Monday 31 August 2015

THE RETURN OF THE ATOM - Review By Greg Klymkiw *****TIFF 2015 TOP PICK*****

The Return of the Atom (2015)
Dir. Mika Taanila, Jussi Eerola

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Sometimes The Return of the Atom seems like a chilling political science fiction thriller. In other instances you're laughing so hard it feels like a mad, satirical expose a la Dr. Strangelove (crossed with Kafka, of course). Other times, the lies dispensed by corporate pigs in the nuclear industry are uttered with such straight faces, you won't know whether to laugh or cry or cry laughing, but they seem so ludicrous that one assumes their moronic spin might have been written by Ed Wood for a sequel to Plan 9 From Outer Space. But no, you are watching an ultimately terrifying, eye-opening and thorough documentary about the utter madness of the western world's first major nuclear power plant being constructed after the horrendous 1986 Chornobyl disaster in Ukraine.

Directors Mika Taanila and Jussi Eerola have aimed their cameras squarely upon the folly that is the nuclear industry in Eurajoki, Finland. Shooting over 100 hours over the course of 8 long years, we're privy to several unalterable truths. First of all, this western region contains two of the four working nuclear power plants in all of Finland. Secondly, Eurajoki has a tiny population base over a huge land mass and as such, ANY development on the part of unscrupulous big business is welcomed with open arms by politicians desperate for a larger share of the economy. Thirdly, the region is home to the building of the aforementioned nuclear reactor - a project fraught with so many follies that it's been delayed from completion for almost a decade.

This is madness and the film is less a swipe at Finland as it is a condemnation of the nuclear power industry worldwide. The corporate pigs are always looking for the fresh meat of underpopulated locales in order to swindle the locals into thinking that this is the best thing for them. Keep in mind, though, that Tanila and Eerola are also not going out of their way to slant things in one direction or the other, since the guilty parties more than do their best at hanging themselves with their obvious spin and lies.

The movie presents several important issues: the increase of leukaemia amongst the populace, general malaise amongst them, the clear common sense arguments presented by scientists, experts and activists falling on deaf ears, the reality that so many jobs need to be filled that foreign workers, NOT locals and in one case, creepily (though not surprisingly), we meet an activist being threatened and harassed until she fears for her own safety.

Perhaps most incredible of all, though, is the sumptuously photographed footage of the plant as it is being constructed (and still not finished) over several years. These sequences are imbued with an eerie and terrible beauty that's unforgettable. Though the film is not without its occasional longueurs, they're ultimately forgivable given the momentous task the filmmakers have set for themselves to capture this important document of man's continued decimation of the earth for profit.

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

The Return of the Atom receives its World Premiere in the TIFF DOCS program at TIFF 2015. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF website HERE.

Sunday 30 August 2015

BLACK - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Gangland Rape Culture *****TIFF 2015 TOP PICK****

Black (2015)
Dir. Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah
Starring: Martha Canga Antonio, Aboubakr Bensaihi

Review By Greg Klymkiw

This violent, exuberantly-directed contemporary Belgian take on "Romeo and Juliet" falls into the yeah-it's-well-made-but-it's-another-been-there-done-that crime picture about ethnic youth in a big city that views them with racist disdain. However, the well-worn subject matter of Black places a great deal of emphasis and detail upon the seldom-explored and insidious rape culture within gang structures. Though the gang-rape sequences (yes, there are more than one) are not shot with any prurience, they're clearly disturbing and relatively graphic.

The story involves young lovers on opposite sides of the gang equation. Mavela (Martha Canga Antonio) "belongs" to the Brussels Black Bronx and Marwan (Aboubakr Bensaihi) is a member of a Moroccan gang. They meet in a police station during a gang round-up and experience that immediate spark of romance. After a bit of courtship, their attraction is finally requited, but if their secret love is ever revealed, it's going to be Hell-to-pay time for both of them. Betwixt the romantic shenanigans, the film delivers the goods on plenty of gang-against-gang violence (including a superbly directed sequence on a subway car and eventually spilling out into the station) and sequences involving the earnest, but ineffective attempts of the Brussels police to keep order amongst the kiddies.

And then, there are those gang-rapes. Rape is used as a weapon against the women of rival gangs and also used as both punishment and ownership over women in their own gangs. The lasciviousness with which the men ogle the women - constantly - is extremely creepy and disturbing. Within the context of criminal gangs, I have no quarrel with any of this being represented in a film about this milieu, BUT . . .

What seems somewhat disingenuous, or at the least lop-sided, is that the film pays especially close and graphic visual attention to the rape culture with the Brussels Black Bronx gang. Passing mention is made of this brutal culture of misogyny in terms of the Moroccans (one of them states they'll commit a gang-rape in retaliation), but it's a fleeting line of dialogue and in cinema, SEEING is everything. While there is truth to the existence of rape culture in all criminal gangs, it feels ethnocentric at best and at worst, borderline racist to place so many visual aspects of it amongst the Black gang.

The fact that the filmmakers are of Moroccan descent might well be enough for some critics and audiences to take them to task, but using a filmmaker's ethnicity to bolster such an argument would be just as ethnocentric and/or outright racist. (This kind of ethno-critical blame is becoming far too common these days and I've been guilty of it myself. God knows I've crapped on Russians for misrepresenting Ukrainian culture in the cinema. Black, however, is a far more "visible" case of this and I'll bet anything we'll see a few notices referring to the aforementioned suggestion that Moroccan filmmakers downplay their "own" culpability in such egregious actions as portrayed in the film. It's not right, but it will happen.)

So yes, while a part of me wishes to dismiss the film outright because of the one-sided view of rape culture within the Black gang, the fact remains that the film IS directed with style, skill and artistry. As well, the performances, most notably from Martha Canga Antonio and Aboubakr Bensaihi (both of whom have "star" written all over them) are so first-rate, it would be a shame to dissuade cineastes from experiencing the work.

The film is a political minefield. This is not a bad thing, but with Black, something just doesn't feel quite right about it and as such, detracts somewhat from its artistic merit.


Black receives its World Premiere in the TIFF Discovery series during TIFF 2015. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF website HERE.

Saturday 29 August 2015

HORIZON - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Revelatory Gudni Doc *****TIFF 2015 TOP PICK*****

Horizon (2015)
Dir. Bergur Bernburg, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson
Starring: Georg Gudni, Viggo Mortensen

Review By Greg Klymkiw

With his painterly eye for humanity and landscape, it seems fitting that Iceland's very own John Ford, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson (Children of Nature, Cold Fever, Devil's Island) has co-directed Horizon, a revelatory documentary portrait of the late, great painter Georg Gudni. Like Ford's beloved Monument Valley, Iceland's landscape has provided a stunning backdrop for Fridriksson's extraordinary canon and I can think of no better filmmaker to bring cinematic mastery to the subject of his old friend Georg Gudni.

