Saturday, 29 April 2017

WHITNEY "CAN I BE ME" & INTENT TO DESTROY - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 HotDocs HotPicks - Veteran Filmmakers Respectively Deliver Moving New Docs on Music & Massacre.

Houston Decimated by drugs and a broken heart.
Armenians decimated by Turkey.
Whitney "Can I Be Me"
Dir. Nick Broomfield, Rudi Dolezal

Intent to Destroy
Dir. Joe Berlinger

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Veteran filmmakers Nick Broomfield (Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Kurt & Courtney) and Joe Berlinger (Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger) both have new feature documentaries that serve up plenty of extremely moving content.

Broomfield's biographical portrait of the late pop music icon Whitney Houston utilizes concert/tour/personal footage shot by co-director Rudi Dolezal from many years earlier along with new interviews conducted by the incisive Brit auteur of her friends, family and associates. It's inconceivable to imagine anyone not shedding copious tears throughout this finely-wrought piece in which we learn about Houston's early years with a gospel-singing Momma, her rise to fame as a machine-tooled pop-star, the grand Diva's desire to sing her own way and the loves of her life - a best friend (and longtime "secret" lesbian partner) from the 'hood and "fly" singing sensation Bobby Brown. It's especially interesting to see behind-the-scenes interplay twixt the married couple - contrary to my gossip-influenced notions on the matter, the musically-gifted pair seem to genuinely be in love.

Mostly, what we walk away with is a film portrait of a woman dying, almost from the get-go. It's impossible to not feel she's wasting away ON CAMERA before our very eyes.

While the movie eschews Broomfield's trademark wise-ass, sardonic presence in front of the lens, we hear his distinctive voice poking, prodding and penetrating his subjects. Happily, the film is structurally blessed with Broomfield's finely-honed skills as a master film storyteller.

Joe Berlinger's picture is very strange, but also one in which it's hopeless not to shed Iguazu Falls-like torrents of tears. It is a documentary about the horrific 1915 Turkish genocide of over one million Armenians. We learn about the racist policies of forced relocation and wholesale slaughter of the Christian "infidel" and Turkey's continued (to this day) refusal to acknowledge the country's complicity in the first genocide of the 20th century.

The interviews and use of archival footage is first rate. What's less successful (and renders the movie into oddball territory) is the framing device and through-line of the windbag hack director Terry George's production of the absolutely horrendous Armenian massacre drama The Promise. Though Berlinger works hard to relate this part of his film to the real subject of the proceedings (the genocide), this Terry-George-tainted stuff often feels like glorified EPK and/or DVD-extra material for George's dreadful movie.

Still, Berlinger's picture (and much of it is very fine), sheds considerable light on one of the least-know genocides in modern history. This is enough to make it worth seeing.

Alas, Terry George as a subject certainly didn't ingratiate himself upon me (being, as I am, a perogy-slurping Uke Hunky from birth). Aside from the fact that I have little use for George's by-the-numbers work as a director, he rattles off a list of modern genocides in an interview at the start of Berlinger's picture, but fails to mention the Russia/Stalin/Kaganovich murder of 8-10 million Ukrainians during both the Holodomor and Purges.

This is a pretty boneheaded omission. It was, of course, to be expected. Terry George's own Armenian Holocaust picture, The Promise, turned out to be plenty boneheaded.

THE FILM CORNER RATING (Whitney): ***½ Three-and-a-Half Stars
THE FILM CORNER RATING (Intent to Destroy): *** Three Stars

Whitney enjoys its Canadian premiere and Intent To Destroy enjoys its International Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.

Friday, 28 April 2017

LAST MEN IN ALEPPO - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 HotDocs Hot Pick - Do NOT Miss This!

NOTE: If your government is not allowing Syrian refugees into your country, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!! If you believe Syrian refugees should NOT be allowed into your country, you are an ASSHOLE. If after seeing this film, Last Men in Aleppo, you feel the same way about Syrian refugees or, frankly, any refugees from war-torn and/or repressive regimes, you are clearly BRAIN DEAD.
The child is awake. The child is alive.
You can thank Allah, the God of Abraham or Jesus Christ,
but mostly, you should be thanking
The "White Helmets" of Syria.
Last Men in Aleppo (2017)
Dir. Feras Fayyad

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The bodies of battered, crushed babies removed from under rubble. The love in a father's eyes as he Skypes with his little girl before he dies. Children happily playing outside during a cease-fire until the threat of bombings, in spite of the cease-fire, paralyzes them with fear. A sweet, young man staring blankly after retrieving corpses and body parts from a missile strike site. The planes and helicopters of a Syrian dictator and his dirty Russian allies whooshing over a decimated city as they look for large groups of innocent, unarmed civilians to target.

These and so many other images are branded into my memory banks. I cannot shake them. I'm still shuddering and feeling tears welling up in my eyes. After all the movies I've seen in my life, well over 40,000 of them, I suspect that Last Men in Aleppo will hold a place in my very soul. (And if truth be told, even trying to write about this film inspires the emotions that the film instilled within me.)

This is a documentary portrait of Syria's "White Helmets" - firemen, paramedics and other rescue workers who volunteer (with their very lives in many cases), to search through the carnage of fresh bomb strikes in the city of Aleppo to save those still breathing and to retrieve the remains of those who are dead. Shot in 2015 and adhering with considerable rigour to the style of Cinéma Direct, it follows two primary subjects - Khaled, a burly, gregarious family man (obsessed with raising goldfish in an outdoor fountain amidst the carnage around him) and Mahmoud, a young man who seems utterly fearless yet is, in fact, continually terrified that his baby brother (who works with him) will be killed in the line of (volunteer) duty.

From beginning to end, the cameras are up close and personal with both men - through both their harrowing, dangerous, often deadly rescue missions and their private lives. These are people who love their city and country (in spite of the fuckwads running/ruining it) and it's made clear time and time again, they will stay or die. Most importantly they are wholly devoted to preserving human life after repeated attacks upon the city.

The movie is so plunged into the thick of the madness and chaos of this civil war (masqueraded as such on behalf of Syria's official government of dictatorship) that as we watch the film, we are not only on the edge of our seats with respect to the safety of the men onscreen, but we're equally fearful for the filmmakers.

And make no mistake, this is NOT journalism/war correspondence.


Director Fayas Fayyad, co-director/co-editor Steen Johannessen, cinematographer Fadi Al Halabi, Sound Recordist Morten Groth Brandt and the entire team have not only risked life and limb to bring this vital story to the screen, but have done so with the most vivid artistic aplomb. You know you are watching a documentary, the real thing (so to speak), but so often you forget all notions of this and feel like you're watching an edge-of-the-seat action film that is putting every mega-budgeted Hollywood nonsense generated, machine-tooled by poseurs, to utter shame. The film's structure is, miraculously, sheer drama of the best kind.

It's thrilling, exciting, terrifying, sad and sickening. And ultimately, it is so very, deeply and profoundly moving. Last Men in Aleppo is a masterpiece and will, as time marches forward be regarded as a classic of brave, brilliant cinema.


Last Men in Aleppo enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

ABOUT MY LIBERTY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 HotDocs Hot Pick - Protests for Peace

Our youth are our only hope and salvation.

About My Liberty (2017)
Dir. Takashi Nishihara

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There are few things in democratic society more appalling than when a government reinterprets its constitution for nefarious purposes and against the will of its people, rams through legislation that not only has far-reaching implications within that specific nation, but speaks to the notions of "liberty" (or lack thereof) in an international context. Japan's President Abe committed such a heinous act - a veritable crime against the country of Japan, but by extension, a chilling reminder that all of us, no matter what "free" society/country we live in, are susceptible to the abominable whims of the "ruling" class.

About My Liberty is an important work of Cinéma Direct documentary filmmaking that details the response of young student activists to Abe's horrendous actions when he rammed through legislation that contravened the 70-year-old Japanese constitution and in particular, Japan's unique place as a country devoted to peace. The constitution declares Japan will never actively go to war and that its military is only to be deployed in the nation's self-defence. This basic tenet of the country's nationhood is an important fabric of the culture and society of Japan.

The film focuses upon three young university students who create a national protest of increasing fervour and numbers. Using a wide variety of "millennial" tools (social media, clever bite-sized protest slogans, even Japanese rap music), the protest proper involves congregating outside of the Japanese government buildings with speeches, chants and accompanying cheers for peace. It begins with a veritable handful, but week after week, the numbers mount. Things reach an astonishing head when over 500,000 students hold a nationwide day of protest.

This is epic documentary filmmaking. At 165-minutes, it never lags. Structurally, it is the protests in the streets which are the tie that binds. These scenes have a hypnotic power and when the protests unravel, it's impossible to keep one's eyes off the screen. Between protests, the film focuses upon all the behind-the-scenes activities of the students. (This student movement is especially important in modern Japanese history as it's the first time young people in the country having been motivated to such extremes and on such a scale to actively engage in the political process.)

When the film concentrates on capturing all the aforementioned, it soars. Less successful are some of the scenes involving interviews with the participants. Given that so much of the movie adheres quite brilliantly to its Cinéma Direct roots, these moments tend to stick out like sore thumbs. This is, however, not enough to detract from the overall sweep and power of the film.

What About My Liberty hammers home are two things:

1. Our youth are not only our future, but they, more than any of us, have more of a stake in the future generations that follow them.

2. When peace is threatened in a nation that has peace chiselled into its constitution, we are all under threat. All of us, in spite of "democracy", can have our lives turned topsy-turvy by the borderline fascists so often at the helm of supposedly "free" nations.

The young people in this film are an inspiration to all of us. I'm thankful About My Liberty exists and that it's as good as it is.

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

About My Liberty enjoys its International Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

MANIC - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Pick - Nutty Daddy Scary Shenanigans

Creepy Daddy, Cocksman Extraordinaire

Manic (2017)
Dir. Kalina Bertin

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Gee whiz! If my Dad managed to sire 15 kids, part of me thinks I'd be, "Whoa, dude! Pass me a bottle of that cocksman DNA!" However, if he was anything like filmmaker Kalina Martin's father, I'd be compelled to add: "Uh, but hold the crazy, dude! Don't need any wing-nut juice coursing through my veins." (Actually, I have plenty of it roiling around within, but that's another story, for another day.)

Manic is compulsive viewing. This personal documentary sees its director on a mission to find answers to the reasons why mental illness is "tearing" her family apart. Her siblings are fraught with all manner of bats in the belfry, including bi-polar disorder. Right at the beginning of the picture, we get a brief glimpse of the filmmaker looking into a mirror, and she does not look super-happy. She immediately declares in her voice-over what this movie is going to be about.

We hit the ground running and the picture never lets up.

This is personal documentary filmmaking of a very high order.

Bertin has a great head start. Her family, most notably Daddy Dearest, were seemingly obsessed with taking home movies. This stuff is worth its weight in gold. As first, we get the portrait of a pretty cool, handsome and quite probably brilliant man - a dude who eschewed the status quo and had his family living in all manner of far flung locales. The kiddies look pretty happy too. They're a bit like a hip, hippie Von Trapp family. Alas, the hills are not alive with the sound of music.

And remember, the movie is called Manic. Creepy shit is going to happen and Oh, does it ever. We get the portrait of a devious, dangerous, unhinged con-man-cult-leader who will stop at nothing to achieve total acquiescence from all those around him - not just his kids, but the women who fall madly in love/lust with the hunky Canadian "Chuckles" Manson-like dick-dipper.

This guy is insatiable - not just for sex, but power.

Sadly, he has kids and what we discover is just how mental illness is ripping them to shreds. His legacy is not enviable. Manic is not just a creepy-crawly scary film, but it's savagely, relentlessly heartbreaking.


Manic, from EyeSteelFilm, enjoys its World Premiere at Hot Docs 17.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

BECOMING BOND + 78/52 - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - 2017HotDocsHotPicks - About Movies

PSYCHO dissected. BOND Lazenbyed. Movies on Movies.

Becoming Bond (2017)
Dir. Josh Greenbaum
Starring: George Lazenby, Josh Lawson,
Kassandra Clementi, Jeff Garlin, Jane Seymour

78/52 (2017)
Dir. Alexandre O. Philippe
Starring: Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Richard Stanley, Scott Spiegel, Leigh Whannell, Bret Easton Ellis, Illeana Douglas, Marli Renfro, Tere Carrubba, Stephen Rebello, David Thomson, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Movies about movies are certainly a treat for movie aficionados, critics and fanboys, but all those nuts can be the toughest to crack since most movies worth making movies about hold a special place in the hearts of the "converted" being preached to. Becoming Bond is an in-depth biography of George Lazenby, the only actor ever to play 007 once (in one of the greatest Bonds of them all) and 78/52 (the number of setups and cuts in the Psycho shower scene) examines the three-minutes of watery, bloody Hitchcock mayhem with more anal detail than Oliver Stone (no doubt) studied Abraham Zapruder's footage of JFK's assassination. Both documentaries have merit, but both also have a few bones to be mercilessly nitpicked at by geeks.

Walter Murch analyzing the editing of PSYCHO. Wow!
"I felt I'd been raped," says Peter Bogdanovich after describing his first helping of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. He's one of many worthy interview subjects to talk about the shower scene in Psycho. His description of the audience reaction to the sequence in the Times Square cinema he saw it in, is alone worth the price of admission to 78/52.

Happily, Phillipe's documentary offers a sumptuous buffet of perspectives.

Some of the best include:

- an astonishing dissection of the editing from Walter Murch (so amazing that one could have simply made an entire film of Murch discussing it with clips);

- a series of insightful analyses from the brilliant Hardware director Richard Stanley whose passion and appreciation seems so deliciously bonkers (and spot-on) that his demeanour seems almost malevolent in its glee;

- Janet Leigh's nude/stunt body double Marli Renfro who not only provides a cornucopia of production tidbits, but does so which such natural zeal and talent one wonders what we lost from her not being a more prolific actress in movies herself;

- filmmakers Eli (Hostel torture-porn-gore-meister) Roth, Neil (The Descent) Marshall and Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), all proving they've got the chops to be film professors of the highest order if directing ever turns out to be a dead-end for them and;

- ace composer Danny Elfman brilliantly discussing Bernard Herrmann's game-changing, shriek-and-heart-attack-inducing string score.

Of course, no such documentary would be complete without a stellar passel of eggheads and Phillipe doesn't disappoint in this regard by including film critics/historians Stephen Rebello and David Thomson, PLUS an art history expert casting light on the strange Baroque painting Hitchcock chose as the instrument by which Norman Bates would, peeping-Tom-like, spy upon Janet Leigh.

Oh, but there are several questionable inclusions in the picture which only serve to add unnecessary longueurs and head-scratching to the whole affair. I mean, really. Was it absolutely necessary to waste our time with the "insights" from those responsible for the Saw sequels and Hostel IV? And come on, why even acknowledge that Gus Van Sant's idiotic remake of Psycho exists, much less spending any time on it whatsoever?

However, this is kind of like picking out undigested bits of corn and peanuts from a good, healthy turd deposit and 78/52 is, for most of us fanboys, robust and satisfying.

The Many Facets of George Lazenby in a kilt.
Not so with Becoming Bond. This biography of actor George Lazenby has so much going for it; namely Lazenby himself, that one wonders why director Josh Greenbaum made the decision to tell this fascinating man's story with dramatic re-enactments.

To be in the up close and personal sphere of Lazenby, the 77-year-old former-model-turned-actor, is to be in the presence of a master raconteur. He tells a marvellous tale of his life as a mischievous kid, auto-mechanic, master cocksman and finally, one of the biggest movie stars in the world. We're privy to the most intimate details of his prodigious sexual hijinks and very movingly, the story of the first love of his life (and how he blew it, big time).

The story of Lazenby's wild days as a male model and the extraordinary turn of events that led to him being cast as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Peter Hunt's film is still one of the greatest Bond pictures ever made) is the stuff of legend. Even more astonishing is the aftermath - when Lazenby did the unthinkable and walked away from a multi-picture, multi-million-dollar offer to continue in the role as a very worthy successor to Sean Connery.

The elder Lazenby is a joy. One doesn't want to take one's eyes of the guy, except when the picture cuts to film clips and archival footage. Whenever we're flung into the dramatic re-enactments, our hearts sink. We can hear his voice, but alas we're forced to watched a strange amalgam of Richard Lester London Swing with sniggering Gerald Thomas Carry On shenanigans. It's not that I have a problem with either, nor do I have a problem with blending them, but the overall tone of these sequences seems tonally off and too often comes across as pallid, by-the-numbers recreations of a particular period of film history as well as Lazenby's life. (In fairness, there are two excellent performances in these recreations - Jeff Garlin as suitably bombastic producer Harry Saltzman and Jane Seymour as Lazenby's sexy, no-nonsense agent.)

Look, I don't want to be one of those assholes who wishes a filmmaker had done a different movie, so ultimately, I won't. My hat is off to Greenbaum for doing something this audacious, but sadly, it's all too close-but-no-cigar.

I am, however, going to be an annoying movie geek, though. How could someone make a documentary biography of George Lazenby and not refer to the lunch he was supposed to have with Bruce Lee that never happened on the very day the martial arts star died? Or the three Golden Harvest action pictures he starred in? And, most notably, one of Lazenby's strangest post-James-Bond roles in Peter Bogdanovich's masterpiece Saint Jack? (In Bogdanovich's amazing film adaptation of the Paul Theroux novel, Lazenby played the politician with a penchant for little Asian boys who is tailed by Ben Gazzara's Jack Flowers, the two-fisted Singapore pimp-turned-stoolie.)

Well, movies are like life. We can't have it all.

THE FILM CORNER RATING (for 78/52) ***½ Three and a Half Stars
THE FILM CORNER RATING (for Becoming Bond) *** Three Stars

78/52 enjoys its Toronto Premiere and Becoming Bond, its International Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.

PECKING ORDER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 HotDocsHotPick - Here, chickie, chickie.....

Special Note: This is the second film at this year's Hot Docs about farm animals I own (the first being Do Donkeys Act?). I was hoping for a hat-trick. Sadly, this is not to be. Festival Director Shane Smith has informed me that there surely must be some goats that appear somewhere in the festival, but I have yet to find them.
These people LOVE chickens. Then again, so do I.
If you prick us, do we not bleed?

Pecking Order (2017)
Dir. Slavko Martinov

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Full Disclosure: I own chickens.

Even if I didn't I'd have been able to enjoy this thoroughly entertaining and well-crafted look into the world of competitive poultry showcases in New Zealand. Director Slavko Martinov trains his cameras upon several members of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club (which, in this year of Our Lord, 2017, is - like Canada - celebrating its sesquicentennial). Within a variety of sleepy rural Kiwi enclaves surrounding the club's head offices in the burgh of Riccarton, several members prep and preen over their flocks of fowl, the best of which will be presented for eventual inspection and judgement at a major exhibition of "chocks" (in the delightful vernacular of chickie-poo-fanciers).

It is to Martinov's credit that he presents the proceedings with a good, balanced eye, but also allows enough breathing room for the eventual hilarity that can - and must - ensue in any movie devoted to obsessive chicken lovers. Even better, Martinov never treats his subjects like wing nuts (which many of us chicken enthusiasts, admittedly, are). With a subject like this it could have been very tempting to apply a nasty tongue-in-cheek to the mise-en-scene, but he lets his charges (human and feathered) acquit themselves with dignity.

Not that there isn't mudslinging, though. One of the more fascinating elements in this examination of competitive chicken rearing is the crisis which develops within the club itself - a fairly stirring power struggle amongst its members. The rift is twixt the old and the new - yes, Martinov's film carefully focuses upon the wide age-range of chicken wranglers; seniors, middleaged, teens and kids are all represented here.

The bottom line, though, is that we're allowed to laugh with the subjects and not at them. Throughout the movie, while there are a series of cute title/chapter cards with a variety of chicken puns, none of them are there derisively and act simply as jovial, good-natured tools to drive the "drama" forward.

There is one thing in the film that disturbed me. It has nothing to do with the filmmaking, however. It has to do with an attitude amongst a few of the subjects that, uh, ruffled my own chicken-loving feathers. Yes, I do own chickens. I do so to allow them to live out their lives naturally and happily in a free-range environment (with a ridiculously sturdy, clean and comfy coop to retire to when the sun goes down) for the rest of their lives.

What made me raise more than a few of my two eyebrows (yes, I think I sprouted some new ones) was how I happily observed flock upon flock of domestic fowl living so happily in a free-range manner and thinking, "Wow! These people don't kill their chocks!" But as soon as I settled into this comfy idyll, it started: more than once did I hear comments about how the "bad" chickens (those not suited to chickie-competition glory) would have their necks wrung and end up in stewing pots.

That said, I was extremely happy when one of the subjects addressed the issue of the chickens having individual personalities. Yes, they do! God knows I'm aware of this in my own sweet chocks. And if there's anything for me to find fault with in the filmmaking is that I'd have loved to see a brief sequence demonstrating the joys inherent in said personalities. However, given how exhaustive Martinov's film is, I suspect this was an aspect which was covered, but merely ended up on a cutting room floor to keep the proceedings as sprightly as they are.


Pecking Order enjoys its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2017

Monday, 24 April 2017

PLAYING GOD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 HotDocsHotPick - Ambulance Chaser as GOD

Ken Feinberg assessed value of 9/11 victims.
Playing God (2017)
Dir. Karin Jurschick
Starring: Ken Feinberg

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It's a dirty, dirty job, but someone's got to do it. When tragedy strikes, when a wrong must be righted, when you need someone to assess the value of a human life, not just any ambulance chaser will do. The American Government's learned counsel of choice is none other than "Special Master", Attorney Ken Feinberg. Karin Jurschick's well crafted documentary Playing God provides a compelling, journalistically-well-balanced portrait of the man who presided over the granting of compensation to victims of government cutbacks to pensions, Agent Orange, the BP oil spill and most notably, the 9/11 tragedy.

From start to finish of the film, Feinberg proves to be a straight-shooter with flair. The camera loves him. This is not lost on Jurschick. There is a sequence early on wherein she has her camera in just the right spot upon him in a nicely-framed shot of his upper torso as he sits in his office and explains the facts of life.

"If you get hit by an automobile, if you fall off a ladder, if you eat poison food, if you trip on a sidewalk," he says, and then, with the flourish of a dramatic pause and the tell-tale symbolic physical gesture of rubbing of his forefinger, middle finger and thumb together, he declares:


He continues:

"We will rectify the wrong by having the guilty party, the tort-feasor, pay the victim."

But, according to Feinberg, there's a simple (albeit harsh) reality to all this. "Now, if it's a stockbroker, or a banker who fell on the sidewalk, you're going to pay a lot more than if the person who fell was a waiter or a soldier or a policeman or a fireman."

And it's here where Jurschick displays her flair, as a filmmaker.

Feinberg buttons his speech with this declaration:

"That's the way the system works."

Here there's a breathtaking cut from the office window. The sound of a whoosh and roar overtakes the shot as an airplane passes by, followed by the sound of a sickening impact as we get another breathtaking cut into the maw of 9/11 Hell.

Wham! This is powerful stuff. We're not dealing with just anyone slipping on a sidewalk, we're dealing with the families of those who lost loved ones when terrorists slammed planes into the Twin Towers, Vietnam veterans suffering from the cancer-causing properties of Agent Orange, fishermen's livelihoods ruined by BP's scumbaggery, and the list, goes on. And on.

However, Jurschick doesn't utilize her considerable craft simply to take the wind out of Feinberg, but rather the cold, hard-hearted truth of the "system". Her film doesn't let him off the hook, but it doesn't tar and feather the dude either. She gives us as full a portrait as would be humanly possible, given what it is that Feinberg does for a living. Her style isn't as insanely intense as that to which someone like Errol (The Fog of War) Morris might have brought to bear on the subject, but her voice, though occasionally a wee bit too balanced for my taste is still very clear and definitely all her own. She transcends the pitfalls of so many documentaries that eschew film art in favour of journalism and this is to be celebrated.

Yes, there is balance here, but it ultimately serves the film, the subject and the audience. She gives us a unique opportunity to know and understand this extraordinary individual.

Tellingly, we learn that Feinberg wanted to be an actor, but that he took his father's sage advice to take his passion into something more practical. Hence, law. We also experience a cultured, intelligent, erudite human being who is also filled with deep compassion. This takes some doing since Jurschick's film applies equal balance in presenting a series of harrowing points-of-view from a wide variety of victims. Feinberg is charged with assessing the "value" of their suffering, the value of their very lives and/or those whom they have lost.

We see a man who, on one hand, must figure out the precise amount to "award" corporate pigs in the bank bailouts and, on the other, determine if the government has a legal right to severely cut the pensions of simple working people.

Yes, it's a dirty, dirty job, but Playing God is ultimately all about humanity - on both sides of the coin, and most of all, what resides within each side - no matter how slender or thick the coin actually is.


