On September 26th, Pop Montreal returns with another five days of music, film, panels, and visual arts. It’s been a few years since I’ve attended this very Plateau/Mile End festival, but I already know I’m going to have a good time. Because unlike other bigger festivals where you’re drawn to check out what you know, at Pop you’re guaranteed to discover a whole slew of new exciting artists you’ve never heard of before.

Here’s my list of what I’m most looking forward to checking out at Pop Montreal 2018:

Bad Reputation

Ever since I first heard the song I Love Rock n’ Roll as a teenager, I was drawn to the badass that is Joan Jett. This year as part of Film Pop, the festival will be screening a documentary by director Kevin Kerslake about the legendary feminist punk rocker. I’m also looking forward to attending the screening at the newly opened indie/art house movie theater Cinema Moderne on St-Laurent.

Wednesday, September 26, 8pm, Cinema Moderne, 5150 St-Laurent. Tickets $12

Kilo Kish

While rap music isn’t usually my thing, I was so drawn by the music video for Elegance by New York artist Kilo Kish that I officially have added her show to my must-see list. While researching Kish I discovered that Pitchfork recently dubbed Elegance one of the best songs of 2018, declaring “Building from the stream-of-consciousness style that characterizes most of her catalog, Kilo Kish turns her racing thoughts into crackling electricity.”

Wednesday, September 26, 11pm, Piccolo Rialto, 5723 Ave du Parc. Tickets $20

Puces POP

My favourite part of POP. The festival has these fairs year-round now (if you’re friends with a Plateau gal, you’ve undoubtedly been dragged to one of these events), but the biggest of them all is always during the main festival in September. For three glorious days, you can shop for prints, jewelry, food, makeup and clothing. So come watch hipsters gather in their natural habitat, and leave with a cute new print to hang on your wall!

September 28-30, Eglise St-Denis, 454 Laurier Est. Schedule

Molly Nilsson

Molly Nilson is a Swedish pop singer that, according to Pitchfork “does ennui like no one else.” That combined with her 80s music sound has me excited to see what she does onstage. I would love to tell you more about her but she doesn’t have much of a social media presence… which kind of only makes me want to get to know this artist more.

Thursday, September 27, 8:30pm, Bar “le Ritz” P.D.B., 179 Jean-Talon Ouest. Tickets $16.50

Art POP

In between film screenings and shows, I plan on checking out the many art shows that are also happening during Pop. Here’s just a sampling of the ones I’m most excited for:

Où sommes-nous

OBORO and White Frame co-present Où sommes-nous, an exhibition by Judith Albert, Katrin Freisager, Dana Claxton, and Nik Forrest. These four established artists open and disrupt our knowledge of space and time, bringing into question the line between reality and illusion through poetry and resistance. (info)

Pop Pavillion

Art POP is collaborating for the very first time with the Association of Visual and Media Arts Masters students (AEMAVM) of the Université du Québec à Montréal to co-present POP Pavillon, AEMAVM’s annual group exhibition showcasing the work of 11 exciting, emerging artists. (info)

Whispering Pines

Centre Clark presents a new exhibition by Shana Moulton, an artist who creates evocatively oblique narratives in her video and performance works. In Whispering Pines, the artist presents art pieces combining an unsettling, wry humor with a low-tech, pop sensibility.(info)

* POP Montreal 2018 runs September 26-30. Full schedule available at POPMontreal.com

** Featured Image: Screengrab from Kilo Kish’s Elegance video

In honour of the release of Denys Arcand’s most recent film, The Fall of the American Empire, I thought I would take a look at his roots, the head-turning Quebecois classic, The Decline of the American Empire (Le déclin de l’émpire américain). A film that, in 1986, seemed very topical and relevant.

The Cold War was still happening, the threat of nuclear war hung casually over everyone’s heads, the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse, the AIDS epidemic was rampant. For some, society seemed to be in decline or at least on the brink of it.

According to one of the main characters, Dominique, in the film’s second scene, society’s decline is evident because of its focus on self-indulgence (in this film’s case, that focus is mostly on sex). This, she says, is indicative of our collective demise.

This is the thesis of her new book, Changing Concepts of Happiness, and the film itself. In an interview with her friend and journalist, Diane, Dominique recounts how this is evident in examples throughout history: in third century Rome, the idea of conjugal love first comes from Diocletian just before the Empire’s collapse and Rosseau’s idea of happiness came in during the French Revolution. Now, she argues, we are witnessing the decline of the American empire.

Diane interviewing Dominique in one of the opening scenes of the film

The film follows eight characters, mostly academics, a group of four women –  Dominique, Louise, Diane and Danielle and four men – Remy, Claude, Alain and Pierre. They are all colleagues at their university’s history department with the exception of Danielle who is a student.

The four men cook an elaborate meal at a lake-side house, while the women, in the meantime, workout at the gym. The camera constantly cuts and pans from one group to another while they indulge in recounting their sexual exploits.

Of the men, Rémy seems to be the most active hedonist of the group, as they all retell their sexual adventures seemingly trying to one-up each other. In one anecdote, he recounts that on the way to his mistress, he was craving sex so much that he had to stop at a brothel.

Alain, the youngest of the group, believes he is unlike all the others because he “doesn’t want to have sex with a new girl every night.”

Pierre lives with Danielle, who he met a massage parlor, after learning she was a student at the university.

Claude, the only gay man in the group, recounts how he likes to “cruise” gay hotspots in Montreal. He once had a lover, but he died in an accident and since then Claude has an uncontrollable lust.

He also has a mysterious disease. Claude is portrayed quite well as an openly gay man on the big screen, years before Philadelphia.

The women similarly discuss their sex lives. Diane describes her sado-masochistic relationship with her new boyfriend Mario once Louise discovers scratches on her back and notes how powerful she feels while in it experiencing the “power of the victim.”

Dominique, single and never married, is equally as promiscuous as Diane.

Danielle, the youngest among the women, is similar to Alain in that she has not had the same experiences and still believes that all she needs is to “be happy.”

Louise, the most conservative of the group and Remy’s wife, blushes at the idea of even flirting with her tennis instructor. She suspects Remy is unfaithful on his trips away but takes comfort in knowing (or rather believing) that while he is at home, he is 100% faithful. The women of course, know this is not true as both Diane and Dominique have in the past slept with Remy.

While at first, mostly all in good fun, the conversations and witty wordplay take a dark turn once they all meet for dinner. Secrets about them are spilled and grievances are voiced, exposing a group that at first seemed very modern in their sexual openness now seeming utterly unsatisfied and unfulfilled.

The degeneration of the group dynamic at this point in a way is a reflection of how Arcand saw society. That personal indulgence for indulgence’s sake is a sign of decline.

