Saturday 24 August 2013

GOD BLESS AMERICA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Sometimes a Liberal must fight back with superior firepower.

God Bless America (2011) ****
dir. Bobcat Goldthwait
Joel Murray,
Tara Lynne Barr

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Frank is a very kind person. He kills people. But they deserve it.

Big time.

Played brilliantly with pathos and deadpan humour by Joel Murray in Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America, Frank is a hard working American for whom life keeps dealing one losing card after another.

He's been diagnosed with a fatal disease. His wife has left him for a hunky young cop in a suburban paradise. His daughter has turned into a shrill spoiled brat who doesn't want to visit him on custody days because he has no cool stuff at home like video games. He "forces" her to do "boring" stuff like art, going to the zoo and playing in the park. In fact, his progeny is so indifferent towards him that when Mom calls Frank to see if he can stop one of the brat's petulant gimme-gimme-gimme outbursts, the little bugger’s response is, "I don't want Daddy! I want an iPhone!!!"

Frank is plagued and beleaguered by the Decline of Western Civilization In his world, the decay currently sending America straight into the crapper is one of the things forcing him to lie around his squalid home after mind-numbing work days as an insurance company executive.



Home is a man's castle, but not this man, not this home. His next-door neighbours are genetically moronic White Trash filth - living poster children for strangulation at birth. He is forced, night after night, to crank up the volume on his television to try drowning out their subhuman conversation, the endless cacophony of verbal and physical abuse, the wham-bam sexual activities, the constant caterwauling from their no-doubt genetically stupid infant and the grotesque sounds emanating from their stereo and/or TV.

What he has to endure on television is, frankly, just as bad – the sort of stuff feeding the feeble minds of America – most notably his mind-bereft neighbours. There’s Tuff Girlz, a reality-TV program. Just as Frank channel hops to it, a white trash woman digs a blood-soaked tampon out of her vagina and flings it towards an equally foul white trash douche. Then there’s the endless parade of right wing wags dumping on the disenfranchised of America or insisting: “God hates fags” or presenting images of Barack Obama as Adolph Hitler – replete with Swastikas. News reports of homeless people being burned alive or true crime info-docs on the likes of mass murderer Charles Whitman buttress programs like Dumb Nutz where grown men engage in horrendously painful physical practical jokes on themselves. The airwaves are choked on the self-explanatory Bowling on Steroids or American Superstarz where a celebrity panel insults an untalented retarded boy with no talent whatsoever.

Perhaps the most repellent of all is reality TV star Chloe, a nasty teenage girl who treats anyone and everyone like dirt.

She most certainly must die.

Poor Frank. Even when he drives to work, every station on his car radio is an aural assault from Tea Party types. Once he gets to the office he has to endure the boneheaded water cooler talk of his simpleton colleagues as they moronically regurgitate everything he was forced to endure on television the night before. Capping off Frank’s miserable existence is a tiny bright spot that quickly turns dark. The fat, ugly sow that handles reception at the front of the office and openly flirts with him files a sexual harassment complaint behind his back and he loses his job.

When he gets home, all he has to look forward to is turning on his TV full blast, yet again, to drown out his jelly-brained neighbours. There is, however, a solution.

Frank, you see, is a Liberal – a Liberal with a handgun.

Cleaning up begins at home, so he pays his neighbours and their grotesquely squealing infant a visit. With his gun in hand, Frank upholds the values of Liberals everywhere – he does what it takes to do what all Liberals must do when civilization is on the brink of collapse.

Okay, we’re only about 15 minutes into God Bless America and at this point I laughed so hard I suspected I might have ruptured something. From here, the movie doesn’t let up for a second – especially once Frank begins a spree of violence against intolerance with a gorgeous, sexy teenage girl (winningly played by Tara Lynne Barr) who takes a liking to both him and his ways. They’re birds of a feather – a veritable Bonnie and Clyde – fighting for the rights of Liberals and anyone else who might be sick and tired of the mess America is in.

God Bless America is one of the best black comedies I’ve seen in ages. Bobcat Goldthwait makes movies with a sledge hammer, but it's a mighty trusty sledge hammer. He has developed a distinctive voice that began with the magnificently vile Shakes the Clown and with this new film he hits his stride with crazed assuredness. Some might take issue with the way he lets his central characters rant nastily and hilariously - well beyond the acceptability of dramatic necessity - but I have to admit it is what makes his work as a filmmaker so unique. He creates a world that exists within his own frame of reference which, at the same time, reflects aspects and perspectives that hang from contemporary society like exposed, jangled nerves.

With God Bless America, Goldthwait delivers a movie for the ages – one that exposes the worst of America and delivers a satisfying Final Solution to the problem of stupidity and ignorance. The pace, insanity and barrage of delightfully tasteless jokes spew from him with a vengeance, but they're not only funny, he uses them to create movies that challenge the worst elements of the Status Quo.

It's a movie that fights fire with fire.

Or rather, with a handgun.

It’s the American Way!

Even for Liberals.

"God Bless America" was unveiled at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2011) and is now available on DVD and BLU-RAY via VSC (Video Service Corp.)

Friday 23 August 2013

THE WORLD'S END - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Alcoholism is seldom a laughing matter, nor is this movie.

The World's End (2013) *
Dir. Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I don't believe in Sacred Cows. For me - everything - and I do mean everything can be funny. Context and form are, however, important factors in the notion of finding humour in all things and I must admit to a considerable degree of intolerance when it comes to plumbing the depths of alcohol abuse for fun.

W.C. Fields was always able to get away with it because his very being was a self awareness in his own alcoholism - we responded to the sad sack misanthrope who sought solace in booze to keep himself sane in a less than sane world and the bitterly funny irony of a bona fide disease being both the cause and cure of his almost hate-filled view of a world rife with hypocrisy and repression. Fields always rode the line separating heartache from hilarity, but with his toe dipped in the latter.

