NYC FATHER’S DAY PREMIERE
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.
READ MY FULL REVIEW AT DAILY FILM DOSE
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
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.
Friday, November 4, 2011
NEVER TAKE CANDY FROM A STRANGER - Child Molestation. Only in Canada, you say? Pity. How UK's Hammer Portrayed Canada - Weirdly
Never Take Candy From a Stranger
(aka Never Take Sweets from a Stranger) (1960) dir. Cyril Frankel
Starring: Gwen Watford, Patrick Allen, Felix Aylmer, Niall McGinnis, Bill Nagy, Michael Gwynn and Budd Knapp
RATING (out of ****) ***
By Greg Klymkiw
In the movies, Canada never gets a break. Just read Pierre Berton's almost pathologically well-researched (and very funny) book "Hollywood's Canada" and noted in my recent review of Rose Marie, he outlines Canada's penchant for offering up its anus to any two-bit non-Canadian huckster in exchange for the equivalent of coloured beads. In Berton's book, we learn how the Canadian government gave away its aspirations to manufacture an indigenous film culture (save for National Film Board of Canada documentaries) with the promise from all the major studios in Hollywood that Canada would be featured prominently as a setting in Hollywood films to promote tourism to Canada.
The product yielded from this were mostly B-movie westerns that portrayed voyageurs as boozing lechers looking primarily for white women to rape (since they get "it" easily from Native women), peaceful Canadian Plains Indians as blood-thirsty psychos wildly attacking wagon trains, geographical locations completely unlike what they were in reality and pole-up-the-butt Mounties bent on "getting their man". Burton details over 600 such films in his book.
Berton even gives examples of how Hollywood got their fingers into the pie of Britain's indigenous film industry during the "quota quickie" period (where unscrupulous Brits generated micro-budgeted trash to appease the government quotas, yet still make money) by hiring a puppet Canadian to be the "producer", use Hollywood-based British talent - on and behind the camera - and then to collect the financing and profits. This was an especially easy way to exploit Britain as well as Canada since anything made in Canada, counted as British, since Canada was essentially a colony belonging to the monarchy.
Never Take Candy From a Stranger is a low-budget Hammer production from Britain. It's not a western, nor is it a British "quota quickie".
It is, however, set in Canada.
And while, as the film's narrator tells us, this story could be set anywhere, we will see the tawdry events unfold in Canada.
And what, you ask, is the tawdry event?
Yes indeed - child molestation in Canada! Eastern Canada, to be precise. What the makers of the film mean by Eastern Canada is somewhat unclear since that would place the film in the rugged, rocky landscape of inbred territory in the Maritimes. Funny though, it looks like the backlot of Bray Studios - in Mother England - NOT in the Dominion of Canada. An Eastern Canadian setting in the fiddle-playing environs of the Maritimes would also mean that the child molestation was, in reality, being carried out by Roman Catholic priests upon young boys in orphanages and reform schools. This is nowehere on display in the picture. As well, none of the law enforcement people in the film appear to be the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but are in fact, a lot like sheriffs and state troopers from the good old Red, White and Blue below the 49th parallel.
No matter, Canada it is. Britain has always had a long history of misrepresenting their own colony in the Great White North. One of my favourites wass Powell-Pressburger's "The 49th Parallel" which depicted Nazis entering Canada via U-Boat through Hudson's Bay, encountering a Quebecois fur trapper played by Laurence Olivier, dining in the swinging city of Winnipeg, hooking up with some Mennonites on the prairies, encountering a war-weary non-patriot in Lake Louise, played by Leslie Howard and finally, an American soldier played by the Canadian actor Raymond Massey.
But, I digress.
We open with little Sally Carter (genuinely well played by Gwen Watford) as she plays with a new chum. Sally is a new arrival to this Eastern Canadian enclave of perversion. The gentle rough-housing between the two girls leads to Sally losing 35¢ in the grass. She laments that this was to be her candy allowance for the week. Her all-knowing new friend helpfully offers to take her to a place where they can both get all the free candy they want. Lo and behold, just behind them is a creepy old mansion and from a top window we discover they are being spied on by a foul, dirty old man, Clarence Olderberry (Felix Aylmer).
Later that evening, Sally admits to her parents that she and her friend went to visit a kind old man for candy and stripped naked for him and did a little dance. Dad (Patrick Allen) is furious. He is the new principal of the school in this small town (though it looks reasonably urban) and he is a square-jawed type looking for justice. When he visits the local constabulary, he's told not to press charges since the old man really didn't "do anything" to the children. They also mention that the old man is essentially the patriarch of the town - responsible for starting its chief industry. He's been a highly influential citizen and well respected. Besides, the sheriff/state-trooper/constable/RCMP-officer adds, Olderberry's son, Clarence Jr. (CANADIAN ACTOR Bill Nagy) will use all his power to make their lives miserable and defend his Dad which will end in complete acquittal for the disgusting, slavering old lecher who, as it turns out, has quite a long history of child molestation that's been hushed up.
Peter is even more intent than ever to press charges and go to trial. From there, we go to an extremely intense courtroom battle, followed by a beautifully directed sequence of nail-biting suspense.
Canadian flubs aside, I really have to say this movie was a great find. The scenario as depicted more-than-adequately, depicts how child molestation was, for far too long, ignored, repressed and misunderstood. As well, far beyond its time period, it shockingly and frankly depicts the horrors that victims of sexual violence go through during a trial where unscrupulous defence lawyers will pin blame and shame upon them instead of their repulsive clients who deserve a bullet between the eyes rather than the mollycoddling afforded to them.
Cyril Frankel's direction is lean and mean. In addition to directing endless hours of British cop, crime and sci-fi TV series, he also delivered one of the most terrifying and sadly underrated Hammer Horror pictures of all time, The Witches as well as The Trollenberg Terror, one of the trippiest genre blenders you'll ever see. Never Take Candy From a Stranger barrels along with the force of a souped-up GTO engine and the suspense set piece at the end is worthy of J. Lee Thompson's school "chase" between the Bob Mitchum's brutal rapist and Greg Peck's daughter in Cape Fear. It might actually dazzle further as certain twists and turns during this final sequence inNever Take Candy From a Stranger had me on the edge of my seat until the devastating resuts. Add to the stew some truly rich cinematography from the legendary Freddie (The Straight Story, The Elephant Man, his first Oscar win Sons and Lovers and his second Oscar win Glory) Francis and you have an intelligent, suspenseful, powerful and slam-bang little thriller.
On a side note, one of Canada's greatest stage, television and voice veterans, Budd Knapp, appears in a small supporting role. Mother England was always happy to toss us colonial savages a few bones.
"Never Take Candy From a Stranger" is currently available on the 3-disc DVD set entitled "Icons of Horror - Hammer Studios" from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. This review originally appeared in a slightly different form at Daily Film Dose.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
ROSE MARIE (1954) - How America Taught Us Everything We Always Wanted to Know About Canada (but were afraid to ask)
Rose Marie (1954) dir. Mervyn LeRoy
Starring: Ann Blyth, Howard Keel, Fernando Lamas, Joan Taylor, Bert Lahr, Marjorie Main, Ray Collins and Chief Yowlachie
RATING: (out of ****) ***
By Greg Klymkiw
I recently learned, thanks to our American brothers, that all Canadian watering holes in Alberta's Rocky Mountains are exclusively populated with friendly mad trappers who quaff beer nightly and sing rousing a cappella renditions of "Alouette"? God help me, I love operettas. Glorious tenors and sopranos trilling and traipsing their way through insanely romantic melodramatic plots with dollops of broad comic relief have always been my idea of a good time.
Rose Marie, a delicious chestnut (oozing buckets o' cheese) was based on the Rudolph Friml, Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto A. Harbach operetta (light opera, for the uninitiated) and made into a movie three times - a 1928 silent version with Joan Crawford, Woody Van Dyke's astonishing 1936 version with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy and the order of today's business, Mervyn LeRoy's ridiculous and stunningly creaky CinemaScope version (in glorious Technicolor no less) from 1954.
Though the 1936 version is a better movie in all respects, I'll always have a special place in my heart for the 1954 vintage. When I was a kid in the 1960s, MGM mounted several major retrospective play dates of their greatest (and even not-so-great) classics and played them in first-run theatres. This version was the first I saw in that series of major reissues - a gorgeous, newly minted print in the aforementioned CinemaScope, Technicolor and on a huge screen in an old picture palace (long since shuttered forever).
Seeing the blazing red uniforms of my country's illustrious Royal Canadian Mounted Police in this fashion has stayed with me well into my dotage.
Even though I eventually discovered and loved Woody Van Dyke's 30s trollop into backlot Canada, this version of Rose Marie is much closer to the original operetta - offering up plot machinations far more ludicrous and as such, deserving copious kudos for doing so.
Read this and weep:
Howard Keel plays square-jawed Captain Mike Malone, a happy horse riding, tune-belting Mountie who trots into the deep bush of Alberta in search of Rose Marie (Ann Blyth, sporting a weirdly delightful French Canadian accent by way of Hollywood voice coaches). Mountie Mike earlier promised an old friend that he'd raise the child as his own should said pal ever bite the bullet. Mountie Mike is the ultimate Canadian Scarlet Avenger - true to his word and always getting his man (or in this case, woman). His loyalty and resolve knowing no bounds, the Mike-ster collects this newly orphaned lass of the wilderness - a spunky wild child tomboy who has no desire or intention to ever leave the idyll of nature.
Rose Marie doth protest too much and does so in utter futility. One never says "no" to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and especially not Mike, for he does what any man of the law would do.
He takes her by force.
Before you can say "maple syrup" la belle femme, soon dons the garb of the Mounties and is raised at the outpost as such.
Yes, a Mountie!
With a bevy of hunky red-suited and red-blooded Canucks providing surrogate parentage, our shapely little Missy becomes even more curvy and delicious - vaguely hiding those supple curves just beneath her form-fitting RCMP adornments. In addition to Capt. Mike, Rose Marie is doted on by a surrogate grandfather figure, the charming irascible Barney McCorkle (marvellously played by Mr. Cowardly Lion of The Wizard of Oz fame himself, Bert Lahr).
Can this possibly get any better? Read on, dear reader.
When Mike's C.O. Inspector Appleby (Ray Collins - he of Boss Jim Gettys fame in Citizen Kane and Lt. Tragg in Perry Mason) pops by to survey the troops, he displays considerable disdain over the lack of close shaves adorning the gorgeous faces of Capt. Mike's men, until he caresses the cheek of Rose Marie.
(To this day, cheek-caressing is the preferred method of inspecting closeness of shaves amongst the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Canadians are indebted to Hollywood forever for revealing this fact to the world.)
At first, Appleby is mightily impressed with the smoothness of this slightly peach-fuzzed face, but one double take later, he realizes the delicate-skinned mountie is, in fact a woman. He orders Capt. Mike to take her into town so she may be trained in the ways of the weaker sex by Lady Jane Dunstock (Marjorie Main of "Ma and Pa Kettle" fame), a ballsy inn-and-brothel-keeper who adorns herself in bright purple-coloured satin dresses.
And presto! Rose Marie is tutored in the ways of woman and reveals looks so beguilingly gorgeous that Mike falls in love with her.
(To this day, whores and/or brothel-keepers are entrusted by Canadians to transform tomboys into ladies and again, Canadians are indebted to Hollywood forever for revealing yet another salient factoid of Canuck-hood to the world.)
Ah, but the plot (as it were) thickens when the dashing James Severn Duval (Fernando Lamas as a French Canadian trapper born in the Yukon and sporting a Spanish accent) is ordered by Chief Black Eagle (Chief Yowlachie, a Native American actor) to stop diddling his comely daughter Wanda (Joan Taylor).
Chief Black Eagle no want-um paleface to make-um daughter squaw. Bloodline must stay pure. Mixing white with red make-um heap mongrel papoose. This make-um Apple, eh? Red on outside, white on inside. Is heap extra bad if white is Quebecois of Spanish persuasion.
No matter, though. Once Duval gets a glimpse of Rose Marie, he's immediately smitten and our poor heroine is faced with having to choose between two hunky fellas. Holy Pemmican, Tonto! What ever is a girl to do?
