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.

Lesbian Speed Date from Hell is a true horror comedy. Following a successful run at the Mainline Theatre as part of Off- JFL/Zoofest, it’s back as part of Montreal Pride’s official programming. Presented by Pride along with Christina Saliba, the show is funny and scary, and for abuse survivors, it can be triggering.

The play revolves around Jackie (Katharine King So), a young lesbian who is grudgingly attending a speed dating event hosted by her friend and neighbor Regina (Kathy Slamen). Regina is your typical lesbian cougar. In case you had any doubts, Slamen’s costumes consist of mostly of leopard print, and her portrayal is a hilarious mix of sassy, maternal, and raunchy.

At the event, Jackie meets Amy (Martha Graham), an awkward blonde, Natalie (Alexandra Laferriere), a beautiful black lesbian jonesing for Regina, Kyle (Jeroem Lindeman), a stereotypical dudebro and Ashley (Kate Hammer), a former one-night stand of Jackie’s with a big grudge.

What follows is a display of awkward conversations, hilarious facial expressions, and uncomfortable torture scenes.

Hammer’s portrayal of Ashley is at once horrific and riveting. All the time she’s on stage you never doubt her anger, her malice, or her psychosis. Her madness is believable yet just over the top enough to keep the play from being too real.

King So’s Jackie is a perfect foil for Ashley’s crazy. Her screams are bone-chillingly realistic and her fear and outrage appropriate.

Survivors of abuse will likely find the interaction between Jackie and Ashley uncomfortably triggering as there is blood and violence and accurate portrayals of pain. But there is enough humour in the play to balance it out.

The fight choreography is hilariously done in slow motion and with more courtesy than one would expect in a struggle between a psychotic murderer and a desperate victim. There are murder mystery clichés like the strategic use of on and off lighting, and Jeroen Lindeman’s Kyle is amusingly obnoxious and a reminder of why our culture needs more feminist entertainment like this.

That said, if you’re an abuse survivor go in prepared to be a little uncomfortable and reassure yourself that with the horror comes plenty to laugh about. For everyone else, be prepared to laugh, cry, and gasp in horror.

It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a show, but it’s worth it.

Lesbian Speed Date From Hell runs until August 16, tickets available through Montreal Pride

I spent the first half hour after arriving to Parc Jean-Drapeau looking for a poncho vendor so as to avoid the unpredictable showers, but by the time that I found one I was too late as they had already sold out. Fortunately the rain had, at this point, died down for the most part. I spent a few minutes after that lying in one of the dryer Eno hammocks (a god-send, #île-hammock?) that had been set up in the trees trying to figure out my game plan for the day and cursing the gods for letting me wear white shoes. 

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The first show I caught after the rain simmered down a bit was Underher, an act which on Île-Soniq’s handy app with all of the artists and set times seemed to feature producer, Kalden Bess and singer, Jessica Abruzzese. However according to Underher’s Spotify, Facebook, Instagram etc., it seems as if Bess is now the solo sound behind Underher. While this was an unfortunate toll on île-Soniq’s already low count of female artists, Bess still put on a great show; sipping his drink and leisurely taking puffs of a joint as he DJ’s.

The stage was set perfectly amidst the trees and water, and the sun finally peaked out from behind the clouds. As the audience thickened, many eager to try out their dancing shoes and groove to his alluring rhythmic sound, the energy shifted from dance to something slightly more ethereal and sensual, if not almost eerie at times (think: someone breathing slightly on the back of your neck. Though perhaps this was just the airy breeze).  

The next show I caught was Whipped Cream–one of the four featured female artists–and hands down one of the most bad-ass performers I saw at the festival. Her fans were already screaming for her when she walked out onto the stage, decked out completely in a green and blue Pleasures tracksuit with her iconic long blonde hair draped over her shoulder.

There was an evident symbiosis between the untamed energy of the crowd and her own fiery enthusiasm as she bounced with them, even jumping down onto the lower stage during a song to dance along. Her bass sound is clearly inspired by hip-hop, but the range of her musical style is evident as she skilfully churns out head-banging bliss with every song, including Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Stage presence? 10. Outfit? 10. Set? 10. Adjective that I can’t think of which could describe a coalescence of bad-assery and being adorable? 10!

Next up for me? KSHMR, an American musician and DJ from California, and his performance did not disappoint. I however opted to take a break from being elbow-ed and shoulder-ed by every guy clad in a tank top in the crowd and watched this one from afar, atop (what once was) a grassy hill in the back. Though I admittedly had previously had little exposure to KSHMR’s music, during day two of the festival I’d overhead many of the other festival-goers raving about him, and decided to check him out.

