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During it’s 20th edition, the Fantasia Film Festival presented Takashi Miike with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Mike’s name has been a staple of the Fantasia experience over the years which is no surprise because the prolific Japanese filmmaker has over 100 credits to his name in 25 years.

If the shear number of films doesn’t blow your mind, the topics, extreme style and depictions of violence, dark humour, and the range of genres of film Miike has directed should: from crime dramas to kids’ films to ultra-violent manga adaptations to musicals to downright disturbing romances.

Personally, my introduction to Miike’s work came in the form of a recommendation by my trusted video store clerk, whose employee curated shelf served as a perfect Fantasia primer for my teenage self, handed me a copy of Miike’s 1999 film Audition (Odishon) with a firm warning and the seriousness of one facilitating a rite of passage. The film still unsettles me whenever it crosses my mind.

Photo by Julie Delisle

I had the honour of sitting down with Miike for a quick interview and had a chance to ask the filmmaker a couple questions.

Fillion: How do you choose which film projects you take on?

Miike: Firstly, I always look to see if I have the capacity to take on the project, if my schedule would permit it. So, if a project comes to me… If I think too much about the content, the budget, or which company the project is coming from, it would be shielding myself and it would cut off certain paths in my life. I don’t want to do that. So, I tend to take on work in the order that it comes to me.

Things change a lot depending on the times. Some of these elements will never come together again. Actually, my natural way is to see that the timing is right. If I think too hard I’ll miss certain connections and things I would have otherwise not known. My way is to try even if I am not familiar, even if it is the first time I attempt something.

Fillion: Which films have you found the most challenging to make?

Miike: Westerns or samurai films. Things that are not happening in our time. In my career, I had never done that before taking these on and it was something that was very interesting.

For example, when you are using horses, I didn’t know where to rent horses or where we could have the horses run. It was completely new for me. These are things that were common in older films but are on the verge of disappearing in current cinema.

The next thing that will be going will be action films with cars. They are too risky and many people no longer want to take that risk. In a film, there always needs to be an element of risk or else the spectators will feel this, that it’s not natural and lacks something. A film is like a gamble, to amuse the public, you have to bring something exciting. So overall, for me, making samurai films, older styles of films, was both interesting and very challenging.

Terra Formars: Bugs in Space

Along with coming to receive his Lifetime Achievement Award, this year, Miike brought two titles to the festival: As The Gods Will (2014) and Terra Formars (2016). Terra Formars is a live action adaptation of the Japanese manga series of the same name. Although not among the type of films I usually cover at Fantasia, Miike’s Terra Formars turned out to be a total blast: an action packed sci-fi somewhere at the meeting point between Starship Troopers and Power Rangers with a nod to Blade Runner.

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In a distant future, humanity is looking to Mars as a solution to the overcrowding on Earth and the depletion of its resources. Hundreds of years ago, a space program sent moss and cockroaches to Mars as a means of warming up the planetary atmosphere and making it a livable habitat for humans. After a failed first attempt at colonization, a second top secret mission is sent to Mars to rid the planet of its cockroach problem.

Led by Ko Honda, the mission participants are promised big bucks and fresh starts as long as they accept being subjected to some genetic modifications to survive on martian soil. Oh, and kill the cockroaches.

Not even an hour after their arrival, the space team (a mix of small criminals, murderers, hackers, yakuza), quickly realizes that beyond being annoying and strange, Ko Honda has misinformed them. Turns out the cockroaches have mutated into gigantic powerful beasts of sorts and that their genetic modifications were actually to give each of them the abilities of insects multiplied to human scale.

Terra Formars is ridiculous in so many ways and self aware. The film is as funny as it can be sort of gross, in the best of ways, and the action is exhilarating. Discovering which creature the crew have been spliced with brought me back to the thrill of seeing Power Rangers as a kid and waiting to see what the rangers would morph into.

Ko Honda, the film’s villain of sorts, is one of my favourite characters in the film. I’d honestly like to see a sequel that focuses on his character some more. Although he has some of the stereotypical characteristics of film villains (especially those of earlier films), there was something really endearing, fun and fresh about Miike’s villain.

Ko Honda’s obsession with fashion took on a new meaning after meeting Miike in person. Ko Honda is almost a counterpoint to Miike in many ways: Ko Honda is agitated and skittish while Miike is poised and calm. That said, Mike has to be one of the most fashionable directors I have ever met at Fantasia. His jacket was striking, enough so to make Ko Honda totally jealous.

*Photos of Miike courtesy of Julie Delisle

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Something’s stirring inside me. It’s a strange feeling that I can’t resist, won’t resist. This year, as I gather my top must-sees, I’m being pulled into new directions at the altar of Fantasia’s offerings.

This is my fifth year covering the fest, and although I certainly won’t pass up the opportunity to immerse myself in my go-to films genres, I’m finding myself peering into different wells from amongst the 130 features screening over the next three weeks.

Here are the top 10 films you should see this Fantasia season.

#10. Born of Woman

001-16International Short Film Showcase/2016/ Multiple

I’m stoked beyond words about this showcase. This dedicated space at the Fest, serves highlights some of the powerhouse filmic voices of new auteurs whose works “centre on the body and uncanny of the interpersonal,” Programmer Mitch Davis adds, “the filmmakers you will encounter here are exciting, essential new voices that we cannot wait to introduce you to.” Not gonna miss this.

From the US, there is Venefica Maria Wilson, followed by Dianne Bellino’s The Itching, and then Jessica Makinsons’s Skin. Ensuite comes Anna Zlokovic’s Shorty, and Jill Gevargizian’s The Stylist. The third act consists Canadian filmmaker Tanya Lemke’s Static,  Whole from german animation duo Verena Klinger and Robert Banning, and last but not least, Australian filmmaker Kaitlin Tinker’s The Man Who Caught A Mermaid.

Screens July 23 • 5:00 PM at J.A. De Seve Theatre

9. Little Sister

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USA/2016/Zach Clark/Comedy

Official selection at SXSW and the Boston Underground Film Festival, Little Sister comes highly recommended by fellow genre film buds. From the director of White Reindeer, comes this black comedy about Colleen, a young noviciate at the Sister of Mercy, who is pulled back into the world of the youth which she’d left behind her in exile. Once home, she finds much of what she left behind intact including her goth-y room, parent’s pothead ways and her recently returned veteran brother.. well, he’s changed. Can this short visit home and Colleen’s faith prove enough to make things right?

Screens July 28 • 9:45 PM  and July 29 • 2:45 PM at the J.A. De Seve Theatre

#8. Shelley

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Denmark-Sweden/2016/Ali Abbasi/Horror Drama

Shelley comes from the producers of When Animals Dream and Only God Forgive. Already, these are some strong signs that it is bound to be of solid quality.

Shelley follows Elena, a single mother in need of some serious change, who takes on a job as a maid for the forest dwelling of what she comes to know as an unusual couple. Signing a three year contract overlooking their odd lifestyle for the peace and quiet she needs. Then, the couple, whom she learns cannot conceive, ask Elena to be their surrogate mother in exchange for a hefty compensation. She accepts.

Soon, however, Elena begins to sense that there is something terribly wrong with what is growing inside her. From the trailer, Abbasi’s Shelley is likely to deliver a body horror gothic tale with a gripping performance at its heart.

Screens July 22 • 3:00 PM  and August 2 • 7:30 PM at the J.A. De Seve Theatre

#7. Lace Crater

Lace Crater from Festival Fantasia on Vimeo.

US/2015/Harrison Atkins/Romance & Comedy

During a getaway with friends, Ruth, who is recovering from a nasty break up, decides to stay in an adjacent guest house, despite a warning that it is haunted. When it comes time to retire from the evening’s festivities, Ruth returns to the guest house and slowly begins to feel a presence in the room. Out comes a burlap wrapped ghost, Michael, as he calls himself and naturally (or supernaturally), one things lead to another…

With a premise offering an intimate look at sexuality, the shame one can feel about what they enjoy, and the possible for some interesting character studies, Lace Crater also stars one of my favourite actors, Lindsay Burge, who was stellar in Sarah Adina Smith’s The Midnight Swim.

Screens July 28 • 7:30 PM J.A. De Seve Theatre

#6. Women Who Kill

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USA/2016/Ingrid Jungerman/ Romance, Thriller, Comedy

Morgan and ex-girlfriend Jean run a weekly podcast, Women Who Kill from their apartment in Brooklyn. The two specialize in talking female serial killers. When Mogran meets Simone, she is goaded by her friends to unpack the mysteries of her new lover. A film noir modern comedy, Women Who Kill, draws inspiration from relationships, womanhood, and the director’s personal life and neighbourhood. This film didn’t quite catch my eye until I read more about it and I have high hopes for it.

Screens on July 27 • 9:50 PM  and July 28 • 3:00 PM  at J.A. De Seve Theatre

#5. Operation Avalanche

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Canada/2016/Matt Johnson/ Crime-Thriller

Fantasia presents the Quebec premiere of  one of most anticipated films coming to the fest this year: Matt Johnson’s Operation Avalanche, an official selection at Sundance, SXSW, AND Hot Docs 2016. I fucking loved Matt Johnson’s The Dirties and after speaking with him last year, am fascinated by what else this guy can come up with. It seems I am not alone and that The Dirties wasn’t a one time thing and that Matt Johnson and his team represent some major talent – talent that is steeped in they love of cinema and filmmaking.

In Operation Avalanche, worried that NASA and its Apollo program may be compromised and infiltrated by a Russian mole, a pair of young CIA agents pose as documentary filmmakers to gain access to uncover what kinds of sinister activities may be going on. Once there, they realize the space program isn’t as ready as NASA has been reporting to the world. Perhaps, with their geeky knowledge of film and uses of the camera, they can be of help.

Screens July 30 • 7:00 PM  and July 31 • 2:30 PM  at J.A. De Seve Theatre

#4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

New Zealand/2016/Taika Waititi/Comedy

I absolutely adored Eagle vs Shark (2007),  Boy (2010) and What We Do in The Shadows by Waititi (2014). His sense of humour and cinematic eye are a serious treat.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a filmic adaptation of Barry Crump’s over Pork and Watercress. Rick Baker, a foster kid who can’t seem to stay in a home for very long, is placed with a new family where he develops a friendship with his foster mom, Bella. When Bella suddenly dies, Ricky runs away into the depths of the forest and Hec, Bella’s partner, goes out to find him. Misunderstandings lead to social services assuming the Hec has kidnapped Ricky. From the trailer, I can already tell I’m going to love Ricky played by Julian Dennison.