From here, the plot (as it were) becomes an even stickier Acadian gumbo of romantic intrigue when Wanda jealously decides to get her studly fur-trapping Hispanic back at any and all cost. This turning point happens during one of the most outrageous musical numbers ever committed to celluloid - the Busby Berkeley choreographed "Totem Tom-Tom", a mouth-wateringly sexy depiction of an ancient aboriginal fertility dance where Wanda writhes frenziedly amongst a bevy of beauties and a passel of bronze bucks. During her sensual manipulations, that would, no doubt, put most pole dancers in gentleman's clubs to shame, Wanda becomes distracted enough to notice the love of her life smooching with our lily white heroine.
No give-um birth to Apple papoose if this dalliance continues in earnest.
Hell breaks loose and our tale dips its toe into the dark side with non-aboriginals tied to stakes, murder, mistaken identity and last second reprieves from the gallows.
I was riveted.
That said, my 10-year-old daughter repeatedly chided me with, "But Dad, how can you like this? It's so predictable."
Well, as I said earlier, I'm a sucker for operettas.
I love how the familiar plots are used primarily as a coat hanger for the lead characters to burst into song. The ditties in this one are plenty ripe.
This version of Rose Marie is blessed with a rendition of "Indian Love Call" that rivals any I've heard or seen.
And, lest I forget, allow me to cite a great comic warble assigned to Bert Lahr entitled "I'm A Mountie Who Never Got His Man". This number, newly created by George Stoll and Herbert Baker is a genuine laugh riot, though you will need to seriously forget anything you've ever learned about cultural sensitivity to even sit through it, much less thoroughly enjoy it.
In fact, the movie is replete with all manner of stereotypes. Some might call them racist, but there's nothing especially hateful about the attitudes, but rather more ignorant - especially given the time period in which the film is set and when it was made. Though one shouldn't outright excuse the propagation of outmoded cultural representation from another age, it's still probably a good idea to try and appreciate the supremely oddball imaginations it took to come up with them, and in turn, allow yourself a fascinating window into a bygone perspective.
Another interesting aspect of the film is the bizarre portrait it paints of Canada. If you ever get a chance, please read Pierre Berton's magnificent book "Hollywood's Canada". It's an amazing catalogue and history of this strange period when Hollywood decided to prevent an indigenous film industry from blossoming in Canada with government support. Canada, as per much of its history, strapped on the kneepads before Uncle Sam and agreed only to allow taxpayer support of documentaries, and in return, the American government (through the Motion Picture Association of America) agreed to make as many movies as possible promoting Canada - its culture, history and natural beauty. This included shooting in Canada, but in the case of Rose Marie much of the stunning technicolor footage is of the second-unit variety. Of course, this policy of cultural "reciprocity" resulted in the stereotyping of Canada to such an extent I can still fool most anyone from America who has never ventured above the 49th parallel (including Rhodes Scholars) that we all wear fur hats and lumberjack shirts, live in igloos or teepees and bottle-feed the newly-born with Molson Canadian beer. My road trips through the Deep South (Mississippi in particular) are always a blast when I encounter gas jockeys, convenience store clerks and academicians who ask in their tell-tale drawl of white-trashery, "Y'all frumm Kenuh-duh?"
As to the portrayal of Canada's Aboriginal peoples, I must wholeheartedly reiterate that Rose Marie is best enjoyed if you gird your loins of cultural sensitivity and doff your caps of Political Correctness.
In essence, go Republican. Or go home.
"Rose Marie" is one of hundreds of movies from the Warner Brothers catalogue that will not receive an official release on DVD. In Toronto, Canada the only places that carry a wide selection of these titles are the flagship store of Sunrise Records at Yonge and Dundas, the newly resurrected Starstruck Video (oddly re-named as My Movie Store) at Dundas and Tomken and the slightly overpriced, but ridiculously, overwhelmingly and wonderfully overstocked Vintage Video in Mirvish Village on Markham). They're simply colour balanced transfers from the best existing materials and available only in specialty shops or online - for a premium price, of course. Also, the transfers do vary in quality. So far, many are good, but I have to sadly admit that the "Rose Marie" transfer is not all it could be. Frankly, it's begging for proper clean-up and meticulous transfer to Blu-ray - not just DVD. That all said, I'm happy many of these pictures are finally available for home consumption, but it would be a lot better if the price point was, at the very least, lowered. This review was originally published in a slightly different version at Daily Film Dose.