Monday 31 July 2017

PULSE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Profound Kurosawa J-Horror Classic gets Arrow Blu-Ray

Now I'm alone
with my last friend in the world
and I have found happiness.

Pulse/Kairo (2001)
Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring: Kumiko Aso, Haruhiko Kato, Koyuki, Kurume Arisaka, Koji Yakusho

Review By Greg Klymkiw

About 15 years ago I saw Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse. It's stayed with me these many long years. I just finished watching the Arrow Films Blu-ray. I hadn't seen the movie since it scared the living shit out of me first-run on the big screen in 2002 and this recent viewing was like seeing it for the first time. Upon its conclusion and for some time afterwards I continued to shudder and weep. Not only because of the content of the movie, its profundity and deeply moving qualities, but because I felt so grateful that cinema exists to have afforded a genuine artist like Kurosawa the opportunity to unleash it upon us. And of course, when I see a picture this great, it reminds me, yet again, that I love cinema so very, very much. No matter how bad movies are these days, work like this exists and can continue to be made in spite of everything going against the medium now.

Pulse (aka Kairo) is a ghost story, but unlike any ever made. It deals with the notion that there's no more room in that place whereever the spirits of the dead go and now they are crossing over into our world, our living world. As people slowly begin to realize what's happening, it causes mass despair because what the ghosts communicate to the living is that death is eternal loneliness. People in the billions begin to commit suicide.

We follow two people who eventually find each other and realize that the only way they can survive is to be with each other, to never be alone. Of course, it takes some time and plenty of creepy and often downright shocking scares for this to happen.

Michi (Kumiko Aso) works in a plant shop. One of her co-workers has been missing for days. She goes to investigate and what she witnesses is ghastly. Her other co-workers become afflicted with a depressive malaise and she's eventually left to fend for herself.

Kawashima (Haruhiko Katô) is a university student who signs up for the internet (when the film was made, remember these were still relatively early days for the world wide web) and he discovers something online that's both ghoulish and more than a little disturbing. He befriends Harue (Koyuki), a computer science student, to help him get to the bottom of this ominous mystery. What they slowly begin to discover is truly shuddersome.

Yes, Michi and Kawashima's stories converge and as Tokyo's population dwindles to virtually nothing, they find each other. As Tokyo burns, covered with a thick, soupy haze (at one point, a flaming jet crashes into the middle of the city) they flee, pledging to go as far as they can go.

Throughout the film, Kurosawa assails us with moaning, wailing, desperate apparitions. A strange website called "The Forbidden Room" offers curious advice involving red duct tape (never has red duct tape been as hair-raisingly nightmarish as it is here). Recently departed humans turn into grim ectoplasmic black shadows on walls, floors and sidewalks (creepily conjuring images of similar shadows after the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings). At times we hear these shadows crying out, "Help me." All of this is delivered with a slow, macabre pace. dread ever-mounting.

At one point, it's explained:

"Ghosts won't kill people, because that would just make more ghosts. Instead they will try to make people immortal by quietly trapping them in their own loneliness."

This provides little solace to both the viewer and the characters.

Pulse has a truly unique look via cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi (gorgeously captured on the Arrow Films' Blu-Ray). Film grain is readily apparent and dances upon the screen ever-so delectably. The colour palette is made up of greys, pale browns and sickeningly bleached greens. Shadows and darkness run rampant - at times it seems like we can see virtually nothing, but shots will hold long enough to reveal tiny dollops of light and detail.

Kurosawa presents a world of loneliness, disconnection and deep, numbing and increasing pain. To say the film is prescient, would be an understatement. And yes, Pulse moves us to tears. When a character eventually declares:

"Now I'm alone with my last friend in the world and I have found happiness;"

We simply don't believe it. We can't.


Pulse/Kairo is available on a tremendous Special Edition from Arrow Films (this company is truly the Criterion Collection of genre cinema). It includes a High Definition digital transfer on Blu-ray (1080p) and a Standard Definition DVD, the Original 5.1 audio (DTS-HD on the Blu-ray), New optional English subtitle translation, New interview with writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, New interview with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi, "The Horror of Isolation": a new video appreciation featuring Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett (Blair Witch, You’re Next), an Archival ‘Making of’ documentary, four archival behind-the-scenes featurettes, Premiere footage from the Cannes Film Festival, Cast and crew introductions from opening day screenings in Tokyo, Trailers and TV Spots.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

ATOMIC BLONDE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Special screening at Fantasia 2017 of this lifeless, empty, boring espionage action thriller, not so special.

Charlize kicks ass, but the movie does not.

Atomic Blonde (2017)
Dir. David Leitch
Scr. Kurt Johnstad
Nvl. Antony Johnston, Sam Hart
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy,
John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones

Review By Greg Klymkiw

When a movie featuring Charlize Theron kicking ass and engaging in explicit lesbian action (with nudity, no less) during the waning days of the Cold War in Berlin turns out to be a big fat boring mess, the disappointment is enough to hurt. Adding insult to my injury is that I had the distinctly extraordinary experiences of being in East Berlin before the wall came down (in 1988) and actually being in Berlin when the damn wall did finally come down (in 1989). My sufferance through the overall period/atmosphere inadequacies of Atomic Blonde (no matter how many "period" tunes have been annoyingly stuffed onto the film's soundtrack) is all the greater.

Though screenwriter Kurt Johnston (adapting the Antony Jonston/Sam Hart graphic novel) loads up on the tropes of espionage thrillers, he does so with the kind of ham-fisted inadequacy that makes the whole affair unnecessarily obtuse and worse, so that we finally don't care about any of the characters and/or proceedings. I was forced to almost constantly check the time, agog at how slow and dull it all was.

Director David Leitch (co-director of the much-better-written John Wick) at least knows how to stage all the action sequences (especially one delicious set piece that feels like it's all one long take) so that we're not annoyed by the usual herky-jerky on display in virtually every other contemporary action movie, but sadly, his efforts are all for nought since none of these ultra-violent extravaganzas have anything more going for them than the craft itself. We have no emotional stakes in anything or anyone and as such, we're bored to distraction when the film's onscreen participants are being shot and/or pulverized.

For those who care, the picture details the attempts of super-blonde British super-spy Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) to extract an East German political prisoner (Eddie Marsan). A dirty double-dealer (the dullishly smarmy James McAvoy) gums up the works whilst a lesbian wannabe spy (Sofia Boutella) beds down our heroine and places herself at great risk. All of this nonsense is relayed in flashback as Lorraine is interrogated by her boss (Toby Jones) and a C.I.A. bureaucrat (John Goodman). None of this carries any weight or interest and is certainly bereft of the grand atmosphere inherent in works such as the classic John le Carré film adaptations like Martin Ritt's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the better James Bond efforts with Sean Connery.

Atomic Blonde is Dullsville - from beginning to end. And oh, does it end. It has one of those interminably predictable endings upon endings upon endings. Not caring about plot and character is one thing, but being boring is the picture's greatest sin.


Atomic Blonde, a Focus Features release had a Special Screening at Fantasia 2017.

Saturday 22 July 2017

POOR AGNES - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Fantasia 2017 presents gender-reversed serial killer

Serial killer in the birthplace of Paul Shaffer.
Poor Agnes (2017)
Dir. Navin Ramaswaran
Scr. James Gordon Ross
Starring: Lora Burke, Robert Notman, Will Conlon

Review By Greg Klymkiw

These days, when the first image in a movie is an aerial shot of a lone house in the deep woods, the heart usually sinks because it signals the inevitability that we're probably going to be spending most of the remaining running time at that location in a picture of the no-to-low-budget variety. This doesn't have to be a bad thing if the content is worthy, but Poor Agnes gets off to a very wrong start with the opening voiceover accompanying this familiar image as the title character intones:

"Men murder whores. Women murder their babies. What does that make me?"

Uh, I don't know. A whore, perchance? Maybe. But, you see, Agnes (Lora Burke) is clearly alive and continues to utter some pseudo-poetic nonsense from her bed with a heavy tone of portent. She's not dead and as such, not a whore murdered by a man.

We follow her into the basement as she opens a freezer full of meat to select a little something for dinner. She considers the array of comestibles, selects decidedly, but before slamming the lid shut, our ruminating lassie glances over to the back corner of the freezer and regards the frozen head of a grown man, his face locked into a ghoulish death grimace.


She is not a woman who's murdered her baby nor a whore murdered by a man. Agnes is, however, a killer. If she isn't, how did that frozen head get there? In any event, we are grateful, since she gets an answer to her vaguely rhetorical, if not downright existential question.

And so it is that Agnes has lived for over a decade in this beautiful old country house in Thunder Bay, Ontario (birthplace of longtime David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer) with no visible means of support. At one point she reveals that her now-dead parents left her quite a sizeable estate, but she proves, time and time again, to be such an inveterate liar that it's impossible to believe this or anything else she says. Given that the script is littered with bonbons that strain credulity, it feels like something shoehorned in to explain her lack of anything resembling a livelihood (save for killing a parade of men and occasionally pawning their belongings).

When a private detective (Robert Notman) shows up to question her about an old boyfriend who's been missing for ten years, sparks fly twixt the two. We get plenty of provocative quipping a la Billy (Double Indemnity) Wilder (though in reality, the repartee comes closer to approximating the already-derivative banter Lawrence Kasdan belched out in Body Heat). Well, before you can spit out the title of James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, the couple are grappling amorously with each on the kitchen counters and floors. No coitus interruptus, either. Our dick-for-hire finishes bareback inside of her and in no time, she trains a double-barrelled shotgun in his direction, plunges a hypodermic needle into his arm, renders him unconscious, chains him up, tortures him and slowly employs Stockholm Syndrome techniques to turn him into her acquiescent boy-toy.

Agnes is a firm believer in the spice of life that is variety and soon kidnaps another hapless fella. Now she's got our submissive detective to become a willing participant in torturing her new victim and, it seems, possibly killing him.

If it wasn't for the brave star-making performance of leading lady Lora Burke (she fires out her lines with the straight-faced panache of Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell and even Jean Arthur - pretty amazing that she's playing a serial killer), it would be near impossible to swallow any of the film's proceedings. Though screenwriter James Gordon Ross has clearly done his homework on the machinations of Stockholm Syndrome, it's simply not enough to buy all the opportunities the kidnapped dick has to escape and/or fight back. His character is weirdly underwritten. Though at one point, when a grocery cashier notices his wrist bruises and happily chirps, "You're a sub!", these "qualities" in his character are merely trotted out as a script convenience rather than being skilfully woven into the narrative.

One of the stupidest (and jaw-drippongly WTF) moments actually occurs when another private detective shows up at Le Maison de Agnes to ask questions about the missing dick. He reveals that the character has a reputation for "hanging around in low social circles" (more convenient character shoehorning) and even more ridiculous is when he says to Agnes, "Don't take it personally, but, are you a prostitute?" I'm sorry. What experienced detective, or anyone for that matter, would ask a question like this? It's an idiotically offensive question and in fairness to the script, Agnes reacts appropriately to it, BUT what is this line of dialogue doing there in the first place? Yes, it might be intentional on the part of the filmmakers to add a dollop of the kind of patriarchy women must put up with, but the delivery of the line is so absurdly chipper and oh-so polite that it's not only unintentionally funny, but brings into question the intentions of the film, submerged or otherwise.

Poor Agnes often feels vaguely misogynistic. While I'm grateful to the filmmakers that they provide no real reason/explanation for Agnes's psychopathic tendencies, what feels horrendously machine-tooled is the idea of taking a typical serial killer story (which always involves men kidnapping, torturing and killing women) and reversing the gender roles, for no other reason than this - they can! They seem to think (at worst) it's "cool" and at best (if we can call it that), that they're making some sort of point about sociopathic tendencies in women (and by extension, how they are treated and/or ignored in the movies). Either way, this is not good enough. The whole thing feels rotten to the core. It's too bad. The director clearly has some talent for more-than-adequately capturing the visceral elements of suspense and the leading lady serves up one of the best performances I've seen in a long time, but neither of these things are enough to wash out the foul taste the picture leaves in one's mouth.

The movie just doesn't add up. It's impossible to buy that Agnes has been doing this for years and has never been caught, especially considering some of the mistakes she makes during the final third of the film which seem to conveniently ignore how meticulous her murderous machinations have been. I usually try to avoid writing about independent films that are this mediocre, but the combination of the moral repugnancy of the whole movie with its considerable flaws, forces me to do so. Too many "critics" and even those who should know better, might potentially fall for the picture's trick-pony styling and sometimes it's important to not just point fingers at the myriad of studio pictures sharing these woeful attributes.

I was also tempted not to mention the boneheaded scene wherein Agnes wanders through the empty hallways of a school, the walls adorned with children's artwork and comes upon a sign that reads: "Torture Survivor Meetup". (Yup, she attends to get torture ideas.) I cannot help myself. This bears mentioning. Sorry, most self-help group meetings avoid such signage, but even if they didn't, the timing of the cut to the shot of the sign inspires unintentional howls of laughter. And, MEETUP? What is this? A kaffeeklatsch for victims of torture?

No surprise. There's far too much in this movie that feels unintentional and its intentions feel wrongheaded.


Poor Agnes enjoyed its World Premiere at Fantasia 2017.

Friday 21 July 2017

COLD HELL (aka Die Hölle) - Fantasia 2017 Review of Stefan Ruzowitzky Thriller by Greg Klymkiw at "Electric Sheep - a deviant view of cinema"

Read Greg Klymkiw's **** 4-Star Fantasia 2017 review of Stefan Ruzowitzky's terrifying thriller Cold Hell (aka Die Hölle) at "Electric Sheep - a deviant view of cinema" HERE.

Thursday 20 July 2017

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS - Greg Klymkiw reviews Besson madness at Fantasia 2017 for "Electric Sheep - a deviant view of cinema"

Dopey, dumb and delightfully loopy in all the right ways, Luc Besson’s VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF PLANETS (a special screening at Fantasia 2017) is eye-candy of the highest order.

Read the Greg Klymkiw review at "Electric Sheep - a deviant view of cinema" HERE.

Wednesday 19 July 2017

ANOTHER WOLFCOP - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Glorious Hoser-Horror-Comedy at Fantasia

All-Canadian Lycanthropic Crime Fighter

Another WolfCop (2017)
Dir. Lowell Dean
Starring: Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio, Jonathan Cherry, Yannick Bisson, Devery Jacobs

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Beer guzzling small-town cop Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) is back in action in this sequel to the promising, but flawed WolfCop. Imagine, if you will, a horror-comedy franchise involving a crime-fighting werewolf? Great idea! Happily, this is a sequel that outdoes its predecessor a thousand-fold and rights many of the original's wrongs - and then some. Another WolfCop (not sure I'm crazy about this dullsville title) opens with an amazing action set piece - beautifully realized on every level - in which Lou is chasing down a truckload of heavily armed bank robber types (played by members of the Astron-6 filmmaking collective). Tires screeching, guns a-blazing and eventually, some delectable gore inflicted upon the bad guys by our lycanthropic hero, set the stage for one of the most giddily infectious combinations of gloriously crude Canadian Hoser Humour and plenty of horror movie tropes (and homages-galore, of course).

This new film offers up a delightful antagonist in the form of Swallows (Yannick Bisson), an industrialist planning to open a brewery and launch a new hockey team in the economically challenged town of Woodhaven, Saskatchewan. On the surface, this all seems mighty positive, but his real plans are (of course) nefarious. It's up to WolfCop, the babe-o-licious Chief Tina (Amy Matysio) and conspiracy-theory buddy Willie (Jonathan Cherry) to save the day.

The ribald rural humour is of the highest order - it's laugh-out-loud funny and certainly gives the classic SCTV Bob and Doug McKenzie a decent run for their money. It also has the funniest alien anal intrusion line I've ever heard: "They fuckin' violated me!" The magnificent delivery of it is thanks to the comic genius of actor Jonathan Cherry.

His is not the only first-rate piece of acting on display. Yannick Bisson, who stars in the utterly intolerable TV series "Murdoch's Mysteries", gives his staid, pole-up-the-butt Canuck detective persona a wonderful makeover as one of the scuzziest (and funniest) villains I've seen in some time. It's also great seeing Matysio back in action also - with a job promotion no less. Her straight-up line readings with no-tongue-in-cheek offer comedy (and heroism) in spades. Devery Jacobs offers babe-cop support with her lovely turn as Daisy. Chicks with guns are super-sexy. Then again, so are mixed martial artist lingerie fighting champs, and there's a wonderfully smarmy (albeit boner-inducing) turn from Kris "The Raven" Blackwell as Bisson's evil moll. (We even get a dollop of catfight action twixt Blackwell and Matysio, but it's sadly truncated by a "rescue".)

There are a few spanners in the casting works. Sara Miller plays Willie's sister, a female werewolf for Lou Garou to boink, but the role seems underwritten and Miller's performance seems wooden, as opposed to merely "straight-up". The role could have used a strange combination of warmth and danger, but as served up, she seems little more than eye candy. Not that I have a problem with eye-candy, mind you - it's just that all the female roles in the movie offer so much more. There's a slightly annoying monster android character called Frank played by Alden Adair and even more annoying is a cameo from filmmaker Kevin Smith as a sleazy town official.

What's wonderful is that the movie, unlike the first instalment, is clearly and resolutely set in Canada. No ugly American flags flying here - just plenty of Maple Leafs on display. Dean's direction of the action scenes is first-rate: lots of solid variation in shot composition, all of it delivering dramatic resonance and not just for simple visceral wham-bam, and most importantly, his sense of spatial geography is spot-on (in marked contrast to the all-over-the-place "qualities" during the big climactic moments in the original film). And of course, there's the brilliant work from F/X genius Emersen Ziffle - the film is replete with magnificent makeup and prosthetics and eschewing the cold, lifeless qualities inherent in digital effects.

And what Canuck movie would be complete without heavy metal, plenty of beer-guzzling and violent hockey goonery? There's plenty of all the aforementioned on display here, but given that it's a horror movie (albeit with a funny bone), the picture brings new meaning to the expression "blood on the ice"!

More Wolfcops are promised from creator Lowell Dean, whose continued above-the-line writing-directing talent will be imperative if the quality-level is to continue onwards and upwards. (One also hopes this gets a better marketing push and theatrical release than the perfunctory lame-ass treatment the first picture got via Cineplex Entertainment. The picture needs a kick-ass trailer on as many screens as possible, well in advance of the film's opening - which will hopefully be on at least 100+ screens and even better, just before Christmas - Yes! The movie has a Christmas setting!)

Another WolfCop is such a marked improvement and fulfills the initial promise of both the franchise and the filmmaker. This film superbly builds on the "universe" he laid out and takes it up several notches. With Dean's continued creative involvement, it's going to be onwards and upwards. And speaking of onwards and upwards, yes, we get a Mt. Everest-calibre shot of wolf dick. Welcome to Canada!


Another WolfCop enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia 2017

Tuesday 18 July 2017

KILLING GROUND - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Psycho Aussie Inbreds at Fantasia 2017

As you can see, it's best to avoid Australia.

Killing Ground (2017)
Dir. Damien Power
Starring: Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows, Aaron Pedersen, Aaron Glenane,
Maya Stange, Julian Garner, Tiarnie Coupland, Liam Parkes, Riley Parkes

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It's not an especially good idea to go camping in Australia. The Down Under hinterlands are full of slavering White Trash inbreds hell-bent upon raping wives, girlfriends and daughters in front of their menfolk and eventually, slaughtering the whole lot of them. It can't be any other way - at least not in the movies.

Killing Ground follows a young doctor (Ian Meadows) and his girlfriend (Harriet Dyer) on a long drive into the Oz wilderness for a happy, carefree vacation. They're madly in love, of course, and the pristine beauty of the natural world around them inspires a marriage proposal under the big, clear skies.

Things couldn't be better. Unfortunately, the lovebirds haven't seen enough cautionary Australian exploitation films in the grand tradition of Road Games, Wolf Creek, Primal, et al. Lurking just round the corner are a pair of avid wild pig hunters (Aaron Pedersen, Aaron Glenane) who have a little more on their relatively feeble minds than bagging some snuffling porcine delights. These fellas need to do a little porcine snuffling themselves.

When our couple happen upon a lovely spot, they notice a tent nearby. Nobody appears to be inhabiting it, even though there appear to have been signs of recent life. Oh well, those folks must be enjoying a nature trail. Well, they tried to enjoy a nature trail. Writer-Director Damien Power's screenplay affords us a glimpse into what happened to a hapless hubby and wife (Maya Stange, Julian Garner), their pretty teenage daughter (Tiarnie Coupland) and infant son (played by identical twins Liam and Riley Parkes).

And what happened ain't pretty.

The film affords us a glimpse into the family's encounter with the aforementioned psychos and whilst we enjoy the couple's idyll, we know it won't last long.

Killing Ground is a creepy, terrifying tale of survival that takes us into Deliverance territory. Making his feature film debut, Power parcels out the suspense with the skill and aplomb of a master and though his screenplay offers little beyond its derivative mechanics, he peppers it with more than enough twists and turns of the fresh variety whilst adding a structure that skilfully plays with timelines to keep us riveted.

And once again, we get another good reason to avoid vacationing in Australia.


Killing Ground enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia 2017

Monday 17 July 2017

MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Chilling Indie Thriller at Fantasia 2017

What we don't see is what's really terrifying.

Most Beautiful Island (2017)
Dir. Ana Asensio
Starring: Ana Asenio, Natasha Romanova, Larry Fessenden

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Illegal alien.

In America this is the disparaging term they like affixing to someone looking for a better life. Yes, they are foreigners. Yes, they have entered the country illegally. In the vast majority of cases, these are people seeking the American Dream - honest, hardworking folk escaping poverty and/or political persecution/upheaval. They look to America as their saviour. America doesn't want them.

The real question though, is this: should these people want America?

Luciana (Ana Asensio) is one such illegal alien. She lives on that Most Beautiful Island, Manhattan. She's there to escape a turbulent, tragic, mysterious past. Life might have been hard before, but it's harder now. She goes from one menial, low-paying job (all under the table) to the next. But then, salvation comes. Her fellow illegal, a Russian "model" (Natasha Romanova), tells her about a job that will pay $2000 for one night and comes with the bonus of more if "she does good".

Luciana will be a party hostess. Apparently, there are no sexual favours involved. She's given specific instructions. Attire is a black cocktail dress. She must bring nothing with her, save for a mysterious black purse with a lock on it (that she's provided in the basement of a Chinatown restaurant). Oh, and she absolutely must have no identification on her.

A good offer? Well, in America, all such offers are too good to be true.

What follows is one of the most terrifying extended sequences committed to film in some time. (And yes, on film - Asenio's picture is gorgeously shot on Super 16mm.) Luciana finds herself in a dank basement warehouse presided over by a mean-looking doorman (Larry Fessenden). The room is populated by several gorgeous young women, all attired in black cocktail dresses, standing in a circle under murky, soft lights. A door opens. A group of affluent, well-dressed reprobates of both sexes enter. They inspect the black-frocked illegal aliens and whisper amongst each other. Once they leave, the women continue standing. Eventually, one of them is summoned. She's led into the other room.

Something is going to happen and it takes a good long time.

Most Beautiful Island is a terrific debut feature. Writer-director-star Asensio captures the lonely, desperate lives of illegal aliens with an indelible sense of observation that borders on Neo-realism. The final half of the picture, once Luciana enters the secret, horrifying dangerous world where illegal aliens are used as pawns for the rich in a deadly game, is unbearably suspenseful. Asensio paces these sequences with a creepy-crawly slow burn and it's impossible to sit still. Squirming is the order of the day for anyone watching this section of the film.

One element that's with me still is being in that room with those women while, one by one, they are summoned. What goes on behind the closed doors is not known to us, nor to the women. All we know is that it's not going to be good, whatever it is. That said, I have to admit I experienced minor disappointment once we were allowed to enter the room of reckoning. What occurs certainly works on a purely visceral level - this cannot be denied. However, even though what's revealed is rooted in something that is based in reality, it felt like a comedown to actually see what it is.

You see, what's scary is what we don't see. Lord knows there is a grand tradition of this that goes back to the groundbreaking work of Val Lewton and a little part of me wishes it stayed that way. Alas, audiences these days are inquiring minds that need to know. What they get is genuinely horrific, But damn, I keep imagining a movie where the horror of what we didn't see was maintained.

But that's okay. Most Beautiful Island is plenty scary.


Most Beautiful Island enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia 2017.

Sunday 16 July 2017

LOWLIFE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - A Luchador Thug in Tarantinoville at Fantasia 2017

El Monstruo worships a grand Luchador at a Holy Shrine!

Lowlife (2017)
Dir. Ryan Prows
Scr. Prows, Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, Maxwell Michael Towson
Starring: Ricardo Adam Zarate, Nicki Micheaux, Santana Dempsey,
Mark Bunrham, Jon Oswald, Shaye Ogbonna

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Luchadores, those glorious masked wrestlers of Mexico (popularized in the 20th century by the likes of El Santo and The Blue Demon) are emblematic of all that is good and evil - heroes and villains to the common man, performing great feats of gymnastic warfare in the ring and dazzlingly costumed in ancient Aztec tradition. Most notable is that the greatest artists amongst the lucha libre will, more often than not, never remove their masks. Once a luchador dons his public visage, he has a sacred duty to keep it affixed to his face forever.

In Lowlife, the dazzling feature debut of director Ryan Prowse, El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate) has a considerable legacy to uphold. His father was not only Mexico's greatest wrestler, but revered as a legendary freedom fighter. Too bad then that El Monstruo has been relegated to working as a waiter and low-level thug at a Taco Restaurant in Los Angeles, a business front for Teddy 'Bear' Haynes (Mark Bunrham), a scumbag gringo hoodlum who kidnaps illegal aliens for the purposes of illegal organ harvesting, baby-selling and prostitution.

El Monstruo has another problem. His pregnant wife Kaylee (Santana Dempsey) is a heroin addict and Teddy has designs on selling her baby once she gives birth. Kaylee's mother Crystal (Nicki Micheaux), who now runs a sleazy motel, was also once similarly afflicted and sold her child to feed her habit. Crystal pines for the daughter she never knew and watches Kaylee from afar. When Teddy hires two thugs (Jon Oswald, Shaye Ogbonna) to kidnap the luchador's drug-addled wife, they take her to Crystal's motel, a known drop-off and pick-up point for his nefarious activities.

Hell, vengeance and sacrifice are just round the corner. A climactic blood bath awaits.

Though Prows has borrowed a story-telling structure quite liberally from Quentin Tarantino and occasionally infuses the tale with dialogue of a similar nutty hardboiled kind, the film never feels derivative. The picture is brimming with touches that tantalize and delight; a grand monologue on the tradition of the Luchas libres that reveals a sweet, innocent recipient of the words and eventually yields a horrific act of violence, is a crime picture set-piece of the highest order. Prows is clearly in Tarantino's debt, but he wisely places most of the emphasis upon mad, operatic melodrama. The movie is as moving as it is grittily shocking and deeply, darkly funny.

Humanity ultimately rules the day in this sleazy world and though a luchador can only remove his mask in death, the legacy will continue if he makes his sacrifice in the name of all that is good and true. Such is the driving force of Lowlife and we are blessed with a film that allows us to soar.


LOWLIFE enjoys its World Premiere at Fantasia 2017.

Saturday 15 July 2017

BITCH - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Fantasia 2017 unleashes dark, savage, feminist satire

BITCH: provocative title, provocative movie.

Bitch (2017)
Dir. Marianna Palka
Starring: Jason Ritter, Marianna Palka, Jaime King

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Soon after a failed suicide attempt, housewife Jill (Marianna Palka) can't help but notice a mysterious dog hanging around the beautiful suburban home she lives in with her four children and heartless, scheming, cheating husband Bill (Jason Ritter). She can't keep her eyes off the mangy shepherd and the friendly, panting dog does likewise. They have a bond. Too bad nobody else can see the doggy. Jill, you see, is having a complete nervous breakdown. She's a supermom to her kids and runs the home with clockwork efficiency, but she's so very much alone.

Marianna Palka's provocatively titled Bitch is a savage feminist satire that's as creepy as it is funny and it takes the kind of unexpected narrative turns that are not only aesthetically tantalizing, but yield the kind of original, uncompromising work that restores one's faith in cinema. Stranger even still, is that it slowly develops into a deeply moving tale of redemption.

But who, precisely, is the recipient of this redemption? As it turns out, in the film's exploration of patriarchal domination and its damaging effects upon a woman who simply wants to be loved, appreciated and maintain her sanity as both a woman and a human being, the central character to whom the film bestows its fullest arc is none other than her asshole husband Bill. At first, we are resolutely in Jill's sphere, but the perspective slowly changes - it's Bill whom we follow. If anything, the film is about a man opening his eyes when he has to stare in the mirror and recognize what he's become, and perhaps, always was.

At first, when Jill seems to absorb the personality and spirit of the mysterious dog, Bill is faced with the prospect of actually having to be a father. The family unit suffers a complete breakdown when the beleaguered wife and mom transforms into a growling, snarling "bitch" (female dog) - crawling about on all fours, urinating and defecating all over the house and eventually being banished to the basement as hubby Bill tries to juggle the needs of his children and the demands of his job. He seeks the help and support of Jill's sister Beth (Jaime King) and since he's completely useless as a father (he doesn't even know what schools his kids attend), he puts his sister-in-law in the position of being a surrogate homemaker.

Bitch not only becomes Bill's story, but is, in fact, his story. What a brave and original work this is. In essence, his redemption as a human being is emblematic of his own wife's redemption, his family's survival and a journey to recognize the effects of patriarchy.

Palka directs the movie as if her life depended upon it. Though it has a similar cold veneer one sees in the work of someone like Michael Haneke, Palka's control over her clever screenplay wends its way into a kind of humanity that Haneke can only dream about. (If anything, her work here feels closer to that of Ulrich Seidl.) Palka's own performance is astonishing - veering from "a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown" (giving Gena Rowlands a run for her money in the famous Cassavetes title of the same name) to a human being infused with all the properties, physical and behavioural, of a canine. This is acting of the highest, richest level. Jason Ritter's work is equally brilliant. That he sketches a completely worthless human being that we eventually care about is nothing short of stellar.

Bitch knocks us on our asses. We never know where it's going to go, but when we get there with it, we know we're in the territory of a genuinely great filmmaker, but most of all, we look upon a motion picture that turns itself upon us like a mirror. We're forced to confront both ourselves and the world around us.

This is what movies are meant to do.


Bitch enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia 2017.

Friday 14 July 2017

BUSHWICK - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The Apocalypse comes to Brooklyn at Fantasia 2017

House of Worship, World of Shit, Apocalypse!!!

Bushwick (2017)
Dir. Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Scr. Nick Damici, Graham Reznick
Starring: Dave Bautista, Brittany Snow, Angelic Zambrana

Review By Greg Klymkiw

You've just got off the subway with your boyfriend and are looking forward to introducing him to your Granny in Brooklyn. The platform is strangely empty until, naturally (it is the Bushwick district after all), a young gentleman in flames from head to toe barrels by, screaming in agony. As you and your beau ascend the stairs, you do so with trepidation - not only because a fiery human shishkebab just passed by, but now you can hear screams and gunshots. Your boyfriend bravely suggests you wait inside so he can go out to take a peek. Wrong move. He returns, near death, his flesh seared like charred corned beef. Once the love of your life expires, it's onwards and upwards.

What pretty young Lucy (Brittany Snow) discovers is Hell on Earth. People are rioting in the streets, looting is rampant and heavily armed military personnel in snappy, though scary-ass fascistic black uniforms (replete with helmets and dark, reflective faceplates) are firing into the bodies of innocent bystanders at will. She barely escapes certain death and hides out in a basement suite in the bowels of a nearby apartment building. The idyll doesn't last long. A few slavering gang banger thugs assail her.

Luckily, she's in the apartment of caretaker/janitor Stupe (Dave Bautista, WWE/MMA champ and the hilarious Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy), a tough-as-nails military veteran who dispatches the scumbags handily and saves her ass. This mismatched (clearly) pair become partners in survival as they wend their way through a veritable apocalypse.

America is under attack - by itself, it seems. A deadly army of redneck Southern secessionists has attacked the northern states and have concentrated their efforts in various New York boroughs, assuming, since they're ignorant racists (as most Deep Southerners must surely be) that they'll be able to have an easier time conquering "ethnics". Uh, not too bright, fellas. "Ethnics" fight back.

Bushwick is blessed with a first-rate screenplay that offers a simple, solid narrative coat hanger to deliver edge-of-the-seat suspense and plenty of action, but most off all, is infused with plenty of social/political layering and gorgeously-etched character shadings. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows the name of the film's lead co-writer, the estimable Nick Damici, a terrific character actor who's also penned several brilliant scripts for director Jim Mickle (Mulberry Street, Stake Land, We Are What We Are, Cold in July). And yes, the script is always the thing, but it helps that co-directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion handle the proceedings with skill, efficiency and verve. Often utilizing several long, gorgeously shot takes, their camera whirs and glides (and not in annoying shaky-cam) with the kind of expert action movie precision that puts many of its big budget studio blackbuster cousins to shame.

The big bonus here, is that both script and direction are blessed with a perfect combination of humanity and cynicism. Bushwick is an exceedingly dark picture and happily, it feels like it would have been at home and comfy amidst any number of classic dystopian 70s science-fiction/action thrillers. The picture gave me gooseflesh and by its nasty, shocking, horrifying conclusion, I was truly, deliciously, orgasmically spent.


Bushwick, a Search Engine Films release, opens theatrically August 2017 in Canada and enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia 2017.

Thursday 13 July 2017

Docs at FANTASIA 2017 - Greg Klymkiw Reviews: 78/52, LET THERE BE LIGHT, TOKYO IDOLS

The 2017 edition of the FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL in Montreal is one of the biggest and best celebrations of genre in the world. And they screen documentaries too.

Here are reposts of my reviews of 78/52, LET THERE BE LIGHT and TOKYO IDOLS - all perfect Fantasia material and very much worth seeing if you already haven't.

Walter Murch analyzing the editing of PSYCHO. Wow!

78/52 (2017) ***½
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

"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 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.

"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?"

78/52, LET THERE BE LIGHT and TOKYO IDOLS are all playing at Fantasia 2017 in Montreal. For tickets, click HERE.

Wednesday 12 July 2017

BABY DRIVER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Lead Character Needs to be Punched in the Face.

Baby needs to be punched in the face - and often.