Decline is very much influenced by the 1981 film My Dinner With Andre, in its very dialogue-heavy script rife with wit. Although the focus throughout is very much on sex, we do not really see much of it. That sentiment is encapsulated well from one line from Mario:

“They talked about sex all afternoon as if they were getting ready for an orgy. Instead, the big deal is a fish pie!”

Original trailer for the film

The film itself today with its fashion as well as some racial stereotypes, comes off as dated. The ideas however, still come off as somewhat relevant.

In the era of Facebook and social media, it seems that attempts at quick personal gratification are all around us and might speak to a dissolving social structure With the election of Trump and all the other malfeasance in the world it might seem that society could be in decline once again (or even failing as Arcand would argue in his most recent film).

Some might posit, however, that to argue our “society” itself is in decline is questionable. The fall of empires have generally been a good thing for societies as it can mean change for the better, though it does, in many instances, cause periods of disarray. In this sense, the moral relativism of the film can seem kind of preachy.

Regardless of this, the film is quite fun and edgy because of its wit and subject matter and still has strains of relevance to viewers today. So before you go out and watch Arcand’s new film, I’d recommend a quick viewing of this classic first.

Feature Image Courtesy of Cineplex Odeon Films

In a world that’s crumbling around us it’s good to showcase people and projects that give us hope. Canadian filmmakers Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper have done just that with their film Metamorphosis.

Full of breathtaking cinematography, soothing meditative music, and incredible insights into the lives of those living through climate change and the artists, scientists, and architects fighting it, the film is one of the few nonjudgmental ones on the subject. It resonates without judging, stating the facts with beautiful images and heartrending stories of people living through what many would deny is happening all around us. The message is not one of impending catastrophe so much as one of hope and potential through creativity.

I had the privilege of speaking with writers/director/producers Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper on the phone while they were promoting the film in Calgary. This is what we discussed:

Samantha Gold: You call the film a poem for the planet. What exactly does that mean?

Velcrow Ripper: It’s a cinematic poem… It’s not a literal essay. It’s more intended to spark the imagination, to inspire people and help us fall in love with the planet but also to wake up to what we’re doing to the planet. The examples of positive solutions in the film are all captured in spectacular visual style and they’re tended to be more design principles than literal projects that needed to be done.

If people could take one message away from seeing your film, what would it be?

Nova Ami: One message would be that crisis is an opportunity for transformation and that we have a choice in terms of how we respond to this crisis.

Who do you think needs to hear this message most?

V.R.: I’m thinking everyone really. You know from people who are very aware and concerned about the planet and who might be in a state of despair right now. Environmental scientists are probably the most depressed people on the planet right now because they know details so much… All the way to people who are in climate denial and who are suffering from psychic numbing. They also need to recognize the possibility inherent in this crisis and the fact that the solutions and the changes that we need to make to our society to combat climate change are also gonna make our lives better. It’s a win-win situation.

A lot of people think that fighting climate change is more of a task for people in the STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and so on. Your film gave quite a bit of attention to artists doing their part. What do you think is the greatest contribution artists can make to this fight?

N.A.: In terms of art being a way to start a conversation and to allow the viewer to project their own meaning onto it as well. One of the responses that we’re getting about the film is that it’s not preachy or judgmental or lecturing and so it’s a more abstract way of representing what’s going on. It helps us think outside of the box and gives us something to meditate on.

V.R.: Art throughout history has been a very powerful force in social change. Art can wake us up and shake us up and move us on emotional and psychological levels and the film really explores the emotional and psychic aspects of climate change and we felt that art was a really powerful way to delve into these ideas and represent them visually.

You gave almost equal footing to scientists, farmers, and artists in the film. How do you think that science and art can converge in the fight against climate change?

N.A.: A lot of the solutions are very creative and in terms of using our creativity to find solutions to solve some of the problems that we’re facing. I think that’s one of the ways.

V.R.: Another way is that artists can communicate some of the concepts that scientists don’t necessarily express that well to the public.

What do you mean by that?

V.R. : There’s a communication problem with climate change. Just throwing more facts at people doesn’t always work. What we need more than anything is a cultural shift and artists can really help with that and I think scientists and artists working together have a lot of exciting possibilities. One of the things in the film is the Earthships – they’re like pieces of art that you live in that are a hundred percent sustainable – it’s a beautiful combination of art and practicality.

* Check out their site for screening info and their Facebook page for events

Nuit Blanche, for me, is all about checking out as many random things as I can with friends, running into people I haven’t seen in a while and taking the metro home at a time it doesn’t usually run just because I can. This past Saturday was all tgat, but also a chance to celebrate and remember the unforgettable Montreal poet, songwriter and icon Leonard Cohen.

After some time spent at a church and the obligatory run through the Belgo Buildings, we braved the sea of humanity in Place des Festivals to make our way to the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (or the MAC) where the exhibit Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything was showing. The line looked daunting at first, but moved quickly for a Nuit Blanche line.

The first room we entered turned out to be the one we would spend the most time in. It was all about Leonard’s music career, with concert footage from each era mixed in with interviews and archival photos and video simultaneously projected on three walls.

It was on a loop but it took about an hour for the whole loop to start again. It was chock full of great footage and I saw a good chunk of the crowd singing along at several points and caught myself doing the same.

After being treated to a quality mini musical doc, we checked out the rest of the exhibit. There were rooms with presumably equally as thorough videos on Leonard’s poetry and writing and one with an organ where each key played a recording of Leonard saying something.

I would have liked to spend more time in these rooms, but the Nuit Blance bustle and the fact that it was close to closing time (pun intended) for the museum meant I would have to do that some time in the future (okay, enough, two is pushing it). Seriously, though, I will make a point of returning to fully immersing myself in this exhibit before it closes.

While the use of technology was impressive throughout, there was one section, separated into two rooms, that took it to the next level. In the first, there was one screen with a choir singing Leonard Cohen songs (what else). Rather, they were singing parts of Leonard Cohen songs.

When you went around the corner, there was a larger room with what seemed like over 20 screens in a circle facing inwards. Each one had a different person on it and they were all singing or speaking different parts of the same song the choir in the other room was singing, in sync.

If you got close enough to one screen, you heard that person either taking part in the song or moving around, rustling pages or clearing their throat quietly. It was very intimate and human and technologically slick at the same time.

Pretty sure all or at least most of the people were local, too. I recognized one person I know and a few others seemed very familiar.

And then there was the hologram. Yes, in a room made up to look like Leonard’s from some non-specific time in his lengthy career, there was a balcony with a Leonard Cohen hologram sitting down and looking out on the city.

While everything on Nuit Blanche was free and this exhibit normally isn’t, I don’t mind paying to take it in again and fully experience it. From what I already experienced, it’s unique, a great tribute and worth it.

Really glad that Leonard was part of my Nuit Blanche this year.

* Featured image by Stephanie Laughlin

** Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything runs at the MAC until April 9, 2018

Last February, I wrote about Don Hertzfeldt’s first feature film It’s Such a Beautiful Day. Among other things it amazed me how many themes he could explore in such a short amount of time and also do it so in depth and with so much meaning.

As I wrote: “Hetzfeldt is able to make us feel more for a simplistic stick figure than most films can makes us feel for or relate to actual human beings.” In World of Tomorrow, he does this again but in a shorter amount of time (18 minutes).

The World of Tomorrow follows Emily, a 4-year old girl (voiced by Hertzfeldt’s 4 year old niece, Winona Mae) who discovers a machine and starts to fiddle around with it. While she is pressing buttons, a screen appears and she is contacted by a mysterious figure quickly revealed to be herself (well not necesarily, it’s a clone of herself) 227 years into the future.

In The World of Tomorrow, human beings have learnt how to clone themselves and transfer their memories onto their clones, essentially creating a technique to live forever. The Emily clone is revealed to be a third generation of Emily clones (let’s call her Emily 3G), who has contacted the original Emily (referred to in the film as Emily Prime) to extract a forgotten memory from her 4-year old self before the world ends.

The future that Hertzfeldt presents is obsessed with legacy and nostalgia. Those who cannot afford to clone themselves either store their memories in digital cubes or grotesquely allow their faces to be stretched onto animatronic machines after their death so they can still “always be with their loved ones” long after they are gone.

Emily 3G goes on to explain to her young self that in her clone-dominated culture where robots do all the work, the most popular activity is watching memories on screens passed on from their “originals” or primes. As generations go by, the memories start becoming just of their past selves watching screens in an effort to understand what it means to be human. This sad and depressing metaphor is made even more poignant with the vivid background images of people watching screens and watching themselves watching screens.

The film is not only notable for its ideas but also for the colourful and vibrant backdrops throughout. You could almost pause it at any point and be struck with a wonderful, chaotic mess of colour and floating lines.

Emily 3G often gives long, drawn-out, monotonous explanations of her future to which Emily Prime, obviously unable to comprehend the complexity of the words she is being told often responds with a simple: “Okay”or a mix of gibberish. Emily 3G’s deadpan delivery and Emily Prime’s obliviousness adds a much needed aspect of hilarity to a more or less, gloomy existence.

This dynamic is shown well in the scene when Emily 3G, after tediously explaining the extreme risk of time travel, then proceeds to time travel her prime into her own time without even a second thought (knowing that it could end her existence). Emily Prime arrives unharmed, unaware of what could have happened. In other scenes too, Emily 3G casually drops lines like “We are all doomed Emily” to which Emily Prime laughs at happily.

Probably my favourite scene in the film (and arguably the most emotional and heart-wrenching) is when Emily 3G goes through her life experiences with love (or when she thought she was in love). At first she explains how she fell in love with a rock while working on the moon and then a fuel pump and an alien monster she named Simon while working in space until eventually she fell in love with a fellow clone, David.

She feels a sort of familiarity with him as another generation of the same clone was part of an art exhibit when she was younger. As the clone is an older and already deteriorating version, it dies, leaving Emily alone.

Emily Prime asks Emily 3G if she misses David to which her clone replies:

“I do not have the mental or emotional capacity to deal with his loss. But sometimes, I sit in a chair, late at night, and quietly feel very bad. When the night is at its most quiet, I can hear Death. I am very proud of my sadness, because it means that I am more alive. I no longer fall in love with rocks.”

There are many quotes to chose from in this film but this one is by far the most memorable. Emily 3G tries so desperately throughout her life to feel some sort of humanity (even going as far as putting her original self at risk of death) but the only way it seems she can is by experiencing loss. To her that is something to be proud of because as she later mentions to Emily Prime, it is important to try and live a life well-lived: “Live well and live broadly. You are alive and living now. Now is the envy of all of the dead.”

The World of Tomorrow explores some themes that are tough to deal with at times. Fortunately for us, Hertzfeldt does it with his clever, off-brand style of comedy  and aesthetically-pleasing backdrops and in only 18 minutes. So if you’ve got some time to spare, maybe you’re waiting for the bus or waiting for your laundry to dry off, pop open this film, you won’t be disappointed.

WORLD OF TOMORROW from don hertzfeldt on Vimeo.

Images: Bitter Films

The Last Jedi has turned out to be one of the most polarizing Star Wars movies to date. That’s just one of the many reasons why it’s not only great Star Wars but also excellent cinema.

The paragraph above is my spoiler-free review. If you haven’t seen the latest installment in the new trilogy, go do so, then come back and read the rest of the article because there are many SPOILERS ahead. You have been warned.

It seems that most people either love this movie or hate it. The haters can be split into two groups:

The first are those responsible for the abnormally low Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 52%, sharply contrasting the critics’ score of 92% fresh. They’re basically a small but vocal group of trolls who have a problem with any diversity showing up in a blockbuster. I really don’t care about what they think and I doubt Disney/Lucasfilm do either.

Rey: Fans cared about who her parents were, maybe too much

The second group, though, are Star Wars fans. In particular Original Trilogy (OT) fans who endured the prequels and had a very real new hope (pun because I had to) that a Lucas-free Lucasfilm could bring back the Star Wars they loved for years.

For the most part, they were okay with The Force Awakens, both in spite and because of it’s retro feel. From what I can tell, many of them quite liked last year’s standalone film Rogue One, too.

This time, though, they’re not having it. 65 000 (and counting) people even signed a petition to get it stricken from the Star Wars Canon.

So what has them so upset? It isn’t the visuals which are absolutely stunning. It isn’t the action sequences which are some of the best Star Wars has come up with. It isn’t the special effects which are, for the most part, practical (yeah, there’s a bit of prequel-like CGI, but it’s kept to a minimum).

While the primary target of scorn is writer/director Rian Johnson, I don’t think it’s for his directing or dialogue. He gets better performances out of his actors than George Lucas did in the prequels and the cast is solid. They are serious and emotional when they need to be and cheesy when that’s what’s called for.

You won’t find any talk of sand and it getting everywhere in The Last Jedi and even the jokes work, which it turns out is thanks in large part to some script doctoring by the late, great Carrie Fisher who plays Leia Organa for the last time in the film.

So What’s Got Them So Pissed?

The problem these Star Wars die-hards turned haters have is with the story itself.

For starters, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) isn’t heroic, at least not until the very end. He’s flawed, weary and filled with regret.

No, he doesn’t join the dark side of the force like his father did. If he had, I think it would have been an easier pill to swallow for many of the film’s detractors. Instead we get a flawed and self-loathing Luke critical of both his and the Jedi’s importance in galactic events. He also says quite clearly that it’s arrogant to think Jedi are needed for the light side of the Force to continue to exist.