Playing God enjoys its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

LET THERE BE LIGHT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Pick - Fusion is no illusion

The ultimate fusion reactor is within our reach.
Let There Be Light (2017)
Dir. Mila Aung-Thwin, Van Royko
Review By Greg Klymkiw
"Stars have a life cycle much like animals. They get born, they grow, they go through a definite internal development - and finally they die, to give back the material of which they are made so that new stars may live." - Hans Bethe, "Energy Production in Stars"
Fusion is the future of energy. It is created by slamming two hydrogen nuclei together. When these two positives collide, we get - Voila! - mega energy. Simple, yes? Uh, no. Our sun, and in fact all stars, are essentially fusion reactors. To create energy from fusion, we essentially need to create our own version of the sun.

Sounds like science fiction to you, right? Well, mankind has been actively studying the potential of fusion for over 50 years and now, with the complex participation of 37 countries and the best/brightest scientific minds, this reality is so close, yet so far.

Let There Be Light is a fascinating, gripping study of what might be the most expensive scientific experiment ever undertaken (ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor).

Filmmaker Mila Aung-Thwin with co-director/cinematographer Van Royko serve up everything you always wanted to know about fusion, but were too uninformed to even bother asking about. Using a dazzling blend of animation, digital effects, penetrating interviews and stunningly shot coverage of the complex mechanics and construction of an actual star-making machine deep in the bucolic countryside of France, this is a science-based documentary with a difference.

It's absolutely thrilling, because what we're watching are real scientists racing against the clock to make this important dream a reality. It's a Michael Crichton thriller come to life, only the stakes are much higher. What Let There Be Light serves up is the future of the Earth itself. Stakes don't get much higher than that.


Let There Be Light, from EyeSteelFilm, enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

HOPE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Pick - Zweig Casts New Gaze on Fonyo

The following is a review of the new film HOPE, a sequel to Alan Zweig's HURT (winner of the Grand Prize in the prestigious 2015 Toronto International Film Festival’s 40th anniversary Platform competition). The subject of both films is cancer survivor and Canadian hero Steve Fonyo. When you finish reading the review, feel free to read my Open Letter requesting Steve Fonyo's reinstatement to the Order of Canada HERE.
Canadian Hero Steve Fonyo Seeks Redemption.

HOPE (2017)
Dir. Alan Zweig
Starring: Steve Fonyo

Review By Greg Klymkiw

During the extraordinary opening shot of Alan Zweig's HOPE, it's impossible not to think about the words from Matthew 6:22, "The eye is the lamp of the body," especially within the context of the old expression, the eyes are windows into the soul. Indeed they are. As King David says in Psalm 101:
I will not look with approval
on anything that is vile...
My eyes will be on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me.
David slew Goliath for the glory of God and the freedom of his people, but even heroes fall. David fell hard, but he eventually sought redemption. After many trials, King David of Jerusalem let the light back in:
"Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit."
The eye that Zweig's film opens on, in extreme close-up no less, belongs to Steve Fonyo. The camera pulls back slowly from within the iris to reveal the full watery ocular orb of the film's subject, a genuine hero, a man who fell hard and as this film opens, he begins a journey to let light back into his life.

Fonyo is a man who is given, by the film itself, a shot at hope - the hope that he will find redemption by finding the strength within himself to change his life, to heal his body and mind, to move forward, to get better. But will he? Is he even capable of it? The cameras trained upon him provide some answers, but only the viewer can judge, and even then, it's all going to be up to Fonyo. And as HOPE proves, it's not an easy ride.

In 2015's HURT, we learned that Fonyo, like David, did indeed slay the Goliath that is the disease of cancer when he made an 8000 km cross-Canada run on a prosthetic leg in 1984-1985 to raise over $14 million for cancer research. We learn about his brave, virtually Herculean achievement and we watch as he is bestowed with the Order of Canada.

However, much of HURT charts Fonyo in a living Hell, the results of 30 years of abject poverty, homelessness, struggling from the diseases of alcoholism and drug addiction and often living against the backdrop of the criminal underbelly. This once bright-eyed youthful hero is now a middle-aged miasma of inner demons. Even his Order of Canada is disgracefully revoked by callous pencil-pushers in the Canadian Government. By the end of HURT, with a tiny shred of hope dangling itself before Fonyo, he is brutally assaulted in a home invasion and barely survives a coma and massive stroke.

HOPE opens not long after these events. In a superbly structured opening credit sequence we get the whole backstory and Zweig launches us immediately into Fonyo's new challenge - to enter a top-flight rehab facility in Powell River, British Columbia. We follow Fonyo and his girlfriend as they pack up their squalid digs in Surrey, hit the road and eventually part company as he enters the facility. We follow Fonyo's experience in the facility and the aftermath in which Fonyo hopes to begin a new life in the veritable Garden of Eden, Powell River. We meet with his chief analyst, his oldest friend and biggest supporter during the historic run and yes, Zweig's penetrating eye gives us a glimpse into the fractious love twixt Fonyo and his girlfriend (occasionally venturing into bilious George and Martha territory).

Of course, Zweig, as in all of his films, is present; off-camera, but his unmistakeable voice of gravel pierces through like some omniscient spirit. Supporter and needler, prodding Fonyo to cough-up hard truths, Zweig not only creates cinema, but takes the very act of cinema to the extremes of being the very helping-hand Fonyo needs. (Zweig, the ever-present pitbull, seems vaguely suspect of Fonyo's 12-Step Higher Power choice in the faith of the Jehovah Witness Church, but his probing is always tinged with care and genuine love.)

Most viewers want things served up simply. They won't get that here. Yes, Zweig's film is the very reason why Fonyo makes this decision to go into rehab and bravely the cameras keep rolling as Fonyo somewhat petulantly puts this juju on Zweig. He makes it clear that he's doing this for the film and that he expects the film (and filmmaker) to provide him with what he needs. One of the more fascinating moments is when Fonyo's analyst admits to Zweig that the rehab process might go more smoothly if the film wasn't being made at all. He claims that even when the cameras aren't rolling, Fonyo responds to the therapy as if he was on camera.

Well, of course he would. This is a guy who had cameras on him constantly during his greatest achievement thirty years ago. He's used to the cameras being there and even though three decades have passed, it's old hat for Fonyo. Being in the public spotlight and working it as well as he did is kind of like learning to ride a bicycle.

Is the film, in this sense, exploitative? Sorry, folks. What film isn't? Exploitation in cinema is at its worst when there is a pretence to try and hide exploitative elements. The best cinema lets it all hang out - warts and all. HOPE exposes its own warts as well as its subjects.

This is an extraordinarily moving experience. I can't even begin to affix a value, numerically or otherwise, to the amount of tears I squirted throughout this film, the number of times my breath was taken away by a great shot, or cut or riff in the score. HOPE overflows with heartbreak, melancholy and yes, on occasion, even something approaching joy. There are times when we feel like we're peering into Fonyo's soul beneath the layers of the many masks he dons.

This is the beauty of cinema, however, especially when wrought by a true master like Zweig. The eyes are everything - those of the subject, the filmmaker and the camera lens itself.

HURT so often felt like it was infused with the spirit of the 70s existential palookaville angst of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. HOPE continues this feeling, but at times we feel like we're in John Cassavetes A Woman Under the Influence/Killing of a Chinese Bookie territory. Add the light (albeit murky) of redemption to this mix and you have the documentary equivalent of Coppola's achievement when, with The Godfather: Part II, he made a sequel as stirring, powerful and vital as The Godfather. When a film knocks us on our ass, we seldom expect its sequel to do the same thing. With HOPE, Zweig achieves this with the same dogged, gritty artistry that's made him one of Canada's greatest filmmakers.


HOPE enjoys its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.

Friday, 21 April 2017

UNARMED VERSES + VANCOUVER: NO FIXED ADDRESS - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Picks: A Tale of Two Charlies (Officer and Wilkinson), Two Docs, Two Cities & Home.

Home. In Toronto. In Vancouver. Displacement in both.

Unarmed Verses (2017)
Dir. Charles Officer
Prd. Lea Marin

Vancouver: No Fixed Address (2017)
Dir. Charles Wilkinson
Prd. Tina Schliessler

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Allow me to make some introductions.

Charles Officer, meet Charles Wilkinson. You are both named Charlie. You are both important Canadian filmmakers. You both have films enjoying their respective world premieres at the 2017 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival. Both are terrific pictures about the importance of home in two Canadian cities - one's in the east, the other in the west. You have both made films that couldn't be more different and yet, they both skilfully and artfully address how urban "development" is destroying the fabric of community.

Officer has made some of the most poetic dramas and documentaries ever to be made in Canada (Nurse.Fighter.Boy, Mighty Jerome). Wilkinson has led the charge with some of the most important documentaries wrought on the subject of the environment (Peace Out, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World).

They have both made new films that would make for an absolutely perfect double bill.

Unarmed Voices? We all have a voice!!!

Shot in a Cinéma Direct style, but with plenty of exquisitely moving poetic sequences, Unarmed Verses follows 12-year-old Francine Valentine, a sweet, smart and talented young lady living in Villaways, an isolated community housing project in Toronto. She's especially gifted in Language Arts and has a decided penchant for poetry. She's a member of an arts collective in the project and her primary narrative through-line is prepping her "words" for an eventual musical turn in a sound studio. There's a mighty shroud hanging over her, though. The home she's always known, the community she's come to embrace, the friends and family she loves, will be uprooted when Villaways will be demolished and everyone within it will be displaced for at least four years.

Ultimately, this is a film about community and empowerment. For little Francine, empowerment comes from art and personal expression.

At one point, her sweet voice tells us:

"We all have a voice, we just have to find different ways to use them."

The film is an extraordinary experience. It manages to have its cake and eat it too by lifting us up and breaking our hearts.

Vancouver. A sad symphony. Will humanity prevail?

Wilkinson's Vancouver: No Fixed Address is equally powerful. Blending his often painterly visual style with an incisive journalistic sense of exploration and order, he hits the subject of urban "development" with the precision of both a surgeon and marksman. We're dazzled and informed with the history of the city, its changes, the influx of new immigrants, the skyrocketing costs of living, the impossibility of property ownership/rent and yes, homelessness. One of the extraordinary attributes of the film is its use of music. This is no traditional score. Focusing on a wide variety of (mostly) street musicians, their melodies are not only used to drive the visual, but they astonishingly come together in a symphonic fashion.

Though it couldn't be more different in its overall mise-en-scene, Vancouver: No Fixed Address still reminded me of Walter Ruttman's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. Ruttman, of course, charted his "great city" in one day. Wilkinson trains his eye upon his "great city" over the course of several days and weeks (and from a historical standpoint, decades). Where both works meet, however, is in the use of symphonic properties to tell their stories cinematically.

Wilkinson interviews a diverse group of subjects (including David Suzuki), but one of the most moving and poignant is a retired movie theatre manager who loves Vancouver dearly, but cannot live on his meagre pension in a home of his own. He lives in his van. To escape the winters, he drives to Mexico and lives modestly, but even during the rest of the year, Vancouver can get mighty cold. It rains frequently and the "wet cold" cuts deep - like a knife.

There is another form of "cold" Wilkinson exposes - development, fuelled as it is by filthy lucre. Movingly, there is balance in this portrait - it's the people. Humanity wins.

THE FILM CORNER RATING (for both films): **** 4-Stars

Unarmed Verses is an NFB production. Vancouver: No Fixed Address is a Knowledge Network Exclusive. Both films enjoy their World Premieres at Hot Docs 2017.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

TOKYO IDOLS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hot Docs 2017 Hot Pick - Creeps Worship Little Girls

"I want to save my innocence." Indeed.

Tokyo Idols (2017)
Dir. Kyoko Miyake

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In contemporary Japan, there are over 10,000 young girls who are "idols" and they have millions of "fans" - most of whom are unmarried, middle-aged men of the geek/nerd persuasion. You learn something new everyday. It's especially nice when you learn it from movies as good as Tokyo Idols.

I also have to admit that part of the flesh-crawling fun the movie provided me was due to the fact that my first screening of Kyoko Miyake's compulsively fascinating documentary feature was punctuated by a series of exclamatory utterances from my viewing-mate, a very smart, together and funny 15-year-old girl (my daughter, of course). Her jaw was hitting the floor throughout the movie and I've never seen her eyes so wide. Here are but a few of her verbal responses:



"Dad, this is SO not right."

I couldn't really disagree with her. Most of the movie follows the adventures of 19-year-old Rio who longs to be a famous pop-star. She is part of the humungous coterie of teenage girls in Japan with similar aspirations. They call themselves "idols". The other half of the equation are the fans (referred to as "otaku") and Miyake trains her lenses equally upon Koji, a 43-year-old dweeb who lives virtually every waking hour of his life in lavishing copious worship upon her.

Koji has given up the notion of ever having a relationship with another woman. But make no mistake, he loves Rio. He knows he will never sleep with her and that they will never have a relationship beyond a bought-and-paid-for friendship. He's happy to pay money to shake her hand, have a conversation with her (usually involving expressions of his adoration) and attending all her concerts.

Rio, being long-in-tooth for an "idol" must work extra-hard to maintain her fan base and hopefully get a shot at stardom.

Rio is 19-years-old. As such, she is long-in-tooth.

The film also gives us glimpses into other "idols" and "otaku", but also unveils this very strange world in which teenage girls adorn themselves in schoolgirl outfits, gyrate onstage suggestively and belt out innocuous pop tunes. The men are genuinely lonely and bereft of any other purpose in life. They're also dedicated to doing anything and everything to help their "idols" achieve success. Yes, it's "genuine", but it's also sinister and at times, downright repugnant.

By far the creepiest instance of idol/hero worship involves a girl who is still, for all intents and purposes, a child. Yes, there are genuine child "idols" and plenty of creepy old dudes "devoted" to them.

These guys crave relationships with no commitment and most of all, want "friendships" with little girls. They're like pedophiles who get to do everything pedophiles do without actually committing criminal acts of sexual assault. Of course this is all occurring against the twisted cultural backdrop of anime and manga, often driven by pubescent/adolescent female victims and male demons with big dicks.

Middle-aged men with no lives worship teenage girls.

Ultimately, I like how the film just presents the worlds of idols and otaku without overtly drawing much in the way of "moral" conclusions. We're allowed to draw our own conclusions. Yes, by the end of the film, it feels like there are many unanswered questions, but for the film to go out of its way to answer them would feel disingenuous, and frankly, the kind of thing a dull, by-the-numbers filmmaker would do. It's obvious Miyake is anything but that.

Still, I do wish the movie addressed what might appear to be a very small number of female fans, but most of all, I might have perversely appreciated if the film had managed to get an otaku-dude jerking off to his "idol" paraphernalia, or at the very least admitting that he pulled his pud over these "little girls".

I have absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of these guys engage in plenty of schwance-stroking. As Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) in David Lynch's Blue Velvet says: "It's a strange world, isn't it?"


Tokyo Idols, from EyeSteelFilm, enjoys its Toronto Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

DO DONKEYS ACT? - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Pick - Grace of Ungulates

These two sweeties from Do Donkeys Act? in identical pose
I've seen my own sweeties strike on my hobby rescue farm.

Do Donkeys Act? (2016)
Dir. David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Starring: Willem Dafoe

Review By Greg Klymkiw
"Obviously these other beings do not speak with a human tongue, they do not speak in words. They might speak in song, like many birds, or in rhythm, like the crickets or the ocean waves. They may speak a language of movements and gestures, or articulate themselves in shifting shadows... Step into shade. Listen close." - David Abram, Becoming Animal, opening title card in the film Do Donkeys Act?
Full Disclosure: I own donkeys.

Even if I didn't, I'd love this gloriously poetic film. Much like God Knows Where I Am, last year's masterpiece by the Wider Brothers, Do Donkeys Act? is a documentary that blasts through the preconceptions of the form and delivers precisely the genuine, and I think, true promise of cinema - that of an art form infused with lyrical, almost dactylic qualities. This is not to say that such works must be bereft of "narrative", some of the very best which display these properties embrace a dramatic form. When you see movies like this, you know you are in the presence of greatness.

Do Donkeys Act? is nothing if not great.

The unmistakeable eyes and demeanour of a poet.

David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, the directing team of Girl Model, 2011's powerful, moving exploration of Japan's exploitation of teenage girls from Eastern Europe, train their cameras upon altogether different living beings that have been desecrated, abused and subjected to appalling inhumanity.


On the surface, the film, like the best art, is simple. We follow donkeys from their admittance to a series of heavenly refuges, the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, England, Cork, Ireland, Guelph, Canada and upstate New York, and then through a variety of medical/grooming procedures, their daily lives and finally, the sheer peace of what will be their existence until they leave this Earth. Simple? Yes, but as such, it yields a bounty of complexities - some fact-based, others philosophical and finally, pure, raw emotion.

Of course, it is lovely to see the donkeys interacting with their kind, caring human charges, but even more astonishing is seeing these sweet four-legged ungulate mammals communicating with each other.

Though it is a work that blends the great pioneering approaches of Michel Brault and the other legendary Québécois practitioners of Cinéma Direct via the National Film Board of Canada (NFB/ONF) as well as the great Cinéma Vérité artists Chris Marker and Jean Rouch, I was even reminded of the unfettered filmmaking style of cinema's greatest storyteller Robert Bresson. This is not only because of Bresson's dazzling Au hasard Balthazar (its main character being, yes, a donkey) and the occasional references by Redmon and Sabin's film to the Bresson picture, but like Bresson we experience both emotion and ideas by the power of the image itself and the lean stripping away of overt manipulation.

Donkeys living in peace. As should all creatures.

Happily, one thing that Do Donkey's Act? does not strip away is the use of words. Though the film's soundtrack is exquisitely laden with natural sounds (most notably the beauty of the donkeys' braying), there is a "score" of lovely poetic voice-over performed with power and grace over images by Willem Dafoe. I watched this film not knowing until the end title credits that Dafoe was the voice speaking the "poetry" of the language. This was an extra-special treat for me. Throughout the movie I kept thinking, "Jesus, who is this dude? He's amazing!" Well, and so, it turned out, he is (was). In a way, this overall approach reminded me of the brilliant way Terence Davies used the poetry as "score" in his Emily Dickinson biopic A Quiet Passion.

When images and words are infused with poetic grace, you soar in ways that so few films can inspire. Here, however, we have a subject that's more than worthy of this, creatures of the most sublime qualities of grace.

I know all too well. After I write this review, I'm on my way to feed carrots to Shasta and Cindy, my sweet, gentle and graceful donkeys.


Do Donkeys Act? is a Blue Ice Docs release and enjoys its North American Premiere at Hot Docs 2017 in Toronto.

After its first steps, the baby rests.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A CAMBODIAN SPRING - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Pick ***** vérité

Buddhist Monk vs Cambodian Military.
Peaceful Activism vs Violence and Corruption.
A Cambodian Spring (2017)
Dir. Chris Kelly
Starring: Venerable Loun Sovath, Toul Srey Pov, Tepp Vanny

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In spite of the "democratic" elections of puppet Prime Minister (dictator) Hun Sen and a "free market" economy since 1993, innocent people continue to be murdered, beaten, tortured, lied to, wrongfully imprisoned, cheated and robbed by the Cambodian Government. Since 2009, Sen has been in collusion with a whole passel of scum-buckets to continue the perpetration of said murders, beatings, torture, lies, theft, incarceration and (to add insult to injury) environmental decimation. Sen's cabal of collaborators in these crimes against Cambodia include The United Nations, The World Bank, the European Union, the Shukaku Development Corporation and perhaps, most shockingly of all, the highest authorities in the Buddhist Church.

A Cambodian Spring, shot over six years, has its fair share of uplifting and triumphant moments. In spite of them, though, this is a shocking and devastatingly sad story.

Winning battles is nice, but when the enemy is corruption, there's only one winner.

And it's never "the people".

The movie serves up compulsive viewing. Director Chris Kelly employs a Direct Cinema approach (I prefer the classic 50s/60s Quebecois term "Cinéma Direct") by training his cameras on Venerable Loun Sovath, Toul Srey Pov and Tepp Vanny - three Cambodian activists fighting against the corruption of the Cambodian Government as it seeks to displace the people living around the Boeung Kak Lake in the city of Phnom Penh. The goal of the government is to completely fill-in the beautiful lake and create development opportunities for PM Sen's rich buddies. This involves the expropriation of the homes of the residents. The scum bucket corporation in charge of all this, is offering each affected family $500USD (at best) for houses they worked like slaves to own. Once ejected with this pittance, they'll never be in a position to own homes ever again.

With this highly charged situation, Kelly wisely focuses on the chief activists and his cameras capture three compelling "characters".

Venerable Loun Sovath is a monk committed to adhering to the teachings of Buddha to help his people against these injustices. Alas, officials from the highest levels of the Buddhist Faith are colluding with the government and scumbag corporate interests and they do everything in their power to make Sovath's fight a living Hell. (One interesting thing is that no policeman or military thug would dare arrest a Buddhist priest and the Cambodian Buddhist order actually has its own police force to arrest their own.)

Toul Srey Pov and Tepp Vanny are close friends living in Boeung Kak who work in tandem to spearhead actions against the government and corporate thugs. Pov is the behind the scenes "brains" of the formidable female duo and Vanny is the public face of the struggle. Vanny is a fiery speech-maker and eventually becomes anointed in the world's eyes, especially when Hilary Clinton, as Secretary of State under the Obama administration, bestows Vanny with both an award and highly adulatory words of support (in public and private).

Though Sovath is clearly the obvious butt-kicker figure amongst this trio, the real emotional core of the story lies in the friendship between the two women. The Cinéma Direct approach clearly serves the whole narrative, but it's especially effective at capturing the eventual erosion twixt the women and sadly displays how governments and corporations - one and the same, really - win the war by laying a divide-and-conquer groundwork for their nefarious activities.

The film opens with a scene infused with nostalgia and melancholy. At the end, Kelly repeats the entire scene. The effect is emotionally stirring - devastating, really. I defy anyone not to be weeping openly at the scene.

The journey is a rollercoaster. Its highs are high, the lows are low. By the end, we are as defeated as the people of Cambodia and the residents of Boeung Kak. Even after an apparent government concession, the film bears witness to innocent people having their homes stolen and demolished before their very eyes.

And these two great women, Toul Srey Pov and Tepp Vanny, are reduced to being mortal enemies - wedges of pettiness have been clearly and intentionally driven between them.

One waits in vain for one final Frank Capra flourish to make things right. It never comes. Life, just isn't like the movies.


A Cambodian Spring from EyeSteelFilm, enjoys its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2017 in Toronto.

Monday, 17 April 2017

OPEN LETTER from Greg Klymkiw to: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadian Governor General His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston & Queen Elizabeth II: I respectfully ask you to REINSTATE Stephen Charles "Steve" Fonyo, Jr. as an Officer in the Order of Canada. Come to see the World Premiere of a new film by the multi-award-winning Canadian filmmaker Alan Zweig entitled HOPE during the 2017 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and hang your heads in shame if, after seeing it, you do not reinstate Mr. Fonyo to this Order which he DESERVES to be an honoured member in.

Open Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor General David Johnston and Queen Elizabeth II in honour of a new film by Alan Zweig entitled HOPE which receives its World Premiere at the 2017 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto.
Top Row: (left to right) Governor General David Johnston, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Queen Elizabeth II. Middle Row: (left to right) Steve Fonyo runs for CancerOrder of Canada MedalSteve Fonyo after post-home-invasion-induced stroke. Bottom Row: (left to right) Scenes from Alan Zweig's new documentary HOPE showing Steve Fonyo watching Alan Zweig's HURT and receiving a thunderous standing ovation at TIFF 2015 in the historic Elgin Wintergarden Theatre.

Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,
Governor General David Johnston and Queen Elizabeth II:

I am writing to request that you reinstate Mr. Stephen Charles Fonyo, Jr. as an officer in the Order of Canada.

Steve Fonyo, a Canadian Hero and cancer survivor, raised over $14 million for cancer research when, for over one non-stop year between 1984 and 1985, he ran 8000 km across Canada with a prosthetic leg. For this remarkable achievement he was awarded with membership in the Order of Canada. After suffering for three decades from abject poverty and various addictions while living within the dark underbelly of the criminal class, Mr. Fonyo was unfairly transformed into a pariah by pencil pushers in our nation’s capitol and turfed from the Order of Canada. If he’d been suffering from a disease like cancer, this would have been unthinkable. Because he suffered from the diseases of alcoholism and addiction to crack and other drugs, he was fair game for humiliation by the Canadian government.

Where was the Government of Canada during this Canadian Hero's 30 years of Hell? Oh sure, you might think that a hero can help himself. But you know what? From time to time, even heroes need a helping hand some time. Mr. Fonyo's struggles were public knowledge. Was there nobody in the entire bureaucracy of the Canadian Government who might have picked up a telephone to say, "Steve, is there anything we can do to help?" But no, it was obviously a lot easier to turf him from the Order of Canada.

