Friday 31 July 2015

SOUTHPAW - Review By Meraj Dhir - The Film Corner's Ghee Time Scribe Craps on Fuqua

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's GHEE-TIME again as Klymkiw is too shagged to write and the Film Corner's trusty Ghee-Time Columnist, Harvard PhD candidate Meraj Dhir steps in to take a solid crap upon Antoine Fuqua's by-the-numbers boring melodrama SOUTHPAW.

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more info on MERAJ DHIR
Southpaw (2015)
Dir. Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker,
Rachel McAdams, Victor Ortiz
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson

Guest Review
By Meraj Dhir
The Film Corner's
Ghee Time Columnist

If you've seen the trailer for Southpaw, there's no reason to see the intolerably dull film. The trailer deftly encapsulates what otherwise takes 124 lugubrious minutes to slog through. However, if you're amenable to gazing at Jake Gyllenhaal's chiseled torso, Curtis "Fifty Cent" Jackson's ivory white veneers and Forest Whitaker spewing out a veritable geyser of scene-chomping dialogue, all amidst plenty of predictable boxing melodrama with dashes of crime sprinkled on, then please help yourself.

Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, Training Day) is one of the most reliably boring paint-by-numbers directors working in major motion pictures today, but he cant be solely blamed for this dross since the screenplay, penned by Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) resembles a computer-engineered piece of software (the softer elements of said ware residing mostly between Sutter's ears) to generate a generic fight picture.

Bursting with the force of a hamster in a microwave oven, all the necessary by-rote fucking-up, redemption and rehabilitation plot points, shoehorned into all the "proper" places, results in a movie we've seen many times before. Though it will please anyone who buys into the generic rules belched out by screenwriting gurus like Robert McKee, the rest of us (unless we're as brain dead as this movie's filmmakers) can snore through every second of this film.

Here's a handy checklist of the events of the film.

I bet you haven't seen any of this before:

Fighter loses everything because he is a fuck-up.

The losses include the death of his wife to the bullet of a thug and custody of his daughter (because on both counts he's a fuck-up of the highest order and brings tragedy upon himself).

He requires one last fight to make his comeback.

In order to achieve this, our hero must accept humility and control his anger in and out of the ring. Cue rousing training montage a la any Rocky film (take your pick - all or one).

Crawl to a dull climactic fighting match with plenty of in and out of the ring editing and bargain basement Raging Bull camera pyrotechnics a la Raging Bull. This might be enough to keep one's attention, but bothering to do so instead of nodding off will merely hammer home the fact that the movie has been solely crafted to offer Jake Gyllenhaal a decent Oscar Nomination and/or free training to get into the best physical condition of his life.

There are movies, like Gavin O'Connor's Warrior and David O. Russell's The Fighter, which push the genre forward, but Southpaw does little more than vaguely hold one's attention until one realizes it's doing little more than fulfilling the aforementioned checklist.


Southpaw is a Weinstein Company release through eOne.

Thursday 30 July 2015

THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Haunting De Sica Holocaust Drama in Digital Restoration at TIFF Bell Lightbox Series, "More Than Life Itself"

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970)
Dir. Vittorio De Sica
Starring: Dominique Sanda, Helmut Berger,
Lino Capolicchio, Fabio Testi, Romolo Valli

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The grandly sprawling walled estate of the wealthy, powerful and aristocratic Finzi-Continis family in Ferrara, Italy has always been a world unto itself, but with the rise of Fascism in the 30s, it becomes a hermetically sealed paradise, a refuge from the madness of a country turning topsy turvy with prejudice, hatred and on the brink of world war. The Finzi-Continis are no ordinary family. They're Jewish in a country rapidly embracing virulent Antisemitism, but even amongst the Jews of Ferrara, they've always been set apart, living upon a pedestal of great intellect and seemingly high above those Jews amongst the middle and working class.

As always, though, prejudice and class seem to be the domain of older generations and the youth have always held the highest regard and friendship for each other, so that even when the wealthiest, most aristocratic Jews have been banned from the elite tennis clubs of Ferrara, its youngest, both Jew and Gentile, secret themselves away within the walls of the Finzi-Continis gardens to carry-on their traditions of weekly tennis matches and friendship.

Based on the novel by Ferrara's own Giorgio Bassani, one of Italy's great authors, it made perfect sense that one of Italy's great filmmakers, Vittoria De Sica would craft a movie adaptation of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. One of De Sica's last films, it was not only honoured with one of a multitude of Academy Awards his work garnered, but was indeed a triumph of the style and sensitivity he'd become known for with such great works as Bicycle Thieves, Shoeshine, The Children Are Watching Us and amongst so many others, the immortal Umberto D.

Bassani was a Jew who managed to survive the Holocaust and continued to teach, write (pseudonymously, of course) and fight the fascist movement as a member of the Italian underground. Many of his books, like this one, dealt with life under Fascism for the Jews of Italy, but thematically, he found himself drawn to the notion of memory and its ability to act as both a balm and a force of great sadness and danger.

This is what De Sica so beautifully captures in this simple love story between childhood lovers, the aristocratic Micol Finzi-Contini (Dominique Sanda) and Giorgio (Lino Capolicchio), the son of Jewish family of the middle class. Though they're love is deep, Micol looks upon Giorgio as a brother-figure and breaks his heart when she takes up with the ruggedly handsome gentile Bruno Malnate (Fabio Testi). For Micol, the memories of childhood should not be tarnished by "romance" and instead she believes she must instead court the sexy socialist who is her opposite in every way, but as such, provides the kind of spark she can't get from her pea-in-the-pod Giorgio.

De Sica places considerable emphasis on the romantic entanglements and yearnings of this triangle, as well as Micol's deep love for her own brother, the sickly Alberto (Helmut Berger). Though every so often, the realities of fascism and Antisemitism creep in (the young intellectuals are terrified they'll not be allowed to graduate from the universities they're enrolled in), the Finzi-Continis. especially Micol, drive themselves deeper within the walls of their estate. Giorgio's father (Romolo Valli) attempts to ease his son's sorrow by suggesting that the Finzi-Continis have always lived in such an elevated station that he never even considered them Jewish.

He's certainly right about the family's elevated station since their garden seems to not only be a physical enclosure from the rest of the world, but that the entire family, especially Micol, live in a garden that exists in their minds. This is, of course one of De Sica's greatest triumphs as a filmmaker. He so indelibly captures a sense of enclosure that we, as an audience are lulled by it as well.

When Fascism in Ferrara explodes, it comes with such a fury and so swiftly that we, as viewers, seem as unprepared for the film's final, devastating minutes as the Finzi-Continis family are. As Jews are rounded up and separated for deportation to the death camps, we can't help but feel a horrendous catch in our throats, especially as Micol and her aged grandmother huddle together in a cramped classroom converted into a waiting room for death. Memory rears both its beautiful and ugly heads as Micol realizes she's in the classroom of her childhood.

Looking out the hazy windows upon the grey, grim world, De Sica fills his soundtrack with "Kel Maleh Rachamim", the Jewish prayer of mercy for the souls of the departed.

And yes, we weep for the departed and their memories of a world that once seemed so innocent, so beautiful.

De Sica was and still is one of the greatest. Even in his last years as an artist, he continued to make us weep for the disenfranchised, the exploited and the hated, but all the while, still managing to infuse us with humanity and with love itself.


The digital restoration of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis plays at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. For Tix, times and dates, visit the TIFF website HERE. For those unable to attend this screening, one assumes the restored film will soon be available on Blu-Ray. In the meantime, there is a Sony Pictures Classics DVD out there with a passable transfer until this new one is released more widely.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

IRRATIONAL MAN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Woody Allen pulls one out of the drawer.

Irrational Man (2015)
Dir. Woody Allen
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Once again Woody Allen dusts off a script from his drawer of un-produced projects (at least this is how it seems of late) and, surprise-surprise, delivers another old-man-boinking-younger-babe trifle. I have no problem with this.

Bring it on, Wood-Man, bring it on.

Irrational Man creepily and amusingly lurks about territory Allen's already explored in Crimes and Misdemeanours and Match Point, nowhere in the realm of the former, but certainly a lot more enjoyable than the latter. He slices and dices more than a few bits o' Hitchcock to bolster his derivative stew, most notably Strangers on a Train and Shadow of a Doubt, both homages adding bulk to the Konigsberg cauldron. Even more happily, he plunges his characters amidst the backdrop of academia which allows for a fair share of heady verbal volleys.

Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) joins the Philosophy Department of a dozy Rhode Island university just in time for summer session. Grumpy, morose and sucking back booze from a flask, Abe carries a dubious reputation on his shoulders, but this isn't enough to stop babe-o-licious student Jill (Emma Stone) from falling head over heels in love with him. Abe abandons his comely, horny married lover (Parker Posey) for some fresh-tastic quim d' Emma Stone who, in turn, abandons her fiancé Roy (Jamie Blackley) to partake of some schwance de Joaquin.

When Abe gets wind of a nefarious plot to destroy an innocent woman's life via legal means, he becomes obsessed with murdering the man responsible. He believes he's planned the perfect crime, but upon carrying it out, he didn't quite reckon on his bouncy undergrad sniffing him out. With Jill going all Teresa Wright on him, Abe comes to the only "logical" conclusion. He's killed once, so why not kill again? He is, after all, a philosopher of the highest order and can pretty much justify any heinous actions he chooses to commit - at least to himself.

Amusingly enough, movie buffs will not only see Stone's character transform into "Charlie" Newton, but Allen gives us a trip to the fairgrounds a la Strangers on a Train and a funny Shadow of a Doubt-like murder-most-foul guessing game. Yeah, this is geek stuff all the way, but I accept it wholeheartedly.

Though the laughs are few and far between, those that come, come heartily and darkly. Allen never takes us as deep as he did in Crimes and Misdemeanours, but one senses that this isn't foremost on his mind, anyway. If anything, he's chosen to root homicide in a playground and as such, he delivers a strange, but sprightly 96 minutes of mildly perverse fun.

Amidst all the roller coaster rides of summer, I'm delighted enough to gobble down some Woody Allen, even if it's a bit more lower drawer than one might have hoped for. His least-inspired makes the best of most look like crap.

The Film Corner Rating: *** 3-Stars

Irrational Man is a Mongrel Media release of a Sony Pictures Classics film.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Not since DePalma…...

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)
Dir. Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner,
Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Jens Hultén

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I've got to hand it to producer Tom Cruise with this latest instalment of the Mission Impossible franchise. His savvy overseeing has delivered several key elements which manage to place Ethan Hunt well atop James Bond in the international super-spy sweepstakes.

Most importantly, by handing the directorial reins to Christopher McQuarrie (director of the solidly entertaining Jack Reacher and screenwriter of the superb Valkyrie), Cruise has nailed things down very nicely with this fine decision; Rogue Nation is easily the best-directed MI picture since Brian DePalma's dazzling inaugural entry in the series during the summer of 1996. McQuarrie (save, perhaps for DePalma himself) manages (like those "Ukraine girls" in The Beatles' "Back in the USSR") to knock you out and leave the "West"/rest behind, including John Woo's humourlessly overwrought MI:II, J.J. Abrams' non-directed MI:III and Brad Bird's close, but no cigar Ghost Protocol.

McQuarrie handles virtually every action set piece with the skill and bravura of a master. DePalma is sorely missed in one sequence involving multiple assassination attempts during an opera, not because McQuarrie handles it badly, but because one can only imagine how much better DePalma might have helmed it. Aside from this, though, McQuarrie's mise-en-scene is clean, kinetic and sprinkled with dashes of humour. In fact, Rogue Nation features a two-part car/motorcycle chase which had me twisting about in my seat like one of Lars Von Trier's spastics in The Idiots. I daresay that it might well be a contender for one of the ten best chases ever committed to film.

The plot in these roller coaster extravaganzas usually takes a back-seat to the pyrotechnics, but thankfully this one is simpler and easier to follow than most. Here, Ethan and his team raise the ire of CIA bureaucrat Alec Baldwin and he immediately disbands Ethan's team. Our plucky hero realizes how close he is to nailing a dangerous criminal mastermind, so, with stalwart assistance from regulars Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner, he goes rogue to take the scum down. That's it. End of story, really, and a fine coat hanger with which to drape one mega-thrilling action scene on top of another.

The added bonus here is one kick-ass babe played by Rebecca Ferguson. Aside from being mouth-wateringly gorgeous, she handles herself nicely in all manner of fisticuffs and, like all women, looks especially sexy brandishing firearms.

All the elements here are familiar, but McQuarrie's helmsmanship is seldom less than dazzling. If the Bond producers don't watch out as they keep hiring ham-fisted, tin-eyed losers like Marc Forster and Sam Mendes to keep ruining and wasting Daniel Craig in the horrendously dull and dour 007 films, MI is poised to be the go-to spy franchise.

NOTE: If you get a chance to see MI:RN in IMAX, please do so. I sat front row centre and enjoyed several instances of delightful upchucking.

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

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is a Paramount Pictures release.

Monday 27 July 2015

BIKES VS. CARS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Fredrik Gertten Doc Opens July 31

opens theatrically in Toronto via Kinosmith
on July 31, 2015 at The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor St. W.)
with other Canadian cities to follow.

Bike Valet will be provided by "CYCLE TORONTO"
for the opening weekend screenings.

Your Valet Stub will get you DISCOUNTS for yummy treats
@ THE BLOOR CINEMA concession stand, but you

Director Fredrik Gertten will be in attendance
in Toronto for the first weekend to do Q+A’s
following each and every showing.


Bikes vs Cars (2015)
Dir. Fredrik Gertten
Starring: Rob (Crack Smoking Ex-Mayor of Toronto) Ford, Denzil (Former Rob Ford Apologist and Toronto Deputy Mayor) Minnan-Wong, Aline Cavalcante, Dan Koeppel, Ivan Naurholm, Raquel Rolnik, Nicolas Habib, Don Ward, Don Ward, Joel Ewanick, Joshua Dysart, Christina Deckwirth, Liliana Godoy, Fabio Mendonça

Review By Greg Klymkiw

We are on the brink of worldwide environmental collapse. One of the biggest culprits in this deadly folly is the power held by the transportation and energy interests which have been plunging the Earth ever-deeper into an apocalypse we might never recover from. Filmmaker Fredrik Gerrten tackled the inhumanity of the Dole Corporation and its use of poisonous chemicals in the production of fruit with his powerful films Bananas!* and Big Boys Gone Bananas!*. Now, Gertten is back with Bikes vs Cars, a terrific new picture infused with his unique, super-charged, aesthetically dazzling cinematic style of activist cinema, providing a fascinating Around the World in 80 Days eye-opener into just how people get around in some of the biggest cities on God's Green Earth.

Personally, I'm an inveterate driver of cars. So much so, that when I lived in Winnipeg, I lived across the street from a supermarket and prided myself, not on walking to gather my groceries, but, in fact, driving my car across the street to stock up on my soda pop, potato chips, cookies, frozen pizza, toilet paper and plastic Glad garbage bags. In fact, though my apartment had an in-suite laundry and dryer, I shoved all my dirty clothes into the aforementioned Glad garbage bags and drove, from the extreme sound end of the city to the north end of the city for my Mother to do my laundry for me (until my mid-30s). When she was done her maternal duties, I'd make the long trek - by car, naturally, to pick up my Downy-fresh clothing.

I have to admit that anytime I see a movie or television program with pro-bicycle losers whining about cars and how evil they are, I want to punch them in the face. That said, Bikes vs Cars is a Fredrik Gertten film and as he's not the typical documentarian, but a REAL FILMMAKER, I did indeed have to gird my loins and grit my teeth and watch it.

And yes, I'm glad I did. It's not only great filmmaking, but it did indeed provide the kind of alternate viewpoint that was far from didactic. Not once did I feel like I was being clobbered on my noggin with a bag of fucking granola wielded by some granny-glasses-adorned, pony-tailed, bearded, sandal-wearing hippie who dared refer to me as "Man."

You see, I have not been on a bicycle for 40 years. I have to admit, though, that I loved this film so much that the next time director Gertten visits Toronto I might try to interview him as we take a bicycle ride through the streets of the city once ruled by the crack-smoking Mayor Rob Ford who fought mightily during his term of office in what he perceived to be a "War Against Cars". (Maybe we will even take a bicycle ride together to Rob Ford's house in Etobicoke and, of course, the infamous crack house where he sucked back the elixir that led to his troubles.)

