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.”
POP Montreal and Arts & Crafts present: The Cribs + Farao + Absolutely Free + invités – Saturday September 19th 2015– Théâtre Fairmount – Montreal – Doors 8:30 PM / Show 9:30 PM- $18 in advance / $20 at the door
POP Montreal, Debaser, E-Tron and Analogue Addiction present: The Beverleys + Fet.Nat + Hilotrons + Boyhood + Mono No Aware – Wednesday September 16th 2015 – l’Escogriffe – Montreal, Doors 7:30PM / Show 8:30PM, $10 at the door
POP Montreal and Indie Montreal present: Static Gold + Po Lazarus + First You Get The Sugar + Corinna Rose – Thursday, September 17th, 2015 – L’Hémisphère Gauche (221 Beaubien East) Doors 8 pm / Show 8:30 pm Tickets $10 in av / $12 at the door
POP Montreal, Loose Fit Collective and Annie present: New Fries + Steve Jr + Towanda + JLK + In Hock – Thursday September 17th 2015 – Brasserie Beaubien – Doors 8PM / Show 9PM – $10 at the door
TOP 5 EVENTS NOT TO MISS
5. Puces POP presents: The Puces POP Arts & Crafts Fair Thursday, September 17th to Sunday, September 20th, 2015 160 St-Viateur East – 2nd floor Thursday – Friday: 5 pm to 9 pm Saturday – Sunday: 11 a to 6 pm Opening party Thursday at 5 pm
4. Art POP, CKUT and Archive Montreal present: Montreal Shows 1965-1975: Posters, Photos and Ephemera Wednesday, September 16th to Sunday, September 20th , 2015 Vernissage: Wednesday, September 16th, 6 pm POP Quarters (3450 St-Urbain) Wed – Thu – Fri: 11 am to 8 pm Sat – Sun: 11 am to 6 pm – FREE!
3. POP Symposium and The Indigenous Studies Program at the McGill
Institute for the Study of Canada present: Indigenous Beats Friday, September 18th, 2015 POP Quarters (3450 St-Urbain) Talk 11:30 am – FREE!
2. Kids POP presents: Film Animation Workshop Sunday, September 20th, 2015 POP Quarters (3450 St-Urbain) Workshop 11 am to 1 pm Ages 6 and up, registration required. Email email@example.com with child’s name and age – FREE!
1. Film POP and CISM present: Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven | USA, 1995 | 131 min.) – 20thanniversary screening! Friday, September 18th, 2015 Cinéma L’Amour (4015 Saint-Laurent) Screening 11:59 pm – Tickets $10, on sale August 28th
I remember back when I started writing FFR, a time that now seems so long ago that in my memory I wrote on stone tablets, that my goal was to showcase the lesser-known, the obscure, and weird. Of course, times change and I started ruining Forget the Box’s carefully cultivated image of trendy urbanism with mainstream movies and Japanese superheroes. But back in those halcyon days, and even since, I’ve always had one movie stashed away for a rainy day, a special occasion. My favorite movie, in fact. Alex Proyas’s 1998 sci-fi noir, Dark City.
So why now? What’s so special about this FFR that I’m ready to break out so treasured a piece of my own cinematic DNA? Well folks, it’s because this FFR is my last. After many wonderful years at FTB, I’ve decided that it’s time to hit the road, and that I should leave you something a little special before I go.
Dark City is one of those movies where the less you know going in, the better. It’s built around a mystery, and one of its greatest pleasures is not knowing where it’s going next, and holding on for dear life as it takes you around twists and turns with neck-snapping speed. But I have to say something, so let me try and boil it down as much as possible.
Rufus Sewell plays John Murdoch, a man who awakens in a hotel bath with absolutely no idea of who he is, where he is, or how he got there. And to make matters worse, there’s a dead hooker in the hotel room with him, because the only thing worse than waking up next to a stranger is waking up next to a dead one.
John naturally runs for the hills, and soon finds himself pursued by multiple parties, including a hard boiled policeman, a psychiatrist who seems to know what’s going on but couldn’t be more nervous and shifty if he were played by Peter Lorre, a woman who claims to be his wife, and a group of mysterious pasty men in trenchcoats.
The city he’s in is a bleak, perpetually dark art-deco burgh somewhere between the Gotham and Sin City, and the more he discovers about what the bleeding hell is going on, the less it all seems to make sense.
Even to my untrained mind, back in my teen years before my film appreciation had fully blossomed into what it is now, I knew that Dark City was beautiful. The film’s sets, costumes, props and atmosphere are all stunningly realized, bleak and breathtaking at the same time. The city itself is as much a character as Sewell or any of his castmates.
Speaking of which, the supporting cast is a who’s who of talents. Jennifer Connelly, despite a somewhat underdeveloped role, is able to pull of a perfect mix of strength and vulnerability as our hero’s wife. William Hurt is pure deadpan sardonic wit as the police inspector on Murdoch’s tail, and Richard O’Brien is the picture of sinister as the main villain, Mr Hand.
The only weak spot is a pre-Jack Bauer Kiefer Sutherland as Doctor Schreber, the man with the answers. Sutherland overplays it more than a little bit, affecting a weird, halting accent almost throughout. He’s fun to watch, but you have to acknowledge that his performance is more than a bit too over-the-top.
A lot like Gone Girl, part of the fun of watching Dark City for the first time is having no damn clue where it’s going next. What seems to start as a straight-up noir mystery turns again and again as more new and outlandish concepts are added to the mix.
And Dark City literally never stops ramping up, coming to a glorious head in the third act, when director Alex Proyas suddenly tears every single brake out and the film explodes like the ending of Akira into a massive…….well, you really just have to see it for yourself.
I can see how for a lot of people, this slow shift from slow-burn noir mystery to something else entirely might be a bit jarring. I can understand that the vast shift from subtle to explosive might be a bit too much. But for me, the ending of Dark City is still more wonderful and mind-blowing than that of Fight Club or The Matrix, maybe because it’s such a jarring shift from the comparative sedateness of the majority of the film. A bit like Cabin in the Woods, it’s like the film suddenly decides to get the proverbial party started, ending on the bang to end all bangs.
For me, Dark City is one of the all-time great under-appreciated films, a visually gorgeous, mind-bending genre thriller that dares to go all-out for the finale.
I think I’ve said all I can really say without giving too much away, but I’ll leave you with one piece of advice: watch the Director’s Cut. The major difference between it and the theatrical version beyond one extra scene is that an opening monologue delivered by Kiefer Sutherland, imposed upon the film by braindead studio execs fearful of audiences being too confused, is cut from the opening scene like a tumorous mass, and the experience is greatly improved for it.
And on that note, it looks like my work here is done. I’d like to thank Forget the Box for allowing me these few years of hopefully coherent ramblings, and especially my predecessor, Stephanie Laughlin, for offering me the chance in the first place. Special thanks also go to my many hard working and long-suffering editors, as well. In a lot of ways, this is where I really discovered that writing about movies is what I want to do for a living. I found my voice here, built up my confidence as a writer, and for that I’m truly grateful.
Starting very soon, I’ll be joining Screenrelish.com as a regular contributor, and hopefully you’ll all continue to follow me there, and wherever else the future takes me.
Closing out Fantasia this year on A Christmas Horror Story, an excellent anthology horror flick, put me in the mood to go back and revisit some old favorites of the genre. Anthology films are always a tricky beast, you’ve got to have the right balance, combining the films in a way that makes them compliment one another, and it helps if there’s a decent balance of quality. Modern efforts like V/H/S often feel lackluster in this department, with maybe one decent segment standing shoulder to shoulder with lackluster ones, like a successful, attractive salaryman stuck in an elevator full of leprous drifters.
But good examples are out there, though for the most part one has to look back a few decades to find the buggers. So on this week’s FFR, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of my favorites.
Tales From the Crypt (1972)
The original Tales From the Crypt is far from the first anthology horror film, but it’s the earliest one I can recall seeing and one of the more looming classics of the genre. Far removed from the TV series that would bear its name, Tales feels far more classy than you’d expect. No pun-spewing skeletons here, friends.
While other films on this list would revel in the four-color pulp of their comics inspiration, Tales is pure old fashioned English Gothic, opening the strains of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (the stereotypical “spooky horror music” you’ve heard the opening bars of a million times) and mostly featuring tale of stuffy aristos and upper-class twits getting what’s coming to them. There’s a killer Santa, a modern re-telling/re-spin of The Monkey’s Paw, a fourth-wall break at the end and Zombie Grand Moff Tarkin.
It may not have the buckets of blood and and cheesy fun of some later entries, but Tales From the Crypt is a fun and atmospheric movie that doesn’t get revisited often enough.
Creepshow is probably the best known and best remembered horror anthology of the 80s, arguably the one that kicked off the craze. Directed by George A. Romero himself and written by the one and only Stephen King, Creepshow gleefully embraces all the pulp and color of EC horror comics, crafting a gross, fun, colorful horror experience that often prompts as many laughs as it does scares.
The cast is full of recognizable faces, all of them clearly having the time of their lives. Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau and even Stephen King himself make appearances as conspiring lovers, evil corporate magnates, hapless hillbillies and vengeful cuckolds.
There’s a sense of pulpy fun that pervades almost every segment. While other anthology horror films at the time often seemed dead set on being scary as possible, Creepshow devotes just as much energy to being flat-out fun, with plenty of grossout moments, cathartic kills and loving reverence to horror tropes. Like Tales From the Crypt, most of the stories are about awful people getting their just desserts in silly, over-the-top poetic justice, and you’ll probably find yourself cheering more than once.
Body Bags (1993)
Made towards the end of the horror anthology craze, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper’s Body Bags is doubtlessly the least well-known movie on this list. Hell, I hadn’t even heard of it until the good folks at Scream Factory did a terrific Blu-Ray re-release.
Body Bags spins three yarns, featuring a cast so expansive I couldn’t possibly list it here. For me, the most memorable performance is by far John Carpenter himself in the framing story as a morgue worker who introduces us to the various key players of each tale. He’s clearly having more fun than should be allowed in polite society, mugging for the camera as he doffs formaldehyde martinis.
The stories themselves are all great fun, one an atmospheric little slasher story, one a tale of a hair implant gone wrong and one about a baseball player (played by some guy named Mark Hamill) who receives the eyes of a serial killer after his own are lost in a car accident, which naturally imparts the killer’s murderous impulses on him.
Body Bags may not be the best horror anthology ever, but it’s a fun, often overlooked little gem that makes for a great watch with some friends.
Trick ‘R Treat
For my money, a lot of recent attempts at reviving the horror anthology for modern audiences aren’t much worth looking at. I never really got aboard the V/H/S train after being thoroughly unimpressed by the first entry, as you may have gathered by that bit about the drifters in the intro. But then there’s Trick ‘R Treat, a brilliantly crafted collection of Halloween horrors that remains head and shoulders above any other recent anthology films.
The stories that make up the film are beautifully balanced, each one subtly crossing over and feeding into the other. There’s a Halloween prank gone horribly wrong, a button-down killer trying to dispose of a body while his apparently oblivious son keeps getting under foot, an old man menaced by the film’s sack-masked poster child, and Anna Paquin as a stereotypical good girl who draws the attention of a masked vampire.
The stories are all beautifully interwoven. There’s never more than a couple going on at once and there are enough connections between them to make the whole thing feel nice, cohesive and well-planned. The makeup effects are top-knotch, with the film’s mascot Sam standing out as a terrifically designed and conceived character.
From the opening sequence that effortlessly evokes early John Carpenter to the wonderful creature feature that is the closing tale, there literally isn’t a weak moment in Trick ‘R Treat, it all comes together beautifully to deliver the kind of fun, spooky experience that Halloween movies were meant to be.
What is nonviolent resistance? Is it actually better than violent resistance? These two questions are at the heart of the documentary Everyday Rebellion produced by the Riahi Brothers. The very first quote in the film sets the mood for the discussion:
“Throughout the history of mankind, people have been fighting for their rights. But contrary to popular belief, violence is not the most successful method in this struggle. Nonviolence is.”
You might think that this is a very bold statement to make. How do you stand against a system, whose tools of control have been designed to monopolize the means of violence, by pacifism? Non-violence does not necessarily mean pacifism, though. It doesn’t mean that you respond to violence with passivity. Instead, non-violence encompasses a broad range of acts that can serve to obstruct the balance of the status quo.
One of the main messages of the documentary is that even the smallest act can trigger a change in the way people think. Small victories build up and eventually you might actually achieve something. According to the documentary, for instance, the Arab Spring in Egypt had been in the making for ten years before they actually managed to topple Hosni Mubarak.
To put the political theorizing aside, the documentary follows the multiple stories of everyday resistance. These stories include the Occupy movement in the United States, the Indignados in Spain, the Femen movement, the Arab Spring, and Iran’s Green Movement. In between the narratives, the documentary presents social scientific facts about the effectiveness of non-violence.
One of the strengths of this documentary is that it actually tries to advise people as to how to conduct non-violence most effectively and efficiently. The people who talk directly to the camera are activists and community organizers. The tone is educational. You can tell that they want to teach you how to bring down the system and give power to the people.
What is really amazing is that these people are from all over the world. It may seem like they are fighting for different causes, but in essence what they are doing is standing up for themselves. A narrator whispers at some point: “The priorities of any advanced society must be equality, progress, solidarity, freedom of culture, sustainability and development, welfare, and the people’s happiness.”
Trying to understand the global interconnectedness of these social movements is the main purpose of this documentary. These movements communicate with one another, share tactics, and learn. In that sense, this documentary does an excellent job in continuing that work, by allowing others to directly see what goes on within these movements. It can be daunting to attend a protest and risk getting arrested, but there are other things you can do.
So, if you wish to learn about non-violence, direct action, civil disobedience, organizing, and a lot more, Everyday Rebellion is what you’re looking for. Cinema Political will be screening this documentary on September 1, at 9 p.m. at la Place de la Paix, as part of Cinéma urbain à la belle étoile. You really shouldn’t miss it.
Being the upstanding crew that they are, the folks at Fantasia saw fit to extend the festival by an extra day, giving me and others time to catch up on some of the more popular films we may have missed the first time around.
While I could have used this opportunity to check out Attack on Titan, I elected instead to hit up two of the smaller releases from this year’s line-up, Deathgasm and A Christmas Horror Story. Both films are Fantasia to the bone, fun, gory, clever crowd-pleasers that kept me entertained throughout and left me smiling. So for my last piece of Fantasia 2015 coverage, let’s take a look back at these two gems.
Since Peter Jackson burst onto the scene with Braindead and Bad Taste, New Zealand splatter flicks have garnered a rep for being fun, gloriously low brow exercises in excess and black humor. Deathgasm, which takes this formula and adds a whopping infusion of Heavy Metal antics, might just end up being one of the best examples of the burgeoning sub-genre, a definite future cult pick and a must-watch for metalheads and horror fans alike.
After our hero, lonely metalhead Brodie, is moved out to a small New Zealand town, he befriends the only other metal fan for miles, Zakk, and starts up a band. But when the two find a set of mysterious pages of music clutched in the manic grip of a burned out former metal legend, they inadvertently unleash hordes of demons on the town. Demons that only they, naturally, can stop.
Deathgasm is an archetypal Fantasia movie, drenched in gore, full of tongue-in-cheek humor and tripping balls on its own manic, gleeful energy. The gags come hard and fast, the soundtrack is a constant barrage of roaring chainsaw engines and squealing guitars and it’s basically impossible not to have barrels of fun with the thing. It’s a cult tour-de-force, already bound for a place of honor in the collections of cult horror aficionados.
If there’s any one thing that kept coming back to bug me, it’s the films depiction of women. Specifically Medina, the popular girl who strikes up a romance with Brodie and joins him in the demon-slaying antics of the last act. She reminded me a lot of the female lead from Some Kind of Hate, a film I thought far less of. Both fall into a few stereotypes that I’m growing increasingly weary of, and which continue to not go away despite our best wishes.
Both are dating the resident bully when the movie opens, in flagrant defiance of prettymuch everything we learn about them later on, but almost immediately fall for the hero. At best it’s a bit of juvenile wish fulfillment, the attractive popular girl who likes bad boys but falls for the hero as soon as she sees what a sensitive soul he is and yada yada yada.
Based on what we learn about her, it seems completely unlikely she would ever have be dating the bully, but character consistency takes a back seat to how well she can serve as a fantasy for introverts and quiet types. Of course, “juvenile wish fulfillment” is basically Deathgasm’s log line, but that doesn’t totally excuse the film from engaging in this tired trope.