Not some people’s Luke

The Force is in everyone and every thing, you don’t need to be a Skywalker or a Kenobi to master it. Good thing for Rey (Daisy Ridley) because it turns out that she is neither, if Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) can be believed on this particular point.

Her parents were junk merchants who probably sold her for drinking money and are buried on Jakku in an unmarked grave. She is “nobody” but also the only hope for the Resistance and the entire galaxy.

Some fans, though, feel “that’s not how the Force works!” Or at least that’s not how it worked in the OT or one of the many ways they predicted it would work in this film.

Another section that ruffled more than a few feathers was Finn (John Boyega) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran)’s trip to the casino planet of Canto Bight. Generally, the argument against this sequence’s inclusion was that it was a needless distraction from the dueling main stories of Rey/Luke/Kylo and the Resistance trying to escape the First Order in a movie that clocks in just over the two and a half hour mark.

The Last Jedi is Star Wars at its Best

I’m a Star Wars fan, an OT old school Star Wars fan. I’m not the type that will blindly accept anything produced under the banner. While I understand where the harsh criticism of The Last Jedi is coming from, it fundamentally forgets what made the original three Star Wars films so great in the first place.

They surprised us, had us enthralled in the universe, guessing what might happen next and keeping an open mind about new ideas and interpretations. The Last Jedi does just that.

I didn’t think Snoke (Andy Serkis) would meet his fate in the second film, but after he did I realized it makes so much sense that Kylo Ren would supplant his master and become the main baddie. This unexpected event hasn’t generated nearly the amount of buzz you’d think it would.

I also wasn’t expecting the Luke that we got, but am glad that he wasn’t just a bearded version of the same Jedi I grew up with. Just as Anakin had his redemption thanks to Luke in Return of the Jedi, this movie was the story of Luke’s redemption with help from Rey and Yoda (who also had his own visual redemption from being a CGI character in the prequels).

We didn’t see Luke’s fall from grace except in flashbacks, but where we find him in this movie makes sense and makes for a better story. Also, learning that Hamill wasn’t thrilled with his character’s development  (and later regretted saying so), I’m doubly impressed at the excellent performance he gave.

This was a more powerful and interesting evolution of the character I grew up with than him staying totally light or going dark would have been. His revelations on the Force and the Jedi help evolve the Star Wars universe to where it needs to be.

While I gleefully partook in the theorizing on Rey’s parentage (I leaned towards the Grandpa Obi Wan theory), I didn’t get mad at the movie when I was (most likely) proven wrong. In fact, that revelation brought a tear to my eye. You don’t need to be from the Star Wars equivalent of noble lineage to be extremely important.

This carries over to the Canto Bight sequence. Now I’ll admit that when we first went to the planet, I thought for a moment that we were all of a sudden back in the prequels for no apparent reason and was expecting someone to try and sell Finn death sticks.

CGI used for progressive good: Canto Bight creature

Soon enough, though, it became apparent that this was a thematically integral part of the story. Poor kids and CGI beasts abused for the amusement of wealthy war profiteers drinking the Star Wars equivalent of champagne are tied into the Force and the future of the galaxy just as much as the Skywalker family.

This becomes crystal clear in the last scene of the movie but is brought to the forefront first by Rose, herself from this world, not the one of space battles and Jedi. That this is taking us away from characters we know for a bit isn’t a mistake, it’s kind of the point.

I was also thrilled watching Finn and Rose plow through the 1% fully aware of the irony that Disney would be marketing the beasts they were riding on as well as the poor kids who tended to them as action figures. Even the intentionally cute for marketing purposes stuff worked in this movie. I can live with porgs, but BB-8 taking control of an AT-ST was great.

Good Movies Get People Talking

Good Star Wars, come to think of it, good movies, get people talking. The amount of think pieces this film has already generated is impressive, quite impressive.

People are contemplating everything from how it takes a stand in the class war to how it is a cautionary tale against the toxic masculinity found in the trope of the hero who goes in blasters wailing. I’ve even seen two articles calling it a subversive AF masterpiece and one from an Expanded Universe fan arguing it has changed Star Wars forever and why that’s a good thing.

The Last Jedi is not only great Star Wars, it is a great movie, period, just as the first three films were. Rian Johnson isn’t changing or erasing the Original Trilogy, he is respecting it by helping the cinematic universe it spawned evolve.

This is exactly the Star Wars we need right now and I love it.

* Images: Lucasfilm/Disney

Here I am again! Reviewing another of Hollywood’s most awful, probably best left untouched. With the release of a new Star Wars film and the holiday season, I thought it was the perfect time to re-open the vault! So here is my review of the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.

George Lucas once famously quipped about this cinematic debacle that if he had the time and a sledgehammer, he would track down every copy of it and smash them. He then proceeded to buy every single copy so that it would never air again.

Unfortunately for him and luckily for us the Internet exists and has acted as a living tomb to this turbulent television special. And I sat through it so you don’t have to. This holiday special was definitely special in its own way.

After the first Star Wars film was released in 1977, it was a huge surprise success. A lot of people actually expected it to flop at the time. Hollywood wasn’t used to high-cost space operas. Rather, films that were popular then were more like the French Connection or The Godfather; movies with uncompromising tough guy protagonists. Directors were more interested in gritty realism than fantasy.

Star Wars was very expensive to make, in fact it was one of the most expensive movies to have ever been made at the time. If it flopped, 20th Century Fox would be out hundreds of millions of dollars.

To give it a chance, they only granted theaters the right to show The Other Side of Midnight, a highly anticipated novel adaptation, if they picked up Lucas’ space opera as well. Although The Other Side of Midnight was a marginal success and did modestly well by any standards, as we all know, it didn’t do anywhere near as well as Star Wars.

The film was so unexpectedly popular that merchandise and toys couldn’t be sold on the spot and film-goers had to get a sort of IOU. All of this unexpected popularity then gave birth to the Holiday Special.

George Lucas wanted to keep Star Wars on people’s minds during the holiday season as the making of the second film progressed so he granted CBS permission to proceed. To say he regretted this decision is an understatement.

Obviously, due to the success of Star Wars, the expectations for this television special were astronomically high. It did not deliver, mostly because a lot of it is just straight up weird.  From the first scene that is solely in Wookie grunts (without subtitles) to virtual reality Wookie porn, this movie has a lot of moments that were probably best left forgotten.

The variety extravaganza begins with Chewbacca and Han flying through space. Chewbacca wants to get back to his family on his home planet of Kashyyyk to spend “Life Day” with them (why couldn’t it have just been Christmas or any other holiday?) and Han unenthusiastically reassures him that they will get there as soon as possible.

It is not Han who is miserable but Harrison Ford himself who is evidently bored as hell throughout the entire thing. He really does not want to be in this TV special. He’s even admitted he never saw the entire thing.  Apparently he was forced into it by his contract and there was no way out of it.

