracy.

All that aside, ZERO DARK THIRTY boasts a rich and detailed screenplay by former war reporter Mark Boal that focuses upon Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA field worker who maintains a seeming passivity during her hunt for the aforementioned most hated man in the Western World.

Maya is a great character and it's great writing that generates this fascinating human being played with a skin-deep detachment by Chastain. I love the fact that we know NOTHING about her other than what we learn by her actions through the film.

This IS cinema.

Thank Christ she doesn't have a significant other. If she does, it matters little to her. Then again, Maya's actions speak louder than words - there's no way in Hell she'd let some stupid boyfriend, husband or even fuck-buddy get in the way of her work.

Does she, perchance, have a mother or father? Do they love her? Did they beat her? Did they chain her up in a basement cold storage locker? Did Momma look the other way when Daddy paid special visits to Maya's bedroom? Did they force her to worship on Sundays? I have no idea and I'm eternally grateful to Boal and Bigelow that they didn't bore the fuck out of me with any such nonsense.

Besides, what's cool about her - REALLY cool - is that as written and acted, Maya's passivity is deceiving. Beneath the calm and even her initial doubts about utilizing torture to gain needed information, Maya is only passive on the surface.

Just below the downy white flesh of Ms. Chastain is a roiling, scheming and extremely intense young woman who is not only formidably active, but ultimately instrumental in successfully pursuing her quarry. It's a great role that could only be tackled by the very best of actresses (which Chastain most certainly is).

That said, I must confess to you my odd fantasy involving either Kate Hepburn or Roz Russell in this part - somehow ported from their early years through a stitch in time to take on the Maya role.

But, I digress.

Chastain's genuinely great!

She is. of course, bouyed beautifully by Kathryn Bigelow's dazzling direction. The Academy Award winning director always has the camera in the right place, the right time and with the right composition. This is a good thing when you're making any movie, but especially one set against torture, espionage and war. Most contemporary directors haven't grasped the idea of using CLASSICAL movie making as the springboard into dangerous and exciting cinematic territory. This, of course, is because most of them are no good. Not so with Bigelow. She tackles the narrative with all skill and artistry great filmmakers possess.

Basically, what we've got in ZERO DARK THIRTY is a story we all know the ending to.

Ah, but even familiar tales are always worth telling when both the perspective and the ride itself are as unique and thrilling as Bigelow's work here proves to be. Frankly, while I appreciated her work in THE HURT LOCKER, it's not a film I found especially engaging. Until ZERO DARK THIRTY, my favourite Bigelow remained her unrelentingly terrifying vampire thriller NEAR DARK. Her command of the medium and a deft touch with generating suspense in that picture are finally (and genuinely) surpassed here. ZERO DARK THIRTY is a film that finally even manages to overtake the Grandfather of all movies we knew the ending to before seeing it (and where IT made NO difference at all).

Fred Zinnemann's 70s classic thriller, a film adaptation of Frederick Forsyth's best-selling book The Day of the Jackal follows a failed assassination attempt upon French President Charles de Gaulle. It's a cooly detached portrait of a hired killer pursuing his quarry and a cop pursuing HIS quarry, the hired killer. Though we knew de Gaulle survived all attempts on his life, Zinnemann's meticulous direction rendered a chilling and suspenseful motion picture experience (that holds up to this very day). Like Zinnemann's relentless killer and cop, Bigelow focuses a similar intensity upon her special bird of prey with the kind of classic aplomb and downright great craft that's so lacking in contemporary cinema.

Now, unless you've been residing in a monastic cloister, you'd be the only one NOT to know that ZERO DARK THIRTY is the true tale of how al-Qaeda's head honcho Osama bin Laden was doggedly pursued by the CIA over a ten-year period following the events of 9/11 and how he was eventually assassinated in 2011 by America's brave Navy SEALs who stormed a home within a Pakistani compound filled with mostly sleeping women and children.

And you also must know, there's simply no two ways about it; that ZERO DARK THIRTY is pure, unadulterated cinema of the highest order. Utilizing a series of composite characters based on real people and events, all derived from extensive research and access to a variety of both materials and perspectives, it's finally all the details - some minute, others not so - that keep us gripped to the edge of our seats. The movie making is first-rate!

For me, though, there is still a problem with the whole enterprise.

Boal and Bigelow maintain an admirable sense of detachment to this story - not, of course, on the visceral or kinetic levels where the picture infuses you with continual jolts of electricity, but on a moral plateau. Maya's intensity and belief in the pursuit of her goal is so unquestionable that we're with her all the way. We know she (and America) did indeed succeed in the goal of finding bin Laden, but while watching the movie, all Maya's struggles, setbacks, disappointments and eventually, triumphs are so expertly handled that we find ourselves rooting for her in ways that are finally not unlike those ascribed to the very best genre pictures.

In spite of this, or maybe BECAUSE of it, something very foul keeps sticking in my craw.

First of all, let it be said that the movie is not even close to the idiotic levels of racism and propagandistic tub-thumping on display in the barely competent Ben Affleck-directed abomination ARGO. ZERO DARK THIRTY is not just a good movie, it might actually be a great movie, BUT is it, like many great films (far more than many wish to admit), pure propaganda? Is Bigelow akin to the likes of Leni Riefenstahl and Sergei Eisenstein, both of whom did go on to brilliantly, excitingly and artistically extol the values of butchers? (Hitler and Stalin respectively.)

Are we to blindly, unconsciously accept that the "butcher" in ZERO DARK THIRTY just had to do what had to be done?

And who, exactly, is the butcher? It's not Maya. She's doing her job, which is, ultimately her duty. She's not just "following orders". She's got her own agendas and needs. The real butchers are the very butchers at war with anyone or anything in the way of their ravenous need to accumulate wealth. After all, American foreign policy since the post-WWII period cannot in all reality be ascribed to one specific Totalitarian ruler (or even several). The country's leaders are (and have been through most of the 20th Century) little more than puppets for the real puppet masters. Call these string-pullers what you will - corporations, big money, the New World Order of the One World Government persuasion; they all add up to the same thing - an invisible enemy that flouts international rules of war with the same tactics employed by terrorists.

