Thursday 31 October 2013

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013 - Transplanted Gothic

The patriarch (Bill Sage) of a small American family unit becomes unravelled when his wife (Kassie DePaiva) dies. It now falls upon the eldest daughter (Julia Garner) to cook all the family meals, but she really has no stomach for the unconventional food and its strict ritualistic preparation. When the local doctor (Michael Parks) performs an autopsy on Mom, his findings suggest her death is consistent with that of those who also die from the steady consumption of human meat. It's only a matter of time before the family is discovered engaging in a centuries-old tradition rooted in abject generational poverty, superstition and Christian fundamentalism.

We Are What We Are (2013) ***
Dir. Jim Mickle
Starring: Bill Sage, Michael Parks, Julia Garner,
Ambyr Childers, Kassie DePaiva, Jack Gore, Kelly McGillis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I'm not prone to knee-jerk negative reactions towards movie remakes, but sometimes, the originals are so damn good that the mere notion of a redo is enough to induce apoplexy (of the "nervosa" kind). Jim Mickle's well directed 2013 American version of the identically-titled 2010 Jorge Michel Grau shocker from Mexico is just such a film.

Grau's picture was a knockout, a genuine revelation to me. Then again, so too was Mickle's astounding 2010 release Stake Land (not to mention his terrifying 2006 first feature Mulberry Street). Hearing Mickle would be handling the remake allayed my concerns somewhat. What Mickle has wrought here is a good picture and a fine take on its progenitor, but I have to admit that the transference of Grau's original tale, doesn't quite make the sojourn out of Mexico to the Gothic American White Trash territory as imagined by Mickle and longtime screenplay collaborator Nick Damici. Not that it doesn't try. It tries hard and often succeeds.

The best element of the picture is how Mickle slowly, painstakingly builds both suspense and grotesque horror. Mickle is a natural born filmmaker and there is seldom a frame or beat that's out of step. In fact there's something very peculiar at work here in just how rich his approach is since there's a genuine attempt to humanize its characters in a way where we often empathize with their situation even when they're engaging in utterly horrendous actions. This is in stark contrast to the original Mexican version where its characters are pretty reprehensible as human beings, and even so, I'd argue that Grau's film is infused with humanistic qualities also.

If you've not seen the Mexican version of this strange tale, you might actually be better off seeing Mickle's film first and then Grau's version. Mickle's version feels quite a bit different than Grau's, but I'm planning to give We Are What We Are 2013 a bit of a rest before I go back to it - just in case my appreciation of it has been too tempered by my love for Grau's picture. Mickle's film is intelligent, beautifully wrought and full of terrific performances. It might actually be a lot better than I'm giving it credit for, so by all means take a look at it in the manner prescribed above.

"We Are What We Are" was an official selection of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

THE COUNSELOR - Review By Greg Klymkiw - If you must see this movie, do not pay to see it. Its makers do not deserve a single penny. Anyone who exhibits it does not deserve a single penny. In fact, anyone who pays for this movie is a chump of the highest order and deserves a good face-sitting from someone who has not wiped or washed for weeks.

A lawyer (Michael Fassbender) needs money to buy his gal (Penélope Cruz) an expensive engagement ring from Bruno Ganz (who will henceforth always look like Adolph Hitler thanks to his performance in Downfall). The cash-strapped lawyer decides to score some quick wads of dough in a drug deal set up by a client (Javier Bardem) whose girlfriend (Cameron Diaz) humps windshields. A Heineken-loving middleman (Brad Pitt) moves the deal forward. Things go awry. Many die.

*NOTE* My lowest rating for a motion picture is 1 PUBIC HAIR. A movie must truly earn the right to such a hallowed position. Normally, a film like THE COUNSELOR would deserve the lowest rating I can bestow, but if I did that, I fear I would be causing injury to a motion picture like SHARKNADO. I am therefore compelled to create a NEW rating lower than a PUBIC HAIR. So, for Sir Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy's aborted fetus pretending to be a movie, I hereby announce a rating even lower. I hereby call it: TURD DISCOVERED BEHIND "HARRY'S CHAR BROIL & DINING LOUNGE". The new rating will be accompanied by the photo of the real thing:

The Counselor (2013)

Dir. Sir Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz,
Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Bruno Ganz, Rosie Pérez, Rubén Blades, John Leguizamo

Review By Greg Klymkiw

So I'm sitting there watching this thing and listening to the worst pillow talk dialogue imaginable between Michael Fassbender and Penélope Cruz while they loll about under a blanket and just before Fassbender starts to muff dive Cruz, she suggests she needs to clean her pussy and Fassbender tells her he'd prefer to lap up the smegma, dried-Fassbender-spunk and all other manner of the viscous fluids and Krusty Kremes churning around "down there" and while he starts Hoovering it all up, Cruz has the temerity to tell him how to do it and I'm, like, not only on the verge of puking, but a tad annoyed that she'd dare be making any suggestions as to his tongue-action at all as he's graciously offered to spic n' span her sullied vaginal septic tank sans a thorough douching.

I suspected at this point in the proceedings I might be in for a rough ride with this one.

But THEN I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that The Counselor had only one direction to go when I was force-fed one idiotic, pointless scene after another wherein the film's characters yapped endlessly in some preposterous Cormac McCarthy pidgin code blending the worst hardboiled dialogue imaginable with obtusely stupid and simplistic speechifying and philosophizing.

All of this moronic babble-speak is occasionally punctuated with dollops of extreme violence (none of it directed with any panache whatsoever), including shootings, stabbings and beheadings.

And then, there is a sequence wherein Cameron Diaz humps the windshield of Javier Bardem's Ferrari.

Now, on paper, all this must sound potentially delectable, like some crazed melodramatic 70s male existential angst crime drama directed by John Waters after a lobotomy administered by Dr. Cukrowicz in Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer, but I can assure you it's not that promising. Sir Ridley Scott's direction which, seems to grow increasingly bereft of anything resembling competence is not even worthy of being termed as the work of a hack. It's well below that: unmotivated camera moves, inertly ugly compositions, lifeless herky-jerky action sequences, no attention to detail of any consequence and worst of all, a slavish adherence to the worst writing of Cormac McCarthy's entire career.

