Friday 24 February 2017

GET OUT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Predictable Thriller/Satire about Racism an okay ride.

Too much script idiot-proofing renders watered-down ride. 

Get Out (2017)
Dir. Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener,
LilRel Howery, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Caleb Landry Jones

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A few minutes into watching Get Out, a mostly chilling and funny horror-thriller with a decidedly satirical bent, I briefly took myself out of the drama and asked myself:

"Have I seen too many movies?"

The reason for this self-reflection? Simple. I pretty much pegged all of the "surprises" in the picture's narrative about twenty minutes into it. It's not that the clues were obviously boneheaded, but rather, the movie almost went out of its way to "carefully" shield us from them and, frankly, having seen it all, I just knew where things were headed. Once again I was watching a movie I wanted to love and realized I just couldn't love it because the clever thematic and directorial touches were being cancelled out by the glaring inevitability of the unfolding drama.

Now, was this the movie's fault or my own?

"Good question" he said to himself in added self-reflection.

Surely, I surmised, that when I'm on a roller coaster ride, I know precisely where I'm going and if it's a good ride, it really shouldn't matter. Well, true enough, but the fact remains that Get Out had so much more potential to transcend the simple properties of the ride itself. In spite of my occasional sinking feelings, I was able to concede that there was a decent ride to be had, even for seen-it-all curmudgeons like myself.

Mind you, the movie doesn't get off to the best start. It begins with a hackneyed de rigueur horror movie preamble that telegraphs what's to follow wherein a young African-American male wanders through a lush White-American suburban dreamscape of perfect lawns and hedges. He's clearly lost and definitely nervous. And yes, something shocking happens.


However, I forgave this by-rote entry point and settled in. For awhile, I did indeed succumb to writer-director Jordan Peele's Stepford Wives-like thriller about racism in America.

Lily-white babe-o-licious girlfriends CANNOT be trusted.

Dark, handsome African-American Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and pristine babe-o-licious lily-white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) are happily cohabiting in miscegenetic bliss and preparing for a weekend trip to meet and stay with Rose's parents. Chris asks Rose if she's told her folks that he's Black. She tosses it off as being completely unnecessary - Mommy (Catherine Keener) and Daddy (Bradley Whitford) are far too cool for any of that. Chris expresses trepidation nevertheless, but eventually accepts Rose's confidence that everything will be okay.

Of course, things will not be okay.

On the way up, with Rose driving, they hit a deer and swerve off the road slightly. There's no damage to the car and neither of them are injured, something that annoys a local lawman - he feels they should have called "animal control" rather than "waste" his time. No matter, this gives him a chance to roust Chris, demanding to see our hero's I.D. even though Rose explains that she was behind the wheel, not Chris.

Once they get to Rose's family home, her Mom and Dad seem to be the epitome of cultured White Liberals, but Dad betrays hints of ethnocentrism when he refers to his daughter's relationship with Chris as a "thang" and goes out of his way to extol the virtues of Obama. Rose's creepy brother (Caleb Landry Jones) displays an unhealthy obsession with athleticism and physical prowess, especially as it relates to race and even creepier are the live-in African-American domestics Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) who appear to be refugees from Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

One sequence that Peele delivers the goods on involves Mom actually hypnotizing Chris late one evening. Though it involves the unfortunate narrative trope of Chris feeling guilt over his own mother's death, we are able to suppress this and enjoy Peele's extraordinary visual take on hypnosis itself and especially relish Catherine Keener's juicy turn as a "caring" psychiatrist. For me, Keener has always displayed a kind of earnest creepiness in everything she's done. Here, she fits the role like a glove.

The movie reaches a damn glorious pinnacle during a garden party at the family home when Chris is trotted out before a passel of grotesque denizens of White American affluence - all of whom seem obsessed with the young man's physical attributes.

White Liberals Ain't All They Cracked Up To Be.

It's not long after this, though, that the movie descends into a goofy, loopy sequence wherein Peele lays out a whole whack of expository information as to what is precisely going on (which, we've pretty much figured out anyway). The manner in which it's presented probably looked great on paper, but it slows the movie down in ways that force us to question the logic of why the explanations are delivered to Chris (and by extension to us). Given the sharpness of the film's satire and the occasional flashes of genuine, original horror touches, it's disappointing that the film didn't deal with this information far more expediently.

Luckily, Peele recovers from this fairly major fumble and he serves up one of the more delightfully scary and juicily violent climaxes in recent memory. For me, the movie's lapses were forgiven - almost. Alas, Peele cops out and hands us a ludicrous feel-good ending (involving the film's tiresome comic relief provided by Lil Rel Howery as Chris's TSA officer buddy) which is completely out-of-step with the 70s-style thrillers his film clearly aspires to.

And then, there's that problem of knowing who is who (especially that his girlfriend is part of the "conspiracy"), what is what and where it's all going to go. Is it my problem? No. I don't think so, ultimately. The movie's script, in spite of its clever touches, feels idiot-proofed to a fault. In fact, the whole thing might have been even more chilling and a lot braver if Peele was upfront and exposed his whole deck of cards from the get-go. When a movie flirts with a kind of greatness as this one does, I find it very hard to cotton to idiot-proofing of any kind.


Get Out is a Universal Pictures release.

Friday 17 February 2017

MILDRED PIERCE (1945) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Noir Meets Melodrama Via Criterion Blu

Loving mother, horrid daughter - Melodrama Meets Noir

Mildred Pierce (1945)
Dir. Michael Curtiz
Nvl. James M. Cain
Scr. Ranald McDougall
Starring: Joan Crawford, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson,
Bruce Bennett, Zachary Scott, Butterfly McQueen, Lee Patrick

Review By Greg Klymkiw

James M. Cain wrote plenty of books with murder in them (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity), but the novel upon which the film Mildred Pierce is based, is bereft of murder. We can thank studio Warner Brothers, director Michael Curtiz and screenwriter Ranald McDougall for thinking about inserting one glorious lollapalooza of a homicide as a sturdy bookend to the movie version. This delicacy of mother-daughter madness gets piquantly spiced-up with that one necessary ingredient, thus allowing for the roiling psychological complexity of the tale to meld melodrama with film noir styling.

A murder. In a house. By the beach. It's night. A woman flees the scene. She contemplates suicide on a wharf just outside of a sleazy dockside watering hole. She's picked up for questioning. She tells her story.

Such is the opening of Mildred Pierce. The aforementioned woman is the title character. She's played by Joan Crawford (not long after MGM let her go for becoming box office poison). After this picture, she was poison no more. She even won an Oscar. For good reason too. Nobody suffers like Crawford's character suffers in this grim story about a mother who loves her ungrateful daughter too much.

Mildred's first marriage to the hapless, unemployed sad-sack sap Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett) ends. His former business partner, the unbelievably agreeable, charming scumbag Wally Fay (Jack Carson), has always held a torch for her and tries to move in for some amorous gravy drippings. She spurns him and tries to make ends meet by home baking.

Eventually Mildred needs something more substantial than selling her pies, so she gets hired as a waitress by Ida (Eve Arden), the manager of a restaurant and wisecracking perennial bachelorette who eventually becomes her best friend. Our heroine tries to keep her job a secret from her daughters, 16-year-old Veda (Ann Blyth) and 10-year-old Kay (Jo Anne Marlowe). Kay would never have a problem with this - she's a total loving sweetie-pie. Veda on the other hand, is an absolute horror; a nasty, haughty socialite. Veda discovers Mildred's waitress uniform and bestows it upon the family's maid Lottie (Butterfly McQueen). Veda pretends to believe her Mom bought the outfit for Lottie to wear. She knows better. She is, in fact, ashamed and spitefully does this to make Mildred admit she works as a waitress.

