Friday, May 29, 2009

Drag Me to Hell

Sam Raimi | 2009 | 99 mins | USA

When Stephen King wrote his book, Thinner, in 1984, he didn't reeeeeeeally give the premise as much thought as he probably should have. (Note: Read the following in the goofy voice of Stephen King) "Okay, so it's about this gypsy who curses a fat guy so that he gets really, really thin!" OH NO! Sam Raimi has used a similar premise for his latest film, Drag Me to Hell, and maybe he didn't think it through all the way either, but who cares? It's awesome. (Note: Read the following in the goofy voice of Sam Raimi) "So um.. A gypsy curses this girl who works at a bank because she won't give her an extension to make her mortgage payment, and uh.. Oh, and the girl USED to be fat. So what can the curse do... The curse summons a sort of Satan meets a billy goat shadow demon to smack her around for a few days, and then swallow her soul. The Evil Dead fans will love that. Maybe I won't say 'swallow your soul' though. That'd be a bit much. But the Shadow Devil Goat is gonna be a really bad guy. His name is Lamia. It's gonna be scary. Trust me. I've still got it."

Even though you might not believe me, I assure you Sam Raimi's still got it! He really does! So much so that I feel bad for doubting him. Once the trailers were done and the OLD Universal Studios logo hit the screen, I knew that I was in the good hands that I trusted every time out from the late 80s until the late 90s. Performance-wise, Alison Lohman as Christine, the loan officer who's cursed, does a really good job, as does (surprisingly) Justin Long as her boyfriend, Clay. After getting a little stiff with the Spider-Man films, Raimi's script (co-written with his brother, Ivan) recalls the dark playfulness of Darkman and Army of Darkness but a little more refined, and dare I say... with better execution. More than it's a movie though, Drag Me to Hell is a filmed haunted house ride at a carnival. Around every other corner is the next thing, waiting to jump out and scare you. I'm not usually one for jump scares but more often than not here, they're followed up directly with a comedic gross out gag à la early Raimi and early Peter Jackson, so I couldn't stay mad no matter how many times the film startled me, or got the back of my seat kicked by the wimps behind me. The film delivers in screams, jumps, and with way more laughter than expected. About half of it at jokes/gags, and the other half of it being terrified/nervous laughter.

I can't imagine there being another horror movie this year that's more fun than Drag Me to Hell. It might not hold up quite so well on video, but it's not on video right now. It's in theaters. Nice big, loud, scary theaters. Buy the ticket. Take the ride.

Did I mention that the film uses unused score that Lalo Schifrin wrote for The Exorcist?!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino | 2009 | 154 mins | USA / Germany

I’ve been a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s since I first snuck into a screening of Pulp Fiction in high school, and subsequently sought out and was blown away by Reservoir Dogs. It’s not that he can do no wrong in my eyes, it’s just that I’m predisposed to liking his visual style, his cleverly crafted dialogue, his ultra-violent yet oh so stylish action sequences and his nerdy nods to his favourite genre films. When I heard that he was going to be making a WWII film about a gang of Jewish soldiers who wreak havoc on the German countryside scalping Nazis and striking terror into the heart of the Reich, I imagined a cool-as-hell reinvention of The Dirty Dozen, only grittier, more violent and more over the top.

In my mind, Inglourious Basterds was going to transcend the war film and become my favourite genre of all, my cinematic Achilles heel: the film about a ragtag group of misfits on an impossible mission. Alas, I was woefully disappointed on this count, but perhaps it’s unfair to lay the blame entirely on Tarantino’s shoulders for not delivering the film that existed in my mind. I wrote up a review of the film for Twitch which can be found here, which explains a bit more about the extensive and convoluted plot twists. I won't repeat the summary here. Instead, here's a concise list of my top and bottom three things about Basterds.

The best:

1. Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans “The Jew Hunter” Landa. His impeccable command of English, French, German and Italian and his goofy yet sinister vibe make this milk-drinking villain so delightful you want to root for him even though he’s a Nazi. Waltz won the best actor award in Cannes for the performance, and he fully deserved it.

2. Tarantino’s use of music. At first I hated the fact that he slipped David Bowie singing Cat People (“Putting Out Fire”) into the Morricone-infused score during a sequence in which French-Jewish babe Shosanna is getting dolled up for a big night, because it pulled me out of the atmosphere and time period entirely. As I think about it more, this choice seems particularly inspired, messing with the audience’s understanding and perception of a history that Tarantino has completely reinvented anyway.

3. The final battle sequence. Tarantino’s film is not-too-subtly all about the power of film itself. Ultimately, it’s cinema alone that is mighty enough to destroy the Third Reich, and when the climactic, cinematic exorcism of all our collective WWII demons finally arrives, it’s pretty damn brilliant and cathartic.

The worst:

1. There’s nowhere near enough Basterds in this film. After the first time they’re introduced, they almost never appear together again in the 154 minute film, and they’re so poorly fleshed out as characters that it’s impossible to care about them or even remember who some of them are. The film should have been called The Jew Hunter. That would have been considerably less disappointing.

2. Lots of great characters who disappear before you’ve had a chance to learn their name. Mike Meyers has a pretty decent cameo as General Ed Fenech, but the entire OSS subplot that he’s part of is axed so quickly it’s hardly worth the elaborate setup. Even Brad Pitt as Basterd leader Lt. Aldo Raine is reduced to essentially little more than a funny-accented comic relief character. A tiny bit more development could have gone a long way.

3. Inglourious Basterds is (nearly) all talk and no rock. A friend who also saw Basterds in Cannes referred to it as “a film about tables”. First, they talk at one table. Then they sit at another table and talk some more. Then they go to another table and ... you get the idea. Essentially, this is true. Of course we expect nothing less than brilliant dialogue from Tarantino, and he does deliver, but there’s way too damn much of it, and the balance between talk and action is so far off that I nearly dozed off during the middle. If you’re able to doze off during a Tarantino film, then the man’s not doing his job.

On the whole, I give this one 6.5 out of 10. I’m not sure if it’s my least favourite Tarantino, but it certainly doesn’t touch my top three (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Death Proof in occasionally shifting order, in case any of you want to judge my worth as a critic on this basis).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wild Grass [Les herbes folles]

Alain Resnais | 2009 | 104 mins | France / Italy

When I was 16 years old, my father took me to the Ontario Cinematheque to watch Alain Resnais' L'année dernière à Marienbad. I was so frustrated and infuriated by this (probably the first 'art film' I ever saw) that I left the theatre thinking I had disliked it. When, a month later, I hadn't stopped thinking about the film for a single day since that fateful screening, I realised the truth: L'année dernière à Marienbad had opened me up to the possibilities of cinema and changed the course of my life forever.

The opportunity to see Resnais' latest film (I admit that I was shocked to learn the 86 year old was still directing) on the big screen in Cannes was the opportunity of a lifetime, but I couldn't have prepared myself for how emotional the experience would be. The moment Resnais' walked into the 2,300 seat Lumière theatre, the fact that I was in the same room with him hit me pretty hard. I cried for ten minutes before the opening credits even rolled.

The film itself was quite charming - not a masterpiece, but it stands up to some of the more serious fare in competition this year. It starts with a woman (Sabine Azéma) who we are told by the surprisingly charming and funny narrator has unusual feet, which force her to shop for shoes in very specific places, which on this particular day resulted in her purse being stolen as she exited the shoe shop with a brand new pair of pumps.

Soon enough, the woman's wallet, if not the rest of her purse, is found by a certain Georges Palet (André Dussollier), a middle aged man who lives in a gorgeous house with his wife of 30 years, Suzanne (Anne Consigny). Georges examines the wallet in great detail, examining her appearance in one ID photo and then another, discovering that her name is Marguerite Muir, that she is a hobby pilot, and so forth.

Georges turns the wallet into the police but his preoccupation with Marguerite doesn't end. He begins writing her letters and leaving messages on the answering machine of her impossibly stylish apartment every day. His infatuation grows until she is forced to contact the police about his behaviour. Unfortunately, once Georges attentions are no longer focused on her, Marguerite realises that perhaps she misses him, and soon she is the one following Georges to the movies, calling his house repeatedly and missing work in order to visit his home.

Resnais artfully turns the narrative on its head, exploring both Georges' and Marguerite's loneliness, curiosity and longing for love. Wild Grass looks gorgeous, and long vividly coloured tracking shots of grass punctuate the surreal story. Events are inexplicable, characters' motivations mysterious, and the results of every action surprising beyond comprehension. Wild Grass was like a refreshing icy drink on a hot summer's day compared to the many bleak, violent and disturbing films that populated this year's competition. Plus, I have to say that it's incredibly refreshing that the central characters in this quirky love story are in their 50s and 60s. This fact might even make it more charming, sexy and romantic than it would be otherwise.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Lars von Trier | 2009 | 104 mins | Denmark / Germany / France / Sweden / Italy

Lars von Trier's amazingly bizarre and disturbing film was obviously designed to divide, outrage and offend audiences, and judging by the boos it received during the press screening in Cannes and the subsequent thunderous applause during the gala screening, he was pretty successful. No film came close to generating the amount of controversy or hype that Antichrist drummed up before more than a handful of people had even seen it.

The film stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as an unnamed married couple who in the gorgeously choreographed, slow motion, black and white prologue lose their only son in a tragic accident.

The body of the film is separated into four chapters - Grief, Chaos Reigns, Despair and The Three Beggars - as the couple slowly and painfully mourn their loss. Gainsbourg starts out doped up in a hospital, told by her doctor that her grief is 'atypical', until psychoanalyst Dafoe decides to take her out of the medical environment and treat her himself, through exposure therapy.

The couple retreat to 'Eden', a cabin in the woods where Gainsbourg had spent the previous summer with their son working on an academic thesis on Gynocide (witch hunts and similar abuses against women). In Eden, Gainsbourg becomes increasingly unhinged and sexually manic, desperately seeking the sexual release that calms her panic and grief symptoms, while Dafoe coldly rebuffs her or keeps her at bay with smarmy jokes about 'fucking the therapist'.

The film is heavy with invented symbolism. A triumvirate of animals (a fox, a black bird and a deer) follow the couple as they navigate the dark, ominous woods around them. A baby bird falls dead out of a nest, covered in ants. A deer in the midst of giving birth turns and runs into the woods, the fawn hanging out of it. A fox lies dead in the grass, eating its own entrails. A fictional constellation looms above. These images are powerful, beautifully composed and never adequately explained, so that they burrow into the mind and fester there. Gainsbourg's fear of the green grass and her sense that “nature causes people to do evil things to women” is set against beautifully composed images of bodies intertwined in the trees and rocks around them. All this is juxtaposed with Dafoe's infuriatingly detached attitude so effectively that her eventual retaliation against him (gruesome though it is) seems fairly well deserved.

Overwrought symbolic imagery lies side by side with raw, horrifying violence, and everything from the operatic opening to the obvious 'fuck you' of his closing dedication to Andrei Tarkovsky is obviously designed to frustrate and offend. Von Trier succeeds on several levels - he has created a profoundly disturbing film which pokes fun at pomposity of his highfalutin audience while simultaneously imbuing the film with enough substance that it can't be easily dismissed by them. In the end, the film's harshest critics will be the ones that turn it into the most talked about and significant cinematic event of the year.

Antichrist isn't exactly an enjoyable film to watch (rumours about the graphic nature of the film's violent scenes are not exaggerated) but it's one that I've had a hard time not thinking about every day since I saw it. My only real beef with the film is that it totally lacks any emotional core. What made von Trier's earlier efforts about abused women (Breaking the Waves or Dancer in the Dark) so effective was the heart wrenching way he was able to make the audience feel the tragedy of his characters. Antichrist is so cold and calculated that by the end one hardly cares about what fate will befall either character. The film is good, but it's all brain and no heart.

The Misfortunates [De helaasheid der dingen]

Felix Van Groeningen | 2009 | 108 mins | Belgium

This utterly charming Belgian (and Flemish) entry in this year's Directors' Fortnight is among the best things I saw in Cannes. Adapted from a very successful autobiographical novel by Dimitri Verhulst,
the film follows Gunther Strobbe, a 13 year old boy in the late '70s / early '80s who lives in his grandmother's ramshackle house in a small town in Belgium with his alcoholic father (a postman with more bars on his route than any of his colleagues) and three alcoholic uncles. It's undeniable that life with the Strobbe clan is not merely a bit dysfunctional but truly damaging for the young boy, and yet the family is so full of genuine love that it's hard to fully condemn them.

Gunther tells the story from an adult perspective, and it's left quite beautifully ambiguous until the end whether he managed to transcend or escape his family heritage. Real life is more complex than just "getting out of the old neighbourhood", and The Misfortunates handles these realities with heart and humour.

The Strobbe men mean well, sort of. They just can't help fucking everything up, all the time. The film is full of raw, dirty, hilarious vignettes (such as the naked bicycle race through town, pictured above), vulgar humour, pathos and a bit of cynicism. The Strobbes enter drinking contests, piss themselves and end up in hospital, pick up women, break furniture, and invade a neighbour's house in order to watch their beloved Roy Orbison on television (theirs has been repossessed).

It might have been the tear-jerker hit of the year if Ken Loach had been given the script, but in the hands of Felix Van Groeningen, this film has the raw, dirty, Flemish edge that made 2007's Ex Drummer so memorable. The comparison with Ex Drummer is only one of a vaguely common "Flemish vibe", mind you. The Misfortunates is nowhere near as dark. Any film that features a smiling 12 year old girl drunk in a bar singing the 'pussy song' clearly has to be far more heartwarming than bleak.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Diary of a Times Square Thief

Klaas Bense | 2008 | 60 min | Netherlands

It's not that this film is totally incompetent, it's just that it lies to you. Director Klaas Bense begins his story with the Ebay purchase of an ostensibly mysterious diary written by a young man in early 1980s New York. The writer worked in the Times Square Hotel, a former flophouse, and detailed his many run ins with its colourful characters, as well as his own creative struggles, and his petty thefts of patrons and strangers.

Bense travels to New York to track down the names mentioned in the diary in the hopes of tracing the steps back to the writer. He interviews current residents of the Times Square Hotel, now a hip downtown address, and rations out a few details regarding the era, city, and building we are to believe he is investigating.

The greater issue with the film arises when Bense does "find" the writer and interviews him. The diarist is a wonderful and engaging storyteller, but he does let slip one detail: he is the Ebay seller of the diary. The director was in direct contact with him from the original moment of purchase. The film's narrative is a sham, and the lack of detail in tracking down the other interviewees is not a mistake, but a purposeful omission.

Even if it were not for this detail the film would be clumsy, too thin on information, and too in love with itself to be a success. But, since it erodes all credibility and structure within the film, considering that detail as I left the theatre made me furious.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

TSADT Podcast Episode 03

Download | MP3

LOADS of reviews from the Hot Docs documentary film festival this time around. We talk about Best Worst Movie, Black Wave, Art and Copy, Objectified, A Hard Name, Rembrandt's J'Accuse, Ghost Bird, Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be The Same, and Prom Night in Mississippi. We also manage to fit in some talk of this year's Cannes line-up, the upcoming Tetsuo sequel, and more Wolverine lameness.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Star Trek

J.J. Abrams | 2009 | 125 mins | USA

Admittedly, I am a Star Trek fan. I watched the original sporadically as a kid, and really came of age with The Next Generation. I even have some affection for the bad spin offs because I just love the whole concept of Star Trek so much. So it was with a heady mixture of excitement and trepidation that I awaited the arrival of this “reboot”. Me and a billion other fans, right?

Well, I’m delighted to report that Star Trek is a triumph on all counts, but particularly succeeds for two key reasons: incredible casting, and a very clever solution to the problem of trying to reinvent a story with 40 years of elaborate history behind it.

From the relative unknowns to the familiar faces, every actor in Star Trek absolutely nails their character. It’s difficult to bring something new to a persona that your audience has known and loved for decades, but there’s just enough reverence paid to the original cast here without tipping the balance into caricature or outright mimicry. Everyone was great, but my personal favourite was Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. By the time he comes out with one of those "dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a [whatever]" lines that DeForest Kelley perfected in that role (and that you know is coming from the moment Urban first appears on screen), you've already completely fallen in love with him as Bones and the line is a delightful homage to the original instead of just being a hammy joke.

It is an intense challenge to reinvent a story that is already so familiar to virtually 100% of your audience. J.J. Abrams and company essentially had two choices: suffocate under the crushing weight of 40 years of intricate continuity or take drastic measures to wipe the slate clean. Thankfully they chose option two, and cleverly managed to completely reinvent the entire universe in a way that is both logical and respectful to the original.

The story and plot of Star Trek are kind of secondary to the fact that a beloved and iconic series has just been successfully reinvented. We get to meet the Enterprise’s crew in their Starfleet days and see them take their maiden voyage – a rescue mission to save Vulcan from evil Romulans. Eric Bana's Captain Nero is no Khan, but he makes for a pretty fun villain, and his ship is absolutely terrifying. That's all you really need to know about the plot. For non-fans, this is an entirely enjoyable, action-packed sci-fi film with set design, special effects and fight sequences that will rival any of the summer blockbusters. For the fans it’s a reboot so successful it almost makes you weep into your popcorn. I might even go so far as to call it the only really successful reboot ever.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Gary Hustwit | 2009 | 75 mins | USA

In a piece he wrote for Frieze Magazine, director Gary Hustwit says of his previous film, Helvetica, that while design aficionados have known the subjects of his latest film for decades, the average viewer has never heard of these marvelous characters, whose passion became his secret weapon. ‘Where did you find these people?’, non-designers ask [him]. ‘They’re so passionate!’ Unfortunately, passionate though they were, the design megastars interviewed in Objectified don't quite measure up to their Helvetica counterparts.

It is indeed fascinating to realise that just about everything we come into contact with in our lives is designed by someone, and there are a tonne of big names here to talk about how they shape our world. There's Apple's Jonathan Ive (who admits he's a bit obsessive in his passion for putting together our computers and iphones), the legendary and compelling Dieter Rams of Braun (pictured above), several folks from IDEO (one of whom is credited with designing the very first laptop ever, a very neat gizmo indeed), Chris Bangle (the former chief designer of BMW) and several others. Notably hilarious is Rob Walker, who writes the "Consumed" column for the New York Times Sunday mag.

Considering the who's-who of design that this film is packed with, it's actually surprising that there aren't more "holy shit, he designed THAT THING" revelatory moments about the universally iconic items these people have had a hand in creating. It's as though the film gets lost in discussing design in the abstract (and even the usefulness and meaning of designed objects in the abstract) without linking it to the actual things we really use, know and love. The interviews about Apple's design sense come closest to bringing it back down to earth, but it's not quite enough.

The film looks good (as any film about design should) and Hustwit is clearly a skilled interviewer, but Objectified lacks the magic that made Helvetica such a standout in 2007.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before

Kieran Evans | 2008 | 89 mins | UK

Singer/songwriter, Vashti Bunyan's 1970 release, Just Another Diamond Day is a document in song of her journey by horse-drawn cart in search of Skype, the artist commune established by folkie and star of Jacques Demy's under appreciated, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Donovan. The album was originally released in very limited qualities, and sold poorly. Vashti gave up on music, and went on to live a 'normal' life, raising a family, and not giving much more thought to her music career. But then 30 years later, the album was re-released in 2000, and found to have a devoted following. With this new found old success, Vashti set out on a tour supporting the re-release, and recorded a new album, shortly after.

In Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before, Kieran Evans travels with Vashti to many of the stops that she and her boyfriend made back in the late '60s in their horse and cart. The landscapes are gorgeous, and while it was a lovely time for them, I'm sure; when they arrive at each new location, there inevitably isn't much of a story to tell about it. Stories of being asked to get off of someone's land, the purchasing of their horse and cart, their struggles with poverty, etc. are all fine and part of an interesting story, but not one that can sustain a feature-length runtime.

Vashti Bunyan: From Here to There would have been a much fuller and more satisfying film if more time had been given to performance footage (there's not much here, and what of it there is is rather flat) or to have spent some time on the years between the release and the re-release of the album. It would have been fascinating to see what shaped Vashti from restless hippy goddamn super babe in the '60s to the warm, well spoken, and lovely woman now in her 60s that we watch retrace her steps of nearly forty years ago.

Orgasm Inc.

Liz Canner | 2009 | 73 min | US

Although Orgasm Inc. is ostensibly about the pharmaceutical race for the "female Viagra," it is really about the larger issue of the commodification of female sexual health and pleasure. The latest boogeyman coming from under the beds of the pharmaceutical giants is that of Female Sexual Dysfunction, or FSD. Orgasm Inc. peels away the layers of how the term originated and the shakey science behind the figures thrown around regarding it. Do forty-three percent of women actually suffer from FSD, or are drug companies creating a problem where none exists?

This feature investigates the key players behind the term's popularization and hype building, as well as those attempting to defuse it. Doctors, clinicians, therapists, and sex educators are all given a voice in the documentary, and the story unfolds over nine years, allowing larger developments in drugs and outreach to be explored.

Like several presentations at Hot Docs, this feature's weakest point is that is was never meant to be seen in a large theatre. The picture and sound were both of lower quality than they should have been for the setting. However, I'm sure it will be considerably easier on the eyes and ears for the intended television and home video audience.

The picture was thought provoking and the issues within are not covered as often as they should be. Certainly those people interested in pushing FSD are far more recognizable personalities than those fighting it. Orgasm Inc. is definitely worth a watch and a conversation when this makes it to a broadcast or video release.

Art & Copy

Doug Pray | 2009 | 88 mins | USA

Watching giants in any industry talk about taking risks, breaking down walls and being revolutionary is interesting, but its especially fascinating in an industry as much maligned as advertising. Indeed, even the titans interviewed in Art & Copy would agree that 99% of the 5,000 ads that an average person sees every day are crap. Still, they strive to make the mind-blowing ones, and most of them apparently do it by being wildly eccentric nut jobs, bless 'em.

We get to meet the man who created the Apple 1984 commercial (it's Lee Clow, the guy in the photo, above), the guys who came up with "just do it" and "got milk?", the woman who invented the "Me generation" or the guy who took Tommy Hilfiger from unknown upstart to multi-billionaire nearly overnight. Doug Pray is careful to reproduce most of the important campaigns, which are a treat to watch, especially when it comes to the harder to find ads (such as the profoundly disturbing "Daisy" ad used for Lyndon B. Johnson's presidential campaign).

When George Lois (the guy behind the Hilfiger ads) says he doesn't remember ever failing in his life, because the moment you start to analyze your failures, you're fucked, the entire business is neatly encapsulated. It really can take a lot of persistence and thick skin to get through the hundreds of layers of bullshit client requests and setbacks to get an idea as simple and undeniably effective as "where's the beef?" approved.

Doug Prey's tribute to the art of advertising is slick, stylish, and very compelling in this Mad Men-obsessed moment in time. It only suffers from one major problem. The project was initially conceived by The One Club, an organization dedicated to celebrating excellence in advertising, which wanted to do something to showcase its own hall of famers. While the members of The One Club's hall of fame truly are some of the biggest and most important names in advertising, they don't comprise an exhaustive list, and some omissions are really noticeable. A discussion of branding that doesn't even mention the cola wars seems odd. Indeed, Coca Cola only obliquely makes it into the film as part of the soundtrack, which at one point plays "I'd like to teach the world to sing", one of Coke's most famous campaigns. I guess nobody from McCann-Erickson circa 1971 is in The One Club's hall of fame?


Richard Solarz & Fredrik von Krusenstjerna | 2008 | 95 mins | Sweden

It's springtime and documentaries are in the air again. I kicked off my Hot Docs experience this year with Necrobusiness, a doc with very compelling and grizzly premise. Everyone knows that the funeral business is a racket designed to make bereaved people part with as much money as possible during a time when they're neither capable of thinking straight nor interested in bargaining. Still, the high cost of coffins is nothing compared to the horrific reality of Poland's death industry.

Investigative journalist Monika Sieradzka begins her journey in the mid-sized city of Lódz, Poland, where she's trying to get an interview with a prominent funeral director, Witold Skrzydlewski, after an attempt is made on his life. The man accused of trying to kill him is a local medical examiner named Tomalski who appears to have at one point been a business associate of his victim's.

As Sieradzka digs deeper into the tangle of partnerships between Skrzydlewski, Tomalski and a third man, Sumera (a dodgy florist with secret agent-esque delusions) she uncovers that what at first seemed like a straightforward feud between an odd triad of business partners is a disturbing city-wide conspiracy of murder and betrayal. Sieradzka narrates the film in the first person, which works to frame the unwieldy goings-on, but she ends up being a much too central figure in a story that's really not about her.

The film shifts between murder mystery and courtroom drama as we watch Tomalski's trial mushroom into a massive case involving a dozen defendants. Ambulance dispatchers confess to delaying service and paramedics confess to "letting patients die" in order to rack up a body count for Skrzydlewski's massive funeral monopoly in exchange for gifts and bribes. Murder, corruption and profiteering are only the tip of the iceberg in this truly bizarre tale.

The story is so horrifying and the characters such caricatures of "shady businessmen" that one almost forgets it's a documentary. Even the initial setup (a funeral director, a florist and a pathologist get into an argument...) seems like the start of a joke. Necrobusiness certainly has some hilarious moments, but it feels wrong to laugh at a film about people whose death certificates were being filled out by attending physicians while they were still struggling for air in the back of an ambulance. With greedy men like these you'll need to take out a cash advance or two to bury a loved one. What is the world coming to? Worth seeing (as a cautionary tale about not making the mistake of dying in Poland).