Friday, 31 May 2013

THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Liz Marshall's powerful documentary portrait of activist animal photographer Jo-Anne McArthur and the harrowing journey into the souls of animals.

"[At] the San Fernando Valley ranch of the late [Western superstar of over 300 films] Tom Mix...the most famous horse since Pegasus stood in the mildness of his last few moments alive... Tony was in no sense a trick horse. But he was intelligent and had what Tom called 'a genius for acting'... Now Tony was very old (39). Most of his teeth were gone...Since Tom Mix's death two years ago, there had been a vacant look in Tony's eyes."
- James Agee, "Exit Tony", Time Magazine, Oct 19,1942
The Ghosts in Our Machine (2013) ****
Dir. Liz Marshall
Review By Greg Klymkiw
The following is an expanded revision of a piece that was originally published before the film's world premiere during the Hot Docs 2013 Film Festival.
Okay, so something funny happened on the way to my home in the country. My wife and child, both being inveterate tree-huggers, got the craziest idea. What they wanted to do sounded like one hell of a lot of work. They promised I would not have to avail my services upon any aspect of their venture. Well, good intentions and all that, but now I find I'm not only a gentleman farmer, but involved in the rescue of animals living in horrid conditions and headed for inevitable slaughter.

I'm certainly no anti-environmental redneck, but some might think I am when I admit I'm not fond of nature. Yet, I do love living in the country. What I love most about it is not the great outdoors, but sitting in my dark office, smoking cigarettes, watching movies and writing. I occasionally step over to the window, part the curtains briefly and look outside to acknowledge - Ah yes, nature! I then happily return to my prodigious activities.

You see, prior to becoming a gentleman farmer, I liked the IDEA of nature, the IDEA of being in deep bush, the IDEA of living off-grid on solar energy. Well, more than the ideas, really, since I did enjoy all of the above in practice, but in my own way.

Now, I have animals. Shitloads of them that my wife, daughter and eventually I rescued from misery with the assistance of a super-cool Amish dude.

Needless to say, when watching Liz Marshall's film The Ghosts In Our Machine, I was completely blown away. You see, having experienced the joy of coming to know a variety of animals, I eventually realized that all of God's creatures I mistook for being little more than blobs of meat with nothing resembling character, spirit or intelligence was just downright stupid. I've always had dogs and THEY certainly have character, spirit and intelligence - so why NOT chickens? Or donkeys? Or hell, even bees. And, as I learned, they ALL are imbued with the stuff we have. Marshall's film, aside from it being a brave, superbly crafted piece of work is special because it exposes that very fact to those who might never know what I and others who are surrounded by animals came to know.

In presenting this notion of the individuality and spirit of all animals, The Ghosts In Our Machine does so by focusing upon someone I'd have to classify as a saint.

Photographer Jo-Anne McArthur is not only an astounding artist of the highest order, but by restricting her activities to mostly photographing animals in the most horrendous captivity, she's risked both her life and mental health. Given my recently-acquired predilection for animal rights, I watched Marshall's film three times. Yes, on a first viewing I was far too emotionally wound up to keep my cap of critical detachment on, but after additional screenings that I used to temper my visceral response I'm perfectly convinced of the film's importance in terms of both subject AND cinema.

It's a finely wrought piece of work that takes huge risks on so many levels in order to present a stunningly etched portrait of the heroic McArthur and HER subjects - all those animals being tortured to fill the bellies of ignoramuses and line the pockets of corporate criminals. (Not that I'm planning to go Vegan anytime soon, but I do believe that ANYONE who consumes any animal product derived from cruel meat factories as opposed to natural free-range is no better than a torturer and murderer.)

Not kidding about that, either.

What you see in this film will shock you. There is no denying what both Marshall and McArthur see and capture with their respective cameras. Creatures with individual souls and personalities are being hunted, incarcerated in conditions akin to concentration camps and/or bred in captivity and tortured until they are slaughtered. Equally frustrating are the corporate boneheads in a variety of publishing industries devoted to generating purported journalism. Her meetings with literary agents are astoundingly frustrating to watch.

The agents clearly love her photographs, realize their importance and recognize their artistry, but they must bear the bad news that the work will be a tough sell. It will sell, but placing it will take time and diligence which, the agents appear happy to do. The difficulty with which McArthur must additionally suffer to get her work published and to bring attention to these atrocities gets me so magma-headed I need to almost be physically restrained from going "postal". Readers, purportedly need the right time and place to be delivered this material and the corporate pigs of the publishing industry at all levels display trepidation over exposing such materials to their readers.

Seeing the problems of getting great important work to market is especially important within the context of what, ultimately, the film accomplishes by bringing the entire issue of animal rights to the fore by using McArthur's photographs to present the irrefutable proof that all of God's creatures are individuals.

And yes, the film achieves what some might think is impossible - it makes us see and believe that animals have souls and that the pain, suffering and torture most of them are put through is, akin to the atrocities mankind dares perpetrate against members of its own species. There's an overwhelming feeling throughout the movie that if what's already been done (and continues to be done) to other human animals BY human animals, how far will the culling go? This feeling, this question, is rooted in the eyes of the animals we see through both McArthur and Marshall's lenses.

One of the most terrifying and harrowing things you'll see on film is a sequence where Marshall follows McArthur deep into a hidden breeding farm where animals are held. We fear, not only for our human subjects, but eventually we're brought face to face with the torture through incarceration and neglect of creatures that have been put on this Earth for one sole purpose - DEATH. And yes, perhaps one looks at the eyes of these sickly creatures with that of our own human perception and intellect that infuses us with this feeling, but the fact remains that what we see is horrendous.

Most indelibly, what we experience is what it's like to look into the eyes of living creatures who, by pain and instinct, KNOW that they're in a place they shouldn't be, that KNOW something horrible will happen, that KNOW they will die. This is what ultimately reminds us of what it would be like to look into the eyes of human beings, human animals - for that's what we are, no more, no less - and have a glimpse into the hearts, minds and very souls of all those forcibly incarcerated, beaten, tortured and exterminated.

Simple shots of livestock trucks with pigs going to slaughter, horribly squeezed into these cages on wheels and some of the "lucky" ones being able to stick their snouts out through the air holes and twitching furiously for both oxygen and their last sniffs of life have an effect that's almost beyond powerful.

It's sickening.

This is what we do to animals and to humans. It's one and the same. We're one and the same. So many well-meaning Liberals will go out of their way to boycott goods produced by child labour, but how many of them boycott food and/or goods created by the systematic torture and slaughter of innocent animals? How many of them have looked into the eyes of chickens squeezed together by the thousands into corporate farms, seldom seeing (if ever) the real light of day? How many of these same people eating this poultry have given one thought to how their meal has been delivered by keeping a creature in subhuman conditions with 24-hour lights on them (many need light to eventually lay eggs) and no medical care when so many of them acquire painful sores and deformities from their incarceration?

