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.
Although I like to think of myself as a pretentious film snob who despises the consumerism of Christmas, I do have a soft sport for Christmas movies; they are my guilty pleasure so to speak.
These movies are often put into the broad category of “Christmas movie” while I think that there are a variety of different “Christmas genres” depending on what you’re looking for.
First there are the classics. In this category there are those stories we have all come to know and love from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to It’s a Wonderful Life. All of these are Christmas staples and some of these stories have been around for over 100 years.
My favourite of this category would have to be Charles Dickens’ classic tale A Christmas Carol where we see the miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge visited by three ghosts to warn him of what is to come if he continues his greedy ways.
There have been several different versions of this story throughout the years from the classic 1938 version to the Flinstones version (which isn’t as bad as you might think). My personal favourite, however, is the 1984 version with George C. Scott as Scrooge (the actor who notably refused an Oscar he won for Best Actor in 1970).
The movie is almost like a theatre play with the whole cast giving grandiose and superb performances. Frank Finlay as Jacob Marley’s Ghost and Edward Woodward as the Ghost of Christmas Present are also notable.
Highlights from the film:
Another genre is the Christmas comedy which includes several modern classics. These are stories that have been created with the film. Some of my favourites include Scrooged with Bill Murray (a modern take on AChristmas Carol) and Elf. I think the undisputed Christmas comedy, however, remains the 1989 film National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
First acquainted with the Griswolds in 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, we now get to know the entire extended family. There’s Ccrazy Cousin Eddie, Clark’s dad, Clark Sr. and several other nutty family members.
This is a movie that I can never tire from. All the fantastically exaggerated performances make it too fun to watch. This family is so dysfunctional it can be hard to look away. Here is one very memorable scene, where Clark freaks out after seeing that he will not be getting that Christmas bonus he wanted:
There are other good ones too that I forgot like A Christmas Story! Don’t think I would have forgotten that classic.
Next, there are the animated films. There are the classic claymation ones like Santa Claus is Coming to Town or Frosty the Snowman. I do really enjoy those ones too. One however that truly stands out for its pure creativity is Tim Burton’s 1996 flick The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The story follows Jack Skellington, who is the “master of fright” and plans Halloweentown’s Halloween festivities every year. He is the best at his job but noticeably bored by the repetitiveness of it all and feels empty until he accidentally stumbles into Christmastown and decides to bring Christmas to Halloweentown.
This film just screams of imagination and is truly helped by the likes of Danny Elfman who plays multiple characters. The dark nature of this film will please both children and adults as they sit and enjoy the spooky yet jolly overtones of A Nightmare Before Christmas.
Next there are the action-Christmas movies. To be honest, I am not sure if many Christmas films fit in here. The only one I can really think of is the all-time 1988 classic, Die Hard. You may ask: “Is this really a Christmas movie?” Well it happens during a Christmas party… isn’t that enough?
The story follows John McClane (portrayed by Bruce Willis) as he attends his ex-wife’s Christmas party that eventually gets rudely interrupted by a rag-tag gang of German terrorists led by the evil Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman).
This film is a classic for any holiday occasion and is endlessly entertaining with a barrage of gunfights and explosions, and Alan Rickman’s accent to boot. It is the original action movie. I once got caught watching the first three Die Hards on Christmas Eve with a buddy of mine (best Christmas ever!).
Here is John McClane’s most quoted line from the film:
Lastly, the genre you’ve all been waiting for: those god-awful Christmas specials that should not have ever existed. By this I mean the likes of The Smurfs Christmas Special or He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special . But the crown jewel of terrible Christmas specials is probably the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. This a film that makes you exclaim: “What the f*** were they thinking.”
There’s everything from long periods of Wookies talking in incomprehensible gibberish to Wookie Porn (yes that’s a short part in the movie…) to Han Solo being a little bit too jolly, hugging everything he sees. And it goes on. This film is just ludicrous, it’s like a train wreck so terrible you just can’t look away and that’s why you should watch it.
Here is one scene to get you started:
Whichever Christmas genre you watch make sure to do it with your loved ones during this holiday season and watch the Star Wars Holiday Special at your own discretion.
I thought today would be quite fitting to review this classic film seeing as its main star, Kirk Douglas turns 100. Douglas had many great films but it is inarguable that his most memorable is in fact Spartacus, released in 1960 by Universal and directed by the legendary and controversial Stanley Kubrick.
The film is not solely notable for its quality but also for the political circumstances surrounding it. The film’s screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo, a brilliant writer but also a noted communist and labour activist (the screenplay was also based off the novel that was based off the real Third Servile Revolt led by Spartacus written by Howard Fast, also a member of the American Communist Party).
Before 1947, Trumbo was one of the most sought-after writers in Hollywood but once he was put on trial by HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee) he became a pariah in Hollywood and started writing under various pseudonyms. Using a writer like him during McCarthy era America could pose several risks for Douglas, but he used him anyways.
Writing under the pseudonym Sam Jackson, Trumbo completed the film and delivered to Douglas a terrific screenplay. Back on the set, Douglas had fired the original director, Anthony Mann, replacing him with Stanley Kubrick, a notably adversarial and cold director.
Infuriated by Kubrick’s constant rewrites of the script, Trumbo promptly quit. In a courageous gesture, Douglas knew the only way to get him to return was to give Trumbo on-screen credit. Trumbo accepted and returned, knowing this would end the Hollywood blacklist that forced him and many other Hollywood writers into the shadows.
The movie did just that when it was released and attended by President Kennedy himself, who crossed the picket line of right-wing groups protesting the movie to go see it, effectively ending the blacklist. This story is immortalized by the 2015 film Trumbo, with Bryan Cranston playing Trumbo, I highly reccomend it; future movie review perhaps?
The film follows our title character, Spartacus (Douglas) and his slave revolt against the Roman empire in the first century BC. After having biting a guard, Spartacus is tied to a rock at the mine he works at and is sentenced to lay there until his death. Spotted by slimy Roman businessman Lanista Lentulus Batiatus (portrayed by Peter Ustinov), he is purchased and taken to Capua be trained in the art of killing to become a gladiator.
The story truly takes a turn when while fighting in the arena in front of Crassus (portrayed by Laurence Olivier), a sociopath Roman senator who is aiming to rise the ranks in Rome and become its dictator, Draba, a fellow gladiator and slave, decides to spare Spartacus upon having the opportunity to kill him and attacks Crassus instead. Draba is then killed by a guard and Crassus.
This brutal killing and disregard of human life prompts Spartacus to start his slave revolt against the massive Roman empire and the corrupt senators that are behind it.
For a 1960s film, the ending is very unconventional (Spolier!). Spartacus is left to be crucified after having been identified, denied victory with only the hope from Varinia (a slave and Spartacus’ love interest in the story) that his ideas will survive in the lives of his newborn son and fellow soldiers.
Throughout the picture, we can see glimpses of Trumbo and Fast’s ideologies. For one, there is the idea of Spartacus as the “people’s hero” and more notably, the famed “I am Spartacus” scene. During the McCarthy communist witch hunts both Fast and Trumbo refused to out their fellow communist comrades and this scene comes as an ode to that and a jab to those who so dogmatically ran the HUAC.
The film itself is relatively political as I have outlined and the first time I watched Spartacus it went way over my head. It was made in a tumultuous time of still rampant anti-communist rhetoric and a budding civil rights movement. In that context, the film’s social commentary is strong, latching onto concepts of slavery as a criticism of the treatment of African Americans.
Other than the politics surrounding the film, which I have abundantly touched upon, this film also mixes style with its substance with superb acting, set design and some meticulously choreographed fight scenes (all culminating with the climactic defeat of the slave army).
Despite some small flaws (like the length, which makes for poor pacing at times) and some undeveloped subplots, Spartacus is a film worth watching not only because of its aesthetic but also because of its themes and the history that surrounds it. That is the stuff of Hollywood legends. So to commemorate Mr. Douglas’ 100th birthday, I recommend you sit back and slap on this epic classic.
Welcome back to Friday Film Review. Alright so it isn’t Friday but from here on out I will aim to have these film reviews on a weekly basis every Friday for your weekend viewing pleasure.
For my first review, I’ve chosen the film Network from 1976 directed by Sidney Lumet and brilliantly penned by Paddy Chayefsky. I have chosen the film mostly because of it’s extreme relevance to today and this past American election. It is about a madman who, perpetuated by the media to boost ratings, rants about the current troubles of the times without filter on live television. Sound familiar?
Howard Beale (portrayed by Peter Finch) is an aging newsman from the fictional television network UBS, who is going through a mental breakdown. Recently widowed and about to lose his job due to sagging ratings, Beale goes on television still drunk from the night before and announces that he will blow his brains out on live television in a week’s time.
During Beale’s final days on air, he delivers a series of on-air monologues mostly about the “BS” nature of existence and hypocrisies of American society all culminating in his messianic exclamation; “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Upon seeing this, Diana (portrayed by Faye Dunaway), the heartless, cold and calculated executive from UBS’ programming department decides that they should keep Howard on air and exploit his prophetic visions, dubbing him a “mad prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our time” at the behest of his friend Max (portrayed by William Holden), the head of the news department. Hesitant at first, the devious and equally cold corporate hatchet man Frank (portrayed by Robert Duvall) agrees to Diane’s proposal, seeing that it will boost ratings.
This all comes to a standstill, when Beale catches the eye of CCA president (the board that governs UBS) Arthur Jensen (portrayed by Ned Beatty), when he reveals and ultimately ruins a deal between the CCA and a Saudi Arabian conglomerate. Upon discovering this, Jensen invites Beale to his ominous boardroom and gives to Beale one of the best and most thunderous monologues of film history and all in his second and final appearance in the film.
At the end of the monologue Beale asks why he is the one to deliver this message. Jensen’s reply? “Because you’re on television dummy.”
Beale leaves with Jensen’s bleak message that essentially nothing matters but the almighty dollar and to accept the current state of corporatocracy. Preaching, Jensen’s depressing message puts Beale into a ratings slump once again, not liking the “new” madman, the network decides to dispose of him in a way that is truly appropriate for outrageous television.
If we look more closely into this film, we can posit that a lot of what Chayefsky wrote has come true. Corporate structures own more media outlets than they ever have before and the mad prophet archetype built up by the media speaking of corporate good existing with Trump didn’t start with him. It also exists with people like Glenn Beck and is even further perpeutated on social media by people like the rabid and overly-emotional Alex Jones of Infowars. In this, Chayefsky’s writing was way beyond its time.
The film is a swath of thoughtful and powerful monologues given by equally powerful actors with interesting stories and themes, to boot. I didn’t touch on a lot them here but there is also powerful commentary on the convergence of politics and the media with communist leader Laureen Hobbs meeting with Diana to create a series to exploit the ultra-leftist Ecumenical Liberation Front, led by the Great Ahmed Khan, to boost ratings. Their relationship begins with this memorable introduction:
There is also the relationship between Max and Diana, revealing Diana as the result of a generation that has grown up on television. In their final scene Max describes her as “television incarnate.”
In short, Network is a clever (at times too clever) and excellently written film and it’s not hard to see why it won four Oscars with performances as amazing as Peter Finch’s and Faye Dunnaway’s. The sharp, satirical wit of Chayefsky really comes out with this flick. If you want to stay in and treat yourself to a dark satire on the hypocrisies of our time look no further than this well-aged cinematic magnum opus.
Featured image courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer and United Artists
Forget The Box’s weekly Arts Calendar is back for its last November edition. Take a look at these excellent events if you’re looking for fun and inexpensive things to check out!
As always; if you’re interested in going to one of these events and want to cover it for us, send a message or leave a comment below.
Beaux Dégâts #45 – Tap Water Jam MTL + Ella Grave showcase
Beaux Dégâts is a time-honoured Montreal tradition that combines improvisation in musical and fine arts to create a unique organic event space. From their Facebook page:
“Beaux Dégâts tries to make a parallel between the reality of street artists and the Fine Arts. It is here to bring back what has been ignored for too long by art institutions and return to the street artist’s reality: the importance of community, sharing, accessibility and uniqueness.
For two hours, six teams of artists will improvise 8ft X 8ft murals on different themes given on the night. Each team will have to research and find visual references to create a production in front of public. All mediums except spray cans are allowed. During the evening, the public will vote for it’s favorite mural using their empty Pabst beer cans. The team that will collect the most cans will win the right to paint over the other artists work if they wish.”
