Thursday 31 August 2017

THREADS, CHARLES - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - NFB at TIFF 2017 soars with joy and sadness

Life leads us from the frogs.

Charles (2017)
Dir. Dominic Etienne Simard

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In a mostly monochrome world, doughy lad Charles tends to his gargantuan lolly-gagging mother in a squalid flat. There are simple joys, of course, his beloved frogs, school and dips in the nearby lake. Dollops of colour, albeit pale and/or muted keep threatening to bring joy and solace, but they are fleeting.

Colour eventually explodes in the form of rising blue waters threatening to drown him. Will he be rescued? And whom or what will rescue him? Will it indeed be life itself? And oh, when it rains, what will rain down? Frogs? Kitty cats? Doggies? Big pudgy baby bears?

And will he find happiness?

Or is it, ultimately, imagination that will provide the ultimate freedom?

In Dominic Etienne Simard's Charles (a National Film Board of Canada co-production with France), it is the waters of time and the long, slow march to adulthood and freedom that await. The journey will, like so much of our lives, prove to be bittersweet. The film's gorgeous expressive visuals fill in all the blanks and finally, we're left with a work that soars with a great, though sometimes terrible beauty.


Charles plays at TIFF 2017.

The ties that bind hang by a thread.

Threads (2017)
Dir. Torill Kove

Review By Greg Klymkiw

To hang by a thread usually suggests imminent danger, something unstable and/or doomed to failure. In Oscar-Winner Torill Kove's lovely and simple animated short (a National Film Board of Canada co-production with Norway), it's the ties that bind which hang by a thread; a slender thread indeed.

This delicate and moving work details the life of a young woman who grabs a thread dangling from the heavens and allows it to hoist her upwards on a journey we come to recognize as life.

When she finds another thread, it's attached to an infant. She and the little girl are inseparable. Though the child grows incrementally into adulthood, they're bound together by that mysterious thread. Even when the thread leads the child to peers on a playground and, for a time, completely out of the mother's purview, the thread remains.

But the day comes, one we all dread I think, when when her daughter must sever the tie that binds to jump up to the heavens, to clutch her own thread.

As a single Dad to a teenage daughter the film inspired so many personal memories of past and present. It provided both solace and melancholy as I, like the mother in the film, face the imminent severing of my own thread to my own child. Yes, we dread the severance, but we also accept it. Life must go on and for those we love the dearest, our children, it must move forward.

There might not be anything new revealed in the sentiments and story revealed in the film, but its visual metaphor is one I welcomed, understood and responded to on a deep emotional level.

I suspect I'll not be alone in this.


Threads plays at TIFF 2017.

Wednesday 30 August 2017

REBECCA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hitchcock/Selznick Classic on the Criterion Collection

Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier, Judith Anderson
in creepy crawly Hitchcock/Selznick romance.

Rebecca (1940)
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Prd. David O. Selznick
Nvl. Daphne du Maurier
Scr. Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson,
George Sanders, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"She was incapable of love or tenderness or decency." - Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca

Rebecca is a creepy-crawly romance. Make no mistake, though - it is indeed a romance, but damn (!), the picture makes your flesh squirm and the cherry on the sundae is that it's often so suspenseful that you occasionally feel like being one big screaming-sissy-pants-baby.

There aren't many American feature films as great as this one - it's in a class all its own. The finished product is the result of easily the most combustible producer-director partnerships in movie history. Auteur American producer David O. Selznick (Gone With The Wind) teamed up with auteur British director Alfred Hitchcock to adapt the wildly best-selling gothic romance novel by Daphne du Maurier and in so doing, yielded a film that was as modern and sophisticated for its period that has also stood the test of time - so well, that it's still more dazzlingly original than most films made these days, or for that matter - ever!

Hitchcock, however, seemed to downplay the worth of Rebecca, going so far as to say that "it's not really a Hitchcock film", but rather David O. Selznick's picture. Hitch couldn't have been more wrong, though. The movie is pure Hitchcock. He just didn't realize it.

The story that unfurls is one of obsession and on the surface, pure gothic romance. When the ultra-rich widower Max de Winter (Laurence Olivier) meets a plain, nameless (yes, nameless!) travelling companion (Joan Fontaine) at a Mediterranean seaside resort, he falls madly in love with her and whisks the young woman off to be his wife and preside over his mansion Manderley. Of course, the rambling old estate is haunted - mostly by the lingering memories (and perhaps even the ghost) of de Winter's dead first wife Rebecca.

Once ensconced in the stately manse, Max is often busy with business matters and it's up to his fresh new wife to take up her duties as "lady of the house". This is easier said than done. The house is still adorned with all the touches bestowed upon it by the late Rebecca (who died tragically in a boating accident on the raging seas that the mansion overlooks). Even her bedroom, with all its clothing and accoutrements has been preserved as she left it the night she died.

The creepy old housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (the chillingly dour Judith Anderson) does everything she can to remind the young woman what a pale shade she is to the deceased former lady of the house. The new bride assumes Max wants her to replace Rebecca, but in actuality, the title character, as we are reminded constantly, can never really be replaced. If the young bride is to keep both her sanity and her new husband, she needs to create herself in her own image, not that of a dead woman.

As the film progresses, more and more hints are dropped that things, as they so often are in life, are never what they seem. Madness, infidelity and, perhaps, murder most foul lurk in ever dark corner and the picture stealthily makes its way to a climax that is as nail-bitingly suspenseful as it is wildly and gloriously romantic.