Mankind has blood on its hands - the Crusades, Auschwitz, the Holodomor, Vietnam, Afghanistan - the list goes on. And that's the blood of human beings. The torture, incarceration and slaughter of animals more than rivals this.

sAs for those chickens, I keep thinking about our own free-range chickens - rescued by us from places where they were raised to be slaughtered. Now they live out their lives in peace. They wander about the grounds with freedom. They lay eggs everyday. But what's even more powerful is how each one of these chickens have individual PERSONALITIES. One is a big, fat, cuddly and friendly little goof that cries for our attention and calms right down when it's picked up and held. Another is a tough-minded devil-may-care, no-nonsense gal who keeps the others in line. Then, there's the weak one - she's picked on by the other chickens and lives the life of a loner.

Recently she disappeared and we, my family and I, were heartbroken. Deep down we knew she was taken out by either a fisher, a hawk, an eagle or an owl - maybe a coyote, wolf or even a bear taking an early sojourn from its den. What we also knew is that our little chicken was outside, wandering freely through a beautiful forest, the rays of sun filtering through the leaves upon it. Yes, it died. But it's death would have been swift - an instant predatory kill. It was not forced to live in a cage with lights beaming on it constantly, developing sores and infections while it popped out eggs until its egg-laying feed would be changed to "finishing" feed. That's what it's called. Imagine: FINISHING FEED. Pumped with all the nutrients AND chemicals necessary to fatten it up before slaughter.

Yes, nature has given us a food chain that involves animals being killed for food by other animals, so while we were sad about losing our chicken, we knew it had had a good, full life with care and love - if not from its "colleagues", by us. And now it was gone. Naturally. In the way it had been intended to leave this Earth.

This is a luxury most poultry is not afforded. Yet we eat it, many of us knowing what suffering it's gone through.

Happily, there was an extra-special surprise in store for us. Many hours later, our missing chicken was not dead after all and came, poking and pecking its way out of the deep bush.

I'll admit these are things that enrich The Ghosts In Our Machine, at least for me, but I think for those who have not quite experienced this revelation - that animals are indeed distinct individuals - it will be a powerful and deeply moving eye-opener.

You must see this movie.

It presents a truth that so many are willing to ignore or refute. If you're a coward, loser and/or asshole and don't want to see the truth, then fuck you!

"The Ghosts In Our Machine" is currently in limited theatrical release via Indie-Can Entertainment.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

OLD STOCK - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Where are all the hilariously offensive senior citizen gags? Not here.

Old Stock (2012) *1/2
Dir. James Genn
Starring: Noah Reid, Melanie Leishman, Meghan Heffern, Danny Wells, Corinne Conley

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Let me tell you what "Old Stock" means to me. When I was a lad and moronically drank alcohol even though I hated the taste of it, I realized that being drunk had occasional benefits. However, when one wanted something more cheap and potent than cooking wine, Lysol or Gimli Goose, O'Keefe's "Extra OLD STOCK" had the highest booze content going for the best price. It was especially cheap for me because my old man was the marketing director at Carling O'Keefe Breweries, so I didn't have to pay for beer at all. Needless to say, this made me a popular lad.

However, I'm not here to talk about cheap beer. I'm here to talk about a new Canadian movie called Old Stock. The title refers to a very young man by the name of "Stock" who lives in an "old" folks home with his Grandfather because he's hiding from the world and a big, bad, dark secret. It's easier for him to be an ostrich to face up to the truth. The same can be said for his Granddad who is separated from his wife and looking to sow his old, but still wild oats in what appears to be the most underpopulated retirement home I've ever seen in my life. (In fact, most of the actors look spry enough to not actually be there.)

When a pretty young missy starts working at the home to teach the oldsters aerobics, Stock feels a stirring in his loins. When some nasty young fellas insult Stock by (Horrors!) rearranging the message board outside the home for all to see, the straw is indeed about to break the camel's back. What "old" Stock needs is to gird his loins and face some unpleasant truths in order to move on with his life.

Will he do it? You bet!

Do we care? Uh, does this question even need to be asked?

Are you laughing yet?

Here's the deal. The movie has an amiable cellar-dweller indie feel to it and I suspect it was supposed, on occasion, to make us laugh, but it's not especially funny. In fact, if my response is to be used as a barometer, I didn't laugh once (though I did smile a couple of times). If the movie is supposed to be a straight-up drama, then there's really little to invest one's self in since the situation isn't exactly a Walpurgisnacht of the Edward Albee variety where nerve endings are torn out, exposed and shredded. Perhaps, then, it's a "dramedy". I hate that word because it was first used in the 80s to describe dreadful television that forced me to chuck my cable TV subscription and never bother watching TV on any regular basis ever again.

I don't think it's a "dramedy", though. Both the writer, Dane Clark and the director James Genn, have served up enough good work prior to this to suggest that neither of them would have the poor taste to indulge themselves in such a horrendous genre.

What the picture is, finally, I'm really not sure. Who it was supposed to entertain, save perhaps regular viewers of Tommy Hunter or Lawrence Welk, I can't begin to imagine. If, God forbid, it was trying to wade in Wes Anderson or (ugh!) Zach Braff territory, it's not even close enough to begin denying the cigar. The movie does have intermittent pleasures derived from a cast working their hardest to bring something resembling life to this whole affair and thankfully, it seldom plods along, but rather it pads about effortlessly in a pair of comfy loafers.

This, however, hardly makes for scintillating viewing.

In fact, most of the time I kept myself awake trying to imagine lost opportunities to take the decent-enough coat-hanger of the plot and inject stuff that would have made it truly funny - albeit morbidly funny. Hell, I'd have settled for ultra-juvenile humour.

Seriously folks, we've got this geek who wears ugly sweaters living with a bunch of old people after crippling up a babe on the night of the high school prom and seeking solace within the confines of a place where people go before they die. This could have been wildly, insanely, darkly, bleakly, (even moronically) and offensively funny instead of not funny at all.

Where are the gags involving decrepit toothless old people in front of bowls of Gerber's baby mush, scooping it up with wooden spoons the size of spatulas and missing their maws entirely? How come we can't see some dementia-ridden old codger walk into a speeding muscle car? How come none of the old people - men and/or women - didn't try to covertly sneak into Stock's room for some crazy lovin'? Hell, why doesn't Stock have a senior citizen fetish involving doilies, Grandma panties and Depends? And speaking of Depends, does anyone have any problems with old cliches like overdosing on prune juice and having inopportune diarrhea? I sure don't. Old people are not only kind of pathetic, but they're funny. God knows, I'm already slapping my knee imagining how hilariously pathetic I'll be in my dotage.

Or, let's take a look at that babe of a crippled girl for a moment. Tom Green used a babe-o-licious crippled girl in his comedy masterwork Freddy Got Fingered and she not only gave terrific blow jobs, but enjoyed being viciously caned on her crippled legs. I'm not suggesting anyone should have repeated this gag, but did anyone think about topping it? Now that would be funny. (And even if it backfired, the makers of Old Stock would have scored big points for trying.)

So what do we really have here? A polite, low-key, unfunny comedy that might appeal to my Mother on a night of channel-hopping desperation. I seriously have no idea why this movie exists and why anyone would pay money to see it in a cinema unless they were a Hutterite (and last time I checked, Hutterites don't go to movies since there's nowhere to park their horses and buggies in multiplex parking lots).