This is the novelist's original screenplay debut - way to go, Cormac!

The movie makes absolutely no sense and yet, its pathetic attempts at mystery are anything but mysterious. Anyone who can't see from the beginning that Cameron Diaz is the shady puppet master of all the betrayals and supposed twists must surely be a bear of very little brain. Even if her complicity in the double-triple-quadruple-crosses is supposed to be obvious, it makes no real sense and if not making sense is the intention, then it's just not achieved with anything resembling skill, artistry or purpose (though its writer and any of his apologists might think otherwise).

Of course, the film's fake, surface nihilism is ultimately supposed to be the point - one supposes - and I sure have no problem with that, but not one single second of this abominable film has any entertainment value whatsoever. Worst of all, the movie is just plain dull and humourless, though it appears as if there are a few lame, lunkheaded attempts to insert some darkly-tinged jocularity into the proceedings.

All through the movie, characters of seeming import are given long dialogue scenes and speeches. One assumes there was some point to all of this, but whatever it was, I'll concede that those who can suggest what it might be are better men/women than I. To them, I bestow a certificate of merit. For what, I'm not sure, but I give it to them anyway (just as I give Messrs. Scott and McCarthy the aforementioned rancid turd).

By the end of the movie, we watch every major character get bumped off. We even get to see characters who seem to be important, but who are unfamiliar to us get bumped off. We even get to see characters of NO importance who are unfamiliar to us get bumped off. I, for one, feel like anyone who thought they were making a good movie here, deserve a right royal bumping off along with every character who bites the arsenic biscuit in this dreadful movie.

Thinking on it, though, death is probably too good for them. I think we need to line them all up to get face-fucked by Cameron Diaz, but only if her pussy is as purportedly filthy as Penélope Cruz's is when Fassbender snuffles into it at the beginning of the movie.

Maybe it can be lots dirtier even.

"The Counselor" is in wide release all over the world. Good movies can't even get screens. In fact, good movies have a hard time getting made. If you really think you need to see this movie, download the worst cam torrent you can find. No need to give these clowns a penny of your dough. In fact, a grotty torrent download might even improve the movie.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

FOUND - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013- A boy should LOVE his brother.

Marty (Gavin Brown) is 10-years-old and like most exceptional little boys, he has no real friends and gets mercilessly teased and picked on (even by the pudgy geek who deigns to spend time with him). Naturally, Marty seeks solace in horror movies, drawing comics and looking up to his big brother Steve (Ethan Philbeck). Lately his older sibling has been cold, distant and given to hiding things in a bowling ball bag that are anything but bowling balls. The lad hopes against hope that Steve isn't doing something he shouldn't. He wishes, ever-so desperately, that maybe, just maybe, life will get back to normal instead of starting to resemble all those VHS horror films he rents for movie marathons. Such is life, in the quiet, leafy suburbs of Bloomington, Indiana and it's about to get a whole lot stranger than it already is.

BLOOD is thicker than water!
Found (2012) ***
Dir. Scott Schirmer
Starring: Gavin Brown, Ethan Philbeck, Phyllis Munro
Review By Greg Klymkiw

Sometimes you see a movie, and no matter how much you enjoy it, no matter how good it is, no matter how much promise the filmmaker displays, you feel an overwhelming urge to draw a scalding hot bath and scrub yourself raw. Found is just such a film. By the end of it, I felt sullied. However, this was no garden variety horror experience, because for its first half, it felt like we were going to be in the somewhat surprising territory of - I don't know, say Rushmore, but with a serial killer instead of Bill Murray and thankfully no dweeb loser wearing a red beret.

Or maybe, for instance, it was going to have dapples of Stand By Me, but without Ben E. King crooning over picture postcard shots of those oh-so-sensitive lads of yore or, for that matter, To Kill a Mockingbird, sans, of course, Gregory Peck and a literary source as beloved as Harper Lee's great book. However, this film was shaping up to be a coming of age tale - albeit with a somewhat darker edge than the first two aforementioned titles and without the pedigree of the last title.

No matter where it was going to go, I never expected it would veer into territory that reminded me of the first time I ever saw the likes of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or, for that matter, Alan Ormsby's scum-bucket-o-rama Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile.

This is not to say Found is even as good as those seminal works of horror either, but GODDAMN! there is a point in this movie where you're looking for a scrub brush in a way those same titles also inspired. This is no mean feat. Screenwriter-Director Scott Schirmer's film adaptation of Todd Rigney's novel, dives into a septic tank of a truly rank odour and retching-inspired viscous fluid that is as evocative of societal blight as it is stomach-churningly grotesque.

Found is a good movie and its total price tag was the princely sum of $8000. The almost non-existent budget is, however, (more often than not) betrayed by clearly unavoidable exigencies of production. Miraculously, this does not at all detract from its power.

Much of the acting is, save for Gavin Brown and Ethan Philbeck, strictly amateur hour. Some of the blocking is painfully sloppy. Occasional attempts to buttress the movie with elements that try, but miserably fail to feel like a bigger picture, all point - quite obviously - to a meagre production kitty. In spite of this, you can't take your eyes off the proceedings - Schirmer manages to pull off a picture that's genuinely compelling. He also accomplishes what ALL no-budget filmmakers need to do in order to stand out from the crowd of morons who think that, they too, have an inalienable right to make movies. He takes us to places that nobody in their right mind would want to ever visit.

Where the movie takes a turn for the truly demented is when our hero watches a horror movie on VHS that his older brother has stolen from the local video store. It is, appropriately, entitled Headless. Schirmer recreates some of the more sickening scenes from this video nasty and we're treated (so to speak) with a film within the film that gives us a pretty good idea of what Marty's older brother is up to.