Our heroine decides she needs to move up in the world - especially if she is to keep showering her grotesquely mean, selfish and spoiled eldest daughter with everything money can buy. She cuts a deal with horny hunk of congealed drool matter Wally and ends up starting her own restaurant. It's such a success that she ends up hiring Kay as the manager and begins to open a small chain of eateries.

The only thing missing in Mildred's life is love. Though Wally is a bucket of slime, he's a charming and rich sleaze ball. Instead, Mildred settles upon Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott) a handsome (in a weaselly kind of way) high society playboy with plenty of assets, but no money and a pile of debts. Oh, he's going to make her pay. And suffer, of course. Veda takes a shine to Monte's dashing lifestyle.

In fact, she takes too much of a shine to the man her mother loves.

Naturally, there will be a murder.

One of the cool things (and there is so much about this movie that's cool - pure and simple) is just how strong and complex the female characters are (even naughty Veda). The men, however, are a piece of work - almost hilariously so. Given that the most attractive male figure is played by slightly pudgy Jack Carson probably says everything we need to know. However, it's probably worth noting that Mildred's eventual paramour is a moustachioed, wiry and bony scumbag and her "decent" ex-husband is a borderline castrato who eventually settles down with the hausfrau-like Mrs. Biederhof (Lee Patrick).

That Mildred eventually has to suffer the indignity of watching her child die of pneumonia before her very eyes in the home of the hausfrau while testicle-free ex-hubby looks on uselessly is the stuff of great melodrama and definitely the kind of thing most movies today would have no idea how to master. Well, Mildred Pierce more than rises to the occasion.

What's extraordinary about the whole affair is how director Curtiz (Casablanca) swathes the picture with the thick fog and dark shadows of post-war ennui and all that became film noir. We get plenty of sun-dappled Malibu to go with the melodrama, but we're also served up with dank cocktail lounges, cheap dressing rooms with gum-snapping songstresses who show just a little too much leg and cleavage on stage plus a delightful number of frauds, double-crosses and infidelity to fill several blacker-than-black crime pictures.

And, of course, we get murder.

Oh, glorious murder!

And then, let's not forget a mother's love for her daughter, albeit an ungrateful little missy-saucy-pants. A mother, you see, will do anything for her daughter, even if said progeny gets boned by the shitheel her mother loves.

In such circumstances, can homicide ever be far behind?


Mildred Pierce is available on Blu-Ray and (if you must) DVD with a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, a new conversation with critics Molly Haskell and Robert Polito, an excerpt from a 1970 episode of "The David Frost Show" featuring Joan Crawford, the terrific 2002 feature-length documentary "Joan Craw­ford: The Ultimate Movie Star", a Q&A with actor Ann Blyth from 2006, presented by Marc Huestis and conducted by film historian Eddie Muller at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, a segment from a 1969 episode of the Today Show featuring Mildred Pierce novelist James M. Cain, a trailer, an essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith and new cover art by Sean Phillips.

Thursday 16 February 2017

A MAN CALLED OVE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Sentimental Swedish Ode to Old Grump

Plucky Persian Perks Up Grump's Spirits.
A Man Called Ove (2016)
Dir. Hannes Holm
Nvl. Fredrik Backman
Starring: Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll

Review By Greg Klymkiw

You'd have to be the biggest grumpy-pants in the world not to respond to A Man Called Ove, a sweetly funny, delightfully romantic and almost-ridiculously sentimental picture about an old curmudgeon who keeps getting interrupted every single time he attempts to commit suicide. Based on Fredrik Backman's 2012 novel of the same name, writer-director Hannes (Behind Blue Skies) Holm renders this always-humorous and often tear-squirtingly moving movie in a solid, straightforward fashion that allows its first-rate cast to flex considerable muscle.

59-year-old Ove (Lassgård) carries his stern, sullen countenance as if it were a badge of honour. As the persnickety prefect of a townhouse community, he makes his daily morning rounds of the complex, wielding an iron fist and spitting out his disgust when anything (or anyone, for that matter) is the least bit out of place. Being a grump seems to be the only thing that gives him happiness.