Screens July 17 • 2:15 PM SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre)

#3. The Lure

Poland/2015/Agnieszka Smoczynska/  Discoball of Genre Hybrid Magic

What even is this magical gem of a film? Fantasia’s descriptionn of it has the longest list of genres I have ever seen listed. Seems like it’s uncontainable, just like the creatures surfacing in The Lure.

In early 80’s Poland, two mermaids Golden and Silver arise from the sea in search of nourishment: hearts. They find themselves in a good position to do so when they join an erotic discotheque where their mermaid act, less of an act than their horny audience expects, is perfect to reel in some fresh hearts. Thing get entangled when Silver develops feelings for one of their potential appetizers. If the trailer above alone doesn’t convince you to want to see this, please swipe left.

#2. Trash Fire

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USA/2016/Richard Bates Jr.

Narrowly beaten by Embers for the number one spot, Trash Fire has been on my radar for a while now and I’ve been burning with anticipation to see it. I had the chance to catch Bates Jr.’s two other films at Fantasia.

Excision remains to this day the most beautifully fucked up piece of gory poetry I have ever seen – I literally couldn’t breathe for a while after the credits. Suburban Gothic was a totally different beast, a lighter dark comedy oozing with ghostly love.

Trash Fire, as I understand it, was written during a bout of crippling depression and yet, Mitch Davis hails it as the filmmakers strongest work yet and that it “mines uncomfortable laughs from interpersonal dysfunction and a myriad of phobias, personal demons and deep-rooted resentment, proving once again that much of the best comedy is born from pain.” Um, yes!

In the film, a longtime fizzled out couple Owen (Adrian Grenier) and Isabelle (Angela Trimbur) visit Owen’s family and childhood home as a a sort of deal breaker for Isabelle who wants to see if Owen is the kind of man to build a family with. As the survivor of a horrific family tragedy, Owen’s got some issues and isn’t the easiest dude to build an intimate relationship with. When the two set out to meet his surviving relatives, they uncover things best left to rot alone….but it’s too late now.

Screens July 23 • 9:30 PM at SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre)

#1. Embers

USA/Poland/2015/Claire Carré/Sci-fi

Embers takes the top spot in my must sees of this year’s program. A poetic humane sci-fi offering with what looks to be a distinctive and unique aesthetic, Embers takes place in a world where humanity is denied memory. Following a few of the remaining survivors of this apocalypse, Embers explores the very foundations of human nature through the very promising cinematic voice of newcomer Carré.

Screens on July  22 • 5:00 PM J.A. De Seve Theatre & August 1 • 12:45 PM J.A. De Seve Theatre

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Something’s stirring inside me. It’s a strange feeling that I can’t resist, won’t resist. This year, as I gather my top must-sees, I’m being pulled into new directions at the altar of Fantasia’s offerings. This is my fifth year covering the fest, and although I certainly won’t pass up the opportunity to immerse myself in my go-to films genres, I’m finding myself peering into different wells from amongst the 130 features screening over the next three weeks.

Amongst this top 20 you’ll find my usual favourite flavours – sci-fi existential films, gut wrenching looks at the underbelly of families, coming of age, and the nature of life itself. There’s no hiding that I’m a bit of a misanthrope with some leftover teenage angst.

This time, however, you’ll also find a lot more comedies, crime thrillers, and, the biggest surprise of all to me, several body horror and creature features. Take this leap of faith with me as we embark once again on our yearly Fantasia pilgrimage.

#20. For the Love of Spock001-9

USA/2016/Adam Nimoy/Documentary

For the Love of Spock is an in depth look at the Star Trek’s most popular character and the actor who brought him to life. The doc is narrated by Nimoy’s son, Adam Nimoy, and takes a look at the life and work of Leoard Nimoy through interviews with fans, family, friends, colleagues and his relationship with his son. For Trekkies and the Trek curious, For the Love of Spock is sure to please. Live long and popcorn.

Screens July 16  at 4:10 PM at the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre)

#19. The Master Cleanse

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USA/2016/Bobby Miller/ Horror, Comedy

This black comedy follows Paul (played byJohnny Galecki), who in the throws of heartbreak, decides to join a spiritual retreat to flush out those inner demons. Relatable. This retreat, however, might be more than his gut can handle.

The Master Cleanse is Bobby Miller’s feature debut and is having its international premiere at the fest. Mitch Davis, Fantasia Co-Director, hints to one of the secret ingredients in this cleanse regiment: “a assortment of practical puppeteer and animatronic creatures whom, it must be said, are some of the cutest creations the screen has see since Gremlins, even if they come from a much darker and more Cronenbergian place.” I’m sold.

Screens on July 16 • 10:00 PM at the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre)

#18. Don’t Breathe

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USA/2016/ Fede Alvarez/Horror

I hesitated at first with this film because I’m a bit done with home invasion films right now. That being said, this one offers a new perspective right off the bat: it is from the perspective of the home invaders. A trio of friends picks the wrong mark, a lonely blind man, when they suddenly find themselves trapped in the home in a hellish labyrinth.

With Ariel Esteban Cayer, fest programmer, hailing Don’t Breahe amongst the ranks of Saulnier’s Green Room and Fincher’s Panic Room, it’s hard to resist not going through that door (or broken window) ourselves.

Screens August 3 • 9:45 PM at the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre)

#17. The Dark Side of the Moon

The Dark Side of the Moon from Film Fund Luxembourg on Vimeo.

Germany/2015/Stephan Rick/Thriller

Urs, the head of a phamarceutical company, is growing weary of his life and after some bad shit goes down, decides, like one does, that what might really help him is to go do some drugs with a bohemian woman in the forest. Instead of finding an inner peace of sorts, Urs finds himself unraveling and desperate to find a way to stop things before he becomes something else entirely.

#16. Some Freaks

001-15USA/2016/ Ian MaCallistor-McDonald/Drama

Matt Ledbetter is a shy kid with a patch covering a missing eye. Being different in high school is certainly not synonymous with popularity. When Matt meets Jill,a large girl who is outgoing and brilliant, he feels an instant connection with her.

Some Freaks follows their relationships and the unexpected ways in which is it is challenged. When it comes to films about teenage outcasts, I trust programmer Mitch Davis’ instinct. He says of Some Freaks that it “will charm you heart – and demolish it.” Let’s just hope we are ready for this kind of heartbreak.

Screens July 19 • 5:00 PM at the J.A. De Seve Theatre

#15. Bad Blood

USA/2016/Tim Reis/Horror

Bad Blood is having its international premiere at the Fest and I’m stoked. There’s a lot going amiss around this local Texaco station. If only Victoria, a college student just doing her thing, had happened to walk into the middle of well… what is going on exactly? This creature feature promises to get messy doused in crimson and slimey love for those monster movies of old while offering a fresh and witty take.

Screens on July 23 • 11:55 PM at J.A. De Seve Theatre

#14. Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children

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Spain/2015/Alberto Vázquez, Pedro Rivero/Animation

Having spent the last year working with animators, my love and admiration for works of hand drawn animation has woken from its hibernation ready for a bountiful spring. Fantasia delivers with Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children. There’s been a great accident on the island, and teenager Dinky wants to join her friends in leaving behind the dread and darkness of this place. But, Dinky won’t leave without Birdboy, whom pretty much everyone despises and who is a troubled drug-addicted outcast.

In 2010. Vasquez brought to screen his graphic novel ‘Pisconautas’ to the screen with the short film entitled Birdboy, shown at Fantasia’s Small Gauge Trauma. Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children brings to life an expanded and enriched version of Vasquez’ surrealist world.

Screens July 23 • 1:50 PM at SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre) and July 24 • 7:30 PM J.A. De Seve Theatre

#13. The Love Witch

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USA/2016/Anna Biller/Horror-Comedy

The first thing that strikes me about Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is it’s clear recreation of the mood of 1960s technicolour, romance/erotica and horror. It’s so meticulous it sort of feels like a time capsule. It almost seems to cast a glamour. Add to that high praise from my favourite film writer, Justine Smith, and that the film was shot on 35mm and my heart definitely starts to flutter.

Elaine, a witch with a strong appetite for love, comes to town and stops at nothing to have men love her. Even with a grimoire full of spells, she can’t seem to find love! Well, love that stays alive that is.

Screens July 16 • 5:15 PM at J.A. De Seve Theatre

#12. If Cats Disappeared from the World

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Japan/2016/Akira Nagai/ Sci-fi, Fantasy, Drama

When a 30 year old lonely mailman receives the bad news that he has only days to live, he gets a visit from the Devil. The Devil, known to love a pact or two offers him the following deal: for each day of extended life, the mailman must accept whatever the Devil selects and in exchange for his increased lifespan that one thing will disappear, even from memory. It’s only a matter of time before things get messy, perhaps worse than death itself, for a pact with the Devil is never what is seems.

Screens on July 24 • 7:15 PM at the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre)

11. A Conspiracy of Faith 

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Denmark/2015/Hans Peter Moland/Crime-Thriller

I gotta admit that lately I’ve been fascinated by cults. I’ve also been yearning for some solid crime thrillers for summer reading. Fantasia delivers, like Santa does since he always knows, by programming A Conspiracy of Faith where cold case investigators are stirred into action by a message in a bottle alerting them to something amiss with a rural sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The film promises a a troubling and tense ride.

Screens on July 17 • 10:00 at J.A. De Seve Theatre

missed a spot ghost in the shell

The internet has been all aflutter recently with the release of the first images of the upcoming live action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. The response to the images has not been one of excitement. It’s been one of outrage.

The original Ghost in the Shell is a Japanese animated film that came out in 1995. The plot revolves around Major Motoko Kusanagi, a highly intelligent law enforcement officer whose ghost has been transferred into a full body prosthesis or shell.

Though the heroine is technically a cyborg, fans of Ghost in the Shell had widely accepted that should the film be adapted into live action the role of Major Kusanagi should go to an Asian actress. So of course the role went to Scarlett Johansson, the third whitest woman in America (first and second being Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson, respectively).

It Happens Quite a Bit

The casting of white actors in roles that should go to people of colour is called Whitewashing and it is endemic in Hollywood. Though it’s an era of supposed political correctness white people are still being cast in roles that they don’t belong in.

Take the 2015 film Aloha which featured Emma Stone as Captain Allison Ng. The real life Allison Ng is of Chinese, Hawaiian and Swedish descent.

Emma Stone as Allison NG in Aloha
Emma Stone as Allison Ng in Aloha

By all accounts, the real life Allison Ng doesn’t look Asian or Hawaiian, she’s even a natural redhead. Nevertheless, anyone who knows someone half Asian knows that even those who don’t look Asian don’t look quite as Caucasian as a very blonde Emma Stone. The outrage over the film eventually resulted in director Cameron Crowe apologizing for the casting choice.