When the crystal clear and calm sound of classical piano pierced through the various festival noises I was immediately hooked. KSHMR’s music is perhaps universally captivating, including sounds from seemingly all corners and genres of the world that build to epic stomach-dropping climaxes. The show ends with fireworks and a shout-out to the fact that apparently Canada has some of the most beautiful women. A cheesy sentiment, but loveable all the same. 

When I got to Claptone’s show back at the stage where I had started, the sun was setting behind us against the water. Claptone, a German DJ with a secret identity, was clad in their usual beaked mask and white gloves, which greatly added to the energetic but mysterious ambience of their tech house sound. The music is hypnotic, though its rhythm is diverse and energetic–a sort of melancholy still seeps through.

Nicole Moudaber

The final performance I saw on the last day of the festival was the iconic Nicole Moudaber, taking over the stage from Claptone, an immediate change in tempo, but the air of mystery remained. Her dark glasses and captivating curly fro give her an enigmatic air of je ne sais quoi, as she lead her audience through the valleys and troughs of her ambient house sounds that resonate in my ear drums long after I left the island (my brain still waits for the drop that never comes in the metro car home). 

Day two went quick, and while some of it was a blur, much of it also remains to be incredibly salient in my mind. Each of the performances that I managed to see left me intrigued and hungry for more, from the soft hypnotic rhythms to the head-banging bass drops, to the surprising but appreciated classical music references; each exemplifying the all-encompassing nature of electronic music. Thanks for an unforgettable weekend Île-Soniq! 

Photos courtesy of the lovely Celeste Bonnier.

The theatre is dark, the rules are announced, and the band breaks into America the Beautiful as a solitary figure in a blonde wig and cape approaches the stage. Waiting is the band and a drag king in leather jacket, denim, and do-rag, with the sad-downcast eyes of a domestic abuse victim. The figure approaches the mic and in a reveal reminiscent of FranknFurter in the Rocky Horror Show, the cloak is opened to reveal a facsimile of the Berlin wall, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s title character breaks into the show’s first song Tear Me Down.

Following a successful run in November 2018, In the Wings’ Promotions’ production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch was invited to be part of Montreal Pride’s official programming. As director and the show’s Yitzhak Noelle Hannibal put it:

“The show is so iconic in the community, that it’s the perfect fit for Pride.”

The venue has changed from Cabaret Mado to Café Cléopatre, but aside from a few enhancements, the show is every bit as riveting as during its first run.

For those of you unfamiliar with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, it is the brainchild of actor John Cameron Mitchell and musician Stephen Trask, who developed the off-Broadway show which then became a cult film and from there a Broadway show starring Neil Patrick Harris. The show is about a slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin and is a blend of glam and punk rock, politics, and gender bending, with tunes so catchy even the biggest curmudgeon will be dancing in their seat.

Trask was a major part of the first Montreal run, sitting on dress rehearsals and answering Hannibal’s texts as needed. The result is a show that’s more than just pretty makeup, gender-reversals, and catchy tunes.

In my review of the show’s first run, I noted that the relationship between Hedwig – played by New York based actor Andrew Morrissey, and Noelle Hannibal’s Yitzhak was interpreted as one of domestic abuse. In this rendition that portrayal is enhanced with more passive aggression by Yitzhak – there are muttered curses, and spitting, and Yitzhak’s eyes seethe with the hatred of the powerless for their oppressor.

Morrissey’s Hedwig contains more deference for Yitzhak’s talent, as if the abuse comes from the recognition that her talent is no match for Yitzhak’s and she can only shine by putting him down. It provided more nuance to the characters from a script that by Hannibal’s own admission, had very little to guide them.

Morrissey’s Hedwig is much improved from the November run. Though his German accent is on and off and his voice is occasionally pitchy, you see more madness behind the makeup, more sincerity behind the line:

“I’ll laugh because I’ll cry if I don’t.”

With this more nuanced portrayal is all the sass and sex the part requires, and Morrissey pulls that off beautifully.

As important to the production as its stars are the band and costumes. Hedwig undergoes multiple costume changes during the show and designer Sig Moser clearly understood what the show is all about.

“He was very familiar with the show and the film version and brought in some fantastic ideas that would work with our extremely tight, indie budget. He can whip up a dress in an hour,” said Hannibal, whose own costumes were tweaked to work better for this run.