For the life of me, though, I simply can't escape the kind of queasy, sickening feeling the aforementioned "narrative" elements of ZERO DARK THIRTY gave me and continue to deliver. In fact, the movie makes me think that it's possibly even a big cheat on Bigelow's part NOT to take a moral stand somewhere within the proceedings.

Or is she taking a moral stand?

Better yet, is it submerged - sitting there and waiting for US to find it?

I think it might be a bit of both. The final attack upon bin Laden's compound is tremendously, pulse-poundingly suspenseful. Shooting through the creepy, ghostly puke-green night vision goggles goes a long way to putting you on edge. Bigelow's compositions and camera moves are initially so stealthy that virtually every sight, sound and unexpected motion jangles our nerves. This is no cavalry charge. Bigelow shoots the sequence like an animal stalking its prey and as we follow the NavySEALS deeper and deeper into the interior of the compound it's like we're ploughing headlong into chambers of doom.

This achieves two things. First of all, it's just plain fucking scary - especially if you're happily ignorant of what precisely went on in the compound (as I was), save for knowing the bin Laden was assassinated. Secondly, there's that strange thing that happens when you're watching something where you DO KNOW the final outcome. Even though you're watching a fictionalized rendering of real events, a part of you begins to hear the women and children crying and the acceleration towards the ultimate action and there's this part of you - either your own sense of humanity or that which the movie rips out of you and for a moment or two just before shots ring out and a pool of blood begins to slowly creep across the floor, you have this sense that maybe, just maybe we won't be seeing what amounts to a cold blooded assassination. Even while this goes through your mind, you know it's not going to happen that way and you're overwhelmed with incredible sadness over the act itself and the very horrendous state of the world.

I personally feel Bigelow IS taking a moral stand here, but is also leaving plenty of ambiguity throughout the film and even this sequence that it's nigh impossible to forget the overall effect this has upon you and that the movie has delivered something you might well be wrestling with forever.

Are we then to accept that Bigelow's "objectively" extolling the virtues of torture, of illegally entering foreign territories to wage war and/or commit assassinations? I hope not, but the movie doesn't slam it's gavel down hard enough on that point.

Even now, i continue to have questions about this for myself. Am I the only one who feels this way about the picture? Am I naive to think it could have been presented another way and still achieve Bigelow's seemingly desired effect?

Am I, as an audience member and human being just supposed to accept we are witnessing an entertainment detailing assassination as a justifiable means to an end? (And we MUST not forget that this IS ultimately an "entertainment".)

And if we accept this as a justifiable means to an end, what is that end? An end to what? An end to the thousands upon thousands upon millions of innocent people in the Middle East (and for good measure, Korea, Vietnam, Central and South America, etc.) who have already been and continue to be murdered and tortured either directly or indirectly by America?

And for what? The preservation of democratic values? (Yes, an oxymoron if there ever was one.)

Or is it for Revenge?



Is it enough for the film - ANY film - to leave me with these questions?

Is this what possibly makes it great?

The fuck if I really know, but something tells me that YES, it IS the questions that will ensure the film's eventual masterpiece status. And like all master filmmakers prove, we're not asking these questions while the film is rolling. That all mostly happens when the movie is over.

And is the film propaganda? Yes, I do think it is, but not necessarily on the sledgehammer side of the equation.

In a recent Facebook conversation with the brilliant writer Anne Billson, she astutely notes:

"I concluded that presenting the facts (including torture and assassination) without any sort of moral editorialising (or jingoism and triumphalism, for that matter) was the only way to tell this story and the opposite of cheating. I think it's a very brave film, and while people who condemn it for "endorsing" torture are missing the point (unless you think showing something is automatically an "endorsement" of it), the viewer's reactions are as much a part of the experience as the film itself, and thus negative ones are as important and necessary as positive ones."

Billson's comment about how some might believe that the act of merely showing something could be seen as an endorsement of it, is a point in her own astute assessment of the movie that hit me like a tsunami. I'm extremely grateful to her for bringing this up because it forced me to assess my own beliefs in this regard and realize that YES, I do think - in some cases there will always be an element of "endorsement" - conscious or not on the part of both the artist AND the viewer. I'd go further to say that the very act of making the film (almost ANY film, really) is indeed infused with propagandistic elements. I'm also not saying it's "bad" or "good", but just the way it is.

What's most apparent about this genuinely important and powerful film is that Bigelow is NOT wearing her heart on her sleeve.

And neither is her movie.

In spite of this, it's a picture with a lot of heart and in these terrible times we live in, heart might be what's needed most.

ZERO DARK THIRTY is nominated for 5 Oscars - all of which are highly deserving: Best Picture, Actress (Jessica Chastain), Original Screenplay, Film Editing and Sound Editing. To not be nominated for Directing, however, is a disgrace (almost as disgraceful as how Paul Thomas Anderson's THE MASTER has been given an ignoble short shrift in this horse race called Oscar). ZERO DARK THIRTY is in wide release in Canada through Alliance Films and in the USA via Columbia/Sony. And you DO need to see it. Preferably on a big screen in a real movie theatre.

Thursday 7 February 2013

THE FOUR FEATHERS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Classic Colonial Epic on Criterion BD

The Four Feathers (1939) ***
dir. Zoltan Korda
Starring: John Clements, Ralph Richardson, June Duprez, C. Aubrey Smith

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I wonder if it's better, at least with some movies, to hold childhood memories dear and assume those same feelings of joy will NEVER be rekindled in adulthood. The Four Feathers, Zoltan Korda's celebrated 1939 film adaptation of A.E.W. Mason's turn-of-the-century Boys Own-styled novel of war and redemption during Britain's colonial struggles during the late 19th century in Egypt and Sudan, was a movie near and dear to my heart. Seeing it now, I can SEE why I loved it. I just don't FEEL it anymore.