The World's End, a new film from the Shaun of the Dead team, is probably a work that its creators had hoped would rise above surface ambitions to generate laughs from an all night pub crawl, but the content is seriously amiss and the form ill-equipped to handle the full ramifications of its subtextual goals. This is a movie that wants to have it too many which-ways and ends up serving none of them on a satisfactory level.

Co-writer and star Simon Pegg plays Gary, a forty-something ne'er–do–well who manages to convince his old chums to follow him back to the stomping grounds of their youth in order to recreate and actually finish a booze-up odyssey they failed to completely fulfill some twenty years earlier. His friends all have jobs, families and/or responsibiities, while Gary has eschewed all semblance of normalcy for a life of adolescent hedonism long after the point that such activities tend to feel pathetically juvenile.

Once assembled in the hamlet of their younger days, the goal is to hit every pub in one night and make it to the Holy Grail of pubs, The World's End. Along the way, old resentments and rivalries begin to rear their ugly heads and the men are forced to confront demons they long ago forced into the closet. What makes this entire indulgence somewhat disparate from other tales of pathetic middle aged men trying to recreate their youth is the slow realization that all is not right in the place they left behind two decades earlier.

Ye Olde Towne has, you see, been insidiously taken over by a New World Order that's not of this Earth, so in addition to the aforementioned emotional gymnastics threatening the sacred bonds of male camaraderie, the boys find themselves up against a cross between the pod-people of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the hideous underbelly masked by human flesh in They Live.

The entire movie is wrapped in a thematic ribbon which suggests how we can never truly turn back the clock of time and go home again to long-ago halcyon days of yore, but if we do, it's important to save the world from alien invasion.

On paper, this sounds a whole lot better than it actually is. The biggest problem is the movie's fey lightheartedness with respect to its central character Gary (and by extension, the proceedings of the whole film). We're supposed to love this pathetic adolescent in a man's body and admire his "freedom" which, the filmmakers juxtapose sharply with the staid, mainstream lives of his chums. Why this doesn't work is that Gary is pretty much a loser in his own way, as are his friends in their own fashion. Granted, the screenplay by Pegg and director Wright allows for some requisite skin-deep tut-tutting towards Gary's life choices, but ultimately, the filmmakers want us to be on Gary's side 100% as he rallies his chums to finish a 20-year-old pub crawl.

The movie is uncomfortably perched upon a fence post and as such, The World's End is never as funny as the filmmakers want it to be (I personally didn't crack a single smile, never mind a chuckle, laugh or guffaw). As well, the dramatic elements are impossible to swallow in any legitimate fashion and the science-fiction thriller side of things never takes flight the way in which the horror elements did so effectively in Shaun of the Dead. Most of all, the aesthetic pole-sitting reveals a huge missed opportunity that might have moved the film into the kind of satirical social observation it so desperately required to work beyond the trifle that it is.

The whole backdrop of British pub culture is an interesting one as it historically has provided one of the richest breeding grounds for the disease of alcoholism - one that not only flourished within the island borders of the United Kingdom, but extended well beyond into the colonial empire whereupon it tainted huge swaths of indigenous peoples. One might argue the social virtues of the pub culture, but the reality is that it sadly provided (and indeed, continues to provide) the habit-forming stimulus that leads to a horrible, debilitating disease.

One senses Pegg and Wright are trying to reach further, but one suspects they're either lacking the sophistication and craft of better filmmakers or they succumbed to a myriad of creative fingers in their pie. It's not impossible to achieve a higher purpose, but it requires a firm commitment on the part of its creative team to take no prisoners - a stance successfully maintained by others over a wide variety of successful works, though clearly not employed by Pegg and Wright.

The excess of American reliance upon all manner of stimuli to the emotional bandages provided by booze and drugs were indelibly captured by Terry Gilliam in his Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas nightmare and even Britain, during its cinematic New Wave during the early-to-mid-60s was able to successfully delve into the effects of socially accepted forms of inebriation amongst all the "Angry Young Man" pictures generated by the likes of Karel Reizs, Tony Richardson, Richard Lester and Lindsay Anderson. Alas, Pegg and Wright, sadly, seem to be lost as to what kind of movie it is they want to make. Like any of the aforementioned filmmakers, they needed to have the courage and commitment to take a stand.

Gary's character, for example, is clearly an alcoholic and the pub-crawling activities are but one symptom of this ultimately debilitating disease, but instead of taking us onto the far more challenging paths into hearts of darkness, Pegg and Wright are content to pay lip-service to the humanity of the world they've created and most annoyingly, place far too much emphasis upon overwrought laugh-wrenching from the booze-swilling fake camaraderie engendered by the activity of pub crawling.

The whole affair is, however, far too inconsequential to inspire anything - especially that which might best be expressed as violently vehement moral outrage over the cavalier treatment of a debilitating disease and the pathetically empty lives of all the film's characters (not just Gary, frankly). Instead, we sit in the cinema, mouths agape at all the squandered opportunities for a film that could and should have been several steps forward for a clearly talented pair of collaborators.

"The World's End" is currently in theatrical release via E1 Films.

Thursday 22 August 2013

YOU'RE NEXT! - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Some effective jolts, within its been-there-done-that script.

You're Next! (2011) **1/2
dir. Adam Wingard
Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Margaret Laney, Barbara Crampton, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, Amy Seimetz, Ti West and Larry Fessenden

Review By Greg Klymkiw

This energetic, crisply directed home invasion horror thriller delivers up the scares and gore with some panache. I especially loved the delightfully grotesque and ultra-creepy animal masks like those really cute lifelike ones you can buy for your kids at Zoo gift shops. In fact, the deadly home-invading carnage-purveyors might only have been creepier if they all wore matching Larry Harmon Bozo the Clown masks. (Or even creepier than that, if they WERE actually ALL Larry Harmon - but that, I'm afraid is another movie.)

In addition to the aforementioned, the picture is chock-full of babes. When genre thrillers - especially those set in one primary location are sans babes, it's the kiss of death. Always.

Here, though, we not only get babes, we get a mega-kick-ass Aussie chick played spiritedly by Sharni Vinson. Her character, it is revealed, was raised in a survivalist compound Down Under.

