Thursday, 22 September 2016

LOVING - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Bland TV-movie approach deflates history

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as interracial Loving couple.
Loving (2016)
Dir. Jeff Nichols
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, Michael Shannon

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga) deserves better than an earnest, plodding, vaguely pretentious made-for-television-styled movie like Loving. Thankfully Nancy Buirski's fine 2011 HBO feature documentary The Loving Story, upon which this dramatic rendering by Jeff Nichols is based, has already delivered the cinematic goods this important story deserves.

Alas, the legal case involving an interracial marriage which challenged the grotesque anti-miscegenation laws of the backward State of Virginia is dramatically rendered here with all the artistic panache of a connect-the-dots colouring book puzzle. The promise writer-director Jeff Nichols displayed in his 2007 Arkansas-cracker family feud drama Shotgun Stories and the extraordinary 2011 survivalism end-of-days psycho-drama Take Shelter has subsequently and sadly dwindled.

Like so many laws of diminishing returns, his output increasingly underwhelms. His Dullsville 2012 contemporary Huckleberry Finn-like Mud and this year's ludicrous science fiction drama Midnight Special maintained his quiet, measured voice, but served up stories unbecoming of his earlier work.

Loving is the worst of the lot. He retains his voice almost to a fault, but does so within the trappings of something that might be more suited to an episode of the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Marton Czokas as scumbag racist Virginia cop.
Nichols's film introduces us to working-class Caucasian drag-racing aficianado Richard Loving who, with longtime African-American girlfriend Mildred, decides to flout the moronic Virginia law against interracial relations. They visit Washington D.C. to get married in a civil union after they discover she's pregnant with their first child. Upon returning, their home is raided by cracker-barrel cops led by the systemically, virulently racist Sheriff R. Garnett Brooks (Marton Czokas). Rather than face a year in prison, the couple cop a plea and agree to leaving their home in Caroline County, Virginia and promise never to return to the state together.

Life in the big city proves untenable and the couple "illegally" returns home to the rural idyll they've known their entire lives. They're subsequently arrested and the film continues to detail their long legal battle (with the assistance of dogged ACLU lawyers) to have the Virginia law eventually overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States.

There's nothing especially wrong with the film in that it's nicely acted and extremely competent on a craft level, but there's nothing all too right with it either. The "competence" factor is especially egregious and renders a movie that feels like it's been made rather inconsequentially for the small screen rather than the ordinarily high stakes needed for big screen theatrical product. There's nothing wrong with a quiet, subtle approach, but it's employed here to the point where our emotional investment is ultimately more rooted in the basic facts of the case rather than anything imparted dramatically.

Nichols probably thought he was being oh-so clever by focusing upon the "normal" and "mundane" details of the couple's life, but he tries to have his cake and eat it to by framing his approach within an otherwise conventional, by-rote structure.

For one of the most important events in American History to be handled with competence and precious pretence, inadvertently deflates the whole thing. If the movie was dreadful, one could at least say it was shameful. That it's strictly middle of the road is even worse. It's just one big pile of nothing.


Loving was a TIFF 2016 Gala Presentation.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

OLD STONE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - To be good, to be honest . . . to a fault.

Is there any actor alive who looks cooler than
Chen Gang when he's got a cigarette dangling from his lips?

Old Stone (2016)
Dir. Johnny Ma
Starring: Chen Gang

Review by Greg Klymkiw

In China, it is better to let someone die in the street. If you try to help someone, to save the person's life, Chinese law places the responsibility and burden upon you - you become little more than criminalized and in fact, become a victim; a victim, that is, if you let the system screw you over.

In Johnny Ma's extraordinary first feature film Old Stone, Lao Shi (Chen Gang) is a cab driver who accidentally hits a motorcyclist in the street and soon realizes he should not have bothered to stop and most certainly not bothered to help. Because of China's idiotic laws, his life becomes a nightmare: his job is in jeopardy, his finances are drained and his family, by extension, are placed in peril, financially and emotionally.

Even when Chen Gang does not have a smoke
dangling from his lips, he is still the coolest,
no matter what or how he is smoking a cigarette.

Still, it's not just the laws and bureaucracy that contribute to Lao Shi's woes. His need to help escalates to such obsessive degrees that he stands to lose much more than money. One begins to question his mental well-being as he madly, zealously and single-mindedly cares for the accident victim, who lies, deeply comatose in a hospital bed. The over-caring cabbie even begins to investigate the man's life and those who are closest to him.

Lao Shi's sense of responsibility becomes a flaw, a potentially fatal flaw (in more ways than in just the literary sense). Writer-Director Johnny Ma weaves a compulsive tale of a man caught up in a ludicrous bureaucracy which not only mounts, but does so well beyond the usual "through no fault of his own".

The film is framed via flashbacks and flash-forwards which eventually catch up to the central narrative. At first they involve the accident itself, but also several mysterious sequences wherein Lao Shi is following/stalking the motorcycle rider once the "victim" comes out of his coma and is released from hospital.

The movie is engorged with suspense and induces considerable anxiety in the viewer. That it slowly mounts to a chilling series of events which inspires a kind of horror and revulsion in us, not only speaks to the power of the picture, but Johnny Ma as a filmmaker with talent to burn.