And then, just transplant Mt. Vesuvius to Bloomington, Indiana and watch the fucker erupt. The last third of Schirmer's picture is jaw-droppingly relentless in its utter horror. Surprisingly, much of the really disgusting violence - some of it sexual - occurs offscreen and because of this, it's even more horrendous. The movie swirls like some mad twister, careening malevolently towards one of the most shocking, mind-searing shots I could never have imagined. Again - WOW! If you're going to make a movie for no money, you deliver something we are never, ever going to forget. To coin the title of Guy Maddin's shockingly insane and funny masterpiece, you give your audience a Brand Upon The Brain.

Schirmer clearly has a voice and his film suggests the potential he's yet to tap to its fullest power.

When he does, I can assure you, it's going to be a gusher.

"Found" was an official selection at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013.

Monday 28 October 2013

THE BANSHEE CHAPTER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013 - Shortwave Shocker

A journalist (Katia Winter) searches for an old college chum (Michael McMillian) who disappears after experimenting with the same mind altering drugs actually used in secret experiments conducted by the American government during the 50s and 60s. She teams up with an irascible alcoholic druggie (Ted Levine) who is modelled - not at all loosely - upon the late "Fear and Loathing" author Hunter S. Thompson. What they discover is far more horrifying than anything, anyone could ever possibly imagine.
Babe-o-licious star Katia Winter displays
her exquisitely large mouth
designed especially for
The Banshee Chapter (2013)
Dir. Blair Erickson ***1/2
Starring: Katia Winter, Ted Levine

Review By Greg Klymkiw

On a level of pure visceral horror, The Banshee Chapter could be the most terrifying movie of the past decade. This relentlessly intense first feature by writer-director Blair Erickson creeps about with a slow burn, mounting steadily with each passing scene until it begins tossing the tried and true shock cuts when you least expect them. After each and every wham-bam of a cinematic sledge hammer to the face, I found myself literally clutching my chest, gasping for breath and croaking out, repeatedly: "Jesus Christ!" There's absolutely no denying the sheer force and directorial skill on display, however, the shocks are earned by an utterly horrific backdrop.

One of the scariest elements in the movie is the use of "numbers stations" within the context of some supremely creepy story beats. Numbers stations are well known to shortwave enthusiasts as the ultra-ominous broadcasts of code-like messages using a combination of spoken numbers and gibberish - usually uttered by disembodied voices of mostly women or even more hair-raisingly, children. Often assumed to be coded signals from various nations' espionage agencies, conspiracy theorists believe that many of them go well beyond the purview of mere government code and perhaps represent something even more insidious. Given that The Banshee Chapter goes out of its way - not only to scare the crap out of us, but to give us an acute case of the willies, it's safe to say we're treated to some of the most viciously vulpine assaults upon our collective psyches.

Katia Winter discovers something that makes her happy she's wearing "DEPENDS"
There's no two ways about this film's effectiveness as a shocker and that it's also blessed with a phenomenal, delightful and delectably over-the-top rendering of Hunter S. Thompson (let's not kid ourselves) by the legendary Ted (Silence of the Lambs' "Buffalo Bill") Levine. It's also a blessing that we get the super-hot babe Katia Winter delivering a more-than-credible performance as an online journalist who is driven, for once, not so much for the story, but to get at the truth behind the disappearance of a friend, but to also confirm and confront a nagging feeling that her feelings for her pal involve those of unrequited love.

The blasts of radio frequencies, the use of real stock footage and recreated "stick footage" and yes, all the diarrhea-inducing shock cuts combine beautifully to throw us aboard a roller coaster ride of terror we are often begging to be let off of. Everything that contributes to the movie's success as a pure horror film of the highest order are indeed present.

I think it's also important to note that the movie has more shock cut scares per capita than anything released in years. Some critics might make the mistake of crapping on this as "cheap" tactics, but they can just shove their collective heads and snobby noses back up their respective assholes as far as I'm concerned. There's nothing "cheap" about this tactic. In fact, it was a stylistic tool invented by one of the greatest pioneers of horror in cinema history, the legendary chief of the genre division at the old studio R.K.O. Pictures.

The first time this sort of scare ever occurred was in 1942's The Cat People, that wonderful collaboration twixt Lewton, Jacques Tourneur and DeWitt Bodeen. When the shock came in that film, audiences all over the world filled their drawers. Lewton repeated the shock throughout several of his classic films and there was nothing cheap about it because it not only scared people, but was rooted within the whole notion of scaring people with the unknown, the dark and shadows and was also a natural tool within the storytelling itself. (The shock comes during the "walk in the park" sequence and what causes us to jump is what directors and crew - for decades afterwards - would refer to as "The Bus" whenever shots were being set up for eventual use in shock cut sequences. See the movie - most of you probably haven't - and you'll see why all the stalwart old crew hacks called these scenes "The Bus".)

The only time the scare is "cheap" is when there's nothing else in the picture. This is hardly the case with The Banshee Chapter since it pretty much never relies on overt violence or bloodletting, but comes from elements that are not only unique to the narrative, but are perfectly in keeping with the sense of pure paranoia that infuses Erickson's fine picture.

This, I think, however, is why it's a bit disappointing that the consistency in terms of visual storytelling seems somewhat arbitrary. We never are sure what perspective Erickson favours. At times, we feel like we're following a documentary film made by our leading lady, at other times, it feels like someone else's documentary, while yet again, the movie engages in the tropes of "found footage".

Do you really want to know what's being extracted here
and why
and how
it will be used?
Yeah, I thought not.
This lack of consistency might well have been an intentional attempt to always be shifting the perspective, but it's an experiment that usually doesn't pay off successfully because it seldom feels right. Whenever the question of what we're watching crosses our collective minds, we're yanked out of the forward trajectory and forced to regroup. Not that the intent is a bad one - it just doesn't always work and that's a bit of a shame. In retrospect, I have to sadly, if not grudgingly admit that this experiment and/or just plain inconsistent mise-en-scene is what keeps the movie from creeping into what could have been the territory of a pure horror classic. In spite of this, though, the scares are there - they're brutal as all get out - and I have no doubt Erickson will continue to deliver goods of an ever-higher artistic achievement. These are serious quibbles, but they don't take away my faith in his talent or the ultimate quality of the film (and my highest recommendation).

Most importantly, none of this changes the fact that I soiled a pair of pants and boxers that needed to go straight into the laundry after I saw The Banshee Chapter. Next year, I think I might need to attend the Toronto After Dark Film Festival adorned with some "Depends" - kind of like those pathetic gamblers at the casinos.

Hell, maybe After Dark topper Adam Lopez needs to cut a promotional tie-in with the Depend® brand. I give you this idea, Adam - FREE OF CHARGE. Use it!

"The Banshee Chapter" was an Official Selection of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013.

Sunday 27 October 2013

THE MACHINE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013 - Blade Runner Sans Pretense

She's Hot. She's Deadly.
She's Artificial Intelligence.
And she has a moral centre.
Watch the fuck out!
The Machine (2013) Dir. Caradog W. James ***1/2
Starring: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Sam Hazeldine

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Two scientists. One's a babe (Caity Lotz). The other's a handsome single Dad (Toby Stephens). Once they're teamed up to develop artificial intelligence, they become a formidable force. They're working for a scumbag (Sam Hazeldine) who wants to use their research and development to create ultra-weapons to go to war with China. The Babe is getting too peace-nikky for the scum-wad's liking and is assassinated. Handsome Single Dad transforms her into a walking, talking, killing machine.

Their love knows no boundaries, but they continue to transgress the war-mongering desires of their bosses. Hell will break loose. And it indeed, does.

And indeed, with The Machine, we get another intelligent, thrilling, well-written science fiction film on a shoestring from dear old Blighty that puts studio-generated product to shame and even provides a sort of unofficial prequel to Blade Runner, but without that film's pretension (less so in the unfairly crapped-on studio cut of Blade Runner and more so in Ridley Scott's pretentiously masturbatory director's cut).

There is something delightfully exciting going on across the pond. Our former colonial overlords are proving that they're far more superior to America's bloated and intellectually meagre motion picture output - both old, and especially, new. The past year, UK delivered one of the best horror films of the new millennium (Citadel) and easily the best science fiction space travel thriller of said new century (Europa Report). Are these people drinking untreated water from the Thames to generate this great stuff? I wouldn't doubt it. Mutation often renders exquisite results via happy genetically-altered accidents.

Much like the other 2013 Bad-Ass Blighty science fiction chiller The Last Days on Mars, The Machine (written and directed by Caradog W. James) might not be hitting the same orgasmic pitch as the aforementioned Citadel and Europa Report, but on the level of thrills and (who'duh thunk it?) IDEAS, it's knocking a few clear out of the park.

Caity Lotz is one sexy cyborg. She love you good.
She love you all night. She love you forever.
You fuck her over, she kill you good, too.
Caradog's electrifying, funny and sexy thriller provides literate dialogue, fleshed-out characters (even within archetypal representations) and super-blistering sequences of action and suspense. He generates terrific performances from the whole cast, but none more inspired than that delivered by Caity Lotz. Damn, the camera loves this sumptuous morsel, but she also renders a cool and complex performance in what amounts to a dual role. Her first scenes she delivers a chilly blankness - not unfriendly or sexy, but she's clearly someone who has her very being locked on scientific discovery. She takes a shine to the A.I., realizing they're living breathing entities that are being exploited, tortured and eventually transformed into killing machines.

Her commitment to the cause becomes so intense and endearing that we're with her one hundred per cent. Once transformed into a walking, talking, ass-kicking babe-o-licious A.I., Loitz displays a sensitivity and warmth of character that exceeds even her "living" persona. Oh yes, and she kills - she kills REAL GOOD!

It's true that the film is derivative of elements in both Blade Runner and James Cameron's original The Terminator, but not annoyingly so and, in fact, it's closer to homage than anything else. But what homage! It lives, breathes and pulsates with the excitement of life and dazzles us as much as feeding us nice, nutricious and decidedly healthy helpings of food for thought. Most importantly, it keeps you on the edge of your seat, occasionally kicking your ass around the block and then some.

"The Machine" was an Official Selection of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012.

Saturday 26 October 2013

THE LAST DAYS ON MARS Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013 - Blighty Does Mars

Babe on Mars in Peril
The Last Days On Mars (2013) ***
Dir: Ruairi Robinson
Starring Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams, Romola Garai

Review By Greg Klymkiw

An international crew exploring Mars for signs of life have sadly come up short. In their last days, however, a natural disaster on the planet loosens up a living entity that begins to wreak unexpected havoc. Well, we do expect havoc, but the manner in which it grips the crew is deliciously, scarily unexpected. Life, of course, does not have to mean tangible upright forms - it can also be bacteria, disease and/or mutation. Whilst some might find elements of the tale derivative of Alien and/or The Thing (among others), the writing is generally infused with intelligence and strong attention to character. Besides, familiarity does not always breed contempt.

In general, the film proves to deliver on a solid ensemble cast. Liev Schreiber and Elias Koteas are both especially fine in their stalwartly heroic roles and the babes (especially Romola Garai) are extremely easy on the eyes. Olivia Williams, in a kind of pseudo-Judy-Davis-styled manner, makes her usual highly-strung urgency work nicely in the somewhat stock, but entertaining role. Of course, she's the scientist who feels her research is getting short shrift when her gut keeps telling her how close she is to a discovery. When this happens, we can be sure the thing she's looking for is just around the corner and it will neither be pretty nor benevolent.