I kid you not!

An Aussie Survivalist Babe!!!

What's not to like?

Well, not that I expect much in the way of originality from this sort of movie, especially if the killings are conceived and dispatched with both humour and aplomb - as they most certainly are in the picture, but it's almost all for nought since early on we are assailed with clues which suggest the movie is going to have a twist that falls into the category of: " Oh fuck, I can see an obvious 'twist' coming from miles away and I hope to Christ it's just a red herring and the filmmakers surprise me with something as sick and twisted as what's already on display in terms of the genuine jolts and gore."

But no!

There it is in all its dullsville glory - the dreaded twist I won't reveal for the great unwashed who don't see it coming! (Anyone who doesn't see "it" coming needs a thorough brain wash.)

Come on, guys! Give me a break. Frankly, I'd have been happier if there was NO reason given for the killings save for a whack of psychos just doing what psychos do best. That really would have been better than the, uh... twist.

It's kind of too bad, because the first half of the movie proceeds like a delightful bat out of hell.

An affluent couple (the female half played by the still-delectable Re-Animator babe Barbara Crampton) are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary in their ultra-chic country mansion and have invited all their kids and assorted significant others to join them. The characters sharing bloodlines are straight out of some lower-drawer Albee or O'Neill play and the conversation round the dinner table plays out with plenty of funny, nasty sniping

Great stuff!

Then the killing starts!

Even Greater!

And then, the aforementioned plot twist!

Uh, not great! Not good! Not even passable.

Thankfully, the carnage continues, but for this genre geek, the movie never quite recovers from a twist that was probably meant to be clever or something. I hate that! This is exactly the sort of thing that can drag potentially great genre pictures right down the crapper. It's too bad, really, because I really think screenwriter Simon Barrett has a lot more going for him than resorting to crap like that. He delivers a decent backdrop, first-rate sniping and a passel of great killings.

And, of course, let's not forget the babe raised on a survival compound in Australia.

Now that is truly inspired!!!

You're Next was unveiled during Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2011) and is now playing theatrically via E-One.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

PRINCE AVALANCHE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - A Big American Sky and an Open Road that has no end.

Prince Avalanche (2013) ****
Dir. David Gordon Green

Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault, Joyce Payne

Review By Greg Klymkiw

We all live with ghosts. Even the ghosts live with ghosts. In a world that infuses us with light, one thing's for sure - nature changes physically over time, but the spirit of love that created it goes on and if we're lucky enough to catch the wave, so to speak, we cascade into a kind of spiritual immortality that keeps all we hold dear close to our hearts. Such is love that it comes from as mysterious a place as the very creation of being and how it manifests itself in ways we'd least expect.

In David Gordon Green's haunting and deeply moving Prince Avalanche, Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are flung together by love - certainly not for each other, but because Alvin is in love with Lance's sister and has benevolently offered to give her aimless little brother a job.

It's a great job - well, at least it would be to some and most definitely for Alvin - because it affords the opportunity to work within the very heart of serenity itself, the natural wilderness beauty of a forested state park in Texas. Though the actual work is occasionally backbreaking, it requires precision and concentration (albeit of the repetitive kind) and best of all, there are no people.

People are noise, clutter and rabble. Anywhere other than the deep wilderness is concrete and pollution. Lance and Alvin couldn't be any different than we find them at the beginning of the film - Lance is horny, restless and longing to get back to civilization, while Alvin seems to be intent upon diving even deeper into the solace of nature.

Whether it be romantic or otherwise, love often wends its way into people's hearts when the parties are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and so it develops between Alvin and Lance - a deep, brotherly friendship wherein each evolve in positive ways that might otherwise have never been possible without the clash of their differences.

Opposites, in both life and the movies, do attract.

There are only two other characters we meet in the film. One is a friendly old truck driver (Lance LeGault) who appears when our protagonists need the bonding and healing qualities of the old man's exquisitely pure home brew the most. The other is an old lady (Joyce Payne) who wanders about the forest, infused with a cheerfully obsessive quality as she pokes about the charred ruins of her former home - reconstructing and remembering what it was once like; her mind, her imagination both as sharp as a tack. She even inspires Alvin to join her in the game of piecing the home together - in his mind, of course. Even still, as she painstakingly attempts to recreate the pieces of her life, she admits that since her house burned down, it gets harder for her everyday. "I always thought I was adaptable," she sadly admits.

Green is a versatile filmmaker who has careened from pseudo-Malick arthouse items like George Washington to the very offbeat bro-mantic druggie comedy Pineapple Express to clear paycheque-seeking grotesques as (the unwatchable) Your Highness and (the surprsingly funny) The Sitter. I've always had a soft spot for his work (or certainly, the very idea of his canon and evolution as a filmmaker to date), but for me, Prince Avalanche finally nailed that "Okay, I want to see everything he does" pinnacle.

On the surface, we have a very simple and quiet picture, but at its core the movie roils with several layers of emotional resonance and the kind of inspirational philosophies that, in the recent work of Terence Malick seem ludicrously pretentious, but in Green's strong hands as a storyteller, take on the kind of truly blessed marriage one would want from both style and substance. The movie, it turns out, is an American remake of an Icelandic feature from 2011 called Either Way. I haven't seen it, though now I suspect I will. For the time being, though, I have a hard time imagining this material in any other hands.

Part of this is that the story Green tells, while clearly universal, is filtered so strongly though that glorious American tradition of placing macro-lenses upon those dots called human beings against the wide-open space of America. There's also, frankly, an originality of spirit to Green's picture that digs to the very core of such weighty issues as nature and existence that at several points in the proceedings, tiny little moments sneak up on you and the result is often an emotional wallop that leaves you winded.

