Sunday 30 November 2014

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Good Xmas Family Fun For All

Plop this in front of the brats
and get some shuteye
Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)
dir. Tim Hill
Starring: Jason Lee, David Cross

Review By Greg Klymkiw

As far as family-friendly Christmas-themed movies go, Alvin and the Chipmunks is never going to be considered a perennial favourite in the mold of It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol or Miracle on 34th Street, but it does provide solid entertainment for the kiddies (lots o’ laughs from anyone 10 or under) and mild entertainment for anyone older (lots o’ smiles and a few chuckles) – especially anyone old enough to have sentimental memories of the “original” Alvin hit songs and TV series from the late 50s/early 60s and the 80s animated revival.

Alvin, to the uninitiated, is the head of a squeaky-pitched trio of singing chipmunks who are pals with the loser songwriter David Seville who hits the big time when he stumbles upon the furry ear-shattering musical stylists. Seville, in the original cartoons, spends much of his time chipmunk-sitting his charges and keeping those pesky, but warm-hearted little songsters from getting into all manner of troublesome hijinx. He also bellows out the immortal, stern cry, “A-a-a-a-a-a-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-vin!!!!!” whenever he discovers something is amiss and realizes that it’s probably the work of the troublemaking-est chipmunk of them all.

The 2007 big screen rendering of these characters, is pretty much more of the same, only with live-action “adult” characters and digitally animated fur-balls. Within the confines of a simple, predictable feature-length tale, Dave (the mildly offensive, barely palatable Jason Lee) discovers the chipmunks, becomes their surrogate Dad and eventually loses them to smarmy Ian (a very funny David Cross), a dastardly music promoter. The sleaze ball, in familiar fashion, exploits the chipmunks, screws Dave, but gets his ultimate and well-deserved comeuppance when goodness prevails and all are reunited in grand fashion.

It’s quite the emotional whirlwind – for seven-year-olds, mostly.

What makes the movie relatively agreeable to less-discriminating adults (and those, like me, who should know better, but have a soft spot for squeaky-voiced chipmunks) is the genuinely funny and, at times, endearing musical numbers. In fact, that insane, insipid, and utterly insidious “classic” Chipmunks Christmas song “Christmas Don’t Be Late” will never leave my brain. Initially left behind in the fog of my wayward childhood, the song has been reintroduced to me by this movie and is now emblazoned, carved, burned and branded into my very soul. My God, I feel like Barbara Steele at the beginning of “Black Sunday” who receives the mark of Satan from a hooded executioner. My psyche has been thoroughly scarred forever by those trilling chipmunks. The fur-balls and their squealing, while never at the forefront of my thoughts, are lodged in there like an admittedly oxymoronic migraine of pleasure.

In case you’ve forgotten the lyrics, let me inflict them upon you. The tune will come ever so quickly to you and remain there forever. Besides, I shouldn’t have to suffer alone:
Christmas, Christmas time is near
Time for toys and time for cheer
We've been good, but we can't last
Hurry Christmas, hurry fast
Want a plane that loops the loop
Me, I want a hula hoop
We can hardly stand the wait
Please Christmas, don't be late
The brainchild behind the chipmunks was the late actor and songwriter Ross Bagdasarian and frankly, there’s no denying his impact upon popular American culture. As a young man, Bagdasarian appeared in the original (and legendary) Eddie Dowling Broadway stage production of William Saroyan’s Pulitzer-prizewinning play “The Time of Your Life”. Bagdasarian and Saroyan, cousins and fellow Armenian-Americans shared a love of the arts and most importantly, sentimentality and whimsy. (In fact, the cousins actually co-wrote the song “Come on-a My House” which became such a huge hit for the legendary songstress Rosemary Clooney.) Alas, unlike his more celebrated older cousin Saroyan, Bagdasarian won no Oscars or Pulitzers. He did, however, snafu a couple of Grammy awards, and in so doing, entertained and delighted millions of children (and a few of those aforementioned adults who should know better).

This particular legacy, which is nothing to be sneezed at, acquits itself very nicely in this fluffy, harmless feature. And for those inclined, the two-disc DVD version includes a handy-dandy digital copy of the movie suitable for iPods and iPhones. This is especially handy for chipmunk-obsessed kids on long car rides. Just make sure they’re watching with earphones so the journey can be chipmunk-free for the driver.

So feel free to stuff your little nipper’s stocking with the version that includes the Blu-Ray, DVD and digital copy. Whilst Alvin and his chipmunks yearn for a Christmas that does not come late, the rest of us can yearn for a Christmas that comes as early as possible and dissipates as quickly so that life, in all its splendour, can move on.

And maybe, just maybe, with the kids plugged into iPods, it can be a peaceful Christmas for all.

And to all, a goodnight.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **½ Two and a half stars

Alvin and the Chipmunks is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Saturday 29 November 2014

WHIPLASH - Review By Greg Klymkiw - J.K. Simmons & great editing ignite screen in searing drama so delectably reminiscent of the best 70s existential male angst cinema

Student and Teacher: FULL METAL JACKET - as it should be!
"GOOD" is never good enough!

"You are a worthless pansy-ass who's now weeping and slobbering all over my drums like a nine-year-old girl! 
Whiplash (2014)
Dir. Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Chris Mulkey
Review By Greg Klymkiw
"If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will fuck you like a pig." - Teacher to Student, Whiplash
So barks Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a jazz instructor at a tony private music conservatory in the dirtiest of towns, the glorious NYC. Fletcher is a character who makes Gny. Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket look like your kindly old Grandma Apple Doll.

There's no two ways about it.

Fisher's a major-league prick-to-the-nth-degree, but his aim is true.

Do you think I'm fuckin' stupid? I know you were "the one"!
He believes his students are the best of the best, but frankly, for him, that's not good enough. He demands they push their gifts harder than a prize studhorse slams a mare in heat. He demands true force. He demands self-inflicted pain as well as the infliction of pain. He demands greatness. Fletcher might be bi-polar or passive-aggressive (accent on aggressive), but he knows damn well that he must be cruel to be kind. Inspiration comes to the talented only by slamming their faces repeatedly against a brick wall, and then, like some abusive parent, offering words of solace (when warranted) and continuing the cycle again and again until the student either breaks through or is broken. It's the only way. And God help you if you're just "good". The Gospel According to Fletcher (and frankly, any such teacher in the real world) is this: "There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job."