After the opening sequence, we are introduced to Chewbacca’s family who sound like they are part of the seven dwarfs; his wife Malla, his father Itchy and his son Lumpy. They are shown speaking wookie…with no subtitles…So the scene is basically just ten plus minutes of unintelligible grunting. Good start.

Then Malla calls Luke asking where Chewie is. To cheer her up, Luke tries to make her smile in what is the first of many awkward smiles throughout the film. See in the clip above when Han and Chewbacca finally arrive (1:26) for an example.

Other than the main story, the film is just filled with weird variety acts from older stars of the day like Harvey Korman, who was well known for his work on the Carol Burnett Show. He tries to liven up the show but is no match for how miserable the main cast feels about the whole thing. In the clip below, he shows Malla how to cook:

The weirdest scene is the aforementioned “wookie porn scene.” Itchy is hooked up to a weird chair device that shows Broadway star Diahanna Carrol giving a seductive performance of This Minute Now. This thing is, as Harvey Korman says: “Wow, if you know what I mean.” No, what do you mean Harvey? How did this even get into a children’s film?

Another aspect which made this film so cringey on the night it aired were the ads. You can see all of them below (along with news breaks):

These were pulled from the same (presumably) VHS copy the movie was. Some downloads have them together.

A lot of them were corporations trying to do some feel-good stuff, like GM’s slogan “People building transportation to serve people”. A slogan so incredibly benign, it’s almost more boring than some parts of this film.

An extra weird one is at 2:47. A bunch of people who represent the International Ladies’ Garment Worker’s Union break out into awkward song. Even for a self-described lefty who loves unions, this was weird for me too.

The film does have some okay moments like the cartoon with Bobba Fett. Fun fact: This is actually the first time we see Bobba Fett! So if anything this monstrosity gave us a badass Star Wars character. So I guess it wasn’t all that bad?

Although a total affront to Star Wars, the Holiday Special is notable for several reasons. For one, if you can believe it, it is the first Star Wars film to come after the original release. Second, and more importantly, it was the first film to showcase the Star Wars expanded universe (although many fans and Lucas himself deny it is part of Star Wars cannon).

Since the first film was shown, there have been hundreds of additions to the franchise including novels, comics, animated television shows, video games and more (though Disney de-canonized a bunch of these a few years ago). And if anything, The Star Wars Holiday Special gave us that concept.

Even some of the ideas from the expanded universe were used in subsequent Star Wars films. So I guess we have the holiday special to thank for that? (Also again, Bobba Fett)

In all, this is an amazingly terrible film and if you are a lover of bad movies, well this is right up there. Unlike The Room which is so bad it’s funny, The Star Wars Holiday Special leaves us cringing and that’s what makes it so great.

Happy holidays!

Full movie (if you really feel like it…):

In advance of the new film, The Disaster Artist directed by James Franco, which came out yesterday, I thought I would review a now classic cult film, The Room, directed, produced and starring leading man Tommy Wiseau beside his “best friend” Greg Sestero who plays the supporting role of Mark.

I had for years heard about the infamous film from friends. I had even watched a couple of clips and read a couple of reviews about it but nothing would compare to watching the actual movie in its entirety.

After saying I would go see it several times, I finally did two Sundays ago, when two friends extended the invitation. We did not just watch it online however, we saw it at the Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa, which would provide an even better experience than simply watching it at home on a computer or on TV.

The Mayfair, located on Bank Street, was one of the first theaters to consecutively play The Room every month, starting in 2007. This was the 99th consecutive monthly screening, with Greg Sestero in the audience who gave a very lively Q&A after the film was done.

I thought I knew what to expect going in as I had seen many clips, but it was worse than I thought. For one, half of The Room is basically extremely awkward sex scenes that make you question if anyone who worked on this film had actually ever been exposed to any sort of sexual education. But this is just one of the reasons it is so bad that it’s funny and entertaining.

The film begins with the aforementioned Tommy Wiseau in his leading role of Johnny, the “steretypical” average all-American man with an unidentified foreign accent which is most definitely probably not American (but nobody knows). The movie’s awkwardness is in full force in the first scene when an orphan boy that Johnny takes under his wing, Denny, attempts to join him and his finacé (or future wife as she is often referred too) in bed together… Sets the stage well.

The movie basically centers around the relationship of Johnny and Lisa, who are happily engaged or so we think! We soon realize that (out of nowhere) Lisa doesn’t love Johnny anymore and begins to go after his best friend Mark.

Johnny’s life starts to spiral out of control as he begins to realize what is happening. Pretty basic plot, hard to really mess up. The Room, however does just that masterfully with the “interesting” cast of secondary characters who have nothing to do with the actual story.

There are some scenes that leave you scratching your head and saying: “Who was that? What did that have to do with the movie?” For example, Peter, Mark and Johnny’s psychiatrist friend, helps Johnny by listening to him about his relationship problems. But after one scene where Johnny, Denny and Mark are playing footballs in tuxedos (because that is the only way to play football), Peter trips and falls down and then we never see him again.

Instead, his character is replaced with some random guy who is inserted into the plot with no explanation. Apparently, the reason behind this was that the actor playing Peter couldn’t stay on for the production long enough to finish his scenes. Also, Wiseau notably unnecessarily re-shot scenes over and over again, according Sestero’s book which Franco based The Disaster Artist on.

Other than this, the film is filled with memorable scenes, like Lisa’s mother very casually and briefly bringing up the fact that she is dying of cancer, the infamous flower shop scene where the dialogue just does not make sense, tuxedo football, the list goes on.

Seeing it in the theatre even further enhances the experience. Fans yell out things to the screen or throw spoons at the screen whenever the framed picture of a spoon in Johnny and Lisa’s apartment comes up.

When the movie was taken out of theaters in the mid 2000s it had grossed only $1800 US. Now it is a worldwide phenomenon.

There is a sort of inspiring quality to this that The Disaster Artist captures quite well. Some people dream about making films, but Tommy actually did it and that, in some way, shape or form, is inspiring even if the film was less than desirable.

You can catch the Disaster Artist in theaters starting Friday and watch The Room online, at the Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa monthly and at other random screenings (including some double features with The Disaster Artist)

 

 

If you like unique original art and unique takes of the well-established classics, there is plenty to check out this week (this weekend in particular) in Montreal. So let’s get started:

Doris: the art show

Montreal-based performer and art maker Jessica Rae is hosting a one-day immersive art show set in a trash-kitsch dream world inspired by her grandmother.

The event will feature hand sculptures, mobile art and x-mas tree decorations which you can purchase. The chips, soda, jelly rolls and wine, though, are free!

Consult the Facebook event page for more info.

