Saturday, December 31, 2011


Greg Klymkiw's CFC presents the TOP TEN HEROES of CANADIAN FILM in 2011

By Greg Klymkiw

(in alphabetical order, by first letter of name/company)

Astron-6: The brilliant Winnipeg-spawned filmmaking collective (Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney and Steven Kosanski) delivered not ONE, but TWO astounding no-budget feature films this year. MANBORG was replete with mega-martial-arts, chase scenes, ATVs that fly, Tron-like arena jousts and plenty of shit that blew up real good. The movie was made for a thousand smackers, shot on glorious DV-CAM and included tons of in-camera and rudimentary effects resembling early 80s community cable blue screen and there is not one damn thing in the movie that looks awful (thanks in good measure to director Steven Kostanski who is also one of the very best special effects geniuses in Canada. Father's Day, is a bum-blasting gore-fest of the highest order wherein a one-eyed, stalwart Jason Statham-like hero kicks mega-butt (as it were) to track down a heinous serial killer from Hades who specializes in sodomizing and butchering hapless Dads. The movie is the ultimate evil bastard child sprung from the loins of a daisy chain twixt Guy Maddin, John Paizs, early David Cronenberg, Herschel Gordon Lewis and Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer. The picture happily combines the effects of asbestos-tinged drinking water in Winnipeg with the Bukkake splatter of the coolest artistic influences imaginable. It was co-produced by the legendary Lloyd Kaufmann and Troma Films and it opens theatrically in New York in January.

Dan Lyon: I am the first person in the world to vigorously slag bureaucrats - in the public, private and non-profit sectors - for a variety of excellent reasons I won't bother going into here (though anyone who reads Chris Hedges or, uh, Franz Kafka, will know why they are, ultimately, evil). Dan Lyon is the head honcho of the Ontario branch of Canada's chief public financing agency Telefilm Canada. By rights, I guess this technically makes him a bureaucrat, but I've never thought of him this way because, frankly, he comes from a very real place in the world of film. Dan toiled away as a chief executive with Astral Films (and its various/subsequent theatrical distribution off-shoots) for mucho-moons. He was, with his late, great colleague, the inimitable Jim Murphy, a huge champion of the much-beloved Canuck feminist werewolf cult film Ginger Snaps and was the first executive IN THE WORLD (I repeat - IN THE WORLD) to pony up real dollars and cents support for Roman Polanski's The Pianist when it was in its earliest stages - a script. When he left the private sector to command the Ontario office of Telefilm Canada he secured two of the film industry's best script editors, Carrie Paubst-Shaughnessy and Anne Fenn, to buttress his team of creative analysts. (I personally had a great deal of experience with Carrie when she brilliantly contributed to the training of a number of young filmmakers I worked with in the area of story editing. As anyone who knows me, KNOWS, I do not suffer fools of any kind and her tutelage was of the highest order - so much so that within minutes after my first encounter with her I was easily able to expunge my usual "Yeah, tell me something I don't know" bile.) I have heard testimonials from innumerable sources - mostly writers (some burgeoning, others seasoned) - to know how valuable Dan and his team are at a creative level. I hope the recent boneheaded changes to Telefilm's feature development policies, which are the result of some head-office bean-counter's vision-bereft survey of trough-gobblers, won't have dire consequences upon the great work this office, under Dan's leadership, will be able to continue. Dan, like the very best executives in the film industry anywhere (in both historic and contemporary contexts) is NOT a bureaucrat. He's a filmmaker. Oh yeah, and he's cool. At a party last year, my wife asked me who Dan was. When I explained briefly that he ran the Ontario Telefilm office, she replied, almost incredulously, "Wow! He's really cool." That is, of course, what this country needs. Fewer nest-featherers with no vision and more cool dudes like Dan. (And thank Jesus H. Christ! Dan's office had NOTHING to do with the cinematic coat hanger abortion that is Passchendaele.)

Donald Shebib: As a movie nut since childhood, I'm happy and proud to say I saw many of the coolest movies in movie theatres in my pre-teen and teen years and they include such counter-culture Canadian pictures by Don Shebib as Rip-Off, Between Friends and yes, his legendary Goin' Down The Road, a movie that practically invented English Canadian cinema with its neorealist portrait of two losers from the Maritimes making their way in the big smoke, Toronto. For me, as a crazed lover of movies, Shebib continued to deliver the goods. I loved Heartaches and Fish Hawk and yes, even Running Brave (which Shebib used a nom-de-plume for his credit). Alas, much of his output for many years was unavailable to me as I gave up cable in the mid-80s and watched virtually no television since that time (where it appears he eventually did much of his later work in). In 2011 Shebib crafted Down the Road Again, a deeply moving and funny sequel that works as a continuation to a movie beloved by so many Canadians, but also works if one has never seen the original. It's a great movie about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, friendships that last beyond the grave and most of all, the open roads of this magnificent country, Canada. Shebib's the real thing and I'm grateful he made this movie. I know he'd probably hate such effusive hyperbole, but screw it - I think he's a living patron saint of all of us who thought that maybe, just maybe, we could make movies in this country - movies that spoke to our own experience and that hopefully touched people beyond our borders. I know (yes, I was this much of a geek as a kid) that when I first read, as a youth, Pauline Kael's review of Goin' Down The Road, it infused me with considerable pride. Shebib's the man!

Foresight Features: Foresight Features is a powerhouse new force in Canadian cinema from the wilds of Collingwood. This burgeoning Canadian company produced Exit Humanity (post-Civil War western with… wait for it… ZOMBIES) and the delightful Monster Brawl (a completely whacko mocku-pay-per-view event with… wait for it… WRASSLIN' MONSTERS). These guys (in particular, helmers John Geddes and Jesse T. Cook) are making cool movies with extremely high production value, micro budgets, private financing, tons of sweat equity and no dining at the Telefilm Canada trough. They've signed with Anchor Bay and frankly, one of their productions is a natural for wide exploitation through the Cineplex Entertainment chain. Monster Brawl DEMANDS the biggest support and resources to go into launching this insane movie as a major theatrical special event not unlike the Front Row Centre or big screen wrasslin' matches. I wonder if Cineplex is cool enough to do this BIGTIME? Oh, allow me to add that the two aforementioned features from Foresight collectively include such astonishing cult figures in starring and supporting roles like: Dave (Kids in the Hall) Foley, Art (The Brood, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Face Off) Hindle, Robert (300) Maillet, Jimmy ("The Mouth From The South") Hart, Herb (UFC Martial Artist and Ref) Dean, Kevin (WWE, WCW and TNA Champ) Nash, Lance (FUCKING) Henriksen, Dee (E.T., Cujo, The Howling) Wallace, Stephen (James Dean, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, A History of Violence) McHattie, Bill (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects) Moseley and Brian (the real, the original, the one, the only, the scariest Hannibal Lecter in Michael Mann's Manhunter) Cox. If Foresight isn't about showmanship, then nothing is.

Guy Maddin and George Toles: In this year of Our Lord 2011, Canadian cinema's national treasure delivered the utterly insane feature film Keyhole, a tantalizing amalgam of Warner Brothers gangster styling of the 30s, film noir of the 40s and 50s, Greek tragedy, Sirk-like melodrama, odd dapplings of Samuel Beckett’s "Endgame", Jean-Paul Sartre’s "No Exit" and, of course, male genitals - starring Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini, Udo Kier and the incomparable Louis Negin. By extension, his longtime screenwriter George Toles shares the heroism of cinema I loft in Maddin's direction. He's a great writer, a brilliant critic, a superb actor and theatre director and frankly, the best goddamn teacher of film, theatre and English Literature in this country. In 2011, let us also not forget that Maddin presided over the madness of two astonishing productions of his cult classic Tales From The Gimli Hospital at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Lincoln Centre in New York that featured an original score, played live with musicians and singers, live narration by Udo Kier, live soundscape and foley and in one of the shows, live projections. Nobody, and I mean NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-BODY, makes movies like Guy Maddin. Yeah, full disclosure (blah-blah-blah), I produced his first three features, was his Oscar Madison-like roommate long ago in the 'Peg and overall pal amongst the 'Peg Drones that slacked as if our lives depended on it, benignly stalked young ladies we didn't know (nor ever would), haunted cafes, record stores, flea markets, drank cocoa whilst spinning 78 recordings of fruity tenors, taking midnight drives to Lockport and Gimli whilst playing Paul Whiteman or Bing Crosby or Edith Day full blast on tapedecks and committing to 13-hour pilgrimages on the open road to Minneapolis to see Twins games, but screw it! First and foremost, I'm his biggest fan! And damn! He makes great movies!

Independent Canadian Exhibitors (The Royal, Revue, Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque, Canadian Film Institute, Pacific Cinematheque, etc.), Alliance Cinemas, AMC Theatres, TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF), Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and pretty much anyone who publicly exhibits films except the "proudly Canadian" (self-proclaimed) Cineplex Inc.: I saw Don Shebib's classic Canadian feature Goin' Down the Road when I was a kid at a huge first-run theatre in Winnipeg. I loved it then and loved it more every time I saw it. When I heard Shebib had crafted a sequel, I was imbued with a bit of healthy skepticism. That said, I was still excited to see it. I was out of town for the first two weeks of the film's theatrical run at Cineplex's flagship Toronto venue, the Varsity Cinema. When I returned during the film's third week of release, I hightailed it down to the Varsity (not bothering to check the showtimes as is my wont) and was shocked (genuinely) that it wasn't playing. I quickly accessed my iPhone movie listings and was even more distressed that the movie, at least for that evening, was playing absolutely nowhere in Toronto. There was, however, one lone screening the following evening at the Royal cinema, everyone's favourite indie venue in Little Italy. What shocked me even more was that Barbara Willis Sweete's film adaptation of Billy Bishop Goes To War was the other film playing at the Royal the same evening - first run and ENDING!!! Okay, my fault for being out of town, I guess. Excuse me all to hell for expecting movies with a reasonable pedigree by Canadian standards were (a) not available on any Cineplex screen in the country's largest city and that (b) they were both ending.

No matter, I sashayed on down the next night to The Royal. I really enjoyed Billy Bishop. I first experienced it as a kid in Winnipeg when John Gray and Eric Peterson presented the play at the Manitoba Theatre Centre's Warehouse venue. I loved it then and was delighted to see a film that preserved its theatrical roots. (I won't rant about one of my many pet-peeves involving the idiotic, myopic assumption on the part of critics and film types who should know better that anything and everything based upon a theatrical piece MUST be opened up for the cinema. Just don't get me started and I promise to stop now.) My first thought was, "Hmmm, there are wads upon wads of people my age and older who love this play ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY. This would have been a perfect film to platform wide in the Front Row Centre-styled exhibition format that Cineplex has been exploiting in big cities and beyond." I played out a release pattern for the film in my mind whilst waiting for the Shebib to begin: Coast-to-coast, hugely hyped one-shot screenings of the film at the premium Front Row Centre prices. You'd have to blow a decent whack o' dough on advertising, BUT, with the same kind of thought and elbow grease that USED to go into marketing ANY movies (never mind Canadian films), there would be all sorts of alternate advertising venues with far more reasonable ad rates than traditional outlets anyway. As well, there would be an inordinate number of cross-promotions and tie-ins with theatre companies and arts groups across the country. Hell, target theatre schools also - not just including private companies, or even secondary schools, but given that virtually every post-secondary institution has a theatre program, promote the picture there. In any event, my fantasy release of Billy Bishop then included regular screenings one week later in many of the same venues it played at in the Front Row Centre release. Those post-Front-Row screenings may or may not have had numbers to sustain the secondary runs that long, BUT, the important thing is that Canadians would have been able to see the movie on a BIG SCREEN in a COMMUNAL ENVIRONMENT. This, in turn, would have created a far more advantageous bed of hype and anticipation for any number of home entertainment venues.

Alas, the way the movie was released feels like home penetration was the only real goal.

Whose fault was it?

Well, as of this writing, I can't be sure if the film's distributor considered this sort of theatrical penetration, nor do I know if they even offered the movie to Cineplex. What I can say is this. SOMEONE should have thought about it and SOMEONE should have committed to playing it in this fashion. In fact, give the success of these types of special event showings in the Cineplex chain, you'd think someone there might have thought about approaching the film's distributor about mounting the film in this fashion.

Here's the thing. The business has changed for the worst, but it's not impossible to reapply good old fashioned showmanship on both sides of the distribution and exhibition fence. I started my life in this business as both a writer ABOUT movies and then as a film buyer on behalf of independent exhibitors in the late 70s and early 80s. I lived through the "old ways", lamented the shift in delivery and accessibility of product and now I get absolutely livid when I see how complacent and lazy both sides have become.

Down the Road Again was an entirely different story. I loved the picture, but also conceded its theatrical appeal would be limited. Limited, yes - but there is an audience out there that would have loved to see the movie on a big screen. Part of this IS a distribution issue. However, I also think Canada's major exhibitor is shirking its place in creating a proper venue for Canadian cinema. I'm sure they'd argue that their responsibility is to their shareholders. Well, never mind Canadian movies, those shareholders are going to have very little to count on if things don't change in the exhibition industry. And yes, it IS the fault of exhibition - especially within major chains like Cineplex. They offer no real choice. Pure and simple. They rest on the laurels of whatever crap they're handed. (I live for much of the year in a remote rural area. Cineplex has a seven-screen multiplex. All the same movies are locked in there for ages. I can assure you that in the late 70s and early 80s, the small market audiences had FAR more CHOICE in what was available than they do now. And idiotically, it's not that the product is NOT there. There's tons of product. Much of it good and much of it never getting screen time. Yes, having to program and promote such product takes time and effort. Yeah? So? Do it. They call it elbow grease.

As for Canadian product, I will ultimately point an accusatory finger at Cineplex. Every major country outside of North America had or continues to have strict indigenous content quotas. Many of these countries have leaps and bounds on Canada by decades in this respect. Many of these same countries are making indigenous product that appeals to their national audiences and, in many cases, to international audiences. Much of this product isn't of the blockbuster variety, either. It often provides entertainment to niche audiences - theatrically. These audiences exist because efforts had been made in the past to ensure cultural sovereignty. These movies mostly do NOT compete with Hollywood, anyway. In fact, they enhance the viability and attraction to theatrical exhibition period.

I do not propose legislating this anyway. I frankly think it would be good for business if Cineplex undertook a major corporate responsibility in exhibiting Canadian films - EVEN IF THEY LOSE MONEY! Oh horrors! Isn't that horrible? Look, Down the Road Again needed far more marketing and promotion than it got. This is a distribution issue. That said, movies like this will NEVER find a theatrical audience if they are not out there. I personally think a movie like Shebib's sequel DEMANDED being placed in more cinemas across the country and held longer - even at a loss. Take one screen in every bloody multiplex and screen Canadian product exclusively. Take another screen in every bloody multiplex and program product of an indie nature exclusively - booking it, if necessary in a repertory style.

Cineplex is a Canadian company.

Forgive me for thinking Canada is different than our neighbours to the south. We are. We have higher literacy rates, more progressive values AND most of all, we ARE innovators. Cineplex should FORCE themselves to exhibit Canadian films - even at a loss. (I'm sure there are potential tax incentives that can be whipped up for this anyway.) Why, you say, at a loss? Because there could well be a pot at the end of the rainbow. If the product - good, bad, middle of the road - is made available on a consistent basis, audiences might eventually develop a thirst for a certain type of product that speaks to THEM. Look, it's worked everywhere else in the world - out there, beyond the confines of North America.

It was, however, legislated. I say again - why legislate? Cineplex as the most powerful exhibitor in the country should legislate it as cultural policy within their corporate mandate. They could actually become world leaders in this extraordinary move to actively build an audience. More importantly, they could take a leadership role even beyond Canadian product and offer theatrical accessibility to a far wider range of product. This, frankly, is good for Canada, good for foreign product, good for Hollywood, good for AMERICAN independents, good for cinema as the greatest artistic medium of all time and MOST IMPORTANTLY, good for the end-users, the customers, the myriad of movie lovers who have been lured away from the communal experience for many different reasons, but most of all, because of a lack of diversity in programming.

In the meantime, though, let us pause and acknowledge the true heroes of Canadian theatrical exhibition. It sure ain't Cineplex - at least until they consider getting their act together on this front. Canadian product has had a home at all my aforementioned picks for heroism accolades. Alliance Cinemas, AMC Theatres, Independent Canadian Exhibitors (The Royal, Revue, Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque, Canadian Film Institute, Pacific Cinematheque, etc.) all regularly screen Canadian films - both first-run and second. TIFF Bell Lightbox in just over a year has displayed incredible courage and commitment to screening Canadian product theatrically. In 2011, the tiny, fan-run Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF) screened what must be a record number of Canadian genre films (features and shorts) - many of them winners. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) also continues a leadership role in supporting Canadian film - not just with festival screenings, but such important initiatives as the Film Circuit (bringing fine cinema from Canada and the world to rural locales) and their ongoing work archiving and contributing to the restoration of Canadian cinema. Heroes deserving of special mention in the organization for this year would include Steve Gravestock who oversees all matters Canuckian, Colin Geddes who does Midnight Madness and selected whack-job stuff in other serctions and the incomparable Julie Lofthouse in the TIFF film reference Library.

Good on TIFF and all the aforementioned, but whose turn it is now? Allow me to quote directly for the Cineplex website:

"Cineplex Inc. ("Cineplex") is the largest motion picture exhibitor in Canada and owns, leases or has a joint-venture interest in 130 theatres with 1,352 screens serving approximately 70 million guests annually. Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, Cineplex operates theatres from British Columbia to Quebec and is the exclusive provider of UltraAVX™ and the largest exhibitor of digital, 3D and IMAX projection technologies in the country. Proudly Canadian and with a workforce of approximately 10,000 employees, the company operates the following top tier brands: Cineplex Odeon, Galaxy, Famous Players, Colossus, Coliseum, SilverCity, Cinema City and Scotiabank Theatres. Cineplex shares trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) under the symbol "CGX"."

Great! Let's see some of the real leadership and innovation that makes so many Canadians proud of Canada. Cineplex declares they're "Proudly Canadian". Great. Let's see it. For real.

Ingrid Veninger: I've said it before, I'll say it again - Ingrid Veninger might well be cinema’s only living equivalent to a whirling dervish. Like a dervish, she honours her Creator (cinema), her prophets (John Cassavetes, Mike Leigh and others of a very noble tradition), then whips her imaginary concoctions into a frenzy – literally living and breathing cinema – producing work from within herself, her devotion and life in all its joy and sadness. In addition to be a terrific actress, she's one of our country's most visionary producers and her astounding work here includes Charles Officer's Nurse Fighter Boy (which she co-wrote also) and Peter Mettler's mind blowing Gambling, Gods and LSD. She's a teacher and mentor to all those with passion and a desire to create cinema. This year, she delivered up her third feature i am a good person/i am a bad person, a micro-budgeted romp through the European film festival circuit that tells a funny and moving Mother-Daughter story. The picture is full of humour, gentle bits of human comedy and (surprisingly) full-on Bridesmaids-style blowjob and scatological knee-slappers. A worthy addition to her rapidly accelerating canon of features as a director including Only (which she co-directed with Simon Reynolds) and Modra.

Jody Shapiro and Robin Cass: These two gentlemen produced two of the best Canadian films of 2011. Shapiro delivered the goods with Guy Maddin's Keyhole and Cass did what everyone said couldn't/shouldn't be done. In so doing, he produced a terrific sequel to one of the most beloved, iconographic Canadian films of all time, Don Shebib's Goin' Down the Road followup Down the Road Again. Cass, with his Triptych Media partner Anna Stratton continue to place their faith in our country's writers. Shapiro, is also some kind of wonderful - a great photographer and director in his own right and a lover of cool movies. With producers like these, I still hold out hope that Canada as a filmmaking force will explode.

Sarah Polley: Earlier this year, within the context of a cinematic tribute to the late Jack Layton in the UK-based Electric Sheep Magazine, I had the opportunity to finally put into words why I love Sarah Polley. I'll reprint them here now because she really is, to my mind one of our country's great heroes. Sarah is not only one of the best actors in Canada, but she has proven to be one of the country's best filmmakers, serving up the astounding short drama I Shout Love, the tremendously moving Academy Award-nominated Away from Her and her soon-to-be-released Take This Waltz starring one of the world’s most gifted Canadian funny men, Seth Rogen. Sarah Polley is a maverick. I love mavericks and I most certainly love Sarah. As if she isn’t/wasn’t busy enough, Sarah always made time for ‘the little guy’. Since her earliest years, the former child star of Terry (out-of-his-fucking-mind) Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the beloved family TV drama Road to Avonlea Polley had maverick qualities and activism hard-wired into her genetic code. For example, at the height of its popularity, Polley up and left Avonlea in protest over the increasing ‘Americanization’ of the Canadian series produced by Canuck Kevin Sullivan in collaboration with Disney. And, speaking of Disney, it’s been reported that she attended some public function the Mouse-Eared conglomerate was sponsoring and refused a dim-witted studio executive’s demand that she remove a peace-sign button affixed to her blouse. Who needs peace when you can start another useless fucking war? Through her teens and 20s Sarah continued to confound and delight movie fans the world over as she blossomed into adulthood – engaging in several political protests wherein she was physically assaulted by goons (uh, the fine members of Toronto’s Police Department), while on the silver screen she performed some truly major-zombie-ass-kicking in Zack Snyder’s surprisingly effective remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and butted heads with a crazed creature created from gelatinous amphibian goo cloned with her character’s own DNA in Vincenzo Natali’s deliciously fucked-in-the-head monster movie Splice. Sarah became revered and respected as one of our country’s most powerful and persuasive activists and artists. Socially, politically and culturally, Sarah Polley has led the way on so many fronts and, I might add, NOT in that annoyingly fashionable way contemporary Hollywood stars have done. Sarah was an activist early on in her life – long before celebrity activism became so degraded. She came by it truthfully, honestly and one might even say, innocently. Like the late Jack Layton, she has always fought for the rights of what’s genuinely right. She’s also funny and has one of the most perverse senses of humour I’ve ever encountered. Sarah Polley is probably one of 10 people on this planet who actually gets the insanely muted knee-slappers that Atom Egoyan occasionally dollops like globs of rich sour cream into the dour, though flavourful borscht of his movies. She’s also a thoughtful and generous human being. She's a star, but she sure doesn't act like one. And I do love her seemingly ages-old belief in a quota for Canadian theatrical features. She kicks ass! There's nobody like her.

S. Wyeth Clarkson: I first met Wyeth Clarkson in 1997 when he was studying editing. He was a GREAT editor. His instincts were pure, his craft impeccable and most of all, he was a filmmaker - first and foremost. As the years progressed, he partnered with his visionary pal Phil Daniels and together they formed Travesty Productions and have since produced several features, documentaries and shorts. 2011 was the year he brought to bear his most ambitious project to date. The Mountie is an old fashioned western replete with a strange blend of 70s cynicism, grit and, I kid you not lush panoramas and a weirdly affecting sentimental streak that would have made John Ford proud. It's a solid picture and one that Canadians would have enjoyed on a big screen - if they could find it. Clarkson took the figure of the Mountie, Canada's iconic red-coated crime-fighter and imbued it with a sense of myth that was both unabashedly Canadian and yet presented in homage to a myriad of great western traditions. His dream was to open the movie nationwide on Canada Day long weekend. It was, from an exhibition standpoint a total no-brainer. What happened was (apologies to his company's monicker) a travesty. Pictures speak louder than words, however, so let's examine this from that standpoint. As a Canadian, if I saw the following trailer repeatedly splashed in front of every movie I saw for two or three months before it opened, I'd have been there on Canada Day where it should have been - on a few hundred screens coast to coast. I doubt I'd have been alone. That, of course, would only have been possible if Cineplex Inc. had the guts to truly be "proudly Canadian" and programmed this trailer and subsequently, the film itself, with the same vigour as they do with Hollywood blockbusters people are avoiding like the plague. If Cineplex had any courage and vision to do this, the release would have no doubt received a huge amount of Prints and Ads support from Telefilm Canada. Watch this trailer. Okay, so now you've seen it. If you're into genre pictures and a Canadian, I defy you to tell me you wouldn't have been curious to lay down your dollars and see this movie in a theatre. What Clarkson ended up with was a handful of screens - mostly on AMC and/or independents, plus a prints and ads budget commensurate with such a small release. The numbers weren't great, but they were surprisingly on a par, if not higher than a number of Hollywood releases within the same multiplexes. Clarkson pushed and pushed to get screens. He got them, but not what he imagined and certainly not what he deserved. He made a cool movie that is even cooler in light of the fact that Canada, as a nation, strapped on extremely comfy kneepads during the Golden Age of Hollywood and struck a deal with the devil. Hollywood basically said, "Hey Canada, don't make feature films. Make documentaries and animated movies and educational films. Let US make movies about Canada. It'll be good for tourism." Canada swallowed this jism greedily and we ended up with no feature film policy and no quota system (unlike virtually every other major country in the world). What Hollywood produced in this deal worthy of Mephistopheles were hundreds of sub-par B-movies set in Canada, featuring some second unit or stock footage of Canada and often about - you guessed it - MOUNTIES!!! Good deal, Canada.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that flooding the screens with trailers for Canadian movies and ensuring screen time for said Canadian films is going to be the immediate solution, but given that Canada NEVER had an official policy (beyond the National Film Board of Canada) on feature film during the first 60-or-so years of cinema's history, something has to start somewhere.

A few years ago, sitting in the Cineplex flagship Varsity Cinema in Toronto, I watched a mediocre horror picture that had a decent, though not exceptionally large audience. Earlier that day I had just seen a trailer for Paul Fox's terrific Canadian horror picture The Dark Hours in a private screening. If Cineplex had exercised their corporate responsibility to Canadian film culture and played the trailer in front of every crappy and/or (God forbid!) good genre film and agreed to open the movie in more than ONE cinema in Toronto as they grudgingly did, I'd bet most people seeing the trailer would have been thrilled to go see the movie when it opened. Take a look. Again, I defy anyone who loves genre pictures to say they wouldn't have seen the movie after seeing that trailer, especially if Cineplex had committed to a whack o' screens which, in turn, would have given the distributor incentive to spend the money needed to hype it (and in fact, get a good whack of the dough to do this from Telefilm Canada).

Another example of 'Twas not to be.

That said, Wyeth Clarkson continues to fight the good fight - lobbying for accessibility to Canadian cinema on Canadian screens. Most of all, though, he's writing a new screenplay. Let's hope that by the time that movie is ready to be seen, there WILL be a system in place to provide the accessibility that Canadian films (and, in fact, all indie productions from a variety of countries) deserve.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Brilliant Astron-6 FATHER'S DAY Gets Theatrical Release in NYC via Troma Films - Read Greg Klymkiw's Daily Film Dose Review


FEBRUARY 10th and FEBRUARY 11th, 2012

SUNSHINE CINEMA 143 East Houston Street New York

Father's Day (2011) dir. Astron-6
(Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney)

Starring: Conor Sweeney, Adam Brooks, Matt Kennedy, Brent Neale, Amy Groening, Meredith Sweeney, Kevin Anderson, Garret Hnatiuk, Mackenzie Murdoch, Lloyd Kaufman

RATING (out of ****) ****

By Greg Klymkiw

A father's love for his son is a special kind of love. As such, Dads the world over face that singular inevitability - that peculiar epoch in their collective lives, when they must chauffeur the apple of their eye from a police station, for the third time in a month, after said progeny has undergone questioning upon being found in a motel room with a dead man covered in blood, après le bonheur de la sodomie, only to return home after dropping said twink son on a street corner, so the aforementioned offspring of the light-in-the-loafer persuasion, can perform fellatio on old men for cash, whilst Dad sits forlornly in the domicile that once represented decent family values and stare at a framed photo of better times, until he succumbs to unexpected anal rape and as he weeps, face down and buttocks up, he is doused with gasoline and set on fire, then frenziedly tears into the street screaming, until collapsing in a charred heap in front of his returning son, who reacts with open-mouthed horror as the scent of old penis, wafts, ever so gently, from his delicate twink tonsils.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

FACE OFF - TIFF/VSC Restoration of Historic 1971 Canadian Hockey Picture: A Portrait of NHL Glory Days at Dawn of Indigenous Canuck Movie Culture

Face Off (1971) dir. George McCowan (U.S. Title: Winter Comes Early)

Starring: Art Hindle, Trudy Young, Frank Moore, John Vernon, Vivian Reis, Derek Sanderson, Austin Willis, Sean Sullivan, George Armstrong, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Darryl Sittler, Harold Ballard, Paul Henderson, Jean Beliveau, Scott Young

RATING: (out of ****) ****

By Greg Klymkiw
"It takes a lot of courage to watch a man out there night after night. I know the players get most of the glory, but I think the women who wait at home for them at night deserve most of the credit. They must have to love the game as much as the man does." - Austin Willis as the silver-domed owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs to Trudy Young, the young singer who falls in love with the team's new star player.
Hockey is Canada's national sport. End of story. No arguments are necessary. They will not be considered, so just keep 'em to yourself, please. Unbelievably though, until 1994, our national sport was officially Lacrosse. I kid you not. Lacrosse! Lacrosse? Give me a break. When finally, this wrong had been rendered right, it was done so in that annoyingly moderate Canadian fashion wherein Hockey had to officially share the distinction with Lacrosse, to appease only those of the politically correct persuasion. But, no matter. I know it, you know it, everybody knows it. Hockey is as Canadian as Maple Syrup, peameal bacon, Canadian geese, pouding chômeur and Norman Jewison. As such, one can only wonder why the most Canadian movie NEVER made by Canadians was Slap Shot, George Roy Hill's hilarious hockey satire with Paul Newman. But hold the phone! Many years before everyone's favourite salad dressing magnate and the Hanson Brothers cracked heads like so many eggs, yielding runny crimson yolk matter upon the fresh, white ice, Canada did indeed generate a terrific piss and vinegar hockey picture - Face Off .

Written by George Robertson (based on written materials by Neil Young's Dad, sports writer Scott Young), directed by stalwart TV helmer George McCowan (who would happily go on to direct the utterly insane 70s horror thriller Frogs) and starring a very handsome Art Hindle (who went on to scare the shit out of movie audiences as Brooke Adams's pod-victim hubby in Phil Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake) and the delectable Trudy Young (former childstar and every young Canadian boy's wet dream from the long-running kids show Razzle Dazzle), Face Off blazed onto Canadian screens in the 70s and played premiere first run theatres all across the country. (I first saw the picture with my Dad in Winnipeg in a huge old picture palace.)

This was truly a movie by Canadians, for Canadians. They embraced it wholeheartedly - not just because it was a genuinely good picture, but the amazing on-ice action. Without question, Face Off is historically significant for a number of reasons, but most importantly, it contains the only existing 35mm film footage of actual NHL hockey action. In spite of this, the original elements to generate new prints went missing and it's suspected the negative had been thrown out by mistake after producer John F. Bassett's untimely death from brain cancer in 1985. With one decent existing print left in the whole world at the Toronto International Film Festival's Film Reference Library, the visionary Canadian home entertainment company Video Service Corporation (VSC) undertook the painstaking, expensive and worthwhile toil of restoring the film - frame by frame - to high definition.

The movie itself straddles the best of both worlds; that amazing early period of Canuck features that not only reflected English Canadian culture, but did so with that distinctive 70s darkness so prevalent in the work of the country's neighbours south of the 49th parallel. On the surface, Face Off is a simple, oft-told tale of star-crossed lovers; doomed from the start. the movie is all the more melancholy as we experience WHY they should be together, but also get a God's-eye perspective of WHY they won't be together. As the narrative unspools, we hope against all hope that things will work out for the best, but anyone who knows and loves the best movies from the 70s will realize it's a done deal - the relationship will be thwarted.

The emphasis on darkness was not only the 70s way, but the Canadian Way. Canuck pictures from this period shared the zeitgeist of tone so apparent in the work of Scorsese, Schrader, Toback, Reizs, Lumet and others. Where the movies differed was in "production value" (ugh - I hate that phrase). Naturally lower budgets as well as the huge National Film Board influence resulted in films that blended traditional, classical storytelling with an almost Neo-realist approach - less razzle-dazzle, more dour-dazzle.

The movie begins, however, with a narrative that in and of itself, is pure fairy tale. Billy Duke (Art Hindle), a fresh-faced young demon on ice from Northern Ontario scores a spectacular winning goal and luckily for him, a Maple Leafs scout is in the crowd and offers him a spot with the once-gloried, but now beleagured NHL team - they need a star and they need wins. Celebrating at the local bar with his team mates, Billy is hit with Cupid's arrow when he locks eyes with the beautiful songstress Sherri Lee Nelson (Trudy Young) who is playing in the band Winter Comes Early, an up and coming group led by the talented songwriter-musician Barney (Frank Moore). Barney clearly carries a torch for Sherri, but she's dazzled by the aw-shucks down-home charm of Billy.

With this, two important love triangles emerge.

While Barney pines for Sherri, Sherri pines for Billy. The Dukester's mistress is not flesh and blood, but rather, the Bitch-Goddess that is pro-hockey. Billy and Sherri have everything going for them - both are rising stars and ascending the heights with speeding bullet velocity and yet, as their love deepens, so do the pressures of their respective lifestyles. Billy's first true love is hockey and his relationship with the peace loving hippie chick songstress is strained to say the least because of it. Billy's game is also off due to the real-world realities of l'amour and even Sherri threatens her commitment to music due to the same.

Add to this, as one must do in tales of star-crossed lovers, the outside forces which toss an unwanted spanner in the works. Sherri's are both Barney, who offers stability, commitment and friendship, and her need for a family (Mom was a single parent AND drunken floozy - this in sharp contrast to the down home hearth she experiences in Billy's familial Shagrila in Northern Ontario.) The primary outside force wreaking havoc with Billy's love life is the male patriarchy of the sports world. It's a man's world and his iron-fisted Coach (the late, great John Vernon) does everything in his power to let Billy know that hockey comes before everything. This is more than ably demonstrated in the Coach's relationship with his own wife, a lonely, clinging, drunken floozy. This is not lost on Sherri - Lord knows she doesn't want to become anything like her own Mom, nor does she envision the love of her life being an absentee-husband.

One of the best scenes in the movie is a New Year 's Eve party hosted by the team. Naturally, Billy brings Sherri and naturally, every male in some position of power, subtly and not-so-subtly, put the necessary bugs in her ears that being a hockey wife requires sacrifice. The writing here is first rate as Sherri is tossed, almost La Ronde-like about the room while McCowan's expert direction captures the rhythm of the patriarchal rotisserie with consummate camera-jockeying.

Later in the film, the Coach has a chilling conversation with Billy wherein he opines with the force of fact: "Kid, everything in life has to be in its proper place. Even the wife, eh." Billy regards this with a mixture of skepticism and acceptance. He responds in a poker face with: "Something to think about." The Coach delivers the final knockout verbal blow: "Just don't think about it. DECIDE!!!"

For Billy, it IS a tough decision. He's not only being seduced by the game, his teammates, his bosses, but by fame itself. At one point, Billy and Sherri clash when he gloats over his "bad boy" press in the sports pages. When she accuses him of being "just like the rest of them" (the patriarchal world that has attempted to put HER in her place), Billy responds, "No I'm not." And here is where Hindle and Young really break hearts - thanks to their fresh, meaningful performances and the great 70s-style dialogue. Billy brashly, directly and romantically takes the bull by the horns, looks Sherri in the eyes and says, "I'm younger, stronger and tougher and that's why you dig me. You know that's right. We both know it, eh." And here, for me is the clincher where I fell in love all over again with this movie. Billy adds: "So dry your eyes and put on something warm. I think we both could use some fresh air."

Ah, young love in Canada.

A stroll through sub-zero winter snow and all will be well.

And, like the name of Sherri's band and the U.S. title of the film, winter does indeed come early, and this tale of star-crossed lovers against the backdrop of Canada's national sport races to a tragic and moving finish.

What a terrific movie!

On and off the ice, Face Off captures the world of pro-hockey with a considerable degree of reality. Even when it might not be to the letter, the world, the atmosphere, the locker room camaraderie, the wood paneled smoky taverns, the cheap suits adorning the men, the clutches of sports reporters, the parties and, as detailed above, the place of women in this world of gladiators on the ice and their masters in the back rooms. Even as a kid, so much of the movie resonated for me on this level. Having a father who played pro-hockey, did post-game radio analysis and in his later years, promoted pro-hockey in his position as a marketing man with a major league sponsor, I was surrounded by so much of the atmosphere that when Dad took me to see the movie in 1971, I was totally enamoured with it.

I'm also pleased to say that seeing the movie forty years later, those days came alive again and, I might add, in deeper ways - especially in the film's examination of men and women and their, respective places in that world.

The other important aspect of the film is just how Canadian it is - not just stylistically, but in how it so effortlessly captures Canada's unique indigenous culture. Like all good things Canadian, it doesn't do this in obvious flag waving ways, but with a subtle matter-of-factness. For example, one (of many) terrific cuts in the picture, occurs at the small town railway station as Billy is about to leave for Toronto. A nice close up on a metal footstool placed in front of the train's passenger doorway leads us simply into a "goodbye" scene and emblazoned upon it are the immortal words: "Canadian Pacific".

For all the film's melodrama and simple classical story structure, McCowan happily embraces the Neo-realist approach to much of the action. Montage sequences in the streets pulsate with life, the bars are replete with background extras who look like they've lived there forever - puffing on cigarettes and sucking back beer in the distinctive Canadian stubby bottles, the on-ice action of real NHL hockey games is expertly matched with recreations of said matches using Hindle himself or his stand-ins. The professional actors handle their roles with the requisite dollops of naturalism so they blend beautifully with the numerous appearances of non-actors. (One of the best performances comes from NHL bad boy Derek Sanderson in a small, but important role in which he plays himself. The other comes from Leafs' captain George "Chief" Armstrong who delivers a speech to Billy that is so bursting-at-the-seams with hockey wisdom, fans will feel they've died and gone to Heaven.)

Art Hindle and Trudy Young as the love-struck couple are a marvel to behold. The camera loves them and their chemistry is natural. Given how popular the movie was in Canada, I remember thinking - even as a kid - why neither of them became stars. Hindle, of course, went on to make a long and successful career as a "working actor" and is now one of our country's finest character actors.

The immortal John Vernon, always a treat to watch in any movie, had a long career in character roles on both sides of the 49th parallel. His performance here as the coach is ice personified. (Though for me, nothing will ever match the scene in the classic Linda Blair women-in-prison picture Caged Heat where Vernon, as the warden, sat back in a hot tub full of naked women whilst puffing a cigar. I'm sure this was far more edifying than a scene in Mob Story where, in my sporadic acting career doing cameos for friends, I was accosted by Mr. Vernon who played a gangster whilst adorned in stereotypical Canadian-hoser garb, I suffered the indignity of being interrupted during a leisurely dump as Mr. Vernon tore the door off the frame of a cubicle in an airport john.) Vivian Reis as Vernon's beleagured wife delivers an absolutely heartbreaking performance while Austin Willis renders a more than creepy paternalistic tone as the hockey team's owner. The real revelation here is Frank Moore as Barney. Moore has become a great character actor, but in this film, his soulful eyes betray his poker face. His presence lends the film both pathos and humour while many of the songs sung by the group in the picture, "Winter Comes Early", are genuine top-tappers. Here's yet another example of a tremendous Canadian actor who has star written all over him, but for whatever reason, neither he nor the system ever adequately let him take that path.

And yes, let us pause again to mention that director McCowan rendered the cult classic Frogs. While this may seem a dubious achievement to some, it's one of my favourite 70s horror pictures and the images of Ray Milland being attacked by frogs and resulting in his death by heart attack is as indelibly etched upon my mind as the shot of Trudy Young and Art Hindle in Face Off jumping joyfully upon a liquid-filled mattress in a Yorkville waterbed store.

Face Off is classic Canadian cinema. To think it was almost lost forever is sickening and VSC deserves huge kudos for taking this on. The results of the restoration are spectacular - the film is now available to all its original fans in a brand spanking new 40th Anniversary DVD/Bluray Combo edition. This edition will also serve new generations of Canadian audiences and hockey nuts; the high definition work is superb, maintaining grain and the distinctive colour palette and the sound work is superb with a cleaner version of the mono mix on the optical and occasionally with bits and pieces of the original optical "sound" (or if, you will, "hiss"). For me, this always gives older films a lot more warmth than the idiotic overkill sometimes performed by over-zealous audio technical artists on mono mixes.

The package includes the original SCTV parody of Face Off, a trailer and commentary track. I personally don't much like commentary tracks - I find them meandering and almost pointless. Luckily, stars Art Hindle and Trudy Young share a few cool stories, but what this really needed was a moderator who could have guided the conversation in more practical fashion. I also think the expense of doing a short video documentary on the film's history and subsequent restoration might have been a worthy addition. These quibbles aside, it's a great home entertainment release and VSC proves once more it's one of the most original and committed companies generating important product for the home market in North America.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

EXIT HUMANITY - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011: Zombies in the Heartland of Post-Civil-War America Displays Ambition and Scope On No Budget

Exit Humanity (2011) dir. John Geddes
Starring: Mark Gibson, Dee Wallace, Stephen McHattie, Bill Moseley and narrated by Brian Cox

RATING (out of ****) ***

By Greg Klymkiw

Ambition, when it is clear, true and sparked by originality is nothing to be sneezed at - even if the end result falls a bit short of what it needs to succeed. Exit Humanity, a zombie western, is certainly one of the strangest and compelling movies I've seen in sometime. In fact, while it clearly belongs in the horror genre (there are zombies, after all), the picture feels a lot more like it's rooted in a tradition of magic realism and fairy tale. It doesn't quite gel, but in spite of this, it's a solid feature debut for a director whom one hopes will have a long, fruitful career ahead of him.

The film begins with an all-out, no-holds-barred brutal battle sequence twixt the opposing blue and gray forces of the American civil war. As the carnage heats up, a third fighting element creeps into the madness - zombies. Even though the war soon ends, a dark cloud appears over the land and during the reconstruction period, a plague spreads across the once-divided, but now tenuously-melded nation. The living dead rise to eat the living. Following one young soldier, Edward Young (Mark Gibson) we embark upon his odyssey of pain, revenge and redemption that follows the deaths of his beloved wife and son.

Edward keeps a detailed journal with vivid drawings and the most exquisite calligraphy. The reading of voice over journals is hardly original, but when it works, it works and there's certainly no reason for the insistence of those who should know better to NOT use it cinematically.

Within the context of Exit Humanity, the journal proves to be a reasonable way to let us in on Edward's inner life, but to also pepper the picture with a lot of background - both narratively and historically. Edward's words of reflection appear over much of the action and are read by one of the world's great living actors Brian Cox. Even more astoundingly, the drawings often morph into gorgeous animated sequences.

On the plus side, the use of this narrative device helps plunge us into fairy tale territory. (Don't worry, there's plenty of brutal zombie action inflicted by the living dead and, most deliciously, upon them.) It's also, frankly, a brilliant approach to fleshing out the micro-budget of the film and delivering production value that fills out the movie. Amazingly, the picture has excellent production value in the non-animated sequences, so it never appears as if this is a choice tied to basic exigencies of production.

On the down side, there's too much narration and the writing tends to tell us stuff we already know and can see. There's occasionally times when it's totally fine to tell and show at the same time, BUT I do wish this had been more judiciously applied in the final cut.

The movie is quite a revelation in that it signals a new force in Canadian cinema. Foresight Features, the burgeoning Canadian company that produced Exit Humanity and the delightful Monster Brawl is making cool movies with next-to-zero dollars. Foresight is especially unique in that it brilliantly makes use of any number of no-budget techniques.

They do so in a way that's tied directly to the narrative and atmosphere. (Note, for example, the exceptionally canny use of rural locations in both Exit Humanity and Monster Brawl.) Foresight is creating wildly original work that also maintains extremely high production value, private financing, tons of sweat equity and no dining at the Telefilm Canada trough.

Too many low budget Canadian films have big ambitions, but the artistic life is sucked out of them by bureaucrats and worse, those pictures almost always feel impoverished - with artistic cuts made to appease "industry standards". I've seen too many talented young filmmakers in Canada destroyed by the need of financing agencies and training institutions demanding an adherence to supposed standards that are, ultimately, nothing more than uninformed check-listing of buzz-words to ensure the survival of said agencies and institutions rather than the filmmakers.

And while many Canadian films are dotting their landscapes with genuine stars, Foresight Features has the imagination and, if you will, foresight, to populate their casts with quirky genre-specific stars. Exit Humanity - in addition to the aforementioned use of Brian Cox (the original Hannibal Lecter in Michael Mann's brilliant Manhunter) - features welcome supporting turns from a bevy of cool actors like Dee (E.T., The Howling, Cujo, Critters) Wallace, Bill (The Devil's Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses) Moseley and Canada's greatest actor (tied with Louis Negin for this Klymkiw Accolade) Stephen (2010, Pontypool, the great 70s TV movie James Dean and his memorable star turn as Vreenak the Romulan in Star Trek: Deep Space 9) McHattie.

Exit Humanity is flawed, to be sure, but at least it's not stricken with the typical malaise infusing most Canadian features. It has scope, sweep and, although weirdly muted, high stakes. If anything, the movie is infused with a great deal of love and compassion. The strange blend of romantic yearning, fairy tale, horror and western genres is terrific when it clicks like clockwork.

When it is deliberate, it's wonderful, but oft-times it's ponderous. The movie really needs a good 20-or-so minutes shaved from it. This would not, in any way, shape or form take away from the director's clear intention to provide an offbeat journey. It would, in fact, have enhanced it.

Instead of the usual hyped-up urgency that infuses so many contemporary genre films, I applaud the filmmaker's intent to bring us back to a time when scares and creepy-crawly feelings could hold an audience. Director Geddes has crafted a movie in this tradition, but it's mildly frustrating to watch a picture and SEE PRECISELY where the movie could be cut with no detriment to the intent. I psychotically watched the movie three times. Once, just to watch it. Twice, to figure out why it haunted me in spite of its considerable flaws. And finally, a third time to ascertain what could have been done with the footage in its final form. The movie it should be is buried in itself and most notably, in its intent. But as we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions - action, finally, speaks louder than words.

"Exit Humanity" was unleashed at the magnificent Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011 and is being distributed by Anchor Bay Canada. To read my review of the other Foresight Features production Monster Brawl, visit HERE

Monday, November 7, 2011

THE CORRIDOR - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011: Horror in a remote cabin, and no babes? What gives?

The Corridor (2011) dir. Evan Kelly
Starring: Stephen Chambers, David Patrick Flemming, Glen Matthews, James Gilbert, Matthew Amyotte, Nigel Bennett, Mary Colin-Chisholm

RATING (out of ****) **1/2

By Greg Klymkiw

So here's the deal. If I'm going to watch five people in a remote cabin being haunted by some weird shit that turns them into psychopaths, the last thing I want is for all five of them to be guys. Sorry. Call me crass. Call me a redneck. Call me uncivilized. (Just don't call me Shirley.) What I need are babes. Yes, babes. Members of the female sex. Three is best. Two will do. One, I will settle for. But NONE? Nada? No babes?

This, my friends, is a problem. A big one. Why? Because this is a low budget horror film set in the middle of nowhere and seeing as the body count is clearly not going to be high, the stew needs a bit more than potatoes - if you follow my drift.

What we have here are five friends. One of them went nuts. Blood was shed. After time in the loony bin, the nutbar gets out and his buddies decide to congregate for a weekend reunion in the whacko's family cabin. Here, we see them rekindle past glories, dredge up old grudges, realize that their lives are essentially not what they could be and soon they all discover and experience a mysterious force deep in the bush that creates feelings of elation which eventually transform into a desire to kill.

Okay, this is not bad. But again, we have to spend time with five loser guys (some more macho than others) and for much of the film's running time we listen to them alternately whine and be sensitive new males (save for the two who are a bit more loutish). We don't even get some good, old-fashioned homoeroticism. I mean, seriously - if you're going to force us to watch five young loser guys in a cabin for ninety minutes, can we at least get some nice homo action? In fact, the central friendship in the picture had a lot of possibilities to go into the territory of Hershey's Chocolate Highway - but no, it's all sensitivity and no action.

The screenplay by Josh MacDonald is not without some excellent writing. Thought and care have obviously gone into the film's structure as well as character and (some of) the dialogue. The emphasis upon atmosphere is something I generally appreciate in any horror film, but I seriously believe the script was: (a)not encouraged to adequately exploit and/or push the envelope on what it sets out to do and, more importantly, (b)was green-lit too early. Based on the finished film, it's at least two drafts (including one genre makeover) and a polish or two behind where it really needed to be.

That said, there are a few moments of genuine grotesquerie with the occasional appearance of the whacko's whacko dead Mom. She's old, and not really a babe (and, uh, dead), but she's delectably creepy and again, another lost opportunity. If we're going to have five loser guys alone in the woods - fucked up by some mysterious force and getting visitations from some old demonic lady, could we, perchance get some kink worked into the proceedings?

So, no babes, no homo action and no sex with dead old demon ladies.

What do we get? Well, director Evan Kelly moves the action briskly, elicits fine performances from all the actors, sets a suitably creepy tone with a solidly deliberate pace, serves up a few decent visceral jolts and stretches his low budget admirably. The snow-packed isolation of Nova Scotia is also rendered with suitable panache. We are, thankfully, blessed with an appearance from the legendary Canadian character actor Nigel Bennett, but given he's the only one who appears in the under-populated setting, we know he's not going to last long.

I'm sure the screenplay was developed with all the right intentions - to focus on psychological and atmospheric horror rather than bloodletting, but there's something ultimately square about focusing upon such drab, unexceptional male characters. A couple of them veer delicately in the direction of Neil LaBute Lite, but that's another problem. When one crafts a modestly budgeted film like this - Lite is NEVER the way to go.

Given Canada's reputation worldwide for its offbeat perversion in the world of indie filmmaking, its possible the makers of this low budget Canadian genre picture thought they were departing from the norm in a fresh way. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Movies like this need some kind of crank. Good intentions are never enough. In fact, good intentions are too often the middle name of many Canadian films and it's the movie's downfall. One sits in the theatre watching the movie, hoping that things are going to amp up narratively. Alas, they never do.

"The Corridor" was unleashed during the magnificent Toronto After Dark Film Festival (2011 edition). It has been purchased by AMC Networks' IFC Midnight.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

AVATAR - Canknuckle-Headed Canuck Cameron might feel like he's on top of the world, but watching his films can make you feel like a bottom feeder

AVATAR (2009) dir. James Cameron
Starring: Jake Sully, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Wes Studi and Giovanni Ribisi

RATING (out of ****) **

By Greg Klymkiw

Given how little use I've had for the Kapuskasing, Ontario-born James Cameron since his great film The Terminator, I was prepared to hate Avatar.

I was, however, rather indifferent about it. On the plus side, it has terrific special effects, a serviceable science fiction premise and it's never boring. On the down side, it has terrific special effects, a serviceable science fiction premise and it's never boring. In other words, the picture is neither a win or a loss, but a draw. In my books, a draw is definitely nothing to be proud of. In fact, there are times when a spectacular loss can be endowed with considerable merit in its folly alone. Alas, this is not such a movie. It's a winner - sort of.

Of course, some might wonder why I have no use for Cameron, especially considering my penchant for genre pictures. Well, there are a lot of reasons, but the big three are as follows:

1. Cameron somehow managed to lose the sense of humour he displayed in The Terminator. Humourless action movies are a dime a dozen and he's been strangely unable to crack a dark sardonic smile since Schwarzenegger uttered the famous words, "I'll be back."

2. Cameron utilizes (save for The Terminator) lots of noise and bluster to generate suspense and excitement - pounding your pulse rate with wild cymbal-smashes and brute-force baseball bat blows instead of finely wrought and generated thrills that stick in the craw, slide slowly down the throat, burrow into the innards until they shockingly charge back up through the upper torso and uncontrollably spew globs of nasty undigested bits of viscous-enveloped matter into the audience's collective faces.

3. Cameron is earnest. Being earnest is bad enough when it belongs to dour National Film Board of Canada documentaries about children with learning disabilities who find teachers they can really relate to, but when it hangs like a constipated turd from the anus of an action director, it's virtually intolerable.

Avatar suffers from all three, but what made it SLIGHTLY watchable for me is that the bluster is finally more controlled, and therefore, ALMOST effective while the earnestness factor manages, at the very least, to generate some surprisingly interesting ideas regarding other life forms in the universe as well as some noodlings on the themes of American colonization, genocidal acts on behalf of corporate superpowers and the exploitation of natural resources

At the end of the day, though, the movie leaves me cold. I admire some of the craft, but I never have the feeling I'm experiencing a picture that truly engages.

One of the primary reasons it doesn't fully engage is that it's impossible to latch wholeheartedly onto any of the characters. If the movie had been endowed with at least a villain on a par with Schwarzenegger in the first Terminator instalment (which gave that film something to negate the dour humourlessness of the stalwart Kyle Reese, the hero played by Michael Biehn), then structurally and otherwise, Avatar might have gone the sort of distance it needed to go to achieve the same kind of relentless energy. Instead, we're forced to follow the slender tale of a paraplegic soldier whose mind melds with an avatar of an alien on a distant planet so he can join a scientific team to gather data that will allow an American corporate superpower to exploit the natural resources of the planet. While amongst the planet's blue-coloured indigenous populace, the soldier comes to understand the simple, spiritual and wholly environmental ways of these New-Agey warriors and joins them in battling the nasty, would-be conquerors.

The characters are finally little more than caricatures and ultimately, since most of them are jolly blue computer generated giants that are oddly not very pleasing to the eye, it's no wonder we're not too wrapped up in their struggle. This is not to say that caricatures in an action picture are always a bad thing, but there has to be some zip and oomph in the writing to give them the resonance that makes you bounce up and down in your seat with the same kind of giddiness that Schwarzenegger inspired in The Terminator. All Avatar has going for it is a humourless hero and heroine and a couple of villains who offer little more than mild amusement value.

Another disappointing element of the picture is the IMAX 3-D theatrical format itself and the fact that the true joys of 3-D are never exploited to their fullest because Cameron is so humourless and earnest that he doesn't actually let himself loose and wholeheartedly embrace the real reason anyone might want to see a 3-D picture. In the 50s, when 3-D burst on the screen, filmmakers went out of their way to throw things at the camera lens (or audience) so that it actually felt like a tomahawk or spear or some other projectile was hurtling right towards you. During the brief revival of 3-D in the 70s and 80s, it was more of the same - most notably in Paul Morrissey's film of the Andy Warhol production of Frankenstein (AKA Flesh For Frankenstein) where gooey, blood splattered guts dangled disgustingly before you. In recent years, 3-D has become so boring, so non-exploitative that most of the 3-D films are better off being viewed in flat 2-D. The exceptions to this are few and far between - the otherwise unwatchable Polar Express and the unjustly maligned Journey to the Centre of the Earth at least delivered on the roller coaster ride pleasures to be had in 3-D. Avatar is far too humourless and earnest to engage wholeheartedly in the deliciously exploitative pursuit of throwing stuff in our faces and/or taking us on harrowing amusement park rides. Cameron's more interested in using the 3-D technology to paint a portrait of a "real" fantasy world. This doesn't really cut the mustard since it's not a real world anyway - it all looks and feels computer generated.

This is not to say I have a problem with special effects LOOKING like special effects. The great stop-motion animation of Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen look like effects - in fact, they ALWAYS looked like effects, even when I was a kid I knew they weren't "real". That, of course, never mattered as there was also a huge effort to create a world that existed ONLY on the silver screen while making us care and believe in ALL the characters such as those in King Kong or Jason and the Argonauts. When we watched those movies, we truly felt immersed in a cinematic land of spectacle, but the pictures worked because the stories themselves seemed infused with a heart, a core of human emotion and where the special effects were there to truly serve the STORY and CHARACTER.

With Avatar, it's the opposite of that. Cameron, always the technophile knot-head, cares more about the effects and visual razzle-dazzle than anything else. This should have come as no surprise since it doesn't take much to remind me of the fact that in the appalling Titanic, so much time and attention was lavished on making the great ship sets as technically and historically accurate as possible, yet no time or effort was placed upon making the characters SOUND, MOVE or even LOOK (beyond the costumery) like they lived in the Edwardian period (save for Billy Zane's mincingly delicious bit of nastiness and Kathy Bates impersonation of Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure).

Sam Raimi is the perfect example of a truly great filmmaker since many of his pictures are laden with makeup, optical and/or digital effects, but they're all there in service of the movies themselves, as well as being infused with a delicious, nasty, funny pulp sensibility. Or how about the wonderfully insane Paul Verhoeven who dazzles us with his dark wit and delicious comic-book stylings? These filmmakers are certainly in direct contrast to Cameron who is, finally, a cold, calculating man of craft - a proletarian George Lucas, if you will. And on top of it all (and not the top of the world, by any means), Cameron is just one big square.

One thing in Cameron's screenplay for Avatar that I responded to positively was the world of the aliens and how a blend of the spiritual with physical allowed the blue goodies to live as one within their natural world - tethering soul and physiology so that all living creatures are tied together and not just with each other, but with the dimension of the afterlife and the ghosts of the past and the spirits of the planet's ancestors. This is such a lovely and intriguing element that it's sad to note that it leads us to one of the big flaws/holes in Cameron's screenplay. When the scientist, played by Sigourney Weaver, pleads with the corporate boss to not unbalance the delicate balance of the aliens' world, it's simply all too predictable how the New World Order-styled nasty-pants played by Giovanni Ribisi rejects this. What didn't jell with me on this front was the fact that Weaver's character could and should have used her expertise in dealing with corporate lackeys to fund her research by trying to argue that the minerals the Americans are trying to exploit are, in fact, less lucrative than trying to get to the bottom of how the aliens live. This latter secret seems even more ripe for corporate exploitation and that this is NEVER even brought up is an idiotic omission.

As the story, such as it is, is crafted, this logical pitch on the scientist's part is all but ignored (and probably not even considered) by Cameron's script. One can only surmise that if it HAD been bandied about at the writing stage, the possibility of Weaver pitching the Aliens' ecology as being far more valuable than the mineral deposits might have completely decimated the need for Cameron to blow things up real good. It might have turned into one of those great sci-fi films from the 60s and 70s where the movies really were about something.

There would, ultimately, be no bluster, no noise. And that, finally, is all Cameron is really all about. As a filmmaker, he's the equivalent to a New Year's Eve noisemaking party favour.


Avatar is cold, lifeless, humourless and only marginally better than Cameron's previous work in this genre (save for the original Terminator). Like most of his films, it's aimed at all the fanboy (and fangirl) bone-brains who get off on attending screenings dressed as their favourite characters. No doubt, the Avatar fans will be arriving en masse to the theatres with blue paint smeared all over their faces and making all the Star Trek, Star Wars and Rocky Horror deadheads look like Rhodes Scholars.

Happily, the picture's adjusted for inflation gross will still never begin to approach that of a REAL hit like Gone With The Wind. However, Avatar, no matter how you slice it - is going to be one hell of a monumental hit by contemporary standards.

It could, however, have been so much more.

"Avatar" is available on fully-loaded and impressively produced Blurays and DVDs. This review originally appeared in a slightly different form at Daily Film Dose.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

MY BLOODY VALENTINE - George Mihalka's Original 1981 Classic Slasher Film Easily Puts Dreadful 2009 3-D Remake to Shame

My Bloody Valentine (1981) dir. George Mihalka
Starring: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Cynthia Dale and Don Francks

RATING (out of ****) ***

My Bloody Valentine 3-D (2009) dir. Patrick Lussier
Starring: Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith and Kevin Tighe

RATING (out of ****) *1/2

By Greg Klymkiw

My Bloody Valentine is one of the best slasher movies ever made, and one of the primary reasons it’s so good is that it’s Canadian. Both of these assertions (proclamations, if you will) might be viewed with a mixture of skepticism and gales of derisive laughter. Well, doubt away and yuck-it-up to your heart’s content, I stand by this controversial claim – especially in light of all the remakes of 70s horror fouling our screens, and most notably the dull My Bloody Valentine 3-D.

Of all the slasher pictures from this period, this delectable Canuck blood spurter splashed onto the silver screen with an indigenous sense of time and place that contributed very significantly to the overall creepiness of the picture. Unlike the demonic, unstoppable, supernatural forces of Jason, Michael and Freddie, the central killer in My Bloody Valentine is a disgruntled miner who, due to the carelessness of some colleagues and mine officials, is trapped in a deadly mine explosion wherein he is eventually forced to devour the flesh of his deceased co-workers in order to survive. As the accident happened on the night of a Valentine’s Day Dance at the Union Hall in town, our reluctant cannibal miner begins a reign of terror that forces the mining town of Valentine Bluffs to stop presenting a Valentine dance for 20 years. After two decades, however, the citizenry feel that it’s time to resurrect the annual love-fest, especially since the killer has been safely incarcerated in a loony bin.

Bad move. No sooner than you can spit-out a Valentine salutation or create a saliva rope whilst kissing your best gal (or guy), the mysterious miner – replete with super-scary helmet, goggle eyes, Darth-Vader-like breathing mask, adorned in blacks duds from head to toe and utilizing a variety of fine items like pick axes, nail guns, rope and other mining accoutrements, begins to dispatch a whole passel of townsfolk in some of the most grotesque, stomach-turning killings ever committed to film. (The killings are even more delightful now that they’ve been restored to their unrated, uncensored glory on the new special edition DVD from Lionsgate). My favourites include death by tumble dryer, face-in-a-pot-of-boiling-hot-wiener-water (one of the greatest pot p.o.v. shots ever) and an impaling from the neck and out through the mouth on a gushing water pipe.

While some might argue that the abovementioned proceedings may seem stock, if not downright derivative of the earlier work of the likes of Mario (Twitch of the Death Nerve, Blood and Black Lace) Bava, Bob (Black Christmas) Clark and John (Halloween) Carpenter, the fact remains that there is absolutely no attempt to hide the fact that this is set IN Canada, IN a real mining town, IN Nova Scotia, IN a real mine and featuring an all-Canadian cast replete with unmistakably Canadian accents (including some obviously “local” extras). This goes a long way to creating an experience that makes the genre’s situations and requirements richer and, dare I say it, more realistic. Not that the film is replete with the typically “quirky” Canadian casting – most of the young leads are suitably hunky and/or babe-o-licious (especially leading lady Lori Hallier), but they look especially appealing in their Canadian-hoser plaid, faded jeans, dirty caps and small town and decidedly (un)chic Woolco/K-Mart duds. (Though one young lady appears to be adorned in an angora sweater – Hubba! Hubba!) That said, there are a number of supporting players who feel a bit more “quirky” including a John Candy look-alike fat guy who ends up being pretty tough and courageous – that’s definitely “Canadian”. And cool, too. (The only obvious non-Canadian thing is that Don Francks plays a sheriff – something Canucks do not really have presiding over the law and order of small towns.)

The way in which director George Mihalka uses his excellent locations is especially welcome. The small-town union hall, the Laundromat, the numerous signs proudly proclaiming the availability of Moosehead Beer and that dank, dark, creepy and VERY REAL mine all contribute to presenting a tale of terror with a real local flavour.

In scene after scene, Mihalka makes practical and imaginative use of everything real that’s available to him – certainly something every good filmmaker should do, but especially when directing a thriller. Hitchcock’s rule of thumb in terms of utilizing EVERYTHING that is naturally around you to generate thrills is exploited beautifully in this picture by both the script and Mihalka’s direction.

In addition to the great locations, both the art direction and costume design go a long way to creating a work that lives beyond the stock situations. As well, the cinematography is first-rate. Above ground, there’s a terrific, slightly over lit quality that captures every decrepit detail of the town and in the mine, the use of light, shadow and black is expertly rendered and adds considerably to the terror below.

As for the recent 3-D remake of the abovementioned, the less said about it, the better. It’s certainly not awful – in fact, it’s worse than awful – it’s mind-numbingly competent. No colour, no flavour, an idiotic reworking of a workmanlike script, generic casting (save for a deliciously enjoyable Kevin Tighe) and pretty decent digital 3-D effects are about the best that can be said for it. It is, frankly, night and day compared to Mihalka’s original.

Where Mihalka’s picture goes above and beyond the call of duty, this 3-D incarnation is content to keep its tongue planted annoyingly and firmly in cheek and solely delivering on the 3-D gore rather than trying to creating anything resembling character or atmosphere.

The strained changes to the original story and characters in the remake are in no way more layered – they’re merely overwrought and occasionally confusing. Not that I DON’T enjoy movies that are mere excuses for the technology – in fact, I didn’t mind the Brendan Fraser action extravaganza Journey To the Centre of the Earth at all because it so un-apologetically was about the effects, but My Bloody Valentine 3-D pathetically attempts to have it both ways and because of this, eventually becomes tiresome.

At the end of the day (or night, if you will) it’s great that Lionsgate secured the rights to the original My Bloody Valentine from Paramount and expertly restored it to the glory originally envisioned by its makers. The especially cool thing is that these enhancements are JUST THAT – enhancements. My Bloody Valentine always felt like an original and stayed in one’s mind for over two decades. Now, it is in a much better form where it can shock, thrill and delight future generations of horror fans.

The original 1981 “My Bloody Valentine” and the pathetic remake "My Bloody Valentine 3-D are both available on DVD and Blu-ray from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. This review appeared in a slightly different form at Daily Film Dose.