I personally believe in this philosophy and perhaps it's why I partially and so strongly responded to Whiplash, the searing story of Fletcher and his cruel, brilliant and passionate relationship with Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a drumming prodigy who seeks to be greater than great.

Being the greatest musician of the 20th century is anyone's idea of success.
That said, I think my personal connection to this philosophy is a drop in the bucket compared to the nasty, rip-snorting drama writer-director Damien Chazelle has wrought with this relentless sledgehammer-to-the-face of a film. I've not been so charged during a movie in a long-time. In fact, Fletcher's ferocious demands and almost vindictive bashing of students' psyches, and in particular, that of the equally obsessed student Andrew, has the visceral force of a great vigilante picture with equally compelling cat and mice at the forefront - only here, the mouse definitely becomes no mere cat, but a man - all MAN and a real one at that! Simmons's performance knocks you on your ass, but Teller holds his own with the man of iron resolve.

Add to the mix, gorgeously gritty cinematography by Sharone Meir (a delicious blend of 70s pulp and colour-tinged noir) and the editing of Tom Cross that has you breathless - almost from beginning to end. I say "almost", only because Chazelle's screenplay wisely settles down with occasional moments of tenderness twixt father (Paul Reiser) and son and the less-compelling, but ultimately necessary doomed romantic relationship between Andrew and a sweet, young thing (Melissa Benoist) who must come last on the lad's list of life priorities.

What I love most about Cross's cutting is the fact that neither he nor Chazelle back away from making bold (some might erroneously say "obvious") cuts that draw attention to the virtuosity of the cinematic storytelling. I'd argue, however, it works in tandem with the mise-en-scene and the screenplay to drive a story about the sheer intensity of creation. As well, one cannot deny the tale's rhythms of mano a mano twixt Fletcher and Andrew. The act and art of creation is a war zone and Cross understands the macho tempo of this dynamic. Though Cross's cutting is flashy, it never once descends to the herby-jerky of so much contemporary cutting. Part of this comes from the wise compositions Meir and Chazelle have settled upon as well as a spectacular retro lighting scheme that plunges us into that astonishing world of 70s existential male angst - more than appropriate given the natural of the story.

The climactic sequence Chazelle delivers is a musical equivalent to a great action-suspense set-piece. Here is where the aforementioned collaboration between Cross, Meir and Chazelle explodes in all its richness. It had me breathless and on the edge of my seat upon a first viewing. Subsequent viewings have allowed me to bask in its sheer cinematic razzle-dazzle.

The movie is not at all pleasant, but its very disagreeable tone transcends all pathetic notions of palatability and finally serves up one entertaining and provocative series of cinematic blows to the gut.

The Film Corner Rating: **** 4-Stars

Whiplash is currently in release via Mongrel Media.

Friday 28 November 2014

BERKSHIRE COUNTY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hot babysitter-in-peril thriller superbly directed, intelligently written and laced with female-empowerment undertones.

In the middle of nowhere, on All Hallows Eve:
Berkshire County (2014)
Dir. Audrey Cummings
Starring: Alysa King, Madison Ferguson, Cristophe Gallander,
Samora Smallwood, Bart Rochon, Aaron Chartrand, Leo Pady, Robert Nolan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Pigs get a bad rap. They're gentle, friendly and intelligent creatures. Alas, in the parlance of western culture, since time immemorial, really, the pig has been synonymous with a variety of grotesqueries such as filth, greed, gluttony, violence, corruption and most decidedly, just plain uncouth behaviour. With that rather unfair but common understanding of piggishness, it seems only appropriate that the damnable porkers abound malevolently in Berkshire County, the dazzling first feature by Canadian filmmaker Audrey Cummings. On the surface and at its most basic level, it could be seen as a simple, straight-up babysitter-in-peril-during-a-home-invasion thriller.

Sure, it most certainly is that, especially if that's all you're looking for. However, it's not quite as straight up as one might suspect. The reason it works so superbly is that the simple premise is successfully mined to yield several levels of complexity which add to the picture's richness. Most notably, there's the matter of the movie's virtuosity. Cummings directs the picture with the kind of within-an-inch-of-her-life urgency and stratospheric level of craft that, with the whiz-bang cutting of editor Michael P. Mason and Michael Jari Davidson's evocative lensing, yield a horror suspense thriller that infuses you with creepy-crawly dread and one astounding scare set-piece after another.

That, frankly, would be enough to spew laudatory ejaculate right in the face of the whole affair, but on a deeper thematic level, Cummings and screenwriter Chris Gamble offer up a delectably sumptuous and varied buffet for an audience to gobble up with the ferocity of snuffling hogs at the trough. Berkshire County is an intense, topical, nasty, darkly funny and even politically-charged feminist horror picture in the tradition of other leading Canadian female genre directors like the Soska Sisters, Karen Lam and Jovanka Vuckovic.

It's proof positive, once again, that Canadian WOMEN are leading the charge of terrifying, edge-of-your-seat horror-fests that are as effectively drawer-filling as they are provocative and politically astute. It's unabashed exploitation injected with discerning observational power.

The film begins during a Halloween party in the rural enclave of the film's title. The gorgeous teenage girl-next-door Kylie Winters (Alysa King) arrives adorned in the sexiest Little Red Riding Hood costume imaginable. Heads swivel in her general direction, but none more so than that of the handsome Marcus (Aaron Chartrand), a hunky stud-horse-man-boy from the local high school. He, like the other small town, small-minded fellas is swine (of the male chauvinist variety) incarnate.

In what's possibly one of the more disturbing acts committed in any genre picture of recent memory, Kylie is plied with booze, coerced - essentially date-raped - into blowing Marcus. Unbeknownst to her, she's captured on his smart phone movie camera which he promptly uploads to cyber space for all to see.

Though the film has previously opened with a creepy Kubrickian traveling overhead shot of the county's forested, isolated topography (a la The Shining), Cummings and Gamble plunge us into very unexpected territory. Initially, the horror is neither supernatural nor of the psychopathic variety, but a monstrous act of sexual abuse, followed by the insidious cyber-dissemination of pornographic images of said abuse and then the teasing, bullying and shame experienced by Kylie who was the target of the abuse and subsequent derision levelled at her by peers.

Ripped from the headlines of a veritable myriad of similar cases involving tragic sexual abuse, we are privy to one of the more abominable aspects of contemporary teen culture. In Canada, the most horrific example is that of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons who, plied with booze and gang raped on camera, committed suicide when the images went viral. What faces Kylie is so debilitatingly nasty that she's the one made to feel like a pariah - as if she were to blame. Even Kylie's repressed dough-headed mother blames Kylie for bringing scandal upon the family.

To add insult to injury, Kylie is further estranged from those who should be offering support when she is practically forced by her mother to take a Halloween night babysitting gig at an isolated mansion on the outskirts of the community. That said, Kylie seems to welcome the peace and isolation the job might afford, far away from the piggish behaviour of her abuser, his stupid friends, her idiot mother and everyone else who teases and/or affixes blame upon her. A gorgeous mansion with all the amenities and two sweet kids has Heaven on Earth written all over it. Or so she (and we) think. She (and we) are wrong about that.

He has a butcher knife
. . . and friends!
Pigs, you see, are lurking in the woods. Not just any pigs, mind you, but a family of travelling serial killers adorned in horrifying pig masks. And these sick fuckers mean business. Happily, Cummings and Gamble have fashioned a terrific female empowerment tale within the context of the horror genre. By focusing, in the first third, upon the teen culture of abuse and bullying and then tossing their lead character into a nail-bitingly terrifying maze of sheer horror, they, as filmmakers and we, as an audience, get to have the whole cake and eat it too. The final two-thirds cleverly and relentlessly presents one seemingly impossible challenge after another and we're front-row passengers on a roller coaster ride of mostly unpredictable chills and thrills until we're eyeballs-glued-to-the-screen during some deliciously repellent violence and, of course, a bit of the old feminist-infused empowerment.

Joining a fine tradition of home invasion movies like The Strangers and You're Next, it's a film that, in its own special way exceeds the aims of those seminal works because it places the horror in a context of the kind of horror which has become all too real in contemporary society. In a sense, the film's target audience, teens and young 20-somethings (and middle-aged horror geeks who've never grown up) will get everything they want out of the picture - and then some.

And just so we're not feeling too warm and fuzzy after the film's harrowing climax, Cummings spews a blood-spattered shocker upon us - one that horror fans have seen a million times before, but when it's served up right, we're always happy to see it again. So take a trip to Berkshire County. It's a fork in the road (and blade in the gut) worth choosing.


Berkshire County, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the esteemed Shriekfest Film Festival in Los Angeles, enjoys it's Canadian premiere during the 2014 Blood in the Snow Film Festival at the Magic Lantern Carlton Theatres in Toronto. It will be released in Canada via A-71 and is being sold to the rest of the world by the visionary Canadian sales agency Raven Banner.

Thursday 27 November 2014

QUEEN OF BLOOD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Official Selection at Blood in the Snow Film Festival

Queen of Blood (2014)
Dir. Chris Alexander
Starring: Nivek Ogre, David Goodfellow, Shauna Henry, Carrie Gemmell

Review By Greg Klymkiw

So, not only is Queen of Blood a Canadian movie, eh, but it's a horror movie and an art movie, eh. This means it's artistic, eh. You know it's artistic because there are many scenes of people staring - at what, you never really know, eh, but that's what makes it artistic, eh. Did I mention yet that it's Canadian? And you know how you can tell it's Canadian? Well, because it is artistic, eh, but most of all because it is underpopulated and shot in a rural location, eh.

And goddamn it, this movie is just so bloody artistic, eh. There are lots of scenes with people walking across fields and through the woods, eh. It takes them a long time to walk. Sometimes they are moving in slow motion, eh. Actually, they're moving in slow motion a lot, eh, but you know, that's okay, eh, because it's like, artistic, eh. Oh and Jesus H. Christ, Mary and Joseph, I plumb forgot to mention that the movie has lots of fades and dissolves to mark the passage of time, eh. And I'm telling you, this is mega-artistic, eh.

The movie is not only artistic, but it is what they call an homage. Yessiree-Bob, it's a right, royal artistic homage. The whole kit and caboodle is in the spirit of movies directed by Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin. These Euro-Trash dudes were super prolific in the 60s, 70s and 80s and even though most of their movies were godawful (but artistic, eh), the sheer volume of their output actually generated a handful of cool movies. None of them were actually good, eh, but they were cool (and artistic), so that's good, eh.

The only problem with homaging dudes like Franco and Rollin - I mean, aside from the fact that their movies were awful - is that they were completely and utterly bereft of humour. There is nothing deadlier than artistic Euro-Trash horror movies that are humourless.

Queen of Blood, it must be said, is true to its roots. It's artistic, kind of awful and humourless also. It is, however, in the noble tradition of Canadian filmmakers referencing other movies. God knows, Guy Maddin, John Paizs, Astron-6, the twisted Soska Twins and among others, Lee Demarbre, all do this homage thing. The difference is that the movies they reference are not humourless and as such, their own movies are not bereft of humour.

Queen of Blood, however, is not only missing quite a few brain cels, but it has no funny bone - kind of like Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin, eh.

Now, if I had to tell you what Queen of Blood is actually about, I'd probably have to say that I really have no fucking idea, but that won't stop me from trying, because it's artistic, eh and I sure as fuck don't want you to think I'm what they call a Philistine, eh. I might be from the North End of Winnipeg, eh, but we're no dummies, eh. The North End gave the world Burton Cummings, David Steinberg and Monty Hall, eh.

So, here's what you're in for, eh. The movie begins with some chick crawling out of a pool of swamp water. A title card comes up and says: BIRTH. Heavy, man, heavy. Then, some bearded dude shows up wearing a sweater he probably bought at Target Store and carries some chick into the woods. I think it's the same chick who crawled out of the swamp, but I don't think it really matters. Eventually, we find ourselves in a cottage, or a farm house, or something. A chick, I think it's the same chick, is inside and the dude offers her a white dress, then proceeds to cut her hair. He's no Vidal Sassoon, but upon completion of the follicle shearing, he presents the chick with a mirror. With extremely wide-eyes, kind of like those creepy fluffy puppy dog velvet paintings, she stares at herself in the mirror for what seems like a very long time. Before tedium really begins to set in, we cut to a bunch of bees buzzing around and then the dude with the beard kneels before the chick who tears his throat open in slow motion with her phallic thumb, then licks the blood off her hand. She exits the cottage, marching into bright sunlight and directly into the camera lens. I accept this.

As the movie crackles along, we get ourselves some nice slow motion camera moves in the empty cottage. And then, another chick shows up. As this is an artistic movie, we need some more shots of people staring at stuff, so the chick stares at some horses while stroking her preggo-belly. We need more staring, so luckily we encounter a dude adorned in black at some church and he stares directly into the camera lens. At this point, the filmmaker astutely realizes we need a shot of someone aimlessly walking and in an extreme long shot a chick in white wanders - very slowly - through the woods. She gets closer and closer to us, but it does take a fairly long time. To break shit up, we're treated to a slow dolly shot along a creek with the deep woods in the background and leaves are slowly fluttering to the ground. The white dress chick finds a blue dress chick and smears blood upon her face, then turns and very slowly walks back into the woods.

I hope you're following all this.

Now the dude in black is staring at a field. Good deal, eh. Staring at fields is very artistic, eh, but alas he must stop staring and do some wandering. This was probably a good idea because he finds a chick lying dead on the ground. He does what anyone would do, he covers her body with foliage. Our filmmaker manages to infuse a few frissons into the proceedings by focusing on a spider dangling from a web whilst the pregnant chick stands in a barn with a horse and stares out the window. We get some throat tearing action followed by a really long shot of a barn which the chick in the white dress eventually and slowly walks towards. Upon entering the barn, she lies down on the straw and takes a nap.

Regardez! Regardez! Regardez!

A new title card is upon us: "DEATH".

Oh, by the way, we're only about 30-minutes into this thing.

The next section serves up a variety of walking around and staring in addition to some strangling, some endless Terence Malick-like staring up at the tops of trees, some dude in a stovepipe hat having the life drained out of him, a chick slowly crawling along the ground, the dude in black breaking his thumb and having some kind of epileptic seizure whilst a geyser of blood spews out of his mouth.

And guess what? A new title card: "REBIRTH".

Things are really heating up now.

The Sun is shining. The pregnant chick is staring. The chick in the white dress walks really slowly to the barn. She meets up with the pregnant chick, rubs her belly, kisses her, then appears to shove her hand into the belly and extract blood from it. Now the chick in the white dress is pregnant. She stares at a whole lot of stuff and walks into the woods slowly. Hell, she even walks into the water, whereupon she gives birth to some grotesque looking baby with its umbilical chord still dangling and smeared in bloody afterbirth. With babe in arms she walks through a yard full of junk and meets up with some old bearded inbred hillbilly dude who kind of looks like Santa Claus. The poor fella's just trying to whittle like Uncle Jed on The Beverly Hillbillies and the chick rips his throat open and feeds the blood to the baby, smiling like some psychotic Blessed Virgin Mary.

I won't ruin the ending for you, but it's a surprise shocker. It's not quite the Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes, but by the standards of this ludicrous film, it might as well be.

The bottom line is this: If you can hack the absolute worst Jesus Franco and/or Jean Rollin Euro-trash horror films, then you'll probably have absolutely no problem sitting through Queen of Blood.

Besides, it's artistic, eh.

The Film Corner Rating: ONE PUBIC HAIR
*Note* The "One Pubic Hair" rating is hallowed ground at The Film Corner. Only two films before this have ever received this worthy accolade: Son of God(zilla) and Sharknado.

Queen of Blood is an official selection of the Blood in the Snow Film Festival (BITS 2014) at the Magic Lantern Carlton Cinemas in Toronto.





Wednesday 26 November 2014

EJECTA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Solid Tony Burgess script anchors 4-site alien thriller

Time to make room for some visitors.

Ejecta (2014)
dir. Dir. Chad Archibald, Matt Wiele
Screenplay: Tony Burgess
Starring: Julian Richings, Lisa Houle, Adam Seybold

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In a world replete with eyewitness accounts detailing UFO sightings and contact with extraterrestrial (or at least, unidentified) life forms, all the stuff so many individuals and groups have testified to seeing and/or feeling, are those which tend to be discounted by ascribing said testimonials to mental illness. Though I have no doubt that many such experiences are indeed the bi-products of more than a few of the aforementioned folks being completely out of their respective (or collective) gourds, I still get the willies when I realize that some of them are most probably not crazy, that they've seen and experienced things I hope to never be unlucky enough to witness and/or feel.

Furthermore, I genuinely believe there's stuff out there that can never be adequately explained and probably won't be since an elite exists that's all too aware of certain realities, but keeps them veiled in secrecy for a variety of social, cultural, religious, political and economic reasons. The only people who would tend to dispute this, to doubt it beyond all that is reasonable, are those who would be quick to dismiss such notions, both genuinely and surreptitiously.

My own beliefs on this matter are not, I suspect, only due to years of tuning into very some very strange stuff on shortwave radio, eons of listening to Art Bell and George Noory on late-night talk radio and poring over as many books, articles and internet blogs on the matter as I've been able to pore over. Nay, I accept without question that some truly weird shit's going on out there (or, at the very least, I take it seriously enough to question it).

As for the poor souls who've become targets of derision for experiencing the unexplainable, it's clear they've been through something that's so cerebellum-brandingly real, so horrific, so indescribable and so nerve-shreddingly painful that they can only respond in ways that some would term as insanity. I have no doubt, however, that a goodly number of these people are not bonkers. In fact, those who absolutely refuse to believe are more likely to be the crazy ones.

Oh, and in case you're convinced that I am a few bricks short of a load on this, allow me to reveal, in defence of my sanity, that I've been mulling over the Drake Equation for several years (which, for some, might well be proof of my potentially schizophrenic nature). In any event, the equation provides an excellent basis for thought and discussion on the possibility of life existing beyond Earth and within our very own Milky Way and as such, has its fair share of champions in the scientific community. Radio Astronomer Frank Drake first came up with it in the early 60s and while it's impossible to use as a purely mathematical equation due to several unknown variables, it's still quite a brilliant series of questions to consider when searching for signs of extraterrestrial life. In fact, the Drake Equation is indeed the very foundation upon which the science of astrobiology was founded. (Feel free to do your own research on this, there's plenty of great stuff out there for further illumination.)

As well, we would be fools to ignore the wealth of historical artifacts, etchings and fossils that can certainly provide a solid bedrock to allow for a huge degree of healthy speculation that we, are not, alone, or, as expressed by the central character in the terrific film Ejecta:
"We were never alone."
All the aforementioned conundrums I've expressed tie directly and indeed form a great deal of the content of this extraordinary feature film triumph from the visionary Collingwood Crazies known to genre fans as Foresight Features. Ejecta is, without a doubt, one of the scariest science fiction horror films you're likely to see this year.

Buoyed by intense, intelligent writing from Tony Burgess (Pontypool, Septic Man) in a screenplay that induces fingernail-ripping-and-plucking (biting nails to the quick is "pussy", anyway), plus an astonishingly riveting performance by one of Canada's greatest actors Julian (Hard Core Logo, Cube, Man of Steel) Richings, Ejecta is a movie that plunges you into the terror of one utterly horrendous night in the lives of those who make contact with aliens. All of them experience a series of close encounters of the third kind, though be warned, they're as far removed from the benevolence and joy expressed in Spielberg's grandaddy classic of the genre.

There are no happy-faced hairless alien midgets gesticulating Zoltán Kodály Hand Signals whilst smiling at a beaming Francois Truffaut in Ejecta. No-siree-Spielberg, these mo-fos are super-ugly and their presence induces the sheer horror that inspires drawer-filling of the highest order. That said, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is worth noting here, because Ejecta shares one very important element with Spielberg's bonafide masterpiece.


Close Encounters took its title and three-act structure from a system of extraterrestrial classification as posited by the late astronomer Dr. Josef Allen Hynek – the close encounter. According to Hynek, a close encounter of the first kind is seeing unexplained phenomena, while the second kind involves hard proof of some sort of physical manifestation from what was originally witnessed and, finally, the close encounter of the third kind being contact. I'd argue that experiencing even one of these encounters would be enough to drive someone obsessively to seek subsequent levels of encounter or, in the case of Ejecta, we have three characters equally fraught with obsession. One seeks answers to stopping his pain, another will inflict pain to secure answers, while yet another brings the obsession of an artist seeking answers in his subject. And forgive me if I get all eggheaded on you here, but there is a sense of Trinity that Ejecta shares with Close Encounters - both pictures have a kind of Father, Son and Holy Spirit manifestation coursing through them and it's this level of spirituality and obsession that bind the pictures.

Close Encounters, of course, charts the journey of everyman Richard Dreyfuss who experiences the unexplained appearance of something other-worldly and abandons his life, his job, his family – everything he holds dear – to obsessively track down the meaning behind this occurrence. In a tale steeped in Judeo-Christian resonance – from Moses to Christ – Roy makes a perilous journey, climbs Devil’s Tower and comes face-to-face with the answer to his visions until he, along with twelve (trinity existing within the square root) apostolic “pilgrims” ascend to the Heavens, arms outstretched in what is surely the most benign crucifixion-image (trinity) imaginable.

This sense of spirituality is almost divine in nature and makes perfect sense considering the aforementioned Hynek’s own belief in the notion that a technology must exist which blends both the physical and psychic. Furthermore, it's important to note that Paul Schrader wrote the first pass of Close Encounters and though he didn't take a story credit (something he regretted almost as quickly as he agreed to it and more so in the years to follow), Spielberg's film feels, deep-down, like a Schrader narrative - especially the combination of obsession and spirituality.

This is an unbeatable combination that Ejecta flirts with at every turn.

The journey Burgess's screenplay takes us on begins quite evocatively with some cold, impersonal Ascii-text being typed onto a hazy computer monitor:
Tonight the universe is no bigger than my head.
It's time to make room for some visitors.
Yes, visitors indeed. William Cassidy (Julian Richings), a conspiracy theorist living off the grid in the middle of some godforsaken Ontario hinterland is inundated with unwelcome guests - a filmmaker, an interrogator and a mean-ass alien.

Joe (Adam Seybold) is the most benevolent of the three visitors Cassidy receives. This ultra-indie one-man-show documentary filmmaker believes he's been invited by Cassidy to engage in an interview. When he gets confirmation that he'll be granted an audience, he's ecstatic since Cassidy is considered the "Holy Grail" of UFO experts. Upon arriving, Cassidy seems confused as to why Joe is even there, but as things progress, we understand all too well why the wiry, jittery recluse is occasionally addled. Unlike the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters, most of Cassidy's adult life has been fraught with the obsession an alien encounter instigates. At least Dreyfuss had tangible things to lose, but poor Cassidy appears to have lost everything before he could even get a chance to amass it. What he's amassed is a life of questions, pain and endless, seemingly futile attempts to let the world know about his experience. He's lost a life he could have had. That's scary enough, but happily, the movie delivers its share of visceral chills to complement those of the philosophical variety.

We are privy to some of Joe's interview footage which reveals Cassidy's credentials in the UFO field. At first, Joe makes the mistake of referring to the alien abduction Cassidy suffered almost forty years ago, but is sternly corrected that it was not an abduction. The aliens came to Cassidy:
"They met inside my mind. I could feel them, I could hear them inside. They pretty much ignored me, but they had this meeting and then they left. They left something behind, something inside of me, and it's been there ever since. When I'm awake it hurts, but when I'm not, it floods me with these nightmares. No, no, it's not nightmares, it's not a thing, it's a feeling, it's not pain, it's not fear, it's something else, something much, much worse."
And damned if we don't believe him. This, of course, is one of the scariest things about the film. Burgess has written a character that allows Richings to invest with such intensity, that many of the creeps and shudders we get come directly from Cassidy's brilliantly scribed (via Burgess) and executed (via Richings) dialogue.

It's often been erroneously suggested in a kind of knee-jerk screenwriting 101 fashion that it's always better to show in movies than tell and those who ascribe to this strictly are too quick to dismiss the cinematic power of telling. In the case of Ejecta, so much of the film's power is in the showing of the telling and believe you me, the telling via the words Burgess provides to Richings borders on the poetic and it's these flights of fancy rooted in the unknown that not only wrench the bloody bejesus out of you but are one of the contributing factors to the film's overall achievement as a genre film that utilizes the tropes it must, but does so with the oft-neglected poetry inherent in cinema itself.

When Cassidy explains the feelings he has because of the intrusive alien presence within him, he notes in desperation, that it's "the fear of the anticipation of this feeling [which] eats away at my life." Well, Jesus H. Christ, Almighty! Hand me an extra large pair of Depends Adult Diapers because this statement and the chilling manner of its delivered was easily just as shit-my-drawers scary as a beautifully directed set piece which happens at another juncture in the film where Cassidy and Joe hide in the shed from the alien that prowls malevolently just outside.

Structurally, the film benefits from yet another trinity in the three-pronged approach to capturing the narrative of this night of horror. Firstly, there's Joe's documentary footage, then there's the perspective of the military through various helmet-cams and finally, the present-tense unfolding of Cassidy's interrogation at the hands of the malevolent Dr. Tobin (Lisa Houle). The movie skilfully bounces us throughout these perspectives, yet we seldom feel lost in the proceedings beyond the manner in which the characters themselves feel lost.

The film is co-directed by Matt Wiele and Chad Archibald and while it's difficult to ascertain the nature of the collaboration from the finished product, the bottom line is that there's a consistency to the film's overall snap, crackle and pop which renders a picture that almost always grabs you by the balls (or, if you will, vulva), squeezing, scratching, scrunching and twisting until you feel you can bear no more.

My only quibble is with certain elements of the interrogation scenes. There's an automaton quality to the military personnel which is no doubt intentional, but often feels too "play-acted" to gel with the elements in the film which seem rooted in docudrama-like reality. I was also mixed on how the blocking played out during these scenes as they seemed almost by-the-numbers plotted-out, not unlike that of series television.

Lisa Houle's performance, however, is one of the weirdest I've seen on film in a long time and that's quite a statement considering that she plays opposite Julian Richings who is eccentricity-incarnate. At first, I was not sure of her performance and thought I'd have to repress it in order to enjoy everything I loved about the picture, but it eventually grew on me because it really is so out-to-lunch. Houle delivers many of her lines with a kind of sing-song quality and at times she came across like some genetically mutated pollination twixt a happy host on children's educational programming and Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is an achievement. My hat is off to her.

Then again, my hat is off to the entire Foresight Features team. They keep delivering the goods and Ejecta is as strange, perverse, thoughtful, scary and darkly funny as their best work has proven to be. The film also gives new meaning to the old movie tagline "Watch the Skies" because here, it's not the skies you need to watch, it's the universe implanted in your brain and goddamn, it hurts. And worst of all, you can't necessarily see it. Short of sawing the top of your skull off and gazing at your glistening brain in one of those cooking show mirrors, there's nothing to "watch".

Everything is feeling. And that, is really fucking scary.


Ejecta is an official selection of the Blood in the Snow Film Festival 2014 at the MLT Carlton Cinema in Toronto. The film is being released by Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

UNDER THE SUN OF ROME - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Editing soars in neorealist film

In Italian neo-realism, beautiful women looking for romance have slim pickings amongst layabout man-boys who never want to grow up.
Gorgeous neorealist film
begs for proper treatment
from either Criterion or
Kino Lorber. Who will step
up to the plate first?
Under the Sun of Rome
Sotto il sole di Roma
dir. Renato Castellani
Starring: Oscar Blando, Liliana Mancini, Francesco Golisari, Maria Tozzi, Ferrucio Tozzi, Gisella Monaldi, Alberto Sordi

Review By Greg Klymkiw

At one point in Renato Castellani’s strange neorealist comedy-drama Under the Sun of Rome, the layabout teen hero Ciro (Oscar Blando) and his hard-working beat cop Dad (Ferrucio Tozzi) are sleeping not-so-soundly during the day for very different reasons.

Ciro busily toils day and night doing nothing – save for occasional forays into mischief with his equally lazy pals. Pops, on the other hand, is on perpetual night shift – patrolling the dark streets and punching in tediously at the requisite check-in points. Ciro's only genuine risk is getting caught for petty thievery. Pops, however, is at risk every night, keeping the eternal city as safe as possible.

One works, the other doesn’t – but as the sun of Roma beams through the windows of their tiny walk-up – both men on this particular morning, are getting no sleep. Roly-poly Mamma (Maria Tozzi) is multitasking like only a mother can and berating both of them – at the top of her considerable lungs. In a brief moment of respite from her justifiable haranguing (she works harder than the two of them together – multiplied, no doubt, to infinity), bleary Ciro calls out to his equally groggy Dad asking if ALL married women are like his mother.

Dad sighs with resignation and replies, “All.”

Ah, the eternal chasm twixt man and woman.

Luckily, for the not-so-gentle sex, they always have each other.

Under the Sun of Rome unfolds its episodic coming-of-age tale during World War II, but for a good portion of the picture, we’d never know it. Ciro and his buddies busy themselves with the fine rituals of doing nothing. Our hunky hero, adorned in a sporty new pair of white shoes and to-die-for shorts that outline the supple form of his delectable posterior and swarthy gams – Yes, GAMS! They’re that gorgeous – is supposed to be getting a presentable haircut for his new job.

Ciro has other plans. He rounds up his buddies for a day of slacking. Wandering through the crumbling Coliseum they come across Geppe (Francesco Golisari) a lad of the streets who makes his home there. Ciro and Geppe hit it off immediately and the new pal joins the layabouts for a dip in a secluded creek on railway property.

When rail company bulls show up to intimidate trespassers, Ciro loses his new shoes and the money Mamma gave him for a haircut. Nor has he bothered to go to work as promised. Terrified with the severe beating he’ll receive, Ciro does what any young lad would do – he doesn’t go home and instead, spends the night with Geppe in his magical little Coliseum hideaway.

This affords both young dreamboats the opportunity to gaze intently at each other’s fresh, lean man-boy perfection – replete with gentle digital gesticulations. Here Castellani directs veteran cinematographer Domenico (Ossessione) Scala’s camera in loving compositional directions to highlight the bountiful facial and physical attributes of both actors. (Larry Clark – eat your heart out.)