I will not take the low road here, though. I will not use the film's title to crack lame jokes about how "old" or "stock" the picture is. I will travel, instead, upon the high road of a cheap good drunk and suggest that you belt back a case or two of Old Stock (or even, perhaps, some Labatt's 50), settle back in your chair and let 'er rip - beer farts and snores for one and all.

"Old Stock" is an E-One picture in limited theatrical release.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013


AMERICAN MARY is the MUST-SEE motion picture event of the year. May 30, 2013 at Cineplex Entertainment Front Row Centre Events all across Canada, Industry Works, Raven Banner and Anchor Bay Canada present a special ONE NIGHT event.

In Toronto, there will be live appearances from directors Jen and Sylvia Soska and star Katharine Isabelle and a moderated Q&A hosted by filmmaker/writer Jovanka Vuckovich.

May 31, 2013 a limited theatrical release via Industry Works will unfurl across the country. 

On June 18, 2013 RUN, DO NOT WALK TO YOUR FAVOURITE RETAILER and purchase your very own Blu-Ray or DVD from ANCHOR BAY CANADA with a making-of documentary and commentary track from Canada's very own TWISTED TWINS - The SOSKA SISTERS!

AMERICAN MARY is one of the BEST FILMS made in Canada in YEARS and blows most of this country's product clear out of the water.

Keep tuned for my ongoing coverage of this spectacular motion picture on this website and in the legendary Joe Kane's ultra-cool genre magazine "Phantom of the Movies Videoscope", "Electric Sheep - a deviant view of cinema" and my screenwriting book "Movies Are Action". 

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

Review By Greg Klymkiw
(Note - Rewrite/Revision of an earlier piece)

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 actually, I guess Psycho, Citizen Kane, Birth of a Nation, Bicycle Thieves and Nights of Cabiria might be slightly better,  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).

Videodrome, David Cronenberg's perversely creepy semi-precursor to the Soskas's new masterpiece-to-be, features the famous sentiment uttered by the Moses Znaimer-like character Max Renn (James Woods) that he must "leave the old flesh" in favour of the future. He intones ever-so scarily: "Long live the New Flesh!"

Gotta love Cronenberg when he made some of the best horror movies on the planet, but we've got to call a spade a spade - he hasn't made a horror picture since Dead Ringers in 1988 and his recent output (Spider, A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis) has been downright dreadful. There's a new marshall in town and the reigning royalty of Canadian Horror is not one, but TWO Soska sisters.

Leave the old flesh.

Long live the New Flesh!

With American Mary, the Twisted Twins are perched delightfully 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 (as opposed to the truly fascist PC-types who make most thinking people sick to their stomachs) will, in fact, find the picture more than palatable.

The rest of us (we're cooler and smarter than YOU!) 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 fucklings" (phrase courtesy of the late, great CanLit genius Scott Symons), the aforementioned fascist PC-type 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.)

The character of Mary, though, seems like she was born on the set of a 70s James Toback movie like Fingers or the Toback-penned Karel Reizs masterpiece The Gambler or yes, even Don Siegel's magnificent work of cold-cocking art Dirty Harry and though the decade was replete with male heroes of the anti-hero variety, the world just wasn't quite ready for a female heroine to embody the steely resolve of Harvey Keitel, James Caan and Clint Eastwood in the respective pictures. So somehow, Mary was transported in some kind of time machine into the minds of the Soska Twins (at the point of their conception) and spewed herself upon the pages of their script and into the body of Katharine Isabelle.

Well thank Christ for open portals in the time/space continuum - we now have a genuine horror hero who embodies all the anti-hero qualities of a 70s character and is 110% ALL WOMAN!!!

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 Isabelle's stunning, real-woman looks). This great actress'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.

The film also has a cornucopia of terrific supporting performances. 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 (easily the best supporting work I saw from any actress in any movie in 2012) 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. The Soska Twins have generated an utterly buoyant, crazed, thrilling and gob-smackingly brilliant motion picture experience. I expect - NO! I DEMAND! - one kick-ass devil-may-care rollercoaster ride through hell after another from the Soska Twins.

I'm waiting with baited breath. In the meantime, I'll be watching American Mary over and over and over again. I can't get enough of it.

Tickets for the Sinister Cinema showing of "American Mary" can be secured by visiting the Cineplex Entertainment website HERE

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

BEHIND THE CANDELABRA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Soderbergh Earns Liberace Title of "MR. SHOWMANSHIP"

Behind The Candelabra (2013) ****
(I'm predicting I'll be upping this to ***** after a few more screenings and/or years)
Dir. Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd, Scott Bakula, Rob Lowe, Debbie Reynolds

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I have a troubled relationship with Steven Soderbergh.

I was not, for example, on the bandwagon that touted his first feature Sex, Lies and Videotape as God's Gift to independent cinema. I found it dour, pretentious and surprisingly moralistic in all the worst ways. Though there was something to be said for viewing it a few more times over the 24 years since its release to give the picture a chance to work magic upon me, my original response, in spite of occasionally more charitable look-sees remains, like the Led Zeppelin song, the same. My decidedly less-than-impressed opinion of Soderbergh continued: Kafka was a complete mess, King of the Hill and Underneath seemed original enough, but both were strangely unappealing and the much touted Out of Sight drove me up the wall with its showy styling and utter inconsequence.

The Limey, however, represented a major turning point and the showy style, blended with great performances (notably that of Terence Stamp) and a wonderful almost-Mike-Hodges-like-Get-Carter quality delivered a movie I finally loved - obsessively, I might add. Erin Brockovich proved to be a highly entertaining work blessed with first-rate craftsmanship, whilst Traffic delivered a riveting drug thriller - a remake, no less, of the British television production that more than rivalled its source material.

After this, however, it's a strangely disappointing mixed bag - from dreadful (Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve, Ocean's Thirteen, Full Frontal) to close-but-no-cigar (Solaris, The Good German) to utterly inconsequential (Magic Mike, Haywire, The Informant) to superbly crafted but lacking any passion (Che: Parts One and Two, Contagion, Side Effects). This all kept me wondering: Who is Steven Soderbergh and when will he make the genuinely great movie (and/or movies) he was obviously flirting with?

Or is Steven Soderbergh just a hack in auteur's clothing?

Behind the Candelabra has, at least for me, changed everything. It might be the closest thing to a masterpiece Soderbergh has made - or will ever make. This Made-For-HBO TV movie is based upon the true-life love story between one of America's most beloved show business personalities and a sweet, anonymous, aimless young man. The film is so thrilling, so perfect, so in-your-face great, I was severely disappointed not to see it on a big screen with a huge, appreciative audience and now, I'm feeling more than a little sad that Soderbergh has recently been threatening to retire from directing films.

Maybe he wants this picture to be his swan song just as it's a movie that depicts a swan song of one of our most indelible figures of stage and screen.

From the stunning simplicity of the movie's first moments - introducing a young Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) making sex-drenched eye contact in a bar with a hunky Bob Black (Scott Bakula), through to an overwhelmingly anticipatory stroll within a palatial Vegas hotel and into its grand auditorium, where the flamboyant fur-and-jewel-adorned entertainer Liberace (Michael Douglas) mesmerizes his appreciative audience (and us, frankly) as he tinkles the ivories of his majestic Grand Piano - Soderbergh takes us on an unforgettable ride through one of the creepiest and, at the same time most strangely romantic rollercoasters of late 20th Century Pop-Culture History.