Oh, uh, Rob Ford is in the movie, but frankly, Gertten introduces us to a lot more interesting people than that. (Though in fairness, Ford delivers plenty of outrageous redneck comedy relief.)

Focusing primarily on the cities of Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, Toronto and Copenhagen we meet a variety of cyclists, car drivers and everyone in between. We learn about various individuals and their love of cycling as a viable mode of transport, but we also experience, first-hand, exactly how their very lives are at stake on their bikes.

Gertten captures some unbelievably terrifying footage as insane car and truck drivers madly careen through the streets, narrowly missing cyclists, cutting them off, forcing them into near-deadly situations. These sequences are so harrowing, I must admit to even biting my nails to the quick for the filmmakers being out there on the mean streets to capture this footage.

Contrasting this, though, are clearly sequences where Gertten manages to capture the sheer joy and beauty of what these cyclists experience as well. Night rides on empty streets, group rides where the sheer amount of riders create safety in numbers, children utilizing cycling as part of their curricula and, strangely enough, we even experience the adrenalin rush of cyclists blasting through the most congested streets.

Of course, no documentary is without the facts and figures and Gertten does not shy away from presenting these, but never are they strictly informational, but are woven expertly into the fabric of his narrative.

He also provides so many moments that are heartbreaking - memorials and memorial services to fallen cyclists, ghost bikes of deceased riders, affixed to posts with clutches of flowers clinging to them, urban headstones and monuments to the dead.

One of the coolest sequences is when Gertten follows a cyclist through a neighbourhood in Los Angeles and we discover the ghost-town-like remains of a massive bike transport system which once allowed 25% of the city's population bike to and from their places of employment.

Contrasting all the urban nightmares where cars outnumber bikes, Gertten follows the daily adventures of a cab driver in Copenhagen. I have to admit, even as an inveterate automobile advocate, that it was pretty funny watching this poor schlub try to make his way through the sea of cyclists and admit. more than once, that he's a man with several tons of metal in his grasp, yet he is ultimately bereft of any real power on the streets.

As this is a Fredrik Gertten film, I'd be mightily disappointed if he didn't expose us to the sad and terrible truth of the matter behind the transport industry. I suppose I could have guessed this if I bothered to think about it at all, but Gertten provides us with the historical and contemporary secrets behind the corporate lobby of car manufacturers and the oil companies. Their money and power are responsible for blatantly squelching every form of alternative transport to the point where people believe that cars are the only way.

Bikes vs Cars is yet another terrific celluloid feather in Gertten cap of cinema. I especially love how the film is structured, paced and cut. He leads you in ever-so slowly and subtly and it doesn't take long before you're hooked on the narrative threads of his subjects and the overriding subject of them all - the conflict between bikes and cars. The movie stealthily and brilliantly draws you in, but as the film progresses, his canny approach is to catch you so off guard that before you know it your sucked into a compelling tale.

The movie, and by extension, Gertten's entire mise-en-scene and editorial structure, sneak up on you. Once he and the film have you in their clutches, there's very little to do but wend your way freely through the picture, perched very comfortably on what feels like a bicycle built for two.


Bikes vs Cars opens July 31, 2015 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto via Kinosmith.

My interview with Fredrik Gertten and review of BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!* HERE

My article on the crowd funding for BIKES vs CARS HERE

Sunday 26 July 2015

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) + I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (2010) - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - Superb Anchor Bay Entertainment Blu-Ray (in spite of the utterly vile content of these two rape-revenge exploitation items).

Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada has released one of the best Blu-Rays in years - easily on a par with the best work from Criterion, Kino-Lorber and Arrow Films. That said, the films are both utterly vile. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE - the grotesque rape-revenge thriller spawned two - count 'em - TWO versions thirty years apart. Before examining the virtues, or lack thereof, with respect to the films themselves, a few words are in order to describe the added value features on this magnificently produced home entertainment offering.
The features on the disc containing Meir Zarchi's 1978 version are first-rate. I'd go so far as saying it has elements (mostly thanks to director Zarchi), which provide the kind of superbly detailed information that come very close to a mini film course in how a low budget exploitation movie is made.

Though there's a decent interview short entitled "The Values of Vengeance: Meir Zarchi Remembers I Spit On Your Grave", the real treat on this disc is director Meir Zarchi's commentary track. It's intelligent, erudite and insanely detailed (he even discusses what specific lenses were used for some shots). This is worth its weight in gold for any aspiring filmmakers on the verge of making their own first feature films with no money. (I speak from experience as one of Canada's most prolific producers of no-to-low-budget feature films that there isn't anything of a practical nature in this commentary track I wouldn't advise myself.)

Zarchi clearly took the time to prepare this commentary track which most filmmakers NEVER do on these things. In spite of the film's Grade-B roots, I'd place Meir Zarchi's commentary track on the same pedestal as those delivered by Martin Scorsese and Norman Jewison.

There's a second audio commentary track available by the always entertaining Drive-In Movie Critic Joe Bob Briggs wherein the happy Texan offers plenty of tidbits about the making and exploitation of the film, but he also delivers a knee-slappingly funny critical assessment of the film which I can't disagree with, but happily, as funny as it often is, it doesn't have that smarmy, stupid, holier-than-thou tone of MST3K. One doesn't get the sense he's making fun of the film or the filmmaking, but just making amusing observations which I'd reckon Zarchi himself would get a few chuckles over.

The funniest thing about Joe Bob's commentary is his "investigatory" approach to the film which is to try and answer the question: "Is this a feminist film, a female empowerment film or is it just plain misogynistic?" Damned if his observations aren't astute (twixt the laughs he gets, of course).

In addition to the aforementioned delights, the disc is packed with a ridiculous amount of period promo material and the transfer is gorgeous enough to say that the movie has probably never looked this good (and some might argue, it shouldn't look this good).

There are a bevy of extras on the I Spit On Your Grave 2010 disc including a director commentary, making of doc, deleted scenes and promo materials which will possibly tantalize those who like the remake.

The I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 1978 + 2010 Double Feature Blu-Ray is available from Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada. My rating for the BLU-RAY ONLY is ***** 5-Stars.

And now, separate reviews of each film:

I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
Dir. Meir Zarchi
Starring: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor,
Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Preface: A Note To Roger Ebert
"A vile bag of garbage named I Spit on Your Grave is . . . so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it's playing in respectable theaters. Attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of my life . . . This is a film without a shred of artistic distinction. It lacks even simple craftsmanship. There is no possible motive for exhibiting it, other than the totally cynical hope that it might make money . . . It is a geek show." - Roger Ebert, 1980
Give it a rest, Roger. Yes, it's vile beyond belief and yes, it's replete with creative elements of dubious merit, but I suppose what you could not have possibly realized back then was the film's impact and place in the history of American genre filmmaking and how prescient it was in terms of the even more reprehensible torture-porn garbage generated during the new millennium. Astonishingly, your review of its 2010 remake seems almost charitable. Yes, you still found it reprehensible, but for what it's worth, you grudgingly allowed it a few points within the realm of craft. Here's the deal though, Roger, I'd argue that there are artistic elements in the 1978 version which, in spite of its lack of polish are surprisingly powerful and far less exploitative than the bigger budgeted remake.

The bottom line is that until I recently re-watched the 1978 version, I pretty much felt the same way you did. That said, my memories of it were relegated to an early 80s screening on a crappy VHS transfer and if I don't mind admitting, I've actually changed my mind about it. I'm not saying I think it's an exceptional work, BUT it is not without merit and I suspect you might also come to a similar conclusion.

Ah, but what am I talking to you about it for? You're dead.

I wish you weren't.

I wish we could have had a chance to discuss both the original and the remake of I Spit On Your Grave and to do so within the context of the genuinely great work of Russ Meyer, whom you wrote a great screenplay for, whom you ghost-wrote a lot of other cool stuff for and who, by your own admission was a filmmaker that presented lurid depictions of violence against women, but always within a context which rose far above the exploitative nature of the work. This is something I've never forgotten - that kind gesture you paid a tubby nerd from Winnipeg over 25 years ago when you took me for a coffee and donut so we could talk strictly about Russ Meyer. You said to me when we parted company, "Never, ever be ashamed to admit how much you love Russ Meyer."

And you know what, Roger? I'm not saying the 1978 I Spit On Your Grave is even a pubic hair's worthy of comparison to Russ Meyer, but I do believe it's worth a rethink and definitely a conversation over a donut and coffee.