Mason's book spawned numerous adaptations for the silver screen, and of those I've seen, I still believe it's the best. Don Sharp directed a low-budget version in the 70s with a great cast, but sub-par production value and Shekhar (Bandit Queen, Elizabeth) Kapur generated a dull, annoyingly revisionist version with the late Heath Ledger in 2002. What these subsequent versions lack, frankly, are the stunningly directed battle scenes of Korda's film (Sharp's were proficient, Kapur's a mess) and, surprisingly, the Kapur offers less food for thought in terms of the notions of imperialism and war.

It's a simple tale. Harry Faversham (John Clements) is descended from an upper-crust British family of war-mongers and against his better judgement, he follows in their footsteps. On the eve of Britain going to war with the Dervishes in Egypt and Sudan, he resigns his post. His three best friends, military men all, send him three feathers - signifying that they believe him to be a coward.

His fiance, Ethne (June Duprez) and her father General Burroughs (C. Aubrey Smith) are disgusted with his decision. Ethne always loved Harry's best friend, Captain John Durrance (Ralph Richardson) anyway, so she also bestows Harry with a feather symbolizing his cowardice and breaks off her betrothal (a marriage of convenience to please her father who now has nothing but contempt for his son-in-law-to-be). Harry, is not a coward, however. Once the war begins in earnest, he secretly journeys to the middle east in disguise and sacrifices everything to rescue his three friends from the hands of the Dervishes.

This is, purely and simply, a great story! Great! As a movie, it would take a total bonehead to mess it up and Zoltan Korda (along with legendary producer Alexander Korda) render it with skill, production value and impeccable taste. So why, you might ask, does the movie not send me soaring to the same heights I ascended as a young boy? It's a reasonable question and one I find difficult to answer. Allow me to try.

The movie opens with an astounding battle montage that lays the historical groundwork for what follows. So far, so good. We're then introduced to Harry as a young man and get a sense of of his intelligent, sensitive, introspective nature - at odds with his family and those around him.

Leaping ten years later, we find him on the cusp of marriage and war. When he resigns his commission, he makes it clear to both his superiors and fiance that his dream is to use his wealth to HELP people, not to engage in senseless war (especially this one which, is rooted in both vengeance and the maintenance of colonial exploitation). When the movie settles into Harry coming to the decision to assist his comrades and begin the long, dangerous journey into the Middle East, the movie begins to slow down - not so much due to pace, but because a number of interesting elements that have been introduced take a back seat to the proceedings.

Korda seems to settle into a weird auto-pilot here. We get all the basic plot details by rote, but with little passion. Oh, there's plenty of spirit infused in the surface action, but by abandoning the very interesting thematic and character-rooted ideas of a man struggling with the "values" of colonialism is precisely what drags the movie down. This theme is not one rooted in the same kind of revisionism applied to contemporary adaptations of period work, but is, in fact, anchored in both the source material and the first third of the screenplay. Even more odd, is that we don't adequately get a sense of how Harry's friendship with the three men is what pushes him forward. He pushes forward because the plot would have it so.

As a kid, this WAS good enough. Alas, as an adult, it's not - especially since the groundwork of some very interesting and ahead of its time notions of anti-colonialism are introduced, but dropped and/or just glanced upon. Plot takes over, but there are layers - already and consciously set-up - that are begging to be plumbed.

When the film shifts its focus to his old pal John and we're treated to an astounding night attack sequence upon the British by the Dervishes, the movie springs miraculously back to life. When Harry catches up to John and the arduous rescue sequence across the desert begins, the movie slows down again. This time, it's a similar problem. Korda hits all the plot points, but seldom rests long enough to explore the true resonance of the tale.

There are several more rescue and action scenes - including a battle sequence that is clearly one of the best ever committed to film, so this is not to say I was disappointed in seeing the movie again. On the contrary, it's still a fine story and there's enough by way of spectacular derring-do with a huge cast, great costumes and stunning technicolor photography. The problem, perhaps, is all mine - assuming it's possible to recreate childhood wonder with EVERY movie I loved as a kid.

It's not the movie's fault. Korda ultimately delivered what audiences at the time wanted. After all, the world was on the cusp of war with Hitler. Propaganda in all things war-related was starting to heat up.

Historically, in terms of the British film industry, this movie and subsequent British films thrived because of the Act of Parliament passed in 1927 which instituted a stringent exhibition quota that lasted for ten years and was responsible for developing a vibrant indigenous film industry in Britain. Sure, there were box office and critical bombs as it gave way to the "quota quickie" (low budget B-movies), but it helped the Korda family establish a great British studio and generate product that, while expensive and unable to recoup costs entirely in Britain, did so spectacularly in the international marketplace. It also gave rise to consistent output from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and The Powell-Pressburger Archers' team. As a Canadian, I've always longed for a similar system here to make movies.

The Four Feathers, as it turned out, was beloved the world over - for decades and still is in many quarters. Certainly, as a child, it did what it was supposed to do and as an adult, it has plenty of great things going for it. It's a good movie. Don't mind me.

The Four Feathers is now available on a Criterion Blu-ray version. The source material seems to have needed quite a brush-up and, at the very least, the colour is spectacular. The uncompressed mono sound is a joy - proving once again that a great mono mix is as spectacular as anything. There's a bevy of decent extras in this package including an audio commentary by film historian Charles Drazin, a new video interview with David Korda, son of director Zoltán Korda, A Day at Denham, a short film from 1939 featuring footage of Zoltán Korda on the set of The Four Feathers, a trailer and an essay by Michael Sragow.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

IT'S COMPLICATED - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Mature AND Silly RomCom 4 U

It's Complicated (2009) dir. Nancy Meyers
Starring: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin,
John Krasinski, Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson, Alexandra Wentworth, Lake Bell


Review By Greg Klymkiw

After a thirty year career of delivering watchable, innocuous "chick-flick" yuck-fests as a screenwriter ("Private Benjamin", "Baby Boom"), producer ("Father of the Bride I and II") and director ("What Women Want", "Something's Gotta Give"), Nancy Meyers has finally broken through the wall of acceptable mediocrity and delivered a sparkling comedy that will appeal to an extremely wide audience. With a deftly written, sophisticated screenplay, a cast at the very peak of their considerable gifts and confident, sure-handed direction, Meyers delivers a movie that manages to be both mature AND silly (in all the right ways).