There's not a dull moment in this insane love story and astonishingly, the story sets up the inevitability of the eventual demise of this May-December romance that begins almost immediately following the aforementioned stage performance. Within Liberace's dressing room, we see him riveted to the yummy, young Thorson, his impatience with his young, but only slightly long-in-tooth current boy-toy and his none-too-subtle brunch invitation.

Thorson's first blow job from Liberace's eager lips follows a chaste evening of conversation in a hot tub and before you can say "Candelabra!", Thorson's pounding his schwance into Mr. Showmanship's receptive rectum. The film follows a genuinely passionate love affair through the myriad of ups and downs any relationship goes through. The difference, of course, is that Liberace, as played devilishly by Michael Douglas (in the performance of a lifetime) is completely out of his gourd. He not only enlists the services of a pasty plastic surgeon (Rob Lowe) to stretch his visage freakishly to maintain a "youthful" look, he insists that Thorson undergo similar butchery in order to transform the lad into a younger version of Liberace himself.

"Mr. Showmanship" clearly desired the ultimate fuck - himself.

Richard LaGravenese's compelling screenplay allows Soderbergh the opportunity to constantly dazzle us in ways we've yet to see from him. The film is relentless in detailing the freakish quality of Liberace's celebrity-infused madness and all the craft Soderbergh has honed over the years finally imbues a work that seems possessed with a sense of personal obsession in terms of style and an emotional connection - one that extends beyond the filmmaker himself and to the audience.

The performances Soderbergh coaxes are nothing short of brilliant. Douglas has never been better - this is no mere impersonation, but a living, fire-breathing madman hooked on fame, fortune, fucking and flights of fancy to tickle his every whim and desire. The performance sequences are also a revelation - Douglas, at least to an untrained musical eye, looks like he's really playing - and all the musical set pieces are pure movie magic.

Damon as Thorson, who in many ways is the true central figure of this film, is sad, almost soulless and as such, deeply moving as this young man whose life has been marked by a childhood and adolescence of pain and rejection. There is a seemingly endless hurt in the eyes of this young man shunted from foster home to orphange and back again and it dominates this character and Damon's extraordinary performance. He so clearly wants love and mentorship and a father figure - and for a time, he gets it all from Liberace, but there's also a desperation in Damon's performance - the character never seems completely convinced he'll continue to get the love and nurturing he desires and it's a heartbreaker to see the unfolding of Thorson's demise - by his own hand (he becomes hooked on the drugs prescribed to him by the plastic surgeon) and Liberace's (who starts to tire of the boy-toy-turned-freak-and-addict).

Soderbergh's direction of the many intimate scenes between the characters is marked with the same obsessive showmanship he brings to the musical performance sequences and the movie is beautifully paced and structured (again, much of this thanks to a great script) so that Soderbergh also delivers several beautifully directed montages that leap us forward through the story with considerable aplomb.

In supporting roles, Scott Bakula as an old friend of both Thorson and Liberace brings a kind of Sam Elliot-like calm to the crazed proceedings, Dan Aykroyd as Liberace's manager Seymour invests a chilling malevolence only hinted at in this terrific actor's comic performances and Debbie Reynolds completely embraces the role of Liberace's beloved mother so astoundingly she's virtually unrecognizable. (I didn't know she was in the movie and while watching it, I kept wondering who this great elderly actress was. My jaw thudded to the floor when her name popped up during the end titles.)

The film is replete with much in the way of black humour, but it's so dark, so borderline demonic that one is always second-guessing one's self after releasing gales of laughter - not in a moralistic way, either, but the kind that is rooted in one's own sense of humanity and finally, in the humanity that Soderbergh invests in this sad, mad and ferocious plunge into celebrity culture.

I really mean it when I say that this picture is so terrific that I want to see as many new Soderbergh films as I can before either he or I, bite the bullet. My relationship is troubled no more. He is clearly a gifted artist who will continue to dazzle me as much as he pisses me off.

This, I think, is what makes greatness.

And it's a good thing.

A very good thing, indeed.

"Behind The Candelabra" can currently be seen via HBO Canada and HBO. It's so good, that in spite of how many people have seen it upon its inaugural television showing, I hope it's enterprising sales company E-One will undertake a theatrical release anyway. It's meant to be seen on big, big screens.

Monday, 27 May 2013


"Todd and the Book of Pure Evil" was one of the Best programs on TV. Here, in this epic blow-by-blow, episode-by-episode review of the first two seasons, Special Guest Journalist, CUB REPORTER Julia Klymkiw tells you why the show was great and why you should support the efforts of producers Andrew Rosen, Anthony Leo, Craig David Wallace and all the good people at Aircraft Pictures to continue the tale in an all-new animated feature film.

Todd and the Book of Pure Evil
Season One and Season Two DVD *****
Review By Guest Journalist
12 Year Old Cub Reporter Julia Klymkiw

When My Dad gave me a DVD of the Todd and the Book of Pure Evil TV show I didn't know what to think because he always made me watch Leave it To Beaver, I Love Lucy and Road To Avonlea. He even gave me Hannah Montana and that was amazing because it was not an older TV show. Todd was the newest show I got to watch ever and let me tell you: I LOVE TODD AND THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL!!!!!!!!!! This is the best show that they ever made for TV because the stories were always cool, but also because the show is funny and scary just like Alfred Hitchcock movies. The monsters are always amazing, too! What's really sad is how they stopped making Todd and the Book of Pure Evil after only two DVDs. I like to watch them over and over again, but I also kept asking my Dad when he would get the third DVD and he told me to be patient because the producers were waiting for the TV station to let them do it.

And then he told me that the TV stations that make the show are morons and that they stopped it. I don't like to use the word "moron" because it's mean, but Dad uses it all the time. When I was a little girl, he would always yell that word when we were in his car. I used to think that cars were called morons instead of "cars". Dad had to explain that the word for cars was not "morons". He was yelling that word at other people driving their cars because they were in his way. I agree my Dad is the best driver in Toronto, but it's not good when he yells at other people in their cars even if they are morons.

So, I think I have to agree with Dad about Todd. Whoever stopped making the show has to be kind of dumb. Dad explained how it works with TV shows and it sounds very complicated. It sounds so complicated I said to him I was surprised anybody made TV shows at all.

Dad tells me his friends who made the show are trying to get money to make a movie about Todd - a cartoon feature, yet. I think this is great! Movies are better than TV shows because you can go to a theatre and see them on a big huge screen. At the end of this article Dad will write a bunch of stuff about this because it sounds complicated too.

What I will do for you is tell you all about the show. There is a lot to tell even though there are only 2 DVD boxes and there should have been more. You are lucky because I will tell you about every Todd story on both of the DVDs.

"Todd the Metal God" is the first story in the first DVD box. Todd really likes this girl, but he also thinks he can get her if he can play guitar better. When he uses the Book of Evil which is a magic book from the Devil it looks like things are going to get better for him. I don't want to ruin it for you, but I think its kind of neat that this story kind of made me remember the movie Phantom of the Paradise. You should see that movie and then see this TV story about Todd and you will see what I mean.