Life on a seemingly dead planet can be bacterial.
Based upon "The Animators", a classic short story by Britain's late, great pulp writer Sydney J. Bounds, screenwriter Clive Dawson more than adequately fleshes out the terror and wonder of the proceedings and while director Ruairi Robinson handles much of the film with solid, straightforward direction, he annoyingly resorts to the de rigueur short-shot-quick-cut-herky-jerky coverage for many of the action/suspense set pieces. This sadly detracts from their overall effectiveness, but thankfully isn't as sloppily and boneheadedly generated in bigger films that should know better. In spite of the fact that the film is a far cry from the brilliance of another recent space travel thriller Europa Report, it manages to be a far more engaging picture than the bloated Ridley Scott abortion Prometheus for a mere pubic hair of that picture's costs. Clearly and intentionally making excellent use of an actual desert as a filtered, stylized and CGI'd Mars is just what the doctor ordered to add production value, though it does lack the magical storybook look in the similar approach Byron Haskin took in the classic Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

Though the movie inexplicably landed a slot at this year's Cannes Film Festival in the Director's Fortnight (which gave it a bit more cache than it probably deserved), it's a solid science fiction thriller guaranteed to fill the bill for those inclined. While the movie will fill said craving for this type of thing, it's not necessarily a big-screen must-see. A decent helping of this picture via VOD or some other home entertainment platform will more than suffice.

"The Last Days On Mars" was an official selection of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013.

Friday 25 October 2013

WILLOW CREEK ***** Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013 It's Official, Bobcat Goldthwait is one of America's Best Living Directors & his new film is as hilariously brilliant as it is chilling and crap-your-pants terrifying as anything I've seen in years. The picture DEMANDS big-screen exposure!

Willow Creek (2013) *****
Dir. Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Alexie Gilmore,
Bryce Johnson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In the wilderness, in the dark, it's sound that plays tricks upon your eyes - not what you can't see, but what your imagination conjures with every rustle, crack, crunch, moan and shriek. When something outdoors whacks the side of your tent, reality sinks in, the palpability of fear turns raw, numbing and virtually life-draining.

You're fucked! Right royally fucked!

There were, of course, the happier times - when you and the woman you loved embarked on the fun-fuelled journey of retracing the steps of Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin who, in the fall of 1967 shot a little less than 1000 frames of motion picture footage of an entity they encountered striding through the isolated Bluff Creek in North-Western California.

Your gal was humouring you, of course. She was indulging you. She was not, however, mocking you - she was genuinely enjoying this time of togetherness in the wilderness as you lovebirds took turns with the camera and sound equipment to detail the whole experience. You both sauntered into every cheesy tourist trap in the area, chatted amiably with numerous believers and non-believers alike and, of course, you both dined on scrumptious Bigfoot burgers at a local greasy spoon.

Yup, Bigfoot - the legendary being sometimes known as Sasquatch or Yeti - a tall, broad, hairy, ape-like figure who captured the hearts, minds and imaginations of indigenous populations and beyond - especially when the Patterson-Gimlin footage took the world by storm. And now, here you both are in Willow Creek, California, following the footsteps of those long-dead amateur filmmakers.

All of us have been watching, with considerable pleasure, your romantic antics throughout the day. When night falls, we've joined you in your tent and soon, the happy times fade away and we're all wishing we had some receptacle to avoid soiling our panties. You're probably wishing the same thing, because in no time at all, you're going to have the crap scared out of you.

We have, of course, entered the world of Bobcat Goldthwait's Willow Creek. Goldthwait is one of the funniest men alive - a standup comedian of the highest order and a terrific comic actor, oft-recognized for his appearances in numerous movies (including the Police Academy series). He's voiced a myriad of cartoon characters and directed Jimmy Kimmel's TV show and subsequent concert flick.

In addition to these achievements, Goldthwait has solidified himself as one of the most original, exciting and provocative contemporary American film directors working today. His darkly humoured, satirical and (some might contend) completely over-the-top films are infused with a unique voice that's all his own. They've made me laugh longer and harder than most anything I've seen during the past two decades or so. Even more astounding, is that his films - his first depicting the life of an alcoholic birthday party clown, one involving dog fellatio, another about an accidental teen strangulation during masturbation and yet another which delivered a violent revenge fantasy for Liberals - are ALL films that have a deep current of humanity running through them. His films are as deeply observational and genuinely moving as they are nastily funny and often jaw-droppingly shocking.

Willow Creek is a corker! It forces you to emit cascades of urine from laughing so hard and then wrenches wads of steaming excrement out of your bowels as it scares you completely and utterly out of your wits. It's a "found footage" film, but I almost hesitate to use the almost-dirty-word term to describe it, because Goldthwait, unlike far too many boneheads, hardly resorts to the sloppy tropes of the now-tiresome genre.

He's remained extremely true and consistent to the conceit and in so doing, used it as an effective storytelling tool to generate an honest-to-goodness modern masterwork of horror. His attractive leads are nothing less than engaging (lead actor Johnson reveals a scrumptious posterior for the ladies and, of course, gentlemen of the proper persuasion). Goldthwait's clever mixture of real locals and actors is perfection and the movie barrels along with a perfect pace to allow you to get to know and love the protagonists, laugh with them, laugh with the locals (not at them and finally to plunge you into the film's shuddering, shocking and horrific final third. The movie both creeps you out and forces you to jump out of your seat more than once.

Goldthwait is the real thing. If you haven't seen his movies up to this point, you must. As for Willow Creek, I urge everyone to see the film on a big screen with a real audience. Sure, the movie will work fine at home in a dark room with your best girlie snuggled at your side on the comfy couch, but - WOW! - this is a genuine BIG SCREEN EVENT. Try to see it that way, first!

"Willow Creek" is an official selection of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

Thursday 24 October 2013


Sharknado (2013) 1 PUBIC HAIR
Dir. Anthony C. Ferrante
Starring: John Heard, Tara Reid and a bunch of other people who appear to have acted in movies and television that nobody in their right mind will have even heard of, much less seen.

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A huge humdinger of a Hurricane-Katrina-like whirlwind is no common-variety tempest in a teapot. It results in mega tornados capturing every shark on the Pacific Coast and depositing thousands of the munchie-crazed-bastards in Lotus Land. A handful of non-characters become the film's prime focus as they battle the CGI threat of a lifetime. We watch, open-mouthed. as the most horrendous computer-generated sharks shoot out of the raging twisters to fill Sunset Boulevard - and they sure a shootin' are not looking to eat at Taco Bell. Nothing less than the human species will do for the main course.