Also, in both cases, the female lead has metal bestowed on her by the male lead, implying that metal is an entirely male domain into which women must be led. And that just ain’t true, man. Tons of women find metal on their own, the same way as men do, and it would be nice to have seen this rather than portraying metal as something inherently foreign to women. Deathgasm sorta makes up for this by implying that by the end of the film, Medina has become more of a metal expert than Brodie, though.
But these problems aside, Deathgasm is still tons of fun, and I look forward to revisiting it in years to come.
A Christmas Horror Story
Anthology horror is something that keeps trying to make a comeback, with efforts like the much-seen V/H/S series and the under-watched gem Trick R’ Treat. A Christmas Horror Story is the latest film to try and rejuvenate the old formula, and arguably one of the most successful at recapturing the feel of classics like Creepshow and Body Bags.
Weaving multiple tales of Christmas-themed terror together, Christmas Horror Story is a rollicking good time at the movies. Like Deathgasm it’s gleefully gory but combines that with some terrific ideas and execution from the group of writers and directors who brought it to life.
As is always the case in anthologies, there’s a clear favorite, in my case the tale of a group of teens filming a project on a series of murders in their school. This story thread cleverly subverts expectation in a lot of ways, keeping the audience on their toes by subverting and conforming to horror tropes in equal measure.
At times I found myself a bit underwhelmed by the creature effects. While competently brought to the screen, the creatures of the film (including a murderous changeling and everyone’s favorite Christmas Demon, the Krampus) felt like they were missing something in the visual department. They aren’t as eye-catching as Sam from Trick R’ Treat, for example.
But there’s still a hell of a lot to love about A Christmas Horror Story. It’s smart and fun, packs a few great surprises, and if nothing else gives audiences the chance to bask in the glory of Shatner in what could be called the framing story.
Now, someone get to work on an Easter-themed horror anthology flick so we can complete the trilogy.
And with that, my Fantasia 2015 coverage comes to a close. I’d hesitantly call it the best iteration of the fest I have yet to attend, and can’t wait to see them try and top themselves next year.
“I never liked horror movies growing up; I’m really scared of them,” Sonny Mallhi laughed, “I don’t enjoy the experience. I get really scared and strangely paranoid and think someone is gonna come kill me in the theatre. But Roy Lee of Vertigo loves horror movies and so, working with him, I learned to appreciate the really good ones.”
I had the pleasure of sitting down with soft spoken director Sonny Mallhi, whose film Anguish offered one of the most compelling premises of this year’s festival, to discuss his career in the film industry, taking the indie route, and inspirations for the film.
Anguish centres on troubled sixteen-year-old Tess (Ryan Simpkin) who has been manifesting and diagnosed with various psychological disorders. Jessica (Annika Marks) is at wits end trying various treatments and seeking specialist after specialist. Tess’ torments are not assuaged by the move, nor the giant pill box she must consume daily, and, soon enough, she becomes overshadowed, leaving her mother desperate enough to consider the impossible. Jessica and Tess’ lives collide with that of local grieving mother, Sarah (Karina Logue), who may just have the insight they need.
Offering the point of view of both mother and daughter, Anguish leans somewhat more heavily towards that of Tess, who wanders lonesome in this small town, meandering on her skateboard, as if herself a ghost, exploring her new surroundings and trying to ignore what seems impossible. Although she rarely speaks, Ryan Simpkin is simply phenomenal as Tess and manages to communicate volumes with her eyes. The cinematography captivates the small town perfectly both in its beauty, with hues of oranges, blues, and greens, and potential for dread around every corner. The sound design is thundering, at times almost handing out blows, maximizing the scare factor and echoing the chaos of Tess’ experience.
Anguish is Mallhi’s directorial debut after working as a writer and producer for many years. For Mallhi, it all began when he moved to L.A. and took on a very generic intern position at a production company, where he fetched much coffee, read many scripts, and did most of this completely unpaid. Eventually, he made his way to Vertigo, which was specializing in remakes of Asian films such as The Ring (2002).
As an executive, Mallhi set up various projects and naturally found himself stepping on set to co-produce one of them: The Lake House (starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock), originally based on Siworae (2000). One of the most influential experiences for Mallhi was working on developing The Strangers, where he was the executive producer.
As for screenwriting, The Roommate (2011) was Mallhi’s first script, which he originally wrote under a pseudonym. Once it was picked up, he revealed himself as the author, which made for a funny story amongst colleagues, and then went on to develop the film. Mallhi has also produced films like House at the End of the Street (2012), and Nicholas McCarthy’s At The Devil’s Door (2014), which screened at Fantasia in 2014 and also distinguishes itself for featuring three women lead roles.
Despite offers from studios, Mallhi decided to go the indie route with Anguish:
“The daunting part was, again, not selling it to studio; I had to choose everything. I think mostly for better. I think for better,” laughed Mallhi. One of these choices was to shoot in his home town where he could benefit from local connections as well as pay homage to his love of the midwest and small town films.
Moving from writer and producer to director, Mallhi found the biggest challenge, and there were more than he had expected, was knowing when to be open to changes and when to stick to his original vision:
“What I found as a producer and as a director,” he explained, “is that there is no formula. You just hope that you’ve been open to things that made the movie better or fought for things that made the movie better. Then you sort of find out at the end of the day.”
For the subject matter, Mallhi’s inspiration stems from a true story he found on the internet. As for filmic influences, Mallhi cites the strongest influences as what he learned from Bryan Bertino working on The Strangers.For the cinematography and visuals, he also found inspiration in the small town where they shot, which is a picturesque setting for Tess’s wanderings and horrifying ordeal.
As for the true story, it offered the possibility to explore several themes, including the dramatic relationship between a mother and daughter. One of the key things that caught Mallhi’s eye was that the film did not go the route of a classic (re:tragic) exorcism tale:
“[Exorcism] never works in the movies, and it probably never works in real life,” added Mallhi, “if you think about Emily Rose, that is a great example of a real life scenario where priests were torturing this girl to death and the family trusted them, thinking that it was for the best.”
Through Tess’s eyes, Anguish asks us to question ourselves on the authorities we heed, as parents and patients, when it comes to conditions we may not fully understand or know how to handle. The history of how mental health has been handled and treated is a dark one in Western Society: a horror tale all of its own.
Even today in North America, where these conditions are medicalized there remains much that is unknown and many lacunas in providing relief. Indeed, the way illness and health are conceptualized is culturally specific and very much shifts throughout history. Having researched these different perspectives and drawing from those of people around him, Mallhi explores in Anguish the possibilities of understanding conditions that frighten us in a different light. He does so without attributing a positive or negative value to these other possibilities. When mulling over Anguish, there is horror and terror a-plenty.
At the heart of Anguish, Mallhi is seeking to push viewers and himself outside our comfort zones, to follow the characters as they try to grapple with what they cannot change and are forced to entertain different, at times surreal, otherworldly, possibilities:
“I don’t really believe in anything. I have this weird attitude where I want to believe in things but I am just too skeptical. I wish I wasn’t. There’s that side of me that really wants to believe it. I wish I could just get out of my own way to believe it and I think, for me personally, this movie is a lot about that.”
Toronto-based filmmakers Kathryn Palmateer and Shawn Whitney just wrapped up production on their second indie movie Fucking My Way Back Home. As with their debut feature A Brand New You, the writer/director/producer duo and married couple are turning to Indiegogo to help offset the costs of post-production.
As the title suggests, the film, which stars Freya Ravensbergen, Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz and Julio Benitez Guardiola deals with sex work. It does so, though, in a way not common with most Hollywood productions. I had a chance to ask Whitney about the project:
FTB: Briefly, tell me what Fucking My Way Back Home is in your own words.
Shawn Whitney: We’re calling it a “sex worker dystopia” to highlight the fact that the Tory model of criminalization is creating dangerous situations for sex workers and this story is meant to reflect that reality. But it’s also – more conventionally – an erotic thriller and road movie that takes place over the course of one night.
What made you want to make a film with sex work as a main theme?
This story was one that I had worked on with another writer a number of years ago, named Reece Crothers. We didn’t end up doing anything with it and it just sort of sat around in a drawer, unwritten. We were looking for something that we could produce and direct that was do-able for a minimal budget and it seemed to be that but also all the debate that arose around sex work in recent years also made it seem like a good story to tell right now.
Did you contact any sex worker support or advocacy groups and/or do you plan to?
The thing is that it’s quite difficult. Sex worker organizations, like Maggie’s in Toronto, are busy, under-funded and tired of dealing with filmmakers who misrepresent sex workers and the sex industry for their own gain.
Maggie’s won’t even talk to filmmakers unless they are or were sex workers. I can’t say that I blame them but, on the other hand, we were going to make this movie and we wanted to talk to some sex workers to make sure that we weren’t misrepresenting their experience in important ways.
This was also a challenge – again, I think the “underground” nature of the industry contributes to that. We did meet with the owner of an escort agency. She gave us some really good notes and then sort of disappeared. Freya, our lead actress, also met with a couple of former escorts and got really good notes that affected the final shape of the script.
We would have loved to hire someone as a consultant but literally no one got paid on this film shoot so we weren’t in a position to do more than feed people and buy them drinks after the shoot was over.
With Hollywood a-listers like Anne Hathaway and Lena Dunham coming out against Amnesty International’s proposal to decriminalize sex work, do you think the abolitionist and victim who needs to be rescued (a la Pretty Woman) models permeate mainstream cinema? If so, do you think this will change anytime soon, or are indie films the only recourse?
A few years ago I wouldn’t have believed how quickly representations of gay men and transgender people would move forward. There are still major problems, of course, but I’m old enough to remember the Al Pacino film Cruising and how gay men were represented as homicidal or sick in some way.
The key was not that Hollywood got more progressive it was that LGBT people fought for their civil rights over years and years and years. And in the process of winning some important gains – like same sex marriage – they also transformed out culture in important ways.
The hope, I think, for cultural representations of sex workers ultimately lies in a movement for sex worker rights that is led by sex workers themselves. This exists, for instance, in parts of the developing world – large, militant sex worker unions, etc. So, it could happen here and that would shatter the kinds of paternalistic attitudes that certain feminists have towards sex workers.
It’s worth saying also that the flip side of this is the perspective peddled by the porn industry, which tries to portray sex worker as simply a matter of personal choice. It’s not that simple either. We have to take into account poverty, lack of options, gender oppression. But instead of fighting to ban the sex industry – whether porn or escort services, whatever – we should fight for better conditions, fight to unionize workers in the industry.
Where did you get the idea to crowdfund this film? Do you think this is the future of indie cinema?
We crowdfunded after our first film, which helped to offset some of the costs of post-production. So, we wanted to do it again and we’ve done a slightly better job this time, even though we’ve been a bit more neglectful of the campaign, strangely.
The idea of crowdfunding is everywhere in the indie film world and people see campaigns like the one by Zach Braf that raised a million dollars or whatever or the campaigns for various reboots of the Star Trek franchise and think that could be them. Sorry, not gonna happen. You’re not going to raise a million dollars with your first, second or third film. Ingrid Veninger – a very well known DIY filmmaker in Toronto just raised $36 000 for her fifth film He Hates Pigeons.
Break it down – where is that $50 000 going to come from in real terms? Do you have 1000 friends who will each give $50? I wish I did!
So it’s not going to allow most filmmakers to make even “microbudget” films in the $150K range. But it does provide another tool to help build a following and can offset, for instance, some of your post-production costs.
Indie filmmaking, it seems to me, is more and more like building a band – you start with a following of immediate friends and family. If you make something good and find creative ways to get the word out, you can expand your audience and then mobilize them to help you make your next movie.
You can go from raising $5000 to $6000-$7000. That’s nothing to sneeze at. For a long time in the conventional industry “pre-sales” have been a key element of financing films. Crowdfunding at its best is like that – I like to call it: “pre-sales from below,” rather than pre-sales through corporate broadcasters and national or international distributors.
We’re into the last week of Fantasia, and our coverage here at FTB is almost at an end. But it’s not over yet, and here’s three more reviews from my Fantasia experience.
Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein
Sometimes, a really, REALLY good idea is all you need, and Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein does indeed have a really good idea at its core. The film takes Terror of Frankenstein, an almost entirely forgotten 1977 Frankenstein movie and creates an entirely fictitious director’s commentary for it.
In the world of the commentary, the film took on a cult following after a serial killer cut his way through the cast and crew of the film over several years after the production wrapped. The director and writer, two of the only survivors, are now recording a new commentary shortly after the killer’s execution, and over the course of the recording, all the old baggage comes to the surface, bringing new revelations along with it.
On paper, Director’s Commentary is actually kind of brilliant. Taking the DVD director’s commentary and turning it into a way to tell a story in itself is a really interesting idea, and you have to wonder why it took so long to hit on. It’s a really clever example of remix culture, one that will probably have some imitators in the next few years. For good or ill.
The only serious problem arises in the execution. Of the two actors performing the film (there’s also an appearance by Leon Vitali, one of the actual actors from the original film, playing an alternate version of himself) one isn’t quite up to the level you’d really want, often coming off a bit too hammy. There’s also a lot of silence where we’re just watching the original movie, and it would have helped the authenticity of the thing if they’d thrown in a lot more of the usual director’s commentary babble to fill the time between major revelations about the story. But still, it’s a really interesting film. A really solid idea that just needed another ten percent in the execution.
I’ve never really been into the Lupin IIIseries, the ridiculously long-running anime and manga franchise about the grandson of legendary French thief Arsene Lupin. What I am into is Ryuhei Kitamura, the maverick director who brought us Versus and Aragami. Kitamura’s films have a swagger, a kind of rock and roll confidence to them that appeals to the angry teenager in me, the one who still thinks that Katana plus trenchcoat is the most rockin’ combination ever.
So when I went in to his new live-action Lupin III movie, it wasn’t for the source material. It was for the style. And style is something the film has in abundance.
Kitamura’s signature over-the-top action, the nonchalant, sneering “cool guys” who can cut a truck in half while maintaining the kind of facial expression that says “this is as exciting to me as waiting in line at the bank.” It’s all there for fans of his to appreciate.
Problematically though, it’s also frequently buried under a lot of really choppy, incoherent editing. I’m not who’s responsible for this, but the action scenes frequently wound up frustrating for me to watch, because the flow and geography of the action scenes often got completely and utterly lost in a storm of quick cuts that seemed hastily put together.
And then there’s the Engrish. Oh ye gods, the Engrish. Again, not sure who’s idea it was to have half the dialogue in the film spoken in awkward English by the mostly Japanese cast but much like that dodgy editing, it just felt distracting and weird.
Is it still fun? Of course. You’ll probably have a fun time watching it. Is it Kitamura’s best film? Absolutely not.
Ninja The Monster
With a title like Ninja The Monster, you probably already have an idea of what to expect. Something akin to Aliens Vs. Ninja perhaps, an over-the-top action fest full of gushing blood geysers, about as tongue in cheek as something Noboru Iguchi might do. And yet when you watch the film, you quickly realize that that isn’t the case.
A slow paced, moody affair, Ninja The Monster sees a samurai and a ninja team up to escort a princess through a forest plagued by monsters. Of course, the samurai is distrustful of our broody ninja hero, and they stand as much chance of killing each other as they do being killed by the monsters.
Speaking of the monsters, I throw the phrase “big pile of CGI” around fairly willy-nilly sometimes. It’s refreshing for once to see a movie where that description is entirely accurate, however.
The creatures that menace our heroes are some kind of slime or water based monsters, big floating blobs of liquid that occasionally coalesce into a monster-like shape. As creatures go, it’s fairly dull, and the fact that they’re never really explored or exposited upon goes a long way to making them the most boring part of the film.
I will give it this, though, it’s a lot better assembled than I expected. Given I was expecting something schlockier and cheaper, it was a pleasant surprise to see how much care went in to the compositions, atmosphere, and mood.
Last week, We Are Still Here had its highly anticipated homecoming at Fantasia. Hours before the screening, I had the pleasure of speaking with director Ted Geoghegan, who has worked at the Fest for several years, and lead Barbara Crampton, well known for her role in the 1985 dark horror comedy Re-Animator. We Are Still Here is a whisky soaked dark melodrama not afraid to splatter the screen crimson.
When Geoghegan, who has been writing screenplays for almost fifteen years, first began writing We Are Still Here, he had not originally intended the project to become his first swing at directing. Richard Griffin had commissioned the script from Geoghegan based on a film they both loved: Lucio Fulci’s House By The Cemetery (1981). Other inspirations for We Are Still Here include sleepy New England ghost stories, the Giallo type films of Geoghegan’s VHS filled childhood, and the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft.