One of the joys inherent in this picture is that, at its centre, are a trio of characters well into middle age and endowed with all the familiar blessings and curses that come with the territory of life experience. Add to this frothy confection some excellent twenty and thirty-something character support and you've got a movie that aims for the middlebrow, but does so with panache and intelligence.

It's an extremely simple tale of romance about a divorced couple (the paunchy, but still devilishly handsome Alec Baldwin and the utterly radiant, downright transcendent and still gorgeous Meryl Streep) that are brought together during a gathering that includes their grown children and Baldwin's cradle-robbed second wife (Lake Bell playing the very definition of a yummy mummy). Streep's character has finally come to a place where she's almost able to completely let go of the hurt Baldwin caused her and the feelings of inadequacy she's harboured for too long - she's comfortable with her career and her life and is even on the verge of entering into a romance with a sweet, successful, mildly hang-dog, but charming divorced architect (Steve Martin in a performance that's easily his best in many a long year). The last thing she needs is what happens, but happen it does.

One evening, with a few drinks too many under their belts and a rekindling of the spark that would have brought and kept them together at a previous juncture in their lives, the unthinkable happens - they wind up in the sack together and it's glorious. Baldwin now finds himself more attracted to his ex-wife than he ever thought possible and the divorced couple become embroiled in a hot, heavy and definitely secret love affair.

Where IT becomes especially COMPLICATED is that:

(a) Baldwin and Streep's son-in-law (an oh-so funny and fresh-faced John Krasinski) cottons on to their dalliance and reacts with a combination of bemusement and horror;

(b.) Baldwin and Streep's children long for their divorced parents to be together again like the old days and;

(c.) Steve Martin is falling big-time for Streep and as he suffered an especially traumatic divorce, she's promised not to break his heart.

Oy Vey! Where can this possibly go?

Well, the picture does move in a few predictable directions, but it also provides a few surprises along the way. Most of all, though, it provides a constantly ebullient tone, lots of pleasant laughs and happily, a handful of huge knee-slappers. In fact, one of the hoariest gags imaginable - one that involves the ingestion of some especially potent pot during a party where such behaviour is completely out of place - still managed to have me (and most of the audience I saw it with) soiling our respective knickers from laughing so hard.

And damn, in its exploration of love and family, the picture manages to even hit a few welcome notes of poignance.

"It's Complicated" is pure fluff, but of the highest order. And while this probably makes the movie sound a bit better than it is, I was happily carried away by it and felt like I was watching a contemporary Hollywood hybrid of an Alan Ayckbourn bedroom farce with "The Awful Truth", Leo McCarey's legendary romantic comedy about - yes, a divorced couple rekindling that old spark.

Of course, what makes the movie even more entertaining is watching pros like Streep, Baldwin and Martin strut their stuff. As well, it helps that we're seeing the story play out with actors the camera totally loves. If any of us had to imagine our own parents engaging in some of the bedroom activities that Streep and Baldwin indulge themselves in, we'd probably want to puke. A story like this DEMANDS attractive leads! (I'd do any of them, myself!)

As a matter of fact, I can, for example, imagine what sort of wretch-inducing picture it would be if it had been made in the UK - it would be directed by Mike Leigh and star the rather unappetizing menage a trois of Brenda Blethyn, Pete Postlethwaite and Brendan Gleeson.

Wait a minute!

Wait, just a goldurn' minute!

I'd pay to see that!

Perhaps a remake is in order.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

HANNA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Fairy Tale Meets Action Thriller in Glorious Mess

Hanna (2011) dir. Joe Wright
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett,
Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Jessica Barden, Martin Wuttke


Review By Greg Klymkiw

Hanna is a mess – a glorious, wonderful, thrilling, moving and unforgettable mess. I should have hated this movie on a number of fronts. It’s directed by one of my least favourite filmmakers (Joe Wright – he of the wretched Atonement), features one of my least favourite stars (Cate “Miss Mannered” Blanchett), has more holes in the plot than the moon has craters, drops the ball occasionally on set pieces that begin promisingly but are all rise and no finish (save for one) and among other potentially annoying traits, is fraught with dollops of one of my least favourite elements – the dreaded whimsy of MAGIC REALISM!

To be frank, the movie had “Ugh!” written all over it.

However, in spite of the aforementioned, I loved this movie – adored it! Almost immediately after seeing it, I couldn’t get the movie out of my head – replaying scenes, images and bits of dialogue endlessly. I also couldn’t get the damned brilliant Chemical Brothers score out of my system.

I needed to see it again, but like Aronofsky’s Black Swan I was infused with trepidation – fearing a second helping would taint or eradicate the visceral transcendence of the first viewing. Aronofsky’s Repulsion-Red-Shoes fusion was endowed with everything I love about movies and happily held up on several viewings. The real fear of seeing Hanna again was the reality that, unlike the near-flawless Black Swan, the flaws pockmarking Hanna were, upon the inaugural helping, pretty substantial. Because of this, my passion for Wright's picture on a sophomore screening could have been so easily dashed upon the rocks.

The screenplay by Seth Lochheed and David Farr is generally fine – certainly in terms of its ambition, originality and clear opportunities for great visual storytelling. As the movie is based on Lochheeds’s original screen story and affixed to the visually gifted but often boneheaded director Wright (his interest in narrative clarity is often lacking), I suspect the ambition might have had some air let out of the balloon during the process of readying the script for screen and perhaps even during the shooting.

On a very positive front, I do love how the story feels like a few movies crammed into one – not in a messy way, but rather as a deliberate attempt to fuse several points of view and styles in order to wrench us into new directions just when things get familiar. This Grimm’s fairytale (with subtle and not-so-subtle signposts along the way), blended with a Bourne-like action film and road picture, is ultimately the story of a young girl who finds her way out of a forest and into other jungles (both the open road and the city) to do battle with an evil “witch” and be reunited with the father she loves.