That's it. No more. No less. Nothing else.

This utterly horrendous made-for-SYFY movie (which aired in Canada on SPACE) doesn't even have the distinction of being laughably awful. What it has in its favour is that it exists. The other thing in its favour is that, as stupid as the idea is, it's actually a pretty fun idea for what might have been a watchable, borderline surreal B-movie. I wish it were so, but the writing is abysmal, there's nothing remotely funny about it and the only thing that keeps you watching is to see how long your jaw will stay dropped at just how horrendous it actually is.

One of the more depressing elements of the movie is seeing the offbeat 70s/80s actor John Heard embarrass himself in the role of a drunk (a la Walter Matthau's similar cameo in Earthquake). Heard was never going to be anyone's idea of a big star and his bland qualities suggested he'd never be, uh, heard from, ever again. Still, he made a reasonable impression in movies like Paul Schrader's The Cat People, Ivan Passer's Cutter's Way, as Jack Kerouac in the kind of strange, kind of cool John Byrum-directed Beat Generation biopic Heart Beat and Joan Micklin Silver's Chilly Scenes of Winter. Watching him humiliate himself here for a paycheque can't even inspire me to crack a good joke or two at his expense.

Watching the movie, I just kept wondering why SYFY doesn't even try to make good movies. They don't have to be anything other than crap, but there's no reason why they can't be good crap?

The movie looks as good as it's ever going to look on Blu-Ray and the technology is so indelible in its image quality that it serves to make the special effects actually look worse than they are.

Still, I have to admit that I not only looked forward to watching it, but as I screened the picture, I could not take my eyes off it. I was never bored and managed to make it all the way through rather painlessly. This is hardly a ringing endorsement, but even from a dyed-in-the-wool genre freak like me, that's about the biggest endorsement I'll be able to bestow upon it.

Here's a nice quote I'm happy to offer for some future home entertainment release box art:

"I sat all the way through Sharknado and I'm embarrassed to admit it didn't bore me."

"Sharknado" is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from VSC - Video Service Corp.

Wednesday 23 October 2013


The Guest (2013) ****
Dir. Jovanka Vuckovic
Starring: Jordan Gray, Tara Elliott, Isabella Vuckovic

Review By Greg Klymkiw

This simple, creepy take on the ages-old Faustian nightmare is yet another visually sumptuous gem from Vuckovic. The Soska Twins, Karen Lam and, of course, Vuckovic, comprise a sort of astounding triple threat of female empowerment in the world of class-act genre filmmaking, but delightfully 'tis the land of Maple Sugar and Mounties that runs red with the blood of scary shit from the ladies. Gotta love it. Vuckovic continually astounds. Her eye is impeccable, her short films are lovely works unto themselves, they never have that Canadian whiff of "Calling Card" to them and they are embodied with the kind of maturity and life experience that creates (and will continue to create) genre films with substance to add body to the shocks. The Guest is a special grotesque bon bon. Just when we think we know where it's going, Vuckovic takes us there with heart-stopping images that are as beautiful as they are mind fuckingly sickening. I think it's time for someone to give this lady a wheelbarrow of dough to make a feature. Telefilm Canada? Are you out there?

The Vehicle (2012) ****
Dir. O. Corbin Saleken
Starring: Gillian Barber, Garry Chalk

Review By Greg Klymkiw

William has been asking Bernice out. She's made it clear she thinks William is a nice man, but she no longer has room or desire in her life for romance. He asks her for just one chance to say something important to her - face to face and in private. She agrees, but makes it clear she won't change her mind. What he has to say might make anyone suspect he's out of his mind (albeit benignly crazy). Love, however, traverses time and space. It's the force that controls the universe, but it's also a great gift that needs to be accepted when offered. This is one of the loveliest two-handers I've seen in some time. Simple, careful direction, two profoundly moving lead performances and writing to die for. The screenplay by director Saleken is so sweet and heartbreaking, but it's also infused with a touch of malevolence and the kind of graceful melancholy that typified so much of the magnificent writing from such stalwarts as Richard Matheson during the original five years of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone.

The Last Videostore (2013) ***1/2
Dir. Cody Kennedy, Tim Rutherford'
Starring: Cody Kennedy, Tim Rutherford

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The courier has a package to deliver. Buried deep in an alleyway is a grim looking doorway - hidden from all except those who seek it. These days, not too many are seeking this door which still hides thousands of treasures within. It's a video store and the last of its kind. Unbeknownst to the courier, the package contains the very thing that has destroyed every other video store in the world. A battle to the death must ensue. A monster created by the corporate pigs of digital supremacy rears its ugly head and the clash will not be a pretty one. A super hilarious film-geek wet dream that brings the magic of brick and mortar video rental stores to life and most of all, reminds us of the incalculable joy of analogue picture and sound. A first rate score, effects (a goodly whack of them from Canada's leading F/X whiz Steven Kostanski) and superb comic performances plunge us into the warm and fuzzy world most of us should have fought to the death to preserve for future generations. Pick up the sword, people. It's not too late.

Night Giant (2013) ***
Dir. Aaron Beckum

Review By Greg Klymkiw

For some, it's a drag being the fifth wheel, but for our protagonist Gene, it seems par for the course and simply his lot in life. Night after night, the woefully-single-girlfriend-bereft Gene walks home alone and is tormented by an utterly horrifying entity that springs out at him from the blackness. Word gets around quickly that he's afflicted with this decidedly dangerous ball and chain that could mean death for all and soon, he is shunned by his friends. He needs help. Professional help. Who ya' gonna call in a situation like this? A giant hunter, of course. Hilarious, dead-pan humour drives this fantastical journey into a modern world wherein a fairy tale creature springs to life to offer one motherfucker of a huge helping hand and, in so doing, hinder the progress and safety of those around the beneficiary of its assistance. Sometimes a hired gun won't do the trick. Sometimes, one needs to gird one's own loins and face the threat like a man among men. Sometimes the old neighbourhood needs a new Giant Killer.