After being forced into retirement from the factory he's been foreman at for several decades, the taciturn recent-widower becomes a man with a mission. His goal is to become reunited with his beloved wife (Ida Engvoll). As she's six-feet-under (he visits her grave daily with fresh flowers), the reunion can only be effected via suicide.

With a noose round his neck, a kerfuffle just outside the house commands his attention. A new family, led by the pretty, pregnant and definitely Persian matriarch Parvaneh (Pars), are moving in across the way and whilst backing up their u-Haul trailer, Ove's mailbox gets knocked over.

This will not be the first time his suicide attempts will be foiled. Little does he know it yet, but Ove still has plenty to live for and the world still has plenty of reason for him to keep going.

Kids will always melt the cold heart of a Grumpy-pants!
Many things annoy Ove, but it hasn't necessarily always been that way. Flashbacks (which occur just prior to his suicide attempts) deliver warm insight into his relationship with his father and, perhaps most importantly, the grand, though ultimately melancholy love story that shapes him.

Throughout much of his life, the thing that really irked (and continues to irk) him were/are the "white shirts" - bureaucrats whose only reason for being is to make the lives of everyone else intolerable. Ove's specialty has always been railing against the injustices of bureaucracy and finding ways to cut through the red tape placed before real people. Along the way, his own penchant for red tape forces him to take a good hard look in the mirror.

The centrepiece of A Man Called Ove is Rolf Lassgård's astonishing performance. The picture has been nominated for two Oscars, Best Foreign Film and Best Makeup, but the jaw-dropper omission is a Best Actor nod.

Lassgård's deadpan is impeccable, but there's not too much on any big screen out there that's more affecting than those moments when (via Lassgård) Ove's cold heart is melted by the kindness of others, a grumpy cat he adopts, a Middle Eastern gay man seeking refuge from his family when he comes out, a dear old friend stricken by a debilitating stroke and the genuine warmth afforded to him by the sweet children of his neighbours.

(Yeah, I know this sounds like it could be vaguely sickening, but Holm's assured direction keeps things in check.)

And when Lassgård's Ove sheds a tear or three, there will be no dry eyes in the house - except, perhaps, those ocular ejections held back by those of the grumpy-pants persuasion. Chances are good, though, that even they will succumb.


A Man Called Ove is a Pacific Northwest Pictures (Canada) and Music Box (USA) release. It opens in Canada on February 17/17.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - "Act of Killing - Lite" on Scientology

Louis Theroux - Brit Michael Moore sans Bulk.
My Scientology Movie (2016)
Dir. John Dower
Scr. Louis Theroux
Prd. Simon Chinn
Starring: Louis Theroux, Mark Rathbun, Andrew Perez, Jeff Hawkins

Review By Greg Klymkiw
"One of the systems of faith that are based on the belief in the existence of a particular god or gods, or in the teachings of a spiritual leader."
- The Oxford Dictionary definition of the word "religion"
Founded by the dreadful and prolific Science Fiction pulp writer L. Ron Hubbard and presided over by the enigmatic David Miscavige since Hubbard's death in 1986, the Church of Scientology has taken more than its fair share of volleys over the years, including the brilliant fictionalized fantasia The Master by PT Anderson and Alex Gibney's searing documentary Going Clear.

Examining the aforementioned Oxford definition of the word religion, in addition to the various film exposes, including My Scientology Movie, I really do have to wonder what finally separates Scientology from any other religion, whether it be Catholicism, Christian Fundamentalism, Judaism, Islam and any other major/minor systems of faith. Scientology, like all the rest, feels it is the best religion, places emphasis upon recruitment, needs to survive upon financial support from its followers and is not without cult-like leaders and/or elements of cultish indoctrination.

With My Scientology Movie, Director John Dower, Producer Simon Chinn, Host/Star/Writer Louis Theroux and chief commissioning entity, the BBC, were obviously denied access to the inner workings of Scientology and have taken their cue from the in-your-face (and decidedly entertaining) shenanigans of Michael (Roger and Me) Moore and the extremely visionary film artist Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing, The Look of Violence), to craft this lightweight, often amusing, occasionally chilling bit of shock journalism.