Maybe we'll do that when I get to the other side.

The Review:

The famous poster for I Spit On Your Grave reads as follows:
This woman has just cut, chopped, broken and burned five men beyond recognition... but no jury in America would ever convict her!
It lies. No man is "burned" during the film, but most notably, four men, not five are "cut, chopped [and] broken." I am sure you're grateful to me for pointing out that minor discrepancy. However, four or five men, burned or not, the fact remains that the poster tells you pretty much everything you need to know.

The picture is 100 minutes long. The first 20 minutes is some excruciatingly boring exposition which could have taken five minutes. It reveals that Jennifer (Camille Keaton, who starred in a number of notable Italian exploitation films prior to this one) is a writer from New York who rents a country home in Connecticut to write a novel. Four scumbag layabouts from town (Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann) discuss women in a crude fashion and assume the gal in town will have sex with them because she's from New York and all women from New York want to do is, uh, fuck. Then we get 30 minutes of the four men graphically gang-raping her, 20 boring minutes of our gal recovering and then, the cherry on the sundae comes by way of 30 lip-smacking minutes of graphically violent revenge.

There you go. That's about it.

The levels of incompetence and padding in this movie are at a Grade-Z level. One of the most moronic moments occurs when our lads leave the lady alone in the house, walk down to the river, come close to boarding their boat and then decide she needs to be murdered. So, what do they do? They insist the mentally retarded grocery delivery boy go back to the house and kill her. This particular fellow has proven to be completely unreliable in all things, so why in the name of God are the inbreds sending him to do it? Why are these inbreds just standing around by the river as the retard, with clear trepidation, goes all the way back to the house? Why, after the retard can't bring himself to kill her and smears the tiniest bit of her blood on the blade, do the inbreds take this as proof he's committed the murder? I think I've answered these questions by repeatedly using the word "inbreds" to describe the characters.

So, you're probably wondering how I could possibly have had a change of heart about this movie, no matter how small this shift might be. Here's the deal:

1. The level of savagery during the rape scenes is so horrendous because of the manner in which Zarchi chooses to shoot them. Most of the time these attacks are clearly portrayed as vicious acts of violence and often from Jennifer's POV. There's nothing "sexy" here. She's bruised, battered, cut, bleeding, covered in mud while a lot of emphasis is placed on the mens' grotesque leers there's an even more inordinately sickening number of wide shots allowing us seemingly endless views of hairy, pock-marked buttocks as they pound away viciously. This goes for all the sequences involving Jennifer's attempts to escape in the woods and swamps around the location; the pain and discomfort seems real and palpable and there's an almost vérité approach to all the aforementioned sequences. There's nothing slick about the approach - so much so that if you didn't know you were watching a narrative feature drama, you might think you were seeing the real thing. Some might rightfully question the necessity of this, but there's no denying that Zarchi is doing this with the "best" intentions - to sicken and horrify. Are there sick-fucks out there who'd get off on it? Sure, but there are sick-fucks who get off on a lot of things. I can't imagine any sane individual finding this less than sheer horror.

2. Though there is camera work of either dubious quality or of a perfunctory nature, there are an equal number of shots in the film which suggests a real filmmaker is behind the lens (the odd rear-view crotch-shots in the boat are especially insane/brilliant).

3. The location sound is often dreadful, though I think the "naturalistic" use of it plays into a lot of the film's vérité shooting style. Most notably, there is no musical score. Nothing save for the "naturalistic" sounds are used. A score would have, in fact, heightened the exploitative potential of the film, in particular the rape scenes. Zarchi focuses upon the true horror of the "action" without musical enhancement. The only music I recall hearing in the whole movie is the horrendous MUZAK in the local grocery store.

4. Camille Keaton's performance is genuinely a great one. It's brave, raw and so often achieves emotion with both her physicality and her alternately large and subtle responses/reactions. The camera loves her and she is very obviously a gifted actress. No matter what anyone might say to the contrary, I actually can't help but think that her very real and vulnerable work here might have been the very thing to keep her from moving forward in much bigger, more deserving ways. If there's anything dreadful about this movie's existence, this might actually be it.

One could successfully argue that Zarchi has front-loaded the film with sickening sexual depravity so he could dramatically justify an audience's cheers when Jennifer exacts her revenge upon the rapists. On top of this, Jennifer uses her sexuality to bait each of the men into vulnerable positions for her to kill them. The level of savagery and violence she employs once she's entrapped them is jaw-dropping. One is hanged, another axed, another butchered with the blades of an outboard motor and perhaps most gruelling of all, a graphic bloody castration followed by a slow agonizing death in a bathtub. Again, there's potential to argue how sick-minded this all is, but I think it's more than possible to make a convincing case that Jennifer turning the tables on her attackers by exploiting their boneheaded single-minded sexist/misogynistic stupidity is not only thought-provoking, but I daresay an attempt at intelligent storytelling.

Provocation, however, is probably the most notable keyword to describe every aspect of the film.

Whichever way one looks at it, the fact remains that it's a film of real power in exposing the baser instincts of men and mankind. This is the true horror. The picture is no mere incompetent rape/revenge snuff film. It has a filmmaker with a voice (albeit tainted by the very budget-challenged nature of the production). In fact, Zarchi's background in corporate filmmaking no doubt allowed him to approach this material with a very clear vision to its vérité elements. He might not be a good screenwriter (given some of the more ludicrous holes, motivations and dialogue we're forced to stumble over), but he is not a director to be dismissed.

Ebert might have been right in calling it a "geek show" though. There's simply no denying that watching I Spit On Your Grave is as sickening as seeing a circus geek (often mentally challenged and/or an alcoholic) chasing after live chickens, only to eventually bite the head off of one of them for the edification of a sideshow mob. The act of watching is as vile as what we are watching. In this sense, the movie is imbued with a certain purity, if you will, in its 100 minutes of unremitting brutality.

*** 3-Stars, with obvious caveats as outlined above

I Spit On Your Grave (2010)
Dir. Steven R. Monroe
Starring: Sarah Butler, Daniel Franzese, Jeff Branson,
Rodney Eastman, Tracey Walter, Andrew Howard and Chad Lindberg

Review By Greg Klymkiw

During the question and answer session following the 2010 edition of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival screening of his remake of Meir Zarchi's somewhat inept 1978 scumbag movie of the same name, director Steven R. Monroe responded to queries from the moderator and audience with a degree of humility and sensitivity that one wouldn't expect from a filmmaker who had just served up an extremely well-crafted 107 minutes of gang rape followed by torture-porn styled revenge.

Given the controversial nature of the picture he was asked if there were any crew members who walked off the film due to the extreme subject matter. He then referred to some "idiot" on the local Shreveport, Louisiana crew with a "drinking problem" who up and disappeared, but that nobody else abandoned the proceedings and certainly not due to the graphic recreation of various indignities perpetrated against virtually every character in the movie.

Monroe, for some reason, was bemused to relate this story about the "idiot" and perhaps it was because he thought it was funny or infused with irony. All it was infused with, frankly, was considerable insensitivity towards a fellow human being who might well be an alcoholic and as such, is/was suffering from a horrible, debilitating disease that should inspire empathy at the very least and certainly not derision.

I honestly couldn't figure out why Monroe chose to relate this anecdote with a goofy grin accompanied by a bit of nervous laughter, but it came close to tempering my response to the movie - which was already not all that positive to begin with. I girded my loins prior to writing this piece and tossed it off as perhaps nervousness and/or being thrown by the question.

Ultimately though, it reminded me what a danger it is to art when an artist comes across one way while publicly discussing their work and then foolishly and/or mistakenly throws something out that contradicts his initial feelings towards the work he's created. All of Monroe's attempts to deflect the notion that he was exploiting sexual violence for the edification of scumbags became so much dust in the wind.

So, does the film exploit sexual violence? Of course it does. In all fairness, however, all movies - to varying degrees - are exploitation. One manipulates and exploits in order to derive an audience response, so I'm not going to level any ill will towards the notion of exploitation in the movies, since this is the job of filmmakers - every last one of them (whether they want to believe and/or admit it or not).

That said, I did wonder, just as I wondered when I first saw Meir Zarchi's original 1978 rendering of this tale what, exactly, was the point of this movie? At the time I thought Zarchi's picture was so dreadful, one could barely consider it anything other than a disgusting pile of crap thrown together to give a bunch of sick fucks their jollies. BUT, whatever you want to say about the 1978 version, Meir Zarchi's movie IS what it IS.

Monroe's is a bit more problematic - especially because it is very well made. In spite of Monroe's craft and that of his key creatives and actors, I still am not sure why the movie exists other than to make a buck off of revelling in the suffering of its characters.

That, I suppose, is the only point. One can try to justify it on a moral or political level - but that's all it would be, justification. I say, let's just call a spade a spade without condemnation. The movie is there simply to shock and titillate. End of story.

And, speaking of story, such as it is, the movie (for those who've been on Mars) is about a woman who seeks solace in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, gets gang-raped and then gets the most gruesome, satisfying revenge. There you have it. There not much more to it than that.

Does it do its job well?


There really isn't a single bad performance in the movie. Each actor playing the rapists is suitably and believably vile and reprehensible. The performance of Sarah Butler as the female victim is certainly brave and delivered with complete professionalism. I will admit, though, it was hard to buy her as a professional novelist since she carried herself with the air of a young freelance magazine journalist trying her hand at writing a novel. That might have been more "realistic", but the filmmakers chose a more implausible role for its heroine.

I will not even begin to suggest that the gang-rape is handled with any sort of sensitivity, but it is definitely presented in the most horrific, graphic fashion and seldom does the extended sequence resort to inspiring (or even attempting to inspire) hard-ons amongst the fellas in the audience (thank Heaven for tender mercies). Monroe shoots the rape in a way that pretty much forces an audience to react as it did - with cheers and hoots of approval when the rape victim eventually gets back at her violators in the most grotesque, nasty, painful ways. I should, perhaps also mention that just because the gang-rape is not shot with the intent to titillate, chances are good that with certain segments of the audience, it will.

So, if you've a desire to see:

(a) a man forced to watch a video monitor with fish hooks keeping his eyelids open whilst fresh fish guts, thrown in his open mutilated eyes, inspire crows to peck his eyeballs out;

(b) a man drowned in a tub full of lye until his head and face are rendered to a pulpy mass;

(c) a man castrated and forced to choke to death on his own testicles and penis;

(d) a man repeatedly sodomized with a shot gun which then goes off, the bullet plunging through his anus, out his mouth and hitting yet another rapist in the head;

then this, ladies and gentlemen, is the movie for you.

In a weird way, though, the movie's high level of craft makes it far more egregious than Meir Zarchi's 1978 version. Zarchi came by his nadir of motion picture exploitation with a perverse honesty. This film, however, is all gussied up and as such, seems far more reprehensible.

Saturday 25 July 2015

A HARD DAY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Tense, Darkly Hilarious Korean Cop Thriller

This fellow
is having a harder day
than most.
A Hard Day (aka Kkeut-kka-ji-gan-da) (2014)
Dir. Kim Seong-hun
Starring: Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Jin-woong

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Have you ever have one of those days? You know the kind. We all have them. You're as boiled as a fucking owl on whatever rotgut you've chugged back before getting in your car to drive to the funeral parlour so you can deliver a fond farewell to your mother, laying stiff in her coffin, and then you hit some goddamn pedestrian, killing the bastard, and adding insult to injury, after tossing his sack of potatoes carcass in the trunk, you're stopped and hassled by a bunch of rookie traffic cops doing a spot check. It's a total piss-off, right?

Luckily, for Ko Gun-soo (Lee Sun-kyun) in Kim Seong-hun's A Hard Day, he gets a reprieve when the boneheaded tax-collectors-with-guns drop a few loads in their drawers upon discovering that he's a highly-placed detective within the Seoul police department.

Phew! He's on top of the world. For now.

Unfortunately, just as he's in the middle of a ceremony involving the nailing shut of Mom's coffin, he finds out about some mega-shit going down. A clutch of internal affairs dicks are onto his graft and high-tailing it to the funeral home to roust him. Now, he's gotta figure out some way to smuggle the corpse in his trunk into the funeral parlour and get it into his mother's coffin before the turncoats get there. Adding insult to injury, his partners want him to take the fall, the pedestrian he killed is a notorious made-man in the Korean mafia and he's eventually assigned to investigate the disappearance of said gangster.

This is going to be a hard day, indeed.

For us, Ko Gun-soo's troubles mount exponentially and we're treated to one of the most suspenseful, brutal and funny Asian crime thrillers in many a day. Director Kim Seong-hun displays a taut command of cinematic language to keep us sliding off the edge of our seats and both the action and laughs come fast and furious. Even more extraordinary is the perverse likability of this nasty piece of work for a hero. Granted he's Jesus Christ incarnate compared to the other filth around him, so that we're allowed to root for the least egregious wad of crap is some kind of miracle.

Reminiscent of Jon Finch's accused murderer Blaney in Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy Ko Gin-soo just can't seem to get a break. His troubles pile up so insurmountably that we're hoping against all hope that he gets out of the various sticky wickets assailing him. The movie puts us directly in his shoes and as such, we can't help but marvel at director Kim Seong-hun's complex and downright dazzling approach to the material.

I'd like to say that Hollywood would do well to pay attention to these extraordinary Asian masters of art, craft and genre, but the reality is this: all that's going to happen is the crapping out of more lifeless American remakes of Asian movies directed by round-eyed losers with eyes made of tin.

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

A Hard Day plays at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto via VSC. Visit the TIFF website for tickets and further info HERE.

Friday 24 July 2015

THE LOOK OF SILENCE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Powerful, important, deeply moving and utterly chilling companion piece to Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing"

The Look of Silence (2014)
Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A sure-fire way to avoid insanity after killing someone is to collect a couple of cupfuls of the victim's blood as it gushes from their jugular, then drink it all down: hot, steaming, sweet, salty and savoury.

If, after repeatedly hacking someone with a machete, and they're still alive, cut off their penis.

If you're interested in merely killing someone and not torturing them, feel free to hack off a woman's breast before she's dead in order to examine what it looks like.

These are a few words of wisdom imparted by men who, with smiles on their faces and infused with great pride, contributed to the wholesale slaughter of over one million innocent people during a foul genocide perpetrated some 50-years-ago.

Yup, you guessed it, Joshua Oppenheimer, the documentarian with the art of filmmaking hardwired into his very DNA is back in town and I steadfastly deliver you this following iron-clad guarantee:

You have not seen, nor will you ever see a movie like The Look of Silence. Never. Ever. Unless, of course, you've seen The Act of Killing, to which this film is a companion piece and one in which I made a similar guarantee when I reviewed that earlier work.

The Look of Silence proves to be an equally brave and cinematically brilliant look at the violent 1965 aftermath to the fall of Sukarno in Indonesia when the country shifted to a military dictatorship. Indonesians who opposed the new government were accused of being communists - a crime punishable by death. In less than a year with aid from the west, most of it from America (naturally), over one million "communists" were murdered.

Yes, many of the victims were communists, but so many others were simply labelled as such to justify killing them. Though the killings were sanctioned by the army, they were, in fact, carried out by civilian militias - squads of bloodthirsty garden variety psychopaths eager to taste blood for the "good" of their country.

The only serious and good dramatic feature film to focus on the beginnings of this tragedy is Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously starring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hunt in her brilliant Academy Award winning gender bending performance. Not that it's a factual document or anything, but it's a stylish fact-based fictional look at the events leading up to the genocide, placing things in a digestible manner. Given how sickeningly powerful Oppenheimer's documentaries are, the Weir picture isn't at all a bad place to begin before diving headlong into the horrors of both The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.

Kudos are to be extended to Oppenheimer for creating an equally affecting companion piece that can work just fine as a stand-alone piece, bringing a completely new perspective to the tragedy. His first film on this subject focused the killers. Here, we focus on the victims.

Oppenheimer pulls out all the stops on his filmmaking prowess as an original cinematic storyteller by following Adi, a young 40-something travelling optician whose older brother was butchered during the genocide. Adi's route to offer eye examinations and to sell glasses takes him into the homes of the still-living killers (still feared, all rich and revered by the government as heroes) where he checks their eyesight and probes them about their parts in the genocide. If you want it, metaphor and irony abound in this odd tag-team of eye exams and hardline questioning, but for most, the story and the storytelling here will be the overriding element.

The look of a brother
Oppenheimer bounces between Adi watching interview footage with the various killers in the district (including those men describing gleefully how they murdered Adi's brother) and Adi on the road, confronting the same men he's seen in the videos. In most cases, these confrontations are chilling, the killers dropping unsubtle hints that Adi might be a communist himself and in need of extermination.

His Mother and wife are both terrified for Adi, but also for themselves and Adi's children. Adi's Mother lives everyday with the horror and pain of her son's murder while taking care of her blind, infirm husband whose own memories have been erased by the onset of senility.

The look of a killer
Adi, however, is a man obsessed. He's driven to ask the questions about the brother he never knew. He MUST ask the questions nobody dares to ask. At one point, a killer is so upset with Adi's questions - often relating to morality, culpability and guilt - that the sleaze bucket points out that not even Joshua with his interviewer cap on ever asked such penetrating questions. Oppenheimer, of course, intentionally kept a cool distance in his previous film to allow the killers a chance to "hang" themselves with their bragging, but here, he keeps another form of distance altogether to tell a story - that of Adi's powerful journey to confront the killers of his brother.

This is highly potent and explosive material and once again, Oppenheimer delivers a motion picture that's not only an important document of history, but a magnificent, harrowing and consummate work of art. The fact of the matter is this - most documentary filmmakers are not filmmakers. They're journalists and/or committed activists wanting to present a point of view with respect to information and/or interesting subjects. Oppenheimer transcends those staid notions of documentarians, though. He's a genuine filmmaker, an artist of the highest order. His work is not ephemeral in the least and will survive long, long after he and the rest of us are six feet under.

Though The Look of Silence lives now, it will, most importantly, live forever.


The Look of Silence begins its theatrical release in Canada at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto via Blue Ice Docs.

Thursday 23 July 2015

KINGS OF THE SUN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Chakiris/Brynner: Foes Become Friends

Kings of the Sun (1963)
Dir. J. Lee Thompson
Starring: George Chakiris, Yul Brynner,
Richard Basehart, Shirley Anne Field, Leo Gordon

Review By Greg Klymkiw

How do like your cheese? Ripe, runny and mouldy or a nice solid brick of good, old fashioned Wisconsin Cheddar? Well, though there is much to be said for the rich, flavourful qualities of the former, sometimes the latter is just what the doctor ordered. Kings of the Sun is clearly of the Wisconsin variety, though happily, it's an old white cheddar and as such, a mite more savoury than your garden variety slab of straight-up orange-coloured curd.

This delightfully melodramatic action-adventure epic of manly men and exotic women is set of 1000 years-ago when a nation of wooden-sworded Mayans on the Yucatán are besieged by a much powerful rival tribe who use metal swords. The wooden-sworded nation are led by the brave young King Balam (George Chakiris, the handsome Greek-American dancer who copped the 1961 Supporting Actor Oscar in the role of the Puerto Rican leader of the Sharks in West Side Story). Balam decides to flee from the nasty take-no-prisoners-lest-they're-women-to-be-raped metal-swordsman King Hunac Ceel (Leo Gordon, the stalwart veteran of numerous TV westerns and one of director Don Siegel's favourite bad guys).

Balam, betrothed to the comely Ixchel (Shirley Anne Field), leads his people through a secret tunnel in their majestic Mayan Pyramid, loads them into boats and sets sail for the mysterious lands far north (Tex-Mex country) to bolster their resources and create a new kingdom - maybe to even someday reclaim their ancestral lands.

Once Balam and his people land up in Tex-Mex territory, they put their ingenuity to good use and build a powerful fort, new abodes and begin a whole new Pyramid so they can start sacrificing humans to the Gods as soon as possible.

Ah, but hiding in the woods and observing the Mayans is an indigenous Native American tribe led by Chief Black Eagle (Yul Brynner) and he's royally fuming (like only Brynner can, flaring those sexy nostrils). He plans to battle these oddly costumed intruders, but unfortunately he's wounded and captured by the Mayans, then held hostage to keep the Injuns at bay.

The real power amongst the Mayans is their wacky blood-thirsty, blood-sacrifice-endorsing Witch Doctor Ah Min (played, I kid you not, by the whiter-than-white Richard Basehart, star of TV's Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea). Adorned in a ridiculous wig and flowing robes, Ah-Min looks like he should be an emcee at an octogenarian drag performance club in Slovenija, and as such, he's able to convince Balam and all the others that they must nurse Black Eagle to health so he may be their first official sacrifice when the Pyramid is finished.

A love rivalry twixt Ixchel, Black Eagle and Balam begins to brew and as these lovebirds begin smouldering, little do they know that the crazy Hunac Ceel has loaded up his boats with thousands of warriors to wipe out Balam for good and they're just around the corner.

If the Mayans sacrifice Black Eagle, they'll not be able to count on the necessary allegiance with the Natives to fight Hunac. Hmmmm. Dilemmas-dillemmas. I doubt it's going to come as a surprise to anyone, but get to a rousing final battle sequence, we must submit to a whole water-tower full of roiling melodrama.

I can't actually say that any of this is especially well-acted, but it is exuberantly over-acted and where the picture really succeeds is in its gorgeous cinematography by the legendary Joseph (My Darling Clementine, Viva Zapata, Niagara, Pickup on South Street) McDonald, a rousing orchestral score by Elmer Bernstein, stunning sets and costumes, a cast of thousands and some of the most beautifully directed battle scenes ever committed to film by the stalwart J. Lee Thompson (Taras Bulba, Guns of Navarone, Cape Fear).

So if you're in the mood for some solid cheese, feel free to whack off a few hunks of this Kings of the Sun brand. It'll bind you, bind you real good.


Kings of the Sun is available on a gorgeous Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

THE DEMOLISHER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Strange Canuck Vigilante Thriller unveiled at 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL in Montreal

The Demolisher (2015)
Dir. Gabriel Carrer
Starring: Ry Barrett, Tianna Nori, Jessica Vano

Review By Greg Klymkiw

After policewoman Samantha (Tianna Nori) suffers a near-fatal attack (after attempting to rescue a baby in the midst of a devil worship ceremony, no less), she's crippled for life and forced to haul about in a wheelchair. Her angry hubby Bruce (Ry Barrett), a cable repair technician goes completely bunyip. (Where have we heard about el-sicko cable guys before?) Night after night, he dons mega-protective armour, a creepy helmet with a stylish visor and armed with a nice selection of weaponry, he stalks the late-night streets looking for scumbags - any scumbags - that he can take down and send straight to Hell.

Seems reasonable enough, yes?

Eventually, however, it becomes obvious that Bruce is no longer bunyip for mere revenge, he's just plain bunyip and desires to kill, period. After getting a taste of murder pure and simple (an enjoyable murder as it's perfectly justified), he targets Marie (Jessica Vano), an innocent young jogger who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thus begins a terrifying night for her as she's stalked by a madman bent upon snuffing her lights out.

Okay, so The Demolisher is clearly one of the strangest, most perverse vigilante movies I've seen in quite some time, possibly ever to be honest. Audiences looking for carnage will get more than their fair share, but I suspect that the only killing they'll enjoy in any sort of traditional Death Wish or Walking Tall manner is the one horrific murder of someone who is not a criminal (though like I said earlier, the fuckwad clearly deserves it).

Audiences will also be surprised and possibly delighted with the clear thought that's gone into the screenplay in terms of examining a diseased mind under pressure. There are clearly and deliberately paced moments within the oddball domestic set-up which proceed with very little dialogue and mostly some extremely effective looks and silences. This is probably a good thing since some of the dialogue proves a bit clunky in these moments, the lion's share of clunkiness wafting out of poor Samantha's mouth and occasionally affecting Tianna Nori's otherwise good work.

There's also one ludicrous scene where crippled Samantha manages to crawl into the bathtub with her brooding hubby. In theory, I'm all there. In practise, not so much. If you're going to have a babe join her hubby in the tubby, why the fuck would she be wearing her goddamn nightie? I can understand not getting a nice glimpse of dick, though I'd have been most appreciative of the view myself, but seriously, to not have the hot cripple doff her garments for a loll-about in the tub is tantamount to B-Movie heresy. (And frankly, seeing anyone in a bathtub with clothes on is just plain dumb.)

My fetishes aside, Ry Barrett is effectively stalwart and brooding throughout and what can be said about Jessica Vano other than her fine performance? Well, uh, she's, like, a babe, and we get to see her running around in fear for half the movie. Vano's hot running around rivals that of Penelope Ann Miller tear-assing about in The Relic. That takes some doing. Seriously, hot chicks running around in terror is a blessing, not a curse. Ain't nothing sexier than that. But enough of my fetishes.

I loved the look of this movie. It's just plain ugly for much of its running time, but intentionally so. The lighting and compositions expertly capture both the seediness of its locations as well as the cold, impersonal, almost dank qualities of the interiors. The score by Glen Nicholls is especially dynamite, evoking an eerie blend of 80s funk-drone and just plain effective thriller cues.

And there is a definite 80s feel to the picture (for some, this is better, for others, it'll be worse), but I found the entire tone of the movie fascinating. Once again we have a Canadian genre film with its own distinct indigenous style. Yes, it's clearly inspired by an American tradition of such pictures, but its narrative, look and pace are Canadian in all the best ways - proving again that having a diametrically opposed north of the 49th parallel aesthetic allows for a wholly unique take on genre cinema.

Director Gabriel Carrer might have pulled off the near impossible here by creating a film that shares aesthetic DNA twixt the sad ennui of Atom Egoyan's best work and famed 80s schlockmeister James (The Exterminator) Glickenhaus. It's a film that revels in its exploitative roots whilst examining them also, but without being moralistic. Only in Canada, you say? That's a good thing!

That said, if a movie is going to have some devil worship involving a baby as a sacrifice, could it not at least have the good taste to show the little nipper being hacked open? But, enough of my fetishes.


The Demolisher enjoys its World Premiere at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. For dates, times and tix, visit the festival website HERE. The Demolisher is represented world wide by the visionary Canadian genre specialists Raven Banner.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Feature Story Interview with Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi Ukrainian director of THE TRIBE (followed by rewrite/repost of the REVIEW) - By Greg Klymkiw

Feature Story
My Conversation
with Ukrainian Director
Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi

By Greg Klymkiw

The acclaimed Ukrainian filmmaker Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi and I agreed to an interview/conversation via Skype and in my opening minutes with a contemporary director I admire very deeply, I decide to break the ice - not by complimenting him on his film The Tribe, but telling him about my apartment in downtown Kyiv during the early 2000s. In particular I inform him that it was on Mykhailivs'ka Street, just near Паб О'Брайанс (O'Brien's Pub) and a mere hop, skip and a jump from the McDonald's at Independence Square, the Maidan (scene of the Orange Revolution and the more recent site of the magnificent 2013-2014 occupation which eventually ousted the corrupt President and Putin-ite Viktor Yanukovych).

In spite of the tragic events in Maidan, the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, what, pray tell do you think was foremost on my mind?

"Are the Golden Arches okay?" I asked. "Did McDonald's suffer much damage during the Maidan Revolution?"

"It's fine," said Slaboshpytskyi. "The only difference now is the number of dead bodies in front of the McDonald's."

We enjoy the kind of hearty laugh only two Ukrainians can genuinely share. It was similar to our shared patriarchal Ukrainian mirth when I asked him what his wife's name was.

"Elena", he replied.

"What's her surname?" I asked.

"The same as mine," he responded.

"But of course," I replied. "As it should be."

I have to admit it was a real privilege and honour to spend some time with Slaboshpytskyi on Skype. His great film The Tribe finally opened theatrically in Toronto via Films We Like at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and this seemed as good a reason as any to touch base.

Delightfully, we spent most of our time talking about movies. It came as no surprise to me that he is an inveterate film nut and has been so since childhood.

Born in 1974 and raised in Ukraine under the Soviet system, living in both in Kyiv and Lviv, Slaboshpytskyi explains what ultimately sounds like a charmed childhood. His Mom and Dad were both artists. Father Mykhailo is an acclaimed author and literary critic and mother Lyudmila is an editor-in-chief with a huge publishing house. His wife, Elena Slaboshpitskaya (whom he met in St. Petersburg, Russia) is a writer, critic and these days, his chief creative producer.

"As a child," he reminisces, "our home was always full of eccentric writers, talking about literature until late in the night and there were always books, rows and rows of great books to read. Hundreds, no, thousands of books. And every night I'd come home from the movies and always find our home full of those writers. Of course, they were all drunk."

And the movies? What, I wonder led Slaboshpytskyi to a life as a filmmaker?

"I don't think I ever wanted to be anything else," he says. "As a child, everyday after school, instead of going straight home, I went to see movies. It didn't matter what was playing. I went to see them all and often watched movies again and again. I would usually watch three movies each day."

He explains that under Soviet rule, many of the movies were of the Soviet variety, but this mattered not. Movies were movies. And, of course, there were a few "foreign" movies to tantalize the tastebuds. He mentions that Bollywood movies were extremely popular in Ukrainian movie theatres when he was a kid. I query Myroslav about this curious feature since I was always scratching my noggin whilst in Ukraine since so many TV stations played Bollywood pictures in the early 2000s.

I always assumed that it was because the rights to buy the movies was cheap. He agrees this might have been one of the reasons, but he notes that Bollywood movies were the few "action" movies with no politics and could also be viewed by the whole family with little fear of ideologically objectionable material. The only action movies other than those from Bollywood were a lot of the great crime pictures from France and Italy which starred the likes of Alain Delon, Lino Ventura and, among others, Yves Montand. As well, there were many French comedies, many of which starred the legendary Louis de Funès. Not that the young Myroslav had problems with any of these. "Anything was better than boring Soviet films," he admits.

So, were there any American movies at all?

"In 1982 I saw Three Days of the Condor in the movie theatre at least 40 times," he admits. "This movie was such magic for me." Not only did the film feature the dazzling 70s style of dark American existentialism as wrought by the late, great Sydney Pollack, but it was an opportunity for the impressionable young Myroslav to get a real taste of Hollywood superstars like Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. He notes that the movie probably played in the Soviet Union only because it was so overtly anti-American, but I imagine politics were not on the mind of an eight-year-old movie fanatic who was instead dazzled by the sheer electricity of an American thriller.

Of course I'm always obsessed with epiphanies when it comes to my favourite film directors. I like to know if and when they experienced an epiphanic moment which made them decide to become filmmakers. Curiously, Myroslav tells me a story that reminds me somewhat of Martin Scorsese talking about how he sees the world as if through a camera lens and as a series of shots simply by the act of walking down the street.

"I wish I could remember the name of the movie," Myroslav says, "but I do know it was a Bollywood film. I was probably eight-years-old, the same age I saw Three Days of the Condor and this movie ended very late in the evening. It was already dark and I was walking home alone down my usual street, but there were shadows everywhere and it seemed that each way I looked, it seemed very scary. However, I was energized by the movie I saw, but also energized by my fear and without really fully understanding what it meant to be a movie director, I have a very clear memory of deciding there and then that I was going to direct movies."

Not only did this remind me of the Scorsese anecdote, but I had to admit to Myroslav it also reminded me of the story about Leo Tolstoy who discovered cinema at its earliest and most rudimentary point, and that he was excited by the possibilities of cinema, but alternately, he expressed disappointment that he was too old to ever experience the joy of this medium which, he felt, was perhaps the most ideal way to express himself as an artist.

I asked Myroslav if he imagined what it must have been like for artists with the souls of filmmakers who did not have the available technology to adequately express themselves.

As I'm discovering, Slaboshpytskyi's delightful sense of humour always lies puckishly in wait. "Yes," he remarks dryly, "It is the man who no sex and watches pornography."

As is my wont, I accept this.

When I finally get around to asking Myroslav about The Tribe, I remark that his film is gorgeous to look at, but in the way films are which reflect what's referred to as "a terrible beauty" - that it even seems to have a 70s quality of naturalism and existentialism to it.

Firstly he admits that The Tribe is "a compilation of real stories I gathered; stories I knew and stories that were told to me by those kids I spent time interviewing in my old neighbourhood. They aren't necessarily specific to the school in which my movie is set, but they are things that happen in all schools in urban areas like Kyiv."

Astoundingly, Slaboshpytskyi reveals that The Tribe "is shot in same school in which I was a pupil. I shot everything in the area, the very same district as my childhood. Every location in the movie is one I know. I know every building and place I shot in."