Toronto After Dark 2013 has been presenting Canadian short films before every feature. These four are among the best and brightest I've seen. Visit the TADFF 2013 website HERE.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

GRIOT - Review By Greg Klymkiw

Griot (2013) ****
Dir. Volker Goetze
Ablaye Cissoko,
Volker Goetze

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The Griot is, at least from my own interpretation of Volker Goetze's film, the very essence of African history and culture. These hallowed individuals are singers, storytellers, community leaders, praise-bearers and keepers of oral histories and traditions. To learn of their history and to be introduced to one of the truly legendary Griots, Ablaye Cissoko was a truly and deeply personal revelation to me.

I'm not African by any stretch of the imagination, but like all of us on this planet, I share the blood of humanity with the African people as they do with me. We are, ultimately the product of stardust and as such, we are the progeny of the Heavens. Call it God, call it a higher power, call it a supreme being, call it dark matter, call it quantum physics, call it the Drake Equation - call it whatever you like. We are all one and it is with both awe and respect that I feel blessed to have been introduced to the dazzling power of this great musician.

Griot is a stirring, colourful and moving documentary and as such, a lyrical and poetic exploration of the West African tradition of the aforementioned Griot, an important personage in African culture with a clear relationship to the indigenous populace, but more importantly, how it seems to have influenced the entire African diaspora - especially in America.

The structure of the film is simple - all the better as this exposes so many factual, historical and finally spiritual properties of the Griot. You will experience heart achingly gorgeous music, you will see it performed, you will experience the joy of dance and musical expression and most of all, you will learn of the great lament of the Griot in the contemporary world. Culture and tradition is a blood right, but history has toyed with it, colonialism and slavery has tried to suppress it, contemporary African leaders seem to have no interest in its preservation and finally, even the Griot is an a world where the very role needs to both grow and yet return to its very roots.

I truly believe the concerns of the Griot are ALL of our concerns and the message Cissoko imparts via Goetze's cinematic eyepiece is truly universal and something that touches us all.

It might even touch you personally as it did me.

Allow me to share a deeply personal and cultural connection to this great story. My heritage is Ukrainian - a culture and language that has been battered, slaughtered and oppressed for over a thousand years - primarily by Russia. Perhaps the most horrific piece of recent history that has always haunted me is the systematic destruction and brutalization of the Ukrainian culture and its people by the Butcher Joseph Stalin. He not only orchestrated the genocide of ten million Ukrainians during the man-made famine known alternately as the Harvest of Despair and the Holodomor, but for me, the most horrendous genocide was a cultural decimation. Stalin not only implemented forced Russification amongst the Ukrainians, he destroyed one thousand years of history.

Here is why I was so personally moved by this film - my people were agrarian in nature and their entire history and culture was maintained in a very strict oral tradition by men who were not unlike the West African Griots. In Ukraine, they were called Kobzars. Like the Griot, their talent and place in the world was not through formal training, but through blood. They were the keepers of the country's history. Joseph Stalin invited all the Ukrainian Kobzars to Russia for a national conference to celebrate and discuss how the Kobzars would remove the yoke of Czarist oppression and adopt a new direction in praise of the revolution, of communism, of Stalin. Once all the Kobzars were assembled under one roof, Stalin had them all shot. One thousand years of history gone in one fell swoop.

To see the brilliant, caring, committed Ablaye Cissoko as he laments the horrid lack of a proper cultural centre, the indifference of a government to tradition and a millennia of history and culture was so profoundly touching. All the more so because the Griot still exists and his place in African culture - bound by blood - will only be eradicated if it is done so by force. Thankfully, we have filmmaker and musician Volker Goetze to put this important tradition in front of a camera and preserve its sound, image and yes, even soul so that the tradition can travel well beyond the borders of West Africa, beyond the borders of its intended audience - to travel into the hearts and minds of humanity all over the world.

My people lost their Kobzars, but as long as the Griot exists and thrives, I am confident that through the power of stardust, the river of blood that binds all of us and most of all, through the soul cleansing grace and beauty of the Griot's music, the history and tradition of man will be reflected in the words and teachings of the great people of West Africa. This is a film that gives me so much hope that culture is what binds all of us.

As Cissoko states, "Without culture one becomes a person without an identity."

He has nothing to fear, however. His blood flows as does the blood of others like him. It flows into the music of the soul and it cascades out via the tributaries of the Earth and thank whatever power is responsible, but the Griot thrives. Cissoko is here to soothe us, to offer praise to the heavens and to the ancestors - who ultimately are the ancestors of all of us.

For we are one.

"Griot" is launching a cross-Canada tour via Ryan Bruce Levey's Vagrant Films Releasing and Publicity. The film begins at the gorgeous Royal Theatre in Toronto - a perfect launch pad as it's still the one standalone cinema in the city with the most exquisite sound and picture quality. The film, miraculously, will be launched by a concert that features blaye Cissoko and Volker Goetze. For tickets and further information about the concerts and screenings across the country, please visit the official Griot website HERE.

Monday 21 October 2013

SOLO - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013 - Competence is always a dirty word.

Solo (2013) **
Dir. Isaac Cravit
Starring: Annie Clark, Daniel Kash, Richard Clarkin,
Stephen Love, Alyssa Capriotti

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A teen babe with "issues" takes a job as a summer camp counsellor. Part of the required initiation is for new employees to spend two nights alone on a remote island. The island in question was the site of a tragedy many years ago. It is purportedly haunted. Weird shit happens. Those whom you think are psychotic are not. Those whom you think are nice are psychotic. Confrontations occur. Good people die. Some good people are rescued. The evil entity is killed. The teen babe is safe. Movie Finished. 83 precious minutes of your life that you'll never get back.