Certainly, by the film's conclusion, Green inspires the kind of tears that can only be wrought by someone with a Master's touch. Love and the eternal search for love is what permeates every frame of the film and the cumulative effect is overwhelming. At one point, the aforementioned notion of ghosts even ties directly into the spiritual qualities of both love and nature when Alvin says: "True love is just like a ghost - people talk about it but very few have actually seen it." And much like many great American films and literature, we're always presented with the notion of the open road, a road infused with so much promise and yet littered by the ghosts of those seeking genuine freedom that few will ever truly know. On the vast plain of American literature and popular culture, the journey is the high, but the destination is sadly and most often the low (Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde, On the Road, anyone?).

If it's anything at all, Green's picture is as profoundly elegiac as it is mysteriously hopeful - so much so that in one scene, the old woman climbs into the old man's truck and he's oddly unaware of her presence. Rather than insisting that she does indeed exist, Alvin asks: "If there was a woman in that truck - I'm not saying that there is - but if there was, would you be good to her? Would you make sure that everything is okay?"

With the steely resolve of all old men of the open road, he replies: "You better believe it!"

We believe him, just as we believe everything so sad, beautiful and moving about Green's great film. What he provides is a kind of strange eternity, a kind of heavenly world not unlike the one Frank Capra delivered in It's a Wonderful Life where in several shots, we see the Bedford Falls movie theatre marquee announcing that its current feature film is Leo McCarey's The Bells of St. Mary's. Everytime I see Capra's picture, I'm jettisoned into the kind of bliss that only movies (well, and on occasion, life) can provide. The film is a glorious reminder that in some men's heavens, The Bells of St. Mary's will be playing for an eternity.

Prince Avalanche offers another kind of cinematic afterlife - one where several human beings will grow while discovering tranquility, friendship and the meaning of love under the watchful eyes of a big American sky and those vessels that will transport them - forever - onto an open road, that has no end.

"Prince Avalanche" is currently in theatrical release via VSC.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

ELYSIUM - Review By Greg Klymkiw - We know the future will be bleak, but will it really be so noisy?

Elysium (2013) *1/2
Dir: Neill Blomkamp

Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Bigger isn't necessarily better. They say it's what you do with your "package" that counts. Neill Blomkamp's follow-up effort to his exceptional SF thrill-fest District 9 is big, all right, but Elysium is so pulsatingly engorged and bombastically clumsy that its wads keep blowing, but they're blanks and the unhappy viewer will find themselves saddled with little more than a beached whale of a movie.

For all its jangling urgency, Elysium is inert.

Part of the problem is the familiar dystopian backdrop to a slender narrative that never rises above the predictable. Gosh, golly and gee - slap my face with thine meaty muscle - it appears, from the opening frames, that the world has become an over-populated hellhole.

I bet you didn't see that one coming.

The upper crust, you see, has fled the planet to reside on a humongous luxury space station which revolves in a spectacular view for all the dregs of humanity to see. The Totalitarian rich folk defend their pristine new world with every weapon at their disposal. The real power is the head of security, a perversely sexy and boner-enticingly pinched Jodie Foster (armed with an awful South African accent). Though her liberal bosses try to quash her over-zealous actions, she ultimately gets carte blanche to protect the space station at all costs.

Ex-con and exploited worker Matt Damon has always dreamed of living on the space station. When he suffers an industrial accident that will kill him in a matter of days, he becomes hell-bent on getting to the Shangri-la in the sky where the means to cure him exist. Conveniently, his on-again-off-again girlfriend, a nurse, has a child that's also stricken with a deadly ailment needing the curative benefits available on the space station.

All of this is relentlessly rendered and not at all helped by Damon's stolid skin-deep heroics and a supporting cast of testosterone-pumped good guys and bad guys - mostly indistinguishable from each other save for the degrees to which Blomkamp has them shouting at the tops of their collective lungs.

Worst of all is the narrative, such as it is, a meagre excuse for Blomkamp to tire us out with a steroid-enhanced series of muscular, but thoroughly uninteresting set pieces. Since Matt has been partially restored as a cyborg, he is able to download the apace station's entire mainframe on his otherwise empty cerebellum.

Oops, this won't do at all. Our stiff-jawed hero needs to be apprehended - preferably alive since he now holds the only keys to the kingdom. It is, indeed, double-trouble-time, folks. Blomkamp gets to foist a whole mess of efficiently rendered, but ultimately dull explosions, hand-to-hand tussling and gunplay upon us - all accompanied by a big, booming, self-important score that underlines just how big it all is. His screenplay is littered with all manner of social commentary, but unlike the clever narrative of District 9, it never feels integral to the whole, but shoehorned into the proceedings as if to remind us (and perhaps Blomkamp) that maybe, just maybe, the movie isn't quite as hollow and stupid as it is.

It's the movie that just keeps on going with no seeming end in sight, like some vibrating mega-dildo cutting swaths blindly, powered by the Energizer Bunny and not much else (certainly no wit and originality), and worst of all, with no seeming end in sight. Then, as Elysium finally deigns to release its climactic goo, it does so only because the movie has exhausted itself and by extension, the audience as well.

"Elysium" is in mega-wide theatrical release via Sony Pictures.

Monday 12 August 2013

SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The Parallax View in Green Tights via Hammer Studios

Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960) dir. Terence Fisher **1/2
Starring: Richard Greene, Peter Cushing, Sarah Branch, Nigel Green, Niall MacGinnis, Oliver Reed, Desmond Llewelyn

Review By Greg Klymkiw

With the theatrical release of Ridley Scott's abominable revisionist prequel "Robin Hood", movie fans have been blessed with the DVD releases of virtually every piece of Robin Hood cinema produced in the western world. Of course, the best film of this great character will always be Warner Brothers' Errol Flynn technicolor epic, but I'm extremely pleased to see a decent transfer of a movie I loved as a kid - "Sword of Sherwood Forest".

Starring Richard Greene, who portrayed Robin for five years on the great British television series "The Adventures of Robin Hood", this big screen rendering was a staple for me during Saturday kiddies matinees and later on Sunday afternoon television movie broadcasts. Even as a young lad, I knew this movie was nowhere near as good as the television series, but that never stopped me from seeing it over and over again. Seeing it now, for the first time in over forty years, I had a rollicking good time and see why I enjoyed watching it so many times. It's extremely entertaining - pure and simple. It also features some robust merry-man comedy and a terrific final twenty minutes of swashbuckling action.