Beaux Dégâts #45: Live Improvised Painting and Music – Wednesday, Nov 30, Foufounes Electriques, 8pm-1am. Entrance: 5$
The Crossing presented by Cinema Politica Concordia
Cinema Politica is a media arts, non-profit network of community and campus locals that screen independent political film and video by Canadian and international artists throughout Canada and abroad. It is volunteer-run and all screenings are by donation.
The film that Cinema Politica is screening this Monday, The Crossing, “takes us along on one of the most dangerous journeys of our time with a group of Syrians fleeing war and persecution, crossing a sea, two continents and five countries, searching for a home to rekindle the greatest thing they have lost – Hope.”
The Crossing screening @ Cinema Politica Concordia, 1455 de Maisonneuve Boulevard W, Room H-110, Monday, 7pm. Entrance by Donation
50/50 presented at Mainline Theatre
50/50 is a novel concept; a half-scripted, half-improvised live comedy show! This show was a major hit at Just For Laughs 2016 and will not be back for four months – definitely catch this if you can at the Mainline Theatre.
Coming off a sellout show at OFF-JFL/Zoofest this past July, 50/50 returns with a new cast blending talented actors and hilarious comedians. In each of the show’s nine scenes, a prepared actor who has learned lines off a real script is paired with an improviser who has no prior knowledge of what the actor has rehearsed.
50/50 @ Mainline Theatre, 3997 boul St-Laurent. Wednesday, November 30th, 8pm. $15 (students/seniors/QDF Members $12)
Is there an event that should be featured in Shows This Week? Maybe something FTB should cover, too? Let us know at email@example.com. We can’t be everywhere and can’t write about everything, but we do our best!
Forget The Box’s weekly Arts Calendar is back for its early November edition. The chill has definitely returned to Montreal, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to lock ourselves indoors yet! Take a look at these excellent events if you’re looking for fun and inexpensive things to check out!
As always; if you’re interested in going to one of these events and want to cover it for us, send a message or leave a comment below.
Bareoke presented by Glam Gam
No stranger to performing in local strip clubs with the burlesque troupe Glam Gam, Lipster’s organizers realized this type of venue would surely allow them to transform their karaoke show into Stripster!
Now you can find them the first Saturday of every month at the historic Café Cléopâtre, which comes equipped with a large stage, a smoke machine and crazy lighting which allows people to take their performances to the next level.
Glam Gam’s organizers have made an important step in making the space open for everyone, according to their Facebook event page : “We are thrilled to have performers of all different backgrounds, ages, body types, gender identities and sexualities. Some people will take off just a sock, others will get down to their skivvies and a lot of brave souls prance around in their birthday suits! The best part is that everyone respects and encourages each other’s boundaries with little to no policing on our part.”
Come see what all the fuss is about!
Bareoke @ Café Cléopâtre, 1230 St Laurent, Saturday, November 5, 10PM, $5
Fishbowl Collective Presents: An Anti-War Art Pop-up
The Fishbowl Collective will be occupying a studio space in Griffintown and filling it with art of all kinds against war/militarism of any kind!
At 8:30, the space will be taken over by anti-war Pierrots in an hour-long version of Theatre Workshop’s Oh What a Lovely War!
From 9:30-11 the space will act as a showcase for local artists to show their work!
Local anti-war organizations will be tabling in the space.
Using songs and documents of the period, Oh What a Lovely War! is an epic theatrical chronicle of the horrors of WWI as presented by a seaside pierrot troupe. It was collectively created by Theatre Workshop in 1963 under Joan Littlewood, and over 50 years later remains unique in its innovative satiric way of looking at the difficult subject of war and its futility. Its dismissal of sentimentality and its distinct anti-war-agit-prop flavour highlights the oppression of the working stiff turned common soldier and points to the absurdity involved in war.
Socialist Fightback is screening Pride (2014) at McGill University’s Shatner Building in Room 202 this Wednesday. Entrance is FREE, and a spirited discussion is sure to follow. Curious about what “Solidarity” means to the LGBT community? Check this movie out.
Pride offers an excellent example of solidarity along class lines. Between 1981-1984, the British government under Margaret Thatcher had closed around 20 mining pits and coal mining employment continued to fall. The miners’ strike of 1984-85 was a major industrial action to shut down the British coal industry in an attempt to prevent colliery closures.
Also victims of Thatcher’s bigotry and conservative policies, gays and lesbians came together to collect funds and sustain the miner’s strike. Although reluctant at first, the miners accepted the support from the LGSM.
Pride is a great demonstration of how class unity is the best and most effective way of fighting against all types of oppression.
Pride is screening in the Shatner Building Room 202 @ McGill University, November 9, 7pm, FREE
Is there an event that should be featured in Shows This Week? Maybe something FTB should cover, too? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t be everywhere and can’t write about everything, but we do our best!
Forget The Box’s weekly Arts Calendar is back with for its Halloween edition! We’ve got some great onstage performances coming up in the city, and as always; if you’re interested in going to one of these events and want to cover it for us, send a message or leave a comment below.
We’ve got two different but wildly entertaining version of Halloween cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show – both are sure to sell out so get there early for last-minute tickets!
Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show – Live Montreal Musical
See the sensational play that sparked an international phenomenon. MainLine Theatre presents Richard O’Brien’s musical-theatre masterpiece as camp sci-fi meets sexual exploration, glam-rock, and sensual daydreams to treasure forever. Experience #RockyMainLine up-close-and-personal in an intimate experience with a full live cast, band and dancers!
The show was directed and choreographed by Mainline’s Amy Blackmore with additional choreography by Holly Greco and Patrick Lloyd Brennan. It features Stephanie Mckenna as Dr. Frank N’ Furter.
Oct 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 at Mainline Theatre, 3997 Boul St-Laurent. Tickets $20 in advance or $25 at the door ($15 for students and seniors + a Quebec Drama Federation discount, please call 514-849-3378 for discounted tickets)
There is a limit of six tickets per person and all in-person sales are cash only.
There is a student discount of $5 which applies to the October 31st shows only. A valid student ID is required at one of our advance ticket outlets. Limit of two tickets per student. Student discount tickets can also be purchased at the door the night of the show but cannot be purchased online.
Oct 28, 29, 31, Cinéma Impérial, 1432 Bleury.
The Refugee Hotel
Teesri Duniya Theatre’s The Refugee Hotel is a dark comedy about exile, love and the Canadian resettlement experience. Told from the point of view of a young woman looking back on her childhood, Award-winning writer Carmen Aguirre poignantly chronicles the true story of a wave of Chilean refugees who are placed at a hotel in downtown Montreal in 1974, following the aftermath of the brutal Chilean coup d’état, one of the watershed moments of the Cold War.
While chronicling the true story of hundreds of thousands of Chileans who resettled across Canada and around the globe, The Refugee Hotel explores Canada’s ability to accept, support and embrace refugees as new citizens.
The play was written by Carmen Aguirre and is directed by Paulina Abarca. It will be performed in English with Spanish-language subtitles.
October 26 – November 13, Segal Centre, 5170 Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine, Call 514-739-7944 for tickets or purchase them through the Segal online box office
A poet recounts the bloody epic of Achilles and Hector in a sweeping story of rage, violence and grief. Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s An Illiad is an award-winning adaptation of Homer’s classic which has gone viral, from New York to Egypt.
Chocolate Moose Theatre Co. revisits the Canadian premiere that earned them #1 Theatre Company in this year’s Cult MTL poll! The show, which runs again starting next week is directed by Lynn Kozak in collaboration with Shanti Gonzales It features a performance by Martin Law, set design by Mikey and Sarah Schanz Denis and lighting design by Ceci MacDonald.
Runs November 2-13 at Mainline Theatre, 3997 Boul St-Laurent. Tickets: $15 general / $12 students and QDF Available online through the Mainline Box Office or by calling 514-849-3378
Is there an event that should be featured in Shows This Week? Maybe something FTB should cover, too? Let us know at email@example.com. We can’t be everywhere and can’t write about everything, but we do our best!
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.
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.
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.
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
International 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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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)
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
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 Spock
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
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
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)
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
USA/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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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:
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
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
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.
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?
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
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.”
Rickman 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2) 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.
6) 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!
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.”
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.”
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.”