Anne + is a web series where Anne (Hanna van Vliet) has just moved into her first grown-up apartment after graduating university in Amsterdam. While out on an errand, she runs into her ex-girlfriend and first love Lily (Eline van Gils). The encounter makes her ruminate on her ever-evolving dating life since their break up four years earlier.

Split into six stories running about ten minutes each, the episodes explore how all of Anne’s relationships have helped define the person she has become. While the main character is queer, the relationship issues she experiences are universal; your first big romance fizzling out, falling in love with someone who just wants to be casual (or the other way around), being attracted to someone’s wild personality but then getting overwhelmed by it.

The series is run by Maud Wiemeijer and Valerie Bisscheroux, two Dutch lesbians who wanted to create more authentic media for queer women. And in that goal they absolutely succeed; although your window into each of Anne’s relationships is brief, they feel real and lived in. And each episode builds off the last so, by the end, you really feel like a world has been created.

My personal favourite episode was Anne+ Esther, where she has an affair with an older boss. After a devastating infatuation with a woman who didn’t love her back, Anne is giddy sleeping with Esther (Kirsten Mulder). She’s getting off on the secrecy of it all and assumes Esther just wants to keep things casual. Especially since she’s already in an open but committed relationship with someone else. But when she discovers that’s not the case, now it’s Anne’s turn to let someone down. 

The series really works because of the appeal of its lead, Hanna van Vliet. She’s a character you immediately root for, even when she dumps sweet Lily for wild Janna, or feels no shame about sleeping with her married boss.

While there are a few supporting characters that show up throughout the season like her friends Casper (Alex Hendrickx) and Jip (Jade Olieberg) it’s mostly Anne who carries this show, and van Vliet does easily. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Anne’s exploits (they’re currently filming season two) in the future. 

You can watch all of the Anne + episodes (some of the episodes already have subtitles, other episodes you have to fiddle with the settings) on the show’s official English website

Swedish filmmaker Levan Akin’s third feature And Then We Danced is about sensitive dancer Merab (real-life dancer Levan Gelbakhiani making an impressive acting debut) coming to terms with his homosexuality in the conservative, hyper-masculine world of Georgian dance. While that may sound like a giant bummer, the film manages to retain a sweet optimism throughout. 

When we first meet Merab, his dance instructor is chastising him for being ‘soft’. It’s clear that while Merab is extremely passionate about dance, he doesn’t quite fit in this world. He’s too expressive with his movements, too sensual.

But still, Merab is desperate to please. He comes from a long line of dancers and despite his father’s warnings that the profession can destroy you, wants to take it seriously.

Merab’s life changes when newcomer Irakli (Bachi Valishivili) arrives. Irakli is brash, talks back to the instructor, and immediately becomes a rival for dance numbers.

They eventually do become friends, and then more, when members of the dance troupe go away together for the weekend. I mean who wouldn’t want to experiment with their sexuality when you’re drinking wine and dancing to Robyn shirtless in the woods? 

Lesser films would have focused solely on the melodrama of Merab and Irakli’s ill-fated romance. Yes, Merab is devastated at how it works out, but the story isn’t focused on that.

The real focus is about how that experience helps him become the man he’s truly meant to be: He meets some new like-minded friends and has an epic night out. He’s able to come clean to his longtime dance partner/sort-of girlfriend Mary (Ana Javakishvilli) about who he really is.

But most importantly, Merab dances the way he wants to dance, not the way his instructors have tried to drill into him. There’s no big Flashdance moment where Merab impresses the dance company so much they completely change their minds about him, but as he walks offscreen for the last time, you can’t help but feel it’s off to a much better future.

An adaptation of Fiona Shaw’s novel, Tell it to the Bees has plenty going for it. There’s a strong cast, led by Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger, beautiful Scottish countryside locations, and dreamy period costumes.

While there’s nothing revolutionary here (small-town people were prejudiced in the 20th century!), for most of the film the story works. That is until the unfortunate third act, where the screenwriters lean into the outdated cliche that a story like this can only end in tragedy and sadness.

At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to a grown-up Charlie (voiced by Billy Boyd, heard but never seen) as he reflects on growing up in Scotland in the 1950s. There we meet young Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) who’s being bullied at school. After a fight with his schoolmates, Charlie is brought to the local doctor by family member Annie (Outlander’s Lauren Lyle).

It is here Charlie meets Dr. Jean Markham (Paquin) who has just inherited her father’s medical practise and estate. Sensing that Charlie needs more than just medical care, she befriends the young lad, eventually becoming friends with his mother Lydia (Grainger) as well.

Both Lydia and Jean aren’t new to town gossip: Lydia is in the middle of splitting up with Charlie’s dad Rob (Emun Elliot) and Jean left town many years earlier after she was caught kissing another woman.

As Lydia and Jean’s relationship progresses, especially after Lydia becomes Jean’s housekeeper and she and Charlie move into Jean’s house, the town becomes increasingly hostile towards them. But even so, the two women find themselves falling in love.

Paquin and Grainger have excellent chemistry together; their scenes are without a doubt the highlight of the film. When they do finally consummate their relationship, it’s a moment that both feels earned and is very sexy without getting too Blue is the Warmest Color.

And then the unfortunate third act arrives. A film that spent most of its time being a gentle love story suddenly has moments of rape, domestic violence, and a scene where Annie is forced to get an abortion after her family discovers she’s gotten pregnant by a coloured man.

There was no reason for this horrific scene except to ramp up the melodrama and it feels really forced. Eventually, Jean and Lydia are separated for good, and as an audience member, we’re left wondering why we spent time investing in this relationship in the first place.

Tell it to the Bees plays at Université Concordia Cinéma Alexandre de Sève on November 24th as part of IMAGE+NATION and is available to watch on Netflix.

Returning for its 32nd edition, the LGBTQ Film Festival Image+Nation will be running from November 21st to December 1st in downtown Montreal.

“As we live through times of social change in the world, image+nation 32 proudly brings new films from countries that share stories through LGBTQ cinema’s newest voices,” states Programming Director, Katharine Setzer, “with an emergence of exciting Eastern-European filmmaking, the cream of local talent, and even a pioneering Guatemalan production, this year, more than ever, we’re bringing the best new and innovative storytelling to Montreal.”

Below are five films that I’m looking forward to seeing at this year’s festival.

This is Not Berlin

Hari Sama’s semi-autobiographical epic of adolescence in 1980s Mexico City. Outsider Carlos (Xabiani Ponce De León) finds his life changed when he gets swept up in a punk-filled world of sexual liberty and drugs. Navigating the storms of his sexual awakening in the process, Carlos finds himself faced with a choice; the comforting inclusiveness of popularity, or being true to himself.

Tell it to the Bees

Charlie, a young boy in 1950s Scotland befriends the new doctor in town, Dr. Jean Markham. Concerned about this relationship, Charlie’s recently single mother Lydia confronts the doctor.

When she subsequently falls on hard times, Dr. Jean invites her to come work for her and live in her home. While Lydia begins as Dr. Jean’s cleaning lady, the relationship quickly becomes something more when the women realize their undeniable chemistry.

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street

This documentary explores how 1980s horror films, in particular Nightmare on Elm Street, were in part a backlash against Reagan conservatism and the terrors of the AIDS epidemic.

The Prince

Based on a pulp novel, this 1970s homoerotic prison drama follows Jamie, a new inmate who gets the nickname “The Prince” by an older inmate he forms a friendship with.

Vita and Virginia

A fictionalized version of the real-life romance between London socialite and popular author Vita Sackville-West and literary icon Virginia Woolf.

Image+Nation runs November 21 through December 1, tickets and full schedule available through image-nation.org

If you walked into Noah Baumbach’s latest drama Marriage Story without knowing anything about the film, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a love story. It opens with the leads Nicole (Scarlet Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) talking about each other’s greatest qualities; she is a good mom, dancer, is attentive even to strangers. He is a good dad, eco-conscious, self-sufficient.

But then the rug is quickly pulled from under you. These lists were created after a marriage counsellor suggests they read them to each other.

Charlie passive-aggressively offers to read his first, Nicole doesn’t want to read hers at all. That’s when you realize this isn’t going to be a movie about a hip New York theatre couple. This is a movie about a frustrated separated couple that will soon become a divorced one, and the brutal road it takes to get there.

This is Baumbach’s second foray into directing a movie centred around divorce. The 2005 film The Squid and The Whale was inspired by his parents’ divorce and in that story, Jesse Eisenberg was clearly the Baumbach stand-in.

This time it’s Adam Driver’s turn, in a story based on his own 2013 divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh. Because Baumbach is using moments from his own life to write and direct this story, it’s perhaps not surprising that Driver gets more of the focus in the film.

While I did want to see more of Nicole’s side of things, honestly focusing on Charlie didn’t ruin anything for me. I’ve loved Driver ever since he was the horny weirdo on Girls and in this film he delivers a career-best performance in a career that’s already filled with really great ones.

The scene about half-way through the film when Charlie and Nicole decide they need to have a sit-down in his temporary LA apartment he’s begrudgingly rented to spend more time with his son stands out especially. It’s a 10-minute one-act play in many ways.

It begins with the couple tensely but calmly expressing the desire to work out their issues, and increasingly escalates until people are punching the walls, sobbing uncontrollably, and wishing the other person was dead. It’s a master class in acting and guaranteed to get Johansson and Driver both Oscar nominations. In Driver’s case, I think he has a really good chance of winning.

Neither Charlie or Nicole is a blameless victim in this split. Yes, Charlie cheated, but Nicole has also taken their son across the country to LA and has no intentions of sending him back to New York.

Their lawyers (Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta) go from trading witty barbs to brutal punches as they try to paint their clients as the victims or heroes in this story. But we know that neither is really the case.

While this all sounds like a monumental bummer, I assure you the film isn’t all non-stop heart-wrenching drama. There are in fact plenty of humorous moments in between all the serious ones to give you some breathing space in between the more intense scenes like the one I mentioned above.

The product of all this is without the best film I saw at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema, and so far my pic to win all the awards this season.

Marriage Story will have a limited run in theatres before streaming on Netflix December 6th

“So that was basically Inglorious Kingdom, right?” I overheard someone tell their friend as I left Cinema Imperial after last Sunday night’s screening of Taika Waititi’s (What we do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarock) latest project, the Nazi-buddy comedy Jojo Rabbit.

As I’ve thought about the film the past few days, I feel it’s the perfect way to explain this movie to people: It balances broad comedy and the (historically inaccurate) horrors of war like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds while also being a sweet coming of age story filled with fairy tale colours and hipstery music choices like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

The film tells the story of Johannes (newcomer Roman Griffin Davis) a 10-year-old boy living in World War Two era Germany. So much is Johannes indoctrinated in the Nazi propaganda machine that whenever he needs a good pep talk to get himself psyched up, he imagines the Fuhrer himself (played by Waititi, who is a triple threat here as writer/director/actor) coming to give him some words of encouragement.

While it’s a little suspicious that Johannes would envision his hero to be this silly and effeminate, as a viewer you get it. If there’s anyone out there who deserves to be mocked and derided, it’s Adolph Hitler.

As we follow Johannes to Nazi youth camp, (where his instructors include Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, and Rebel Wilson, who all deserve recognition for doing their best with very cartoonish, undeveloped characters) we see that as much as he protests that he’s “really into swastikas” he can’t murder a rabbit when asked. It’s very clear that Johannes, or “Jojo Rabbit” as he’s now called by his fellow Nazi youth campers, is never going to be the ruthless fascist he aspires to.

Johannes’ blind devotion to the cause gets even more muddled when he returns home and realizes that his eccentric mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, who gives another amazing performance after last year’s Leave no Trace) in the walls of his dead sister’s bedroom. Talking with Elsa whenever Rosie is out of the house, Johannes comes to realize that all the stuff he’s heard about Jews is wrong. And maybe instead of being revered, Hitler should just fuck off?

Jojo Rabbit has received mixed reviews since premiering this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. Some people have said the film is not funny (which I vehemently disagree with, I thought it was hilarious) and that trying to make a coming-of-age story set in Nazi Germany is problematic.

I do agree with that to some extent. The film definitely shows the horrors of war when it wants to, and then either avoids or over sentimentalizes other moments when it wants to focus on the comedy/coming-of-age bits.

But that still doesn’t dissuade me from recommending this film to people. In fact in many ways, I’d say it’s the Hitler buddy comedy you never knew you needed.

Jojo Rabbit has already played at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema. But it’ll have a wide release in Montreal theatres this fall

Ever since I saw Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother I’ve been a huge fan of the Spanish auteur. I’ve always been impressed by how this filmmaker can make films that are outwardly so outlandish in scope; with their eccentric characters, brightly hued colour palettes, and melodramatic storylines… feel so intimate and authentic.

A lot of has to do I think with the autobiographical elements the filmmaker sprinkles into his stories. With his latest film, Pain and Glory, Almodovar creates one of his most personal stories yet.

It follows a charming but depressed ageing director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas in a career-best performance). Salvador is not-so-subtly inspired by Almodovar himself. His house is apparently an exact replica of Almodovar’s, and Banderas even wears some of the director’s own clothes.

One of the reasons Banderas’s performance is so great here is while he gives a brilliant homage to one of his most frequent collaborators (the pair have made eight movies together since the 1980s) he still manages to make Salvador feel like his own man. Never once when you’re watching the film do you feel like “This is Banderas playing Almodovar.”

Salvador hasn’t made a film in years and he’s consumed with a litany of physical ailments that may or may not be psychosomatic in nature. Just when he’s wondering what the hell to do with himself, he gets a call from the local cinematheque; they want to screen one of his films from thirty years ago and would like him to come speak to the audience afterwards.

This call inspires Salvador to track down the star of the film Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) with whom he famously had a falling out years before. Seeing Alberto again is both a disaster (he convinces Salvador to try heroin for the first time) and a good thing; it allows Salvador to reflect on other key moments from his past.

He ends up reconciling with an old lover. We see glimpses of his relationship with his mother (Penelope Cruz and then portrayed in later years by Julietta Serrano) and his first crush on a local handyman Eduardo (Cesar Vincent) that sparked his realization that he was queer.

Dealing with these ghosts of his past seems to spark hope in the director. He may not be the bad boy of Spanish cinema anymore, but he’s ready to create more personal, contemplative stories.

Again it’s hard not to see the parallels between Salvador and Almodovar himself here; because this film is without a doubt his most personal and contemplative yet. Critics have been comparing this film to Fellini’s 8 1/2 and it’s an apt comparison.

Let’s just hope instead of a filmmaker at the end of his career looking back, that this is just the beginning of many more Almodovar films to come.

Pain and Glory plays on October 17th at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema and opens in regular theatres October 18th

Dirty God, Dutch filmmaker Sacha Polak’s English-language debut, tells the story of Jade (Vicky Knight) an acid attack survivor who’s trying to rebuild her life. Fresh out of the hospital, Jade has plenty to contend with; nightmares of her ex-partner and father of her child who perpetrated the attack, her young daughter calling her a ‘monster’, her hard-partying circle of friends not quite knowing how to handle her.

After interactions with her family and friends don’t prove helpful, Jade turns to the internet for relief. First through obsessively researching plastic surgery options, secondly by connecting with strangers for video sex chats. Unfortunately, both of those avenues lead to disaster as well.

In the hands of a lesser director, Dirty God could easily have become either a dreary drama about a woman who can’t catch a break, or a sentimental puff piece about someone finding the beauty within. Thankfully the film walks masterfully in between those two extremes; it’s able to find moments of happiness for the feisty and resilient Jade without losing its grasp on reality. Jade has had a hard life and it’s likely only going to get harder, but she’s a woman strong enough to face these adversities and keep going.

There are some strong supporting roles in this film, such as Katherine Kelly as Jade’s shoplifting mom Lisa, and Bluey Robinson as Naz, Jade’s best friend’s boyfriend who just may have feelings for her as well. But what really makes this film worth seeing is the performance of Vicky Knight in the lead.

It was important to director Polak that Jade be portrayed by a real burn survivor. As a child, Knight’s body was burned badly in a fire. Imagining Knight would understand what Jade is going through isn’t much of a stretch. The fact that she easily carries this whole film on her performance alone, especially when it’s the first time she’s ever acted, is something even more impressive.

Dirty God plays at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema on October 18 and 20th

What is it about dysfunctional father/daughter relationships that female directors find so appealing? Whatever the attraction is to tell these kinds of stories, I’m glad they’re being made; it’s led to some truly great cinema. After last year’s Leave no Trace, the actress turned filmmaker Annabelle Attanasio gives us her impressive debut feature Mickey and the Bear.

Set in rural Montana, the film tells the story of teenage Mickey (Camila Morrone) and her Iraq-war veteran father Hank (James Badge Dale). While there are brief glimpses of Hank’s charm, he’s mostly a violent and pathetic addict who doesn’t know how to function in the world anymore. With her mother dead for an undetermined amount of time, Mickey has taken up the mantle of running the household.

Mickey celebrates her eighteenth birthday early in the film and with adulthood, she finds herself at a critical crossroads. Does she stay in Montana and keep taking care of her father, who clearly won’t survive without her, or pursue her dreams of a life out west?

While it’s clear she loves her father, it’s impossible to deny their relationship has become increasingly toxic. Things get especially disturbing when Hank gets a little too handsy and keeps calling Mickey by her mother’s name during his binges.

Morrone and Dale both give impressive performances as the conflicted father and daughter, but it’s Dale who really shines. Hank likely was a good person at some point but has let his rage and disappointment in the world consume him. Dale manages to show all of that with a simple glance or line delivery.

It’s the first film I’ve ever seen with Morrone but after her nuanced performance as a teen desperate to discover her purpose, I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next.

That goes double for writer/director Annabelle Attanasio. Although I’ve seen this type of film before, both as a writer and filmmaker she manages to make it feel fresh through the intimate story, interesting music choices, and most of all, allowing her performers to shine.

Mickey and the Bear plays at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema October 15th, 16th and 19th

Last week I had the privilege of attending this year’s installment of POP Montreal, the fest that humbly began in 2002 with less than 20 bands and has ballooned to that number just in venues alone. On top of the more than 450 bands they also now have visual arts, cinema, kids activities, symposiums and probably a few more things I’m forgetting about right now.

When you look at the lineup from those early years what stands out the most isn’t the number of bands but instead just how many of them went on to big things. This is the allure of POP, catching that hidden gem of a band before they hit it big and being able to watch them in a small venue setting. At least I thought this was the allure, more to come on that in a moment.

Obviously trying to analyse the full lineup in detail to figure out who to see is impossible so I didn’t even bother to try. I just picked a few things that interested me and went with it. I expected there would be some misses along with the hits and allowed myself some time to wander to unplanned shows as well.

The results were as to be expected, a mixed bag of good, bad and random. For the purposed of this article I will focus on the most random and fun show I saw. Yes, just one show out of 450. I figure there’s no point in trying to talk about everything anyways so I might as well talk about one thing the right way.

When I made my way to Sala Rosa on Thursday night for headliners Hollerado what I knew about them ahead of time was that they had been around for a while and they were a rock band with punk influences. That was about it.

Very early on in the show lead singer Meno Versteeg gave me another crucial piece of information when he told to the crowd that this was going to be their last show in Montreal. Ever.

The band is parting ways with one final album release and tour. I had mistakenly made my way into Bizzaro POP, and alternate dimension where instead of seeing a band on the cusp of making it big you watch a group about to end their career.

The show was a perfect storm for a live performance: a group of high level professional performers with years of stage experience and tons a chemistry between them with a grand total of zero fucks to give about anything anymore.

With a lot of bands you can almost see the weight of “trying to make it” on their shoulders. This tends to bog their shows down by always sticking to conventional performance archetypes.

Hollerdo was anything but that, playing for the joy of it, having a blast and nothing more. They were pretty random as well with some of their decisions making the show anything but generic.

For example, they were dressed in matching Adidas tracksuits that were hardly flattering. Why? They joked that Adidas was going to give them ten thousand dollars and claimed that drummer Jake Boyd cost them the money by not also wearing a matching suit. In reality they just felt like it.

How do I know the reason for the tracksuits? Because this was the first question they answered at their mid show Q & A. The show just sort of stopped and people were given time to ask anything they wanted. “What’s with the tracksuits?” was the obvious first question.

Other randomness involved inviting people unprepared on stage to play songs. This is something that most bands wouldn’t risk but when you have nothing to prove to anyone then I guess you just go for it and hope for the best. In the end those ended up being some of the more memorable moments of the night.

My last random moment was when they mentioned that their show the next day in Sherbrooke was going to be canceled so they could go to the climate strike “because some things are more important than a stupid rock concert.”

I assumed this was just another joke or pandering to the local crowd but I checked their twitter and the show was actually canceled. I guess at some point you have to get your priorities in line.

Google searches don’t really explain why these guys are breaking up and it seems odd to me since they are relatively young and there seems to be no “creative differences.” Whatever the reason, it’s a shame. But at least I got to catch the end of the wave.

Anyone who knows me even casually knows my deep devotion to film. Which is why I’m excited, after years of blogging about music and theatre, to be getting back to my roots and covering the Festival du Nouveau Cinema for Forget the Box. I encourage anyone interested in international film to check our site during the festival, as I’ll be posting regular reviews of the films I see.

While preparing for my upcoming festival experience, I had the pleasure of speaking with Zoé Protat the head of programming. She explained that while other Montreal film festivals cater to niche audiences, FNC is more of a general festival that has “a little bit of everything for everyone.”

Her rule of thumb while selecting which films make it into the festival? “Basically it comes down to two things,” Protat explained, “I want to be surprised, and not bored.”

One of Protat’s personal pics for this year is Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century

While Protat is eager for audiences to see all the films, she admits she has a soft spot for new talent: “The core of this festival is really about showcasing first features.”

In that vein, when I asked about films she’d recommend this year she gave me the following three suggestions; Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (which recently won Best Canadian First Feature Film at The Toronto International Film Festival) and Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body (Which has won several awards including the Grand Prize at the Cannes Critic’s Week) and the Polish film Monument which Protat describes as one of “the boldest, edgiest films I’ve ever seen.”

So what am I looking forward to at this year’s FNC? It’s a combination of the newest offerings of my favourite auteurs, discovering new female filmmakers, and a couple of wild cards that could either be amazing or complete disasters.

Without further ado, here’s my top five FNC list in no particular order:

Dirty God

After being the victim of an acid attack, a young single mother in London must try and make sense of her life in this film directed by Sacha Polak.

Marriage Story

Yes, this Baumbach divorce drama will hit Netflix eventually. But given the opportunity, I want to see it where one should see an auteur’s most personal work to date; on the big screen.

Mickey and the BearMickey and the Bear

Camila Morrone stars in Annabelle Anttanasio’s Mickey and the Bear

Teenage Mickey takes care of her PSTD-afflicted father. As their relationship becomes increasingly toxic, Mickey is forced to make major decisions that will change the rest of her life in this film directed by Annabelle Attanasio.

Family Romance LLC

Werner Herzog’s latest film explores Japan’s phenomenon of “rentaru furendo“: agencies that fill emotional voids in people’s lives by offering the services of actors to pretend to be family members or lovers.

Feral

A young homeless woman on the streets of New York City does what she needs to survive before the first snowstorm of the year hits in this film directed by Andrew Wonder.

Featured Image: Scarlett Johanson and Adam Driver star in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story

The Festival du Nouveau Cinema runs from October 9th to 19th

“I’m getting too old for this shit!”

Steph, sometime in August 2019

That was my initial reaction when it was proposed I cover POP Montreal this year. I’ve been covering the festival for FTB on and off since 2010 and was confident after last year I was done.

My reluctance had nothing to do with POP Montreal itself by the way. If you read my early reviews, my love for the festival is clear. Instead, it had everything to do with the prospect of spending a week going to evening shows on the other side of town. This old lady needs her eight hours of sleep!

So, what are my thoughts on this year’s festival? While I am likely to hand off the reporting to younger bloggers in the future, of course I’m glad I attended.

For me, the festival has always been a great way to get out of my music rut and discover new up and coming artists before they hit it big. Arcade Fire played Pop Montreal in 2003 for instance, a year before the release of Funeral.

Since you don’t know any of the acts, you take a chance every time you walk into a POP Montreal show. But that’s the fun of it! Sometimes you strike gold, other times the show is terrible and you quickly move along to the next venue.

As in year’s past, I absolutely saw some terrible music… but we won’t focus on that. Instead, let’s dive into the artists who made Pop Montreal 2019 worth it.

What it really comes down to with POP Montreal is trusting venues in the Mile End/ Plateau will deliver the music goods. NYSSA from Toronto caught my attention during my initial research and holy moly am I glad that I saw her show at Casa Del Popolo.

This electro-glam rocker commanded your attention the moment she walked onto the stage with nothing but her vocal pedal and iPad. You might think that doesn’t sound like much, but let me tell you that girl had so much stage presence I was immediately hooked.

She absolutely deserves to become a very big thing, but we’ll have to see if the music gods deem it so. 

For day two I headed to O Patro Vys, interested in checking out another band I included in my preview, Basement Revolver. Sadly as the headliners of the evening, they were on long past my bedtime for a weeknight.

BUT the evening was not a loss because I was introduced to the joy that is Alex Dirk, aka the lead vocalist of the Winnepeg band Begonia. Part Adele, part Florence Welch, Dirk belted out the tunes with an intense passion that it was impossible not to be mesmerized. 

Day Three of the festival was when I saw all the aforementioned terrible bands this yearbut then I decided to try O Patro Vys again on a whim. The vibe was much different than the night before; calmer, much less packed.

Thankfully before my companions and I decided to call the night a total loss, Laura Carbone and her band came onto the stage. It’s a perfect example of why a small audience doesn’t necessarily mean a mediocre band; they were anything but! I was glad I got to be amongst the few in Montreal who got to see their set.

For my final night of POP Montreal 2019 (the festival is five days, but sadly I couldn’t make Sunday’s shows), I headed to The Rialto for a more low-key evening of folk-rock. Even if the bands are so-so it’s always a pleasure hanging out in The Rialto; thankfully the acts absolutely delivered.

The highlight of the night for me was Hollie Fullbrook, aka Tiny Ruins. While I was disappointed not to see this UK born New Zeland-based artist perform with her full band, she was still wonderful to see as a solo act. I highly encourage anyone into folk music to check her out.

So for what I assume will be my last ever POP Montreal post (lol I say that now, but who knows what next year will bring), let me end by imparting some wisdom to those who are thinking about attending this festival in the future:

The non-music portion of the festival can be interesting, but honestly rarely worth it. When it comes to the music it’s all good to do preliminary research, but more often than not you end up throwing that plan out the window as the festival goes on.

But EMBRACE the chaos! A festival like this is all about discovering something new, and more often than not you will love what you discover.

Featured image of Tiny Ruins by Adrien Gooding

Four days of Pop Montreal are now in the bag and the indie music storm has yet to subside. As usual the quest to see everything has been utterly futile with so many shows happening in short succession.

At this point we’ve given up on any type of schedule or plan and instead have resorted to wandering the show bars of the Mile End open to whatever indie rock/pop/hip hop we happen to encounter. We’ll have more live Tweets tonight and detailed reviews coming out next week once we catch our breath.

For now here are a few of the highlights from our wanderings:

Hollerado’s last show in Montreal was on Thursday night. Glad to be a part of it (Joe)

Featured image by Adrien Gooding

POP Montreal 2019 concludes tonight and we’ll be live tweeting. Also check out our full reviews and a photo post in the next few days

Pop Montreal starts tonight and as usual FTB has asked me to do the impossible and pick my choices for the best shows to go and see. If you take a peek at the schedule you’ll see that’s clearly impossible with so many bands playing in such a short period of time.

Here’s a few options that most caught my eye but even as I write this I’m seeing many more choices that I might like. I tried not to stick to one genre or type of show but I did stick to music only.

I will just briefly mention that there’s way more to Pop than just music, my other favourite part of the fest is Film Pop which has some really interesting movie screenings this weekend.

Ok, on to the music!

Blinker the Star

Not every band you see at Pop has to be fresh off their debut album. Veterans of the Indie rock scene Blinker the Star have been around since the 90s, which for some of you might feel like ancient times, but believe it or not they actually had good music way back then.

This isn’t however a pick for nostalgia’s sake, they have a new album out and it’s quite good. I’m interested to see how it will be performed live when they play at Petit Campus on September 26th.

Wolf Castle

I’ll admit my interest was initially peaked by the clever name reference but when I looked into it I didn’t find a fictional Austrian action star whose bit part has been an endearing part of a long running cartoon comedy series. Instead I found a young rapper, singer, producer who hails from Pabineau First Nation in New Brunswick.

I checked out his bandcamp and immediately got sucked in. Maybe you will too. If you do, he’s playing at La Sotterenea on the 26th.

Les Louanges

First of all, free show! Also worth noting: it’s at 4pm on Saturday (28th) and it’s outdoors at Skatepark du Mile-End. Those factors combined makes this one of my “family friendly” suggestions. It would also be a good choice as the opener for anyone who is planning to make it out on Saturday night.

I’ll let the music speak for itself but I will just add that I had a chance to catch the end of Les Louange’s set at Osheaga this year and I was very impressed. I’ll be sure to catch the whole thing this Saturday.

KOKOKO!

If you’re out on Wednesday night this is the show to end the evening with. Starting at 11pm at the Piccolo Rialto (with openers Mabika-Ki & Le Moovmnt Populaire Bantu and DOOMSQUAD) KOKOKO! will be bringing their mix of modern electronic music and lo-fi instruments to what is certain to be the best dance party of the night.

Proving that music can be made by just about anyone and with just about anything, this collective is known for making instruments out of items that you wouldn’t normally expect. Check out this live clip to see what I mean.

Blue Grass BBQ

The title is pretty self-explanatory. On Sunday afternoon from Noon till around 7 there will be a free (to get in) BBQ at Skatepark du Mile End. This is another great choice for those of you with kids or on a budget.

It features various bluegrass artists throughout the day. You can check out the Pop Website for specific band listings but it’s safe to say that at whatever point you show up you’ll be getting hear to free bluegrass music and relax outside. Not a bad combination!

POP Montreal 2019 runs until September 29th. For complete schedule and ticket info, check out popmontreal.com

September winding down means it’s time for another edition of Pop Montreal. While I’m excited to take part in all the festival has to offer (art, film, discussion panels and a craft fair) today I’m going to focus on the top five musical acts I’ll be watching at this years festival.

It’s an eclectic bunch of artists from around the world whose online presence, at least, has piqued my interest. Will they deliver? I’ll find out September 25th-29th.

1. Basement Revolver

(Hamilton, Ontario)

With the lead singer’s dreamy vocals and the band’s self-confessed inspiration from 90s indie-rock, this trio from Hamilton was one of the first shows on my radar this year. Not only was I drawn in from discovering their single Wax and Digital on YouTube, but also learning about the ways successful bands have to hustle in the digital age.

2. Charlie Cunningham

(Bedfordshire, England)

With impressive guitar skills that are influenced by the Spanish flamenco tradition combined with intimate yet accessible lyrics, England’s Charlie Cunningham is another must-see show for me this year. On first listen, his music gives me a Jose Gonzalez kind of vibe.

While I’m looking forward to his show at Phi Center, I’m also eager to listen to this music more at home alone with a nice cup of tea on a rainy day.

3. NYSSA

(Toronto, Ontario)

Described as “Toronto’s answer to Robyn”, NYSSA is an electro-glam rocker who has been working the music scene since she was twelve. After being a part of numerous Toronto bands, these days she’s the kind of artist whose most comfortable on stage alone with a loop pedal and her iPod.

After listening to her single Champion of Love I’m confident I’m not going to be dancing on my own to her show at Casa Del Popolo.

4. Tiny Ruins

(Auckland, New Zealand)

Not since Flight of the Concords have I been this pumped about a band from New Zealand. Unlike the sarcastic comedy of Jermaine and Brent, Tiny Ruins are a very sincere folk group that has been around for almost a decade.

Even if their live show at The Rialto doesn’t end up living up to expectations, watching the hypnotic video for Olympic Girls has already made me a die-hard fan.

5. Daniel Norgren

(Boras, Sweden)

As a reclusive singer/songwriter from rural Sweden, a recent Pitchfork article describes Norgen as a man who “happily exists as an outsider among outsiders, and he weaves the joy he finds in isolation and in nature into his songs.”

Having released his first international record Wooh Dang it looks like this folk/blues artist is interested in stepping a toe at least into greater recognition. I’m looking forward to seeing his show at Cafe Campus to see how he fares with a North American audience.

Tickets available through popmontreal.com

I saw Lesbian Speed Date from Hell this past Sunday and having experienced the emotional rollercoaster of the piece, I was curious as to how it all came about. I had the opportunity to email back and forth with the show’s producer Christina Saliba and she gave me some fascinating insights.

The show was originally submitted to be part of Festival De La Bête Noire, Montreal’s first ever horror-themed festival. One of their writers had an idea for a piece about speed dating.

Saliba’s own experiences with lesbian speed dating events at the popular queer hangout Notre Dame des Quilles and the interesting date encounters she had at them really helped the story come together.

Saliba explains that when she saw the call for submissions for Festival De La Bête Noire, she jumped at the opportunity not only to present something queer-centric, as many working on the production identify as queer, but also to present horror comedy.

“Horror-comedy is a genre that is not commonly seen on stage. The horror aspects of the show are boundary pushing, not only for the audience but for the artists involved. Horror allows you to sit within your fears and anxieties and face them in a safe and controlled environment. There certainly may be some triggering moments for some audience goers as it is a show that tests limitations. However, the comedy aspect to it provides that relief and comfort. It’s a fantastic juxtaposition of genres and a fun medium to work in.”

Many people primarily associate horror comedy with The Evil Dead movies starring Bruce Campbell, so I was intrigued as to what it meant to someone putting on a show of that genre.

“I would say it is more outlandish, over the top, and hysterical rather than gore, terror, and horror. The comedy takes you out of the horror fantasy.”

The cast of Lesbian Speed Dating came from diverse backgrounds including comedy, sketch, improv, TV, and film. For Saliba, this diversity of perspectives elevates the show. While auditions were held, some of the show’s talent were deliberately sought out because of their unique talents.

“The structure and the script are there, but they are all so talented that they bring in the occasional ad-libbing and improv. Half of the team falls under the queer umbrella, as authenticity, particularly with our leads, was essential for me.”

Though the show only ran for two nights during Festival De La Bête Noire, Saliba couldn’t let it die. She had her sights set on it being part of Just for Laughs and a cast member suggested it be part of Pride’s programming. Saliba hopes to eventually take the show on tour internationally.