"How To Make a Homunculus" is so cool because I kind of knew what a Homunculus was from stuff my Dad told me, but I never ever saw a Homunculus before. I think you need to watch this Todd story because you will see what a Homunculus looks like. I won't ruin it for you and say who the Homunculus looks like, though. Dad told me a good story about how his friends who made the TV show learned what a Homunculus was from my Uncle John [Editor note: filmmaker John Paizs]. This is so cool because John would know stuff like this too. He made this cool movie called Top of the Food Chain with all kinds of monsters in it and it is also really funny. Like I was saying before, Todd has monsters and is funny too. Uncle John and my Dad sure like monsters. Me too!

"Rock and Roll Zombies Know Best" is like WOW! This girl gets the Book of Evil and uses it to make dead rock stars come to life. I won't spoil it, but there are zombies and they are hungry and they are in her basement. This is kind of like The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. You will love it!

"Gay Day" is a great show for kids. I went to two schools where kids always made fun of gay people and gay kids. I am in a better school now where people don't do that, but it's really so mean because gay people are just like everyone. I think some of them are more fun, too. This story is really hilarious because a gay boy makes all the other boys gay. This is the kind of show where you learn good lessons about stuff but you get to have fun too.

"Invasion of the Stupid Snatchers" was kind of funny, but it's about taking drugs and I don't like this one as much as the others. I know this can be funny like in Cheech and Chong movies and there is a good lesson to learn, but still it's kind of weird.

"Terrible Twin Turf Tussle" is kind of cool. A girl in the story is a lesbian and she has a nice girlfriend, but her twin sister gets jealous and uses the Book of Evil to make a whole bunch of twins who all look the same. I found this very funny and you will too.

"Monster Fat" is a really good story for all kids to see because it is about why its not nice to make fun of fat people or any people who are different. The monster in this show is made out of fat. Yuck! Then all the girls are made fat, but Todd shows he is a good guy because he proves he likes his girlfriend for what is inside her, not on the outside.

"Cockfight" is kind of gross, but it's pretty funny too because this guy uses the Book of Evil to make his thing bigger and it becomes a monster. It's kind of neat because it turns boys into stone statues and I'm happy it's not like this Japanese cartoon I watched where the things are like big snakes that try to kill people.

"Big Bad Baby" is another good story for kids to see because older girls sometimes have babies when they are still teenagers and they can learn a lot about this. A girl actually wants to have a baby and she uses the book to do this and then when she does, it turns into a big monster baby. In the movie Rosemary's Baby, the Devil becomes the father of the baby and I won't forget when the Mom first sees the baby and tells us how scary the eyes look. "Big Bad Baby" isn't as yucky as that, though and it helps that it's kind of funny.

'The Ghost of Chet Sukowski" is not one of my favourite stories. It is a ghost story but it's not very scary or funny. This is what it is like with TV shows. Some stories are better than others.

"The Phantom of Crowley High" is so neat because it's also like that movie Phantom of the Paradise. In this story you get a girl who wants to be a great singer and you see the things that can happen when you use evil things to get you places.

"Checkmate" is neat because it is about chess. This is a game I really like and seeing a story with chess in it is cool. What is kind of creepy here is how there is a group of people who get together and try to use controlling the mind to get people to become like them. When I watched this story, my Dad showed me a cool old movie called The Seventh Victim which is kind of like this Todd story but without chess. I love how this TV show is like movies I enjoy but is also different from them because it's for kids.

"A Farewell to Curtis's Arm" is an important show for everyone to see because you learn about a bunch of things about characters in the show you were always wondering about. If I tell you what they are, it will ruin it for you, but because of the story's title I can tell you there is a big monster arm.

"Retirement Home" is totally sick. Todd's girlfriend is trapped in an old folks home where all these old people turn into zombies. Zombies are gross enough, but when they're old they're super gross.

"The Student Body" has this girl who turns herself into a kind of plant monster and tries to make people like her. It's kind of sad because she thinks nobody likes her and needs to be a monster to get them to think she is cool. This is something kids do all the time in real life where they try not to be themselves to get everybody to like them. It's so sad and I hope kids who have that problem see this story and learn it's better to be themselves.

"Daddy Tissues" is sooooo gross. Ick! A girl's Dad gets out of the hospital and starts to steal the skin from the boys to pretend he is them. We all like our own skin and this idea of somebody taking our skin is just so creepy.

"Simply the Beast" is like a mystery movie but also super scary because there is something stealing all the cheerleader girls and all that's left of them are their outfits. Is it a monster? Will the girls come back? I'm not going to tell you. You have to watch the show to find out.

"Jungle Fever" is one of my favourite stories in the Todd show because it is about how important it is to not make a mess with garbage and how the environment will die if we don't all pay more attention. In this show, a woman who loves nature is so mad at the mess kids are making she turns everyone into these kind of cave men so they will be like humans were before all the mess was being created and she gets to be Mother Nature.

"Fisting Fantasy" is really a lot of fun because it has the Book turning the whole school into one of those games where people do role playing. Some of the shows are scary because of what happens, but I think this is so neat. I wish school was always like this. :-) ;-) I better not let my principal read this.

"See You Later, Masturbator" is soooooo gross, but it is kind of important for girls because there are a lot of creepy guys out there and we need to know about how fucked up they are. [Editor's Note: Well, she is MY daughter.]

"Loser Generated Content" is super scary and like all those movies where there is a mad killer going after people. This one I watched with the lights on.

"Deathday Cake" is every kid's nightmare. What kid doesn't like cakes? Well what do you think happens when a birthday cake turns into a monster that eats people? Aaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!

"2 Girls, 1 Tongue" has another story with the Phantom character, but I didn't like this one as much as the other. You can't win them all.

"The Toddysey" is pretty neat. A boy who is disabled wants to be a really good runner and athlete, but like many of the stories we see how the Book of Evil makes everything look good when it isn't the boy can't stop running. Todd tries to stop the boy, but he's going so fast that they start to time travel. Here, Todd learns a few things.

"Black Tie Showdown" is such a good show because so many important things happen in the story here and you really want to know what's going to happen in the next DVD. You wait and wait and wait and then your Dad tells you that some morons will not do the show anymore. This is a great story and you will love it, but it's so sad because there won't be any more Todd shows.

Well, that is all I have to tell you about the show. I really hope they make a Todd movie because then I can see all these characters again. It'll be really cool if it's a cartoon, too. You need to watch this show and let your kids watch it too on DVD. I said it before and I'm going to say it again: TODD AND THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL is GREAT!!!

Dad is going to write some stuff about the Todd movie, so you need to read it so you can help my Dad's friends do this great adventure again for us kids who love it.


Sunday, 26 May 2013

STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS - Review By Greg Klymkiw


Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) *
Dir. J.J. Abrams
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, Karl Urban

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Star Trek: Into Darkness is the worst film J.J. Abrams has made since Mission Impossible III.

That said, I must admit I have little use for J.J. Abrams, at least not within the arena of feature films and since I don't watch TV where, apparently, his purported strengths lie anyway - I can, at least to all the fanboys who don't know better, be forgiven for my dismissive attitude.