To the former, Theroux blunders about Los Angeles in his oh-so-Blighty fashion on the outskirts of various Scientology headquarters and to the latter, orders up auditions with young actors to play Scientology types in scripted and improvised recreations of speeches, presentations and alleged actual inner workings of the Church.

Young actors portray Scientology officials in recreations.
Host Theroux is accompanied through most of the film's cheeky gymnastics by former high-ranking Scientologist Mark Rathburn who left the Church, exposed its inner workings and was, not surprisingly, discredited by the Church itself. Via Rathburn, we get a sense of his own experiences within the organization and an even greater sense of how his life has become severely beleaguered since his break from Scientology. He comes across, probably to the chagrin of the Church, as an extremely sympathetic figure. Much of our empathy for him, however, comes more from Theroux's annoying and eventually badgering of Rathburn, attempting to get the man to respond to his own "complicity" in events and actions of the past.

One cannot fault Theroux for being a journalist, but one can certainly question his methods in the film, especially as they relate to Rathburn. Firstly, the movie inadvertently exposes how investigative journalists will try to be "friends" with their subjects in order to get what they want out of them. If My Scientology Movie was a film, as opposed to what it is, little more than reasonably watchable TV-style doc-journalism, this fascinating aspect of what makes investigative journalists do their job, might have elevated the proceedings considerably if it had been less (and seemingly) inadvertent.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Theroux's timing and methods to address Rathburn's "complicity" in the actions of the Church, seem so fumbling and wrong-headed that we can't help but feel for the former Scientology big-wig. At one point Theroux, in a somewhat smarmy and definitely clumsy fashion, uses information and points-of-view from letters he's received from the Church's lawyers to needle Rathburn. This not only pisses Rathburn off, but us as well.

Granted, Theroux interviews another former Church official Jeff Hawkins, who not only adds considerable insights to the proceedings, but states unequivocally that he believes Rathburn has been hiding more than a few skeletons in the Scientology Closet. As a journalist, Theroux is bound to act on this. That's the theory - the practice, however, is something else altogether and backfires on him. This kind of recoil is what will give the Church of Scientology considerable ammunition to discredit the movie itself.

I couldn't really blame them.

Andrew Perez as David Miscavige - Star Turn!!!
The film as journalism barely gets a passing grade. As a film, it registers a "gentlemanly" grade of "B". This is no work of artistry, voice and vision (like, say, Joshua Oppenheimer's great, important films). Still, My Scientology Movie gets points of the old-college-try variety for its dramatic reenactments - not because they're especially good, but because the actor they've chosen to play Scientology's topper David Miscavige, Andrew Perez, is undeniably charismatic and rivetingly scary.

His recreations of public Miscavige speeches go well beyond simple Rich Little-like impersonations, he genuinely creates a "character" of considerable human dimension. In the fictionalized dramatic recreations of the Church's inner workings, Perez dazzles so astoundingly that one wonders why he's not already on the road to the same kind of superstardom that celebrity Scientology church-member Tom Cruise is on. Perez is clearly a great actor. The camera loves him and I think audiences would love to see him in more movies (as opposed to what seems to be his only role since making this movie, a bit part in some TV show).

Hell, if Miscavige ever chose to produce his own approved biopic of himself, he'd be well advised to sign up Perez for the role. The kid exudes power and charisma, and that's what Miscavige has in spades.

This is not a bad picture by any means. It has elements that do provide considerable entertainment value. At times, the movie even flirts with Oppenheimer potential. There are a few sequences where Theroux is filming Scientology types as they are filming him in turn. These duelling cameras moments come close to capturing the kind of picture this could have been, if it had been a real movie made by real artists - not just another glorified TV documentary.


