Thursday, 27 March 2014

A BRAND NEW YOU - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Cloning Dead Wife in Dining Room: My Kinda Canuck Comedy

You WILL believe you can clone your dead wife in the Dining Room.
"Only in Canada, you say? A pity."

Now this is my idea of a cool
no-budget Canadian indie comedy!
A Brand New You (2014) ***½
Dir. Kathryn Palmateer, Shawn Whitney
Starring: Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz, Clinton Lee Pontes, Freya Ravensbergen

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A Brand New You is a refreshing approach to the mismatched ménage a trois - a kind of contemporary Canadian Jules et Jim on lithium (with a crack chaser), then fused to a mad-scientist-knee-slapper-fest a la Abbott and Costello. Here one will find sharp writing, good performances and solid economical direction. These go a long way to buoy the film's subversions of the usual tropes of quirky indie laugh-fests. Whatever glue the filmmakers were sniffing to concoct this perversely dark, occasionally (and happily) vulgar and surprisingly sweet romantic comedy was imbued with premium potency.

Look, "quirky" comedies are not necessarily my thing, BUT, this one rises above so many of them by not indulging in horrific, bile-inducing whimsy (a big problem with French, Belgians and Canadians). Its writer-director team and an extremely accomplished cast trust the perverse material enough to keep it on an even keel so that it avoids horrendous twee-ness and unlike so many no-budget indie comedies, especially those of the Canadian persuasion, it never feels like a glorified CBC situation television comedy with a dash or two of mild irreverence. The movie is, in fact, irreverent as all get-out and manages to even veer into occasional Harold and Kumar-like multicultural gross-out comedy.

The movie is, frankly, all over the place but NOT in a bad way. It's endowed with a kind of controlled everything-but-the-kitchen-sink quality or rather, it throws caution to the wind, sometimes to its detriment, but mostly in its supreme favour by often including the kitchen sink. By generating characters and situations we NEVER see in the movies is one of the ways the picture succeeds.

A morose, fussy suicidal widower (Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz) leaves his abode of former nuptial bliss and moves into the squalid surroundings of a proverbial mismatched couple. The man (Clinton Lee Pontes) of the house, such as he is (a man, that is) and such as IT is (a home that is), might well have been a contender for "Filthiest Person Alive" in John Waters' Pink Flamingoes. He's Oscar Madison of The Odd Couple magnified infinitesimally with a foul mouth to rival the sailors in The Last Detail, a dirt-bag mind, scatological, unwashed and obsessed with merely existing as lazily and slovenly as possible. Oh, and he's a brilliant scientist - though disgraced and fallen due to his illegal dabbling in cloning. (One of the funniest things in the movie is an eventual parade of science geeks who worship the ground he walks on and seek him out for counsel on their own illegal experimentation with cloning.)

The woman of the house (Freya Ravensbergen) deserves a whole lot better - in every respect, but her sense of self-worth is often so low that she continues to maintain a mere existence also. In some ways, she feels like an underwritten character, but as the film progresses, she takes on several perverse layers which, in their own unique way, rival that of there male characters.

Our widower, is not only suicidal, but his obsession with the ex-woman-he-loved ("ex" as in six feet under, 'natch) reaches unhealthy proportions. He not only forced his dying fiancé to act out a series of scripted home video conversations before her death, he spends an inordinate amount of time watching them repeatedly on his iPad.

Yes, all three of these people have, uh, problems. But it's the movies and as such, they're allowed to have found each other. When the widower, the slob and the lassie-of-potential-avoidance get to knocking their noggins together, it doesn't take long for experiments of the Dr. Frankenstein variety to unfurl in the dining room. With the scientist's genetic genius, a willing surrogate (she's promised a whack of dough) and the widower's engineering savvy, the trio sets about to clone the dead wife.

While there are some vaguely familiar benchmarks in the narrative, it's everything in-between that proves freshly funny. The movie is often overwrought, but more often than not, in all the right (funny) ways and what takes it into genuinely entertaining territory is that it avoids trying to pathetically be a low-budget version of a mainstream movie. Too many low budget indie comedies sadly infuse themselves with indie-style deviations from the norm that are poorly integrated with all the salient elements that make a satisfying picture and as such, sloppily subvert the material.

This almost never happens here. The movie is completely and often hilariously insane. It's also Canadian in all the right ways. It's completely out to lunch, but lunch turns out to be a sumptuous gelatinous buffet table of sweet, sour, garish and, of course, the delightfully and delectably gilded.

A Brand New You has its World Premier during the 47th annual Worldfest Houston, Sunday, April 6, 7:00pm in the Flagship AMC Studio 30 Theatres at 2949 Dunvale in SW Houston. Here's hoping Canuck audiences will see it soon.


You can find out more about filmmaker Brian Stockton and even buy his movies by accessing his website HERE.

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: