Monday, October 31, 2011

MANBORG - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011 at Toronto Underground Cinema

MANBORG (2011) dir. Steven Kostanski
Starring: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Ludwig Lee, Conor Sweeney, Meredith Sweeney, Jeremy Gillespie

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

By Greg Klymkiw

The time will come when we are dominated by a One World Government. This will be no mere conspiracy theorist's idea of a New World Order. Art Bell won't be predicting this one!

In fact, the Illuminati are pussy-whupped-momma-boy-teat-sucklers compared to what waits for us just round the corner. As dramatically postulated in the latest production from the kubassa-stuffed-to-overflowing loins of the Winnipeg-spawned hit machine Astron-6, be afraid - be VERY afraid of the future.

Straight from the jaws of Hell comes Draculon (Adam Brooks), a crazed totalitarian infused with a slavering desire to inflict pain. He makes the Dictator combo-platter of Adolph Hitler (former German Chancellor), Joe Stalin (former butcher of ten million Ukrainian garlic eaters), George W. Bush (annihilator of Islam) , Stephen Harper (current Il Duce of Canada) and Michael Bay (Brain Sucker Extraordinaire) look like your kindly Granny Apple Cheeks knitting her umpteenth doily and churning butter.

As brilliantly rendered in the opening minutes of this 70-minute masterwork, you will cringe as our pitiful armies do their best in battle with the demons of Mephistopheles, but even the best of the best of the best of mankind will be no match for the foul, pus-oozing Satanic beasts.

When a brave young fighting man hits the turf and pushes up the daisies, he is mysteriously and miraculously transformed by the mad genius Dr. Scorpius (Adam "Fuck me and a month of Sundays, this guy gets around!" Brooks) into the next best thing to Jesus H. Christ Almighty (or Robocop - take your pick!).

He is, and always will be:


Blending cutting edge technology, Frankensteinian alchemy, Einsteinian science and the mind of mankind's leanest, meanest fighting machines, Manborg (Mathhew Kennedy) has, alas, retained the heart and soul of humanity. Instead of serving Draculon and his evil henchman The Baron (Jeremy Gillespie), he joins forces with three superHUMAN heroes in the struggle to free Earth from the clutches of Hades.

This trio of badass mo-fos includes the wildly pompadoured kick-butt-Kiwi (or Aussie, or Brit, or what-the-fuck-ever-his-deliciously-delightful-accent-is) played by Conor Sweeney, a blade-o-licious platinum-tressed kick-butt, delectably-racked, red-grease-painted-faced babe (Meredith Sweeney) and a melt-in-your-mouth, magnificently buff kick-butt Asian martial artist (Ludwig Lee) dubbed into English by someone who sounds like the offscreen voice artist who dubbed all of Steve Reeves's lines into English in his numerous Italian sword and sandal epics of the 50s and 60s (in spite of the fact that Steve Reeves actually, uh, spoke English).

Needless to say, our heroes save the world. (Yeah, I just released a wet fart of a spoiler.)

The movie is replete with mega-martial-arts, chase scenes on what appear to be ATVs without wheels that fly, Tron-like arena jousts and plenty of shit that blows up real good. Oh yeah, have I mentioned yet that the movie was made for about a thousand smackers, shot on glorious DV-CAM and includes tons of in-camera and rudimentary effects that resemble early 80s community cable blue screen? No? Well, I have now and there's not one damn thing in this movie that looks awful.

In fact, it is endowed with the kind of visual splendour that can only come from filmmakers who love movies and movie-making. Special effects that LOOK like special effects, have always held a humungous soft-spot in my heart. I love knowing that I'm watching a MOVIE. I love knowing the effects are - uh, just that - effects. I love to be reminded that I am in a world that only exists up on a big screen. For me, this IS magic.

The ultimate magic in the movie comes when two babes square off for a cat fight supreme. When one of the babes morphs into a demon, all my hopes and dreams momentarily diminished. Sure, it's fine to watch a babe kick a demon's butt, but for Christ's sake, babe-on-babe action always takes precedence.