Working with what feels like a lifetime's worth of footage of Gudni at work and in interviews, all shot by co-director Bergur Bernburg in collaboration with journalist Bill Rathje, Fridriksson has fashioned an indelible portrait of an artist who singlehandedly brought respectability back to landscape painting - a form often derided by Western art critics and practitioners in recent decades.

Gudni, however, saw something else in the landscapes around him - he was, after all, living in the land of the Askja calderas amidst the mighty, roiling volcanoes of the Dyngjufjöll mountains - an environment so topographically barren (though heartbreakingly beautiful) that it served as a training ground for the Apollo astronauts prior to their moon missions. Iceland is, in spite of its mountainous terrain, a land where the horizon seems infinite and Gudni's eye viewed layers upon layers of ever-so subtle shifts in both land and air.

If Heaven was on Earth, Gudni's remarkable paintings captured it again and again.

The superb footage of Gudni is expertly woven with interviews from a variety of artists, critics and academic historians, but perhaps most fascinating are the sequences with actor Viggo Mortensen, a dear friend, patron and publisher of Gudni's work. All these other voices lend support to Gudni's own words and actions, but Mortensen's observations might be the most moving and passionate of them all.

The other valuable element of Horizon is the jaw-droppingly stunning cinematography which matches the locations and even perspectives of Gudni's art. With the eye of a painter, Fridriksson and his collaborators take us into territory where the landscapes, the horizon, the remarkable light of Iceland weaves its magic before of our very eyes and melds into Gudni's paintings with the flow, force and fiery beauty of lava itself.

Yes, John Ford had Monument Valley, but Gudni and Fridriksson have Iceland - the backdrop of dreamers, poets and visual artists of all stripes - and thankfully, we have this film to make us all familiar with the work of one of the great artists of all time, to capture his genius and beauty forever.


Horizon receives its World Premiere in the TIFF Docs program at TIFF 2015. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF website HERE.

Friday 28 August 2015

CEMETERY OF SLENDOUR - Review By Greg Klymkiw *****TIFF 2015 TOP PICK*****

Cemetery of Splendour (2015)
Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Starring: Jenjira Pongpas Widner, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram,
Sujittraporn Wongsrikeaw, Bhattaratorn Senkgraigul, Richard Abramson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A seemingly incurable sleeping sickness overtakes several Thai soldiers. Unresponsive to the usual treatments, they're dumped in a makeshift hospital in the northeastern provinces to receive what care can be dispensed. Jenjira (Jenjira Pongpas Widner), a crippled volunteer nursing assistant, spends endless hours and days tending to the needs of Itt (Banlop Lomnoi); giving massages, repositioning his body, applying wet cloths and even talking to him as if he was completely alert.

And then, he wakes up.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cemetery of Splendour is compulsively fascinating, dazzlingly beautiful and deeply moving. Much of the film pulsates in a neo-realist tradition; the cast and locations always feel like the real thing. Equally astonishing are the spiritual moments, rooted in a reality that's never beyond the natural order of the film's mise-en-scene, and the natural order of the world as it should be. Weerasethakul's film is an ode to life, love, death and understanding in a world where change, more often than not, has a devastating impact upon the inner peace, spirituality and environment of a place, people and ghosts. Yes, ghosts!

Writer-director Weerasethakul dapples the film with odd bits of his trademark humour and delightful perversities (a la previous works like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) which meld with the film's more cerebral and elegiac qualities. At times, it's a visual feast (especially the haunting coloured light treatments used upon the sleeping soldiers at night).

Most notable is the character of Keng (Jarinpattra Rueangram), a psychic who can read the thoughts and dreams of the men. She's the lynch-pin of the film's formal trinity of central characters and is indeed responsible for taking us into the deep, often impenetrable places of the heart, making them literal and as such, all the more real. It's a magic we believe in wholeheartedly.

Cemetery of Splendour resonates the way great art should. It is an exquisitely wrought tapestry that allows us to step inside it and then, soar. This, of course, is what also makes for great cinema!


Cemetery of Splendour is in the TIFF Masters program at TIFF 2015. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF website HERE.

Thursday 27 August 2015

OUR LITTLE SISTER + MUSTANG - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - Mongrel Media's Must-See Sister Act - The Film Corner's Handy-Dandy *****TIFF 2015 TOP PICKS***** continue.

Our Little Sister (above)
Mustang (below)

Our Little Sister (2015)
Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose

Review By Greg Klymkiw

When three sisters attend the funeral of their long-estranged father, they meet his daughter from a second marriage, the little sister they never met. They welcome her with open arms and she decides to live with them. For the first time in her life, she feels what it means to have family you can love and count on.

As far as I'm concerned, director Hirokazu Kore-eda (After Life, Nobody Knows, Still Walking, Like Father Like Son) has no equals in contemporary Japanese Cinema. He seems to be the one true and genuine successor to the legacy of Yasujiro (Tokyo Story) Ozu, the master of the groundbreaking tatami shots, long takes, figures moving in and out of frame, a stately pace allowing for deep contemplation of the dramas unfolding, a deep sense of humanity, a love for the properties of melodrama and an unflagging commitment to examining the intricacies of family. To a certain extent, the aforementioned Ozu grocery list of unbeatable properties seems not dissimilar to the work of Kore-eda.

Kore-eda, however, differs on two fronts. He downplays sentiment almost to the extent of eschewing it completely, but then, when you least expect it, he's not afraid of using melodrama sparingly as a legitimate storytelling tool (usually with a wallop to the solar plexus). Secondly, though Kore-eda is also primarily interested in the dynamics of family, he adds his own special thematic element, dealing heartbreakingly with the theme and dramatic action of abandonment.

Our Little Sister has got "abandonment" almost literally spilling out of its ears and he allows us to be privy to three, then four sisters filling various voids in their hearts with the love they have for each other. At times it feels like nothing much is really happening, but "it" most certainly is - in tiny, delicate and subtle ways. Kore-eda allows us time to luxuriate in each sister's unique qualities and how they play off each other.

He slowly builds to a handful of scenes during the final stretch of the picture that inspire overwhelming emotions in the hearts of its audiences. I bawled like a baby and still can't shake or forget its uplifts which are never machine-tooled, but burst forth naturally from within his film's very big heart.


Our Little Sister plays in the TIFF Masters program during TIFF 2015. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF website HERE.

Mustang (2014)
Dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Starring: Gunes Sensoy, Dogba Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu,
Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan, Ayberk Pekcan, Nihal Koldas

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The events depicted in Mustang are so horrific and harrowing, it's sometimes more unbearable to experience an equal number of story beats infused with fun, love, kindness, pleasurable abandon and humour since they're such powerful juxtapositions to the tragedy of the situation presented.

