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.