These are palpable as is the nod to John Carpenter’s The Fog for some of the aesthetic choices effects wise. The special effects in the film serve only to enhance the wonder of the practical effects, which for one segment include dunking someone repeatedly into 100 litres of mash potatoes mixed with black paint.
“I fell in the love with the script,” Geoghegan recounted. Having both the blessing from Griffin and the film now in his hands, Geoghegan approached friend Travis Stevens of Snowfort Pictures who, in turn, connected with Dark Sky Films, which eventually financed the film.
In We Are Still Here, Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig) attempt to start over in rural New England after the sudden loss of their son, Bobby. But there will be little time for respite despite the sleepy surroundings. The house has a traumatic history all of its own and the floors are squeaking with secrets ready to spill out. Even their hippy “go with the flow” friends May (Lisa Marie) and Jacob (Larry Fessenden) are strung out by the vibes. Soon, they inadvertently unleash a bloody slaughter that literally paints the walls red.
“I think the silver lining to me taking over the project,” Geoghegan shared, “was that when I had written it for Richard, I had always written two of the roles with two of my friends in mind: I’d written Anne with Barbara in mind and I’d written Jacob with Larry Fessenden in mind.”
Crampton, Fessenden and Geoghegan met on the set of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next for which Geoghegan was the publicist and in which Crampton plays the matron of a family for whom a quiet evening turns out to be a bloody last supper. Had We Are Still Here been taken on by its original intended director, the two may not have been cast.
“I think really these are the best roles that either one of us have had EVER,” Crampton noted, “ I felt close to the role and I’ve been getting some nice notices for it. I think that has to do with Ted’s writing and knowing me personally and so I’m really forever grateful and appreciative of Ted for that.”
Although Geoghegan has been in the industry as both a screenwriter and a producer, he had not been bitten by the directing bug before. The process of making We Are Still Here was a learning curve but Geoghegan felt encouraged by his cast and crew and peoples’ responses to the film.
“At first, I was very intimidated by the gravitas of my cast and the directors they had worked with previously. Barbara has worked with Stuart Gordon, whom I’ve admired since I was quite young. Monte Markham, who plays the town patriarch in the film, has worked with Sam Peckinpah and with William Castle. Lisa Marie has worked with Tim Burton for years. To realize that I was going to be calling the same shots as these luminaries of film was very intimidating,” shared Geoghegan, “however, I quickly found that we had clearly cast the perfect people for the movie. I think this was due to the fact that everyone came into it very open minded with a very clean slate. I don’t think anyone brought any baggage with them. The experiences that they had previously ended up being of great benefit to the film.”
“I think as an actress too,” Crampton responded, “you have to take your cue, so to speak, from your director. Different directors direct very differently. Jim Warnoski is very different than Stuart Gordon. You really have to understand what language the director is speaking and really play to that.”
Crampton added: “even though we work in horror, actors have to work without fear. Whatever the chemistry is, you can’t be on camera and be afraid. You have to be really present and be believing in what your character is doing and not be afraid of what your character has to do, what the other actors are doing, you don’t want to be intimidated by any of the other players on the team. You just have to really relax into it.
To study for her role as grieving mother Anne, Crampton interviewed and communicated with two mothers who had lost their young adult children to automobile accidents. She asked them a series of questions about their every day struggles as well as how the deaths impacted their relationships with their partners.
“Just reading their responses brought me to tears and would bring me to the exact place that I needed to be which was a hollow place, an empty place, a lonely place, a place where there was no escape that I was a prisoner of,” Crampton explained. Although she hadn’t expected this, her portrayal of Anne, who seems tired and heavy with loss throughout, has struck a chord with persons with similar experiences who have reached out to her.
Crampton’s portrayal of Anne is strong, evoking the acting of earlier horror films. Larry Fessenden simply kills it as Jacob. Fessenden’s quirkiness brings to life the character, who swallows more than he can chew when he engages with the house’s nefarious history. Another standout performance was Susan Gibney as the town’s ‘takes no bullshit’ barkeep.
As for the editing process, Geoghegan explains that it took about a year to complete with some additional photography:
“A film like this has a finite amount of finances to work with. What you do have more of is time. So you make up for this by spending the amount of time needed to get it just right. Sometimes that takes longer than you expect but, as I kinda humbly say, this film proves, it pays off. It took the time to figure out where the film needed to be and how it needed to land.”
“I really love the fact and we didn’t even realize this until we cut the sequence but the film has virtually no dialogue until almost the ten minute mark,” noted Geoghegan,“I think that really works because by the end of the film it’s so over the top. From very silent to very loud. I think the film is a neat journey you get to go on with the characters.”
Crampton, who is hard at work with numerous projects, mentioned an intriguing upcoming film titled Sun Choke: It’s More Than A Vegetable where she plays the caretaker of a woman with an debilitating illness. Brampton describes the project as very dark, “It’s like if Lars Von Trier were more depressed than he already is. It’s pretty dark.” She also completed a film called Road Games which premieres at Fright Fest in a few weeks.
As for Geoghegan, he is currently writing a ‘secret’ screenplay for another director and has a couple projects bouncing around: “I don’t know if I am going to be producing anything else in the near future only because that takes a lot of time but I’m definitely gonna keep writing. I am hoping that within the next year or so, my next feature as a director will be off the ground.”
Though the last week of Fantasia is upon us, the coverage must go on! Here are three more reviews from what I saw this week.
A few years back, I saw at Fantasia a sweet, quirky little movie called Doomsdays. It was exactly the kind of movie you go to a film festival to see: one made entirely out of passion and overflowing with charm, creativity, rock-solid formal elements and built a simple but staggeringly effective script.
