PREFACE: THE HOLY GRAPE?
OR ASBESTOS IN THE DRINKING WATER?
My journeys to the cinema have recently been blessed with the joys inherent in truly independent, indigenous, regional cinema - everyone from the Soska Sisters (Coquitlam, B.C.) to Alex Orr (Atlanta, Georgia) to Károly Ujj Mészáros (Budapest, Hungary) - it's truly been a pleasure to partake of stories and filmmaking which eschews the mind-numbingly machine-tooled crap from Hollywood (excepting Mad Max Fury Road and Spy, of course).
One of the hottest new regions for indigenous indie films seems to be the Niagara area of Southern Ontario wine country. Are these people imbibing too much of The Holy Grape? God knows, the oddities from the Winnipeg film scene can be traced back to asbestos in the waterworks which has contaminated tap water for many decades, so anything's possible. Though my personal preference leans more towards asbestos in the pipes, I'm more than delighted to equally acknowledge that many would, indeed, choose The Holy Grape.
There are plenty of short films on view amongst the myriad of feature films at the 2015 edition of (the legendary) Bill Marshall's Niagara Integrated Film Festival (NIFF 15). Two of them are exceptional. They're amongst the best of the best - not just at NIFF, not just from Niagara, but from Canada. Oh Hell, let's just place this in an international context - the world, already.
One will give you the willies.
The other will wrench geysers of tears from thine ocular orbs.
Both are truly terrific.
Dir. Jason Lupish
Starring: Erica Sherwood, Ralph DeGroot, Jason Zones
Review By Greg Klymkiw
"I get the willies when I see closed doors. - Joseph Heller, Something Happened
There are plenty of closed doors in this creepy little thriller which is disturbing, unnerving and almost quietly hilarious (you know the kind, like those moments in Carl Dreyer movies when, say, an old woman takes forever to cross a room, from one side of the frame to the other). The closed doors here, are, of course, not literal, but share the kind of nasty paranoia and fetishistic qualities of Joseph Heller's greatest book (from which the aforementioned quotation comes from - the book's first sentence, no less).
Writer-Director Jason Lupish (who gave us the insanely oft-kilter feature length dark comedy A Kind of Wonderful Thing) stuffs this chillingly demented picture with all manner of closed doors - not necessarily of the literal persuasion, but the super-scary kind. The doors that shut on secrets, mental illness and, of course, murder most foul.
Hannah (Erica Sherwood) keeps peeping through the venetian blinds. It's dark and there's a guy standing across the street, immobile and seemingly staring - the kind that drills holes into you. The pitch black of night-shadows masque his upper torso and face, the murky street lights illuminate his legs which, are rooted firmly on the sidewalk, poised perfectly for stalking.
Hubby David (Ralph DeGroot) gets home late from work. The place is unkempt, uneaten dinner beckons his finger to dip into the gravy and pilfer a taste. Hannah is glued to her venetians. She informs David what's out there. He sees the same figure, but appears somewhat lackadaisical about doing anything about it.
Clearly, this marriage is under duress.
The next day, a detective (Jason Zones) shows up after David's grudgingly called the cop-shop. Unfortunately, the line of questioning is such, that a deep, hurtful secret is revealed. Pretending doors are closed yields what was behind them in the first place and leads to even more creepy events than anyone watching would want to bargain for. Suffice it to say, they're not only bone-chilling, but infused with a kind of Von Trier-like fetishistic quality which allows them to also be grotesquely sexy.
Lupish handles the proceedings like a burgeoning master of suspense. The performances of the trio of actors are first-rate. In particular, leading lady Erica Sherwood is loved by the camera in ways which suggest she's got star-in-the-making qualities.
Prepare for doors to opened, which ultimately reveal more closed doors and more things to get the willies over.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4 Stars
Stranger is part of the "Niagara Rises" short film program at the 2015 Niagara Integrated Film Festival. For tickets, showtimes, dates and venues, visit the NIFF website by clicking HERE.
Made in Bali (2014)
Dir. Michael Pohorly
Starring: Mike Lewis, Slamet Rahardjo
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Make sure you're armed with a few Kleenex tissues for this one. Michael Pohorly's tender, sensitive drama, shot gorgeously against the beauty of Bali, packs more than a few emotional wallops from within its delicate frames.
Skip (Mike Lewis) a young man of mixed race travels from Canada to the holiday Mecca of Indonesia. This island paradise seems far removed from the horrors of the anti-Communist death squads displayed in Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing. Located twixt Java and Lombok, home to Indonesia's largest population of Hindus, the film very quickly establishes an evocation of cultural peace, contentment and natural beauty.
We see the world through rose-petaled shades. Remove the shades and the rose petals remain. It's gorgeous, dazzlingly seductive and romantic (a definite contrast to Oppenheimer's overwhelming depiction of cruelty in Indonesia's primarily Military-ruled Muslim State of North Sumatra).
For a day, Skip hires Made (Slamet Rahardjo), a cheerful local who runs "Made in Bali", a tourist guide service amusingly punning upon his name. He takes the strangely dour twenty-something to some of the most eye-popping locales imaginable. Skip seems oddly unmoved by what he sees and is distracted to a fault. Something is clearly not right in the Province of Bali.
There are secrets.
It's the secrets which provide the film's narrative with its power. Pohorly yields a pair of exquisite performances from both actors and handles the reveals, not as shockers, but the sort of gentle revelations that life offers to all of us. In this case, what it offers up is infused with a sense of loss, regret and dashed hopes. It also offers dreams, and sometimes, they even come true.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4 Stars
Made in Bali is part of the "Niagara Rises" short film program at the 2015 Niagara Integrated Film Festival. For tickets, showtimes, dates and venues, visit the NIFF website by clicking HERE.
Full Disclosure on Stranger. Though I have nothing to do with the production of this film in any, way, shape or form, I receive a Thank You credit during the closing titles, presumably acknowledging my positive review of the director's feature film from last year.