One of the things I questioned in terms of the film's structure was the framing device that eventually meets up with the central narrative. I can't actually quarrel with its effectiveness, but at certain points while watching the movie and certainly in retrospect, I kept trying to imagine a movie that stripped this away and presented the whole thing in a straight-up linear fashion. Given the nature of the story and character, my feeling is that "straight-up" might actually have proven to be a lot more "unexpected" than its filmmaker might have imagined (if, in fact, the notion of a more linear approach was even considered, at either the script level or in the cutting room).

This, however, is not a quibble - not even a minor one - it's simply a question; one that only a genuinely intelligent and sophisticated work can inspire.

Even though Chen Gang is not smoking a cigarette
in this shot, we will not hold it against him and proclaim:
Chen Gang is ALWAYS cool!!!

One of the odd feelings the movie instills is sheer frustration - at first with the external forces affecting Lao Shi, but eventually with Lao Shi himself. You keep wanting to slap the guy on the side of the head and yell, "Jesus Christ, dude! Knock it off. Stop caring! Stop allowing yourself to be forcibly face-fucked! Stop obsessing! START being an uncaring prick and move on!"

Of course, if he did any of those things there wouldn't be much of a movie.

What keeps our eyeballs, hearts and minds glued to the screen is the exceptional performance of Chen Gang. He infuses the role with so much humanity, doing so to the point in which we're feeling frustration and anger because he makes us care about Lao Shi so goddamn much. Gang also has charisma to burn. The camera absolutely loves him. I have no idea why this guy isn't a huge star. As far as I can tell, he's only been in one previous feature film (though he's apparently prolific in Chinese TV).

This guy's the real thing. I'd watch him reciting the telephone book.

Plus man-oh-man, he looks so cool smoking cigarettes. This is not an easy thing for anyone to do these days and frankly, any actor who looks as cool as Chen Gang does when he sucks back on cancer sticks, absolutely deserves stardom.


Old Stone is a Zeitgeist Films release playing in the TIFF 2016 Discovery program.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Solid Kurosawa/Sturges Remake

Seven new samurai with six-shooters!!!
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
Dir. Antoine Fuqua
Scr. Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke,
Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo,
Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Akira Kurosawa's epic 1954 Seven Samurai weaves the stirring tale of a group of ronin defending a town of simple folk in 14th Century Japan from hordes of bandits. It is indeed a classic, a masterpiece and quite easily one of the greatest action movies of all time. When John Sturges remade the picture as a western in 1960 with Yul Brynner taking the role originally played by Toshiro Mifune, he didn't quite craft anything in the tour de force department, but he gave us an oater that's as iconic of the old west as it is a rip-snorter.

Antoine Fuqua's 2016 remake might not match the Sturges picture, but it's still a solid, kick-ass western and in its own way gains a bit on the delivery front by peppering us with an almost ludicrous body count, all very efficiently directed by the skillful Training Day helmer.

A bit of Lee-Byung-hun goes a long way.
Denzel Washington takes the sword/reins from Mifune and Brynner, acquitting himself ably as the bounty hunter who recruits a perfect cocktail of miscreants to rescue a small town from an evil land baron (delectably played by he of the perpetual sneer, Peter Sarsgaard). The fine all-star cast includes such robust recognizable talents as Chris Pratt (the smart-ass), Ethan Hawke (the sharpshooter) and Vincent D'Onofrio (the burly munitions expert), adds a nice bit of Asian martial arts/blade play from Lee Byung-hun and some very welcome guns-a-blazing from the babe-o-licious Haley Bennett. (If there's anything more boner-or-wet-crotch-inducing than babes with guns, I have yet to discover what that might be.)

A babe with a gun.
A babe hell-bent on vengeance.
Always win-win.
Speaking of boners and wet crotches, when Haley Bennet says, "I seek righteousness, but I'll take revenge," I cannot imagine anyone in the audience, neither boys nor girls, feeling anything less than glorious gooseflesh. It's to the credit of screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk that some lovely revenge backstories come to the fore to provide added oomph, not just for the comely Bennett, but Washington's character also - he's got himself a humdinger of reason to wreak havoc.

Fuqua and his team definitely go the distance with the humdinger screenplay and serve up several truly spectacular action set pieces, not the least of which feature horses and their riders thundering across the plains of a big old American west.

There's really nothing new under the sun here, but goddamn, it's a lot of fun.


The Magnificent Seven was a Gala Presentation at TIFF 2016 and will be released wide by Paramount Pictures.

Monday, 19 September 2016

ARRIVAL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Dreary SF designed to make us, ugh, THINK!

Hi there! My name is Amy Adams!
I am ubiquitous. And dour.
Arrival (2016)
Dir. Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Oh, how poor Amy Adams, the Ubiquitous Amy Adams at that, suffers and suffers and suffers. As if her dour turn as the interminably grim raped-murdered-spurned-whatever failed art gallery owner in the abominable Nocturnal Animals wasn't enough, she now finds herself humourlessly sleepwalking through this dull New-Agey science fiction tripe in which her flashbacks of raising a daughter who eventually dies turn out to be flash forwards to the future, inspired by a whack of aliens who come to Earth on a mysterious peace mission.

And if you can believe that, I'm sure you will believe, like Uncle Jed in The Beverly Hillbillies, that you too can be sold the Brooklyn Bridge.

Arrival is awful, of course and we've seen it before. It was called Interstellar. Or was it called Contact? You know: weepy, humourless science fiction movies dabbling in the world of time, space, wormholes, etc. in order to make us Think (with a capital "T", 'natch) about our place in the universe.

Not that there aren't good, if not great movies that do this: Tarkovsky's Solaris, Chris Marker's La Jetée and Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth spring immediately to mind. What separates these fine pictures from the aforementioned dross, is that none of them provide easy answers, nor are they obviously designed to please - at least not in the most dull, predictable touchy-feely fashion that infects the ubiquitous Amy Adams Made-for-TV-movie (and its ilk) like a virulent cancer.

One day this couple will spawn a doomed daughter.
It's no wonder they're so sad. So too, are we.
What we're saddled with in Arrival involves Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist enlisted by military man Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to communicate with aliens who have landed their spaceships (floating fat dildos) all over the world. The aliens appear to have come in peace, but mankind, being ever-so selfish and stupid, can't get their act together on whether to attack the aliens (thus ensuring world wide destruction) or to just give peace a chance and try to understand their otherworldly visitors. Louise is paired-up with an equally dour (and stiff-jawed) Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a physicist of considerable repute.

The two of them race against time to crack the language of the aliens before all Hell explodes. Not only do we get the aforementioned flashbacks that are really flash forwards of Louise's doomed daughter, but we also realize that she and Ian will become the hubby and wife to said doomed daughter. Add to this mix a ludicrous subplot involving Louise imparting the private dying words of a world leader's wife to him and within no time, the Earth is saved, as are the Aliens. Louise and Ian aren't so lucky. They get to live their lives knowing that they'll give birth to a little girl who is doomed to die a horrible death from an incurable ('natch) disease.

How many vats of lube does it take to insert alien dildos?
The whole thing is not only sickening, but within the first half-hour, we know everything. The movie is that predictably stupid. That it's dull adds insult to injury.

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

Arrival was a TIFF 2016 Gala Presentation.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

WEREWOLF - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - The Dardenne Brothers in Cape Breton?

Werewolf (2016)
Dir. Ashley McKenzie
Starring: Bhreagh MacNeil, Andrew Gillis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Films about homeless, drug-addicted, at-risk youth have joined the dime-a-dozen club (especially) in recent years, so it takes the work of a genuine artist to raise this kind of material to stratospheric heights.

Such is the case with director Ashley McKenzie’s Werewolf.

That there seem to be no false notes in this portrait of life on the mean streets of New Waterford, Nova Scotia (shot on Cape Breton Island) is nothing short of a miracle.

That the world of methadone clinics, greasy spoons and gravel roads do indeed pulse with the sort of sentience and eye for detail one would expect from a filmmaker who'd achieved master status decades ago would not come as a surprise at all, but that it is a first feature adds to the feeling of being completely T-Boned.

That this sad, sorrowful tale is told with such economy should make poseurs (and anyone who admires said poseurs) like Andrea Arnold (who this year delivered American Honey, the dour, all-over-the-map kitchen sink she calls a movie) be ashamed.

That the film's style offers up a brilliant new approach to visualizing narrative gives me hope that cinema is not dead.

A young woman (Bhreagh MacNeil) seeks to escape a life of homelessness and drug dependency as the young man (Andrew Gillis) who loves her spirals ever downward as she ascends. In many ways, it's an old story, but writer-director McKenzie makes it fresh, vital and important.

Gorgeously, bravely photographed and edited, there are moments when you feel, sometimes quite literally, that the breath is being ripped right out of you. Yes, the strokes dazzle, but they're not overdone, nor are they self-conscious - they are, in fact, rooted in both character and narrative and as such, serve to deliver both emotional wallops and the kind of forward movement most directors can only dream about.

Werewolf is rife with the kind of neo-realist touches one expects, nay - DEMANDS, from the likes of the Brothers Dardenne and McKenzie creates a perfect atmosphere for her talented leads to deliver performances that are gob-smackingly heart-breaking.

Finally though, using Neo-realism as a springboard, McKenzie's wholly original mise-en-scene ultimately rules the day. Placing emphasis on single (and often strange) visual details in every scene is what forces certain mundane realities to eventually take on earth-shattering resonance. This results in something very extraordinary - we see ourselves and those we know in a world most of us can only imagine, and this is a testament to the filmmaker's consummate artistry.


Werewolf is in the TIFF 2016 Discovery program.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

BLAIR WITCH - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Decent sequel to 1999 original

Blair Witch (2016)
Dir. Adam Wingard
Scr. Simon Barrett
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott,
Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Having directed a couple of solid low budget genre films like You're Next and The Guest, Adam Wingard (with longtime screenwriter partner Simon Barrett) continues in this tradition with this very decent direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project. When I first saw the original found footage film by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez in 1999, all I allowed myself to know about it is that, given the title, it would be some kind of horror film about a witch. I was also aware it had a huge buzz from its Sundance film festival screening and that there was a huge internet campaign behind it. That's it. That's all I knew.

Now, if truth be told, my first helping of The Blair Witch Project blew me away. I loved it. The found footage business, the late 90s penchant everyone had to camcorder their way into moviemaking (as the characters in the film do) and the mounting creepy-crawly tension knocked me on my formerly lardy posterior. I didn't buy that it was "real", but I bought into the conceit as I was quite enamoured with the clever approach and, for me, genuine chills and jolts of terror. I kind of detested the grungy youthful characters, but at least the actors played them well enough that I was gradually drawn into their plight in spite of my curmudgeonly detestation of these rejects from Kurt Cobain fandom.

Not that this sort of thing had never been done before - the brilliant David Holzman's Diary by Jim McBride in 1967 not only creeped me out, but I actually DID believe that what I was seeing was real. When I found out the picture was a "fake" documentary, it was still so layered and intelligent that I've had no problem watching it many times.

However, The Blair Witch Project did little for me on repeat viewings. I quickly filed it away in my movie-soaked-brain-file-folder with the label: "clever-conceit-clever-moviemaking-but-not-much-else-going-for-it". And there the picture stayed.

As such, I had no real investment to like or hate Wingard's sequel, but like it I did.

Utilizing a multi-camera approach, Wingard's picture takes us back to the haunted Maryland woods with a bunch of college kids and a couple of local inbred guides. Searching for the original young lady who disappeared in the first film and a mysterious old house that purportedly houses the witch, our attractive cast goes through the motions of the first forty five minutes of prepping and wandering.

The last forty five minutes is where things get mighty creepy and ramp up to a thoroughly nerve-jangling climax. There's not much in the way of new ground covered here, but good goddamn, when it delivers the thrills and chills, it delivers with a whole lotta kick-ass.

Oh yeah, and the movie has babes in it.

One can't really ask for more.


Blair Witch is a Midnight Madness presentation at TIFF 2016.

Friday, 16 September 2016

LA LA LAND - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - a movie musical in search of good music

La La Land (2016)
Dir. Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend,
Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Tom Everett Scott

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"I should have known better with a girl like you
That I would love everything that you do
And I do, hey, hey, hey, and I do...
So I should have realized a lot of things before
If this is love you've got to give me more
" - The Beatles

So you go to see a movie. You're primed to love it.

In spite of every alarm bell going off in your head while you actually watch the picture, you still manage to convince yourself how much you love it.

You should have known better.

You sit there, jaw agape during an opening musical number on a Los Angeles highway traffic jam. There's nothing wrong with the idea, per se, but the song itself is so godawful and the choreography is so stock and clumsy that if the film had been made by another director instead of one you admire, you'd throw in the towel.

You also know that you're going to have to spend the movie staring at one of the most insufferable actors working in Hollywood today, not to mention an actress you admire (in spite of the fact that she reminds you of a carrot-topped Pekingnese).

And still you stay.


Because of the director.

You see, as dreadful as the opening musical number is (not always a good sign when you've come to see a musical), you forgive everything because at least the director is not without panache. Individual shots and camera moves during the sequence are, in and of themselves, first-rate.

So you persevere.

For writer-director Damien Chazelle.

And is it all for nought?

Yes and no.

You leave the movie. There are tears in your eyes, but you do not trust them. It's as if the movie itself has reached out to grind cheap-ass cooking onions into your ocular orbs. You feel like you're soaring, but for some reason you sense it's because someone has shoved a tube up your ass to fill you full of helium.

What do you do with these nagging thoughts?

You see the movie again.

And then, you know.

La La Land is just not very good. Taking its cue from the great Technicolor musicals from days of yore, Chazelle skillfully and stylishly (well, mostly) serves up an old fashioned singing-dancing extravaganza that rests on the narrative coat hanger of boy-meets-girl-boy-gets-girl-boy-loses-girl. The big diff here is that boy does not get girl back. They do, however, reunite in a genuinely show-stopping musical dream sequence and one is thankful for this departure from the norm. It works on a first helping, but when you see the picture again, you realize just how shoe-horned the whole sequence is. In fact, the entire movie feels shoe-horned.

That the movie chooses to utilize and recreate the tropes of great musicals within a contemporary context is just fine. Unfortunately, the contemporary context is Los Angeles, surely one of the most vapid and downright ugly cities in the world. Worse yet, it's set against the backdrop of the contemporary entertainment business - a world that has, for the most part become as indicative of Western Civilization's decline as a world in which Donald Trump has become a serious contender for the highest political office in America.

Granted, old Hollywood often used the entertainment industry as a setting for its musicals, most notably for me the magnificent Busby Berkeley musicals like 42nd Street, but the big difference is that the contemporary context of those movies is from a time when people could actually write great musical scores (unlike the grotesqueries of Justin Hurwitz's annoying melodies here) and when the studios were actually run by moguls who, for the most part, genuinely loved the product they were generating.

La La Land plunges us into a much different world and as such, suffers for it.

I'm happy to doff my hat to the Whiplash director's desire to take what is old and make the beautiful new again, but the detestably jejune world we (and by extension the characters) must live inside is borderline intolerable. At one point in the picture, Ryan Gosling's character is chided by his friend/nemesis Keith (so nicely played by John Legend one wonders if he's ever going to get his own musical to star in). The successful contemporary jazz band leader craps on Gosling's adherence to the greats of yesteryear instead of trying to find a way of taking the form further. He wisely notes that jazz was always about the "future".

But what does Gosling's character eventually do?

He hangs onto the "old" like a dog to a bone.

Then again, La La Land is all about following your dreams.

Because of this, what we have to suffer through is Emma Stone paying her monthly rent as an on-studio juice-bar clerk to support her burgeoning-actress habit who meets-cute with the insufferable Ryan Gosling as a bitter jazz musician who dreams of owning his own nightclub. Of course, they hate each other at first - he spills iced latte all over her shirt as she storms off to an audition and he unceremoniously brushes her off when she attempts to compliment his ivory tinkling - but all it takes for them to make the ultimate google-eyed connection is when she teases him at a vapid Hollywood party at which he's playing keyboards with an 80s tribute band. From here, he supports her dreams, she supports his, and in so doing it is inevitable for both to part ways.


So what are we left with? An interminably long feel-good musical that merely purports to make the old new again. Even this, however, is not all that original. It's been done before and so much better. The great Dennis Potter BBC mini-series Pennies from Heaven and Herbert Ross's astounding feature-length remake (which Pauline Kael acclaimed as "the most emotional movie musical I've ever seen") took what was old and made it new again by presenting the tropes with a contemporary perspective on the period in which the films (and film) were set. Sure, Chazelle is not looking back in quite the same way because he wants to utilize the tropes in terms of the here and now, but how are we to take any of this seriously given how empty the world actually is?

Well, maybe we're not supposed to take it seriously, but how then are we to at least respond seriously to Chazelle's aesthetic?

We don't. We can't. No matter how much we want to.

Thinking back on Pennies from Heaven, one can't help but note what great hoofers Steve Martin and Christopher Walken (yes, Christoper-fucking-Walken) are. Ryan Gosling's woeful galumphing in La La Land is a true abomination. One only need watch a few frames of Walken's striptease and compare it to anything Gosling stumbles through in La La Land to realize what folly it was to cast a leading man in a musical with tin ears for feet.

I almost unfairly chose to equate Gosling's miserable footwork with that of Buddy (Uncle Jed from The Beverly Hillbillies) Ebsen's hoofing in the early part of his career until I had to remind myself that Ebsen could dance Gosling into the oblivion he deserves.

Sorry Buddy. Gosling's shit-stomping can't begin to hold a candle to yours.

As for Chazelle's movie, a few decently-staged musical set pieces, in spite of Gosling's lead-footed incompetence and a mediocre score, just doesn't add up to anything special. I think it might boil down to the vapidity of the setting. One recalls how the great Val Lewton changed the very genre of horror by moving the act of scaring audiences into a world they recognized (The Cat People, The Seventh Victim). In doing the same thing, however, La La Land changes nothing. If anything it makes the old, the truly beautiful, little more than an empty vessel - a bauble of numbing nothingness.


La La Land is a TIFF 2016 Special Presentation.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

MOONLIGHT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - A Young Life in Three Movements

Moonlight (2016)
Dir. Barry Jenkins
Ply. Tarell Alvin McCraney
Starring: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes,
Naomie Harris, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, André Holland
Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, Patrick Decile

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I've seen many coming-of-age pictures, but I've never seen anything like this one.

This, after having seen over 40,000 movies in my life, is a pretty wonderful thing.

Moonlight is an exquisitely unique picture in three “movements”. Starring Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes as Chiron, a young African-American growing up in Miami and eventually moving to Atlanta, we experience his longtime friendship with Kevin (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, André Holland). Based on "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue", a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, director-screenwriter Barry Jenkins divides the movie into three sections, each bearing the respective title cards: "Little", "Chiron" and "Black".

Intimacy, real intimacy, is what eludes our protagonist Little/Chiron/Black. Though his life flirts with a series of important relationships (most notably a kindly thug and his girlfriend), he remains a sad, distant and solitary figure.

It feels like a life in search of itself.

We share Chiron's journey from childhood (as a sensitive bullied kid living with his crack-addicted mother), adolescence (as a kid discovering his sexuality on the cusp of manhood) to early adulthood (as a man, now a criminal, seeking truths which have so far eluded him). We experience this man's life in a cinematic chamber piece that is as poetically musical as it is evocative in ways that are both culturally specific and universal at the same time.

It's a great picture. You'll leave the cinema convinced you've seen something you've never quite seen before. At the best of times, this is rare. In this day and age, it seems a miracle.


Moonlight is part of the Platform and Next Wave series at TIFF 2016.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

A QUIET PASSION - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Davies Does Dickinson Delectably

A Quiet Passion (2016)
Dir. Terence Davies
Starring: Cynthia Nixon, Emma Bell, Keith Carradine,
Jennifer Ehle, Joanna Bacon, Duncan Duff, Jodhi May

Review By Greg Klymkiw
THERE is a word
Which bears a sword
Can pierce an armed man.
It hurls its barbed syllables,—
At once is mute again,
But where it fell
The saved will tell
On patriotic day,
Some epauletted brother
Gave his breath away.
- Emily Dickinson
We trust, in plumed procession
For such, the Angels go -
Rank after Rank, with even feet -
And Uniforms of snow.

There is war in this exquisite dramatic biography of poet Emily Dickinson. There is violence and there are battles. It is all, however, like all of the greatest films by Terence Davies, very, very quiet.

The war waged in A Quiet Passion is one against patriarchal propriety - both societal and religious. Davies presents us with the life of Dickinson from her adolescence (Emma Bell) through adulthood (Cynthia Nixon) and to her sad, painful death at age 55 from Bright's (kidney) Disease. The story is told via the trademarks of Davies - stately, gorgeously-composed tableaux with an accent on measured delivery of dialogue that is rooted exquisitely in the period with which the film is set (in Amherst, Massachusetts from about 1846 to 1866).

There is considerable emphasis placed on Dickinson's relationships with her family and how this inspires and informs her gifts as a poet. Her mother (Joanna Bacon) lives a lonely life and indeed Emily comments, "You always seem so sad." Her mother responds, "My life has passed as if in a dream." And damned if Emily will float gently into the good night. She rages on paper.