In a small Turkish coastal town on the Black Sea, a repressed, deeply traditional busybody neighbour spies five orphan sisters having fun on the last day of school. The innocent actions are deemed obscene. Their grandmother and stern uncle hit the roof and what should have been a glorious summer vacation turns into a living nightmare. They're immediately locked in the house, stripped of all items which could be considered immoral, informed that their education has come to an end and thrown into a rigorous indoctrination to be loyal, subservient wives. Parades of potential suitors are brought in to inspect their "wares" and the goal is to have all the girls, ranging from 12 to 16, married off by the end of summer.

The youngest sister proves to be the craftiest and most rebellious. She masterminds a brief escape for the girls to watch a soccer match, but the happiness is short lived when they're eventually caught in the act by their guardians. At this point, all bets are off. The home is then transformed into a literal prison replete with iron bars on all the windows, extra locks, barbed wire atop the walls surrounding the house and an intensified chaperoned courting/match-making process. In addition to the threat of physical and even sexual abuse, the girls are treated like so much chattel instead of individuals with minds of their own.

The first two-thirds of Mustang is so superbly directed and acted, it's a shame the screenplay takes a fairly conventional turn in its final act. What transpires comes close to negating the power of the rest of the film. Though some will find the denouement inspiring in all the right ways, it ultimately contradicts the reality of the girls' lives and offers up hope where none, in reality, would ever exist.

During one of the final set-pieces, first-time feature filmmaker Ergüven directs the proceedings with the urgent, nerve-jangling skill of a master. The suspense is virtually unbearable, but it's almost rendered moot when the yellow-brick-road to happiness rears its ugly head. Of course we want the girls to escape, but deep down we know a happy end to their short lives of freedom must surely be an impossibility. When these tables turn, it's not so much a cause for celebration, but a lament for honesty.


Mustang is a TIFF 2015 Special Presentation. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF website HERE.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

THE WAITING ROOM - Review by Greg Klymkiw - Yugo Noir: *****TIFF 2015 TOP PICK*****

The Waiting Room (2015)
Dir. Igor Drljača
Starring: Jasmin Geljo, Zeljko Kecojevic

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Even when a war is 20-years-ago and thousands of miles away, it sears its ugly imprint upon your soul forever. It's even worse if you've been forced to abandon all you know and love for a new country with few prospects for immigrants and refugees.

Jasmin (Jasmin Geljo, a tough, pug-faced Buster Keaton) knows this all too well. The popular actor and playwright fled the violent dismantlement of the former Yugoslavia and settled in Toronto. Estranged from his first wife, he still finds time to visit her in the terminal cancer ward, alternating the death-watch with his youthful adult daughter. Married to a much younger woman, with whom he's sired two children, Jasmin grows increasingly distant from her.

Eking out a living as a construction labourer whilst endlessly auditioning for stereotypical television roles requiring Eastern European gangster "types", he dreams of recapturing former glories (of the thespian kind) by returning to Sarajevo to mount the hilariously bawdy theatrical comedy he's been performing for Toronto's Yugoslavian community.

War, however, forces dreams to either die hard or at best, reside in a kind of purgatory. His attempts to move forward seem to create an ever-increasing stasis. Taking part in the filmed portion of a political avant-garde art installation about the turbulent events two decades earlier is what finally ignites memories of the war he's tried so hard to closet. One repression usually leads to another and Jasmin's purgatory intensifies.

Writer-director Igor Drljača has taken several astonishing leaps forward from his dazzling 2012 debut feature Krivina.

This sophomore effort is even more richly layered, but on this occasion, he's splashed the movie with healthy sprinklings of (mostly sardonic) humour amidst the angst. What consumes us, though, is Drljača's rich mise-en-scène - gorgeously composed still-life shots, the drab, grey Toronto juxtaposed with a fake backdrop of the gorgeous Yugoslavian countryside. The pace is miraculously measured and calculated; so much so that the picture's guaranteed to mesmerize.

Like his first feature, Drljača has crafted a devastating film about war with nary a single shot fired from a gun, nor a single bomb exploded. The echoes, explosions and shots heard round the world are burrowed in the film's devastating silence and the pain etched into the faces of those suffering strangers in a strange land are like silent screams ever-reminding us of the true casualties of war - those who live a living death.


The Waiting Room plays at TIFF 2015 in the Contemporary World Cinema program. For dates, times and tix, visit the festival's website HERE.

Tuesday 25 August 2015

HURT - Review capsule by Greg Klymkiw - Fonyo Noir *****TIFF 2015 TOP PICK*****

HURT (2015)
Dir. Alan Zweig

Starring: Steve Fonyo, Gabor Maté

Review Capsule By Greg Klymkiw

During the 80s, 18-year-old Steve Fonyo ran 8000 km across Canada with a prosthetic leg. Raising $14 million for cancer research, he received the Order of Canada. After suffering three decades from abject poverty and various addictions within the dark underbelly of the criminal class, this Canadian Hero was transformed into a pariah by pencil-pushers in the nation’s capitol and turfed from the country’s highest recognition.

HURT has its masterpiece status guaranteed.

Charting one year in Fonyo’s life, Alan Zweig pulls off a miracle. This stunning documentary is as narratively searing and artistically compelling as the grim and gritty 70s cinematic forays into crime, punishment and atonement, not unlike Scorsese’s Raging Bull and Yates’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

The very process of filmmaking and Zweig’s intervention as both artist and humanitarian offers the promise of healing and redemption. The picture cold-cocks you as frequently as it wrenches tears.



HURT receives its World Premiere in Platform, TIFF's all-new and highly exclusive new programme comprised of up to 12 films of high artistic merit that demonstrate a strong directorial vision by significant international filmmakers. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF 2015 website HERE.

Monday 24 August 2015

BROOKLYN - Review By Greg Klymkiw *****TIFF 2015 MUST-NOT-SEE*****

As you can see, impish colleen immigrants
do not require hands to provide good service
in the better department stores of Brooklyn.
Brooklyn (2015)
Dir. John Crowley
Scr. Nick Hornby
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen,
Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Jessie Paré

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Save for the pleasing cast of babes (Saoirse Ronan, Jessie Paré) and hunks (Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson) providing ample scenery (in addition to the general period production design) and a couple of old Brit stalwarts (Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters) ham-boning to the hilt, about the best I can say about Brooklyn is that my Mother (God rest her soul) would have enjoyed it thoroughly. She was, however, uh, like, old.

The aforementioned are what the film has going for it. I was less inclined to favour the alternately sad and jaunty Irish folk music elements of the syrupy score, the dull, style-bereft miniseries camera-jockey direction and a screenplay playing out like a muted soap opera with about as much conflict as having to choose twixt Aunt Jemima pancakes and Rice Crispies at breakfast time.