But I digress.

As rendered by Steve Kostanski, MANBORG is a fairy tale of cosmic proportions for geeks and freaks the world over. It makes perfect sense that this, and the other Astron-6 works of consummate film art come from the recesses of Winnipeg.

In addition to the asbestos-lined water pipes, an insane need to tear down heritage buildings to build parking lots when the entire city is a fucking parking lot and a bowling alley bearing the name of the late, great Billy Mosienko (who, prior to his death, would man the counter and rent you bowling shoes), the 'Peg (my own former winter city) is not only the geographical-near-centre of North America, but boasts a grand tradition of what film critic Geoff Pevere dubbed as Prairie Post-Modernism.

Filmmakers like John Paizs, Guy Maddin, Noam Gonick, Lorne Bailey and Matthew Rankin forged a path that few in the 'Peg have been able to follow as memorably (though Regina-based cousins like Brian Stockton, Brett Bell and prairie-boy-at-heart Richard Kerr HAVE, in their own demented ways). Kostanski, by the way is a brilliant effects artist and his most recent makeup design is on view in the terrific Xavier Gens sci-Fi thriller The Divide (see my Daily Film Dose review HERE)

Make way, now, for a new generation of mad geniuses from Winnipeg.

They are Astron-6. And though some from this collective of total filmmakers have temporarily (one hopes) left the world capital of napping and Salisbury House Mr. Big Nips for bigger locales, the snug blankets and Icelandic sweaters of the prairies sprouted their grand vision that are and will continue to take the world by storm.

That said, I do expect that MANBORG II will have plenty o' babes catfighting.

MANBORG screened at Toronto After Dark 2011. While it'll be available for home consumption, it demands a BIG SCREEN heapin' helpin' of its considerable hospitality. Coming to CFC: An equally laudatory review of FATHER'S DAY, another Astron-6 picture co-produced by Troma and on glorious display at TADFF2011.J

Friday, October 21, 2011

MONSTER BRAWL - Toronto After Dark Film Festival (2011 Edition) Opening Gala at Toronto Underground Cinema

Monster Brawl (2011) dir. Jesse T. Cook
Starring: Dave Foley, Art Hindle, Robert Maillet, Jimmy Hart, Herb Dean, Kevin Nash, Lance Henriksen

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

By Greg Klymkiw

Who doesn't love Mexican wrestling movies? You don't? Well, go to hell, then. Santo, Blue Demon and Rodrigo the Hippie, however, are pussies compared to monsters. How about a movie that has wrasslin' monsters? Yes, you read correctly. MONSTERS THAT WRESTLE. What's not to like? Monster Brawl is unquestionably one of the most insane, hilarious, original gore-fests I have seen in ages. It's Canadian - which is no surprise given the wealth of truly insane films that come from this country. It's also no shocker that it's entertaining as all get out since it appears to have avoided dining too deeply at the trough of taxpayer financing.

The plot? Well, there really isn't one. (At least, not much of one.) Does this matter when the movie is full of monsters, babes and head-stomping carnage? My question is rhetorical. Don't bother answering. The movie is not dreary, depressing, dour, desperately arty nor a downer. In fact, the only downer is that it could use more babes, but the babes it's blessed with are delectably babe-o-licious!

What we've got here is 90 minutes of a world wrestling championship taking place on unholy ground in a lonely cemetery after the sun goes down. It is being broadcast to the world, but a live audience is not allowed to attend as the dead could rise from their graves at anytime and feed on them. (A great low-budget narrative hook to avoid paying for scads of extras.) We get colour commentary from a blustery sports broadcaster (The Kids in the Hall's Dave Foley) and a former monster wrestler (Art Hindle from scads of great Canuckle flicks like The Brood, Black Christmas and Face Off).