My Scientology Movie is a Kinosmith release. Canadian playdates include:
February 6 & 8 Victoria Film Festival, Victoria, BC
February 17 – 23 Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, Toronto, ON
February 24 – March 2 Globe Cinema, Calgary, AB
March 3 – 5 Salt Spring Film Festival, Salt Spring, BC
April 14 – 18 Bytowne, Ottawa, ON

Friday 3 February 2017

Another Reason Why The Royal in Toronto is the BEST Indie Cinema, not just in Toronto, but Canada (and one of the best in the world). Anna Biller's THE LOVE WITCH - on the big screen, where it's meant to be seen! The Royal has the best sound and picture in the city (by day, it's Theatre D Digital, a sound mixing studio for the movies) and the sumptuous colours of Anna Biller's ode to 70s Euro-Trash are going to look more gorgeous than ever. The seats are super-comfy too.!!! Review By Greg Klymkiw

The Love Witch is precisely the sort of movie I'd have seen during the 70s and 80s in one of my favourite (and long-gone) grind houses in Winnipeg that dotted Portage Avenue and Main Street in my old winter city like neon beacons of all that was truly sacred in life. Now you can see this ode to magnificent Euro-Trash in the very best cinema in Canada.

It will be glorious, but be warned, The Royal Cinema is sadly bereft of sticky floors, the aroma of urine/cum and toothless hookers giving gum jobs to malcontent veterans (of both Great Wars).

Well, we can't have everything.

The Love Witch (2016)
Dir. Anna Biller
Starring: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys,
Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Robert Seeley

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Babes, witches, devil worship, black magic and sex, sex and more sex were the mainstay of a lovely sub-genre of 70s Euro-Horror that nobody in their right mind could outright dismiss.

American counterparts amongst these garishly-coloured bonbons never quite lived up to the titillation quotient of Euro sleaze masters like Jean Rollin, Jesus Franco, et al, but no matter, director Anna Biller more than makes up for Uncle Sam's lack of quality output with her very own contemporary masterwork of delectably naughty feculence.

Mega-babe Elaine (Samantha Robinson) has left San Francisco and a mysteriously malevolent past behind her. Resettling in a small town in Redwood country at the behest of some "white" witches, Elaine soon unleashes her genuine powers of "black" magic upon a variety of studs. Plenty of carnal gymnastics, nudity and murder follow.

We should all be lucky enough to have someone like Elaine to love us to death.

Biller creates a sumptuous, sex-drenched tale that parades ritual and rapture in equal measure. Cinematographer M. David Mullen shoots the gloriously garish colours (courtesy of Biller's costume/production design) with deliciously rock-hard lighting (in 35mm no less).

The film proudly wears the clever screenplay's feminist undertones on its sleeve, which smartly contributes to Biller's deft satirical edge. The dialogue she generates for her pitch-perfect cast allows for laughs-aplenty, but where the movie excels (far beyond most other post-modernist endeavours of this kind) is that the actors deliver their lines with the appropriate thud-to-the-floor woodenness, or when necessary, jaw-agape histrionics and they do so with very straight faces and sans tongues-in-cheeks. This is one of the most difficult things for even the most seasoned thespians to pull off and there is not a single cast member who lets Biller, the film and by extension, the audience, down.

Though the movie runs a whopping 120 minutes, audiences will never feel like the proceedings are overstaying their welcome. Biller edits with the skill of a master cutter - not a single cut feels anything less than one which moves the story ever-forward and the pace is happily hypnotic. Those acquainted with the cinematic world The Love Witch recreates (with many fresh frissons) will have nothing to complain about. Those who aren't quite as abreast of it, will still derive pleasure from this diverting carnal romp.

The rest can go to church.

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

The Love Witch is an Oscilloscope Release enjoying its Canadian Theatrical Premiere at The Royal Cinema, 608 College St. Toronto:
2017-02-04 9:30 PM
2017-02-07 8:00 PM
2017-02-12 8:00 PM
2017-02-19 4:30 PM
2017-02-25 3:30 PM
2017-03-04 9:30 PM.