Gorgeous Saoirse Ronan, with the help of her big sister and Jim Broadbent's Father Flanagan-like priest, leaves behind the lack of opportunities in Ireland and hits the big boat for the wide-open shores of America. The good Father sets her up in a lovely boarding house for young ladies run by an endlessly quipping Julie Walters, then he gets her a good job in a nice department store where she's mentored by the STUNNINGLY gorgeous Jessica Paré and, Faith and Begorrah, our jovial, benevolent man of the cloth pays for her tuition at business college.

Sounds like being a gorgeous Irish immigrant of the female persuasion is a good deal. Oh sure, you have to go to endless dances to land a prospective husband and quite often, you get homesick for Ireland, but truth be told, it's a cakewalk. Hell, Saoirse even falls in love with a mouth-wateringly handsome Italian stud-muffin (Emory Cohen) in Brooklyn and upon visiting her old Irish home, she meets a yummy prim and proper rich boy (Domhnall Gleeson).

And here you have it, ladies and gents, the only conflict in the whole movie.

Must be nice.


Brooklyn is a TIFF 2015 Special Presentation. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF website HERE.

Sunday 23 August 2015

HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - *TIFF 2015 MUST-NOT-SEE*

Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015)
Dir. Kent Jones
Starring: Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher,
Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Olivier Assayas,
Richard Linklater, Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Schrader

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"Hitchcock/Truffaut" was published in 1966 and remains one of the few genuine Holy Bibles on cinema. In 1962, the acclaimed former film critic and French New Wave director Francois (The 400 Blows) Truffaut sat down with Alfred Hitchcock for an entire week to discuss the Great Master's entire filmography in detail.

Though Truffaut is clearly a fan, he's far more than that. His love for Hitchcock as a genuine film artist borders on the rhapsodic, but he's clearly able to talk with the man in the most penetrating detail. Perhaps most importantly, Truffaut brings the skills of both a great film critic and filmmaker to the table and I can think of no better volume to lay bare the inner workings of a brilliant and complex filmmaker like Hitchcock.

Since the original audio recordings and amazing photographs taken during the week-long meeting of minds still exist, one wonders what took so long for anyone to make a feature documentary based on this amazing book. Now that such a film exists, it's with a heavy heart that I must declare what a disappointment Hitchcock/Truffaut, the documentary, is. Director Kent Jones had access to all the aforementioned materials, plus all the gorgeous film clips money could buy and interview subjects like Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader to expand on the materials selected from the historic interviews.

One big problem is that the film can't begin to come close to capturing the sheer importance of this event. Director Jones employs a kind of by-the-numbers chronological approach to the material smattered with illustrative clips from the films and occasional interviews with a whack of contemporary directors. Sure, we certainly get breathless (albeit all-to-brief) moments as to why Hitchcock was so great, but we seldom get the feeling just how important he was to the art of cinema. The movie speeds along like a standard TV-style documentary and few of the interview subjects are allowed enough time to expound on the material in the same manner Truffaut himself did.

No need to slag here with specific finger-pointing, but several of the subjects aren't even worthy to kiss Hitchcock's feet. Their inclusion seems relegated to an ooh and ahh effect - mostly, it would seem, for those too bone-headedly convinced that some of these filmmakers have opinions on the matter (or any matter) worth considering. Thank Christ, Jones didn't shoehorn Christopher Nolan into this thing. He gets points for that.

Some of those who are worthy are given short-shrift. Anyone who has spent any time listening to Peter Bogdanovich in person or in interviews as he waxes eloquent upon Hitchcock knows just how magnificently The Last Picture Show director can discuss both the work and the man. Bogdanovich is a first-rate raconteur and his Hitchcock impersonations are second to none, yet he's barely on-screen. Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Paul Schrader have insightful observations, but we simply don't get enough of them and, fuck it, I'll point one finger and say that the insufferable Olivier Assayas has nothing to say at the best of times - either in person or in his pretentious overrated films, so that his inclusion here is a huge downer.

Happily, we get a few healthy dollops of Martin Scorsese, who comes closest to the insight Truffaut demonstrated in the unexpurgated interviews in the book itself. In fact, Scorsese, with his clinically insane ability to recall individual moments, shot by shot, beat by beat, might actually have had observations to give Truffaut a run for his money. Alas, we still feel hungry for further Scorsese. Less, in this case, is certainly not more.

It's impossible to know what filmmaker Jones tried to accomplish here. It's a hodgepodge and at best feels like an elongated DVD supplement. As such, though, this is somewhat insulting to the truly great DVD supplements we've seen on the Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber labels and occasionally on the Universal and Warner Brothers supplements. The great filmmaker Laurent Bouzereau has created the best - bar none - documentary materials on Spielberg, Hitchcock, DePalma, Polanski, Friedkin and the list goes on and on.

Bouzereau brings a distinctive voice to his work - so much so that one is not only tantalized by the films he focuses upon, but one can identify his work within a minute or two of watching them. As a documentary filmmaker specializing in cinema, he's the real thing, and then some.

Alas, with Hitchcock/Truffaut, I certainly have no sense of who Kent Jones is and perhaps even less than zero a sense of what in hell kind of movie he wanted to make.

By default, mostly because of Scorsese, Jones's film has about 20 genuinely engaging minutes. The rest of it feels like the supplemental materials cobbled together for a lower-drawer DVD release. Given that the movie's running time is only 80 minutes, but feels twice that length because of its dull, ham-fisted structure, one thinks Mr. Jones might best tend to his duties as the Director of Programming for the New York Film Festival. His previous cinema documentaries, most notably his mediocre Val Lewton doc, are equally dull. This one, though, represents some kind of nadir.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *½ One and a Half Stars

Hitchcock/Truffaut plays in the TIFF DOCS section of TIFF 2015.

Saturday 22 August 2015

ROOM - Review By Greg Klymkiw - FRANK director delivers another winner - TIFF 2016

Room (2016)
Dir. Lenny Abrahamson
Scr. Emma Donoghue
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Tom McCamus, William H. Macy, Sean Bridgers, Wendy Crewson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Lenny Abrahamson turned out to be the best director imaginable for this screen rendering of Emma Donoghue's novel of the same name. His last film Frank, created a wondrous, expansive world within the isolated confines of the country cottage wherein the title character's band creates music for a new album. Abrahamson then shifted us, ever-so deftly to a constrained, insular and painful emotional domain once Frank and company attend the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas. Finally, we were plopped, alongside the film's characters onto the flat, open, limitless landscape under a big American sky, dwarfing, as it always does, everything and everyone.

Room shares a similar story structure to the aforementioned gem of a film. Like Donoghue's book, the first half of Abrahamson's new picture confines us to the tiny space that Ma (Brie Larson) and her 5-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) live in. Having been kidnapped and held hostage by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), a sexual predator who has repeatedly raped Ma until she became pregnant with Jack, the isolated room of the title has been turned into a wide open world by Ma to keep her sanity, as well as that of her child.

