Wednesday, 15 July 2015

CASH ONLY / SLUMLORD - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - Landlord Movies X 2 invade FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2015 in Montreal

I love the fact that there are not one, but two movies enjoying their World Premieres at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal which have landlords as the main characters. We all know landlords and mostly, we hate them, so to have a couple of familiar entities for us to relate to and/or fear, goes a long way in rooting genre cinema in the best territory imaginable - worlds we're all too familiar with, at least from our end of the spectrum.

Each film in its own fashion, seeks to present unique perspectives of their respective landlords to fill in blanks which, our common experiences might not be all that familiar with. Alas, to steal the title of an Agnes Varda film in order to present a sweeping critical summation of both pictures, one sings, the other doesn't.

SODOMY - Albanian style (above)
MASTURBATION - Surveillance Cam style (below)
Cash Only (2015)
Dir. Malik Bader
Scr. Nickola Shreli
Starring: Nickola Shreli, Stivi Paskoski, Danijela Stajnfeld

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Cash Only is one of the best low budget independent indigenously-produced regional films of the new millennium. It's also a damn fine crime thriller rooted in worlds we've seldom experienced.

It's a story ripped from the contemporary hell-hole of Detroit, Michigan. This once great burgh (America's genuine "Motor City" and the birthplace of the Motown sound) has continued to crumble into an inner-city nightmare that brings us closer to the notion of the Third-World existence that's been increasingly plaguing much of the United States, one of the world's richest, most powerful nations. (If you haven't seen the great documentary Detropia, feel free to read my review HERE, and of course, see the movie to fill you in more on this sorry state of affairs.)

Cash Only begins with a ticking time clock for landlord Elvis Martini (Nickola Shreli, also the film's screenwriter), one which seems challenging, but not insurmountable. As the film progresses, however, that clock starts ticking triple-time. Not only does he need to stave off the bank from foreclosing, but he's in deep with a variety of friends and loan sharks.

However, once he's plunged into a fathomless pit of debt with a vicious Balkan pimp, all bets are off. Additionally beleaguered with haunting memories of accidentally (and drunkenly) causing the death of the woman he loved, as well as trying to fulfill his myriad of duties as a landlord, he's soon in the maddest dash of his life to both attain redemption and rescue his little girl who's been kidnapped and held for ransom so that he'll cough up the usurious demands of the villain.

Cash Only is a character-driven descent into a milieu with its own rules and levels of brutality that many of us can't even begin to fathom. Writer Shreli and director Malik Bader plunge us into a grungy and brutal world in ways that only indigenous, regional filmmakers seem capable of doing in these otherwise dark days of American cinema. The neighbourhood and its denizens all have the foul whiff of reality. Joining forces with last year's astounding British crime drama Hyena, Cash Only immerses us in an ethnic crime world that gives both Italian and Russian mobs a run for their money. (Gotta love the Albanian Mob! These guys leave the rest behind as so much dust in the wind!)

The movie is replete with solid performances right across the board, though Stivi Paskoski as Dino the dogfight-promoter/pimp is especially brilliant - one look at the guy scares the shit out of you, but once he opens his mouth, you know our hero (and we, the audience) are in for some major, harrowing carnage.

Malik Bader's taut direction delivers increasing levels of edge-of-the-seat suspense and the searing savagery that's inherent in Shreli's grungy, realism-infused script. The picture is expertly shot and cut, all of which contributes to a film that expertly uses the crime genre's tropes to hit a few familiar satisfying beats whilst maintaining a tone of freshness and originality from beginning to end.


Slumlord (2015)
Dir. Victor Zarcoff
Starring: Neville Archambault, Sean Carrigan, Brianne Moncrief, Sarah Baldwin

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Slumlord begins promisingly enough with banks of surveillance monitors and the chilling statistics of just how many people are being illegally spied upon without their knowledge. We then meet creepy Gerald (Neville Archambault) in a "spy" store where a sleazy salesman is detailing all the joys of owning surveillance equipment to which Gerald responds most favourably. In short order, Gerald is outfitting a lovely suburban home with an elaborate series of cameras in every conceivable nook and cranny which can yield as many good views as possible.

So far, so good, though one is wondering when he'll be installing the equipment in the sleazy properties that a slumlord would actually be presiding over.

Well, it doesn't take long to realize Gerald is not a slumlord (other than the fact that he lives in a dank, dark dwelling himself). He shows a young married couple the suburban home and they happily take it. Our focus, often mediated via Gerald's surveillance equipment, shifts to the couple. Wifey is preggers and hubby seems like a cold, distant prick. Eventually he ends up having a torrid affair with one of his employees, a babe-o-licious creature who keeps pressuring him to leave his wife.

The lovely suburban dwelling, however, is meant to be a second chance for the couple's on-the-rocks marriage and hubby soon comes to his senses and decides to break the affair off. Alas, his lover starts turning into Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction.

Adding insult to injury, Gerald keeps secretly entering the house; he knows when the couple is going to be gone and for how long since he appears to not do much of anything save for spying on them and masturbating. In the house, he snoops around, puts a toothbrush in his foul mouth to soil it, then installs even more surveillance equipment (include a poopy-cam in the toilet bowl). He also constructs a secret prison/dungeon deep in the bowels of the basement.

Eventually this all leads to a variety of carnage and middling suspense until the picture delivers a "surprise" ending one can see coming pretty early in the proceedings. The performances are decent (Archambault especially delivering the sicko goods with considerable aplomb), but much of the film's promise, which we're set up with by both the title and the evocative opening, pretty much goes the way of the Dodo and we're left with little more than a typical low-budget thriller set mostly in one location, but sans the truly demented layering of a Polanski or Hitchcock.

Poor Archambault is clearly a terrific actor, but he needs to work overtime here to create some semblance of a character. Not that we'd even need that much: Norman Bates in Psycho had Mother, Mark Lewis in Peeping Tom had his childhood of psychological torture at the hands of his Dad and even the three brothers and Grandpa in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had the evocative backdrop of shifting slaughter-methods at the nearby abattoir.

Here though, we have a lonely guy (who's not even a slumlord as the title suggests) whose fetishistic desires allow him to show a tiny bit of compassion to the woman who's being abused by her husband's neglect and infidelity. This could have been interesting, but it's simply used as an excuse for eventual carnage and by the end, we still have no sense who this person really is.

And, of course, there's the hackneyed, all-too-forseeable "surprise" ending which the movie leads up to.

Non-discriminating fans will get some decent gore for their money and a genuinely grotesque killer, but beyond that, they're not going to be getting much more. Even the ambitions of the character-driven elements of a marriage in crisis has little appeal since most of the juxtapositional suspense elements hit their marks so predictably.


Cash Only and Slumlord are both enjoying their World Premiere at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. For Tix, times and playdates, visit the festival website HERE.