Then there’s this year’s Gods of Egypt. Though the statues and images of Egyptian deities leave lots of room for diversity in casting, most of the Egyptian gods are played by whites.

The movie Pan, an adaptation of Peter Pan released in 2015, cast the lily white Rooney Mara in the role of Tiger Lily, a Native American princess.

Though white actors are no longer being dressed and made up to look like caricatures of minorities, a la Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, that doesn’t make whitewashing OK.

Money and Scarcity

Despite the outrage of all these poor casting choices, movie studios and execs always hide behind the same arguments: money and scarcity. They either claim that films featuring people of colour don’t make enough money OR they argue that there aren’t enough ethnic actors to fill the roles. Let’s tackle these arguments one by one.

Don’t think movies with people of colour make money? Tell that to the people behind the X-Men franchise.

The X men comics feature a lot of people of colour including Storm, a black woman able to control the weather, and Jubilee, an Asian girl who can generate pyrotechnic energy plasmoids from her hands. In every film adaptation of the franchise, the casting choices have been fairly close to the characters’ ethnicity and in spite of this, or perhaps because of it, those films made money. X men grossed 296.3 million USD at the box office, X-2 grossed 407.7 million, and X men The Last Stand grossed 459.4 million USD.

Then there’s The Hunger Games. Racist trolls went bananas on the net when a black actress was cast as Rue in the 2012 film even though the book never actually alludes to the character’s ethnicity. Despite a few obnoxious noisemakers, the film grossed 653.4 million USD at the box office.

Life of Pi, which cast an Indian actor as an Indian character grossed 609 million USD.

The Jungle Book, released on April 15, 2016, cast a boy of Indian American descent as Mowgli, an Indian boy living in the jungle. It’s already grossed $377.4 million and is still going strong.

When you compare that to the pitiful $26.3 million grossed by Aloha or $128.4 million grossed by Pan, the argument about people of colour being a poor investment doesn’t add up.

If execs are really concerned about money, there’s one more argument to consider. Many people of colour don’t visibly age at the same rate as white people. That means they can pass for younger for a lot longer, an argument worth considering when casting for franchise films. Hugh Jackman, our beloved Wolverine is looking his 48 years, whereas Jet Li does not look 51 nor does Don Cheadle look 52.

Then there’s the notion that there aren’t enough ethnic actors to fill roles and the ones out there aren’t well known. That’s bullshit, and here’s a list of capable, well-known actors of colour to prove it:

Will Smith

Sandrine Holt – Of Asian and French origin, featured in Terminator Genisys

Jet Li – Chinese

Keanu Reeves – ¼ Hawaiian, ¼ Chinese – while not everyone agrees he can act, he still counts

Kristin Kreuk – Of Chinese and Dutch descent, known for Smallville

The Rock – ½ Samoan

Rosario Dawson – Puerto Rican, Afro-Cuban and Irish

Rosario Dawson
Rosario Dawson

Morgan Freeman

Salma Hayek – Mexican with Lebanese Roots

Kal Penn – American of Indian origin, known for the Harold and Kumar movies

Gabourey Sidibe – African American, played the leading role in Precious and was Oscar nominated for it

Jackie Chan – Chinese

Kerry Washington

Chiwetel Eljiofor – of 12 Years a Slave

Priyanka Chopra – Indian

Oded Fehr – Israeli

Lupita Nyong’o – Mexican with Kenyan parents

Adam Beach – First Nations

Sandra Oh – Canadian of Korean Ancestry

This list is just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons more visible minority actors who are more than capable of drawing crowds and bringing in revenue and are ready and willing to do it. Audiences worldwide now want to see themselves in the movies they watch and that means casting choices that reflect the world’s diversity.

The only excuse studios and executives have left is their own racism. And in 2016, that’s not good enough.

EMC Media Panel (l-r) Moderator Sean Finnell, Jason C. McLean, Editor-in-Chief of Forget the Box, JP Desjardins, CEO of Wallrus and Martin Spalding, VP and GM of local radio and TV for Bell Media. Image via EMC on Instagram

On Friday, January 22nd and Saturday, January 23rd, I attended the Entertainment Management Conference, held at Sid Lee’s in Downtown Montreal. Now in its fourth year, the event was designed to allow emerging young professionals in on some of the trade secrets “behind the business that fuels culture.”

Run by a talented cast of students from McGill’s Desautels Management program, and backed by corporate sponsor Evenko, the event included a series of panels from professionals in Montreal’s music, film, nightlife, gaming, arts and media scenes. On top of that, the two day event included a series of workshops, as well as the opportunity for these young-entrepreneurs to network with professionals. The event provided a unique, immersive experience into the multi-faceted world of the entertainment industry.

As a student who is just about to graduate from McGill, I was hoping the event would give me something, anything, to hang onto as I wade into the uncertain world of “finding employment.”

Forget the Box’s Editor-In-Chief Jason McLean was a panelist during the Media portion of the event, and spoke at length about the challenges that online publications face in not only getting their message across, but also, building a brand and an ‘image’ in an online world that is over-saturated with content. In other words, how do we distinguish “good content” from “bad content?”

Jason’s point was a salient one, and resonated with me for much of the day. Now more than ever, the entertainment industry feels overloaded with “noise.” Take, for example, the insane social media buzz over Kanye’s new album– initially titled Swish, then Waves and finally, The Life of Pablo — which had most of the internet in a frenzy.

While people today are debating over whether Kanye actually ‘dissed’ Taylor Swift on his new track Famous, I got to wondering how much of the buzz surrounding the album’s internet campaign actually merited my time, or was worthy of my attention. Can we really classify Kanye’s latest album release as a solely ‘musical’ enterprise, when clearly, there are so many social and artistic dimensions at play? And at the end of the day, how am I to decide if Kanye’s hyping good content or bad content?

The EMC NIghtlife Panel (l-r) moderator Moderator Oriane Rosner, Noah Bick Creative Director of Passovah Productions, club owner Zach Macklovitch and nightlife promoter DL Jones (photo via EMC on Instagram)
The EMC NIghtlife Panel (l-r) moderator Moderator Oriane Rosner, Noah Bick Creative Director of Passovah Productions, club owner Zach Macklovitch and nightlife promoter DL Jones (photo via EMC on Instagram)

Over and over again, panelists from all corners of the entertainment industry– from Arbutus Records’ Sebastian Cowan, to Mad Decent’s DL Jones– stressed the importance of the network, that is, the face-to-face connection when promoting a party, an album, or a film. As the panelists spoke throughout the day, they consistently reminded us that nothing in the entertainment industry happens without a direct connection between the fan and the artist.

The event’s emphasis on forging personal connections was perhaps the greatest piece of advice that I took away from my time at the EMC 2016. In an age filled with more noise than ever, the panelists urging us to focus on the personal when building a career, of meeting directly with professionals and building relationships, is a crucial thing to note. And of course, their in-person presence at the event really drove that point home.

The professionals speaking at this year’s EMC were consistent in their message of how to make sense of a world filled with way-too-much information; of how to distinguish the things we like from the things we don’t, so we can learn to build our own careers. The message was simple, keep it personal. I’d like to thank all of the hard-working students and sponsors who made this year’s event an enriching experience: the Entertainment Management Conference is undoubtedly good content.

* Featured Image: EMC Media Panel (l-r) moderator Sean Finnell, Jason C. McLean, Editor-in-Chief of Forget the Box, JP Desjardins, CEO of Wallrus and Martin Spalding, VP and GM of local radio and TV for Bell Media. Image via EMC on Instagram

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Thursday we got news of the passing of theatre and film legend Alan Rickman, just days after fellow Brit artist David Bowie lost his battle with cancer, Rickman succumbed to the disease at the same age, 69.

The internet was flooded once again with tributes, condolences, anecdotes and information on lesser-known parts of Rickman’s legacy.

Emma Watson, one of his Harry Potter co-stars, tweeted about how sad she was to hear he had passed and how lucky she was to have met and worked with him. She also tweeted some of his quotes, including one on feminism:

That didn’t sit well with some who took to Twitter to argue that Watson was somehow exploiting Rickman’s death to push her own agenda. While these people are clearly trolls, they also don’t know Alan Rickman as much as they may think. He was a very mainstream movie star, but he was also quite vocal about his progressive politics.

Die Hard with a Social Conscience

For most people, Alan Rickman was and will always be Snape in the Harry Potter films. For me, though, he will always be Hans Gruber, the German leader of a group of high-tech thieves masquerading as terrorists in the original Die Hard (not going to say spoiler alert on a movie released in 1988).

This was also Rickman’s introduction to Hollywood film acting. At age 41, he was already an established stage actor and agreed to play Gruber for one main reason, which I first learned about yesterday: the film’s treatment of its black characters:

“Every single black character in that film is positive and highly intelligent. So, 28 years ago, that’s quite revolutionary, and quietly so.”
– Alan Rickman in The Guardian

Playing Gruber turned Rickman into a movie star, but becoming top Hollywood talent didn’t turn off his desire to do things artistically for the right reason, even if it meant not playing it safe career-wise. This became crystal clear in 2005.

My Name is Rachel Corrie

American-born Rachel Corrie travelled to the Gaza Strip in 2003 as part of the International Solidarity Movement. The 23-year-old was there to protest Israel’s illegal demolition of Palestinian houses. An Israeli soldier ran over her with an American-made bulldozer, killing her.

Two years later, Rickman and Katharine Viner, a writer and editor at The Guardian (now its editor-in-chief) compiled writings in Corrie’s diary and emails she sent back home to the states and turned them into a one-woman play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, which Rickman directed. It was a success when it first opened in England at London’s Royal Court Theatre and in other places including Haifa.

The New York Theatre Workshop had planned to stage the US premier of the play Off Broadway, but “postponed” it after pressure from Zionist groups. Rickman didn’t accept that and got quite vocal in the media:

“Calling this production ‘postponed’ does not disguise the fact that it has been cancelled. This is censorship born out of fear, and the New York Theatre Workshop, the Royal Court, New York audiences — all of us are the losers…Rachel Corrie lived in nobody’s pocket but her own. Whether one is sympathetic with her or not, her voice is like a clarion in the fog and should be heard.”
-Alan Rickman

alan rickman rachel corrieRickman and Viner, with support from Rachel’s parents Craig and Cindy Corrie, coordinated a global series of readings called Rachel’s Words. Full disclosure, I was part of the Montreal event which combined readings of Corrie’s emails and diary entries with a verbatim theatre retelling of what happened with the New York production.