Ma has used what meagre means she has at her disposal to educate her child. For example, every item in the room is ascribed qualities akin to humanity which not only describe said items, but allows Jack to offer salutations upon first laying eyes upon them every morning. Personification in fiction is one thing, but in real life, it's clearly quite another.

At the midway point of the picture, a harrowing escape delivers us into the world outside the room and in spite of the new expanse, Ma especially suffers as a free woman - her incarceration and the repeated sexual abuse (not to mention relentless media attention) has somehow dwarfed everything that could be seen as healthy and positive to her.

The two halves of the film are rendered with an astonishingly brilliant mise en scène, which indeed creates expanse in isolation and isolation in expanse. The first half, in spite of the one "room" setting, never really seems claustrophobic as the film roots the mother and son's relationship in a limitless love and deep imagination. Conversely (and not unlike Frank), freedom takes us to drearily grey exteriors and "normal" interiors that bear so much in common with everything that is so unbearably "normal" to anyone with huge imaginations (like Ma and Jacob).

Luckily, Abrahamson has the source material of Donoghue's novel to draw upon, as well as her screenplay adaptation. Oddly, Donoghue's screenwriting mostly eschews the novel's great "voice" (the story in the book is told by the five-year-old Jack) and Abrahamson must render it visually, without relying upon Jack's "voice" (except in tiny dollops). The lighting utilized in the room is especially evocative during daytime wherein the lone glimpse Ma and Jack have at the outside world is a small, dirty and unreachable skylight, casting a variety of eerie glows upon the proceedings. This genuinely great filmmaker pulls off the first half of the picture with flying colours, especially in the manner he blocks the movement within the interior of the "room", then eventually, outside of it - maintaining superb compositions to tell the story by cinematically capturing the evocative "voice" of the novel.

One other aspect which plays beautifully in the film is how it actually downplays the book's rather obvious allusions to the legend of Perseus. Donoghue makes use of an evocative epigraph of Simonides's (c. 556-468 BCE) poem "Lamentation of Danaë" which does help set the overall tone:
My child
Such trouble I have
And you sleep, your heart is placid;
you dream in the joyless wood;
in the night nailed in bronze,
in the blue dark you lie still and shine.
Alas, perhaps it sets the tone too well.

It's difficult to read Donoghue's book without thinking heavily about the woman in the Simonides poem being both confined to a tiny space and unmoored upon unfamiliar waters, and, of course, Jack's brave actions during a harrowing escape sequence wherein, like Perseus, he essentially slays the gorgon Medusa - or rather, is responsible for the undoing of Old Nick. (In spite of the character's inherent evil, Abrahamson manages to do a great job of extracting a great performance from Bridgers which, in turn, adds a layer of humanity that far exceeds that of the book.)

Luckily for most audiences, the film subtly mutes Simonides. It's there if we want it, but I trust most eggheads will repress its use in the book once seeing the movie. And speaking of repression, one of the most moving aspects of the film is how Ma represses her pain rather than facing it. This is in direct contrast to her son Jack, whom she's sheltered from as much pain as possible so that he can hoover up every aspect of the great wide world. Ma's sacrifices and both Jack's support for his mother and his unyielding quest for knowledge are guaranteed to extract copious tears from even the most blinkered eyes.

Room is deeply moving, thanks to its evocative source material, an odd, but effective screenplay adaption by the novel's original author, to-die-for performances (especially Brie Larson as Ma) and Lenny Abrahamson's delicate direction. He's the real thing and then some. I suspect we're going to see many genuine masterpieces from Lenny Abrahamson over the next decade (or two, or three, or four, etc.).

Well, here's hoping, anyway.

Room is a Special Presentation at TIFF 2014 and is the lucky recipient of thr Grolsch People's Choice Award, and as such, will screen for free.

Friday 21 August 2015

SINISTER 2 - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Real Filmmaker secured to direct sequel to horror hit. The results? A terrific horror thriller that tops its predecessor.

Sinister 2 (2015)
Dir. Ciarán Foy
Scr. Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Starring: Shannyn Sossamon, James Ransome, Robert Sloan, Dartanian Sloan,
Tate Ellington, John Beasley, Lea Coco, Nick King, Lucas Jade Zumann,
Jaden Klein, Laila Haley, Caden Marshall Fritz, Olivia Rainey

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Trinity and sprockets are before us.

The whirring and clicking of an old projector accompanies the jerky, garishly-coloured images from an old 8mm home movie. As always with layman-captured images from the past, there's something alternately beautiful and creepy about them. These, however, get mighty creepy, mighty fast. This is no ordinary family highlight reel.

Splayed before us is a skull-shaped crop circle in the middle of an Illinois cornfield. Its centrepiece is a disturbingly aberrant midwestern Golgotha with three people bound to crosses: a contemporary Jesus, Dysmas and Gesmas hung like scarecrows against the black of night, the eerie scene lit by the headlights of a half-ton, the victims' heads hooded and twitching in terror with shrieks, wails, cries and moans, all begging for mercy. The first crucified figure is doused in gasoline and set on fire as he screams, howling in agony as he burns to death.

These visions are thankfully ripped away from our purview as the frail Dylan Collins (Robert Sloan) bolts upright from under his covers. To those who've never seen 2012's Sinister, you've just witnessed a nightmare. To the rest of us, we know immediately that we've been slammed face-first into the horrific netherworld of the demented, serial-killing demon Bughuul (Nick King) and thanks to a drawer-filling shock cut, he even puts in a brief appearance in the lad's bed.

How's about them All Hallows Eve Apples?

Happily, Scott Derrickson (director-writer of Sinister 1) and co-scribe C. Robert Cargill skilfully use this and the next two sequences to set-up our characters and situation so the film efficiently and effectively introduces the Sinister-world, by doing double-duty for both the initiated and uninitiated to dive into the macabre universe of Sinister 2.

A gorgeous cut leads us to a pair of boots as they leave the front passenger door of a truck and firmly rest upon the sidewalk above the curb, the owner's hands meticulously and firmly retying the laces. The composition of the shot is imbued with malevolent qualities and we briefly think this might be a killer preparing to mosey on into a kill.

No such luck on that front, but more creepiness follows as we see that "boot-man" is none other than the unnamed friendly deputy (James Ransome) from Sinister. A regal middle-American church towers behind him. Once inside the Lord's House, he finds himself within a confession booth, facing a Priest (John Beasley) who catches on that the fella isn't Catholic, nor wanting to really make a formal spewing of his sins. The Priest immediately recognizes the man as the Deputy from the "Oswalt case" which, cleverly and simply allows the audiences to get some subtle expositional backstory as well as informing us that the events the Priest refers to are of a sensational nature that must surely have made national headlines.