There you have it. Solo in a nutshell. There's no real reason to see it now. Just go home and watch John Carpenter's Halloween for the umpteenth billionth time. It's so good you'll think you've never seen it before.

You see, debut feature films like Solo put me in a really foul mood. Some of these first long form efforts are blessed with an immediate, explosive announcement to the universe that we are dealing with a filmmaker who is endowed with the greatest gift a director can bestow upon the world of cinema - a voice, a distinctive style, an unmistakeable point of view, a sense that this is who the filmmaker really is. Then there's a second category - debut features so awful you might as well have shoved a gun into your mouth and pulled the trigger instead of watching it.

Solo, the debut feature film written and directed by Isaac Cravit is in neither of those categories. It holds a very special place in the pantheon of celluloid dreams - it's bereft of dreams. It has neither an original voice nor one of mind numbing ineptitude. Both have their virtues since both make an audience feel something. Not so for Solo (and so many, many others of its ilk). These are movies which allow you to leave their meagre clasp feeling absolutely nothing. It is the third and perhaps most horrendous category of all debut features. Solo, joins this unenviable pinnacle of competence with all the eagerness of a dog about to get a Milk Bone.

When filmmakers enter the fray with a first feature that actually excites you - not only because of the film itself, but what you sense this director will deliver in the future. Their declarations feel like the following:
The Soska Sisters (Dead Hooker in a Trunk):
"We're going to fuck your ass with a red-hot poker, but you'll enjoy it. We promise."

John Paizs (Crime Wave):
"Laughs derived from silence are golden."

David Lynch (Eraserhead):
"In Heaven, everything is fine..."

John Carpenter (Dark Star):
"I love movies more than life itself - have a fuckin' beer."

Guy Maddin: (Tales From The Gimli Hospital):
"I'm a dreamer, aren't we all?"

Kevin Smith: (Clerks):
All are unique declarations (mediated through my own interpretive imagination, of course) and I could spend a few hundred more words doing the same for a myriad of debut features that declare themselves with complete originality on the part of the filmmaker.

There is, however, one declaration that depresses me even more than whatever the aforementioned incompetents of the second category of debut works might declare via their sheer inability to make movies. It is a declaration I see and hear far too often these days - especially since filmmaking has been embraced by so many marginally talented, though competent, by-the-numbers types as an - ugh! - career choice (as opposed to a genuine calling). Every single one of these filmmakers in the dreaded third category announces the same thing. They never waiver from it. They are presenting to the world their - double ugh! - calling card.

With Solo, Canadian director Isaac Cravit joins the club of voice-free directors when he declare (by virtue of his debut film):
"Look. I can use a dolly. Look. I can shoot coverage. Look. I am ready to direct series television drama and straight to V.O.D. and home video product for indiscriminating audiences looking to fill their worthless lives with content as opposed to something exceptional."
There's absolutely nothing new, surprising or exciting about this pallid genre effort save for its competence. Solo is blessed with some superb production value, to be sure. The locations are perfect, they're nicely shot by Stephen Chung and the combination of on-location sound and overall mixing and design seems much more exquisite and artful than the movie deserves. The cutting by Adam Locke-Norton, given the dullness of the coverage, manages to keep the proceedings moving at a nice clip. The score by Todor Kobakov is especially superb - rich, dense and one that enhances the film - again - much further beyond the movie's narrow scope. (There's one four note riff in the score that should have been excised by the filmmakers at a very early juncture, but save for that, it's a winner in all respects.)

The small cast is also superb. Thank God they're in the film since they're really one of the few things that do make the otherwise forgettable affair worth seeing.

The camera loves leading lady Annie Clark and she's clearly a fine actress - she makes the most of a hackneyed been-there-done-that babe-in-peril role. Two of Canada's finest character actors - Daniel Kash and Richard Clarkin are always worth looking at. They've got expressive, malleable mugs and like the best of the best, they rise well above the dull competence of the movie.

I especially enjoyed Stephen Love's performance and hope to see more of him - he's got very nice offbeat good looks, a sense of humour, a touch of malevolence and he frankly looks and feels like a young Canuck James Franco.

Is the movie well made? Hell yes! Is it anything special? Will you leave the theatre soaring? Will you even remember it two minutes after you see it? The answer to all those questions is a resounding "No." Sadly, most audiences these days are perfectly happy with competence. To them, I say, knock yourself out, losers.

The rest of us can cherish the memories of great work and look forward to the next film endowed with both a voice and more delectable frissons than you can shake a stick at.

"Solo" is playing at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013. Visit the website HERE. It's inexplicably distributed by Indie-Can Entertainment, a visionary young company with some very powerful and important works on its slate. Ah well, even visionaries need to score some quick easy dough. If anything, "Solo" has that written all over it and I'm sure we'll see more of the same from its - ahem - auteur.

Sunday 20 October 2013


Septic Man (2013) ***1/2
Dir. Jesse Thomas Cook
Starring: Jason David Brown, Molly Dunsworth, Robert Maillet, Julian Richings, Stephen McHattie, Tim Burd, Nicole G. Leier
Review By Greg Klymkiw

Any movie that opens with a weepy babe (Nicole G. Leier) taking a severely punishing crap replete with dulcet echoes of spurting, plopping and gaseous expulsions whilst said babe alternates twixt the release of putrid faecal matter with cum-shot-like geysers of stringy rancid vomit launching from within her maw, splattering triumphantly upon the grotesque tiles of a dimly lit toilet adorned top to bottom in slime, sludge, blown chunks and excrement, should be enough to alert viewers they're in for one mother-pounder of a wild ride into the deepest pits of scatological horror hell.

Septic Man, a new movie from the talented young Canadian horror auteur Jesse Thomas Cook (Monster Brawl) and the visionary independent production company Foresight Features takes the cake (of the urinal variety) for serving up one heaping, horrific platter o' genre representation of the real-life deadly water contamination that occurred several years ago in the bustling Southern Ontario burgh of Walkerton - known around the world for its inbreeding and, of course, the famous E-coli contamination of its drinking water.