The relatively simple plot involves Robin and his band of merry men thwarting an assassination attempt upon the Archbishop of Canterbury. The wicked Sheriff of Nottingham (played to utter perfection by Peter Cushing) is teamed up with a group of greedy landowners to gain control of some strategically important land to fortify with a new castle - one which would place them in a position of considerable power over the Crown. This, of course, will never do - not with King Richard away at the Crusades - but with Robin Hood on the case, it's never in question that good will triumph over evil.

Seeing the movie now, there's a fair bit about it that's pretty interesting and engaging. First and foremost is how the entire story hinges on assassination. While this flew over my head as a kid, many people would have, at the time, first seen the picture second-run and/or on television soon after JFK's assassination. Because the political intrigue of the film involves cold-blooded murder and conspiracy it probably had some impact on people - though that impact seems even more profound decades later.

In the context of what we know now, there's one sequence that's genuinely well written, expertly directed and very chilling. Robin is recruited by one of the evil landowners who takes considerable interest in Robin's prowess as an archer. Robin takes up this post to gain as much information as he can, but his character soon becomes as appalled as we are as well. Robin is given a series of archery challenges and as they progress, it slowly and creepily becomes apparent that he's being tested for his ability to perform a public political assassination. It's not quite Pakula's "The Parallax View" (albeit one with green tights), but director Terence Fisher - no slouch in the suspense department - handles this sequence with the kind of efficiency he was known for.

Fisher, of course, is one of the other interesting aspects of the film. Produced by Hammer Studios, renowned both then and now for their superb science fiction and horror films chose very wisely in assigning their star director to this project. Fisher was not only a director of numerous episodes of the Robin Hood series, but was a highly skilled and stylish filmmaker who delivered such classics as "Curse of Frankenstein", "Horror of Dracula", "Brides of Dracula" and "The Mummy" (in addition to numerous other pictures which, ranged from solid to excellent, if not always in the classic vein).

In addition to the aforementioned assassination test sequence, Fisher handles a number of scenes very well - one in which the Sheriff offers one of Robin's men a pardon in exchange for information and chillingly kills the man in cold blood once he gets what he needs, and another involving the storming of the priory to commit cold-blooded murder which is thwarted by a truly thrilling action sequence. There's also a surprise murder sequence which I won't ruin for you, but Fisher handles it with such vicious relish that on this recent viewing, even I was kind of shocked in spite of all the times I saw the movie as a kid.

The surprise murder is committed by the completely psychotic Lord Melton who is played by none other than the magnificent Oliver Reed. Reed's given so many great performances, but this has to be one of the weirdest he's ever delivered. He plays his character with a truly bizarre, non-descript, but definitely "foreign" accent and he minces about so foppishly, nastily and Nancy-boy-like, that he seems to be auditioning well in advance for a role in "Cruising". One of the more delightful moments involves Reed prissily riding his horse with a beloved falcon on his shoulder that he strokes with the same kind of finger-gesticulating relish as Charles Gray or Donald Pleasance as Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the Bond pictures. When something completely shocking happens to the falcon, Reed's stuttering, twittering response is priceless.

The picture has other small pleasures. For movie geeks, Desmond Llewelyn who played "Q" in all the pre-2000 Bond pictures, plays a small role and for Hammer aficionados, the unfortunate non-actress playing Maid Marian (the lamentably wooden and rather unfortunately sur-named Sarah Branch) is more than suitably endowed in the mammary department - one of Hammer's more delightful trademarks for all its leading ladies.

I can't actually defend the picture as anything resembling exceptional cinema, but "Sword of Sherwood Forest" is a perfect picture to curl up with on a rainy afternoon.

And like I said earlier, it shames Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood" and was, no doubt, made on a budget SLIGHTLY less than would have been paid to Cate Blanchett's manicurist. And while Richard Greene as Robin is starting to be a tad long-in-tooth for the role, he's at least not as Friar-Tuck-like as Russell Crowe.

"Sword of Sherwood Forest" is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment along with three other Robin Hood pictures in the "Robin Hood Collection" - "Prince of Thieves" with the inimitable Jon Hall, "Rogues of Sherwood Forest" with the astounding John (former husband of Bo) Derek and "The Bandit of Sherwood Forest" starring the always-versatile Cornel Wilde.

Saturday 10 August 2013

THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING - Is this not the stupidest title ever? Wait'll you see the movie.

The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (2007) *
dir. David L. Cunningham
Starring: Alexander Ludwig, Christopher Eccleston, Ian McShane, Frances Conroy

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Given the overwhelming commercial success of family-aimed fantasy movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series and The Chronicles of Narnia, it’s actually a bit perplexing to me that we have not had MORE lower budgeted knock-offs with acceptable levels of production value, derivative screenplays and bereft-of-flavour by-the-numbers direction.

The wait is now over.

The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (one of the more idiotically clumsy titles to grace the silver screen in some time) is just such a motion picture. This dismal cinematic composting toilet boasts an obnoxious lead character, even more obnoxious supporting characters, a just plain simplistic plot, numerous plot holes, inexplicable behaviour, very little in the way of forward-moving character development, stupid dialogue and competent, but ultimately, not too imaginative special effects.

Based upon what must be the first of a series of kids literature that began in the 80s and written by Susan Cooper (who is apparently and especially much-beloved by children that grew up on her work) this actually has to be one of the worst family fantasy movies I have ever seen – so much so, that I am thankful I have not wasted my own child’s time on any of this woman’s books as her writing must make J. K. Rowling and those of her ilk seem like bloody Leo Tolstoy.

I am, of course, assuming the source material is awful without reading it because the screenplay adaptation comes from John Hodge, the masterful author of such screenplays as Shallow Grave and Trainspotting and if he was unable to cobble something together on the page that was even remotely interesting, competent or entertaining, how could I begin to assume the original book was any good to begin with.

