Friday, July 27, 2012

HIP HOP, EH - Review by Greg Klymkiw - This raw, ragged and breezy indie documentary on the identity of Canadian Hip Hop was five years in the making. It's directed by my cousin Joe so I confess I might not be 100% objective here, but if for any reason whatsoever you find this even remotely problematic, I respectfully ask you to please JUST FUCKING SUE ME, OKAY?

Join Canuck filmmaker
Joe Klymkiw and some
very special guests for
the premiere of
"Hip Hop Eh"
Sunday, July 29th
at the
Projection Booth
1035 Gerrard St. East
Be there
Or Liam Neeson
and he will fucking

Hip Hop, Eh
(2012) ***
dir. Joe Klymkiw

Starring: Maestro Fresh Wes, Tom Green, Buck 65, Kardinal Offishall, Dj Kemo, Dream Warriors, Michie Mee, Cadence Weapon, Classified, Swollen Members

Review By
Greg Klymkiw

Once upon a time, a nice Ukrainian boy,
Directed a doc, about his greatest joy.
You'd think this little Hunky from Winter-peg,
Would invite Heavy Metal to swell his mighty third leg.

The thing to remember as you, lock up your daughters,
Izz'zat da 'Peg's got asbestos in its muddy, muddy waters.
Little Joe quenched his thirst from those gnarly rusty pipes,
And before he damn well knew it,
He formed super-different likes.

So off to Vancouver did our little Joe go,
Cuz he needed to groove, without all the fucking snow.
His love for Hip Hop, led to lots of cool shit
And he started spinning tunes, with some mighty true grit.

For many long years, he was on the radio,
Playing Hip Hop a-plenty in that lonely studio.
And when he met dat Nardwuar, the human serviette,
He made kick-ass music vids, smooth as anisette.

Joe did wonder, long and hard, 'bout the true identity
Of dat Maple-syrup-hip-hop and its supreme-o destiny.
So he saddled up his camera, to travel far and wide,
Shooting dope Hip Hop artists, who'd not motherfucking hide.

K'naan wiped his ass, with dat bullshit waving flag.
Even Drake took a powder, what a motherfucking drag.
It mattered not to Joe, Canuck Hip Hop's loyal Ukie Son,
So good riddance to bad rubbish, cuz he interviewed a ton.

That's exactly what he did,
in his noble Hip Hop quest.
He got a mess, of super mensches,
who fuckin' proved to be the best.
And he shot 'em and he cut 'em,
till their mighty souls did bleed,
Now you got this Hip Hop movie,
So let's all watch and smoke some weed.

Kubassa and Oxtail,
kishka flavoured with dat jerk,
Jugs of tasty maple syrup,
and a hoser's best plaid shirt.
We gotsa film that answers questions,
Bout our very own Hip Hop
Lez go tuh Stevie Harper's rec-room,
Where he grow dat mighty crop.
And believe me when I say,
We not be smoking prairie wheat.
We be partyin' with our P.M.
to that Canadian Hip Hop beat.

- Greg Klymkiw,
. The Ballad of Hip Hop Joe
. (with apologies to Hip Hop lyricists the world over)

What IS the identity of Canadian Hip Hop? The fuck if I know. In fact, other than Drake (who mega-kicks) and K'naan (whom I never hope to hear again after that fucking Waving Flag shit), I know diddly about the Dominion of Canada's Hip Hop scene.

After seeing my cousin Joe Klymkiw's movie, Hip Hop, Eh, I now know more than I knew before. And screw it - so Joe's my cousin. The fuck am I supposed to do that half my family is in the entertainment business? If I didn't enjoy the movie, I'd be a man, tell him it sucked shit and then not bother writing about it. So, I'm writing about it. FUCKING SUE ME! Go ahead, motherfucker! I'll whup your ass with a glorious chub of Ukrainian garlic sausage.

The bottom line is - cousin or no cousin - I had a rip-snorting good time watching this mega-ragged indie nose dive into a uniquely Canadian world of contemporary culture I know nada about. The style, kind of like the grassroots Canadian Hip Hop scene, is raw, loose, a bit messy and jumpy, dirty, grainy, blasted-the-fuck-right-out with wall-to-wall music and the most incessantly insane parade of talking heads I've seen in some time.

But fuck me and a month of Sundays, this movie's got one mega cool talking head after another. In fact, I have never seen so many cool people wearing baseball caps assembled in one movie.

Hip Hop, Eh is short, breezy, fun, infused with genuine passion for its subject and as one of my esteemed colleagues noted in his review, the movie does at times feel like an extended music industry panel discussion on the subject.

For me, I didn't mind. I've personally never attended any music industry panels and most certainly none that smacked me in the face with the subject of Canadian identity in our country's Hip Hop scene.

If you're in Toronto on Sunday, July 29, slip that ball cap on your noggin and head down to the Projection Booth, Hogtown's super cool venue on Gerrard Street East just on the western tip of India Town.

Here's some info on the Toronto showing HERE. And the film's website HERE and here's a link to the Projection Booth's site HERE.

Friday, June 8, 2012

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW - Review By Greg Klymkiw - WOW! Need a cool movie? Here it is!!! Need a fix of a truly creepy science fiction cult film? Got a few fat doobies to suck back? Forget Ridley Scott's Lugubriously Dull, Bloated, Pretentious PROMETHEUS and just see this movie instead!!!