What the Deputy needs is some manner of assistance in the area of dealing with something both evil and supernatural. "You want me to tell you to use a cross, some Holy Water and say, 'The Power of Christ compels you?' the cynical Priest offers. "Will it work?" asks our Deputy. "No!" affirms the Priest. The acting, timing and humour here make us realize this is no run-of-the-mill horror sequel. Following up seriously the Priest urges the Deputy to give up his pursuits, but he does indeed offer an excellent note:

"You don't stop evil, you can only protect yourself from it."

Another astonishing cut, wherein the sound begins slightly over the shot leading into the next one, features the clicking, squealing sounds of what appears to be the creaky old projector from the beginning, and in fact, it takes a few seconds to realize what we're actually seeing. It is the wheels of a shopping cart in a supermarket being pushed by Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon), a babe-o-licious yummy mommy alternately shopping for groceries and trying to keep her eyes on a mysterious guy who seems to be following both herself and her two rambunctious boys Dylan (the young lad from the opening scene) and older brother Zach (Dartanian Sloan).

Courtney's instincts are right and she manages to get her kids out of harm's way by blasting out of the store, into their car and out of the parking lot, leaving the mysterious follower behind. Courtney has been on the run from her abusive, rich, powerful husband Clint (Lea Coco) who has been sending all the private dicks money can buy to track her down. He might have found the area of Illinois they're in, but luckily, she and the boys are holed up in a property her friend owns that's located deep off an old country road - a creaky ancient farmhouse attached to a long-abandoned chapel. Because Courtney specializes in restoring antiques, the joint is full of furniture she can work on while the kids have the time of their lives.

Unbeknownst to them, the trio is living on the unhallowed ground occupied by the chilling, supernatural Bughuul. His specialty is attacking families through one vulnerable child in the family unit. This is what befell the Oswalt family (headed up in the first film by Ethan Hawke) and it's on the verge of happening here. The Deputy (who is no longer with the cops) is obsessed with using a grid he's put together of where Bughuul will strike next and he shows up on the old homestead to burn it down (as has been his wont in battling the ancient evil). Surprised a family is living there, his plans go awry. Now, he must, as the Priest cautioned "protect" this family "from evil".

This is going to prove a tad challenging since young Dylan has befriended some really creepy kids who keep luring him into the basement to watch 8mm snuff films in which each of the kids are seen to kill everyone in their respective families. The mass murders are carried out with the help of Bughuul. Once the dirty deeds are done and committed to film, he claims the soul of the survivor to become part of his army of procurers. Though he looks horrendous in every respect, the demon scores points for his mega-taste in arcane modes of creating art through which his evil is funnelled - ham radios, 78rpm phonographs and now, 8mm film. (It's like the long-forgotten technologies to create art in olden times is what makes him a kind of Guy Maddin-like surrogate for a demon serial killer. Gotta love that!)

It becomes very clear that Sinister 2 is not only well-written, but seems tailor-made for a director with a number of thematic and storytelling arcs which allow him to use his unique approach to filmmaking to raise a horror franchise sequel well above its normal station.

Keep in mind my penchant for knowing as little about movies before I see them. All I knew going in was that I'd be seeing a sequel to a horror picture I genuinely enjoyed. As the key creative credits were not display until the end, I had no idea who directed the picture. Something seemed familiar, but only at the bitter end of the its unspooling did I slap my forehead and proclaim, "Of course!"

You see, Sinister 2 carefully parcels out the scares and delicious gore within a story which places emphasis upon the tribulations of a single mother, the very real horror of an abusive husband stalking her, the loneliness and fear a young boy is fraught with due to his lifetime of being beaten by a scum bucket Dad, the genuine sibling rivalries which occur normally in life but are exacerbated by demonic forces and last, but not least, the potential for love and healing between both Courtney and The Deputy, and maybe, just maybe, the creation of a loving nuclear family.

This was a film that moved, tantalized and finally, scared the living shit out of me. Upon discovering that it had been directed by the supremely gifted Ciarán Foy, whose first feature Citadel was one of the most exciting debuts I'd seen in years, I was both floored and delighted. Foy has a great eye, sensitivity-galore, an unabashed familiarity of using personal life-experience to bolster fantasy and the kind of showmanship and genre smarts to generate terrific horror pictures. He's going to make some genuine classics and masterpieces. Citadel is pretty much in that territory. Sinister 2 delivers a first-rate sequel to a very decent horror movie, but does so by upping the ante in all respects so that it outdistances its predecessor by leaps and bounds.

He's the real thing, but it's also proof that contemporary Hollywood should seek out genuine filmmakers and artists (as they have here) instead of the usual assortment of hacks they normally dredge-up these days. It's a winner all the way and I can hardly wait to discover Foy's next film.


To read my previous (and extensive) writing on Foy's work, click HERE (in-depth analysis of Citadel, HERE (an in-depth interview) and HERE (original review during its Toronto After Dark Film Festival run).

Sinister 2 is a Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures theatrical release.

Thursday 20 August 2015

BANG BANG BABY, THE AMINA PROFILE, VENDETTA - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - Canucks make cool movies y'all can see this week and I be tellin' you why y'all should see them

3 Canucks Make Cool Movies 2 C now!


Bang Bang Baby
Dir. Jeffrey St. Jules
Starring: Jane Levy, Justin Chatwin, Peter Stormare, David Reale

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Bang Bang Baby is easily one of the strangest movie musical romantic comedies ever made. Of course, it's Canadian. No surprise here, given that le pays de castor, l'orignal et le sirop d'érable, has already generated filmmakers like John Paizs, Guy Maddin and David Cronenberg.

Set in some perversely accurate 50s-60s studio musical version of rural Canada (basically, anywhere above the 49th that isn't Toronto), this is one lively, imaginatively-directed bonbon of a picture, if you, that is, think of yummy candies as multi-coloured Haribo gummies meeting Monty Python's "Whizzo Quality Assortment" featuring delectable sweet-meat comestibles described by company owner and everyone's favourite sweetie purveyor Mr. Milton (looking not surprisingly like Terry Jones) as "Spring Surprise", in which steel bolts spring out from the chocky to "plunge straight through both cheeks" or "Crunchy Frog, the finest baby frogs, dew picked and flown from Iraq, cleansed in finest quality spring water, lightly killed, and then sealed in a succulent Swiss quintuple smooth treble cream milk chocolate envelope" and, lest we forget the chocky featuring "fresh Cornish Ram's bladder" that's been "emptied, steamed, flavoured with sesame seeds whipped into a fondue and garnished with lark's vomit.

Yes, the bonbon is that tasty.