Here's the deal: His wretched first feature MI: III, appalled me beyond belief. The movie was dull, noisy and jam-packed with one action set piece after another that displayed all the directorial prowess of a career bricklayer who'd inexplicably been hired to direct the back end of a film franchise that in previous helpings boasted such true masters of cinematic grammar as Brian De Palma and John Woo.

While I wouldn't call Abrams's Star Trek reboot a complete disaster - his insights into younger versions of Kirk, Spock and the rest of the gang were not without merit - he proved once again that he had absolutely no talent for action, suspense and cinematic grammar beyond the rudimentary. All encounters of the kick-butt variety were cacophonous, sloppily edited and rife with poorly composed and mostly too-close shots.

Seeing as both of the aforementioned eschewed elements such as theme and character for action, a director unable to shoot action is pretty much a liability. Super 8 was not without a few good performances and a somewhat more competent handling of basic dialogue scenes, but both the period detail and action were abysmal.

As for Star Trek: Into Darkness, I haven't been as bored and tired out by a brainless summer blockbuster in quite some time, though I'll admit that the presence of the excellent actor Benedict Cumberbatch enlivened the proceedings for me on occasion. There's also the welcome, albeit too brief appearance from the original Robocop himself Peter Weller and a cameo from Leonard Nimoy that only serves to remind one of how great the original Gene Roddenberry TV series was.

Otherwise, what we get here is a dopey retread of Nicholas Meyer's masterpiece of a feature, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the great "Space Seed" episode from the series. It's not only dopey, but it lacks all the heart of the originals and places far to much emphasis on action - which, as we have determined - Abrams is not able to direct. Alas, this spindly tale of Kirk on a rampage against the evil Khan is strictly by-the-numbers stuff.

Here, of course, instead of Spock dying at the end of the movie as in the great Meyer picture, Kirk is the one who dies. The big farewell scene has none of the power of the original Trek II and worse, foists a totally convenient and unconvincing happy ending wherein Kirk lives.

When Spock died at the end of Trek II, the packed cinemas were pierced by the sounds of grown men wailing and sobbing. No kidding. It was genuinely and profoundly movie - not just for fans of the original series, but for pretty much anyone who watched it.

And, of course, while Cumberbatch is a genuinely great actor, he's absolutely no match for Ricardo Montalban. In fact, he seems like a nasty little prissy boy compared to Montalban's ultra-evil man's man.

Abrams, as far as I'm concerned, is still a hack and this entire reboot feels like some lame parody of the original series and movies. Do yourself a favour. If you've not seen the originals, skip this lame, poorly directed slag heap and dive into the perfection of the real thing.

I, for one, will continue to be curious how many more movies Abrams will make that will fool critics who should know better and draw in audiences to boot. He might be more mediocre a talent than director Arthur Hiller and that takes some real doing. Besides, as soulless as Hiller was, he had his craft down pat. Abrams proves, once again, that he never will.

He's got tin eyes.

He might as well be blind.

After press time, I got a terrific note in the comments section from film critic Anne Billson who noted:
Shouldn't they be going "Whoopee!" and hunting down more Khan/Tribble blood so they can inject it into all the terminally ill people? And why wasn't the resuscitated Tribble reproducing, eh? Bah.
And my response was thus:
Dear Anne: Thank you so kindly for mentioning what I was too lazy, depressed and angry to mention in my review. "The Trouble With Tribbles", it seems, is that Abrams might actually have a head full of the little bastards - reproducing like all get out and squeezing what little brain matter is perched within his cranium until it oozes out his ears, blocking them like a mega-build-up of earwax and explaining why virtually EVERY picture-edit is driven by sound of the most cacophonous kind instead of visual dramatic beats (which a real filmmaker should be doing save for no-talent hacks like J.J. Abrams). I just learned he's supposed to be directing the new "Star Wars". I never much cared about "Star Wars", but even still - Lucas directed the pants off of many a director with his fine classical style. And he also gave us one of the best SF classics of all time, "THX-1138".

"Star Trek: Into Darkness" is currently in wide release from Paramount Pictures.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

THE CLOSEST THING TO HEAVEN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Inside Out LGBT Film Festival

The Closest Thing To Heaven (2013) ****
Dir. Ryan Bruce Levey

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Love is the great equalizer. It's the root to all humanity. With it, we flower, we blossom, we reach for the light in the sky and the elusive wonder and mystery of the Heavens. With love, we are all one. Without love, all that exists is emptiness, and a spirit bereft of love is one that yields hatred. Thankfully, all the arts, literature, cinema and within the boundless cornucopia of cultural expression, music, are those things which can reflect, inform and solidify in all of us the the infinite and limitless nature of love.

A new documentary premiering at Toronto's Inside Out LGBT Film Festival 2013 utilizes the principles of good old-fashioned storytelling to explore love. I was, while watching the film, reminded of the great speech yielded by Orsino in Shakespeare's "The Twelfth Night" and the oft-quoted line: "If music be the food of love, play on." Orsino is, of course, referring to his frustrating attempts to court the love of his life and that he requires an almost gluttonous infusion of music to soothe his passionate breast and quell his aching heart. The subjects of this film, however, discover love - a love that grows and deepens across a lifetime, one that is heightened by a love for music and where that music - like the spirit of those who are in love, traverse the heavens - is music that fills the heart, not as a substitute for love (as in Orsino's case), but as love itself and the power of love proves to be truly eternal.

In nine minutes, filmmaker Ryan Bruce Levey delivers his deeply moving film The Closest Thing To Heaven and though the running time is short, the impact is as profound and layered as a lifetime. In spite of the title, Levey moves beyond the notion of being close to Heaven. His film, his subjects and most importantly, his audience are given a great gift - in nine minutes we rise ever-so sweetly, we soar with humour, elation and love, until Levey continues to work the magic of cinema, hitting all the thrust controls, allowing us to be jettisoned to a place that feels like Heaven itself. If the film does anything (and frankly, it does a lot), it simply and beautifully allows one man to spin a tale of love that delights and finally, moves us to tears.

They're not tears of sadness, however, but of elation, happiness and the warmth of feeling that only love and the expressions of love can bring.

Levey is a young man, yet he is a veteran of independent cinema in Canada. He has worked tirelessly as a distributor, promoter and publicist for movies that fall outside of the mainstream. He has specialized in Queer Cinema, but has done so within the forward-thinking and visionary manner which the great theatre auteur Sky Gilbert brought to bear during his longtime tenure as the Artistic Director of "Buddies in Bad Times" theatre. Gilbert promoted Queer Culture as that which transcended the boundaries of the mainstream (in terms of sexuality and/OR aesthetic form) and in his own way, this is something Levey has done over the years with cinema. If it ain't straight (sexually OR otherwise), it's product needs a home for those who crave ALL that is Queer.

Here, he takes a logical and, to my mind, very successful step ahead in his distinguished career. He's made this simple, glorious and beautiful film as a director. And yes, I place an accent on simple in the best sense of the word. As a filmmaker, an artist, Levey understands that the best cinema is that which is simple and that it's this assured, no-frills approach that yields so many layers of tenderness on both narrative and thematic levels.