The movie tells the story of an obnoxious kid and his obnoxious family who move from America to Britain. The young lad, Will, not unlike a pint-sized Dustin Hoffman from Straw Dogs, is especially weirded out by the odd ways of these wonky English people in their bucolic, whimsical and oh-so quirky English town while conversely, his new friends and some of the townspeople alternate between down-home friendly and inbred, isolationist malevolence. (Much as I’d be tempted to call this a family friendly cross between Harry Potter and Straw Dogs, I won’t, because that actually would make The Seeker sound like a movie worth seeing.)

Soon, Will’s got an incredibly bored-looking Ian MacShane blubbering on to him about some nonsense involving his destiny as the only warrior of the Light who can fight the forces of the Dark in order to keep the world safe forever.

Enter The Rider (Christopher Eccleston), this snarling nasty guy on a horse who looks like a cross between a Thunder Bay rocker dude and a Black Knight by way of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Rider (a truly boneheaded name) is the prime mover and shaker of the forces of Dark and it’s up to young Will to take him out. In addition to this, Will needs to seek six items of import to keep the Light safe.

This could have been a most challenging treasure hunt for young, obnoxious Will. Thankfully he finds everything rather easily within a block or two of where he lives.

At this point in our review, the best thing I can do is spoil the ending for you, because I am sure you would never guess what happens and I certainly do not want you to have to actually sit through this movie as I did.

Are you ready for it?

Here it is.

The Seeker fulfills his destiny.

The Dark is defeated.

Light rules.

Why anyone would bother to make this picture is beyond me? Why anyone would watch it is an even greater mystery. Why anyone would bother letting their kids read Susan Cooper’s books also mystifies me (at least if this picture is any indication of what they’re like). Then again, why anyone would let their kids read any of the crap out there that’s aimed at kids – especially that Rowling woman – is beyond me since there’s a wealth of great literature for children that already exists from the likes of Roald Dahl, James Fenimore Cooper, Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexander Dumas, Rudyard Kipling and many, many more.

I’d also like to know why the director of this film, one David. L. Cunningham, even bothers to live and breathe since his direction suggests otherwise.

A movie like The Seeker seems so abominable on every level, I’m ashamed to have even bothered writing this much about it, In fact, it’s so execrable that I am ashamed of forcing you to read what I have to say about it, so I think you should really just clean the palate of your eyeballs and mind (so to speak) and stop reading now.

"The Seeker" is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment


Friday 9 August 2013

THE ARISTOCATS - Anything after Walt Disney's death was Verboten in our home, unless Walt had developed and/or green-lit it prior to his Big Nod-Off

The Aristocats (1970) ****
dir. Wolfgang Reitherman
Voices by: Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers

Review By Greg Klymkiw

With my first child, I had a strict rule regarding what Disney product she was allowed to see – especially when it came to the animated product. Nothing that was made after Uncle Walt’s death would be allowed in our home. Everything in the post-Walt world was risible at worst and mediocre at best. For me, this especially includes that wretched period which barfed out the overblown and overrated and overwrought “Aladdin”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Little Mermaid” and (gag me with a very big spoon), “The Lion King” and everything else of that unfortunate ilk. These dreadful pictures with their annoying use of actors like Robin Williams and syrupy scores would not only remain verboten in my home, but were, no doubt, sending Walt’s corpse into major grave-spinning mode.

There was, however, one exception to this strict rule and that exception was this: films that Walt personally developed and/or had already given a thumbs-up to for production PRIOR to his death were perfectly acceptable. The Aristocats, the Disney Company’s twentieth animated feature film was finished after Walt’s death, but developed personally by him. A-Okay, by me.

Some criticize the movie for being super-derivative of so many Uncle Walt classics, which, of course, is utter nonsense and true all at once. While there is no denying that “The Aristocats” is basically “Lady and the Tramp” with cats, crossed with “101 Dalmatians” and dollops - here and there - from a handful of others, all that basically proves is that good stories are always worth telling and re-telling and re-telling again – just so long as the details are not only different, but that they are, for lack of a better description, cool.

And “The Aristocats” is nothing if not cool.

With a late 50s jazz mentality set against the ultra-romantic and super-cool backdrop of Gay Par-ee, or, if you must, Paris, “The Aristocats” is up there with the best of them because it takes something from a previous (“old”) generation that already WAS cool and makes it cool again. Keep in mind that “The Aristocats” was released in 1970, long after rock n’ roll had become king, but rather than resorting to what was hip in terms of “now”, the picture steadfastly held onto what was cool in the past and not only cool, but frankly, the kind of thing that COULD withstand the test of time and appeal to generations well beyond the here and now. Disney was always ahead of his time, but he also knew that the ephemeral could make some quick bucks, but wouldn’t ensure several lifetimes of profits. And it was that knack for creating work that could keep making money for generation upon generation, work that had staying power, work that could, in fact live forever, is the very reason that Disney was a genius and a visionary and the ultimate filmmaker – an artist of the highest order in addition to being a captain – no, a General of Industry.

In a nutshell, the picture tells the story of a crazy old rich lady (Hermione Baddeley) who has a gorgeous, pampered cat called The Duchess (Eva Gabor) who, in turn, has three cute and precocious kittens. When the old rich lady decides to bequeath her whole fortune to her manservant Edgar, he decides to kill all the cats since he won’t get a single penny until all four cats live out all their nine lives due to a clause in the will that puts the kitties before Edgar. He cat-naps the felines, takes them to the middle of nowhere, tries to drown them, but is foiled in his nefarious intentions by a couple of mangy, but heroic old hound dogs. The kitties, stranded in the middle of nowhere are assisted in their plight by O’Malley (Phil Harris) and his other alley cats, a bunch of American expat-cats, who play mean jazz as only Americans in France could.