Doris: the art show takes place Saturday, December 9 from 2pm – 7pm at 3655 boul St-Laurent, #205, all ages welcome

The Film Society’s 25th Anniversary Surprise Screening

You may have seen or at least heard of a Montreal company presenting silent films with live musical accompaniment. That was Le Cinéclub de Montréal or The Film Society of Montreal and they’ve been in operation for 25 years.

To celebrate that milestone, they’re holding a surprise free screening this Saturday. By surprise, we mean that we don’t know what film will be screened, though you can bet it will be a classic and there will be something unique to the Film Society happening either before, after or alongside it.

Le Cinéclub de Montréal / The Film Society of Montreal’s 25th Anniversary Surprise Screening is Saturday, December 9th at 6:30pm at Cinema de Sève in Concordia’s Webster Library (LB), 1400 de Maisonneuve Ouest

Geordie Productions’ A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’ holiday classic A Christmas Carol has been adapted for the stage and screen so many times, it’s really difficult to come up with a unique take on it. Montreal’s Geordie Productions, though, has, in more ways than one.

They’ve cast lawyers, judges and other leaders in Montreal’s legal and business communities as actors. Quebec Superior Court Justice the Honourable Pepita G. Capriolo plays Ebenezia Scrooge, so yes, Scrooge is also a woman in this production.

There are only a few shows and each one includes a cocktail hour and silent auction. This holiday tradition is a fundraiser to allow Geordie to continue to function and bring its plays to schools year-round.

A Christmas Carol presented by Geordie Productions runs Friday, December 8th at 7pm and Saturday, December 9th at 2pm and 7pm at the D.B. Clarke Theatre, Concordia University Hall Building, 1455 de Maisonneuve Ouest, tickets are $25 and available through geordie.ca

* Featured image courtesy The Film Society of Montreal

Is there an event that should be featured in Shows This Week? Maybe something FTB should cover, too? Let us know at arts@forgetthebox.net. We can’t be everywhere and can’t write about everything, but we do our best!

“It’s a show about nothing!” A quote often attributed to the 1990’s classic sitcom Seinfeld describes the show and this film well. But while in Seinfeld they refer to nothing as the minutiae of daily life, Un Chien Andalou is truly a movie about nothing that is in fact meant to mean nothing.

In the late 1920s, Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali were just two poor starving Spanish artists in post-World War I Paris when they decided to make Un Chien Andalou. They had become friends while still living in Spain in the mid 1920s.

The script was written in seven days on a shoestring budget of under 100 000 francs donated by Bunuel’s mother. The plot came quite quickly to them; Dali noted that he had a dream about ants swarming around in his hands to which Bunuel replied that he dreamt of slicing someone’s eye open to which they both said: “Let’s go and make a movie about it” and thus a classic film was born.

There was just one cardinal rule as Bunuel stated: “No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted. Nothing symbolizes anything.” By now you’re probably wondering how this film could have been any good. What was so special about it?

There is a lot that makes this surrealist film significant, mostly because it was so out of the ordinary to make something so irrational at the time. The avant-garde film movement was big in France during this decade and most of the elite of the day followed it quite closely.

While both avant-garde and surrealist film were unconventional and unorthodox, avant-gardeism was often obsessed with meaning and over-analysis of different symbols. Dali and Bunuel made this film in a sort of affront to upper-class elites and filmmakers of the day by bringing in themes and motifs used a decade earlier.

The film is in many ways unconventional and somewhat disturbing, even by today’s standards. It begins with its most well-known scene.

With Tristand and Isolde continuosly playing in the background, a man stands at a window, sharpening a razor blade. He then goes up to a woman sitting on a chair by the window and stands behind her and lifts the razor up to her eye.

The camera then jumps to a thin cloud passing by the moon and then jumps back to the man with the razor, very visibly cutting open the woman’s eye. Although it is clearly not the woman’s eye and some sort of animal (it is apparently a calf), it is still quite disturbing.

The eye-cutting scene is then followed by a man with a handful of ants, a transvestite on a bicycle, a hairy armpit, a severed hand on the sidewalk, a silent-movie style sexual assault, a woman protecting herself with a tennis racket and so on.

There is no actual logical plot that follows any timeline and to describe the movie would only be a list of various images that are portrayed throughout it. Time is even irrelevant in this film as it constantly jumps around from eight years later after the first scene to sixteen years later a couple of shots after while all the characters suspiciously look the same age.

The film made its debut at Studio des Ursulines with the well-to-do artist elites of Paris including the likes of Picasso in attendance. Bunuel expected such an uproar at the screening of the film that he filled his pocket with stones to throw at the audience members in case of disaster.

To his and Dali’s dismay, however, the film was received with much praise and applause. It was an overnight success and was very popular with wealthy elites, some going as far as offering to fund a sequel. The irony continued decades later with a deluge of film academics trying to associate the film with meaning, something both Bunuel and Dali were not extremely fond of.

This film, although almost devoid of any meaning at all (the title even has absolutely nothing to with the film) still gave meaning and inspiration to many people. The film inspired such artists and directors as David Lynch, the Pixies, David Bowie and basically the entire genre of surrealist filmmaking.

Un Chien Andalou is remarkable for many reasons, including the interesting stories behind its creation and origins, but mostly because it challenged the norms of the day to an extreme degree. It was an attempted giant middle finger aimed at the elitist culture of the time and that is something everyone can get behind.

 

 

Now that it’s beginning to feel a bit more like winter, it’s time to enjoy some of the indoor arts Montreal has to offer. We’ve got a couple of great suggestions this week, one from the world of burlesque and a documentary film. We will be back with a larger list next Friday. So let’s get started!

Candyass Cabaret: Stumped in the City

While Montrealers decided to push out the old and bring in the new in our recent municipal election, there still are plenty of reminders of what the now previous administration did all around town.

With fake granite tree stumps still on the Mountain and traffic cones on our streets, the monthly Candyass Cabaret burlesque show had more than enough inspiration to frame their show tonight as Stumped in the City. Can you make fiscal mismanagement sexy? Apparently, the answer is yes!

Billed as an “off-mtl375 cabaret” the show is hosted by Jimmy Phule and features performances by Miss Curvy Beauty from France, Nat King Pole, Roxy Hardon, Classy Clare, Tania the Mexican Mime, James Douglas and many more!

Candyass Cabaret presents Stumped in the City, Friday, November 17, 10pm (doors 9pm), Café Cléopatra, 1230 boul St-Laurent (2nd floor)

Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution

On Monday, Cinema Politica and MediaQueer are presenting the Montreal premier of Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution. This film from director Yony Leyser follows the rise of the queercore movement, which was originally intended to “punk the punk scene” but turned into a movement of “artists who used radical queer identity to push back equally against gay assimilation and homophobic punk culture.”

G. B. Jones’ The Troublemakers, a doc which takes a look at the queer movement in Toronto, will kick off the evening and the cult icon herself will be in attendance.

Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution Montreal Premier at Cinema Politica, Monday, November 20, 7pm, Concordia University, Room H-110, 1455 Blvd de Maisonneuve West

* Featured image from the Candyass Cabaret by Argaive

Is there an event that should be featured in Shows This Week? Maybe something FTB should cover, too? Let us know at arts@forgetthebox.net. We can’t be everywhere and can’t write about everything, but we do our best!

*** Contains SPOILERS for the two part premier of Twin Peaks Season 3 ***

The new Twin Peaks, or at least the double-episode premier, is not what I expected, and that’s one of the main reasons I think it really works. In true Twin Peaks (moreover in true David Lynch style), it’s a mindfuck. That much was expected, but just how it messes with the audience, well, that’s another story.

I knew going in that there was a slew of new actors joining the original cast, meaning a bunch of new characters. What I wasn’t expecting, though, were new locations and certainly not New York City. When I saw those words appear over a shot of high rise office buildings so early in the show, I thought that Twin Peaks had jumped the proverbial shark.

What is Lynch doing? Why are we here? We haven’t even seen Audrey yet and we’re getting Manhattan? Who’s Tracy? Isn’t this show supposed to be about the town?

Sure, Fire Walk with Me spent the first part of the film in some other town, but it was tied to the Laura Palmer murder. In the show’s first two seasons, they never left the town except for a few boat rides to One Eyed Jack’s and, of course, multiple trips to the Black Lodge. Going to another dimension is one thing, but going to a major city?

But soon enough we were back to the familiar with the Horne brothers (of course Jerry’s in the legal weed biz) and then the creepy shots and…evil Cooper! I don’t know if it’s the makeup or Kyle MacLachlan aging very well, but even with in his doppelganger persona, it felt like we were back to the Twin Peaks I knew and loved.

That feeling stayed, even when we returned to New York and then took an extended stay in Buckhorn, South Dakota. The feeling was a mix of offbeat everyday life oddball characters and some really creepy shit. This was Twin Peaks, regardless of the changing setting.

I didn’t get the nostalgia fest I was expecting, though the nostalgia that was included in the premier was palpable to say the least. This was an entirely new story continuing the old story (which you need to watch before delving into this one) with new characters that weren’t just the kids of the characters we already knew, though I’m sure some of the new characters will be in upcoming episodes.

Also, we were promised coffee and donuts very soon. Deputy Hawk, please don’t disappoint. And if the final sequence at the Bang Bang Bar is any indication, we’re going to be spending more time with the characters and the town we know in upcoming episodes.

But that really isn’t the point. I now realize that I had been hoping for nostalgia and for it to somehow not to suck too much. Instead Lynch and company delivered something new and just as original and potentially just as groundbreaking as the original series.

He’s not resting on his laurels, he’s doing something entirely original. I honestly don’t know where any of these new and old stories are going and that’s truly refreshing. As the Giant said during the original run, “It is happening again.”

And that’s the biggest Lynch mindfuck of them all.

Back in 1960s America there were three major news networks NBC, CBS and ABC, though as one talking head says in reference to ABC, “There are three networks but if there were four, they’d be fourth.” At the time, networks still provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of political party conventions, but ABC, lacking the resources the other two major networks had, was only able show a few hours of political party conventions in the evening.

To save their struggling network, they would have to do something drastic, something that had never been done before. And that is exactly what they did during the 1968 conventions, hiring the flamboyant left-wing author Gore Vidal and ultra-conservative editor of the right-wing magazine, National Review, William F. Buckley to debate in a ten-night after convention special.

This event is said to be the first real attempt at political punditry and this documentary is a behind the scenes look at it. Set across actual archival footage of the debates, the film is both a character exploration of Buckley and Vidal themselves as well as a fascinating examination of how punditry became the way it is today.

Buckley once asked if there was anyone he would consider not debating and responded: “A communist or Gore Vidal.” In a brilliant and conniving move, ABC asked the two to come on and they agreed. The reason was quite simple: because they actually wanted to destroy each other as Christoper Hitchens notes in the film:  “There was nothing feigned about the mutual antipathy, they really did despise each other.”

It became clear early on in the debates that it was not about the convention but about how both men saw the state of America at the time and how their political philosophy fit (or didn’t) into the landscape of political rhetoric – and both these men disagreed vehemently with the other. This point reaches its apex when Buckley, upon being called a “crypto-nazi” by Vidal, responds with the threat of physical violence on live television.

That instance of a violent threat would haunt Buckley for the rest of his life, eternally being dumbfounded as to why he reacted the way he did. In Vidal’s mind, after that moment he had won.

The point that directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville are trying to make in Best of Enemies is quite clear and is well-taken and a valid one: there has been a degeneration in political coverage, having morphed into vapid shouting matches. Watching CNN, one would be hard-pressed to disagree with this point, but there is indeed something lacking in their argument.

The real focus of the film clearly is to look at how we argue about politics not about the content of those arguments. As Ben Burgis from Counterpunch says in his article about the film: “you can’t separate the two without being misleading.” Yes, Buckley was intemperate but the content of his arguments was toxic.

In the film, Vidal wants to paint Buckley as racist but we are not sure why. We know Buckley may have said troubling things about the civil rights movement, but that is about it. What we do not know is the examples of white supremacist policies he wrote about in the National Review. The film lacks a lot of context in that regard in more ways than one.

The film almost falls short of wanting to go back to a period where the centrist, status quo media ruled the airwaves (it, of course, still kind of does, but not to the extent it did in the 60s). The film decries ABC’s move as a move towards the destruction of television discourse, but I would argue that it might have served to expand debate. It also, of course, has its negatives as we all know.

In sum, the critique falls somewhat short as we are left with little context for both men’s political ideologies, but that is of course not the point of the film. Despite this, it is an entertaining film and an interesting look at the relationship of both men who absolutely despised each other as well as an interesting story of television history that deserves to be watched.

Feature image courtesy of ABC 

 

Have you ever thought to yourself: what would happen if I mixed one of the worst disasters in human history with an anthropomorphic rapping dog and shoddy animation? Well fret not because Titanic: The Legend Goes On… answers your question in every sense of the word!

The cockamamie project was conceived by Italian director Camillo Teti. Not much is known about him but his other well-known films (if you can call them that) include Bye Bye Vietnam and College Girl Goes on Vacation.  Don’t those titles just scream brilliance?

This movie is so unbelievable that many people even question its existence. But don’t worry, lucky for you it indeed exists.

To start let’s look at the tagline for this movie: “A full-length animated feature, based on the legend of the Titanic.” Ah yes, the LEGEND of the Titanic. All those deaths, that giant sinking ship, all a made-up story. A good start. I don’t want to start off this review giving you a biased opinion and all but it’s kind of difficult not to.