The first third of the movie is an almost purely visual tale. In fact, it feels like a movie unto itself – movie number one, if you will. Sixteen-year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been living with her on-the-lam-and-hiding-out survivalist-ex-CIA special operative father Erik (Eric Bana) in some Nordic forest just below the Arctic Circle. She has been trained by dad to fend for herself, live off the land and kill. He has home-schooled her in the traditional 3 R’s, history, philosophy and science, and taught her several languages, in which she is fluent.

The time eventually comes for Hanna to enter the world outside of the forest. She and dad agree to separate and meet again at a pre-determined point once she completes her mission to kill Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a ruthlessly nasty CIA Bitch-goddess (the “witch”) who murdered Hanna’s mother and is desperate to find and kill Erik. Upon completing her mission (unbeknownst to her, she is not successful at all), Hanna escapes a covert underground spy facility in the deserts of Morocco (viciously dispatching several armed agents) and makes her way to the rendezvous point to meet her father. This, by the way, would be movie number two.

Along the way, in movie number three, the gears shift again. Hanna befriends Sophie (Jessica Barden), a young girl vacationing with her little brother Miles (Aldo Maland) and their hippie parents Rachel (Olivia Williams) and Sebastian (Jason Flemyng). Here, in this strangely functional family unit of Brits, she witnesses what a family could/should be. Alas, the idyll is fleeting.

In movie number four, Marissa – not dead as Hanna thinks – is in full pursuit. Assisted by Isaacs (Tom Hollander), a stylishly perverse hit-man and his two silent but deadly goons, mayhem becomes the order of the day. Hanna eventually makes her way to the secret rendezvous point – a long-closed children’s amusement park in Berlin, which is run by a kindly old friend of her father (nicknamed Mr. Grimm and stunningly played by Martin Wuttke, who was so terrific as Hitler in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds).

All bets are off in movie number five, as plans go awry and the movie explodes into a series of violent set pieces.

Hanna essentially has the five-act structure of a Shakespearean tragedy and plays itself out rather deftly on a number of thematic levels – most notably that of family and what constitutes a family. Is it blood? Understanding? Tolerance? Nurturing? Love? The movie also deals with issues such as retribution, redemption, innocence, longing and town vs. country. It is a movie that is as much about magic as it is about science, and especially how the two can be inextricably linked. It is a movie that explores the whole notion of nature versus nurture within the context of oddly functional relationships.

Damned if Hanna doesn’t almost have its cake and eat it too – and how close it comes to a kind of greatness one constantly seeks (often in vain) at the movies.

So how is it a mess? First of all, Joe Wright is a real enigma to me. I have not liked a single film he’s ever made – until this one. He has a knack for gorgeous visuals – not in some lame picture postcard fashion, but with an artist’s eye. His interest (or rather lack thereof) in story has often been utterly infuriating. With Hanna, and most often in retrospect - the picture moves like a bat out of hell - there are holes in the story you could drive a Mack truck through. Given how fine much of the writing is, I point the finger of blame – perhaps unfairly – at Wright. He’s proven before how little he dotes on story, so I feel completely justified in levelling my aim in his general vicinity. That said, there must have been something in the material hat inspired him to create compositions of extraordinary beauty, which more often than not tie directly into the emotion of the narrative. There are several scenes so heartbreakingly moving that one feels he "get's it".

While I don’t particularly feel like describing all the plot holes and speed bumps by rote, a few are probably worth mentioning.

When Hanna escapes from the underground CIA facility I was able to buy most of it, but when she burrows into a series of air tunnels with no obstacles, I found it extremely hard to swallow that this place was designed without having surveillance and/or heat sensor alarms throughout every single inch of it. While this allows Hanna a cool moment when she opens a manhole in the desert only to see several military vehicles blast over it, getting her there just felt lazy. The sequence would have benefited greatly if we weren’t thinking about this when it happens and from a basic screenwriting 101 standpoint, it surely would not have hurt matters to throw even more obstacles for our heroine to overcome.

And forgive me for being anal, but just what in the hell is this family of Brit hippies doing in the middle of the desert – especially in an area that would have been designed to keep intruders the fuck away. I mean, sure, they’re bloody Bohemians and all, but covert facilities are that way because they are truly in a no man’s land, but all around seem to be easily accessible roads and points of entry. Again, this is just lazy writing and/or direction here.

Another hole – rather deep by way of omission – is when the psycho hit-man and Bitch-goddess Blanchett have the Bohemians captured. We never get a sense that there is any real threat, as the needed information is derived so easily and worst of all, we never get a satisfactory conclusion to this story thread. Blanchett and her thugs have murdered anyone and everyone – no matter what degree to which they cooperated. Yet this is just dropped and the movie tear-asses forward. Are we to assume the family was murdered? Or were they let free? If the former, it relieves the story of another emotional level of suffering for poor Hanna. If the latter, the film would be guilty of utterly brick-headed plotting. As it is, we have no information either way and this hangs with us until the next set piece. Most good filmmakers know very well that you can’t have your audience scratching their heads over a point of logic when they should be following the story.

Then again, as previously stated, story seems to be of little concern to Wright. However, one thing I admire greatly in the film is the many excellent action set pieces. Wright directs a lot of them like a true master.

Any use of close-ups or rapid-fire cutting is not there to mask the director’s incompetence with action (like, say, Christopher “One Idea” Nolan) and/or lack of any decent stunt choreography (most contemporary action movies), but rather because he is using the shots and cuts as genuine storytelling beats. As well, in these moments, his compositions are first-rate (not sloppy like the aforementioned Mr. Nolan’s) and we always have an excellent sense of geography (again, especially frightful in Mr. Nolan’s pathetic action attempts). Unfortunately, Wright often seems to run out of the necessary steam to adequately sustain and/or wrap up these otherwise first-rate sequences. Part of this might have to do with his lack of interest in the story and/or adherence to what I suspect might have been some superbly written visuals with both kinetic and narrative aims.

The best work from Wright is when he keeps the camera in wide or medium tableaux – cutting only when it is dramatically effective. The best action sequence is worthy of some of the very best. A sequence with Eric Bana and a bunch of CIA goons on a Berlin subway waiting area works perfectly in all respects. Here, Wright moves his camera, but not shaky-cam style, but with a swirling fluidity that captures all the necessary blows. It’s a genuinely great scene. It reminded me of those moments when Brian DePalma is working on all cylinders.

One thing the movie is blessed with is a whole mess of great performances. Saoirse Ronan is a stunner. It’s impossible to take one’s eyes off her face and her expressions are always delicate and subtle. Bana is great in the early bushy-faced survivalist sequence, though he seems a bit lost once he’s gussied up. That said, he acquits himself magnificently when he’s busting heads and/or firing a gun. Tom Hollander is a wonderful henchman. Fey, lip pursing, often deadpan and with great humour, he strikes a mighty malevolent pose. The aforementioned Martin Wuttke as the code-named Mr. Grimm does not have much screen time, but he makes the most of it. His character teeters on the border of whimsy, but thankfully he never allows himself to topple into the abyss of Jeunet-Land. The Brit Hippies and their kids all acquit themselves nicely – especially Olivia Williams as the mother. She’s warm and appealing in all the right ways.

The revelation for me was Cate Blanchett. I normally find it almost impossible to even look at her, but somehow, everything that is detestable about this thespian of the harridan persuasion is used magnificently. She’s evil incarnate and her ludicrous Southern accent is just what the doctor ordered in terms of bringing her natural freakishness to the top. Marissa’s seemingly endless obsession with her teeth is a welcome motif and I couldn’t get enough of Blanchett brushing, flossing, gumming, spitting and tongue-against-tooth gap smacking. She’s quite a horrid screen character and Blanchett is perhaps the only one who could have done it justice. Her more repulsive traits as a screen persona finally mesh with a character that outright demands the pole - that is perpetually and normally up Blanchett’s ass - be rammed even deeper. With this film her performance is the result of said pole drilling a hole through innards all the way to bloody China

The film’s score by the Chemical Brothers is stunning. I’d heard of them before, but never bothered to seek them out as most techno-trance nonsense seems, well… like nonsense. Within the context of the movie, the music kicks proverbial ass – sometimes with subtlety and at other moments like a jackhammer. They are the perfect composers for this strange, wonderful movie.

One of Hanna’s obsessions is what music is since she’s studied it on the page, but never heard it in the fairytale Arctic hideaway. During one of the scenes of home schooling, Hanna asks Erik about music. One of the books describes it in terms of movement. In this respect, the score is used expertly by Wright and rendered beautifully by the Chemical Brothers.

Movies, by their very nature, are movement, and Hanna, as a character, is constantly moving. It’s a score that never leaves your mind. It’s been tinkling and/or grinding away in my head constantly. I loved it so much I laid my hands on every piece of Chemical Brothers imaginable.

I’m glad I did. The Chemical Brothers rule!

One of the movie’s considerable virtues is, in reiteration, the writing. It’s a screenplay rife with ambition and chock-full of some truly extraordinary dialogue. It features one of the best opening and closing lines I’ve seen in any movie in recent years. I won’t ruin it for you, but it’s a heartbreaker. Like so much in this movie, it stays with you.

Staying power is probably a movie’s most desirable quality – one that is so seldom aspired to. And Hanna stays with you. While time will ultimately tell how powerful its staying power actually will be, there's simply no denying that it's a terrific movie. It embraces genre tropes with open arms, but does so in ways that always feel out of the ordinary. That is something to embrace. It’s rare these days, and Hanna is not anything if not a complete oddball of a motion picture.

More importantly, the combination of fairytale a la Grimm (the little girl finding her way out of the deep, dark forest and facing an evil witch and her minions) mixed with every orphan's dream (to find family) and the "reality" of a harsh outside world moved me – not once, but three times in the span of a few days.

To the movie’s shortcomings, all I can offer is that sometimes greatness needs to be imperfect to be real. And this is one Grimm Fairy Tale that feels especially real in the dark days that surround all of us. It’s a movie for the ages – and then some.

Monday 4 February 2013

FAIR GAME - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Doug Liman's Tense Political Thriller in Style of 70s Paranoia from Pakula and Costa-Gavras

Fair Game (2010) dir. Doug Liman
Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Bruce McGill and Sam Shepard


By Greg Klymkiw

Politicians, our purported leaders, cannot be trusted. As instruments for the New World Order, they're out for themselves and their cronies. Even worse are the bureaucrats, administrators and snivelling minions below them - they're bigger whores than the elected officials since they do what their leaders want them to do either intentionally, or pathetically, because they're too stupid to know any better.

The cheapest whores of them all are the media. They're bought and paid for with junkets and dreams of exclusivity. It's a vicious circle wherein the losers are the very few amongst the aforementioned power brokers who actually want to do the right thing.

Such is the world of Fair Game, a terrific new fact-based political thriller by the estimable director Doug (Go, Swingers, The Bourne Identity) Liman.

In the tradition of such fine thrillers as The Parallax View, All the President's Men (both by Alan J. Pakula) and the best Costa-Gavras works such as Missing, Z and State of Siege, Liman's film uncovers one of the more regrettable (of the infinite) acts of deceit perpetrated by the American government against both its own people and the rest of the world.

Telling the story of former undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), the former U.S. ambassador to Niger, the film is set against the backdrop of the Bush administration as it seeks evidence that Iraq possesses Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Plame works to get Iraqis to speak the truth and in return promises anonymity and protection. Her bosses want someone to get evidence, but through more diplomatic channels. The bosses ask Plame to write an assessment and recommendation that Joe, her husband, is the right man for the job.

Needless to say, there are NO weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration chooses to ignore the espionage work by the husband and wife who risk their own lives and the lives of others to get this information.