Baby Driver (2017)
Dir. Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx,
Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Paul Williams, Sky Ferreira

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is an ace getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey), an Atlanta crime kingpin who never uses the same crew for the bank heists he masterminds, but happily breaks from protocol by using Baby each and every time. The kid is the best. He also owes Doc a whack of "tribute" dough and is paying down the debt. The kid suffers from the tinnitus he acquired in a car accident that spared him, but munched his Mommy and Daddy. He's perpetually plugged into classic R&B to drown out "the hum in his drum" and provide the necessary inspiration to put the pedal to the metal. When Baby isn't driving, he pretty much comports himself the same way. With tunes blasting through earphones, Baby bobs his head with the same metronomic rhythm that a cow chews its cud.

Baby might be the most annoyingly insufferable big-screen figure since Jar-Jar Binks (or, perhaps, Patch Adams or Sam Witwicky) and there isn't a moment this cutesy bonehead doesn't inspire me to want to punch him in the face - repeatedly, I might add. Almost as sickening is Baby's love interest Debora (Lily James), a vapid, toothy waitress who's clearly as empty as he is since she falls in love with him at first sight. Yes, she too needs to be punched in the face.

Look, I love Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead as much as the next fella, but his output ever since has adhered to the law of diminishing returns and Baby Driver is the nadir. Jam-packed with by-rote crime movie cliches in the guise of "homage", the picture seems machine-tooled to appeal to audiences as bovinely-brained as its lead character.

None of the endless car chases have any narrative urgency, nor are they ever rooted in anything resembling genuine desperation. I could almost accept this if Wright handled the heists and chases with some kind of genuine panache, but they're all a compendium of the usual contemporary ADHD editing with cameras all over the place and cuts driven by sound rather than picture. It's deathly dull. The stunt work is fine, but it seems to be captured by sight-bereft filmmakers.

A few nights after seeing this piece of shit I re-watched William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. and had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck during some of the most hair-raising, dramatically urgent car chase footage ever committed to film. No such hairs stood up for me during Baby Driver. In fact, I was often so bored that my mind wandered to the notion of shaving my flaccid pubic hairs to give me something to do whilst watching the tedious proceedings.

Even more egregious is that the whole thing is so moronically sun-dappled that Wright can't even muster up enough balls to generate the kind of gloriously downer ending a great crime picture demands. Baby is involved in several high-profile robberies and is an accessory to a whack of murders, but so many of the film's supporting characters attest to his goodness as a human being that he barely serves any prison time and by the end of the picture hops into some hot wheels with his moron girlfriend to trip the highways fantastic.

Leaving the cinema as Baby Driver ended, I not only wanted to punch Baby in the face, I just wanted to punch everyone happily leaving the cinema. The stupid grins plastered upon their satisfied visages all seemed worthy of rearrangement via my fists.


Baby Driver is in wide release via Tri-Star and Sony Pictures.

Tuesday 11 July 2017

Le Silence de la mer (The Silence of the Sea) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Haunting portrait of French Resistance during wartime at TIFF Bell Lightbox Summer 2017 series "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville" and available on the Criterion Collection.

A Nazi soliloquizes to silent listeners in Melville's debut.

Le Silence de la mer - The Silence of the Sea (1949)
Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
Nvl. Vercors (Jean Bruder)
Starring: Howard Vernon, Nicole Stéphane, Jean-Marie Robain

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There are many forms of resistance during an occupation. As Jean-Pierre Melville's debut feature film proves, the most powerful of all is silence. When an old man (Jean-Marie Robain) and his niece (Nicole Stéphane) are forced to billet Nazi officer Werner von Ebrennac (Howard Vernon) in their own home, they choose to contribute to the French resistance of German occupation by going about their lives as if their unwelcome guest doesn't exist.

Silence proves to be a formidable weapon. Le Silence de la mer is based on the secretly published novel by Jean Bruder under the nom-de-plume "Vercors", published and circulated in France during the Occupation. So horrific is the power of Melville's adaptation that the film succeeds as one of the most chilling anti-war films ever made and this from a picture that seldom leaves the confines of a cozy, bourgeois country living-room. What a gloriously mad first feature film, but one that radiates the sheer abundant cinematic glory that is Jean-Pierre Melville.

The first two-thirds of the movie involves the old man and his niece sitting quietly - the old man reading and/or smoking his pipe whilst his niece intensely embroiders. The Nazi officer pays them nightly visits. He acknowledges and respects their resistance, their cold, borderline cruel silence.

Still, this does not deter him from trying to establish a human connection. He wanders about the living-room, speaking in soliloquy. His words are always gentle, mannered and cultured. It doesn't take long to figure out he isn't the usual garden variety Nazi Officer. It seems that Werner von Ebrennac has the soul of an artist and he holds a deep love and admiration for French culture.

Many of his monologues are heart-achingly beautiful observations on art, language, music and literature. He even reveals tidbits about his life in Germany, some very personal. When he tells the story about his one great love and how he was eventually driven from her when she displayed a deep-seeded cruelty he could have never before imagined, we are allowed to see the pain and disappointment in his eyes. We are allowed to feel for him as a human being. His hosts, however, remain unmoved - at least on the surface. No matter what he says, the old man and his niece remain impassive - and, silent.

Their silence does indeed border on cruelty, though our Nazi doesn't see it that way. He acknowledges their right to silence. Astonishingly he seems to welcome it as the right of any countryman to resist their occupation at the hands of an enemy.

He occasionally veers into political territory - dangerous territory indeed since he betrays considerable naiveté and in so doing he attempts to provide a perverse justification for Germany's occupation of France. This eventually proves to be his biggest mistake because eventually he comes face-to-face with the true reality of his country's motives, their final solution.

Eventually a word will indeed be spoken from the "resistance". When it comes, it's excruciatingly painful. I personally find myself gasping and on the verge of weeping every time I experience this moment.