Using the hoariest of cliches, allow me to say that The Closest Thing To Heaven is a film that makes you laugh and makes you cry. Tried and true, yes, but truth is what great filmmakers always try to expose. And that, is a lofty goal indeed. As lofty as love itself.

Inside Out has a number of genuinely great pictures on display in the 2013 edition. Here's a few I loved:

Continental (2013) ****
Dir. Malcolm Ingram
Starring: Steve Ostrow, Sarah Dash, Holly Woodlawn, Edmund White, Frankie Knuckles

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Steve Ostrow created the Cadillac of gay steam baths in New York, the immortal Continental. Here his clientele were treated as human beings, with respect. Ostrow gave them a class act to pursue their sexual expression. Once he erected his glistening Crown Jewel of steambaths, he didn't rest on his laurels and merely count his shekels - Steve Ostrow always kept several steps forward of the game and his game. In so doing, The Continental Baths became more than a mere bathhouse - Ostrow created one of the major landmarks in Gay Rights and one of the hottest, most cutting edge launch pads for a myriad of performing artists. Yes, live entertainment, ladies and gentleman. If the action got too steamy in the baths and you sought more, shall we say, restful heat, you could wrap a towel over your genitals, retire to the performing space and watch the likes of Bette Midler (backed up on piano by Barry Manilow, no less).


Valentine Road (2013) ****
Dir. Marta Cunningham

Review By Greg Klymkiw

One boy is flamboyantly gay, the other is a potentially burgeoning white supremacist. One is now dead, the other is spending 21 years in prison where, given his age and good looks, is no doubt "enjoying the benefits" of sexual abuse and eventually seeking the protection of being another con's "bitch." And these, are just the surface facts. Director Marta Cunningham draws us into the true story by painting a portrait - an extremely graphic and horrifying one at that - of a young gay man's flirtatious action leading to his murder before shocked classmates and teacher while at school.


Interior. Leather Bar. (2013) ****
Dir. James Franco, Travis Mathews
Starring: James Franco, Val Lauren, Travis Mathews

Review By Greg Klymkiw

James Franco, one of the great actors of the 21st century, teamed up with acclaimed queer filmmaker Travis Mathews to co-direct this exploration of gay male sexuality within the context of re-imagining 40 minutes of excised lost footage from Cruising, William Friedkin's MPAA-butchered masterpiece from 1980. A lack of time and money, however, forced the filmmakers of Interior. Leather Bar. to re-imagine their re-imagining, so what we're treated to is a documentary about the making of a re-imagining as re-imagined by Franco and Mathews before, during and after they re-imagine it. Fine by me.


Friday, 24 May 2013

FAST & FURIOUS 6 - Review By Greg Klymkiw - If you are brain dead, you will enjoy this.

Fast & Furious 6 (2013) i Pubic Hair
Dir: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Godot, Ludacris

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Law enforcement officials across North America were out in full force on the opening weekend of Fast & Furious 6, the latest instalment of the increasingly idiotic car chase franchise. The pigs' widely publicized goal was to keep eyes peeled for young copycat road warriors. This, I believe is further proof of civilization's decline. That youthful audience members are stupid enough to think they can match the make believe stunts on view in a movie must surely prove how many brain dead kids out are there inheriting the Earth. Another argument, I'd say, for strangulation at birth.

Look, I grew up in the heyday of great car chase pictures like Bullitt, The French Connection, The Seven Ups et al, but I never thought I'd be able to emulate behind-the-wheel exploits of Popeye Doyle. I can also assure you that if, by some stroke of the imagination Fast & Furious 6 had been released in those halcyon days, I - and most other action movie aficionados would have complained how awful the picture was. We might have forgiven the supposed plot, but never, ever would the sloppy filmmaking be applauded. Even the lowest drawer bottom feeding no-budget drive-in car chase picture during the 70s was better shot and edited than this noisy, overblown pacifier for testosterone-infused pinheads who require constant suckling at the teat of their Mamas.

This, of course, was in the days when the movies used real cars, real drivers and real crack-up mayhem and didn't rely on added CGI to pump up the action.

Rob Cohen's first instalment of the series, The Fast and the Furious, was certainly no cinematic ground breaker, but it was a reasonably well directed action thriller that featured a panoply of hunks, babes and hot metal on wheels. In fact the movie would have served very nicely as a one-off. Given that the movie was generated during the Decline, a one-off would never be enough. A sequel or two was idiotically inevitable and as such, each instalment got progressively worse - first with John ("I used to have something to say before I became a hack of the highest order") Singleton, then all the others by the supremely talentless Justin Lin.

Fast & Furious 6 finds our fast-riding heist pullers living in far flung corners of the Earth - out of reach from the law and extradition for their victimless crimes (they only steal from scumbags). When top cop Dwayne Johnson comes to them with news that a super elite group of car racing terrorists are wreaking havoc and appear to have Vin Diesel's old girlfriend in their clutches, there's much talk about "family" and how you don't abandon "family" in their time of need. In exchange for complete immunity from prosecution, our motley assortment of drivers engage in a dangerous mission to stop the terrorists and extract the supposedly brainwashed member of their crew.

This, of course, is the most implausible element of the movie. How can you brainwash a character that is brain dead? Then again, all the characters suffer from this affliction as do the audiences watching and enjoying the picture.

The movie quickly plunges into wall-to-wall action. None of it is well staged. Every set piece is a patchwork quilt of badly composed shots edited machine-gun style within an inch of their life and with no sense of geography. Especially heinous is that most of the cuts are driven by sound cues, not visual ones.

Today's audiences seem to love that style - or at least they've been pounded into submitting to it whether they like it or not. The movie just left me exhausted and depressed.

Suicide seems to be the only option after watching pictures like Fast & Furious 6. Either that or genocide for all those who patronize and/or - gulp - actually get a kick out of it.

"Fast & Furious 6" is in wide release from Universal.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

THE HANGOVER PART III - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Please, let this finally be over.

The Hangover Part III (2013) 1 PUBIC HAIR
Dir. Todd Phillips
Starring: Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianikis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, John Goodman

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Could anything be worse than The Hangover Part II?


The Hangover Part III.

This one reaches some kind of nadir I didn't think was possible after Part II, but Part III opens with Zach Galifianikis "accidentally" killing a giraffe. If you think that's funny, I can only assume you think kiddie porn is legitimate erotica, that America's War On Terror is not about money and that for-profit marine parks are a humane way to treat dolphins and whales.

I'll go a step further. If you think this is a good movie, you're just plain stupid.

The Hangover was a somewhat unexpected comedy hit in 2009. Then again, there was a time when a movie like that would not be an unexpected hit at all. It was a genuinely hilarious fish out of water gross-out laugh-grabber. It took the world by storm - as it should have. Since its makers had already created a movie that was just fine, one assumed the studio might have left well enough alone and allowed the picture to remain an untouchable stand-alone picture with the potential to be a comedy classic.

But no, more money was needed and the greedy oinkers in their designer suits could sniff the added earning potential of a franchise. Too bad. The second instalment was little more than a tired retread that resurrected the characters from the first film, pretty much aped the structure, but instead of setting it in Vegas, they shifted the locale to Bangkok.