Beyond The Black Rainbow

(2012) dir. Panos Cosmatos

Michael Rogers,
Eva Allan,
Scott Hylands,
Rondelle Reynoldson,
Marilyn Norry


Review By Greg Klymkiw

"Ah! Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash." If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded, and that a modern system of science had been introduced, which possessed much greater powers than the ancient, because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those of the former were real and practical; under such circumstances, I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside, and have contented my imagination, warmed as it was, by returning with greater ardour to my former studies. It is even possible that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin. -- "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley
In 1983 the world's foremost scientists tirelessly collaborated with naturopathic healers, forging new and exciting psychiatric pathways. These iconoclasts of mind expansion, secured under a massive glass dome within a secluded arboretum just outside Vancouver, aimed their sights upon, in a word: "happiness".

A short corporate film that opens Beyond The Black Rainbow, was commissioned during this era by the Arboria Institute. Like any good piece of hucksterism, it teases and pleases with the goals and discoveries of its sponsor.

Between images of bucolic splendour, positive on-screen intonations from the corporation's chief scientist and select glimpses of behind-the-scenes activities, a series of tantalizing taglines flash by and include such come-hither gems as:

"A state of mind, a way of being."

"A practical application of an abstract idea."

"Born in a dream to create reality."

"A different way to think. A new way to live. A perfect way to believe."

"A new, better, happier YOU!"

Alas, for young Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), a steadfast belief in his mentor Dr. Mercurio Arboria (Scott Hylands) is not unlike that of young Victor Frankenstein's belief in the dangerous alchemical theories of Cornelius Agrippa.

Playing God is not without intermittent highs, but like crack cocaine, the heights of ecstasy lead to dangerous lows. Such dabblings often lead to the loss of all that is dear. Barry learns the hard way when he implements his soul-damning dabbling upon his beautiful daughter Elena (Eva Allan).

Beyond The Black Rainbow features one of the most thrilling debuts in years. Panos Cosmatos, who both wrote and directed this supremely enjoyable first-feature (including the brilliant aforementioned film within the film), is the son of the late and grossly underrated director of Massacre in Rome (a heartbreaking tragedy of WWII with Richard Burton and Marcello Mastroianni), Tombstone (featuring one of the best Doc Hollidays in moviedom, played by Val Kilmer) and Cobra (with Sylvester Stallone's best line of dialogue ever - "Crime is the disease. I'm the cure.").

Though perhaps unfair to the younger Cosmatos, one can't help but think a chip or two of flair and proficiency off the old block managed to find its way into his DNA. That said, the elder Cosmatos, a slam-bang commercially-minded director with considerable panache would never have made a movie as utterly insane as his son has. (Though, in its own perverse fashion, Rambo: First Blood II, occasionally verges on Ecstasy-infused Buñuelian surrealism.)

There's no two ways about it: Beyond The Black Rainbow is a 70s/80s-style "head" film that has "cult" emblazoned upon its celluloid forehead. In fact when I ran a repertory cinema during the same time period the movie harkens back to, it's EXACTLY the sort of picture I'd have been thrilled to get behind and try to generate a cult-friendly theatrical exhibition atmosphere to shoot it up into the midnight movie stratosphere of such "wacky-tobacky" hits as Eraserhead, Pink Flamingos and El Topo. (Sadly, in these days of theatrical, there are fewer venues for a picture like this to succeed and it will likely find its most appreciative audience in the home entertainment arena.)

Gorgeously shot by Norm Li, vigorously edited by Nicholas T. Shepard and blessed with a cool score/soundscape as well as an imaginative production design, the movie is replete with a delicious combination of creepy psychiatric experimentation sequences, dollops of shockingly grotesque bloodletting and several dreamscape montages that are pretty trippy all by their lonesome. If truth be told, the movie can work quite nicely without added stimulants, but far be it from me to deter anyone from enjoying the movie with a massive ingestion of some fine west coast weed.

The pace of the film is slow, but seldom sluggish. Its creepy-crawly tempo alternates between ominous and repellent, yet it's almost always compelling. That said, the movie really does feel about 10-15 minutes too long. Cosmatos and his team have an abundance of cool shit in the movie and I can only imagine how hard it must have been to let any of it go.

From a plot standpoint, things are relatively slender save for the vaguely Frankenstein-ian elements, but one slightly confusing shred of story that could have used some pruning involves Rosemary (Marilyn Norry) an odd-duck second (I think) wife to Barry (or perhaps she's his first and only wife and the gorgeous woman who resembles his daughter in the dream/flashbacks is a result of the Arborian mind control methods gone wrong). However, pruning this character would have resulted in losing an absolutely hilarious (and creepy) deadpan exchange between the clearly disconnected husband and wife.

Besides, confusion is okay. It's a bloody head film with cult appeal, for Christ's sake. If someone is into the picture, they might, if they're even so inclined, figure it out on repeated viewings.

So, what else could have been cut?

There's one elongated trip sequence - mostly in black and white - that probably could have been sliced and diced, but then the movie would be bereft of one of the most insanely overlong trip sequences in recent memory.

Damn! Even I don't want to lose anything.

The movie also has a few elements that resemble, uh, ideas. Thankfully, they're not too offensively obvious and/or obtuse and/or "film-school-ish". In fact, they're frankly, way less ludicrous than Ridley Scott's half-baked philosophical meanderings in Prometheus and one of them is actually kind of cool. Given the early 80s setting, we're blessed with some brief nods to the Panamanian military leader Noriega and Rompin' Ronnie Reagan. This ties in with the 80s Cold War insanity quite nicely. It's also a cool nod to the work of Cosmatos's Dad during this period.

Most engagingly, these touches of Reagan-era nuttiness play perfectly with the whole survivalist mentality prevalent back then (and creeping back even now). At one point, Barry refuses to let Elena see her father. "The world is in chaos and we live in times of great uncertainty and danger," Barry warns in a ruthlessly icy monotone.

Speaking of monotones, I loved all the straight-up performances in the film. Nothing is played for cheesy tongue-in-cheek effect and even the magnificent Scott Hylands, in the role of the Cornelius Agrippa-like founder-mentor, could have easily torn the scenery to shreds, but instead offers up something quite chilling and understated. And I loved Rondelle Reynoldson as a perfectly foul nurse. Conjuring up bad memories of Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Cosmatos also gives the character a well-earned and deliciously disgusting demise.

For me, I got way more bang for my buck out of this modestly budgeted SF whacko-fest than Sir Ridley's plodding mess. I suspect, I might not be alone in this, but like most cult items, it might take some shelf life for the devotion it deserves to discover it.

So settle back, folks.

Fire up a fat doobie and enjoy!

"Beyond The Black Rainbow" is currently in limited theatrical release via Mongrel Media.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

FORTUNATE SON - HELD OVER FOR SECOND BLISTERING WEEK IN MONTREAL AT EXCENTRIS! Reviewed By Greg Klymkiw - This important new personal documentary by Tony Asimakopoulos is a journey into the lives of a Greek-Canadian family that makes for a compulsive, sad, funny and profoundly moving experience. It is NOT to be missed!!!

Fortunate Son (2011) dir. Tony Asimakopoulos


Review By Greg Klymkiw
“You can spend the entire second half of your life recovering from the mistakes of the first half.” ― Saul Bellow, Seize the Day
I'm truly blessed to have seen an exciting new film that not only moved me - at first, beyond words - but also inspired a flood of thoughts and memories, which all in some fashion are related to the picture itself, but like any great movie, reached out and touched me in ways that forced me to examine so many elements of my own life. I suspect it will do the same for many, many others who are lucky enough to see it.

When an artist delivers nuggets from their own experience, chances are good they will resonate with most of us. When the work is thematically tied to that of family, it's especially hard-hitting. The best of these works will hit us with a roundhouse blow to the gut.

In recent years, the one genre in film that has the power to do this in ways that most other films can only dream about is the personal documentary, but getting the films made and then, once they're made, getting them to an end-user is the real trick.

When it comes to trends, styles and types of stories told, the movie business can be very fickle. It's not the audiences that are mutable - it's the industry itself - and nowhere does this rear its ugly head more than in the world of documentary. Those who hold the purse strings, those who deliver the product to those who deliver the product to the masses crow on, from season to season about what kind of movie is hot and what's not.

What this really means is that many of these entities are unimaginative, lacking vision and/or just plain lazy.

If a movie is great, people will want to see it. That said, some movies need a bit more elbow grease than others. When I started in the business - particularly in the areas of exhibition, marketing and distribution - elbow grease was, more often than not, the norm. Even schmatta-salesman-styled broadcasters, distributors and exhibitors did what I, and others refer to as, uh, work. In fact, the more challenging a great film was, the more these same individuals attacked their calling with relish.

This past year during the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, I spoke with so many filmmakers who talked about the difficulties of getting personal documentaries made. And yes, getting any movie made is difficult, but the general air wafting from the posterior-scented jaw flaps of the powers-that-be to filmmakers with great stories to tell, was that the personal documentary was OUT - unless, of course it had some sort of easily identifiable hook of controversy. Even then, filmmakers who did have this sort of easily-exploitable approach found the financing road difficult due to the collective knee-jerk proclamations of entities bereft of vision.

For me, a documentary with a personal approach - where a filmmaker presents a story close to them, perhaps even about themselves, is filmmaking of both a brave and extremely identifiable order. Their stories often mirror our own - the details might be different, but below the surface, they hit us on emotional and intellectual levels.

The bottom line is that the filmmakers, and most importantly, the end-users, the audience, are the ones who get short shrift when those responsible at decision-making levels are purporting to know what people want. Half the time, they're ill-equipped to know what people want and are looking for easy ways to cover their smelly butts.

A good or great picture will find its audience.

One recent film that demands an audience is a personal documentary by Montreal filmmaker Tony Asimakopoulos. Along with another recent film I've seen (which I'm unable to discuss at this juncture), Fortunate Son is a movie that, for me, resonated on so many levels that I suspect I won't be the only one who is deeply moved by it. While watching, re-watching and thinking about it, I was reminded of so much that was close to me when I saw Asimakopoulos's film.

One thing his movie inspired, not just because of the backdrop of Greek culture, but because of the movie's focus upon the theme of family, is something I hadn't though about for a decade or two.

Specifically, it was this:

I wish I could remember the precise date I saw Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis in concert when he visited Winnipeg in the 1970s, but I think it was sometime between 1972 and 1973 because I went to see him conduct and perform live soon after seeing the 1972 Constantin Costa-Gavras film State of Siege (a movie I loved, with a score by Theodorakis that I loved even more). I also know it was before seeing Sidney Lumet's 1973 Serpico (a movie I loved that hasn't quite stood the test of time, though the Theodorakis score most certainly has).

I remember asking my parents to buy me a ticket to see Theodorakis at the Centennial Concert Hall - mostly because I owned the original vinyl soundtrack recordings to Zorba the Greek, Z and State of Siege. After all, what self-respecting 13-year-old movie geek living in the provincial backwater of Winnipeg would not want to see someone he considered a star. Yes, I had the movie bug so bad, that even as a kid, "stars" to me were not just those in front of the camera, but those behind it.

For some reason I clearly remember it being a Sunday afternoon when I saw Mikis Theodorakis. Live. In-the-flesh. The concert hall was packed to the rafters with Greek-Canadians. There were, however, two Ukrainians in the audience - me and, as I eventually noticed sitting a few rows down, my late Uncle Walter Klymkiw - a great choir master and scholar of Ukrainian Folk Music.

Uncle Walter was kind of a cultural touchstone for me within my ridiculously large extended family of Ukrainians. As a kid, I was always enamoured with his great love and knowledge of literature, theatre and yes, music. Whenever he took the time to engage me in some conversation about something I loved (usually Chekhov, Dickens and Mahler), I'd feel a strange warmth, probably because he was someone who didn't - at least during my childhood - think I was out of my mind for being passionate about something other than the commonplace. (In fairness, my Mom was especially accepting of my obsessions with all things artistic, even if she herself didn't quite get all the obsessions herself and Dad took me to every Peckinpah, Clint Eastwood and John Wayne picture.)

Uncle Walter was family - but not immediate.

This is, perhaps why I get so sentimental when I think about him.

That afternoon at the Centennial Concert Hall was gob-smackingly exhilarating. Theodorakis was not presenting his film scores, but music I'd never heard before - music that chilled me to the bone and perhaps even more so because the audience leapt to their feet after every piece. Electric. That's the only way I can describe it.

I flagged my Uncle down during the intermission. He asked me why I was there. I told him about my love of the Theodorakis movie music and then I asked why he was there. He explained that Theodorakis was a refugee, living in exile away from his beloved Greece where he fought strenuously against a repressive regime. He explained that, like our family - Ukrainians - Theodorakis was fighting for the freedom and culture of his people outside of his own country - Greece.

This definitely struck a chord with me. My own family had numerous founding members of a federation in Canada that was devoted to preserving Ukrainian culture outside of Ukraine as it was being repressed by the Russians after the revolution until the early 90s. (One might say, the repression from Russia is continuing in Ukraine due to the gangsterism of Putin, but that's another story.) In any event, Uncle Walter's revelation to me cast a new light on my appreciation of the second half of the concert and explained the audience reaction in the first half of the concert.

Beyond a new aesthetic appreciation for Theodorakis, I was, even at the time, reminded of the importance of family. A common bond of blood opened my eyes to something new.

Love is a powerful eye-opener and this is what's at the root of Fortunate Son. The above personal memory - a mere shard of my life - came flooding back to me after seeing Asimakopoulos's film, but most importantly, the notion that love and family are why we're all here on this Earth.

Another great thing Fortunate Son reminded me of was Elia Kazan's America America, his great dramatic rendering of his own Greek family's escape from repression in Turkey. This was a movie I'd seen on TV as a kid and I remember what a huge impression it made on me - so much so, that even when I see it now I'm easily able to repress the picture's occasional flaws.

The opening shot of Mount Ararat in Kazan's film seems almost identical to the opening shot in Fortunate Son of a mountain overlooking Azimakopoulos's own parents' Greek village.

In both films, this is an extremely powerful image. It represents an almost pastoral beauty - one that seems to exist in another time and place, but also conjures up thoughts about how far away and seemingly unattainable it is - unless, of course, one chooses the arduous task of climbing it.

For Asimakopoulos and Kazan, their films and the personal tales they tell are not unlike a mountain that must be climbed - to conquer that which seems too formidable, a dragon that must be slain, but requiring obsessive bravery and fortitude to deliver the ultimate blow.

From this opening shot, Asimakopoulos provides a haunting montage of immigrants on a boat, long-ago memories of happy couples celebrating life and love and then juxtaposed with a series of odd, evocative black and white images of a swarthy young goodfella - adorned in a sport coat and staring at himself in the mirror (not unlike that of Jake LaMotta near the end of Raging Bull). The soundtrack to this point has been dappled with its own montage of hollow, barley audible sounds of boats, water, clinking glasses, Greek folk music, laughter and then we get the first words of narration that spell out the journey we're about to take with Asimakopoulos in Fortunate Son.

"Am I a good son?" asks the haunted voice. "Am I a bad son?" And then, in an almost stylized goodfella-from-the-hood fashion: "I dunno."

This is the peak the filmmaker must ascend. We want to immediately to climb it with him. We want to know if he is a good or bad son. We want him to know if he is a good or bad son. And perhaps most indelibly, we're reminded of how all of us wonder the same thing. Are we good kids or bad kids? Are we good parents or bad parents? Are we good husbands and wives or bad husbands and wives?

Or is there no such thing?

Or more truthfully, is goodness found somewhere in the middle - in shades of grey?

The journey Asimakopoulos takes us on makes for a compulsive, sad, funny and profoundly moving experience. We hear about his parents' life in Greece, their immigration to Canada, their life in the New World. We become privy to the story of their roller coaster ride marriage, Tony's childhood, his troubled adolescence and eventual struggle with heroin addiction. We experience his current relationship with his Mom and Dad while also exploring life with his beloved fiance Natalie. We hear and see his parents' patterns of behaviour, both past and present - the laughter, love, tears and conflict. So too do we experience Tony's own love story - fraught with the same emotional challenges that his parents faced and his fear that he is merely repeating the patterns of his life before heroin addiction or worse, the sins (as it were) of his Mother and Father.

Asimakopoulos renders this tale with a skilfully edited blend of archival footage, old home movies, scenes from his student films, experimental work and his first feature film. We get up close and personal shots of his life and that of his parents - deftly interwoven with head-on interviews.

We see the hopes, dreams and lives of a family which, finally, remind us of our own experiences.

At one point Natalie talks about her own parents splitting up and asks Tony about his Mom and Dad. "Do you ever wonder why they stayed together?" she asks.

Without hesitation, Tony responds: "No. Not really."

And for some of us, his response makes perfect sense. Old World families and, to a large extent, previous generations with Old World values might have considered splitting up, but they almost never did. In a sense they're imbued with what I like to think of as the maturity of fortitude.

Yeah, yeah - so life doesn't always deal you the cards you want, but you keep playing the game because whatever losses you might suffer, the elation of the occasional win is too great to give up based upon the whims that so many with New World values and recent generations have inspired.

It's easy to give up, but as Asimakopoulos's film demonstrates, it takes courage, REAL courage to keep going, to keep fighting the good fight, to never say never. (Kind of like the aforementioned film industry decision makers - it's easier to say "No" than have the courage to say "Yes" when something seems difficult.)

This might be the genuine importance of Fortunate Son - it demonstrates the inescapable truth that love is not easy. For love to BE love, for love to really count, it takes work, courage and fortitude. It means giving up ephemeral happiness for that which really counts - the happiness of endurance, of perseverance, of never giving up.

This is ultimately, the importance of family. (Or, in the words of a character in Peckinpah's Ride The High Country: "I want to enter my house justified.")

And sure, Asimakopoulos details what many of us, and even in his own words, describe as "dysfunctional" families. Yeah? So what? All families are dysfunctional to one degree or another.

Again, all that matters is love and family.

Is Tony's Mom seen as over-protective, over-bearing and even judgemental?

Hell, yes.

Who isn't?

At one point, his Mom talks about Tony's fiance and declares: "I prayed you would find a nice girl and we found her, didn't we?"

Some might see the use of "we" as taking a degree of empowerment away from her own son, but does, in fact, present the fact that "we" are all in this together and that for all the trials and tribulations, family reigns supreme.

When Tony talks about kicking his heroin habit, we hear his addiction counsellor well-meaningly talk about Tony's need to get away from the shackles of the family unit. "You needed to get unhooked," he says of Tony leaving his family and while this was a good band-aid solution, we see repeatedly how it's love and family that truly saves the day.

When Tony accompanies his parents to their hometown in Greece, we get glimpses of what life and family was like back in their early years. Family and just how needy family can be is a truth that's both funny and moving.

Tony's Dad (who left Greece in 1967 during the beginning of the junta that Theodorakis fought against) jokes about how every time he went back to Greece to visit his mother, she'd cry and declare how old she was getting and how this would be the "last time" he'd ever see her again. He and Tony laugh good-naturedly when he reveals she said the same thing repeatedly over numerous trips back to see her.

Tony's Mom, on the other hand, paints an entirely different portrait of her connection to Greece and family. At one point, she finds a stone on the ground and thinks it might be nice to take this piece of Greece back with her to Canada. She thinks on it, then places the stone back, saying: "The rock will cry if I take it away from its home."

She sounds like my grandmother.

When she visits her Mother's spartan bedroom - preserved almost like a shrine, she finds some sacred religious artifacts that belonged to her Mother. She firmly declares that she will not leave them behind. "It would be a sin to do so," she says.

Later on, Tony's Mom reveals that she wanted to go back home, but that it was marriage to Tony's Dad in Canada that dashed those dreams. She does not say this with bitterness or regret, but with the aforementioned maturity of fortitude. When she discusses her Mother in Saint-like terms - a single mother who worked herself to the bone to feed her family - she begins to tear-up. Thinking about how much her mother sacrificed for her and how she eventually got sick and died alone is almost too much for her to bear.

As it would be for anyone.

And often, as personal films can do, Fortunate Son takes a turn in the story of this family when his Dad is diagnosed with stomach cancer and we witness the family's terrible and brave struggle to deal with this. Even here, however, there's a mixture of sadness and humour (as typified by the title of Armenian-American William Saroyan's great book and film, "The Human Comedy"). Here's Dad - seriously ill with stomach cancer - and Mom is piling heaps of artery-clogging food on his plate (something Ukrainians understand all too well). Mom even complains she's screwed the food up and heaps salty slabs of cheese on it.

"Put on some Feta to make it taste better," she offers.

And yes, food is very important to this family. We see one scene after another round dinner tables - piled high with culinary delights that watered this Ukrainian's mouth like a geyser. Early in the movie, Tony's Dad is leaving to play cards at the local Greek community bar. Tony's Mom gives him the most delectable list of food to bring home from the grocery store. Towards the end of the film, fearing her husband might die, she reveals to Tony that "I want to die before your Father does. It's better that way." Then she adds: "Because he can take care of himself."

At this point (along with many others in the movie), tears erupted from my eyes.

All I could think about was this: "Who would bring groceries home for her if her husband died first?"

It's a question all of us would ask in similar situations. The details might be different, but the sentiment is the same.

Tony Asimakopoulos is one of Canadian cinema's great unsung talents. His early student films and experimental works and first feature are brimming with a voice that needs to be heard. His work has been charged with a unique underground flavour - a kind of Greek Scorsese boys in the hood quality of obsession with dapplings of George Kuchar melodrama and lurid high contrast visuals. He's taken this style and while not completely abandoning it, he has developed and matured into a fine cinematic storyteller.

Fortunate Son is, quite simply, a genuinely great film.

It's a movie that everyone must see.

And yeah, I can think of a few Greeks who might love it too.

"Fortunate Son" has been held over for second big week at Montreal’s Cinema ExCentris (3536 Blvd,St.Laurent) on Friday june 8 : 12:30pm ; 9pm, Saturday june 9 : 12:30pm ; 9pm, Sunday june 10 : 12:30pm ; 9pm, Monday june 11 : 9pm, Tuesday june 12 : 9pm, Wednesday june 13 : 9pm, Thursday june 14 : 9pm. TONY ASIMAKOPOULOS will be at every screening for a Q and A. The film is in English & Greek, with English & French subtitles. For showtimes check the Excentris website for screening times HERE. Additional playdates in Canada throughout the next few months can be accessed by visiting the EYESTEELFILM website HERE.

Monday, April 16, 2012

HARD CORE LOGO II - Review By Greg Klymkiw - This offbeat and deeply personal sequel to Bruce McDonald's legendary 1996 punk extravaganza is a surprisingly truthful and elegiac tribute to a lost generation.

Hard Core Logo II (2011) dir. Bruce McDonald
Starring: Bruce McDonald, Care Failure, Julian Richings, Shannon Jardine, Peter Moore


By Greg Klymkiw

I have to admit that part of my favourable response to Hard Core Logo II is strictly on a personal level. Firstly, my inauguration into the canon of director Bruce McDonald was Roadkill, his crazed rock and road odyssey through Northwestern Ontario. It was the fall of 1989 and during the last year in which I was writing about films. And I really did love writing about movies. I'd been doing so since the late 70s, but I was about to turn a corner in my life and this part of it would be ending a few months or so later.

At the time I was attending the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and in addition to doing some marketing work on behalf of the film co-operative The Winnipeg Film Group, I was moonlighting as a writer for the now-defunct "Cinema Canada" magazine and was presented with the task of reviewing McDonald's movie. It wasn't hard work at all. It was a terrific picture and my delight with it poured from my soul and through my fingertips and into my word processor like shit through the proverbial Canadian Goose.

At the time it reminded me of both David Lynch's Eraserhead and Allan Arkush's Rock n' Roll High School - hypnotic, dream-like, gloriously black and white, energetic, madly nutty,laugh-out-loud funny and pure rock and roll joy.

I've seen it a few times since and I stand by this assessment.

And goddamn! Roadkill was as Canadian as a fucking beaver pelt adorning Norman Jewison's pate. Every surreal moment from my punk years in Winnipeg seemed to spring miraculously to life. Endless nights in dark, now-defunct watering-holes like the "Native Club", "The Royal Albert Arms" and the basement of the "St. Charles Hotel" (AKA "The Chuckles") - seeing everyone who passed through (early XTC, the Popular Mechanix, the notorious rape-rockers The Mentors) to insane seven-hour drives to Thunder Bay to listen to heavy metal bands (often of the local variety) at the Inn-Towner - that miraculous dive where every chick had hair permed-out like Medusa which, under black light it glowed with an almost radioactive "buy-me-some-fuckin-beer-and-maybe-we-can-fuck-eh" come-hither-with-a-stubby quality.

I felt as if I had died and gone to Heaven.

From here I followed Bruce's films passionately. Most of them I loved, some of them I liked and a number of them had me scratching my head with a kind of what-in-the-fuck-are-you-doing-you-psycho response. In 1996, when I saw his Hard Core Logo, which I loved, I remember being swept away by this road movie involving the crazy punker Joe Dick and his band on a comeback tour through the western prairies of Canada and was convinced McDonald would never top the film.

I was wrong, of course. Throughout the years he delivered one terrific picture after another - most notably his brilliant zombie picture set entirely in a rural radio station Pontypool and his truly whacked adaptation of Maureen Medved's novel The Tracy Fragments. The only film of his I didn't see was the notorious Picture Claire. At TIFF it was screening while 9/11 was happening. The night he was showing his "director commentary" cut at the Bloor Cinema, I was in Winnipeg. I'm cool with that. Every director I love has one or two "Holy Grail" pictures that I hope to partake in someday.

So let's fast forward to the present and how seeing Hard Core Logo II hit me where all the best movies should - on a personal level. Firstly, I bring you back to my own personal full-circle coincidence of HCL II being the first McDonald movie I've seen to write about since I stopped writing about movies. And yeah, here I am, 23 years later, back to the future, so to speak - again writing about movies (amongst other writing chores like screenplays and a text book). I have to admit to a certain sentimental attachment going in to seeing HCL II on this level.

Beyond that though, is the personal relationship one forges with certain artists and their art. Bruce was born about a month after me in the same year. He was born in Kingston and grew up in Scarborough. I was conceived in Detroit and born/raised in Winnipeg. Same difference, really. For many years, without knowing each other in any way, shape or form, we grew up with similar interests and experiences. On that level alone, he's a filmmaker who spoke to me as a contemporary and I've lived through 23 years of his work - connecting aesthetically, but also personally - his work seeming to almost umbilically connect to my very being.

This, I'd say, IS extremely important. When a filmmaker connects with audiences on this level, then truly this is an artist worth studying and revering. However, it's especially noteworthy that his work connects with me as a Canadian with shared experiences.

Hard Core Logo II is NOT a retread or reboot. It IS, a sequel. HCL I, a clever mock-doc wherein the lead character blew his brains out on-camera at the end seemed pretty much sequel-proof. What McDonald does, however, is turn the next phase of the tale into a semi-personal and quasi-fictional mock-doc - focusing on the character he himself played, "Bruce" the filmmaker.

And here, 23-years later, "Bruce" is working successfully in American television. He's the creator and director of "The Pilgrim", a ridiculously popular Christian western aimed squarely (and somewhat cynically on the part of the fictional/actual filmmaker) at the moronic religious right. When the star of the series Rufus Melon (a brilliantly scuzzy and hilarious Adrien Dorval) is caught in a horrendous sexual scandal, the show is immediately cancelled and Bruce is without a job.

Where he'd previously been ignoring reports that rock singer Care Failure (played, no less, by Care Failure of "Die Mannequin" fame) has psychically channeled the spirit of the late Hard Core Logo frontman Joe Dick, "Bruce" now drops everything to make a new documentary to reclaim his former glory as an independent filmmaker.

Going the super-kamikaze filmmaking route, he leaves his wife and child home alone and brings along only one crew member - his next door neighbour, the completely bonkers New Age Wiccan video/performance artiste Liz (Shannon Jardine). She mans, as it were, the camera, while he records sound, directs and interviews. He's promised Liz a co-directing credit, but as his personal notes reveal later on, he just needs (and treats her) as a glorified schlepper.

The two of them follow Care to Saskatchewan where she will record a solo album under the guidance of Joe Dick's former mentor Bucky Haight (Julian Richings, repeating his original HCL role and astoundingly proving again why he's one of Canada's greatest character actors).

McDonald and his co-writer Dave Griffith put together a number of scenes which give a strong sense of the drudgery and boredom involved in producing an album but when things threaten to get a bit too languid, we're tossed a few phantasmagorical montage sequences (something McDonald has been obsessed with in his latter output and which are handled with aplomb by editor Duff Smith). These insane patchwork quilts of exorcism, talking animals, flashbacks to Joe Dick blowing his brains out, etc. are worthy of such 70s and 80s head films like Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain and Slava Tsukerman's Liquid Sky.

The dreary Saskatchewan locations also add considerable Canadian chic to the whole affair. I used to think, for example, that looking at the topography surrounding my old hometown whenever I landed in a plane at the Winnipeg International Airport was the most depressing thing in the world. Hard Core Logo II reminded me that NO - landing at the Regina Airport is far more soul-sucking.

We're guided through this oddball low-key tale, contrasting nicely and unexpectedly with HCL's raging drive, through the laid-back journal entries of filmmaker "Bruce". If anything drives the engine of this happily sputtering engine it's exploitation.

Because this is a Canadian film in a Canadian setting with Canadian characters - the exploitation is, not surprisingly, Canadian. That is, characters gently, subtly remind each other how much they're exploiting each other. McDonald's film captures this exploitation ever-so subtly.

There are the newspaper clippings accusing "Bruce" of exploiting Joe Dick from the original film. There's the implication that Care is exploiting the memory of Joe and furthermore, by possibly pretending to be possessed to get "Bruce" to make a film about her. Bucky accuses "Bruce" of exploiting Care. "Bruce" accuses Bucky of exploiting her. Care accuses both of them of exploiting her. "Bruce" and Bucky gently suggest mutual exploitation of the dead Joe Dick. "Bruce" is clearly exploiting the mad schlepper Wiccan and even the disgraced actor Rufus Melon shows up to exploit "Bruce", in order to party with Care and to get a guest spot with CBC's "Strombo" to declare his "healing".

Gentle, subtle exploitation is always the Canadian way. Canadians prefer smiling and alternately stabbing in the back - gently. They almost never look someone squarely in the eyes to gut them.

And within the context of the world McDonald creates - nobody (much like Canadians in reality) seems to want anything of any real import.

Except for one thing.

And this is the surprising, profoundly and deeply moving aspect of Hard Core Logo II. When it is determined what is truly important, a sacrifice is made - one which takes us into an afterlife and where the spirit of love and of family overtakes and overwhelms us.

I must admit to being taken completely off guard here. I should have seen it coming, since the film is strangely bookended with something so uniquely personal that it's often the element that - subtly - sneaks its way through the entire film. And when this sequence occurs, I must admit that I was touched emotionally in ways I never expected. It's both a heartbreaker and a spirit-lifter.

The movie begins, builds and ends with a humanity that's been hinted at in some of McDonald's earlier work, but explodes in ways that will, I think, especially touch a particular generation of Canadian with an equally particular series of experiences.

The movie is probably not for everyone. Those expecting a replay of McDonald's earlier successes will be denied an easy road. He delivers an offbeat journey and one that perfectly exemplifies a segment of the punk generation - that generation (especially, I think, in Canada) that sprouted at the tail-end of the baby boom and created a whole group of rebels who existed between the hippie sellouts and the Gen-X McJobbers.

The real rebels. Those who truly had to pay a price for their ideals and in so doing, continue to clutch desperately and/or longingly at those things everyone thinks they want, but for this generation, when they discover that wondrous thing, they know it's exactly what makes life worth living.

"Hard Core Logo II" is playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and other select cinemas across Canada. It is being released by Alliance Films. For information of tickets, playdates and showtimes at TIFF, click HERE.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

THE VANISHING SPRING LIGHT: TALES OF WEST STREET - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Xan Yu's extraordinary film is a document in its purest and most poetic form.

The Vanishing Spring Light: Tales of West Street (2011) dir. Xun Yu "Fish" Starring: "Grandma" Jiang Su-Ha, Xiao Da Wan-Bi, Xiang Qian-Hong


By Greg Klymkiw
How far we all come. How far we all come away from ourselves. So far, so much between, you can never go home again . . . it's good to go home, but you never really get all the way home again in your life . . . and once in a while, once in a long time, you remembered, and knew how far you were away, and it hit you hard enough, that little while it lasted, to break your heart.” - James Agee, A Death in the Family

Grandma Jiang is dying.

Wracked with pain after suffering a massive stroke, she lies in her bed, physically unable to assume her usual perch in front of the family home on her beloved West Street. This World Cultural Heritage Site in Dujiangyan (Southwest China) in the Sichuan Province near the site of an irrigation system that was a massive feat of ancient engineering, has housed generations upon generations of families who lived a simple, traditional life.

This is where Grandma Jiang lived for 50 of her 75 years.

In the time of her life, Grandma Jiang loved nothing more than passing endless days on the porch - smoking cigarettes, taking in the sights and sounds passing by this historic street that once served as the gateway to the Silk Road and sharing conversations with friends, neighbours and occasional visiting relatives. Her loyal daughter-in-law Xiao Da manages the mahjong parlour in the living room while her bumblingly good-natured son Xiang Qian drives cab, when not blind drunk, but often hung-over.

Though petty squabbles erupt amongst her daughters who live their own lives and almost grudgingly make efforts to visit and care for her, Grandma Jiang has, in the words of the Armenian-American writer William Saroyan, striven to "discover in all things, that which shines and is beyond corruption and encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world".

But now, wrapped in blankets, looking like a living mummy (and still puffing on cigarettes), she is alone save for Xun Yu, the filmmaker who spent two years living with this family before taking an additional two years shooting the first of four documentaries about West Street and its gentrification (and by extension, the modernization of China).

"All I can hope for is a quick death," Grandma Joang tells Yu. "And after death? I guess I'm headed for the Afterlife. Where else can I go?"

In spite of the fact that it's about death, The Vanishing Spring Light: Tales of West Street is a celebration of life. Through the changing of the seasons, the increasing metamorphoses of West Street and the diminishing health of Grandma Jiang, Yu trains his eye upon the passage of existence. Simple, often beautifully composed shots in very long takes create a rhythm that is hypnotic and compelling.

This is a document in its purest and most poetic form. Yes, it is slow, but it is never boring. Yu allows his camera to capture all the pleasures, sorrows and intricacies of lives that are well, and in some cases, not-so-well lived. Through his caring and carefully placed lens we come to know and care for Grandma Jiang and those around her as if we were there ourselves.

This is one of the most staggering and profoundly moving documentaries I have seen in many years. In its own way, the film is as challenging as Pirjo Honkasalo's stunning exploration of the effects of the Chechen War The Three Rooms of Melancholia or Ulrich Seidl's almost unclassifiable, yet forceful Jesus, You Know or most profoundly, the late Frank Cole's masterwork of artful observation, A Life. Like those films, and even to an extent the works of Frederick Wiseman (though without his traditional lack or preparation), Yu lets life unfold as it most naturally does.

And just prior to her final death rattles, Grandma Jiang's eyes - forced by her position on the bed to look upwards, her gaze seeming to hug the infinite - she openly and alternately fears and welcomes death. She laments that she "didn't follow the teachings well", feeling now, more than ever. like "a would-be Buddhist". Though even as we hear her say this, we have clearly witnessed an individual who has lived life to its fullest and Yu's film shares this extraordinarily humanist event with us, as its subjects have shared their lives with him.

"I can only die the way I have lived," Grandma Jiang says before death.

And so it is, so it has been and so it will be for all of us.

Xan Yu's beautiful, elegiac and sometimes heart-breaking film is a testament to Grandma Jiang and all those who lived their lives as she did. As William Saroyan wrote: "In the time of your life, live — so that in that wondrous time, you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”

"The Vanishing Spring Light: Tales of West Street" is currently in release via Kinosmith and in Toronto is playing at the Bloor Hot Docs Conema where the film's visionary Canadian producer and filmmaker Daniel Cross will be present for the screenings to discuss the making of the film. For showtimes and tickets, visit the website HERE.