Indeed Bang Bang Baby, in the parlance of "high concept" (Canuck-style, 'natch), is a kind of cross twixt Mario Lanza-Elvis Preseley-Gidget-Tammy-with-dashes-of-David Byrne's True Stories with a few generous dollops of Orgy of the Blood Parasites (an early title of Cronenberg's Shivers).

Lonely Arms, a magical, mythical town in a Canada we no longer know (but desperately want to) is the sleepy-time Canuck home of high-school senior and car mechanic Steffy (the drop-dead gorgeous Canuckian Kitten-with-a-whip, Jane Levy), who lives with her bitter, alcoholic former musician Dad (Peter Stormare, the man who shoved Steve Buscemi into a wood chipper in Fargo).

Steffy has the voice of an angel (as does actress Levy) and her dream is to enter an American "Ingenue of the Year" Contest. When she's selected as a finalist, Dad fears her virtue will be at stake and he unfairly (but well-meaningly) scuttles her shot at stardom. Our gal resigns herself to a life of provincial Canadian mediocrity, pumping gas for her tender-loving-lying-in-puddles-of-his-own-vomit Dad, grudgingly heading off to a school dance and drunkenly going against her otherwise good judgement and eventually accompanying a creepy rich boy (David Reale, proving again why he's one of Canada's best and funniest character actors) for a late-night drive to his family's forbidding factory on the outskirts of town. A mysterious purple-fogged chemical leak leaves poor Steffy alone on a dark country road.

Out of the mist, appears, the Elvis-like American superstar Bobby Shore (Justin Chatwin) whose car has broken down after missing a turn to Omaha and ending up in Canada. (Our American neighbours are not always too bright.) Not only is she the lad's biggest fan, but she can fix his car.

Once she starts belting out her show-stopping tunes, it doesn't take Bobby too long to realize that she's quite the catch. Crooning and dancing against a plethora of gorgeously fake old-movie-studio-style backdrops, our made-for-each-other couple look like they're going to find happiness and live happily ever after.

However, I hope you haven't forgotten the aforementioned chemical leak from the factory. If you think this movie is weird, I can assure you, in the words of Al Jolson, "You ain't seen nothing yet!"

Without spoiling the rest of the picture for you, I will only say this: icky parasites begin to grown within the bodies of the citizenry of Lonely Arms.

And they are mutating.

Oops, mutants on the way.

Bang Bang Baby won last year's Best Canadian First Feature Film Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2014). Clearly the Awards Jury were swept away by director St. Jules's cornucopia of imagination. And yes, said mad vision runs gloriously rampant through the picture.

Still, its period and post-modern details only partially work. Many of the film's oddball touches are stunning, but an equal number of them feel forced and even occasionally anachronistic in many of the wrong ways. The usually reliable Stormare feels like he's sleepwalking through his role (looking aimlessly for the punch-clock and pay cheque) and though Chatwin makes for a decent romantic lead, I was a bit thrown off by his look, especially the Elsa Lanchester Bride of Frankenstein-like hairdo.

The film's inherent silliness is always a treat, though, and wisely, St. Jules never plunges into the kind of over-the-top that might have been swathed in globs of horrendous whimsy. Besides, leading lady Levy delivers a knock 'em dead performance and the genuinely great song-score has the kind of hum-ability to annoy you in all the right ways - as in, you can't get the bloody tunes out of your noggin, especially the title number.

Oh, and there are mutants. As a Canadian, I accept this.

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

Bang Bang Baby is a Search Engine Films release that plays from August 21 at Toronto's Varsity, Vancouver's Fifth Avenue and Montreal's Forum, with expanded release in other Canadian cities to follow.

*NOTE* In an earlier version of this article, I reported how shocked I was that Bang Bang Baby won the Best Canadian Feature Film prize over Albert Shin's In Her Place. This was a huge error as BBB was the recipient of the Best First Feature Film Prize, which makes total sense. (Shin's film is not a first feature.) I had successfully managed to repress all knowledge of the ever-so-slight Felix and Meira which did win the overall best feature prize. Pardon the brain fart, but I do tend to shuttle some films deep into a dark closet - not because they're bad, but because they're so egregiously unmemorable.


The Amina Profile (2015)
Dir. Sophie Deraspe

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Set against the turbulent backdrop of war-and-revolution in contemporary Syria we meet Sandra Bagaria, one hot French-Canadian babe in Montreal and Amina Arraf, one hot Syrian-American babe in Damascus. They meet online. They're young. They're in love. They're lesbians. Okay. That's it. Go see the movie.

READ THE FULL REVIEW of The Amina Profile from Hot Docs 2015 HERE


The Amina Profile is a Les Films du 3 mars presentation opening theatrically August 21, 2015 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. For dates, times and fix, visit the cinema's website HERE


Vendetta (2015)
Dir. Jen and Sylvia Soska
Scr. Justin Shady
Starring: Dean Cain, Paul "The Big Show" Wight, Michael Eklund, Kyra Zagorsky

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Let's get to the meat of the matter in this kick-ass prison picture by everyone's favourite Beautiful and Talented Hungarian-Canadian twins in Beautiful British Columbia - the action and violence. The Soska Sisters (American Mary) do not disappoint in this regard. Their direction goes far beyond just covering the thwacks, whacks, kicks, testicle-twisting and gore in a perfunctory manner, nor do they resort to the usual wham-bam with no sense of spatiality. I was delighted that they placed a fair degree of faith in actors who could clearly fight, some superb stunt choreography/coordination and a few occasional frissons like the makeshift "brass" knuckles Danvers creates and uses with sweet abandon.

As a side note, it is incumbent of me to point out that the one prison movie cliche sadly missing from Vendetta are a few instances of forcible sodomy and blow jobs. Most disappointing. What gives? Even a dull, inexplicably beloved piece of crap like The Shawshank Redemption had a decent anal rape scene.

But, I digress.



Vendetta is now available on BLU-RAY via Lions Gate.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

THE FRONT PAGE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Great Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray of 1931 Classic

The Front Page (1931)
Dir. Lewis Milestone
Starring: Adolphe Menjou, Pat O'Brien, Mary Brian, Mae Clark, Frank McHugh,
Edward Everett Horton, Slim Summerville, Clarence Wilson, George E. Stone,
Frank McHugh, Maurice Black, Clarence H. Wilson, Gustav von Seyffertitz

Review By Greg Klymkiw
Bro-o-o-omance, nothing really gay about it
Not, that there's anything wrong with being gay
Bromance ,
Shouldn't be ashamed or hide it
I love you in the most heterosexual way.
- Chester See & Ryan Higa
Everyone knows and loves the Howard Hawks-directed screwball romantic comedy His Girl Friday, a great picture about shady Chicago editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) and his attempts to keep his best reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) from getting married and leaving the newspaper business, especially when a big story is breaking; the hanging of a convicted murderer who claims innocence, escapes and hides in the courthouse press room. Of course, Walter loves Hildy and deep down she loves him too. If anything, Walter's real modus operandi is to scuttle the marriage of Hildy to her straight-laced fiancé played by Ralph Bellamy.