Hindle, by the way, is especially brilliant in the film. Playing a rather dapper Bigfoot who has integrated nicely into contemporary society, he's more or less a typical back country inbred redneck. Hindle chews the scenery, but in a manner that is wholly credible. He might be a Bigfoot monster, but in his heart, he's a mere country cousin to Zeke, Zebulon and the entire kit and kaboodle of your garden variety pioneer family.

The conceit of the movie is ridiculously simple, but winning. The wrestling event - featuring several bouts between a variety of monsters (a werewolf, a mummy, the frankenstein monster and, among others, the delightfully monickered Witch Bitch) unfurls as a live broadcast. Between bouts we get documentary-style introductions to each of the creatures and their recruitment to this astounding battle. What's so inspired about this format is that it's like one of those live pay-for-view events that's broadcast over regular television or appears like opera, theatre and wrestling events that now play on a big screen in mainstream multiplexes. As such, an audience for the movie could have one hell of a great time and cheer on their favourite monsters and/or boo the creatures they detest.

Added to this mixture are appearances from such famed wrestling and fighting game stalwarts like Jimmy "The Mouth Of The South" Hart (flanked by two eye-popping babes who preen and gyrate appropriately and keep looking directly into the camera as Jimmy introduces each monster), Herb Dean (who comes to a most delightful end), Kevin Nash who delivers a genuinely great comic turn as straight-faced rogue military man experimenting with some truly horrendous fighting machines and the jaw-droppingly enormous Robert Maillet (the Über-Immortal berserker in Zack Snyder's 300) who makes a perfect Frankenstein monster. Oh, and the voiceovers are delivered with suitable portent by Lance FUCKING Henriksen!

Is this cool, or what?

On casting alone, this picture deserves kudos. It's the sort of nuttiness one expects from low budget genre movies in terms of how they should be populated with a good variety of familiar faces - pop-culture icons, character actors and comedians.

I have a few minor quibbles with the picture. The wrestling matches themselves appear within a ground-level fighting ring located on a wonderfully designed graveyard that feels like it resides in Ed Wood Land. Alas, too many of the shots of the fight action are composed from outside of the ring so that compositionally, our view is annoyingly obstructed with the ropes of the ring itself. There simply aren't enough shots from inside of the ring. There also aren't enough wide shots that hold on what appears to be some terrific fight choreography.

On the film's budget, I'm aware that some truly spectacular God shots from directly over the ring might have proven beyond the filmmaker's means, but given the fact that this was a relatively controlled low budget shoot within an obvious warehouse studio, it would have been extremely easy to cheat any number of higher angle shots which could have been used to provide a sense of breadth to the fights, but also put emphasis on the fight choreography itself rather than creating almost ALL of the drive of the fights through editing. The number of shots used is impressive, however this fashionable, but to my mind, lazy manner many fight scenes are presented (even in huge budgeted Hollywood movies that should know better) detracts from the dramatic resonance of the fights.

And sure, you might think - "dramatic resonance"? What the fuck is Klymkiw on about? It's a fucking monster wrestling movie, for Christ's sake! Well, the best fights are those in which we have some dramatic stakes in those doing the battles. The Monster Brawl screenplay simply and rather smartly provides any number of story and character beats that allow for this - especially through the introductory segments used for each of the monsters (even the play-by-play colour analysis is blessed with such moments). The bottom line is that a series of entertaining fights between the monsters could have ascended to dizzying heights with a more traditional approach - a few wider overhead shots that held longer on the choreography, far more wide medium shots IN the ring, a judicious use of closeups and through the ropes shots and only during key moments in the fight should the filmmaker have utilized a requisite flurry of cuts. God knows, a "cutty" approach to any scene can work wonders, but these cuts need almost to be planned meticulously as part of the mise-en-scene.

This, of course, is not just something that young filmmakers make the mistake of doing, but you see it all the time in humungously budgeted movies. Yes, I mean YOU, Michael Bay!

Fights are drama. Every blow, every move, every view should be treated as a dramatic beat. Doing so allows for much more successful visceral thrills. Shawn Levy in Real Steel handled this perfectly - even down to seeking inspiration from John Avildsen's exquisite approach to the final boxing match between Carl Weathers' Apollo Creed and Sylvester Stallone in Rocky and Stallone's own directorial touches during the fight with Drago in Rocky IV. This is where director Cook would have been able to improve things. A careful study of great boxing and wrestling matches in films - great films like The Set-Up, Body and Soul, Raging Bull, the Rocky pictures and even Stallone's brilliant, highly underrated Paradise Alley - would have gone a long way in giving Cook an opportunity to storyboard (even in a rudimentary fashion) all his fights with cuts in mind.

What IS exceptional about the fight sequences in Monster Brawl, however, is the superb sound design, mixing and sound cutting which more than makes up for some of the visual deficiencies. (These deficiencies don't, however, extend to the first-rate art direction and astounding makeup and special effects.)

The erratic visual approach to the fights - which, I believe is more a product of the manic editing of the fights than the actual coverage of the action (which seems bounteous: Cook is clearly a talented filmmaker in this respect) - has a wearying effect. The running time is short, but the movie occasionally feels like it's going on far longer than it should. This is precisely because of the lack of wider shots and the director (who also served as editor) not trusting the coverage he already had. Allowing even a variety of the shots far more breathing space would have worked wonders.

All this is to say, however, that I still loved the film and my only frustration is seeing - with the benefit of objective eyes - how a good picture could have been great.

Monster Brawl is, at the end of the day, a fabulous achievement and sadly, I lament the woeful theatrical exhibition scene such films have to compete in. In the late 70s and early 80s, when I programmed a whacko art house in Winnipeg and bought films for independent exhibitors, Monster Brawl would have been exactly the sort of film that would have had all the cult-friendly characteristics to play forever and repeatedly on a big screen. Its very structure lends itself to being seen on a big screen with a huge audience (like the one I watched it with at its opening gala performance at Toronto After Dark).

This is precisely the kind of low budget feature film that can put filmmakers on the map - especially Canadian filmmakers. Too many young filmmakers in this country get carried away with the (admittedly fine) auteuristic tradition so that we get far too many "tweener" pictures - too lightweight and/or too dreary to be truly entertaining. Cook, on the other hand, roots his work in genre, finds a clever way of making his meagre dollars stretch and, at least on the surface, does not compromise his vision due to budget and in fact, makes use of its low price-tag as a virtue.

Monster Brawl is nothing if not entertaining and that in itself is a grand achievement on any budget, in any country and in any genre. For this reason alone, I'm expecting genuinely great work from Cook in the future.

My hope is that some enterprising distributors and exhibitors - both domestically and internationally - will give Monster Brawl what it needs - a big-screen venue with an audience and furthermore, allow for the necessary word of mouth to create a genuine cult sensation. On October 7 of this year, Twitch Film reported that Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada secured the Canadian home entertainment rights for the picture (and its production company Foresight's other genre picture Exit Humanity) for the Canadian home entertainment market. While Anchor Bay is a perfect company for that end of things, this movie will have far more potential to rake in dough if they struck an additional deal with Foresight for theatrical exhibition. Anchor Bay could then either oversee and implement a proper theatrical release, or, at the very least, strike a service deal with a theatrical distributor to do it. That said, I think this could only work if there was a very concerted effort to BUILD the audience. A perfect marriage would, I think occur between Anchor Bay and the Cineplex Corporation through their Front Row Centre Events. Use a series of special showings all over Canada as Friday-Saturday midnight movie "platforms" for an eventual full-fledged theatrical release. This might take some elbow grease - something lacking in the current theatrical marketplace.

Anchor Bay is a company that's been on the forefront of home entertainment for a long, long time. They've proven to be well ahead of the pack in terms of mastering, packaging and promoting their titles in the home entertainment market. They've also proven how to wring mega-dollars out of fans by issuing umpteen different versions/packages of the same movie. I, for one, am one of those suckers who has happily shelled out for the several quadrillion versions of the The Evil Dead films. I know these guys know how to sell. If any company can wring every conceivable shekel out of monster-hungry fans, it's Anchor Bay. I reiterate, though. THIS MOVIE NEEDS A REAL, LIVE AUDIENCE. IT NEEDS TO BE PLATFORMED AS A SPECIAL EVENT AND THEN BE RELEASED THEATRICALLY - AND WIDE!!!

So here it is - I throw down my gauntlet! I challenge Anchor Bay to engage in what I detailed above.

Anchor Bay: Will you take up this challenge? Will you have the necessary right stuff to do the right thing?

I extend the same gauntlet to the Cineplex Entertainment Corp.? Will you have the right stuff to provide proper venues and the time/effort needed to make this a success?

Ah well, due to my cynicism about the current theatrical scene, I won't hold my breath on this, but I will hold out some hope that the abovementioned dream scenario is implemented.

Stranger things have happened.

After all, Monster Brawl got made in the first place.

That's mighty strange, indeed.

Strange is good.

Monster Brawl was the opening night Gala presentation of the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Delightful EDISON & LEO, Loathsome PASSCHENDAELE - Capsule Reviews of 2 Canuck Features from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2008

CAPSULE REVIEWS OF "Edison & Leo", "Passchendaele"

Edison and Leo (2008) dir. Neil Burns

Starring: Powers Boothe, Jay Brazeau, Gregory Smith, Carly Pope

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

By Greg Klymkiw

This whacked-out animated feature swells rapturously with the unbridled lunacy and piss-in-the-pants humour of George Toles's screenplay, which also has healthy dollops of real heart. The very Grim(m) fairy tale is as darkly outrageous, deliciously bawdy as it is genuinely moving in an inspired tale of mad scientist Edison and his intense (to put it mildly) relationship with his son. The movie is replete with clever movie and literary references for groovy eggheads and hipsters, but never do they overwhelm the core of this bittersweet father-son tale which will appeal to pretty much anyone who loves the best work of Tim Burton.

Neil Burns's expressive visual flourishes and a great cast - all in fine voice, especially the wonderful Powers Boothe - remind us once again of just how great Canadian animation can be. Every so often, one is taken with the (Guy) Maddinesque quality of many of the situations and dialogue (Toles writes almost everything Maddin directs), but by the end of this lovely overlooked gem, it becomes apparent just how Tolesian Maddin's work could be regarded.

At 79 minutes, Edison and Leo is a perfect length. In fact, I left the theatre wishing it were longer.

A BIG MOVIE (BY CANUCK STANDARDS) WITH A TINY BRAINPasschendaele (2008) dir. Paul Gross

Starring: Paul Gross, Caroline Dhavernas

RATING (out of ****) *

By Greg Klymkiw

How anyone could suggest with a straight face that Passchendaele is any good at all, renders me agog. I probably had no right to even comment on the movie fully when I staggered out after the first miserable hour at its World Premiere in 2008, but rest assured, I eventually suffered through the entire sewage bath when it opened theatrically to confirm my initial feelings. The full dosage of Paul Gross's directorial followup to his risible Men With Brooms forced me to nail my feet to the floor. I have the scars to prove it. This $20,000,000.00 war film (a bit of an oxymoron in this day and age, anyway - even before going in you know you're in for some bargain basement carnage) is one of the most embarrassing, poorly written, miserably directed excuses for something purporting to be a motion picture that I have ever had the utter displeasure to waste precious hours of my life on. The Dollar-rama Saving Private Ryan opening had a few visceral shocks to be sure (thanks, no doubt to a decent second unit), but once the stiff-jawed leading man (Gross, 'natch) settled his sorry shell-shocked ass back on the homefront, I pretty much had to nail my kneecaps to the seat to stay for entirety of this jaw-droppingly wretched picture.

The paper thin characters/caricatures all deliver mind-numbingly awful dialogue as the contrived story plods interminably along its dreary way - treading heavily into the territory of melodrama of the worst sort. Don't get me wrong - I love war pictures and I especially love war pictures that have both melodrama and sentimentality. That said, there is good melodrama and bad melodrama and there is sentimentality that resonates with the emotional heartache that someone like John Ford was able to master with his eyes sewn shut. Alas, Paul Gross is most certainly not John Ford - Garry Marshall with a severe migraine, perhaps, but not much more than that. Gross directs with the grace of a faulty jackhammer that keeps missing its mark. Perhaps he might have made a good picture if he'd produced and starred in it and let a real writer and director do their respective jobs. Gross is definitely a good actor and the camera loves him, but in this movie he lopes about like some pretty boy Gary Cooper, uttering dialogue that not even Ed Wood would have been capable of writing. In fact, let it be said now that as a writer, Ed Wood was pretty much Clifford Odets compared to Gross. The movie, for all its utter stupidity, reached some kind of nadir when Gross chose to crosscut between graphic descriptions of what shrapnel can do to the human body whilst a loving couple bang each other with youthful abandon. Spielberg did a similar thing in Munich. I applauded Spielberg for the audacity, but couldn't really forgive the stupidity - especially since he had his lead character boinking wifey whilst having flashbacks to violent killings he was not even present to have experienced. I was convinced nobody could have topped such idiocy, but Paul Gross managed to do it. Alas, bereft of Spielberg's panache, which made Munich barely watchable, Gross has little to offer as a director save for complete incompetence. That said, though, I kept wishing Gross had managed to even rise to the level of M.O.W. competence with his direction as I am not fond of the taste of bile. Alas, my wishes fell on deaf ears. Between those deaf ears, however, I assume plenty of air (mostly fetid) reside in the general vicinity.

Burn After Reading (**) Watchable Coen Brothers nonsense with its oh-so groovy post-modernist shtick blending eye-rolling yucks, almost predictable twist and turns (their style is down so pat, that nothing ever really surprises you) and unpredictable and annoyingly groovy brutality. Good performances, though - especially from John Malkovich who hasn't been quite this good in some time. His performance, exploding with truly inspired lunacy, feels far less contrived that the Coens' trademark in-their-sleep approach. - Greg Klymkiw

RocknRolla (***) How much one likes this picture probably depends upon how much one enjoys Guy Ritchie's fancy pants laugh-riot crime pictures. It's up there with Lock Stock and Snatch - maybe even better than both of them combined. In any event, the picture made me laugh quite a bit and I had a hard time NOT keeping my eyes glued to the screen. Good, brutish, nasty, pulpy fun. - Greg Klymkiw

Monday, October 10, 2011

KAW - A Movie That Has No Reason To Exist

Kaw (2007) dir. Sheldon Wilson

Starring: Sean Patrick Flannery, Kristin Booth, Stephen McHattie, Rod Taylor

RATING (out of ****) *

By Greg Klymkiw

Have you ever seen a motion picture that reminds you of how little you know? Have you ever seen a motion picture that teaches you things you never knew? Have you ever seen a motion picture that makes you glad you never watch television?

Kaw is just such a motion picture.

Recently released on DVD, Kaw proved to be quite a revelation to this viewer. First of all, I wondered why I had never heard of it before since I see virtually every genre picture that is released in the movie theatres. How could I have possibly missed a motion picture about a sleepy farming community that is under attack by flocks of crows afflicted with mad-cow disease? This sounds like the sort of picture I live for.

Crows? Afflicted with mad-cow disease? Pecking people to death?

Let me be first in line, please.

Alas, such a motion picture did not open theatrically, and I was forced to experience it for the first time on DVD.

Why, you ask? Well, as it turns out, Kaw is not one of your run-of-the-mill straight-to-video feature films. It apparently premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel. As I live in Canada, I do not get the Sci-Fi Channel. Even if Canada DID get the Sci-Fi Channel (or if this movie aired on Canada’s own Space or TMN), I still would not have seen it since I have not had cable television since 1983 and have no intention of getting it ever again.

In any event, the first thing I learned is that people still make movies for television.

Isn’t that interesting?

The second thing I learned was that Sean Patrick Flannery who plays the stalwart small-town cop attempting to save his fellow townsfolk from the mad-cow-afflicted crows has made many movies for television. This explains why he was not familiar to me. The same thing happened a few years ago when I was watching the pallid American remake of The Grudge and wondered why I could not figure who the mousy, uncharismatic leading lady was. I eventually found out she was the star of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer which I had never seen before because I do not watch television and I had managed to successfully repress her appearances in the pathetic theatrical motion pictures she actually was in.

The third thing I learned was that I should be proud of my Canadian nationality since it appears that Kaw was made in Canada with many Canadian actors, some Canadian producers and with money from the Canadian government. For some reason I saw an American flag flying in the small town the movie is set in, but that’s okay because I soon realized it was probably some small town in Southern Ontario and that it looked a lot prettier than many small towns in America.

The fourth thing I learned from watching this movie was that Rod Taylor is still alive and he’s a terrific actor who deserves much better than being wasted in thankless roles like this one, a kindly small-town doctor. Taylor, as many of you know, was a big star in the late 50s and early 60s and most notably was the square-jawed leading man in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, a film that Kaw pathetically attempts to homage.

Kaw is not terrible. If you had absolutely nothing to do, you probably would not feel like you wasted 90 minutes. It clips along reasonably, it does feature Rod Taylor (and the eminently watchable character actor Stephen McHattie), it is not without some decent special effects and it is relatively bereft of awful dialogue. This, however, is what makes a movie like this even more depressing. I actually kept wishing it would be awful, so at least it would have been fun. Instead, it was straight-ahead, humourless and maddeningly competent.

This sort of competence does not necessarily make for entertaining movies. I mean, come on, this is about crows with mad-cow disease for God’s sake! Can we lighten up a little folks and have some fun?

Watching this movie kept me thinking about some of the fabulous creature features of the 70s and 80s from people like Corman, Dante and (I kid you not) John Sayles. Movies like Piranha (not the stupid 3-D remake) and Alligator had a delightful trash sensibility and tons of humour mixed with the gore. I even thought about movies like Frogs (from the late, great Canadian TV director George McCowan, who also directed the classic Canadian hockey picture Face Off) and William T. Girdler's Grizzly which also had pulp sensibilities. I thought about The Birds and Jaws – both “A” pictures to be sure, but full of virtuosity and humour.

And then I thought about Kaw and the humourless competence that rules every frame.

The DVD release of Kaw features a variety of extra features, but the best one is an interview with Rod Taylor who is gracious, funny and full of wonderful anecdotes. Alas, he does get to talk about Kaw and mentions that he took the role because, unlike Hitchcock’s The Birds, the mad peckers had a reason for killing people. My heart sank. He was too gracious to admit he took this piece of garbage for the paycheque and came up with some lame excuse. Rod, darling, one of many things that makes The Birds so creepy, so chilling and so scary is that there is NO reason for the birds to kill.

Kaw, however, gives us a moronic reason. Some repressed Hutterites with fake beards do not report that their livestock have mad-cow disease and the crows start to feast on the disease-ridden bodies, which, in turn, drive them insane. Now if you’re going to have a mind-numbingly stupid reason behind the carnage, please have the good taste to make a pulpy, funny, completely whacked movie instead of something that is merely competent.

The fifth and most important thing I learned watching Kaw was this – if Kaw is the sort of thing made for television on a regular basis, I’m sure glad I don’t have cable.

This review was originally published 10/26/07 at Daily Film Dose.