This certainly explains the raw realism of his picture, but I find it interesting that the movie was conceived well before and then shot in 2013 on the cusp of the big Maidan Revolution. My first screening of the film brought back so many memories of my time in Ukraine in the pre-Orange and pre-Maidan days, the sheer survival mode of Ukrainians in post-Soviet Ukraine blew me away, but also the realities, the hidden dark secrets of sexual exploitation at every turn.

Myroslav admits his film is a story of humanity first and foremost; that he sought not to make any overt political statements.

"It's about survival," he says. "Survival has been the national trademark of Ukraine since the beginning of time. It's not a metaphor, but a reality. Everybody must survive or just simply, try to survive."

His memories of post-Soviet Ukraine, especially in the early days are mostly positive. "Everyone seemed very happy. After all, we finally got our independence." He admits to the ongoing economic crises, but seems somewhat bemused (as most Ukrainians would be) at how different Ukrainian capitalism was from anyone's notion of capitalism. "Yes, there was sometimes disappointment with the government, but I believe it is no paradise anywhere in the world. If there was a problem it was that everything was still a mix of the old Soviet system with the new realities of capitalism."

He notes that Ukraine was and still is not as bad as it is in Russia. He says this in the same breath as he almost wistfully recalls a time when Ukraine always seemed to be in the midst of "real gang wars".

"Ukraine was like real Chicago-style gangster movies," he says with just a tiny bit of excitement in his voice and with a smile on his face.

Ah, and we're back to the movies again. I mention to Myroslav how much fun it is to talk about movies with him and that I could probably sit there all day doing so. He talks about seeing movies in the post-Soviet period and he describes the 90s and beyond as a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of every conceivable movie. Of course, he loves Taxi Driver, Tarantino and especially the work of Paul Verhoeven. He cites Showgirls and Basic Instinct as being hugely exciting and inspirational. We both commiserate over the ludicrous critical backlash against Showgirls in particular and what a genuinely great movie it is. (I'd like to think it's because we're both Ukrainians, but of course, the film does have its admirers outside of Ukraine and its disapora.)

What's thrilling to hear is how Myroslav sucked up so many movies in a relatively short space of time, and. of course, the sheer variety of works he was seeing for the very first time. "I watched all films, everything," he declares. "It was necessary to devour this new culture as quickly as possible, to see it all. Here I was, watching Rambo and then, Citizen Kane."

And so on, it went. And on. And on. Movie upon movie upon movie.

Plus it wasn't just movies. Myroslav also began to devour all the literature his country missed out on. He cites Bukowski, Miller, Kesey and yes, even Dashiel Hammet. He can clearly go on, but it's here he notes that the "big tragedy of Ukraine's artist generation", in particular those who came before his own generation, was that they could read great works that had been withheld from their purview, but that they were not always able to "understand the context of American culture and how it related to the literature."

Finally, we get back to the movies. Myroslav is especially keen to point out the inherent "bravery of cinema." Of course, I need to rain on the parade by expressing how I enjoyed the proficiency of some current studio pictures, but that they were really about nothing. Myroslav seems more realistic than I. He admits to having a "problem" with "some modern cinema", but his year of attending film festivals with The Tribe has given him a window into the myriad of independent films from all over the world, including America. He waves off the emptiness of some studio efforts as being linked solely to the "risk" factor of "bigger budgets".

"I live for the movies," he says. "For me, the movies are the thing. All my life I wanted to make movies, then all my life I began to make movies and I can forget my previous life, but I will always have the movies."

Amen to that.

And now, here is my review of The Tribe as originally written during its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 2014. I've made a few minor changes to the piece, but I've decided to let the piece stand as I first wrote it, especially in light of my opportunity to speak with Myroslav. You see, when I go to movies, I try to view them as unfettered as possible. ALL I knew about The Tribe when I first saw it was that it was from Ukraine. For me, it's the best way to see movies and Slaboshpytskyi's great film especially offers added resonance when seen that way.

And it is, truly and genuinely great!

Russia's continued oppression of Ukraine batters
the most vulnerable members of society.
The Tribe (2014)
(aka Plemya/плем'я)
Dir. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Starring: Yana Novikova, Grigoriy Fesenko, Rosa Babiy,
Alexander Dsiadevich, Yaroslav Biletskiy, Ivan Tishko, Alexander Sidelnikov

Review By Greg Klymkiw

One of the most appalling legacies of Russian colonization/dictatorship over the country of Ukraine has, in recent years, been the sexual exploitation of women (often children and teenagers). Add all the poverty and violence coursing through the nation's soul, much of it attributable to Mother Russia's tentacles of corruption, organized crime and twisted notions of law, order and government, that it's clearly not rocket science to realize how threatening the Russian regime is, not only to Ukraine, but the rest of Eastern Europe and possibly, beyond.

Being a Ukrainian-Canadian who has spent a lot of time in Ukraine, especially in the beleaguered Eastern regions, I've witnessed first-hand the horrible corruption and exploitation. (Ask me sometime about the Russian pimps who wait outside Ukrainian orphanages for days when teenage girls are released penniless into the world, only to be coerced into rust-bucket vans and dispatched to God knows where.)

The Tribe is a homespun indigenous Ukrainian film that is a sad, shocking and undeniably harrowing dramatic reflection of Ukraine with the searingly truthful lens of a stylistic documentary treatment (at times similar to that of Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl and dappled occasionally with a 70s American existentialist cinematic sensibility).

Focusing upon children, the most vulnerable victims of Russia's aforementioned oppression, this is a film that you'll simply never forget.

Set in a special boarding school, writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, paints an evocative portrait of students living within a tribal societal structure (literally as per the title) where adult supervision is minimal at best and even culpable in the desecration of youth. Living in an insular world, carved out by years of developing survival skills in this institutional environment, the kids have a long-established criminal gang culture and they engage in all manner of nefarious activities including, but not limited to thieving, black marketeering and pimping.

Slaboshpytskiy's mise-en-scène includes long, superbly composed shots and a stately, but never dull pace. This allows the film's audience to contemplate - in tandem with the narrative's forward movement - both the almost matter-of-fact horrors its young protagonists accept, live with and even excel at while also getting a profound sense of the ebbs and flows of life in this drab, dingy institutional setting. In a sense, the movie evokes life as it actually unfolds (or, at least, seems to).

The violence is often brutal and the film never shies away from explicit sexual frankness. We watch the beautiful teenage girls being pimped out at overnight truck stops, engaging in degrading acts of wham-bam without protection, perpetrated against their various orifices by truckers who shell out cash for the privilege of doing so. As well, we experience how the same girls are cum-receptacles for their fellow male students, delivering blow-jobs or intercourse when it's required.

On occasion, we witness consensual, pleasurable lovemaking, but it always seems tempered by the fact that it's the only physical and emotional contact these children, of both sexes, have ever, ow will ever experience. Even more harrowing is when we follow the literal results of this constant sexual activity and witness a necessary, protracted, pain-wracked scene wherein one young lady seeks out and receives an unsanitary and painful abortion.

While there are occasional moments of tenderness, especially in a romance that blossoms between one young boy and girl, there's virtually no sense of hope that any of these children will ever escape the cycles of abuse, aberrant behaviour and debasement that rules their lives. The performances elicited by Slaboshpytskiy are so astonishing, you're constantly in amazement over how naturalistic and reflective of life these young actors are, conveying no false notes with the kind of skill and honesty one expects from far more seasoned players.

The special circumstances these children are afflicted with also allows Slaboshpytskiy to bravely and brilliantly tell his story completely though the purest of cinematic approaches. Visuals and actions are what drive the film and ultimately prove to be far more powerful than words ever could be. Chances are very good that you'll realize what you're seeing is so wholly original that you'll ultimately sit there, mouth agape at the notion that what you're seeing on-screen is unlike anything you will have ever seen before.

Try, if you can, to see the film without seeing or reading anything about it. Your experience will be all the richer should you choose to go in and see it this way. Even if you don't adhere to this, the movie is overflowing with touches and incidents in which you'll feel you're seeing something just as original.

The Tribe evokes a world of silence and suffering that is also perversely borderline romantic, a world where connections and communication are key elements to add some variation to a youth culture that is as entrenched as it is ultimately constant and, frankly, inescapable.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***** 5-Stars, highest rating.

The Tribe is being distributed in Canada via Films We Like. It's enjoying a theatrical run at the majestic TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto with other cities to follow. For tix, dates and times at Lightbox, visit the TIFF website by clicking HERE.