Thursday, 27 February 2014

SOLO - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Competence rules the day. Low budget Canuck thriller opens theatrically.

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.

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."

Are we all supposed to rejoice and dance a jig just because someone got a movie made?

I'll let you answer that yourself.

"Solo" begins its limited theatrical run February 28 via Indie-Can at the Magic Lantern Carlton Cinema in Toronto. Daily showtimes at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Q&A's with Directer Isaac Cravitt and Cast following the Friday and Sat 7:00 p.m. and Sunday 2:00 p.m. shows.

Here are direct links to purchase books about great Canadian low budget films and then, find a selection of direct links to a bunch of terrific low budget Canadian feature films that you can also purchase directly from this site.

A similar scene to the one experienced by Jim Jarmusch and others in New York during the 70s and 80s and captured in the documentary BLANK CITY as well as many other works in the "Forgotten Winnipeg" series was happening in Winnipeg. A very cool explosion in indie underground cinema that I and many colleagues and friends were involved with was spawned during these halcyon days. This period, coined by film critic Geoff Pevere as Prairie Post-Modernism included the works of John Paizs, Guy Maddin, Greg Hanec and many others.

A great selection of early Guy Maddin, many of which that I produced and were written by George Toles, can be secured directly through the following links:

Another great film from Winnipeg during this period is Greg Hanec's extraordinary DOWNTIME which has the distinction of being a parallel cinematic universe to Jim Jarmusch's "STRANGER THAN PARADISE". Both films were made at the same time in two completely different cities and scenes and both Hanec and Jarmusch premiered their films at the same time at the Berlin Film Festival. One's famous, the other isn't - but now that the "lost" and "found" DOWNTIME has been remastered from original elements to DVD, it can now be purchased directly online.

Order DOWNTIME directly from the film's new website by clicking HERE

Perhaps the greatest Canadian independent underground filmmaker of all-time is Winnipeg's John Paizs. It's virtually impossible to secure copies of his astounding work which, frankly, is responsible for influencing the work of Guy Maddin, David Lynch, Bruce McDonald and an endless number of great indie filmmakers the world over. Paizs' great short film SPRINGTIME IN GREENLAND is available for purchase in a beautiful remastered edition from a fan website, the inimitable Frank Norman. Norman has Paizs' blessing to provide copies of the film, so feel free to directly make your request to Mr. Norman by clicking HERE.

Visit Frank Norman's CRIME WAVE
fan site by clicking HERE

Alas, it's super-impossible to get a copy of Paizs' masterpiece CRIME WAVE (not to be confused with the super-awful Coen Bros/Sam Raimi film of the same name that was released the same year Paizs' film was NOT released properly by its scumbag Canadian distributor Norstar Releasing, which eventually became Alliance Films (where the boneheads sat on the film and turned down several excellent offers from small indie companies to release the film properly on DVD in super-deluxe special editions because they lazily purported to be negotiating a massive package deal on its catalogue titles with some tiny scumbag public domain company that, as far as I can tell, has neither purchased nor released the film). This truly great and highly influential film is, no doubt, languishing in some boneheaded distribution purgatory within the deep anal cavities of the new owner of Alliance Films, a humungous mega-corporation called E-One. Feel free to repeatedly bug their stinking asses and demand a proper release. In the meantime, VHS copies of CRIME WAVE can still be found with the ludicrous title THE BIG CRIME WAVE. Here's a copy available on Amazon:

BLANK CITY and other works in the "Forgotten Winnipeg" Series can be accessed here: