Friday, 27 March 2015

QUEEN AND COUNTRY, THE WONDERS, THE RESURRECTION OF A BASTARD, ON THE TRAIL OF THE FAR FUR COUNTRY, THAT GUY DICK MILLER - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - A ridiculous number of first-run offerings yields a bumper crop of delights

5 movies
All screening this weekend
All yield first-rate entertainment!
5 Film Corner Film Reviews for the price of 1:

Queen and Country (2014)
Dir. John Boorman
Starring: Callum Turner, David Thewlis, Caleb Landry Jones, Richard E. Grant, Tamsin Egerton, Vanessa Kirby

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In 1987 John Boorman (Deliverance, Point Blank) delivered his sweet, funny and happily (as well as sadly) nostalgic Hope and Glory, the autobiographical journey of Bill Rohan, a young lad growing up in London during the Blitz and his subsequent adventures when moved out to the country for safety. One of the strangest and most delightful aspects of Boorman's picture was how it focused on a boy and his chums discovering that their bombed-out city had transformed into one big playground. Tempering this were the more sobering realities of life, love, family and yes, even the realities of war when they creep into Bill’s view beyond his mere child’s eyes.

It's now 25 years later and the 82-year-old Boorman delivers a sequel, Queen and Country. Bill (Callum Turner) is now a young man and he's been called up for two years of mandatory military service to dear old Blighty. Much to the chagrin of the regiment's commanding officer (Richard E. Grant), he forms a veritable Dynamic Duo with his cheeky, irreverent chum Percy Hapgood (Caleb Landry Jones) in which the lads wreak considerable havoc in the barracks - from basic training through to the end of their short military careers.

The lads' chief nemesis is the humourless, mean-spirited, borderline psychotic, stiff-upper-lip and decidedly by-the-book Sgt. Major Bradley (David Thewlis) who proves to be the bane of their existence. That said, the boys turn those tables quite handily and indeed become an even huger bane of Bradley's existence - pilfering the beloved regiment clock, ignoring protocol during typing lessons (YES! Typing lessons!) and eventually using "the book" to gain an upper hand over their superiors.

The humour and events are mostly of the gentle and good-natured variety - from Bill courting Ophelia (Tamsin Egerton) a beautiful ice-Queen with a dark secret, to Percy wooing Dawn (Vanessa Kirby), Bill's sexy sister during a happy leave-time in the country where the entire Rohan family joins in the thrill of unboxing a television set, madly attempting to get the roof antenna reception just right and gathering round the flickering monochrome cathode ray images which capture the coronation of the young Queen Elizabeth.

There is darkness to Boorman's tale, however, and though our characters are far away from the explosive Hope and Glory rubble of the Blitz, the very real and scary prospect of being called up for active duty in Korea looms large. As well, the horror of war slowly creeps into the character of Bradley when eventually the shenanigans perpetrated upon him reveal why his mask might not be as firmly affixed as anyone thinks.

The final third of the film is imbued with one emotional wallop after another including a court martial, harrowing trips to a veterans' hospital, military prison and finally a very sweet and deeply moving tribute to both love and cinema.

Queen and Country is a lovely, elegiac capper to the long, illustrious career of a grand, old man of the movies. That said, I desperately hope Mr. Boorman has it in him to deliver one final instalment in the early life of Bill Rohan. We've been treated to the Blitz, post-war England and now, I do think an excursion into the Swinging 60s is in order.


Queen and Country is currently in theatrical release in Canada via Search Engine Films and in the USA via BBC Worldwide America.


The Wonders (2014)
Dir. Alice Rohwacher
Starring: Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Alba Rohrwacher, Luís Huilca Logrono, Monica Belluci

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Director Alice Rohwacher displays such love for all the tiny details of traditional farm life in rural Italy that we slip into the slow delicate rhythm of each day and come to view even the most mundane actions in her second feature film The Wonders with breathtaking awe and excitement.

One thing we cannot miss, however, is the crumbling ancient farmhouse, the endless dirt and dust, often grey, cloudy skies and the filthy decrepitude of the honey extraction lab where the film's central character, young teen Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu) expertly plies the trade her stern father Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) has encumbered her with; the family is comprised of four daughters and lacking a son, she is Dad's "natural" heir to the family business of beekeeping. Our gaze is so fixed upon every meticulously rendered action involving the bees and honey that we almost want to dismiss the clear visual signs that subtly symbolize a way of life that is sadly dying.

If you ever wanted to know how honey is brought to your table, the film is so infused with a sense of neo-realist style that there's an almost direct cinema documentary approach to the scenes of beekeeping. One of the most fascinating scenes involves the retrieval of a colony of honey bees that have swarmed. It's presented, as all the farm life scenes, as directly related to both character and drama. Here we really see and understand how brilliant Gelsomina is as a beekeeper, in spite of her innate desire to break free of the shackles of rural life. Upon discovering the empty hive, she's the one who leads the way to the escaped bees with a quiet intensity. Once she expertly locates them, Rohwacher trains her lens upon an almost nail-bitingly suspenseful scene in which Gelsomina climbs up the tree to where a veritable mound of bees, thousands upon thousands of them, have affixed themselves in the shape of a traditional oval hive to a branch high up. Wolfgang is not far behind with the open, empty hive while Gelsomina kicks at the branch repeatedly and waves the startled bees towards the box her father holds upwards which, the bees hightail into for safety and security. (Now I know what to do with my own daughter the next time we have a swarming amongst our hives. I'm sure she'll be thrilled. Or, maybe not.)

In spite of the film's measured quality - actually, even because of it - the central conflict the family faces is being shut down by local health authorities for running an old-fashioned honey extraction lab which does not conform to the standards of the bureaucracy. Bringing it up to snuff will cost a small fortune and the family is dirt poor. Though they're getting a small amount of extra money when Wolfgang insists they take in a young juvenile delinquent (Luís Huilca Logrono) as a ward, it will hardly be enough. However, the lad proves to be a decent added pair of "male" hands and to Dad's chagrin, a definite romantic interest for his burgeoning young lady of a daughter (whom he insists is still a child in spite of grooming her and forcing her to work as an adult).

Gelsomina is far ahead of her father's limited curves and even has plans to save the farm. Though Dad objects, she is inspired to enter her family in "Countryside Wonders", a cheesy reality-TV show searching for the most impressive traditional rural farmers. Enchanted by the gorgeous, gaudily-attired, Fellini-like host of the show (Monica Belluci), our plucky teen protagonist goes ahead and secretly enters the family anyway.

The film is full of stunning images, though none of them are of the picture-postcard variety. Captured on real Super-16 film stock, there isn't a single frame of picture that is not tied to the drama (albeit of the muted kind). Rohwacher continually dazzles us, but there's one set-piece in her beautiful film that is as magical and moving as any that have been captured in the grand history of Italian Cinema - the reality TV-show itself and the family's participation in it; especially a haunting, moving and almost-heartbreaking performance in which the family's juvenile delinquent ward whistles a strangely mournful tune as Gelsomina, often in extreme closeup opens her mouth to allow actual bees to slowly clamber from within and to walk gently upon her beautiful face.

There aren't a lot of films out there right now which qualify for instant classic status, but The Wonders, winner of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix, most definitely does.


The Wonders is currently in theatrical release via FilmsWeLike.
The Resurrection of a Bastard (2014)
Dir. Guido van Driel
Starring: Yorick van Wageningen, Goua Robert Grovogui, Juda Goslinga, Jeroen Willems

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I've seen plenty of crime pictures in my time, probably more than most. As such, I've probably seen every conceivable act of violence concocted by filmmakers and/or reproduced from reality. I thought I'd seen everything, but until seeing graphic novelist/artist Guido van Driel's feature debut The Resurrection of a Bastard, I had never seen a criminal remove someone's eyeball through the intense suction of a vacuum cleaner's hose.

I'd say my life is now relatively complete.

This, by the way, is not the only shocking display of ugly, brutal carnage in van Driel's grim and darkly (at times, screamingly) funny existential crime picture, but the real joy in the work is found in its atmosphere of viciousness.

We follow two stories presented in slightly skewed order which eventually converge to yield a staggering conclusion. The primary tale involves Ronnie (Yorick van Wageningen), a (mostly) poker-faced strong-arm debt-collection thug for James Joyce (Jeroen Willems), a scumbag, guitar-picking drug kingpin. Much of the film involves Ronnie and his sad-sack right hand man (Juda Goslinga) as they drive about the Dutch countryside (where most of their activities take place) and the film slowly reveals the reasons behind the vicious thug's neck brace and his almost ethereal comportment.

The other tale involves Eduardo (Goua Robert Grovogui), a recent immigrant to Holland who is trying to build a new life and fulfil his dream of becoming a car mechanic like his father. Mostly, though, he's trying to forget the horror of the unspecified African nation he's fled from as a political refugee. We get a salient clue as to what this gentle man with haunted eyes left behind. When a friendly cab driver asks him about his father, Eduardo reveals that his Dad is now dead from, "Chop, chop, chop." (Given all the extreme violence in the film, this is, in fact, one of the most powerful expressions of it.)

Both men have pain and regrets. One has had a near death experience which is eerily reproduced, the other has more than likely experienced one. What we experience of the latter character are the implications of a literal (or even figurative) resurrection.

In one case we see a man whose viciousness gives way to contemplation, in the other, a gentle man whose pain explodes during a scene involving the cruel killing of a rat. Both men find each other in a place of seeming solace, but rustling with the leaves of despair.

While The Resurrection of a Bastard might occasionally veer too deeply into art-house reverie and utilize a couple of too-obvious nods to Quentin Tarantino, there is no denying the film's power and the fact that it signals the arrival of a brilliant new voice in filmmaking.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ 3 and-a-half Stars

The Resurrection of a Bastard is currently in theatrical and VOD release via Syndicado.

On the Trail of the Far Fur Country (2014)
Dir. Kevin Nikkel

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Canadian filmmaker Kevin Nikkel has achieved what might be considered an impossibility with his film On the Trail of the Far Fur Country. Literally following in the footsteps of groundbreaking filmmakers almost a century earlier, he presents a stirring document juxtaposing the lives of northern Aboriginal people then and now.

In 1919, Harold Wyckoff was hired by the then-mighty Hudson's Bay Company to shoot footage for a feature film to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the company's building blocks, the fur trade in northern Canada. The company had been granted one-twelfth of the world's available land to carry out their business from 1670 onwards. The land was not really "available" since it was essentially stolen from the indigenous nations living upon it, but such is the history of Canada. This rich, powerful British firm, self=proclaimed as "The Company of Adventurers" built itself on the backs of indigenous labour. The film was, in fact, meant to be a glorified advertisement for the company to inspire sales and settlement of lands the Canadian Government essentially stole to grant to a major corporation. (Again, not much has changed in Canada on that front.)

There was, however, another theft looming - aesthetic thievery of the HBC's film which, unlike the eventual thief, at least went out of its way to present title cards in the Inuit language.

The result of HBC's efforts was The Romance of the Far Fur Country, a groundbreaking motion picture which was comprised of footage Wyckoff and an assistant shot during a perilous, arduous journey years before Robert Flaherty would shoot and release Nanook of the North (often considered the first documentary of its kind, but actually pre-dated by Wyckoff's film). In fact, Wyckoff's shooting techniques were so ahead of their time that Flaherty pretty much ripped many of them off for his much more famous and somewhat spurious "document" of "Eskimos". Even though Wyckoff's film is fraught with numerous instances of ethnocentrism and stereotyping, he genuinely sought to capture life as he saw it and, unlike Flaherty he did not overtly manipulate footage to tell the story he wanted to tell, but utilized techniques of cinema that he was experimenting with to capture narratives that were unfolding naturally.

In 1920, the HBC presented Wyckoff's stunning images, captured in sub-zero conditions on nitrate film stock and early, primitive (by today's standards) cameras. The movie was released throughout Canada in major centres, often accompanied by a full orchestra. Sadly, Flaherty's film stole all the thunder a couple of years later. As the Hudson's Bay Company shifted their focus from the fur trade to a huge chain of department stores, Wyckoff's film was lost to the sands of time. Over twenty reels of original film were shoved into Britain's National Film Archives (eventually the British Film Institute) who wisely made a protection master of the film, but still kept everything buried in the vaults.

Nikkel, however, has found a fascinating way to honour both Wyckoff and the indigenous peoples who lived as they were captured on film. Following Wyckoff's trail as closely as possible, Nikkel recreates footage, shoots in the same locations and most importantly, brings footage of Wyckoff's film to screen for all the contemporary children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of those captured in the pioneering filmmaker's lens.

Watching real people who, for the first time in their lives are seeing images of their ancestors is deeply and profoundly moving, as are the comments of young contemporary Native peoples describing the exploitation, colonization and assimilation forced upon the forefathers and how the wilful theft on the part of the Canadian Government, their lies and deceit, continue to this very day.

Nikkel has made a very engaging and important work. I do wish the musical score had not felt so stereotypically spare in that way documentaries even now fall back on and though Nikkel's narration is superbly written and rendered, I do also wish the voiceovers of Wyckoff's letters and journals had been presented in a much-less hammy fashion than they are here. These are, finally, minor quibbles. Nikkel's film is a vital document which captures historical, anthropological and aesthetic details which shed light upon a period of Canada's history that is, in the overall scheme of things, so close and yet, so far away.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ 3-and-a-half Stars

On the Trail of the Far Fur Country is currently playing in specialty venues, including the mini-festival "DOCUMENTING THE ART OF EXPLORATION VII" presented by The Arts & Letters Club of Toronto and The Explorers Club of Canada on March 28, 2015. The film is released via The Winnipeg Film Group.


That Guy Dick Miller (2014)
Dir. Elijah Drenner
Starring: Dick Miller, Roger Corman, Francis Doel, Joe Dante, John Sayles, Allan Arkush, Mary Woronov, Corey Feldman, Zach Galligan, Lainie Miller, Belinda Balaski, Gilbert Adler, Tina Hirsch, Ernest Dickerson, Jonathan Haze, Larry Karaszewski, Julie Corman, Fred Dekker, Steve Carver, David Del Valle, William Sadler, Robert Forster, Jonathan Kaplan, Jack Hill, Adam Rifkin, Fred Olen Ray, Chris Walas,

Review By Greg Klymkiw

He's been in over 200 movies.

His career has lasted over 60 years.

We all know who him.

He's "that guy".

You know, when you're watching The Terminator and Schwarzenegger visits the gun shop, who's behind the counter? "That guy." Then there's the wiseacre, know-it-all owner of the occult bookstore in The Howling who chews out the legendary "Famous Monsters of Filmland" publisher Forrest J. Ackerman for browsing, but also provides a wealth of knowledge about lycanthropy. Again, it's "That Guy". And, of course, there isn't a kid alive who doesn't know the legendary character of Murray Futterman from Gremlins, but most of them don't know his name. He's simply "that guy" whom they seen in everything.

This is a supremely entertaining and good-natured documentary portrait of a genuinely great character actor whose arrival was signalled in early and immortal roles in two classic 60s Roger Corman pictures, first as Walter Paisley, the nebbish "artist" in Bucket of Blood and the hilarious flower gourmet who brings his own salt shaker to add flavour to the petals he devours in the Little Shop of Horrors.

As the title of the doc clearly states, he's "That Guy Dick Miller".

The film is a who's who parade of the best, brightest and greatest genre filmmakers and actors, all extolling Miller's virtues, sharing great behind the scenes adventures and telling a whole whack of personal stories. And there's Miller himself - amiable, intelligent, sharp and funny - a real mensch among mensches.

He's accompanied by his longtime, still gorgeous and sexy wife Lainie Miller (you might remember her as the stripper who catches Dustin Hoffman's eye in The Graduate). She loves him to death and the feeling is clearly mutual. One of the film's highlights is seeing this absolutely perfect couple in their august years, interacting with each other as if they'd met only yesterday.

It's a fun and informative picture which not only sheds light on Dick Miller, the man, but also serves as a fascinating history of six decades of cinema. So load up on some soda pop, beer and lightly salted flowers, sit back, relax and enjoy the delightful film-clip-packed ride with one of the most important, vital forces in American Cinema.


That Guy Dick Miller is currently playing at the MLT Carlton Cinemas in Toronto via Indiecan Entertainment.