As time moves on, the picture recounts several entertaining incidents in the life of Ciro – stealing shoes from a shopkeeper (the great Alberto Sordi of The White Sheik and I Vitelloni fame), an on-again-off-again relationship with Iris (Liliana Mancini) the proverbial girl-next-door, dabbling in black marketeering once the German army enters Rome, dallying gigolo-like with the BBW-splendour of Tosca (Gisella Monaldi) a married-woman-cum-streetwalker and eventually crime that leads to the expected tragic ending.

Castellani’s storytelling technique and, in fact elements of the story itself, are delicately, delightfully odd.

The first-person narration is truly exceptional. It is both literary AND literal. Often the voiceover will describe a physical action just before or during its execution as well as describing characters whom we see as described during said descriptions. Further to this, we will often hear narration to the effect of “So-and-so said…” and we’ll then hear the character recite the line of dialogue. The basic tenets of Screenwriting 101 suggest you should NEVER do any of the above. This, of course, is why the self-appointed scenarist gurus the world over are so often wrong. If it works, it works and it does so splendidly here.

Some might find fault with Castellani’s perspective on his female characters. It's certainly not as deep and sensitive as it could and should be. Even in I Vitelloni, the pinnacle of all male layabout films, Maestro Fellini is able to render strong female characters without turning them into borderline harridans as Castellani does with Mamma or worse, Iris – a harridan-to-be. (The performances of the actresses are as good as can be expected within the shallow dimensions they’re given to work with.)

Strangely, the female character that seems the most well rounded and lavished with the greatest degree of sensitivity is that of the plump, whorish Tosca. Even Scala’s cinematography of the women is mostly workmanlike, lacking the loving detail and care so copiously drenched upon the young boys. One could argue this is intentional, but to that I say – argue away. Larry Clark rests MY case on this one – boys AND gals need equal cinematographic love. (In fairness though, there is ONE boner-inducing close-up of Liliana Mancini slowly opening the door.)

Blando’s performance as Ciro is infused with a variety of subtle layers. When he is at his most rakishly appealing, Ciro is a character we’re completely rooting for, but often he does and says things so abominable (for example, the way he continually professes love to Iris, kisses her passionately then hurls some invective that clearly hurts her feelings) that we turn on him violently. Ciro is an always fascinating character. His eventual coming-of-age, his redemption if you will, has considerable force. I also applaud Castellani’s brave choice in making such a bold series of moves within a leading character.

What I love most about this picture is the craft employed in the forward thrust of its episodic narrative. The movie never feels like it’s overstaying its welcome at any point and yet, very often, it has a rhythm not unlike that of a lazy day and as such, is easily in the same sphere attained by Fellini in I Vitelloni. In fact, the slicing and dicing of editor Giuliano Betti is not only exceptional, but at times it is utterly breathtaking. Among many spectacular cuts, the one that stays with me is a gorgeous cut to a foot-level shot on the stairs in the walk-up when Ciro and Iris go into the hallway from his flat. Not only is this a cut of exquisite beauty, but also it leads us into a shot that is equally stunning (followed by a camera move that’s richly evocative and romantic).

Many of the cuts are suitably "silent", but only when they need to be. On occasion they knock you completely on your ass and force you to almost re-focus your gaze IN to the action on screen.

I have to sadly admit to having seen only one Castellani picture before (a weird English-dubbed public domain VHS tape of Hell in the City during the mid-80s - issued I think, to capitalize on Chained Heat and other babe-in-prison flicks starring Linda Blair and rented pour moi to satisfy my babe-in-prison fetish. Because of my Castellani-deprived state, I couldn't begin to claim that these cuts are a trademark DIRECTORIAL style of his and assume they were made in collaboration with a brilliant editor. The credited editor is one Giuliano Betti. I have scoured the Internet quite extensively - including Italian sites, and found virtually no information about him. In fact, this appears to be his only editing credit (along with a bunch of assistant directing and continuity credits). Go figure. Whoever was responsible is a genius.

Under the Sun of Rome is a tremendously entertaining picture and even if it occasionally feels like a Diet Chinotto precursor to Federico Fellini’s I Vitelloni, it’s a worthy entry in the Italian neorealist sweepstakes - especially in the oft-tackled men-who-can't-seem-to-grow-up genre.


Under the Sun of Rome does not appear to be available on DVD other than as a non-subtitled Italian import. This must change. It sounds like a job for either Criterion or Kino Lorber. In the meantime, a gorgeous archival 35mm English-subtitled print pops up at cinematheques that can still screen real movies. TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto did, indeed, present this film a few years back. I, for one, would LOVE to own it on Blu=Ray. Criterion? Kino Lorber? Art thou listening?





Monday 17 November 2014

DRUNKTOWN'S FINEST - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Redford-produced hit opens WAFF2014

Jeremiah Bitsui as SickBoy
Drunktown's Finest (2014)
Dir. Sydney Freeland
Starring: Jeremiah Bitsui, Carmen Moore, Morningstar Angeline Wilson

Review By Greg Klymkiw
"They say this land isn't a place to live, it's a place to leave, so why do people stay?"
With these words, intoned matter-of-factly by Nizhoni (Morningstar Angeline Wilson) over the shimmering lights of Dry Lake, New Mexico, writer-director Sydney Freeland announces her thematic concerns right off the top.

Drunktown's Finest is a film about a place many of us will never know, but as the sun rises over a dusty highway and the evocative strains of "Beggar to a King" by the legendary 60s Native American band Wingate Valley Boys, we're drawn into an alternately haunting and vibrant montage of a Navajo reservation where life ekes itself out with the dull drip of molasses - a place of aimlessness, alcoholism, repression, violence and for some, hope that a future imbued with promise will be a dream come true.

Workshopped at the Sundance Institute and executive produced by Robert Redford, Freeland's screenplay focuses on three Native American characters: the aimless petty criminal SickBoy (Jeremiah Bitsui) who is trying to keep his nose clean until he needs to show up for duty as an Afghanistan-bound soldier, Felixia (Carmen Moore), a transgendered hooker looking for both acceptance and a way out and Nizhoni (Wilson), a young Native American woman raised by affluent white parents, but searching for her cultural identity. The script paints indelible portraits of real people and bravely tells their stories as seemingly disconnected pieces of an anthology. Freeland coaxes fine, naturalistic performances and her mise-en-scene presents a strong sense of place.