Terence Davies has always displayed a special gift for extolling the virtues and servitude of mothers, but he has also been acutely sensitive to portraying patriarchal rule in all its violence and unfairness. Here, Emily's relationship with her father (Keith Carradine) is especially replete with conflict and love. Her father clearly values Emily's individuality, but displays considerable conflict within himself and the demands society places on him. He is on one hand, proud and accepting, yet on the other, prone to anger and frustration over Emily's refusal to be an individual, but to also "play the games" required of a woman.

Terence Davies (Distant Voices Still Lives, The Long Day Closes) is unquestionably the greatest living filmmaker in the UK and amongst the world's best filmmakers - ever. I can think of no better filmmaker to tackle the challenge of biographically portraying this great woman of letters. His indelible use of music has always been unique and all his own. Film after film he delivers the most beautiful, heartbreakingly beautiful montages set to music - always evocative of narrative, character and tone.

Though A Quiet Passion has its fair share of such musical montages, Davies is not one to rest idly on his laurels. Given that his film is about one of the greatest poets of all time, he utilizes his poetic approach to cinema by using what might be the greatest music of all - the music of poetry - Dickinson's, of course.

Though there are far too many of these great sequences to catalogue, there are two which occur back-to-back which are not only great examples of what a magnificent screenplay Davies has wrought, but proof positive of his consummate artistry as a filmmaker. Davies etches a particularly harrowing verbal joust between Emily and her father and in its aftermath, he focuses upon the conflicting feelings of anger and sorrow on her father's face as we get an offscreen reading of Dickinson's Love poem XLIV "THERE is a word Which bears a sword". As if this isn't enough to set one's tears into squirt-overdrive, Davies brilliantly follows up the scene with a montage to place the argument-scene in a historical/thematic context by delivering a series of Civil War images set to Dickinson's "To fight around is very brave".

Prepare to lose it emotionally during these two montages. God knows, I did.

As per usual, Davies inspires his entire cast to render superlative performances. Cynthia Nixon knocks the wind out of you as Dickinson (her off-screen readings of the poetry are deeply moving) and an almost unrecognizable Keith Carradine chills to the bone as Emily's father.

What might be the films's greatest triumph is that one could go into it knowing nothing about Emily Dickinson and emerge with both an edifying cinematic experience and a reason to get to know her. This is indeed triumphant - oh-so delicate and oh-so quiet.


A Quiet Passion is a PNP (Pacific Northwest Pictures) release and plays in the TIFF 2016 Masters series.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

MALIGLUTIT/SEARCHERS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Inuk John Ford Obsessions

MALIGLUTIT: a figure on the landscape of the universe.

Maliglutit/Searchers (2016)
Dir. Zacharias Kunuk, Natar Ungalaaq
Scr. Norman Cohn, Kunuk
Starring: Benjamin Kunuk, Jocelyne Immaroitok,
Johan Qunaq, Karen Ivalu, Lucy Tulugarjuk

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Inspired by John Ford's The Searchers, Zacharias (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) Kunuk and co-director Natar Ungalaaq serve up one of the most compelling and exciting action-adventure pictures of the year. Set against the backdrop of the Canadian north, a father and son obsessively chase after a group of men who slaughter much of their family and kidnap their women.

That's it - on the surface.

Below the simple veneer, a tale of family, love and a culture rooted in a land of harsh beauty roils with uncompromising resonance. Kunuk captures the rich tradition of the Inuk people and his visual storytelling acumen reaches a dazzling pinnacle. He paints a portrait of good guys and bad guys, but does so with the kind of deep strokes which reveal humanity on both ends of the spectrum.

Though Ford's great film is clearly about racism and was made to "right" the "wrongs" of previous westerns and their portrayal of indigenous culture, there is one major difference that stands out amongst others - the portrayal of the "kidnappers".

MALIGLUTIT: The humanity of good and evil.

In the Ford, the "villain" (or rather, the traditional "antagonist") is the Commanche Chief Scar. What we're allowed to know about him is what's told to us about him. When we finally see him, Ford reveals one of the most indelible, still chilling, still uber-creepy images of sheer evil.

Scar is less a character than an image, a symbol. Kunuk and co-writer Cohn takes this several steps further. Their antagonists are characters. We get to know them, just as we get to know the protagonists.

The bottom line though, is that both films share a narrative coat hanger and are ultimately two very different films. What's very similar between them is Kunuk and Ford's love of the land as a backdrop to the human drama - that the universe is always watching. The other similarity is how both filmmakers adhere to classical styles of filmmaking. The images in Kunuk's work go head to head with Ford's - one is the Canadian Arctic, the other is Monument Valley - both are beautiful, and so very, very dangerous.

MALIGLUTIT: Monument Valley vs the Canadian Arctic.

Both filmmakers also employ a classical approach to the action scenes, but Kunuk might actually win those sweepstakes with a breathtaking extreme wide shot in which we watch our hero and villain duke it out in a gorgeously choreographed fight as mere figures on the landscape. We've come to know both as human beings and as such, the stakes are so very high as we sit back as spectators, high up in the stands, the ice, snow and mountain ranges, the arena.

Of course in Ford's film, nobody ever forgets the iconic shot from within the cabin at the end of the film. Kunuk beautifully riffs on this with a similar shot from within an igloo. They're both iconic, but what they represent are so very similar, in terms of loss, but so very contradistinctive in terms of hope. They're both great on their own, but Jesus, what a double bill they make.


Maliglutit/Searchers is in the TIFF 2016 Platform series.