Well, Part II surprisingly garnered a whack of dough - surprising because it was so utterly dreadful. Not only that, but it was racist beyond belief, aimed at the most mind-challenged knuckle-draggers and simply not funny (unless you were one of the aforementioned individuals of the moron persuasion).

Since the first picture delivered such memorable characters, it was predictably inevitable that audiences would want to see them again. Sadly, audiences these days are a sorry lot and need to see the same thing over and over and over again. In The Hangover, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) were a pathetic, but believable and somewhat endearing wolf pack of mismatched buddies who visited Vegas to have one last blowout before one of them ties the knot. Under the influence of copious amounts of booze and drugs, the groom-to-be mysteriously disappeared and the other pals, all suffering from hazy hangovers, attempted to piece together their “lost weekend” and find their missing friend. As the film proceeded, more and more of their adventures came back to them and oh, what a night it turned out to be!

The comedy writing was so sharp, funny and unabashedly, but brilliantly crude in Hangover I that one hoped the filmmakers would find an entirely new adventure for a tremendous clutch of characters. They deserved better than what Part II gave them.

Part II, as loathsome as it was, though, seems in retrospect a masterpiece compared to Part III.

Using the lamest device imaginable, our heroes decide to conduct an intervention and commit the crazy Alan to a detox centre. In the process, they're kidnapped by a gangster (a loud and extremely unfunny John Goodman) who forces them to ferret out the mad Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) who's stolen a whack of gold. Doug is held as ransom and the movie nosedives into a tedious mess involving a return trip to Vegas to save their buddy.

The movie plods along to its inevitable happy ending and if I laughed at least once, I can't remember what it was for.

As over-the-top as The Hangover was, it actually had a strange sense of credibility going for it, which, in both sequels, is thrown completely out the window. Okay, so it’s a gross-out bro-mance, you say. Who needs credibility? Well, I’d argue that it was that very credibility that made the proceedings in the first movie so damned funny. Here, all we get are strained, over-the-top gags in a formula that's become very stale, very fast.

While Part III spares us the racism and the extremely unpleasant sexual exploitation subtext of Part II (as well as the "benign" presence of convicted rapist Mike Tyson), it unforgivably gives us no genuinely surprising laughs.

Again, on good will alone, The Hangover Part III will probably be a big hit, but all that's going to prove is just how horrendously bereft of brain-matter contemporary audiences are un-enviably "endowed" with.

I can hack stupid when it's funny, but here, it's just plain stupid.

And worst of all, it's a big fat bore.

"The Hangover Part III" is in wide release via Warner Brothers.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hubbies will snore. Wifeys will laugh and swoon. Yes folks, it's a post-menopausal chick-flick not unlike "HOPE SPRINGS". Only it's partly in Danish. This doesn't help.

Love is All You Need (2012) **
dir. Susanne Bier
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm, Paprika Steen

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Some movies to me are just so utterly, reprehensibly, unrelentingly sickening I feel an immediate need to check myself into Emergency. Love is All You Need is just such a movie. There is, however, one salient difference between it and similar lumps of cinematic viscous like the Sex and the City movies, anything starring Sarah Jessica Parker and virtually every "chick flick" of both the pre-and-post-menopausal variety made by men.

Love is All You Need is almost good - or rather, made by a woman and aimed at women, it's good for what it is. This I'll admit, is not an especially ringing endorsement, as the movie appears to be aimed at a herd of dull, unimaginative and quite possibly stupid members of the female persuasion.

The picture carries the weighty pedigree of director Susanne Bier - a stalwart camera jockey who made a well written (by Anders Thomas Jensen), but boringly directed movie called Hævnen (AKA In a Better World) which, inexplicably won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in a year when it was up against a number of truly fine and challenging films. Then again, this was the immortal 83rd Academy Awards when the execrable The King's Speech swept all the major prizes, so chances are good Oscar was wearing his extra-strength Dunce-Cap with considerable gusto and pride. Still, Bier handles the slightly offbeat romantic comedy proceedings of Love is All You Need with the requisite skill one would expect from a first-rate camera jockey.

But, my God, the picture is sickening! So much so that I practically needed to nail my feet to the floor in order to stop me from bolting after ten minutes. What's even more sickening is realizing just how many people (of a certain persuasion) might actually enjoy it. (I have to keep reminding myself that we're in the Decline of Western Civilization.)

Basically, we've got ourselves a sexy, slightly post-menopausal Danish housewife who is recovering from breast cancer. Her nebbish hubby is boinking his insanely young bookkeeper and dumps wifey for the more decidedly pert pastures of a woman barely out of the cradle.

And wouldn't you know it?

All this is happening on the eve in which our middle aged Danish Treat and her chunky, loutish, bone-headed philandering hubby are about to jet off to Italy to marry their sexy daughter off to the hunky son of an incredibly rich fresh fruit magnate.

The Fruit Man is played by none other than Pierce Brosnan. In all fairness, he acquits himself very well as the romantic male lead just as Trine Dyrholm does as his female counterpart. For the life of me, though (and perhaps I was daydreaming about William Friedkin's Killer Joe and missed something), but I simply couldn't figure out how or why this Brit had a company in Denmark, had all sorts of co-workers yapping at him in Danish, while he replied in English. I mean really, now. At least we in the audience had English subtitles. Pierce had none. Nor, of course, did any of the happy Danes have English subtitles. In spite of this, both parties seemed to do quite well in the understanding-each-other-sweepstakes. Let's hear it for the United Nations!

Okay, now wait for it. I'm about to reveal something extra-sickening.

Are you ready?


The Sexy Fruit Man and the Sexy Danish Treat de la Hausfrau meet...

- Oh, Christ!

Dare I say it?

God, did I even believe it was happening when it was happening?

Was it really so hard for me to just get up and leave at this point?

I stayed, however, and can live to now tell you the tale.

Besides, you probably guessed it.


Both of them are in the airport parking lot on the way to Italy and whammo! Danish Lady slams her car into Fruit Man's. Hilarity ensues.

Can it get more sickening than this? Oh, you bet.

Once we get to Italy and the predictable romantic roundelays play out, I realized then and there just how skilfully simmered this bowl of oatmeal with flakes of bran (and a side of prune juice) actually was. No offence to the ladies, but the biggest and most sustained laughs came from the feminine persuasion in the audience (and believe me, none of them looked like they ventured too far from the suburbs).

Then it hit me - the nightmare scenario: Every middle aged hubby of the bourgeois persuasion will be dragged to this movie by their equally bourgeois middle aged wives. The wives will be yucking it up twixt having to violently elbow their hubbies to stop them from snoring. I experienced this horror all by my lonesome when I went to see the insufferable Hope Springs. Luckily my wife wouldn't be caught dead at a movie like that. She has, what is referred to by some as, taste. As I suffered through Meryl Streep trying to bring romance back into her marriage with Tommy Lee Jones, all I could hear was - you guessed it - the laughter of women and the snores of their hubbies and the occasional elbow slams into their ribs.

Love is All You Need is pretty much more of the same.

Only much of it is in Danish.

Not that it helps.

"Love is All You Need" is currently in theatrical release via Mongrel Media.