In 2015, Mr. Fonyo made a personal appearance at the World Premiere of the film HURT during the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by Alan Zweig, the film told his story and Mr. Fonyo was honoured with a standing ovation by a full house in the historic Elgin and Wintergarden Theatre in downtown Toronto. The film itself was bestowed with one of the highest honours in contemporary film history when it was awarded the prestigious 2015 Toronto International Film Festival’s 40th anniversary Platform competition (named after Jia Zhang-ke’s acclaimed 1998 epic).

HURT was chosen from hundreds of movies in a showcase devoted to shining a light upon 12 international feature films made by exceptional filmmakers doing bold, original work. It was the only Canadian film in competition. That it was awarded the Grand Prize by a jury that included Claire Denis, Agnieszka Holland and Jia Zhang-ke might be reason enough for this film about Mr. Fonyo to attain a lofty status, but it is an indisputable fact, borne out by critical accolades and wide audience acceptance that it is a film of greatness. It will live eternally as one of the most original, compelling and heartbreaking films of the new millennium.

Most of all, it reflects Canadian history and captures the heart and soul of a true Canadian hero, Mr. Stephen Charles Fonyo, Jr.

Now, there is HOPE.

Mr. Zweig. has created a sequel to HURT which details Mr. Fonyo's brave struggle in rehab. HOPE will receive its World Premiere at the 2017 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto (the festival runs April 27-May 7, 2017.

I will not say much about the film here as I'll be officially reviewing it in due course, but in the world of documentary, HOPE is a sequel of such grace and power that one could liken its achievement to that of Francis Ford Coppola when he did the unthinkable and forged a masterpiece with The Godfather: Part II, his sequel to The Godfather.

HOPE is a film that gives all of us hope and frankly, it is a film that provides ample reasons as to why Canada MUST reinstate Mr. Fonyo's membership as an officer in the Order of Canada. What makes HOPE and HURT special is that they are not only great artistic achievements, but they go above and beyond the call of duty - these films, by the very act of their creation, ACTIVELY provided the kind of help, compassion and caring to a great Canadian Hero that the Canadian Government with callous, cruel, myopic meanness was unable to do.

So, Mr. Prime Minister, Honourable Governor General and Your Majesty, perhaps one or all three of you can visit the Hot Docs website and purchase tickets to see the film. Perhaps when you show up to one of the screenings you can DO THE RIGHT THING and announce the reinstatement of Mr. Fonyo's membership as an officer in the Order of Canada.

The film is playing:
Sat, Apr 29 7:00PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Sun, Apr 30 10:30 AM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Sat, May 6 12:30 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

The presence of all or one of you, or even one of your representatives at the aforementioned screenings would be a few extra maraschino cherries on Mr. Fonyo's favourite food, the banana split.

But you know what? A straight-up banana split would do. I humbly and respectfully ask you to please reinstate Mr. Fonyo's membership as an officer in the Order of Canada.


Greg Klymkiw
Filmmaker, Film Critic, Canadian

Friday, 14 April 2017

RUMBLE FISH - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Coppola B & W gang pic looks GREAT on Criterion, & Torontonians can see it on a big screen at the "Neon Dreams" series at The Royal Cinema.

"How do you know when someone's crazy?"

Rumble Fish (1983)
Dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Scr. S. E. Hinton and Coppola
Starring: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper, Nicholas Cage, Diane Lane,
Diana Scarwid, Vincent Spano, Tom Waits, Chris Penn, Laurence Fishburne,
Tracey Walter, William Smith, Glenn Withrow, Sofia Coppola

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Time passes. Oh, does time pass. Benny (Tom Waits) knows all too well. God knows how long he's been presiding over his Tulsa, Oklahoma billiard parlour and serving (only God knows, how many teenagers); some good, some bad, some from the wrong side of the tracks, some from tony, leafy neighbourhoods of manicured lawns, some who go to public schools, some who go to private schools - but, all of them, young.

They won't be that way for long - young, that is.

Benny knows.

"Time is a funny thing," Benny mutters to nobody in particular, the ancient clock on his wall: framed with neon, ticking, attached to a perpetual flipping/clicking mechanical contraption advertising local businesses. "Time is a very peculiar item," he continues, aimlessly wiping the soda counter with a dirty rag. "You see, when you're young, when you're a kid, you got time. You got nothing but time. Throw away a couple of years here, a couple of years there... it doesn't matter."

Like all glorified soda-jerks long past their prime (if they ever had a prime), Benny is a philosopher. "You know," he observes, "the older you get you say, 'Jesus, how much have I got? Me, I've got thirty-five summers left.' Think about it. Thirty-five summers."

Yeah. Benny knows.

The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke) knows too. He's been gone a long time. All that's left of him in Tulsa are memories of the old days, memories of when gangs ruled the streets, memories spray-painted on street signs, cement underpasses and brick walls of abandoned, decrepit warehouses - all in corners of the city forgotten by everyone except homeless puking alcoholics and the kids looking for places to rumble, away from the prying eyes of cops - emblazoned with the present-tense words: "The Motorcycle Boy Reigns".

He reigns no more. Like the title of S. E. Hinton's second novel (resting twixt "The Outsiders" and "Rumble Fish") declared: "That was Then. This is Now." And then is when The Motorcycle Boy left Tulsa, like so much dust in the wind. He hightailed it on his hog to California.

They say a young man should "go west". He did. He wanted to see the ocean. He never did. "California got in the way," he muses to his little brother Rusty James (Matt Dillon) upon his surprise return to the city in which he's been immortalized by the youth devoted to aimlessness and violence.

And yes, things do tend to get in the way, but only if you let them.

And time, oh that lover who woos us with infidelity, it rushes by - the sun rises, the sun sets, the glorious cumulonimbus clouds of Oklahoma blitz across the big skies. We, like the film's characters, live in moments so significant, yet so fleeting.

Rumble Fish might be one of Francis Ford Coppola's best films. That's saying something; the dude directed The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now. He also directed The Outsiders, which, like Rumble Fish, was based on the bestselling young adult novel by the aforementioned Hinton.

The Outsiders was a big hit at the box office, especially with kids. Coppola's bold mise-en-scene appropriated, quite liberally, from the technicolor-dappled epics of yore - notably Gone With The Wind, David O. Selznick's astounding film adaptation of the novel which The Outsiders' characters are strangely obsessed with (in spite of being teenage "greasers"). Coppola was really taken with Hinton's books and in the novel "Rumble Fish" he recognized material that could be taken in much darker and decidedly different directions. Warner Brothers (the studio backing The Outsiders) had no interest in Coppola's vision for a film adaptation of "Rumble Fish" and they were especially filled with trepidation over Coppola's desire to have the productions overlap. He did what he usually did - the dude is a maverick - and so he set-up Rumble Fish with another studio, Universal Pictures.

Watching the two pictures together is pretty interesting and a lot of fun, but it's also obvious that the former is vastly inferior to the latter. (That said, where the first film connected with its intended audience, the second film was a big box office flop.)

The first-third of Rumble Fish has a relatively simple narrative exterior. Rusty James is the alpha in a group of pals that includes the smartly-dressed (in a gorgeous "Wild Deuces" club jacket from the 50s) Smokey (Nicholas Cage, in his first major screen role), beefy strong-arm muscle (fibrous between the ears as well as his bulging biceps) B.J. (the late Chris Penn, Sean's younger brother) and bespectacled, white-shirt-attired bookworm Steve (Vincent Spano). The boys are lolly-gagging around Benny's Billiards when the mysterious, snazzily-dressed African-American "Angel of Death" figure Midget (Laurence Fishburne) sashays in to deliver a message that Rusty's hated rival Biff Wilcox (Glenn Withrow) is looking for him. "Says he's gonna kill you, Rusty James," Midget announces with a slight musical cadence in his voice. Rusty James takes aim on the billiards table. "Sayin' ain't doing," he responds.

It's set. Rusty James is going to square-off against Biff Wilcox later that same evening. He and his boys swagger through the streets of Tulsa until Rusty James checks out to visit with his girlfriend, the gorgeous Catholic High School girl Patty (Diana Lane). She's clearly in a whole different league, but she is unable to resist the rough, tough manly charms of this wife-beater-shirt-attired thug with his forehead-wrapped bandana and a smoke perpetually dangling from his lips.

Ah, men in Tulsa, are surely men with a capital "M".

And yes, Rusty James is certainly all-man, especially when he faces the cackling, hopped-up, dirty-fighting Biff Wilcox, so blond and pale, the guy seems to be a veritable albino in sharp contrast to our sweaty, black-haired, olive-complexioned hero. The fight reaches a fever pitch as the lads from the rival camps cheer on their respective leaders.