My Name is Rachel Corrie did eventually open in New York properly in 2006 at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. It also ran in Montreal presented by Teesri Duniya in 2007 and the same production moved to Vancouver in 2008. It is still being performed around the world, the most recent staging happening in 2015.

Now think about this for a moment. The whole time that Rickman was busy editing, directing and eventually fighting for a play that he believed in by standing up for both a work of art and Palestinian solidarity, something that could cause him problems with some potential audiences, he was also starring in and doing promo for uber-mainstream Harry Potter blockbusters.

Talk about multitasking. Talk about dedication to a cause no matter what else is going on in your life. Rickman embraced his celebrity status but didn’t let it prevent him from doing the work he knew needed to be done.

While most will remember Snape, Gruber and his other unforgettable roles, it is important to also remember Alan Rickman’s work on My Name is Rachel Corrie and the fact that he was a man of principle who brought his progressive beliefs to his work. That’s what he would want us to remember.

RIP Alan Rickman (1946-2016)

rey star wars

First things first, if you haven’t seen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens yet, stop reading this NOW and come back when you have. I don’t care if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t mind spoilers, I do not want to spoil this film for anyone, period and there are SPOILERS AHEAD! (I mean, c’mon, you waited this long, let JJ Abrams tell you the continuation of the story, not me, he has a much larger budget). Anyways…

I won’t mince words. I loved The Force Awakens. I was excited to see it and excited while watching it. The look and feel, the pacing, everything fell nicely into place. Nostalgia was littered all over Jakku, the first planet we visit, in the form of Rebel Alliance and Imperial wreckage.

Such an homage to the original trilogy could be one of the reasons Star Wars creator George Lucas decided to call the new film Retro Star Wars in an interview with Charlie Rose, the same interview where he referred to Disney as “white slavers,” a comment he has since tried to backtrack. While Lucas’ comments were probably largely due to Disney and Abrams not bringing him on as a consultant, his retro claim could be justified by similarities between Episode VII and 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope.

Sure, some of the story elements found in the first Star Wars film are mirrored in this Abrams continuation. When Han Solo (Harrison Ford) stepped onto that bridge with everyone watching, I was instantly reminded of the fateful Obi Wan/Darth Vader battle in the Death Star and knew that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) wasn’t going to turn to the light side, but rather give the audience a reason to hate him.

But this film isn’t A New Hope, it’s the continuation of a story that hasn’t progressed in any kind of cinematic form in 32 years. The prequels, The Clone Wars TV show and now Star Wars: Rebels all have something to offer to the Star Wars universe, but what they offer is filling in the blanks of the backstory. This is new.

The main difference between The Force Awakens and A New Hope, though, is the strength of its lead character.

Rey is Not Luke

Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a Star Wars lead like no other. Sure, she is clearly on a Luke Skywalker-type story arc: unlikely hero from a desert planet with mysterious parentage discovers a droid with plans that can alter the fate of the galaxy and sets out on a wild adventure.

But she isn’t Luke. If you take off the blinders of nostalgia and childhood, you realize that Luke started off as a kind of annoying character.

Now, keep in mind, this is coming from someone who grew up on the original trilogy, was released the same year as the first movie, owned a Millenium Falcon playset, a Han Solo action figure which was lost in the water near a summer camp, a Yoda Magic 8-Ball which tells you if you can be a Jedi (and currently has one ear missing), a comic book adaptation of A New Hope and the Star Wars ABCs (“A is for AT-AT”).

I’m not blaming Mark Hamill and was excited to see him again, albeit briefly, in this film. It’s how George Lucas wrote and initially directed Luke that makes him kind of a brat. A kid who has a relatively comfortable, though boring, life, wants something more. He’d love to save the galaxy, just as long as his uncle doesn’t ground him.

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It’s like a suburban teenage escape fantasy meets classic Greek hero myth. Yes, I know Luke’s a moisture farmer, but his goal of joining the rebellion seems to stem, at first, from a desire to get to the big city more than anything else. Yes, he grows up, changes and is ready for the challenge at the right time, but that is with a lot of help from Obi Wan, circumstance and later Yoda.

Rey, on the other hand, comes from nothing (or comes from Luke, Obi-Wan, Han and Leia or the Force itself, depending on which theory you subscribe to) and has nothing. She’s a scavenger, making her own way in the galaxy, surviving with few comforts.

Her home is a downed Imperial AT-AT. While the brief overhead shot establishing that fact also happens to be one of the coolest nods to Original Trilogy nostalgia in the film, it also really lets us know how self-reliant Rey is.

A Quicker Learner

Some critics have objected to the ease and quickness with which Rey adapted to her Force abilities and the fact that she didn’t have any training, a few even resorted to calling her a Mary Sue. Perhaps inspired by sexism or desire to keep the original trilogy sacrosanct, these critics ignored the obvious: Rey’s hastened grasp of her Force abilities makes logical sense and makes sense within the Star Wars Universe.

Someone who grew up in a family structure as Luke did may need guidance to unlock his Jedi powers. Someone who was plucked from slavery early and raised in a rather elite environment like Anakin was may take more time, which was available to him, to hone his skills. Someone who has always had to improvise and think and survive on their own as Rey has may be able to pick things up, including how to use the Force, a little bit quicker than the rest.

She also comes across as one of the most real characters the Star Wars universe has produced. When she arrives on Takodana and comments that it is the most green she has ever seen, you really believe her. It could be Ridley’s acting, Abrams’ direction, the Abrams/Laurence Kasandan writing or a combination of the three, but you really feel for her.

It is also clear that she wants to do what is right because of something inside her. Yes, she initially rejected the Skywalker lightsaber, but if you touched some piece of metal in a hidden chest and started having freaky visions, wouldn’t you want to get far away from it, too?

Friends and Foes

Rey’s credibility and likeability as a lead is only bolstered by the other characters in the movie, friend or foe.

Finn (John Boyega) is also a unique Star Wars hero. While his ability with a blaster and the fact that he left one way of life for another may be similar to Han Solo’s path, not to mention that they’re setting him up to be Rey’s love interest, he isn’t Solo.

Solo reluctantly shifted from smuggling to heroics after some prodding. Finn went from being a mindless servant of the dark side to helping save the day on his own because he felt what the New Order was doing was wrong.

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Han and Leia (Carrie Fisher) were Han and Leia, just 30 years and a huge problem with their son later. The course their relationship took made sense and you could still feel the love the characters had for each other long after the fairytale destruction of the second Death Star had faded.

On the dark side of things, Kylo Ren was cartoonishly menacing with the mask on and something akin to Hayden Chrisensen’s Anakin with it off. Have a look at the Emo Kylo Ren parody Twitter account if you haven’t already done so.

While the Supreme Leader Snoke will probably train him better in the next film, his lack of ability only helped the credibility of what happened this time out. A first-time, untrained lightsaber wielder like Rey couldn’t stalemate Vader, but she could, logically, fight this version of Kylo Ren to a draw.

Just the Right Balance

While it may be a little odd to praise the realistic in a film with spaceships, invisible powers, alien superweapons and Wookies, that’s exactly what JJ Abrams found. Among all the strange creatures, special effects and sci-fi fantasy, we get very believable and relatable characters in rather logical relationships to each other.

This isn’t A New Hope, but it sure as hell is Star Wars. A Star Wars that George Lucas inspired but didn`t create. He shouldn’t complain. The prequel trilogy may have been the movies Lucas wishes he could have made back in the late 70s and early 80s but lacked the technology to do so, but they also lacked the spirit of the Original Trilogy.

JJ Abrams found that spirit and built on it. I guess you could say he found balance in the Force, using just the right amount of CGI and the right amount of real world sets and props. Most important, though, he abandoned the wooden acting style and dialogue of the prequels and opted instead for real characters. In the process, he created a whole new type of Star Wars hero.

glam gam john waters

I remember the first time I ever saw Hairspray- it literally changed my life. I was young and had already seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the Toxic Avenger, so I was familiar with Transvestites and Drag Queens, Mutants and Creatures of the Night, but this was a whole new level.

I was always a big girl, and the way Tracy Turnblad just killed it in that roach dress and got the hottie was just inspiring. The higher the hair the closer to god! Perfection.

At that point Ricki Lake was a talk show host, it was awesome to see her in that role John Waters has a way of capturing the completely insane in such a viceral and glamorously realistic creepy way. I love it.

My art and fashion has been transformed because of these films. Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living, Female Trouble, Multiple Maniacs, Cry Baby, Pecker, A Dirty Shame and MORE! are showcasing the fucked up ghetto strangeness of Baltimore. It’s beautiful and in Technicolor.

I visited Baltimore once in my life, it wasn’t all that different from Buffalo. As soon as I arrived I got out of the car and the first man I spoke to was (in his southern gay hospitality voice) like “Darlin’ don’t be offended by this but you remind me of a John Waters character.”

I almost cried, hugged him immediately. I AM! I thought to myself. I feel like I just need to camp out at Atomic Books and wait for him to pick up his mail. I relate to his movies so much because they are SO offensively real.

Cat as Divine
Cat as Divine

I am far from perfect, I am downright gross sometimes, I have shit my pants, I have dry shitty skin, I get like a weird smegma under my flappy fupa, my stretch marks have stretchmarks, I have blead through a tampon, I have pissed on church steps, I have been covered in pudding, I have had people eat sushi off of me, I have pulled American flags out of my cock, I have fucked a wide array of human creatures in some very strange and unusual ways, I have seen drag queens pull shit tipped beer bottles out of their ass in NYC, and recently saw a girl fuck a cake at an BDSM Burlesque night in New Orleans.

My life, friends, crazy family, and all the other happenstance interactions I have with people feel like they are right out of a John Waters movie. My life is like a crazy queer acid trip, and I love to see Edith Massey and Divine on screen being the fucked up things I see in my mind. I would love to get inside the mind of John Waters.

On a whim I booked a trip to New Orleans to see the John Waters Christmas Special with a meet and greet. THIS WAS MY CHANCE! I was finally going to meet the man who inspires my insanity. I even brought him a painting. My best Kitty Porn.

I put on my worst Christmas drag, the original mullet wig (now dreading) and mustache (so stiff that when it was on the floor my friend thought it was a cat shit) of Cock Sinclair, a beautiful patch of chest hair, two ugly sweater vests, assess zubaz and a shit stained santa hat.

I was ready. I was in NOLA for the first time with a great friend, we arrived at the venue, and instantly my dream was crushed, the music in my little heart melted, I fucked up. By the time I had ordered the tickets I guess the meet and greet had already been sold out, but it didn’t tell me that, just let me choose the meet and greet option and then charged me for a general admission. I felt like a Make A Wish kid who got the wish taken back.

I literally wept on a street corner in New Orleans in drag smoking weed. I wished that John would have driven by in his Buick and had mercy on my wretched soul. I’ve only cried in drag twice before. Once was when Barack Obama was elected president, I walked up after doing a very politically charged show and watched the announcement in real time. It was incredible. The other time I was being a little butch bro bitch.

But anyways. The Christmas show was incredible, I loved being in the same room as him an listening to him go on about Christmas and other fucked up shit. My dad literally texted me during the show and asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I respond with CHA CHA HEELS. By far the best Christmas scene in history.

I had a magical adventure in New Orleans, at the end of the day it didn’t matter that I did not meet John then. I explored a new place and got the filth on my own hands, I lived it. I probably would have been disappointed when meeting him, like nobody can live up to that kind of pedestal.

Ok, I’m lying to myself to make me feel better. I just have to go back to Baltimore to meet him someday drunk randomly in a gay strip club. Until then I will get my fix from the Montreal troupe Glam Gam‘s homage to the Pope of Trash.

Their event reads: “Just when you thought Glam Gam couldn’t get any stinkier, they have saved their most rotten performances for the last hour of 2015. Put on your best polyester frock, douse your do with copious amounts of hairspray and join us as we pay homage to the beloved Pope of Trash, John Waters! We will eat shitty food, drink shitty champagne and basically put on the most Divine shit show you’ve seen all year!”

I was lucky enough to be able to interview a couple of the sexy hosts of this monstrosity, Julie Paquet and Michael J. McCarthy. They gave me a little insight to what inspired the show and are even offering FREE TICKETS to this event On December 31st 2015 at the historic Cafe Cleopatra (which I had the extreme pleasure of performing drag and burlesque at once with the fantastically subversive Candyass Caberet superstars). All you need to do is write your favourite John Waters movie in the comments and share this post.

You cheap dirtbags better get in on that before its too late. This show will sell out and can’t be missed. Unspeakable acts of violence and pure mind fuck awesomeness will ensue. And there is booze.It’s an incredible venue, the most magical hopeful glittery sequins drunk sex with strangers night of the year, and all of your favorite Dreamland cast alive and in your face with a variety of “talents.”

I have an art boner for this show. It is the only place I want to be at midnight. But who will I kiss? I hope they are truly filthy. Maybe it will be you. Enjoy this interview, trying answering the questions yourself if you are a fan. See you at Cleo next week! I’ll be the one in disgusting drag…. *laughs maniacally* My body is ready.

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1) What was the first John Waters movie you ever saw? How did it make you feel? Life changing?

Julie: I saw Hairspray when I was about seven years old, I loved dressing up and dancing along with the characters. Later, when I was a teenager I saw Pink Flamingos and was severely traumatized…in the best way.

Michael: For me it was Desperate Living. After seeing Grizelda suffocate Bosely Gravel with her ass and later get crushed in a rickety old shack in Mortville, my life was never the same. I was hooked.

glam gam waters22) Who is your favorite Dreamland actor? Which is your favorite of their characters?

That’s a tough question. While every dreamland actor is iconic we both agree that Mink Stole takes the cake for outrageous delivery, style and comedic timing. You gotta love Edith Massey’s snaggle-toothed eccentricity; while she’s a terrible actress, her awful delivery is incredibly endearing and hilarious. And obviously when you think John Waters, you think Divine, without her contribution and killer aesthetic, Water’s films would not be the cult classics they are today.

3) How would you compare John Waters to someone like Andy Warhol or Lady Gaga?

First of all, we think John Waters is in a category of his own; there’s no one quite like him. While both Warhol and Waters parodied American culture, Warhol focused on Manhattan city glamour where Waters preferred Baltimore suburban grit. John Waters defined the aesthetic of trash in a way that was never seen before. As for Lady Gaga, sure she had a few catchy hits but there’s really no comparison. She has done nothing original; crtl c, ctrl v.

4) Who do you think is the current filthiest person alive? (mine is Donald Trump)

That’s a tough question especially since the Pope of Trash himself is still alive. However, people have left our shows shocked and horrified, demanded refunds and then sent us their dry cleaning bills.

5) John Waters revolutionized queer radical film – what inspires you most about his work?

He glorified poor, fat weirdos like us. He paved the way for queers, queens and social rejects. Waters films were revolutionary satirical masterpieces. His work was not only hilarious, it made social commentary on subjects that were taboo and untouched.

glam gam waters16) Tell me about the show. Is it just a tribute or more of your own interpretation?

A bit of both. There are classic John Water’s skits that are untouchable which we will pay homage to, but in classic Glam Gam style we will definitely put our own silly spin on things as well.

7) I’m excited that it’s Odorama, what kind of fucked scents should we expect?

Well we are creating our very own odorama cards with delicious fragrances such as shit, fish and grandma to represent each character. Unfortunately though, unlike Water’s original version, our cards are not edible so please save your appetites for our complementary trashy buffet.

8) Did you hate the newer John Travolta Hairspray as much as I did?

Yes. Hairspray was already one of Water’s most mainstream movies, it did not need to be made more mainstream. That’s like making a dance remix of an Aqua song…unnecessary. The original cast featured powerhouses like Debbie Harry, Ricki Lake, Mink Stole and Divine and the remake features John Travolta in a fat suit…please. There are plenty of fat queens out there who could have paid proper tribute to Divine; she would be rolling in her grave.

9) John Waters will not make a film for under a million dollars and talks about wanting to sell out – when he used to make classics for no money. How does that make you feel?

He’s done his time; artists deserve to get paid for their work. We keep on producing shows because we love what we do. We put our heart, soul, sweat and tears into each production yet we can barely afford to take the bus. After all Waters has accomplished and at his age, why get out of bed for less than a mill?.

10) What is your favorite John waters quote?

“The world of heterosexuals is a sick and boring life.”

Glam Gam Presents ✖✖✖ ODORAMA: A Baltimore Ball Drop ✖✖✖ starts New Year’s Eve at 9pm (doors 8pm) at Café Cléopatra, 1230 boul St-Laurent. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door.

Win a pair of tickets by telling us your favourite John Waters film in the comments and sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter and tagging @forgetthebox and @glamgamproductions (FB) or @glam_gam (Twitter). We’ll pick a winner and announce who it is next Tuesday!

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Winter is coming. At least it should be once Montreal stops getting assuaged by insufferable heat waves (not a fan). During Fantasia, I had the pleasure of sitting down with director Douglas Schulze and lead actor Lauren Mae Shafer of The Dark Below, which held its international premiere during the fest

Set on the icy Michigan Great Lakes, The Dark Below is an experimental thriller which takes bold risks by throwing cinematic conventions to the wind and explores terrifying subject matter lurking beneath the surface of ‘normal’ life.

In the opening sequence of The Dark Below, a woman (Lauren Mae Shafer) struggles against a man who renders her unconscious and abducts her. What he does next is clearly calculated; he takes her to a frozen lake, dresses her in a scuba suit and plunges her beneath the ice into the icy waters. The Dark Below is about her struggle to survive the torture of a killer intent on seeing his plan through to the bitter end. As she drifts in and out of consciousness, the events leading up to this torture are revealed as are the stakes for her to survive the ordeal.

The tension is unyielding, which the editing and score ensure, providing no ‘safe’ moments of escape for its audience. Veronica Cartwright’s appearance in the film is an unexpected bonus and her character is pretty badass.

“This project in particular is a bit of a diversion from our last film which was straight up horror called Mimesis,” explains Schulze as the three of us seek shelter from the sun, “When I was really young, we moved from the city to a rural area and we lived on a lake. I wandered out unto the ice in the middle of winter and fell through. I literally lost the hole when I fell under and it was completely dark. I managed to turn myself around saw the light and swam up to it and pulled myself up. You know, the rest sort of stayed with me for years growing up. I’d have nightmares and so forth. So, the idea of entrapment beneath the ice, always terrified me, and I thought ‘boy would it be interesting to make this into a film one day’. That was sort of the very early genesis of the project.”

The Dark Below from Festival Fantasia on Vimeo.

Schulze and Shafer had worked together previously on Mimesis. When Schulze spoke to her about this new project, he warned her that this would be the most physical movie she would do in her career.

“At the time, I was like yeah, I’ll do the movie, I love movies, this is what I am born to do. I love challenges,” recounts Shafer. The crew went through scuba diving certification and trained with a marine. Safety precautions and measures were taken at every turn both Schulze and Shafer reassure me.

The production essentially included two very challenging shooting settings: the first taking place on the ice and the second below the ice. “I think we were filming around negative 20 degrees and the only outfit I have on is the scuba suit, which we called the Banana. It was a phenomenal experience. Just that outside portion in the snow was insane,” Shafer recounts. When the crew would break, Shafer’s scuba suit would be tossed in the dryer for the next take but often wouldn’t be totally dry:“I would have to sit there in front of the mirror, in this bathroom in this restaurant where we had our little station, and I would have to give myself a power talk.” Scenes when body heat can be seen emanating from Shafer or when she shakes uncontrollably are her body’s real reactions to the cold conditions of the shoot.

Another challenge Shafer faced during the shoot was when she had to remove her diving mask: “You are taking away your eyesight, you are taking away every sense that is possible, you can’t even feel your weight.”001

In terms of direction for the underwater scenes which make up a solid portion of the film, Schulze did everything from above the water.

“We had a monitor which was below the water and attached to the camera which was in a sort of little diving bell. We used a special under water camera housing. I would talk extensively with the camera operator before they submerged and I would explain the action to [Shafer]. It’s one thing to tell an actor this is what dramatic moment it is, you need to perform this, but then when things begin to happen organically under water you just kind of go with it.”

For many, one of the most strange aspect of the film is that it boasts only one line of dialogue:

“I am a firm believer that a film is written first and foremost and dialogue is meant to enhance a story. This story thematically deals with entrapment and a relationship. The opening quote speaks to the silence between the two characters. It is a bit of a violent ballet they perform. It seemed natural, it seemed the thing to do for the story.”

Schulze explains that the film is “in a quiet way” an hommage to the films of Stanley Kubrick. The striking colour contrast between the two main characters and single point perspective were a sort of inspired emulation.

I ask Schulze if he was mostly drawn to making genre films. In many ways, The Dark Below dives into subject matter that is equally as horrific, if not more so, than creature features such as violence against women and the dark truths we may choose not to believe. Schulze replies:

“I’m not sure if I would classify The Dark Below as a horror film. Actually, I was wondering how some of the festivals were going to take to it. You can’t really screen it next to a zombie film, you know what I mean? There’s no blood and guts in this film but there is non stop terror. And yet, there was something very attractive about that, there’s very little, if no blood, spilt in this film, it’s all terror on the ice.”