When an irate Joe runs an op-ed piece in the New York Times that expresses his frustration and calls the American administration bald-faced liars, Bush and his sleazebag, knee-pad-adorned bureaucrats - along with the media - tar and feather Joe and his wife. Valerie remains stoic while Joe becomes openly hostile and critical towards the Bush administration.

Liman nicely balances the public and private, the political and the thriller and straight up delivers a maddening expose of a lie perpetrated by those who can't be trusted and how weasel bureaucrats deflect their fibbing and incompetence onto those who can ill-afford to withstand such an assault.

Those whom they deem expendable become the "fair game" of the title.

In reality, though, it's more than the handful of innocents who become "fair game", it's the electorate, the nation, the world as a whole who join the club of the expendables.

Both Penn and Watts sizzle in their roles and receive able support - notably from Sam Shepard as Plame's father and the fabulous character actor Bruce McGill. Liman surrounds all of them with his taut mise-en-scene which he not only directs, but photographs as well.

Watching the film will frustrate you and make you angry as hell. The exemplary filmmaking is so first-rate in clearly and simply illustrating how elected officials and their handpicked toadies in the administration and media are bald-faced incompetents, bearing little or no regard for the principles they've been chosen to uphold, but instead wade in a vat of their own fecal matter to cover their individual and collective sphincters.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my punditry for today.

Wolf Blitzer, move over.

"Fair Game" is available on DVD and Blu-Ray via E1 Entertainment.

Sunday 3 February 2013

THE EDGE - Review By Greg Klymkiw

The Edge (2010) ***
dir. Alexey Uchitel
Starring: Vladimir Mashkov, Yulia Peresild, Anjorka Strechel and Sergey Garmash

Review By Greg Klymkiw

While it is unfair to condemn a film for what it isn't. one is almost tempted to do so with Alexey Uchitel's The Edge. "Almost" is the operative word, however, because its achievements in a number of areas are considerable and yet, given its setting and, in particular, the vast political ramifications of said time and place, it's somewhat disappointing that the film makes no real attempt to undo the almost criminal negligence on the part of filmmakers (both Russian and American) to tackle one of the most heinous legacies of Communism.

Most of us are familiar with Russia's notorious Siberian exile and forced labour camps via Olexandr Solzhenitsyn's monumental literary works such as "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" or his monumental two-volume work of non-fiction, "The Gulag Archipelago" among many other great works. Alas, the butchery and genocide of 60 million innocents in the Siberian death camps of the Communist regime remains a setting virtually untouched by filmmakers.

A great and sadly neglected Norwegian-British 70s adaptation of "Ivan Denisovich" by Caspar Wrede is really the only worthy film in existence dealing directly with this tragedy of immense proportions. Aside from a handful of mostly poor features and MOWs, a few documentaries and Serhey Paradjanov's unfinished feature The Confession, the Communist Holocaust perpetrated against Christian and Jewish anti-communists and socialists critical of the regime itself in the extreme northern region of the Gulag, account for all that exists in the cinema about this shameful period of Russian history.

At the beginning of The Edge, a title explaining the Russian-German pact with respect to northern labour camps devoted housing Germans in the Gulag, set up the expectations that this might be the first serious Russian film from an established filmmaker to deal with the subject of the forced incarceration of political prisoners.

Alas, it turns out not to be. In its stead is a brawny, macho adventure film about a shell shocked war hero who is relocated to command the only working train in the region and the rivalry between the two men who are the only ones with the ability to drive the sole lifeline between the Gulag and the rest of the world. Battling for rail superiority and the two most desirable female prisoners is the film's central conflict.

This overlong film is endowed with moments of greatness and cinematic virtuosity. but the screenplay by Aleksandr Gonorovsky spends far too much time dealing with the more melodramatic romance rivalries instead of what it seems to really want to do which is - to deliver a bunch of great set-pieces involving the hair-raising, break-neck steam engine races. In this sense, the script needed considerable simplification to bring it into the territory of existential male angst which, in turn. might have actually yielded far more layering instead of the hodge-podge of story strands and character relationships that merely bog things down.

All this said, when Uchitel focuses on the trains and the men who drive them (not unlike how H.G. Clouzot and William Friedkin lavished similar attention upon the trucks of nitroglycerin in Wages of Fear and its underrated remake Sorcerer), then - and only then - does The Edge truly shine. Its fierce, obsessive and relentless.

The action set-pieces which are bereft of annoying CGI effects are harrowing and exciting - all the more so because we're seeing real men drive real trains at utterly insane speeds. Even the long sequence involving the restoration of a train lost in a tangle of Taiga foliage and the subsequent rebuilding of a crumbling train trestle have the same energy as the magnificent train races.

But then there's the love interest - completely unnecessary save for passing acknowledgement. These boys love their trains - not their women. The long hunks of metal powered by fire and steam power are, in a sense (and not so subtly), extensions of their penises - dick swinging of the highest order.

This is first-rate boys' adventure stuff and if the filmmakers had left well enough alone to focus on just that, The Edge, they might have had a great slam-banging action picture instead of a good one. And that might have gone a long way to account for and forgive a film set in the Gulag that all but ignores what that region truly represents.

Than again, even that would only go so far. After all, could one imagine a film set in and around any number of Nazi death camps and all but ignore what they represent to serve the needs of a macho ass-kicker?


Saturday 2 February 2013

LAST NIGHT - Review By Greg Klymkiw

Last Night (2010) *
dir. Massy Tadjedin
Starring: Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes, Guillaume Canet and Griffin Dunne

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There are many detestable things about Last Night, but for me, the worst offence is that it might eventually overtake and/or be confused with Don McKellar's moving, powerful, exquisite and near-perfect gem of a film from 1998 in TV Guide listings and internet searches. That said, I suspect these fears are unfounded since McKellar's film has a universal, original quality that will far outlast Massy Tadjedin's execrable non-entity which, I sincerely believe will be long forgotten soon after it afflicts the world with its inconsequential presence. At worst, Tadjedin's picture, by boneheadedly filching the title, besmirches only itself.