However, the vicious mano a mano comes to a brief standstill with the mysterious sudden appearance of The Motorcycle Boy, stylishly smoking a cigarette on his hog, shaking his head at the sight of the tussling with an expression of bemusement and disgust. Unfortunately, Rusty James looks at his big brother just long enough for Biff Wilcox to wield a scythe-like shard of glass, slashing our hero's stomach wide open.

No matter.

You see, The Motorcycle Boy is back in town and the chortling albino is handily dispatched in a swift act of violence, so spectacularly shocking that the jaws of the assembled hit the dirt. (This is one of ace stunt-coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker's most astonishing pieces of work that the audience is pretty open-mouthed as well.)

During the middle act of Rumble Fish we're treated to a series of strange episodes involving the relationship between the brothers, their alcoholic father (Dennis Hopper) and a slow, subtle series of power shifts, all culminating in a gloriously dreamy sequence "across the river" in the Black district of Tulsa with plenty of booze-ingestion, pool-playing, wandering the lively streets (in marked contrast to the emptiness of downtown Tulsa) and all to the beat of live zydeco tunes emanating throughout the "wrong" (but clearly more buoyant and ethnically diverse) side of the "tracks".

An act of violence (perpetrated no less by White-Trash, via the wonderful Tracey Walter, the UFO-obsessed janitor in Repo Man) forces Rusty James into an out-of-body near-death experience and from here, we're set up for a third act in which certain very sad truths are revealed.

Some of the saddest truths involve the contrast between the brothers. Rusty James is a dreamer, but his dreams are petty and he's not too smart.

The Motorcycle Boy dreams too. We see him dreaming, but he's not only partially deaf and colour blind (gotta love the B/W lensing in this regard), but in spite of his obvious intelligence, he's squandered his potential and he might, he just might, be insane. Grim faced cop Officer Patterson (William Smith) not only hates The Motorcycle Boy for making the youth on his beat think gang warfare is romantic, but he's convinced the hog-riding, sport-coat-attired dream boat (who looks like he'd be more at home as a Parisian intellectual than a Tulsa greaser) is most definitely mad - batshit crazy.

Dad would disagree. Through the fog imbued in his soul by booze, the grizzled patriarch and former lawyer reduced to collecting welfare and living in a fleapit, looks proudly and yet, with deep sorrow at his eldest son.

Says Dad: "He's merely miscast in a play. He was born in the wrong era, on the wrong side of the river, with the ability to be able to do anything that he wants to do and yet, finding nothing that he wants to do."

Dad puts the capper on this. "I mean nothing." he growls bitterly, dolefully.

The contrast between the brothers doesn't end here. Rusty James keeps imagining he can be just like his brother. "You should pray to God not," warns Dad. Our hero's friend Smokey sums it up best, though. "You might have gotten by for a while on the Motorcycle Boy's rep, but you have to be smart to run things," he states matter-of-factly. "You ain't got your brother's brains. It's nothing personal, Rusty James, but nobody would follow you into a fight because you'd get people killed - and nobody wants to be killed."

Nobody that is, except for The Motorcycle Boy. He's got a massive death wish. Rusty James, however, is all about survival. It might be sheer instinct, but he wants to live so very dearly.

Even in affairs of the heart, the brothers part company. Rusty James dreams of purity. And filth. Patty might wear her Catholic schoolgirl uniforms well, but beneath them is the lithe, supple flesh of sheer beauty. She's the ultimate symbol of the Madonna-Whore. The Motorcycle Boy's love of his life is the appropriately-named Cassandra (Diana Scarwid). Blond, beautiful, tantalizingly sexy and a teacher. Well, ex-teacher. She might love The Motorcycle Boy, but she loves heroin even more. She's a junkie - pure and simple.

Well, maybe Rusty James and The Motorcycle Boy aren't all that different in their taste in women. In their own ways, Patty and Cassandra are both Madonna-Whores. If there's a contrast, The Motorcycle Boy looks upon Cassandra with a blend of sorrow and fleeting joy as he imagines her promise. Rusty James looks upon Patty with pure lust. He even daydreams about her through the boredom of school - he imagines sexy Patty lolling about the classrooms in her bra and panties.

If the brothers share anything wholeheartedly, it's knowing they want something more than what life in Tulsa can ultimately offer. The Motorcycle Boy is obsessed with the Siamese fighting fish (the literal Rumble Fish of the title) that live in separate tanks in the local pet store. The fish can see each other through the glass (they're one of the few things we can see in colour), but it's the glass that keeps them from killing each other.

But maybe, the older brother thinks, just maybe they could live in peace if they were free. But who's going to set them free? Who's going to set The Motorcycle Boy free? And most importantly, who's going to set Rusty James free?

Maybe both of the brothers have to find ways, respectively and on their own, to set themselves free.

The first time I saw Rumble Fish in 1983, I was a huge fan of it. Over the 30+ years since that time, it stayed with me, obsessed me and beckoned me to revisit it. My most recent helping on the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray was not only a dazzling experience, but I fell in love with the picture all over again. The monochrome cinematography by Stephen H. Burum with its lovely fine-grain and brilliant use of short-lenses (skewing all the long shots and making the close-ups resonate with literal in-your-face intimacy), Stewart (drummer from "The Police") Copeland's oddball percussive score with its blend of reggae influences, classical acoustic splendour, rock styling and some truly ear-caressing (alternating with ear-shattering) sound design by mixer Richard Beggs, the expert slicing and dicing of picture and sound (always bold, but still elegant and ALWAYS serving the story and tone) and last, but certainly not least, the morphing of grit, grotesqueries and old-school refinement in the production design of Dean (Little Big Man, Farewell My Lovely, The Brinks Job, all the Godfathers, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation) Tavoularis.

This is a film like no other. Yes, it hits plenty of familiar beats, but it hits them with a multitude of sticks, hammers and two-by-fours. We never quite know where we are, nor do we even fully comprehend when the film is set. It seems so long-and-ago-and-far-away and yet so urgently vital and contemporary. Sometimes it feels like only yesterday and at others like now, in the moment of all our lives, and yet at others, it feels timeless. Rumble Fish can only exist, on film and as a film.

We know it's a film, but even though we're aware of the medium and the craft and the supreme artistry, why does it so often feel like we're looking into a mirror? Probably because it takes chances and revels in the sheer joy of making movies and telling stories with pictures. The style gives us gooseflesh, and yet not a single moment feels self indulgent. It's as if Coppola is using all his love for the medium, every tool at his disposal to rub our noses in terrible truths via fabled delirium.

To watch Rumble Fish is to watch a dream unfold - a mad, no-holds barred expressionistic tale of loyalty, family, madness, coming-of-age and violence - a mythical, phantasmagoric kaleidoscope of sheer aplomb. Yes, we feel, see and hear its director. Thank God! He's a great filmmaker here - never afraid to push aesthetic, cinematic boundaries, but what we experience, really experience, what we feel, oh do we feel, is the rush of time - the inevitability of time ending and the need to make every moment of our time on this earth count, really count.

Rusty James learns the hard way that it's all going to be over before we know it.

And bless Francis Ford Coppola for this picture. He makes us learn it too. And he does so by appropriating (mostly from Murnau, Pabst and Lang) with glorious, unashamed abandon and makes it all his own.


Rumble Fish is a Director Approved edition on the Criterion Collection and includes a new, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by director of photography Stephen H. Burum and approved by director Francis Ford Coppola, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray, an alternate remastered 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, an audio commentary with Coppola, new interviews with Coppola, S. E. Hinton, Roman Coppola, Matt Dillon and Diane Lane, a new conversation between Burum and production designer Dean Tavoularis, pieces from 2005 about the film’s score and production, interviews from 1983 with Dillon, Lane, Vincent Spano and producer Doug Claybourne, a 1984 French TV interview with Mickey Rourke, "Locations: Looking for Rusty James", a 2013 documentary by Alberto Fuguet about the impact of Rumble Fish, a new piece about the film’s existentialist elements, “Don’t Box Me In” music video, Deleted scenes with a new introduction by Coppola, a trailer, an essay by Glenn Kenny and gorgeous new cover art by Michael Boland.

In Toronto, the film can be seen Friday, May 19, 2017 on a big screen during the wonderful "Neon Dreams" series sponsored by Hollywood Suite and replete with a terrific pre-show presentation beginning one hour prior to the 8:00 p.m. showtime at the best independent theatre in Canada, the Royal Cinema.