Schulze pauses and then adds poignantly:

“I almost think it’s the obligation of the independent filmmaker to push boundaries and there were so many zombie films and so many of gore films and this was an opportunity to push some boundaries and that’s what this was all about.”

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The forecast reveals an incoming hurricane of pop heading straight for Montreal from September 16 to 20th. Umbrellas will do nothing for you; give in and embrace the vibrant shower of art and rock.

Pop Montreal is coming. <3

With over 400 artists involved, we’ve got you covered with our top 10 picks from this year’s program:

TOP 10 MUSICAL ACTS TO CATCH

#10. TASSEOMANCY Tasseomancy-374x595

Website: http://tasseoblog.tumblr.com

Bonus: Holy Data!

POP Montreal and Passovah present :Holy Data, L.A Foster, Kurvi Tasch, Tasseomancy + Wake Island – Saturday 19 September 2015– Divan Orange – Doors 7:30pm  / Show at 8 pm – Tickets 10 $

#9. THE CRIBS

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Website: https://www.facebook.com/thecribs

POP Montreal and Arts & Crafts present: The Cribs + Farao + Absolutely Free + invités – Saturday September 19th 2015– Théâtre Fairmount – Montreal – Doors 8:30 PM / Show 9:30 PM- $18 in advance / $20 at the door

8. ANAMAI

Website: http://anamaigrounds.tumblr.com

POP Montreal presents: The Besnard Lakes Are The 17-Piece Band + guests –Friday, September 18th, 2015-Rialto Hall (upstairs) — Doors 8:30 PM / Show 9:30 PM- Tickets $20

7. MEGA BOG

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Website: https://megabog.bandcamp.com

Mild High Club + Mega Bog + Rakam + Bile Sister + Tess Roby, Saturday, September 19, Casa del Popolo, Doors 8pm / Show 8:30pm – $10 in advance/ $12 at the door

6. HUA LI

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Website: https://www.facebook.com/hualimusic

BONUS: Ariana Molly!

POP Montreal and Maison Sociale present: Ariana Molly + Hua Li + Prismhouse + guest- Friday, September 18th, 2015 – Maison Sociale (5386 St-Laurent)  – Show 12 am FREE!

5. OUGHT

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POP Montreal presents: Ought + guests – Thursday, September 17th, 2015 – Ukrainian Federation (5213 rue Hutchison), Doors 7 pm / Show 8 pm, Tickets $15

Check out our interview with Ought!

4. BOYHOOD

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Website: https://boyhoodsongs.bandcamp.com/

POP Montreal, Debaser, E-Tron and Analogue Addiction present: The Beverleys + Fet.Nat + Hilotrons + Boyhood + Mono No Aware – Wednesday September 16th 2015 – l’Escogriffe – Montreal, Doors 7:30PM / Show 8:30PM, $10 at the door

3. STATIC GOLD

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Website:https://www.facebook.com/StaticGold

BONUS: Corinna Rose!

POP Montreal and Indie Montreal present: Static Gold + Po Lazarus + First You Get The Sugar + Corinna Rose  – Thursday, September 17th, 2015 – L’Hémisphère Gauche (221 Beaubien East) Doors 8 pm / Show 8:30 pm Tickets $10 in av / $12 at the door

2. BABES IN TOYLAND 

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Website: http://babesintoyland.com

Bonus: Cheap Wig!

POP Montréal and Greenland present: Babes in Toyland + Cheap Wig + Hand Cream – Théâtre Rialto :: Salle St-Ambroise –-Montreal –Saturday September 19th 2015– Doors 7PM / Show 8PM- $27 Doors 7 pm / Show 8 pm –Tickets $27

1. TOWANDA

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Website: http://towandauniverse.tumblr.com

POP Montreal, Loose Fit Collective and Annie present: New Fries + Steve Jr + Towanda + JLK + In Hock – Thursday September 17th 2015 – Brasserie Beaubien – Doors 8PM / Show 9PM – $10 at the door

TOP 5 EVENTS NOT TO MISS

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5. Puces POP presents: The Puces POP Arts & Crafts Fair Thursday, September 17th to Sunday, September  20th, 2015 160 St-Viateur East – 2nd floor Thursday – Friday: 5 pm to 9 pm Saturday – Sunday: 11 a to 6 pm Opening party Thursday at 5 pm

4. Art POP, CKUT and Archive Montreal present: Montreal Shows 1965-1975: Posters, Photos and Ephemera Wednesday, September 16th to Sunday, September 20th , 2015 Vernissage: Wednesday, September 16th, 6 pm POP Quarters (3450 St-Urbain) Wed – Thu – Fri: 11 am to 8 pm Sat – Sun: 11 am to 6 pm – FREE!

3. POP Symposium and The Indigenous Studies Program at the McGill
Institute for the Study of Canada present
: Indigenous Beats Friday, September 18th, 2015 POP Quarters (3450 St-Urbain) Talk 11:30 am – FREE!

2. Kids POP presents: Film Animation Workshop Sunday, September 20th, 2015 POP Quarters (3450 St-Urbain) Workshop 11 am to 1 pm Ages 6 and up, registration required. Email kids@popmontreal.com with child’s name and age – FREE!

1. Film POP and CISM present: Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven | USA, 1995 | 131 min.) – 20thanniversary screening! Friday, September 18th, 2015 Cinéma L’Amour (4015 Saint-Laurent) Screening 11:59 pm – Tickets $10, on sale August 28th

Full Program Available at: popmontreal.com

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I remember back when I started writing FFR, a time that now seems so long ago that in my memory I wrote on stone tablets, that my goal was to showcase the lesser-known, the obscure, and weird. Of course, times change and I started ruining Forget the Box’s carefully cultivated image of trendy urbanism with mainstream movies and Japanese superheroes. But back in those halcyon days, and even since, I’ve always had one movie stashed away for a rainy day, a special occasion. My favorite movie, in fact. Alex Proyas’s 1998 sci-fi noir, Dark City.

So why now? What’s so special about this FFR that I’m ready to break out so treasured a piece of my own cinematic DNA? Well folks, it’s because this FFR is my last. After many wonderful years at FTB, I’ve decided that it’s time to hit the road, and that I should leave you something a little special before I go.

Dark City posterDark City is one of those movies where the less you know going in, the better. It’s built around a mystery, and one of its greatest pleasures is not knowing where it’s going next, and holding on for dear life as it takes you around twists and turns with neck-snapping speed. But I have to say something, so let me try and boil it down as much as possible.

Rufus Sewell plays John Murdoch, a man who awakens in a hotel bath with absolutely no idea of who he is, where he is, or how he got there. And to make matters worse, there’s a dead hooker in the hotel room with him, because the only thing worse than waking up next to a stranger is waking up next to a dead one.

John naturally runs for the hills, and soon finds himself pursued by multiple parties, including a hard boiled policeman, a psychiatrist who seems to know what’s going on but couldn’t be more nervous and shifty if he were played by Peter Lorre, a woman who claims to be his wife, and a group of mysterious pasty men in trenchcoats.

The city he’s in is a bleak, perpetually dark art-deco burgh somewhere between the Gotham and Sin City, and the more he discovers about what the bleeding hell is going on, the less it all seems to make sense.

Even to my untrained mind, back in my teen years before my film appreciation had fully blossomed into what it is now, I knew that Dark City was beautiful. The film’s sets, costumes, props and atmosphere are all stunningly realized, bleak and breathtaking at the same time. The city itself is as much a character as Sewell or any of his castmates.

Speaking of which, the supporting cast is a who’s who of talents. Jennifer Connelly, despite a somewhat underdeveloped role, is able to pull of a perfect mix of strength and vulnerability as our hero’s wife. William Hurt is pure deadpan sardonic wit as the police inspector on Murdoch’s tail, and Richard O’Brien is the picture of sinister as the main villain, Mr Hand.

The only weak spot is a pre-Jack Bauer Kiefer Sutherland as Doctor Schreber, the man with the answers. Sutherland overplays it more than a little bit, affecting a weird, halting accent almost throughout. He’s fun to watch, but you have to acknowledge that his performance is more than a bit too over-the-top.

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A lot like Gone Girl, part of the fun of watching Dark City for the first time is having no damn clue where it’s going next. What seems to start as a straight-up noir mystery turns again and again as more new and outlandish concepts are added to the mix.

And Dark City literally never stops ramping up, coming to a glorious head in the third act, when director Alex Proyas suddenly tears every single brake out and the film explodes like the ending of Akira into a massive…….well, you really just have to see it for yourself.

I can see how for a lot of people, this slow shift from slow-burn noir mystery to something else entirely might be a bit jarring. I can understand that the vast shift from subtle to explosive might be a bit too much. But for me, the ending of Dark City is still more wonderful and mind-blowing than that of Fight Club or The Matrix, maybe because it’s such a jarring shift from the comparative sedateness of the majority of the film. A bit like Cabin in the Woods, it’s like the film suddenly decides to get the proverbial party started, ending on the bang to end all bangs.

For me, Dark City is one of the all-time great under-appreciated films, a visually gorgeous, mind-bending genre thriller that dares to go all-out for the finale.

I think I’ve said all I can really say without giving too much away, but I’ll leave you with one piece of advice: watch the Director’s Cut. The major difference between it and the theatrical version beyond one extra scene is that an opening monologue delivered by Kiefer Sutherland, imposed upon the film by braindead studio execs fearful of audiences being too confused, is cut from the opening scene like a tumorous mass, and the experience is greatly improved for it.

And on that note, it looks like my work here is done. I’d like to thank Forget the Box for allowing me these few years of hopefully coherent ramblings, and especially my predecessor, Stephanie Laughlin, for offering me the chance in the first place. Special thanks also go to my many hard working and long-suffering editors, as well. In a lot of ways, this is where I really discovered that writing about movies is what I want to do for a living. I found my voice here, built up my confidence as a writer, and for that I’m truly grateful.

Starting very soon, I’ll be joining Screenrelish.com as a regular contributor, and hopefully you’ll all continue to follow me there, and wherever else the future takes me.

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Closing out Fantasia this year on A Christmas Horror Story, an excellent anthology horror flick, put me in the mood to go back and revisit some old favorites of the genre. Anthology films are always a tricky beast, you’ve got to have the right balance, combining the films in a way that makes them compliment one another, and it helps if there’s a decent balance of quality. Modern efforts like V/H/S often feel lackluster in this department, with maybe one decent segment standing shoulder to shoulder with lackluster ones, like a successful, attractive salaryman stuck in an elevator full of leprous drifters.

But good examples are out there, though for the most part one has to look back a few decades to find the buggers. So on this week’s FFR, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of my favorites.