How many of you are familiar with The Front Page? Based on the hit play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and directed by Lewis (All Quiet on the Western Front) Milestone, it's a great picture about shady Chicago editor Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou) and his attempts to keep his best reporter Hildy Johnson (Pat O'Brien) from getting married and leaving the newspaper business, especially when a big story is breaking; the hanging of a convicted murderer who claims innocence, escapes and hides in the courthouse press room. Walter loves Hildy and deep down he loves him too. If anything, Walter's real modus operandi is to scuttle the marriage of Hildy to his straight-laced fiancé played by Mary Brian.

Even though The Front Page falls within the relaxed pre-Code days and all manner of not-so-subtle homoeroticism could have crept into the film, this is never the intent (well, not mostly). The Front Page might well be the first BRO-mance in American cinema. Walter and Hildy have no intention of sucking face or slamming their respective schwances up each other's Hershey Highways (though if given half the chance, they might).

They love each other, like men - REAL MEN! And not to disparage homoeroticism at all, but to describe Walter and Hildy's love, allow me to present a few more lyrics from the See/Higa song:
If I loved you more I might be a gay
And when I'm feeling down
You know just what to say
You my homie,
Yeah you know me
And if you ever need a wingman
I'd let any girl blow me off
Cuz you're more important than the rest
Milestone's film, produced by Howard Hughes, fell into public domain and has been duped and duped from dupes from dupes and then from other dupes so many times over the years, that inferior copies have had a clear effect upon making the picture seem creaky and vaguely unwatchable.

Not anymore. With this restoration we can now delight in what really makes this picture tick. And boy, does it tick. Like a time bomb and then some.

In the play, all of the action takes place in the courthouse press room. Director Milestone and screenwriters Bartlett Cormack and Charles Lederer (the latter being the scenarist responsible for His Girl Friday) stay relatively true to the play, but occasionally open things up, but only in the most naturalistic manner. The dialogue blasts a few million miles per second and the milieu is appropriately grungy, replete with plenty of garbage strewn about and clouds of cigarette smoke.

The cast is full of terrific character actor mugs, wrapping their lips around the sharp-edged lines with all the snap, crackle and pop money could by. These men are inveterate bad husbands, gamblers, drunks, lice of the highest order, BUT they are great journalists, laying in wait for the kill like a pack of hyenas.

Milestone's camera brilliantly captures the claustrophobic atmosphere of the setting without choking us on theatrical sawdust. His camera moves deftly and fluidly, but when he needs to, he lets it sit to let the great dialogue do the talking - knowing full well that there's nothing more cinematic than scintillating banter. On stage, the importance of the telephones connected to the reporters' various outlets could not be stressed enough, but with Milestone's direction, it's not only paramount, but his coverage of moments when the men all grab the phones has the rat-a-tat-tat power of a machine gun.

Pat O'Brien, who spent most of his career as a happy go lucky Irishman and/or priest, gets a rare opportunity here to indulge in his manner-than-manly qualities as Hildy. The dapper Adolphe Menjou is easily matched with Cary Grant's eventual shot at the role of the scurrilous newspaper editor Walter Burns. A supporting standout is the persnickety Edward Everett Horton as the fey reporter with a cleanliness fixation. Mary Brian acquits herself beautifully as O'Brien's lady in love and Mae Clark (known as the Baron's wife in James Whale's Frankenstein and as the moll whom Chaney pulverizes in the face with a grapefruit in The Public Enemy delivers one of the film's best performances as Molly Malloy, the hapless hooker with a heart of gold who desperately attempts to protect the innocent killer. She's so moving, it's hard not to get choked up over her selflessness and kindness.

Where The Front Page really crackles is its deeply black humour and satirical jabs at the entire business of both the media and politics. One hilariously nasty scene has reporter Frank McHugh questioning a woman victimized by a Peeping Tom while all the other guys in the press room bellow out catcalls and lewd, rude remarks. Another scene has a boneheaded Austrian psychiatrist (a great little cameo by Gustav von Seyffertitz) ordered to do a final examination of the falsely convicted killer. He wants the killer to recreate his crime and moronically requests the sheriff's gun (who even more moronically gives it up) and then hands the loaded pistol to the condemned man who, partially in fear and partially under hypnosis, fills the court-appointed psychiatrist full of lead. Even more hilarious is when Walter gets his hired thug Diamond Lou (a deliciously sleazy Maurice Black) kidnap Hildy's future mother-in-law to keep her trap shut when she discovers the secret behind the big scoop the boys are onto.

Bitingly funny and oddly prescient is the fact that the poor condemned man is being railroaded by the Mayor and Sheriff to garner the African-American vote since the murder victim was one of Chicago's very few Black police officers. Neither clearly cares about any of this, save for getting re-elected. To see a film 85 years old, a comedy no less, dealing with such charged political material makes one realize just how bad and empty most comedies are today.

Dark political humour aside, The Front Page, like its gender-switching remake His Girl Friday IS about love: love for the newspaper business, love for the company of other men and most of all, love between Walter and Hildy. Don't get me wrong, The Front Page allows us, like the cake we can have and eat it too, male-female romance in addition to the aforementioned manly BRO-mantic hijinx. I have to admit, though, that the machinations of Walter Burns to keep Hildy Johnson in the business, as well as a remarkable scene where the two men begin to reminisce about all their adventures together, IS downright warm, funny AND romantic.

For those who know and love His Girl Friday, The Front Page makes a lovely companion piece. You might even learn to love it just as much. If you don't know either, watch Milestone's film first, then Hawks', then cherish both forever.


The Front Page is available on a gorgeous Blu-Ray from Kino-Lorber. The picture and sound have never looked this good, however, the source material will eventually require an insanely meticulous, frame-by-frame going-over to remove over 85 years of wear and tear. The extras are simple, but such a thing of beauty, that this is probably one of the outstanding Blu-Ray home entertainment releases of the year. In addition to the inclusion of promo materials, two original radio broadcasts (one starring Walter Winchell) and a great little documentary about the Library of Congress film restoration program, this release features one of the best commentary tracks I've heard in years for any classic motion picture. Filmmaker, historian and home entertainment producer Bret Wood delivers a track that's entirely free of the usual crap on these things: no stupid anecdotal stuff, tons of great info about the film that even I didn't know before (and that takes some doing) and I thoroughly appreciated the variety of sources he uses (including whether they're corroborated or not). Wood's track is not only superbly researched, but his delivery is also terrific: clear, enthusiastic, but without sounding like a fanboy and NOT (thank God) sounding dry and academic. This is a stellar Blu-Ray that's well worth owning. It's a keeper!!!