Monday, 12 September 2016

CHRISTINE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Days of madness, despair, empowerment

Rebecca Hall as reporter Christine Chubbuck

Christine (2016)
Dir. Antonio Campos
Scr. Craig Shilowich
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts,
Maria Dizzia, J. Smith-Cameron, John Cullum, Timothy Simons

Review By Greg Klymkiw
You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again

- John Denver, "Annie's Song"
There's a scene in Christine where the film's title character (Rebecca Hall), a TV news reporter, drives down the highway singing along joyously to John Denver's "Annie's Song" on her car radio. In any other movie it could have been one of those moments of fake transcendence. After all, Christine's latest political human interest item has just successfully aired and she's on her way to deliver a puppet show to a roomful of handicapped kids. (I know, this already sounds sickening, but trust me, it isn't.)

As she launches into her happy croon-along, it is a strangely transcendent moment, but as she passes a car in the next lane, she stops. We all do (and would). Who doesn't fear being caught singing in the car, even if it's by complete strangers? However, in this case, when the car moves ahead she begins singing again, but the gusto and magic seem shattered. Even now, we see something, thanks to Hall's pitch-perfect performance - something that's just not, right - something tremulous and foreboding.

Director Campos also doesn't let the sing-along soar the way most loser directors would. He cuts the scene (beautifully) short, just before Christine can sing: "You fill up my senses, Come fill me again." We are spared far more than Denver's lyrics, we are saved by knowing that we're definitely in the territory of a great film. And yes, as this haunting, harrowing portrait of mental illness progresses, we do indeed wonder who or what will fill up Christine's senses, and most importantly, "fill [her] again."

Christine is a great film. In spite of the annoying opening credit that tells us it's a true story, try to suppress that fact if you don't already know the story of the WXLT-TV news reporter in Sarasota, Florida who practised her craft during the early-to-mid-70s and was acclaimed for her commitment to a variety of social and environmental issues.

You fill up my senses, like a light in the forest.

Once the film was over on my first helping, Christine Chubbuck's story came flooding back to my memory banks, but up until that point, I was cascaded along by this beautifully crafted picture that plunged me into a world of television news dominated by male voices. Against the backdrop of Watergate/Vietnam we follow the life of a woman struggling to maintain voice and authority professionally, while personally being crushed with numbing mental illness.

For me, the ultimate test of a film's greatness is how it resonates upon multiple viewings. After the first screening I was compelled to see it twice more on a big screen and (to date) three more times in the privacy of my home theatre. Not only does the movie continue to yield considerable complexity, but it never fails to dazzle on an aesthetic level and, perhaps most importantly, it sustains the ability to render emotional wallops that inspire shudders, tears and deep reflection.

The meticulous detail with which screenwriter Craig Shilowich captures the ins-and-outs of a TV newsroom (not to mention the period detail) is a thing of beauty. He expertly juggles several balls in the air by charting the trajectory/descent of the late-20-something Christine and never allowing us to feel like anything, structurally or otherwise, is familiar or by rote. At the same time, the writing is clear and unfettered by the kind of indie-cool (or worse, sitcom emptiness disguised as Hecht/MacArthur) that might have veered into style over substance.

Director Campos demonstrates the kind of control and careful virtuosity needed to navigate the waters of Christine's journey as she looks for love, wends through a complex relationship with her mother (with whom she lives), tries to maintain her journalistic principals, generate work that matters, secure a position in a larger TV market and, as if this wan't enough, deal with both psychological and physical maladies.

The events of the film take place in 1974, but sadly, now 40+ years later, we live in a world where mental illness is loaded with stigma and the resources, both public and private, still seem woefully inadequate. Within this context, Christine proves to deliver resonance and importance that so few films manage to achieve. Its properties feel universal.

Reporter and News Director - Battle Lines Drawn

The lovely thing about the movie is that the darkness of the tale doesn't overshadow the many moments of magic, humour and, at times, sheer elation in the life of the title character. One of the more engaging elements of the story is the cat-and-dog antics between Christine and her news director boss Michael (played irascibly and compellingly by the magnificent playwright Tracy Letts).

During a team meeting of the news department, Michael laments the poor ratings and insists that there must be far more emphasis upon sensationalism.

"If it bleeds, it leads," he declares.

Christine won't take any of this guy's shit. She dismisses him with a zinger that hits him like a ton of bricks: "That's just some catchphrase you picked up at a conference in Cleveland last month," she quips. The truth hurts. He knows it and she knows it. The script delivers a cornucopia of gorgeously written jousts between the two of them, but never are they on the level of the kind of fakery churned out by James L. Brooks in the ludicrously overrated Broadcast News. Shilowich delivers one gorgeous Charles Lederer/Clifford Odets-like acid-toss in the face after another, but never at the expense of truth (unlike the nonsense crapped out by the likes of the aforementioned Brooks).

Truth, however, is ultimately what Christine is all about.

It's a terrible truth and that's what makes it so vital.


Christine is a TIFF 2016 Special Presentation and released by The Orchard.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Arty Vehicle Runs On Empty

MICHAEL SHANNON: Great Actor in search
of a Great Movie (or even good one).

Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Dir. Tom Ford
Nvl. Austin Wright
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson,
Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Karl Glusman

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There's a scene in Tom (A Single Man) Ford's mostly dreadful Nocturnal Animals when Texas cop Sam Andes (Michael Shannon) steps out of his car onto the dusty, lonely flatlands which harbour a grisly crime. As his foot hits the dry earth, he begins to hack so violently that each cough sounds like the burst of gunfire from a .44 Magnum. Every wheeze is a death rattle. We fear for him, as does his companion who inquires into his well being once the horrendously desiccated croup-eruption draws to a close. Andes takes a deep breath and nonchalantly replies, "Yeah, I'm okay." Shannon's delivery is so perfectly timed that we let out a healthy belly laugh.

He's ready for action. The grisly crime scene awaits.

That we care so much for this character's well being is certainly a testament to Michael Shannon (no matter what film he's in). It's impossible to take one's eyes off the guy. Even when he's stuck in a dog's breakfast of a movie, his mere presence is usually enough to keep us watching. The broad strokes of the character he plays, a soon-to-retire homicide dick dying of lung cancer, who takes the law into his own hands with a pair of rapist-killers, certainly provides enough material for Shannon to deliver an astonishing performance.

Alas, he is ultimately a great actor in search of a good movie.

The very ubiquitous and extremely dour Amy Adams.

Nocturnal Animals is based on a novel by Austin Wright called "Tony and Susan". Though I have not read the novel, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Nocturnal Animals is a better title - at least for the movie. The title, in addition to Michael Shannon, is the only good thing about Tom Ford's picture. It's probably one of the worst indie arthouse movies I've seen in quite some time. It suffers from an accent on preciously composed shots of people looking dour and a screenplay ("written" by Ford) that vomits up a whole whack of on-point dialogue and provides a clunky, almost literary structure (purporting to be cinematic).

In a nutshell, the movie forces us to meander amongst three different through-lines.

First of all, we get the story of a gallery owner (the ubiquitous Amy Adams) and her cheating husband (Armie Hammer), both of whom are facing potential financial ruin. As we suffer through all of this, we learn that wifey was once romantically involved with a penniless academic (Jake Gyllenhaal) who had dreams of being a great novelist.

The second through-line delivers flashbacks to this doomed romance and we learn that Ubiquitous Amy dumped the lad for financial stability, doubting her beau's ability to ever be a novelist. The third, and most problematic through-line is when Amy gets a manuscript of her former love's novel (which is about to be published) and the movie rubs our noses in fictionalized versions of both characters in a tale of rape, murder and revenge.

Now if any of this had been infused with a trashy, pulpy sense of fun, and/or even some Douglas Sirk-like melodrama (to match the movie's visuals), then perhaps it might have been palatable. Unfortunately, director Ford drags us through a dreary, humourless and pretentious mess that simply tries one's patience.

Jake Gyllenhaal looking dour: Regrets, he has a few.

Other than Shannon's character, there really isn't a single entity in this entire movie that feels remotely real, let alone worth spending any time with when the lights go down. Wifey Amy Adams is a total sourball from beginning to end and one can't really blame Hubby Hammer for grabbing a bit on the side.

It's also no wonder her gallery is suffering financially. The film opens with a series of arty-farty slo-mo shots of whorishly dolled-up BBWs, bumping and grinding with dour abandon (of course, they wouldn't be having any fun in a movie like this). Eventually they are turned into living still-lives on a variety of IKEA slabs for the edification of a whole whack o' rich knobs who are guzzling free booze and nibbling upon cheese in Amy's gallery.

Eventually I kept thinking - no wonder she's going broke. Does she have to pay all these porkers to prostrate themselves in her tony whorehouse of capital crimes against fine art - every fucking day?

This, at least, is a pretty good question. God knows we don't really have too many others whilst we suffer through horrendous dialogue like:

"What right do I have to not be happy? I have everything. I feel ungrateful not to be happy." This, followed by this dopey response: "You are just awfully hard on yourself."

"You and your mother both have the same kind of sadness in your eyes."

Or how about this scintillating exchange?

UBIQUITOUS AMY: "We are not right for each other."

DOUR JAKE: "We are perfect for each other."

UBIQUITOUS AMY: "No, we are not perfect for each other, though we might have been perfect for each other if we didn't live in the real world. But I live in the real world and I need a life that is more structured. I want to be the person that you want me to be, but I just can't."

Or, how's about this spitfire?

"I'm not scared, I'm unhappy. I'm just really really unhappy."

Adding to the mix of crappy dialogue, we're also forced to put up with a whole passel of portent during a litany of irony like:

When Ubiquitous Amy gets a paper cut whilst opening Dour Jake's manuscript.

When Dour Jake showers in the "novel" and Ubiquitous Amy showers in "real life".

When Ford delivers a shot of the raped/murdered mother and daughter of the "novel" lying together nude and pathetically juxtaposes it with a "real life" shot Amy's daughter lying nude with her lover.

It never seems to end.

The hits just keep coming.

Worst of all, though, are the final moments in which Ubiquitous Amy dolls up for a meeting with Dour Jake to talk about his novel and catch up on old times. She ends up wearing a hideous green dress which resembles the dress Scarlet O'Hara made out of the curtains of Tara in Gone With the Wind. Rhett Butler certainly saw through Scarlet's ruse. We wonder if Dour Jake will have a similar response. Alas, we never find out. Nocturnal Animals predictably ends with Ubiquitous Amy being stood up.

This all seems thoroughly appropriate. The whole movie deserves to be stood up.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *½ One-and-a-half-stars
Nocturnal Animals is a TIFF 2016 Special Presentation and is a Focus Features and Universal Pictures Canada release.