This was indeed a great producer-director collaboration. Many of Selznick's instincts about the material were right and he insisted upon fidelity to the original writing of Daphne Du Maurier - something Hitchcock had a clear distaste for, but ultimately acquiesced to. Good thing. What this resulted in was not only a great picture, but whether Hitchcock could ever admit it or not, Rebecca proved to be an important transition picture in his development as a filmmaker and led the way to his rich period during the 50s and eventually gave way to the other great and perfect tale of obsession, Vertigo. I'd go so far as to suggest that without Selznick, Vertigo might have never eventually happened, or at least not as successfully.

Selznick was a filmmaker. A real filmmaker. So too was Hitchcock. The combination was explosive, but yielded a work of lasting value.

Rebecca is available on a new Criterion Collection Blu-Ray/DVD and easily one of the greatest home entertainment triumphs in years. This stunning new 4K digital restoration of the Hitchcock/Selznick classic features an audio commentary from 1990 featuring film scholar Leonard J. Leff, an isolated music and effects track, a new conversation between film critic and author Molly Haskell and scholar Patricia White, a new interview with film historian Craig Barron on Rebecca’s visual effects, Daphne du Maurier: In the Footsteps of “Rebecca,” an extraordinary 2016 French television documentary, a making-of documentary from 2007, footage of screen, hair, makeup, and costume tests for actors Joan Fontaine, Anne Baxter, Vivien Leigh, Margaret Sullavan and Loretta Young, a casting gallery with notes by director Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick, Hitchcock interviewed by Tom Snyder on a 1973 episode of NBC’s Tomorrow, a Tomorrow interview with Fontaine from 1980, audio interviews from 1986 with actor Judith Anderson and Fontaine, three radio versions of Rebecca, from 1938, 1941, and 1950, including Orson Welles’s adaptation of the novel for the Mercury Theatre, the theatrical rerelease trailer, an essay by critic and Selznick biographer David Thomson and selected Selznick production correspondence, including with Hitchcock and on the box, a gorgeous cover painting by Robert Hunt.

Tuesday 22 August 2017

SID AND NANCY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Classic Punk Biopic on Criterion Collection

Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb as punk lovers
Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen in Cox classic.

Sid and Nancy (1986)
Dir. Alex Cox
Scr. Cox and Abbe Wool
Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, Drew Schofield, David Hayman

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It seems inevitable that the wildly, strangely romantic tragic biopic Sid and Nancy would be Alex Cox's sophomore feature after his astonishing 1984 debut with the punk masterpiece Repo Man. Veering from an almost neo-realist 70s-style nihilism to a whacked-out druggie comedy to a borderline surreal presentation of a world gone completely nuts, Repo Man now feels like the ultimate 80s American film. Cox's picture, with its aimless punk played by Emilio Estevez finding his niche as a repo man with the sage Harry Dean Stanton, virtually spat in the face of the feel-goody-two-shoes of the execrable John Hughes teen dramedies and the sprawling, noisy, state-of-the-art macho action and adventure films that populated that often-wretched decade of cinema.

The hallucinogenic properties Cox brought to bear upon his first feature continued unabated with this grim, grimy love story twixt the legendary Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman), bassist of The Sex Pistols and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). Though the screenplay by Cox and co-writer Abbe Wool hits many tried and true biopic beats, the film ultimately excels during its many flights of fancy and the clearly oddball properties of a loving, domestic partnership against the backdrop of addiction, substance abuse and the sheer anarchy of the late 70s period of punk rock.

The film begins with the early rise to success of the band managed by Malcolm McLaren (David Hayman) and doesn't waste time getting Sid together with Nancy. They're young, they're in love and they're hooked on heroin. They're also inseparable - so much so that their couple-status begins to upset the applecart of the band. Once The Sex Pistols are on tour in America, things go from bad to worse. The group breaks up. Sid and Nancy continue as a couple whilst Sid attempts to launch a solo career.

And then, tragedy strikes in the squalidly legendary Chelsea Hotel in New York City. Love hurts and it most definitely doesn't last forever and death - violent death at that, has a bad habit of ending the joy and most of all, the pain.

As with Repo Man, Cox has a definitely unique eye on America and in Sid and Nancy, he delivers a skewed world through the eyes of these loving drug addicts (thanks to the astonishing work of cinematographer Roger Deakins and especially, Gary Oldman's star-making performance).

One of the most poignantly addled moments in the film comes when Nancy declares: "I hate my fuckin' life." Loving Sid responds: "This is just a rough patch. Things'll be much better when we get to America, I promise." Nancy looks blankly at him and matter-of-factly responds: "We're in America. We've been here a week."

Oh yeah.

Love hurts, alright. Especially when you don't know where you are. Or who you are.


Sid and Nancy is available as DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION on the Criterion Collection in a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray, an alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray, Two audio commentaries: one from 1994 featuring cowriter Abbe Wool, actors Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, cultural historian Greil Marcus, filmmakers Julien Temple and Lech Kowalski, and musician Eliot Kidd; the other from 2001 featuring cowriter-director Alex Cox and actor Andrew Schofield England’s Glory, a 1987 documentary on the making of Sid & Nancy, Infamous 1976 Bill Grundy interview with the Sex Pistols on British television, Rare telephone interview from 1978 with Sid Vicious, Interviews with Vicious and Nancy Spungen from the 1980 documentary D.O.A.: A Right of Passage, Archival interviews and footage, plus an essay by author Jon Savage and a 1986 piece compiled by Cox about Vicious, Spungen, and the making of the film.