Alas, the script eventually takes a too-pat turn when the three characters' lives intersect and the film starts to feel too conventional in all the wrong ways. It veers from a compelling slice-of-life to shoehorned by-rote indie melodrama which, in spite of occasional moments of truth, falls short of the promise it displays in its first half. In spite of this, the film is well worth seeing for all the elements which do work beautifully. It signals a burgeoning talent and a close look into a lifestyle and cultural backdrop that seems all too familiar, but one in which we're still imbued with a sense of freshness and vitality.


Drunktown's Finest is the Nov19 Opening Night Gala at the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival (WAFF 2014).





Sunday 16 November 2014

HOUDINI - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Fun Technicolor biopic of legendary escape artist

If you dare doubt Tony Curtis is one of the most gorgeous movie stars - ever - you're CLEARLY OUT OF YOUR MIND!!!
Yeah, OK, Janet Leigh is HOT, too.
Houdini (1953)
dir. George Marshall
Starring: Tony Curtis,
Janet Leigh

Review By Greg Klymkiw

If you’re looking for a penetrating and even modestly accurate dramatic depiction of the life of Harry Houdini, the legendary escape artist, this is probably not it. If, however, you’re looking for a tremendous performance from a great star in his peak years, you could do a whole lot worse than Houdini. The handsome, virile Tony Curtis commands the screen so voraciously that it feels almost like a one-man show. It isn’t, however, since he’s supported by the mouth watering Janet Leigh as Houdini’s long-suffering and only moderately supportive wife.

Directed by the sturdy prolific hack George Marshall, Houdini is a strangely enjoyable Hollywood biopic. With a script by Philip (Broken Lance, Detective Story) Yordan, the movie, surprisingly, doesn’t have one of the strongest narrative arcs in the world. In spite of this, the picture delights since Marshall cannily keeps his camera trained, like a bee to a flower petal upon the gorgeous, talented Tony Curtis that much of the story, such as it is, hovers within his glorious realm in a sort of crazed adulatory perpetuum. Though the movie plays fast and loose with many of the actual details of Houdini’s life, one gets a strong sense of the man's drive and charisma and, in so doing, captures his mythic essence -- the myth and the mystery.

Part of Houdini’s considerable entertainment value is also due to the attention to production value from powerhouse producer George Pal who crammed the picture with as much wonder and star-power as could only come from the man who produced and/or directed some of the finest entertainments of the 50s including The Time Machine, Tom Thumb, War of the Worlds, When Worlds Collide and, among others, that great series of animated Puppetoons that included the likes of Tubby the Tuba. It was Pal, no doubt, who saw what a perfect Houdini Tony Curtis would make.

Curtis plays the title character as a driven man – driven to romancing the woman of his choosing, driven to success and driven to seeking greater and more dangerous challenges. While Marshall doesn’t have much in the way of a distinctive directorial voice, he spent much of his career capturing star performances and exploiting them to the hilt. Much of Marshall’s best work was in comedy and he trained his workmanlike eyes on such stars as Bob Hope, Martin and Lewis and Jackie Gleason. He also had one great movie in him – Destry Rides Again, a terrific western with Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart, an oater that never fails to entertain.

Houdini begins with a typical Hollywood meet-cute wherein our title character catches a glimpse of the gorgeous Bess (Janet Leigh) from behind a circus sideshow cage where he is made-up grotesquely as a jungle wild man. He keeps wooing her in savage beast mode, but when she catches a glimpse of him without the makeup, she’s also smitten. How could she not be?They quickly marry and begin touring circuses and honky-tonk vaudeville houses as a husband and wife magic act. Soon, this life grows wearying for wifey and she begs her hunky hubbles to settle down and take a real job. He agrees, for a time, and toils, rather conveniently in a factory devoted to designing, building and selling locks and safes. Here he becomes obsessed with the notion of death-defying escapes, manages to convince the little lady wifey. Upon his re-entry into the world of show business, Houdini becomes bigger than he ever imagined was possible.

Marshall expertly handles the escape routines – so much so that even though WE know Houdini’s going to beat them hands-down, we still feel considerable suspense as each one is presented. A lot of the credit for the suspense generated in these scenes must go to Curtis and his performance – alternating as it does from boyish wonder to driven madman. Curtis plays Houdini as no mere entertainer, but someone who is not personally satisfied unless he is genuinely cheating death every step of the way.

Less successfully rendered is the annoying, obtrusive love story. It is a constant blessing that Janet Leigh is so easy on the eyes, for her character is not so easy on the ears. The character of Bess is almost harridan-like in her constant whining: “Harry, don’t do this. Harry, don’t do that. Harry, get a real job. Harry, I want a family. Harry, I want us to settle down. Harry, that’s too dangerous. Harry, you’re going to kill yourself. Harry, you love your stunts more than you love me.”

Nothing like a babe-o-licious harridan to keep a good man down.

Luckily, she doesn’t. The movie forges on with one daring stunt after another and luckily, one of Miss Leigh’s harridan-o-ramas is certainly not without entertainment value. The sequence involving Houdini’s preparations for his famous dip into the icy waters of the Detroit River are as hilarious as anything I’ve seen recently. Tony Curtis lying in a claw-footed bathtub covered in ice cubes whilst a team of men pour more bucket loads on top of him as wifey continues nagging at him, is not only funny, but chillingly (if you’ll forgive the pun) reminiscent of moments I and other men close to me (they know who they are) have experienced with their significant others at the most inopportune junctures.

Men who never grow up will always be boys.

Finally, I wish to divulge the weepy Hollywood ending which bears absolutely nothing close to the real Houdini’s death, but I won't - suffice it to say that Leigh removes the mask of the harridan long enough for Curtis to emote so expertly that it’s a tear-squirting corker of a finale.

And that is worthy of all the Technicolor glory lavished upon this lovely gem from a much simpler time.

The Film Corner Rating: *** 3 Stars

Houdini is available on DVD from Legend Films.