Tales From the Crypt (1972)

Tales posterThe original Tales From the Crypt is far from the first anthology horror film, but it’s the earliest one I can recall seeing and one of the more looming classics of the genre. Far removed from the TV series that would bear its name, Tales feels far more classy than you’d expect. No pun-spewing skeletons here, friends.

While other films on this list would revel in the four-color pulp of their comics inspiration, Tales is pure old fashioned English Gothic, opening the strains of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (the stereotypical “spooky horror music” you’ve heard the opening bars of a million times) and mostly featuring tale of stuffy aristos and upper-class twits getting what’s coming to them. There’s a killer Santa, a modern re-telling/re-spin of The Monkey’s Paw, a fourth-wall break at the end and Zombie Grand Moff Tarkin.

It may not have the buckets of blood and and cheesy fun of some later entries, but Tales From the Crypt is a fun and atmospheric movie that doesn’t get revisited often enough.

Creepshow (1982)

Creepshow is probably the best known and best remembered horror anthology of the 80s, arguably the one that kicked off the craze. Directed by George A. Romero himself and written by the one and only Stephen King, Creepshow gleefully embraces all the pulp and color of EC horror comics, crafting a gross, fun, colorful horror experience that often prompts as many laughs as it does scares.

The cast is full of recognizable faces, all of them clearly having the time of their lives. Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau and even Stephen King himself make appearances as conspiring lovers, evil corporate magnates, hapless hillbillies and vengeful cuckolds.

There’s a sense of pulpy fun that pervades almost every segment. While other anthology horror films at the time often seemed dead set on being scary as possible, Creepshow devotes just as much energy to being flat-out fun, with plenty of grossout moments, cathartic kills and loving reverence to horror tropes. Like Tales From the Crypt, most of the stories are about awful people getting their just desserts in silly, over-the-top poetic justice, and you’ll probably find yourself cheering more than once.

Body Bags (1993)

Body bags posterMade towards the end of the horror anthology craze, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper’s Body Bags is doubtlessly the least well-known movie on this list. Hell, I hadn’t even heard of it until the good folks at Scream Factory did a terrific Blu-Ray re-release.

Body Bags spins three yarns, featuring a cast so expansive I couldn’t possibly list it here. For me, the most memorable performance is by far John Carpenter himself in the framing story as a morgue worker who introduces us to the various key players of each tale. He’s clearly having more fun than should be allowed in polite society, mugging for the camera as he doffs formaldehyde martinis.

The stories themselves are all great fun, one an atmospheric little slasher story, one a tale of a hair implant gone wrong and one about a baseball player (played by some guy named Mark Hamill) who receives the eyes of a serial killer after his own are lost in a car accident, which naturally imparts the killer’s murderous impulses on him.

Body Bags may not be the best horror anthology ever, but it’s a fun, often overlooked little gem that makes for a great watch with some friends.

Trick ‘R Treat

For my money, a lot of recent attempts at reviving the horror anthology for modern audiences aren’t much worth looking at. I never really got aboard the V/H/S train after being thoroughly unimpressed by the first entry, as you may have gathered by that bit about the drifters in the intro. But then there’s Trick ‘R Treat, a brilliantly crafted collection of Halloween horrors that remains head and shoulders above any other recent anthology films.

The stories that make up the film are beautifully balanced, each one subtly crossing over and feeding into the other. There’s a Halloween prank gone horribly wrong, a button-down killer trying to dispose of a body while his apparently oblivious son keeps getting under foot, an old man menaced by the film’s sack-masked poster child, and Anna Paquin as a stereotypical good girl who draws the attention of a masked vampire.

The stories are all beautifully interwoven. There’s never more than a couple going on at once and there are enough connections between them to make the whole thing feel nice, cohesive and well-planned. The makeup effects are top-knotch, with the film’s mascot Sam standing out as a terrifically designed and conceived character.

From the opening sequence that effortlessly evokes early John Carpenter to the wonderful creature feature that is the closing tale, there literally isn’t a weak moment in Trick ‘R Treat, it all comes together beautifully to deliver the kind of fun, spooky experience that Halloween movies were meant to be.

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What is nonviolent resistance? Is it actually better than violent resistance? These two questions are at the heart of the documentary Everyday Rebellion produced by the Riahi Brothers. The very first quote in the film sets the mood for the discussion:

“Throughout the history of mankind, people have been fighting for their rights. But contrary to popular belief, violence is not the most successful method in this struggle. Nonviolence is.”

You might think that this is a very bold statement to make. How do you stand against a system, whose tools of control have been designed to monopolize the means of violence, by pacifism? Non-violence does not necessarily mean pacifism, though. It doesn’t mean that you respond to violence with passivity. Instead, non-violence encompasses a broad range of acts that can serve to obstruct the balance of the status quo.

One of the main messages of the documentary is that even the smallest act can trigger a change in the way people think. Small victories build up and eventually you might actually achieve something. According to the documentary, for instance, the Arab Spring in Egypt had been in the making for ten years before they actually managed to topple Hosni Mubarak.

To put the political theorizing aside, the documentary follows the multiple stories of everyday resistance. These stories include the Occupy movement in the United States, the Indignados in Spain, the Femen movement, the Arab Spring, and Iran’s Green Movement. In between the narratives, the documentary presents social scientific facts about the effectiveness of non-violence.

One of the strengths of this documentary is that it actually tries to advise people as to how to conduct non-violence most effectively and efficiently. The people who talk directly to the camera are activists and community organizers. The tone is educational. You can tell that they want to teach you how to bring down the system and give power to the people.

What is really amazing is that these people are from all over the world. It may seem like they are fighting for different causes, but in essence what they are doing is standing up for themselves. A narrator whispers at some point: “The priorities of any advanced society must be equality, progress, solidarity, freedom of culture, sustainability and development, welfare, and the people’s happiness.”

Trying to understand the global interconnectedness of these social movements is the main purpose of this documentary. These movements communicate with one another, share tactics, and learn. In that sense, this documentary does an excellent job in continuing that work, by allowing others to directly see what goes on within these movements. It can be daunting to attend a protest and risk getting arrested, but there are other things you can do.

So, if you wish to learn about non-violence, direct action, civil disobedience, organizing, and a lot more, Everyday Rebellion is what you’re looking for. Cinema Political will be screening this documentary on September 1, at 9 p.m. at la Place de la Paix, as part of Cinéma urbain à la belle étoile. You really shouldn’t miss it.

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Being the upstanding crew that they are, the folks at Fantasia saw fit to extend the festival by an extra day, giving me and others time to catch up on some of the more popular films we may have missed the first time around.

While I could have used this opportunity to check out Attack on Titan, I elected instead to hit up two of the smaller releases from this year’s line-up, Deathgasm and A Christmas Horror Story. Both films are Fantasia to the bone, fun, gory, clever crowd-pleasers that kept me entertained throughout and left me smiling. So for my last piece of Fantasia 2015 coverage, let’s take a look back at these two gems.

DeathgasmDeathgasm poster

Since Peter Jackson burst onto the scene with Braindead and Bad Taste, New Zealand splatter flicks have garnered a rep for being fun, gloriously low brow exercises in excess and black humor. Deathgasm, which takes this formula and adds a whopping infusion of Heavy Metal antics, might just end up being one of the best examples of the burgeoning sub-genre, a definite future cult pick and a must-watch for metalheads and horror fans alike.

After our hero, lonely metalhead Brodie, is moved out to a small New Zealand town, he befriends the only other metal fan for miles, Zakk, and starts up a band. But when the two find a set of mysterious pages of music clutched in the manic grip of a burned out former metal legend, they inadvertently unleash hordes of demons on the town. Demons that only they, naturally, can stop.

Deathgasm is an archetypal Fantasia movie, drenched in gore, full of tongue-in-cheek humor and tripping balls on its own manic, gleeful energy. The gags come hard and fast, the soundtrack is a constant barrage of roaring chainsaw engines and squealing guitars and it’s basically impossible not to have barrels of fun with the thing. It’s a cult tour-de-force, already bound for a place of honor in the collections of cult horror aficionados.

If there’s any one thing that kept coming back to bug me, it’s the films depiction of women. Specifically Medina, the popular girl who strikes up a romance with Brodie and joins him in the demon-slaying antics of the last act. She reminded me a lot of the female lead from Some Kind of Hate, a film I thought far less of. Both fall into a few stereotypes that I’m growing increasingly weary of, and which continue to not go away despite our best wishes.

Both are dating the resident bully when the movie opens, in flagrant defiance of prettymuch everything we learn about them later on, but almost immediately fall for the hero. At best it’s a bit of juvenile wish fulfillment, the attractive popular girl who likes bad boys but falls for the hero as soon as she sees what a sensitive soul he is and yada yada yada.

Based on what we learn about her, it seems completely unlikely she would ever have be dating the bully, but character consistency takes a back seat to how well she can serve as a fantasy for introverts and quiet types. Of course, “juvenile wish fulfillment” is basically Deathgasm’s log line, but that doesn’t totally excuse the film from engaging in this tired trope.

Also, in both cases, the female lead has metal bestowed on her by the male lead, implying that metal is an entirely male domain into which women must be led. And that just ain’t true, man. Tons of women find metal on their own, the same way as men do, and it would be nice to have seen this rather than portraying metal as something inherently foreign to women. Deathgasm sorta makes up for this by implying that by the end of the film, Medina has become more of a metal expert than Brodie, though.

But these problems aside, Deathgasm is still tons of fun, and I look forward to revisiting it in years to come.

A Christmas Horror Story

Anthology horror is something that keeps trying to make a comeback, with efforts like the much-seen V/H/S series and the under-watched gem Trick R’ Treat. A Christmas Horror Story is the latest film to try and rejuvenate the old formula, and arguably one of the most successful at recapturing the feel of classics like Creepshow and Body Bags.

Weaving multiple tales of Christmas-themed terror together, Christmas Horror Story is a rollicking good time at the movies. Like Deathgasm it’s gleefully gory but combines that with some terrific ideas and execution from the group of writers and directors who brought it to life.

As is always the case in anthologies, there’s a clear favorite, in my case the tale of a group of teens filming a project on a series of murders in their school. This story thread cleverly subverts expectation in a lot of ways, keeping the audience on their toes by subverting and conforming to horror tropes in equal measure.

Christmas Horror Story

At times I found myself a bit underwhelmed by the creature effects. While competently brought to the screen, the creatures of the film (including a murderous changeling and everyone’s favorite Christmas Demon, the Krampus) felt like they were missing something in the visual department. They aren’t as eye-catching as Sam from Trick R’ Treat, for example.

But there’s still a hell of a lot to love about A Christmas Horror Story. It’s smart and fun, packs a few great surprises, and if nothing else gives audiences the chance to bask in the glory of Shatner in what could be called the framing story.

Now, someone get to work on an Easter-themed horror anthology flick so we can complete the trilogy.

And with that, my Fantasia 2015 coverage comes to a close. I’d hesitantly call it the best iteration of the fest I have yet to attend, and can’t wait to see them try and top themselves next year.

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“I never liked horror movies growing up; I’m really scared of them,” Sonny Mallhi laughed, “I don’t enjoy the experience. I get really scared and strangely paranoid and  think someone is gonna come kill me in the theatre. But Roy Lee of Vertigo loves horror movies and so, working with him, I learned to appreciate the really good ones.”

I had the pleasure of sitting down with soft spoken director Sonny Mallhi, whose film Anguish offered one of the most compelling premises of this year’s festival, to discuss his career in the film industry, taking the indie route, and inspirations for the film.

Anguish centres on troubled sixteen-year-old Tess (Ryan Simpkin) who has been manifesting and diagnosed with various psychological disorders. Jessica (Annika Marks) is at wits end trying various treatments and seeking specialist after specialist. Tess’ torments are not assuaged by the move, nor the giant pill box she must consume daily, and, soon enough, she becomes overshadowed, leaving her mother desperate enough to consider the impossible. Jessica and Tess’ lives collide with that of local grieving mother, Sarah (Karina Logue), who may just have the insight they need.

Offering the point of view of both mother and daughter, Anguish leans somewhat more heavily towards that of Tess, who wanders lonesome in this small town, meandering on her skateboard, as if herself a ghost, exploring her new surroundings and trying to ignore what seems impossible. Although she rarely speaks, Ryan Simpkin is simply phenomenal as Tess and manages to communicate volumes with her eyes. The cinematography captivates the small town perfectly both in its beauty, with hues of oranges, blues, and greens, and potential for dread around every corner. The sound design is thundering, at times almost handing out blows, maximizing the scare factor and echoing the chaos of Tess’ experience.AnguishRevVert

Anguish is Mallhi’s directorial debut after working as a writer and producer for many years. For Mallhi, it all began when he moved to L.A. and took on a very generic intern position at a production company, where he fetched much coffee, read many scripts, and did most of this completely unpaid. Eventually, he made his way to Vertigo, which was specializing in remakes of Asian films such as The Ring (2002).

As an executive, Mallhi set up various projects and naturally found himself stepping on set to co-produce one of them: The Lake House (starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock), originally based on Siworae (2000). One of the most influential experiences for Mallhi was working on developing The Strangers, where he was the executive producer.

As for screenwriting, The Roommate (2011) was Mallhi’s first script, which he originally wrote under a pseudonym. Once it was picked up, he revealed himself as the author, which made for a funny story amongst colleagues, and then went on to develop the film. Mallhi has also produced films like House at the End of the Street (2012), and Nicholas McCarthy’s At The Devil’s Door (2014), which screened at Fantasia in 2014 and also distinguishes itself for featuring three women lead roles.

Despite offers from studios, Mallhi decided to go the indie route with Anguish:

“The daunting part was, again, not selling it to studio; I had to choose everything. I think mostly for better. I think for better,” laughed Mallhi. One of these choices was to shoot in his home town where he could benefit from local connections as well as pay homage to his love of the midwest and small town films.

Moving from writer and producer to director, Mallhi found the biggest challenge, and there were more than he had expected, was knowing when to be open to changes and when to stick to his original vision:

“What I found as a producer and as a director,” he explained, “is that there is no formula. You just hope that you’ve been open to things that made the movie better or fought for things that made the movie better. Then you sort of find out at the end of the day.”

For the subject matter, Mallhi’s inspiration stems from a true story he found on the internet. As for filmic influences, Mallhi cites the strongest influences as what he learned from Bryan Bertino working on The Strangers.For the cinematography and visuals, he also found inspiration in the small town where they shot, which is a picturesque setting for Tess’s wanderings and horrifying ordeal.

As for the true story, it offered the possibility to explore several themes, including the dramatic relationship between a mother and daughter. One of the key things that caught Mallhi’s eye was that the film did not go the route of a classic (re:tragic) exorcism tale:

“[Exorcism] never works in the movies, and it probably never works in real life,” added Mallhi, “if you think about Emily Rose, that is a great example of a real life scenario where priests were torturing this girl to death and the family trusted them, thinking that it was for the best.”

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Through Tess’s eyes, Anguish asks us to question ourselves on the authorities we heed, as parents and patients, when it comes to conditions we may not fully understand or know how to handle. The history of how mental health has been handled and treated is a dark one in Western Society: a horror tale all of its own.

Even today in North America, where these conditions are medicalized there remains much that is unknown and many lacunas in providing relief. Indeed, the way illness and health are conceptualized is culturally specific and very much shifts throughout history. Having researched these different perspectives and drawing from those of people around him, Mallhi explores in Anguish the possibilities of understanding conditions that frighten us in a different light. He does so without attributing a positive or negative value to these other possibilities. When mulling over Anguish, there is horror and terror a-plenty.

At the heart of Anguish, Mallhi is seeking to push viewers and himself outside our comfort zones, to follow the characters as they try to grapple with what they cannot change and are forced to entertain different, at times surreal, otherworldly, possibilities:

“I don’t really believe in anything. I have this weird attitude where I want to believe in things but I am just too skeptical. I wish I wasn’t. There’s that side of me that really wants to believe it. I wish I could just get out of my own way to believe it and I think, for me personally, this movie is a lot about that.”

fucking my way back home

Toronto-based filmmakers Kathryn Palmateer and Shawn Whitney just wrapped up production on their second indie movie Fucking My Way Back Home. As with their debut feature A Brand New You, the writer/director/producer duo and married couple are turning to Indiegogo to help offset the costs of post-production.

As the title suggests, the film, which stars Freya Ravensbergen, Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz and Julio Benitez Guardiola deals with sex work. It does so, though, in a way not common with most Hollywood productions. I had a chance to ask Whitney about the project:

FTB: Briefly, tell me what Fucking My Way Back Home is in your own words.

Shawn Whitney: We’re calling it a “sex worker dystopia” to highlight the fact that the Tory model of criminalization is creating dangerous situations for sex workers and this story is meant to reflect that reality. But it’s also – more conventionally – an erotic thriller and road movie that takes place over the course of one night.

What made you want to make a film with sex work as a main theme?

This story was one that I had worked on with another writer a number of years ago, named Reece Crothers. We didn’t end up doing anything with it and it just sort of sat around in a drawer, unwritten. We were looking for something that we could produce and direct that was do-able for a minimal budget and it seemed to be that but also all the debate that arose around sex work in recent years also made it seem like a good story to tell right now.

Did you contact any sex worker support or advocacy groups and/or do you plan to?

The thing is that it’s quite difficult. Sex worker organizations, like Maggie’s in Toronto, are busy, under-funded and tired of dealing with filmmakers who misrepresent sex workers and the sex industry for their own gain.

Maggie’s won’t even talk to filmmakers unless they are or were sex workers. I can’t say that I blame them but, on the other hand, we were going to make this movie and we wanted to talk to some sex workers to make sure that we weren’t misrepresenting their experience in important ways.

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This was also a challenge – again, I think the “underground” nature of the industry contributes to that. We did meet with the owner of an escort agency. She gave us some really good notes and then sort of disappeared. Freya, our lead actress, also met with a couple of former escorts and got really good notes that affected the final shape of the script.

We would have loved to hire someone as a consultant but literally no one got paid on this film shoot so we weren’t in a position to do more than feed people and buy them drinks after the shoot was over.

With Hollywood a-listers like Anne Hathaway and Lena Dunham coming out against Amnesty International’s proposal to decriminalize sex work, do you think the abolitionist and victim who needs to be rescued (a la Pretty Woman) models permeate mainstream cinema? If so, do you think this will change anytime soon, or are indie films the only recourse?

A few years ago I wouldn’t have believed how quickly representations of gay men and transgender people would move forward. There are still major problems, of course, but I’m old enough to remember the Al Pacino film Cruising and how gay men were represented as homicidal or sick in some way.

The key was not that Hollywood got more progressive it was that LGBT people fought for their civil rights over years and years and years. And in the process of winning some important gains – like same sex marriage – they also transformed out culture in important ways.

The hope, I think, for cultural representations of sex workers ultimately lies in a movement for sex worker rights that is led by sex workers themselves. This exists, for instance, in parts of the developing world – large, militant sex worker unions, etc. So, it could happen here and that would shatter the kinds of paternalistic attitudes that certain feminists have towards sex workers.

It’s worth saying also that the flip side of this is the perspective peddled by the porn industry, which tries to portray sex worker as simply a matter of personal choice. It’s not that simple either. We have to take into account poverty, lack of options, gender oppression. But instead of fighting to ban the sex industry – whether porn or escort services, whatever – we should fight for better conditions, fight to unionize workers in the industry.

Where did you get the idea to crowdfund this film? Do you think this is the future of indie cinema?

We crowdfunded after our first film, which helped to offset some of the costs of post-production. So, we wanted to do it again and we’ve done a slightly better job this time, even though we’ve been a bit more neglectful of the campaign, strangely.

The idea of crowdfunding is everywhere in the indie film world and people see campaigns like the one by Zach Braf that raised a million dollars or whatever or the campaigns for various reboots of the Star Trek franchise and think that could be them. Sorry, not gonna happen. You’re not going to raise a million dollars with your first, second or third film. Ingrid Veninger – a very well known DIY filmmaker in Toronto just raised $36 000 for her fifth film He Hates Pigeons.

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Break it down – where is that $50 000 going to come from in real terms? Do you have 1000 friends who will each give $50? I wish I did!

So it’s not going to allow most filmmakers to make even “microbudget” films in the $150K range. But it does provide another tool to help build a following and can offset, for instance, some of your post-production costs.

Indie filmmaking, it seems to me, is more and more like building a band – you start with a following of immediate friends and family. If you make something good and find creative ways to get the word out, you can expand your audience and then mobilize them to help you make your next movie.

You can go from raising $5000 to $6000-$7000. That’s nothing to sneeze at. For a long time in the conventional industry “pre-sales” have been a key element of financing films. Crowdfunding at its best is like that – I like to call it: “pre-sales from below,” rather than pre-sales through corporate broadcasters and national or international distributors.

* You can help Fucking My Way Back Home’s pre-sales by donating to their Indiegogo Campaign (less than two days left)

* Photos by Douglas Hunter, courtesy of Dangerous Dust Productions