There's something so perfect, so indelible about this motion picture. Melville, a French Jew who was a resistance fighter during WWII, made this film not long after the war. Given the horror, danger and cruelty he experienced, one might have expected a very different film on his feature debut, but no, he is, after all Jean-Pierre Melville. Le Silence de la mer seems to set the stage perfectly for the compassion and humanity he displayed throughout his career.

He's achieved the impossible. He allows us to see cruelty in resistance and humanity in a Nazi. Just thinking about this makes me want to weep with joy.

And sadness.


Le Silence de la mer (The Silence of the Sea) plays at at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Summer 2017 series "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville". It is also available on a gorgeous Criterion Collection Blu-Ray and DVD that comes complete with a new high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, Melville's first film, the short 24 Hours in the Life of a Clown (1946), a new interview with film scholar Ginette Vincendeau, Code Name Melville (2008), a seventy-six-minute documentary on Melville’s time in the French Resistance and his films about it, Melville Steps Out of the Shadows (2010), a forty-two-minute documentary about Le silence de la mer, an interview with Melville from 1959, a new English subtitle translation, plus a booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and a selection from Rui Nogueira’s 1971 book "Melville on Melville".

Monday 10 July 2017

L'ARGENT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Bresson's final film gets the Criterion treatment.

Robert Bresson's last film might be his greatest...
and the Dude made one great picture after another.

L'Argent (1983)
dir. Robert Bresson
Starring: Christian Patey, Caroline Lang, Sylvie Van den Elsen, Vincent Risterucci

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Robert Bresson died in 1999. During his forty years as a director, he made only 15 feature films. He was uncompromising.

On one hand, it seems disgraceful it was so difficult for him to secure financing. On the other, when one looks at filmmakers of equal genius (albeit very different filmmakers), the ease with which they were able to grind out film after film left quite a few stinkers in their canons and as their careers progressed into their august years, the work itself adhered strictly to the law of diminishing returns. For me, Ford and Capra (who, in fairness often took gun-for-hire gigs with studios) are those who fall into this category. There were exceptions to the rule like John Huston, who made his fair share of stinkers, but in his last years generated several terrific pictures and in the case of The Dead, his last film, a bonafide masterpiece.

L'Argent was Bresson's last film and made 15 years before his death. I hate to imagine what those final 15 years were like NOT making a film, but one hopes he took some solace in the fact that this was exactly the sort of final work that every artist dreams of leaving behind.

Not only is this picture the ultimate Bresson film - a culmination of his deeply original approach to cinematic storytelling - but is, in fact, a deeply important film; artistically and morally. This is a film that, on its surface seems utterly stripped of redemption for its lead character, for the world and finally, for humanity. This, I believe, IS purely surface. L'Argent may well be one of the great humanist works of the 20th century - up there with the greatest films of Jean Renoir, if not in a stratosphere far above.

While Bresson's work was always secular in its humanism, there was also an adherence to faith - lapsed or otherwise and importantly, never in the sense of religious humanism. L'Argent presents a world where any sense of faith is betrayed and/or quashed and yet, in spite of this (and in spite of the almost cold, calculatingly precise manner in which the tale is rendered), this might well be Bresson's most emotional and affecting film - his most profoundly moving work.

It should probably come as no surprise that L'Argent is based on a literary work by Leo Tolstoy - a writer who practically defined the modern art of narrative (as I'd argue Bresson did with cinema), a great thinker/philosopher (again, not unlike Bresson) and a believer in both faith and a higher power, but ultimately eschewing the corruption and hypocrisy of organized religion (and again, Bresson being cinema's Tolstoy in this regard). Where Bresson and Tolstoy appear to part, at least literally, is that Bresson chose to base his film upon only Part I of Tolstoy's novella "The Forged Coupon" and not touch Part II of the work - the part wherein redemption was sought and found.

For Bresson's great film, this was a brave, brilliant and strangely apt choice.

There is, finally, something mysteriously affecting in Bresson's almost under-a-microscope study of how one immoral action sets off a chain of events, domino-like, of one unethical act after the other until we are faced with the ultimate evil, actions of the most viciously immoral kind - conducted with no remorse, no feeling (not even hate, it seems) and certainly - no redemption.

The tale Bresson spins is relatively faithful to Tolstoy's (though updated to contemporary France). A forged bill is passed on to a hapless soul who is powerless to fight the punishment he receives after unwittingly passing on the fake money. Losing his job and any reasonable prospect of employment to support his wife and child, he takes on the job of a getaway driver during a heist. He is caught, sentenced to prison and loses his child to a fatal illness and his wife who decides to move on and begin a new life. Upon his eventual release from prison, he has nothing. His soul seems drained and his actions become increasingly violent.

Upon committing an utterly heinous and unpardonable sin/crime, he calmly turns himself in - not out of redemption or guilt or compassion, but to further an opportunity to be incarcerated with the person who passed him the bill in the first place - to exact cold, calculated revenge (and by this point, without even the extreme emotion of hatred - revenge becomes almost a base need).

It is here where Bresson offers one of the most astonishing final images and cleaves it off literally with a picture cut to black that is so exquisite, so precise, so emotionally and viscerally powerful, that experiencing it invokes a physical response that is literally breathtaking.

Tolstoy offered us redemption. Bresson denies it to us. Two different approaches to the same material, however, yield similar results. We so desperately cling to the hope that redemption will come to Bresson's central character, that it's our hope, that is, finally, the redemption. Bresson allows us to seek humanity in ourselves through the inhuman actions of another.

This is a masterpiece.

To not see it, to not acknowledge this, to not revisit this great work again and again and again is to deny cinema and the power of cinema - one that even Tolstoy himself in his final years lamented not having an opportunity to tackle.

Cinema is a great gift.

Bresson, however, was the greatest gift to cinema and L'Argent is his greatest film.


L'Argent is now available via the Criterion Collection with a new restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, the press conference from the 1983 Cannes Film Festival, a new video essay by film scholar James Quandt, the trailer, a new English subtitle translation, an essay by critic Adrian Martin and a newly expanded 1983 interview with director Robert Bresson.