The outfits are an amazing mix of showmanship, denim, leather, lace, and sequins, a true nod to music genres you’ll live during the show.

The band, made up of Ian Baird, Kevin Bourne, Stephen Menold, and Sebastian Balk-Forcione, are not passive background musicians, but people who must actively interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak on stage. Though I wished the tempo of Tear Me Down was a bit quicker, the band did not disappoint. Decked out in punk rock pieces and colored hair, they are an amazing accompaniment to a show that features glam and punk rock in all its glory.

That said, the show is iconic for a reason, so come with an open mind. You won’t be disappointed!

The current run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch finishes tonight. Tickets available through HedwigMontreal.com

Day one of Île Soniq  had some rainy moments, but even the turbulent weather wasn’t enough to keep anyone from enjoying the festival!

The day started out with its usual Montréal-style festival festivities: a full metro car echoing with excited singing and chanting from eager festival goers, almost like an energy pre if you will.

When we arrived at Parc Jean-Drapeau we were greeted by the warm sun and I got my first look at the newly renovated festival grounds, that have recently been relocated to its previous spot on île Sainte-Hélène. The layout of the festival is spacious, even for vast crowd of festival goers and the view of the city and the glistening water just makes the experience all the more ethereal. 

The first show I catch is Sydanie, a Toronto-based rapper (and self-described “bad rap mom” on her Soundcloud). She’s glimmering angelically in a sparkling jumpsuit and doesn’t hesitate to bust a move in it as she raps some realness.

We definitely felt her energy when she performed her newest song I want u 2 see this and even debuted an unreleased track Abby. Sydanie doesn’t just speak truth in her music though, and midway through her performance she reminds us of the sadly minimal effort by Île-Soniq to hire any female performers by shouting out to “the fact that I’m the only live performing female for the day.”

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While I wait to catch MurdaBeatz’ show, I head over to the superman ride that île-Soniq has set up for its festival goers. As I’m strapped into the ride I hear the crowd screaming as he hits the stage, but by the time it’s over the rain has taken over the festival and stopped the show. At first the crowd screams for MurdaBeatz, but as it starts to get pretty wet it begins to dissipate in large pieces as everyone seeks out shelter. 

By the time it stops I’m just in time to catch Nora En Pure, a South African-Swiss DJ known for her deep house and indie dance music. Her music is light and euphoric even amidst all the clouds and intermittent rain, an almost perfect foil for the next show I saw: 1000volts. 

South African-Swiss DJ, Nora En Pure

The story of 1000volts’ conception reads like a love story to me, and I can’t unsee it. Hip-hop ace Redman and trap and bass producer Jayceeoh joined forces after working together on a song in 2015, and have been bridging the gap between hip hop and electronic music ever since. Their name didn’t disappoint either with the electrifying performance they gave, perfectly set under an actual stormy sky.

While I was waiting to catch Lil Pump on his first trip to Quebec, I also managed to catch Oliver Helden’s performance — a sea of beautiful people swaying back and forth to the uplifting but poppy sound — as well as the end of Smokepurpp’s show from afar which had perhaps one of the most energetic crowds I saw, singing along to all of his songs and bouncing rhythmically together with shots of the mosh pit hitting the big screen every few minutes.

Festival-goers enjoying Sheck Wes’ performance

I made sure to catch Mo Bamba at Sheck Wes’ show, took a few minutes to get some poutine in me and then trekked back to the Mirage Stage with the masses to catch a glimpse of Soundcloud sensation Lil Pump, who was unsurprisingly 20 minutes late to his own show. Though I do enjoy a few of his most popular songs, (Gucci Gang will always be a bop), his overall performance felt to be a bit of a disappointment, but that can probably be blamed more on his tech guys as the cameraman was visibly struggling to follow him across the stage and his DJ/hype-man’s mic seemed to be louder than his own, obscuring the sound of his voice and lyrics punctuating everything Pump said with the perhaps overly frequent and loud “yuh”s and “okay”s. Once it started to rain, it was a sign for me to leave. 

Overall the first day was absolutely jam-packed with exciting and energetic performances for every sub-category of electronic music, even including a metal EDM performance by Sullivan King, as well as the various hiphop/electronic music fusions, (although almost completely lacking in female performers). See you all at Day two for what will hopefully be better weather! 

Photos courtesy of the lovely Celeste Bonnier (featured image of Sydanie and her backup dancers)

Île Soniq concludes today, tickets available through IleSoniq.com