So the movie begins with our female protagonist, Angelica, rowing in a lifeboat, behind her the sinking RMS Titanic. Yes, from the start we all already know how the movie will end. That is some stellar storytelling. We are then led into Angelica’s flashback, where the real film begins (rendering the opening sequence kind of useless).

Next, we are  met with Angelica (in the real opening scene?) with her stepmother and two evil stepsisters…Sound familiar? This movie is just a heaping pile of recycled Disney stories. In fact, every character in this movie seems to be a rip-off of another Disney character: Cinderella, the mice from An American Tail, Cruella DeVille.

It’s as if this director thought: How about I take a bunch of Disney cartoon characters and put them on the Titanic. Genius. There is also a musical troupe of racially insensitive Mexican mice. A necessary addition to any film about a tragic human disaster.

Anyways, the movie has something to do with Angelica’s locket being stolen and her trying to find it, I guess. As the film moves forward we are met with her creepy American Psycho-esque love interest, William, who, after their first encounter, finds it okay to aggressively rub Angelica’s hand. And from that moment on, they are in love…like ten minutes into the film.

There are so many different subplots going on at once it’s hard to keep track of who the characters are and what the movie is actually about. Sometimes there are stories that start to develop in one scene and then nothing follows from it or we never see the characters again.

The pinnacle awful movie moment in the film however is most probably the scene with the aforementioned rapping dog (shown below for your viewing pleasure). Why is there a rapping dog on the Titanic? Who the hell knows. Maybe there weren’t enough talking animals. Unfortunately though, this pooch only makes one appearance in the film so clap along with those poorly animated spaghetti fingers for as long as you can.

I mean, this movie is so bad that there is actually  a thread on IMDB for the film called: “Say something positive about this movie.” Some of the positive things include: “This movie has united people in how horrible it is” and “Camilo Teti hasn’t made anything since 2007, that’s positive.”

BUT WAIT! Don’t be sad if you haven’t gotten your fill of animated Titanic movies. There are two other ones directed by another Italian director. Yes that’s right, not just one but TWO. Both include, a giant octopus who tries to put the Titanic back together again. Why Italy? Why?

An actual scene from one of the other animated Titanic films.

You won’t actually get the full experience of this film until you see it, but I assure you it’ll make you wish the Titanic would hit the iceberg sooner.

Feature image courtesy of  Camilo Teti

Don Hertzfeldt is mostly known for his animated short comedy Rejected, a collection of surrealist cartoons aimed at critiquing our consumer society but also to get a good laugh. The short was nominated for an Oscar in 2000. I first discovered Hertzfeldt in the seventh grade randomly coming upon one of his shorts on YouTube:  Ah, L’Amour, a hilariously cynical look at love.

He has not really widely been known for having a serious side because of the fame that he received from this short. Yet he boasts several insightful films like The Meaning of Life and Lily and Jim.  None however in my opinion have been as insightful as It’s Such a Beautiful Day (though I still have yet to see his most recent film World of Tomorrow).

It’s Such a Beautiful Day was actually released separately, first as two short films that came about two years after each other (Everything Will Be OK and I am So Proud of You); the last part, the titular It’s Such a Beautiful Day was added in for the full hour-long film. Despite the separate releases, all three parts seem to flow seamlessly together as though this was always the way it had been.

The film follows stick figure Bill as he struggles with several strange experiences as the omniscient narrator guides us through Bill’s usually mundane existence.

At the beginning, Bill’s life is fairly normal and the film progresses quite normally as well. As the film goes on, however, it begins to become more and more distorted in sync with how Bill views the world. We begin to see bizarre visions, characters with hooks for hands, distorted or deformed faces, etc. The dialogue from the narrator also starts to become more difficult to understand as we begin to see what is actually happening to Bill.

Everything about this movie is unique. From its pacing to its visuals, to its music, it stands out.  In 62 minutes, Hertzfeldt explores themes that some movies try to dissect in three hours. It speaks of things we have all maybe thought of in passing before but have not often explored, such as mortality and the passing of time.

In one of my favorite scenes Bill explains how one of his co-workers sees time based off a physics textbook he once read:

“The passing of time is just an illusion because all of eternity is all happening at once. The past never vanishes away and the future has already happened. All of history is fixed and laid out like an infinite landscape of simultaneous events that we simply happen to travel through in one direction.”

It is these sorts of absurdisms that make the film what it is. It may for some be hard to sit through but do sit through it, it is very worth it.

In It’s Such a Beautiful Day, Hetzfeldt is able to make us feel more for a simplistic stick figure than most films can makes us feel for or relate to actual human beings. The film is more than just a film. It’s an exploration of the nature of human existence and it doesn’t only make us feel but leaves us vulnerable with a lot to think about, about how we live our lives and why we live our lives.

The film can be found on Vimeo, or in parts on YouTube but I recommend watching the full version.

Feature photo courtesy of Don Hertzfeldt

For a while, I had been avoiding comedies, seldom watching them, and often opting for hard-hitting dramas. Perusing through Netflix, however, I came across this one film in the foreign language section, Wild Tales, an Argentinian flick from 2015. I decided to give it a shot and was not disappointed; this was indeed what I needed to start enjoying comedies again.

Wild Tales is unlike any other comedy film as of late bridging together slapstick and black comedy along with important social commentary. It is a film that is evidently being told with great cynicism for Argentinian society after decades of corruption and government incompetence, something many Argentinians can relate to.

It is made up of six vignettes, each more ludicrous than the last. Flight passengers learn they have something in common. A waitress serves food to a notorious gangster from her hometown. A road rage incident gone horribly wrong. A man brought to the mental brink after an unwanted parking fee. A criminal cover-up after a hit and run. A bride and groom have a falling out at their wedding. All of these tales have one central theme: revenge. And it gets served up adequately in each respective story.

 

In director Damian Szifron’s portmanteau of revenge, he finds the surreal in the mundane: in the road rage story a luxury car becomes a deathtrap and in the final wedding story social etiquette is spun on its head. All stories could realistically happen and that’s what makes them all the crazier.

All but one vignette, the cover-up story, stands out as a little more serious than the others but Szifron again does not disappoint and raises the bar to a ridiculous level with the final story about a bourgeois Jewish wedding.

There is a somewhat Quentin Tarantino-esque feel to the film throughout, especially in the third story about road rage, arguably the most violent story but also the most fun and tense one in my opinion.

 

The film has been called one of the most important films to have come out of Argentina in recent years as well as the most successful Argentinian film to have ever been made. It received a ten-minute standing ovation at the 2014 Cannes film festival and has, since its creation, had rave reviews. Which makes me wonder how I had never heard of it until now.

Do yourself a favour, get on your tv or computer and watch this little hidden Netflix gem, it’ll have you laughing, gasping and horrified all at once. Sounds like quite the Saturday night if I do say so myself.

(watch it on Netflix)

Feature image courtesy of Warner Sogefilms