The humour, the characters, the voice-work are all first-rate. The animation, especially in terms of detail with respect to feline behaviour, is exceptional. But what really rocks (so to speak) in this picture is the fantastic musical score – especially the “Ev’rbody Wants To Be A Cat” number that is the soaring definition of the expression: “jazz hot”.

I personally saw The Aristocats in 1970 as a kid and subsequently on a couple of occasions when it was officially re-released theatrically. I saw it when it was first released on DVD, and most recently watched it in the magnificent new 2-disc DVD special edition released by Buena Vista. Each time the movie held up magnificently. It’s one great picture.

That said, my daughter eventually demanded to see all those banned Disney titles. I grudgingly bought all of them. Imagine, if you will, my shame and remorse at bringing “Aladdin”, “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast” and, God help me, “The [Goddamn] Lion King” into my home. Interestingly enough, my daughter watched all of those dreadful titles once and once only. She has never wanted to watch any of them again. The true Disney films, that she’d be indoctrinated with, however, are always on – again and again and again. She never tires of the real thing. “The Aristocats” is a movie she’s seen at least twenty times – probably more.

This, of course, not only proves how great Walt Disney was, but how important it is to expose children to only the best in their early years. That way, they learn how to discriminate between what’s good and bad. Most pointedly, they develop an excellent shit detector when it comes to much of the garbage that has been made in the RECENT past. When their yardstick is the very best, everything else becomes so much landfill.


Thursday 8 August 2013

LIGHTS! CAMERA! ELVIS! - Blue Hawaii, Easy Come Easy Go, GI Blues, Girls Girls Girls, King Creole, Fun in Acapulco, Roustabout, Paradise Hawaiian Style

The Lights! Camera! Elvis! DVD Collection: Blue Hawaii (1961), Easy Come Easy Go (1967), GI Blues (1960), Girls Girls Girls (1962), King Creole (1958), Fun in Acapulco (1963), Roustabout (1964) and Paradise Hawaiian Style (1966)


By Greg Klymkiw

Paramount Home Video’s contribution to the recent glut of Presley celluloid on the market is a nicely packaged box set entitled: “Lights! Camera! Elvis! Collection”. It is precisely the packaging – a fancy blue suede box that holds the eight movies – which counts as one of two reasons to recommend picking up this title that exploits (I mean, commemorates) the 30th anniversary of the King’s deadly slide off the porcelain throne onto the cool slab of Memphis marble adorning the second floor of Graceland.

The second reason to pick up the box is the inclusion of Mr. Presley’s fine movie – the just-short-of-great King Creole. Based loosely on Harold Robbins’s best-selling pot-boiling trash-lit "A Stone For Danny Fisher" that serves, not surprisingly, as a solid structural coat-hanger to this stylish dark fabric of late-noir. It's a Michael (Casablanca) Curtiz-helmed studio picture that tells the tale of poor-boy Danny Fisher and his rise from the gutter and ultimate acceptance of his loving Dad while battling a sleazy gangster and having to choose between a life of crime or a life of song.

Featuring a terrific supporting cast, King Creole features the delectably sleazy Walter Matthau as the gangster-club-owner who makes Danny’s and pretty much everyone else’s life miserable, a sad and sexy Carolyn Jones as Matthau’s Madonna-whore moll with a heart of gold, a suitably pathetic Dean Jagger as Danny’s loser Dad and the radiant and utterly magical Dolores Hart as Presley’s main love interest. Better yet is Presley’s fine performance. His smouldering screen presence is palpable and he displays a wide range of emotion. If Col. Tom Parker had not so horribly bungled Elvis’s motion picture career, the King might well have joined the ranks of James Dean, Paul Newman and Marlon Brando as one of the truly great angry young men of 50s and 60s celluloid rather than the popular, but ultimately cartoon-like joke he became in later pictures.

The rest of the package is a woeful collection of some of Presley’s worst screen offences – some more risible than others, but risible nonetheless. From the standpoint of picture quality, this collection offers transfers ranging from adequate to first-rate. The lack of extra features (save for original theatrical trailers) is a bit annoying, but only King Creole really suffers from having no additional tidbits to add some informational cherries to the ample and tasty treat of the picture itself. It’d be great to try and score a commentary track (or even extensive interview) from Dolores Hart who, at the age of 25, left the fame and glamour of the movie business to become a nun in the Catholic Church. Even now, she apparently holds the distinction of being the only nun who is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I also think a scholarly commentary would be great with this picture especially since Curtiz’s direction is so first-rate and the late-noir style would also deserve some in-depth analysis.

The other movies in this box include one of Elvis’s biggest hits, the utterly ludicrous travelogue Blue Hawaii which has the dubious distinction of virtually no plot and an annoyingly over-the-top Angela Lansbury offering support. G.I. Blues is a plodding attempt to present Presley’s service experience in an entertaining fashion. Stella Stevens is mouth-wateringly gorgeous in Girls! Girls! Girls! but her character is such a sourball that one is not surprised that Elvis’s eyes may occasionally roam around at the constant bevy of beauties around him. Fun in Acapulco and Paradise Hawaiian Style are both dull and silly travelogues, while Easy Come Easy Gotries to mix it up with some deep-sea diving action to liven up the stale proceedings.

These titles are pretty woeful, but for some they might offer enough nostalgia appeal to warrant sitting through more than once. I, for one, was kind of hoping for at least some melancholic magic that’d bring me back to those halcyon days when I first saw many of these movies as a kid attending the Saturday matinees at a little neighbourhood cinema in my old hometown. Through the gentle haze of childhood recollection, I thought many of these pictures were really wonderful. Alas, they do not hold up to adult scrutiny. Elvis is always cool in the pictures, but it’s alternately depressing seeing this brilliant young actor in material that is so below his talents that all feelings of bygone warm and fuzzies dissipate pretty quickly.

Other than the terrific King Creole, the only other picture in this collection that might warrant more than one viewing is the solid, though unexceptional Roustabout that tells a tale of Elvis amidst some old-time carnies played with classic verve by Barbara Stanwyck and Leif Erickson. This is one movie that might have benefited from having someone or something resembling a director behind the lens as opposed to the dull-as-dishwater competence of John Rich who is, not surprisingly, a veteran television director. He’s a decent enough camera jockey, but it might have been nice to imagine this picture in the hands of someone like Don Siegel or Sam Peckinpah.

