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BANG BANG BABY
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
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 FILM CORNER RATING: **** Four Stars
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
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.
READ THE FULL REVIEW of Vendetta HERE
THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½
Vendetta is now available on BLU-RAY via Lions Gate.