Okay, so I won't torture you too much. I'll also not bother referring to Tadjedin's aborted fetus of the celluloid kind by title anymore.

A gorgeous, wealthy New York couple (Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington) in their sumptuous only-in-the-movies New York luxury apartment burst the bubble of complacency in their relationship when they argue and then, during a twenty four hour period of being on their own, are faced with the prospect of indulging in extra-marital flings with Eva Mendes and Guillaume Canet respectively. As the film progresses, (or rather, plods along), we are assaulted with interminable vacuous conversations of the should-we-or-shouldn't-we variety against the backdrop of high-end locations in NYC and Philadelphia. The couples gaze longingly at each other, make ever-so tentative moves until eventually, something vaguely happens.

Why on Earth anyone thought this would make a good picture is anyone's guess. Why on Earth anyone would bother seeing it, is yet another. And finally, why it landed a closing night berth at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival is yet another.

Three of the four leading actors (Knightley, Worthington and Canet) do their utmost to flesh out non-existent characters and while there's a pubic hair's worth of engagement on seeing them strut their stuff, one mostly feels sorry for their efforts. Eva Mendes looks great, but she seem completely out of place - her discomfort is obvious and her line readings hit the floor with resounding thuds.

The movie comes briefly alive in two instances. The first is seeing Keira Knightley plodding around in various states of undress and the second is the appearance of the truly great actor Griffin Dunne. When Knightley and Canet proceed to a fashionable resto to engage in drinkies and chit-chat with another couple, the male half of the unit is played with delicious salaciousness by Dunne, and I wondered why the movie couldn't have just followed him. It's the only interesting character in the film from a writing standpoint and Dunne commands the screen so brilliantly and daringly, that he pretty much blows everyone and everything away. It reminded me of his great sense of humour and all I could finally think about is how much I miss seeing him in movies on a regular basis. What's neat is that he's aged so terrifically since American Werewolf in London and Scorsese's After Hours - there's a cool, sexy, slightly world-weary (yet all knowing) maturity to him now.

If anything, maybe this awful movie will be enough to inspire a Griffin Dunne reunion with Scorsese.

Imagine it: Dunne, Pesci and DeNiro in a new Scorsese picture.

Imagine it while you're watching this piece of garbage.

Friday 1 February 2013

BEHIND BLUE SKIES - Review By Greg Klymkiw

Behind Blue Skies (2010) ***1/2
dir. Hannes Holm
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Peter Dalle and Josefin Ljungman

Review By Greg Klymkiw

What the world needs now, more than ever, are coming-of-age pictures wherein the mentor-figure is a drug dealer, thief and pimp. In this respect, Behind Blue Skies delivers in spades. This surprisingly sweet and thoroughly engaging item from Sweden, is a bit like a teenage My Life As A Dog, with dollops of American Pie and Goodfellas tossed into the mix for good measure.

This is a tremendously entertaining, funny, sexy, sly and even profoundly moving picture that stays with you well beyond its closing credits. There are a number of extremely good reasons for this.

First and foremost, helmer Hannes Holmes's screenplay is a real treat. Each time a plot turn felt like it was going into traditional territory, the proceedings took ever-so slight deviations - like delicious bon-bons tossed playfully into one's mouth just as it was opening to emit a yawn.

Secondly, Holmes's assured directorial hand provided a lot in the way of sumptuous visual treats in terms of the northern and southern juxtapositions of Sweden's topography in summertime - from the dull, grey beauty of endless cloudy skies in the protagonist's hometown to the brilliant blue of the heavens in what becomes his potential vacation paradise. This, of course, expertly provided perfectly appropriate backdrops to the character's life and state of mind within the context of the narrative.

Holmes's proficiency in terms of covering the action of his main story is also a definite bonus. His camera is seldom where it shouldn't be and yet, never feels by-the-numbers, nor by the same token, overtly showy. As well, his deft handling of the fine cast is equally winning.

Thirdly, the cast is magnificent! From the the delightful trio of leading players, through all the supporting character roles and finally, even to bit players and background extras, one seldom discovers a false note.

Set in the glorious 70s, the picture tells the tale of teenager Martin (the mind-numbingly gorgeous and engaging Bill Skarsgård) who lives amidst the chaos of an extremely lower middle class family. His father is severely afflicted with alcoholism. When rarely sober, he is loving and sweet, when under the influence, he's mean, bitter, irrational and abusive. Martin's mother is run ragged trying to keep the family together financially as she maintains a home care service in their cramped quarters.

When Martin is offered the opportunity to join a rich friend at a vacation resort where he'll be offered a terrific summer job, he jumps at the chance (with his mother's blessing) to get out of his stifling situation, but also earn money to help his family.

Once ensconced at the vacation hideaway, things aren't quite as idyllic as his rich friend suggests they will be. His pal abandons him for his affluent friends, he finds he's not staying in richie-rich's palatial family digs, but in the resort's squalid staff quarters (where he's forced to room with a head-banger drunk) and just when things look up (he actually enjoys his job and meets a beautiful young girl, deftly played by Josefin Ljungman, who likes him as much as he likes her), he commits an error in judgement and gets fired.

As luck would have it, his error in judgement as well as his willingness to own up to it, catch's the eye of the person who fires him, the resort's alternately jovial and cruel manager Gösta (a madly inspired naughty, moustachioed cherub in the form of Peter Dalle), who takes the lad under his wing and slowly introduces him to his secret world of criminal activity.

Money, adventure, danger and romance soon follow, but not without paying a price.

What I loved most about Holmes's film is the careful manner in which he compares and contrasts the lives of the "haves" and "have-nots" - especially in terms of what they both need to do in order to maintain a living. The "have-nots" do all the dirty work, but the "haves" are even dirtier - they just hide it a whole lot better.

This is something that will certainly strike a chord with movie-goers and I, for one, will be shocked if this film isn't eventually remade by Hollywood for the English-speaking marketplace.

Even if it is, I trust it will hardly be better than what Hannes Holmes has rendered - a fun and original entertainment!