Now, I am sure that some might argue that the whole point of the Elvis pictures is to showcase the songs and the King performing them in a variety of locations. This might have been fine in the day, but it’s awfully hard to watch most of what’s in this box set after watching King Creole. It’s not only a good movie with a genuinely good Elvis performance, but the music is presented in a context that does not detract from the noir-ish world Curtiz creates, but actually works within it, not unlike the musical sequences in something like the classic Rita Hayworth picture Gilda. Among a whole mess o’ tuneful crawfish ditties crooned by everyone’s fave lipster, my personal delights were his renditions of the title track, “Trouble” and the get-up-and-boogie “Hard Headed Woman”.

And while this may be hard to believe, many of the other movies don’t actually feature Elvis’s best numbers. They’re always beautifully performed – his voice is smoother than smooth, but tinged with those occasional wild-man highs and lows that can send us to truly orgasmic places – however, many of the songs themselves just plain suck. There’s no polite way of saying it, so allow me to reiterate – they just plain suck! For example, the Blue Hawaii soundtrack features one – count ‘em – one truly legendary song (“Can’t Help Falling In Love”), but I am sure my life will be full if I never again have to hear “Rock-a-Hula Baby”. And yes, I know the album from this picture was probably one of the biggest albums of all-time, but that doesn’t mean most of the songs on it were any good. In G.I. Blues we get to see Elvis sing “Blue Suede Shoes”, but we also have to suffer through numerous musical mediocrities. This is pretty much the case for the rest of the pictures in this box set.

In summation, the “Lights! Camera! Elvis! Collection” presents an interesting look at how a brilliant young actor was used, abused and wasted – especially in light of the great work he displayed in King Creole. If you must own the blue suede box that houses the abovementioned titles, then feel free to pick this collection up. Otherwise, you might do better by just renting Roustabout and purchasing King Creole on its own or waiting until someone issues a special edition of this fine picture. Art thou listening Paramount Home Video? Do Elvis and his fans proud and get cracking on a tasty DVD gumbo of this fabulous movie.


Wednesday 7 August 2013

THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE - Review By Greg Klymkiw (with added material) as it continues a successful run across Canada at the BYTOWNE CINEMA in Ottawa September 23rd to 25th, CINÉMA DU PARC, Montreal September 29th to October 3rd, REGINA PUBLIC LIBRARY THEATRE, Regina on October 3rd and PRINCESS CINEMA, Waterloo on October 3rd.

These are the GHOSTS in OUR MACHINE

THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE by Liz Marshall and featuring animal photographer and activist Jo-Anne McArthur, continues its successful run across Canada and can next be seen at the BYTOWNE CINEMA in Ottawa September 23rd to 25th, CINÉMA DU PARC, Montreal September 29th to October 3rd, REGINA PUBLIC LIBRARY THEATRE, Regina on October 3rd and PRINCESS CINEMA, Waterloo on October 3rd.

If you have not seen it, SEE IT!

If you have seen it, SEE IT AGAIN!

I cannot begin to stress the beauty, craft and most notably, the IMPORTANCE of this film. For me, the most astonishing element is how much emphasis it places on the individual spirits and personalities animals have and as such, are no different that humans when subjected to abuse. Since accidentally and now fervently becoming a rescuer of farm animals from abuse and certain death, I've seen things out there in the world that have sickened me beyond belief and I've furthermore experienced - first-hand - what it's like to discover diverse personalities in a variety of animals in my family's care. Seeing Liz Marshall's film worked as both an eye-opener and corroboration of my own experiences. It's a **** picture with ***** subject matter that will both contribute to its shelf life and masterpiece potential.

Pumpkin's Story: We Love them.
They love us back. The love is real.
Believe it!

Just recently, we were at a country livestock auction and happily purchased five more chickens that had almost never seen the light of day and lived exclusively in tiny, dirty coops. Even more horrifically, to see how many foul and poultry were shoved into tiny cages and forced to stay there for hours in the stifling heat until the auction was over instilled this desire to buy all of them for the highest price imaginable to save them from this suffering. Well, we saved five. That was all we could afford.

At this same auction, there is an attached flea market replete with puppy mill purveyors selling a variety of dogs - all shoved into horribly cramped surroundings. It's absolutely revolting.

Close to my heart were these sick, poor ponies trussed to a turnstile and forced to walk endlessly in circles with kids on their backs in blazing sun with nary a sign of water and most certainly no food. THESE ANIMALS HAVE SPIRITS AND PERSONALITIES, but looking at them shuffling round and round, they all shared the same expression: MISERY.

It's this notion of stabling equines and feeding them only twice a day that really pisses me off. These animals are being abused because it's the way things are done because it's convenient for the horsemen to do so. Fucking assholes!

All equines have delicate digestive systems and need to be feeding and digesting almost constantly. They need to graze and be free as much as possible - preferably in woodlands, NOT wide open spaces under hot sun with no shade.

And here were six poor ponies working their equine butts off, not being fed, nor being given fresh water or even a proper rest between pony back rides for kids. Seeing the tiny trailer these ponies would have been crammed into to endure a three-hour-long two-way trip from their stable to the flea market in addition to the aforementioned cruelties was heartbreaking beyond belief.


Don't miss the aforementioned opportunities to see The Ghosts in Our Machine.

For those who have yet to read it, the following is a cut and paste (but with new, added material) of my original review from the film's first platform of theatrical release.

"[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.

As 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.

Sadly, several days later, it disappeared into the woods again. We like to think it found a wild rooster. That it lives somewhere out there with its mate and chicks. We know how unlikely this is, but it's a fantasy we know is impossible to fuel for all those poor chickens crammed into laying farms - forced to generate eggs for a year, then sent to slaughter.

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.