The Interior is this year’s Doomsdays. It’s everything I just mentioned and more: a profound example of how a committed indie filmmaker can take a budget a major studio would blow on craft services and use it to trounce most major studio films in terms of both form and storytelling. It’s funnier than most studio comedies and scarier than ANY studio horror film of the past decade.
What begins as an office comedy in the vein of Office Space or Haiku Tunnel suddenly morphs into an alone-in-the-woods horror film as James, a downtrodden office worker, retreats to the woods after receiving a fatal diagnosis. But James soon finds he isn’t as alone as he thinks he is, as a series of odd occurrences escalates into a terrifying ordeal
On paper, The Interior seems impossible to pull off. A wacky comedy that morphs halfway through into a horror film? That kind of sudden tonal shift just shouldn’t work. And yet it does here, better than you’d believe. The comedy sequences are hilarious, full of quirky characters and biting dialogue. The horror sequences, by contrast are completely terrifying, exemplifying the “less is more” approach to horror that seems to have gone completely extinct otherwise.
Director and writer Trevor Juras expertly builds the tension over the course of the latter half of the film, taking us through pitch-black sections of forest only sometimes illuminated by James’ flashlight, almost constantly resisting the urge to have something jump out and go boo. But it never does. We keep waiting for the jump scare, the payoff we’ve been trained to expect by years of awful horror movies. But it never comes, because the tension isn’t just a prelude to a cat jumping out or a knife wielding maniac suddenly pouncing from the underbrush to show us his stabbing technique. The tension is the point.
The film, ts should also be mentioned, is staggeringly well-filmed. When James enters the woods the camera takes on this beautiful objective quality, gliding through the woods, not focusing on anything. The focus is as deep as the Marianas Trench, allowing us to take in these full, beautiful frames of untouched wilderness, beautiful and daunting at the same time. During the Q&A, I was knocked for a loop to learn these scenes weren’t even filmed using Steadicam, just a hand-held camera with a counterweight, and it’s clear that the DP, Othello J. Ubalde, has the steady hands of a brain surgeon.
I hope to heck that The Interior gets a distribution deal if it hasn’t already, because this is the kind of film that needs to be seen by as many people as possible. It’s a direct counterpoint to so many of the awful, toxic ideas plaguing not just horror films but cinema at large.
Oh hey, speaking of indie films that completely show up major studio films: Cop Car, a film for which expositional dialogue is a foreign entity and yet still tells a story so well it hurts.
The film focuses on two young boys who, after running away from home, find a seemingly abandoned cop car, which they naturally take for a joy ride. Of course, the car is owned by the corrupt local sheriff, whose drug connection is bound and beaten inside the trunk, putting him in a hell of a hurry to get the car back.
From the first few lines of dialogue, Cop Car is telling us everything we need to know about who the characters are and what they’re about, without the kind of awkward exposition you’d normally get. The film trusts us to put the pieces together from dialogue, characterization and by watching the performances themselves. This goes for both the boys and the sheriff, played by Kevin Bacon. We’re never told exactly what kind of seedy doings the sheriff is up to, but we know it involves drugs and the need to quietly dispose of multiple bodies. And that’s really all we need to know. We’re given all the relevant info we need about the entire cast organically and then left to put the pieces together for ourselves.
If it hadn’t been for Mad Max: Fury Road, Cop Car might have been the only film that I’ve seen all year that does this properly, but now we have a duo of organic storytelling movies heavily based around cars and the rapid conveyance thereof, and I’m more than ok with that.
Some Kind of Hate
Here are some things you just don’t do in a story about self-harm. Eroticize it. Fetishize it. Make it a source of power. Some Kind of Hate does all three, turning a serious problem faced by countless depressives and turning it into a fetishized gimmick, producing a repulsive film in the process.
The protagonists are the students of a kind of camp/cult for wayward teens, one of whom swears to kill his bullies for tormenting him. To his “rescue” comes the ghost of a previous camper who was killed by her camp-mates, who cuts herself to inflict identical injuries on her victims.
While Some Kind of Hate COULD have been an interesting and thoughtful look at self-harm and depression, it remains teaspoon shallow throughout, using cutting as a gimmick for a blandly presented ghost/killer.
Cutting and self harm becomes a source of empowerment for the killer, a problematic depiction of a real issue that is never corrected. Cutting isn’t shown as self-destructive but rather as a source of power or agency, and that dangeous association between self-harm and power is never counteracted, even in the finale when the heroes defeat the killer by – guess what? The film even has the outright gall to depict a quasi-lesbian scene between the ghost and the female lead in which cutting takes on an erotic element as razor blades across the thigh result in what for all the world appear to be orgasmic gasps. I would have thought it was a general rule that you DON’T MAKE SELF-CUTTING SEXY, but there it is.
One person I spoke to found this interestingly transgressive, but there’s two problems with that reading. One: transgression is only relevant when it has a point, when it’s stripping away a taboo and forcing us to talk about something we aren’t. The scene in Some Kind of Hate just feels like cheap titillation, an out of nowhere spoonful of lesbian eroticism that exists only to excite the audience. And second, some things shouldn’t be transgressed against for a very good reason: because they’re harmful and toxic. And the sexualized depiction of self cutting fits “harmful and toxic” to a tee.
Some Kind of Hate is a repugnant, ugly movie and that’s as much as deserves to be said about it.
Dark Places is the latest Hollywood adaptation of a Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) novel. The film explores the life of Libby Day (Charlize Theron), who for twenty five years always assumed her brother Ben (Corey Stoll) murdered her mother and sisters. Now a mysterious club headed up by charming entrepreneur Lyle (Nicholas Hoult) wants to try and prove to her that may not be the case.
Gone Girl went on to be a critical darling and Academy Awards nominee. Dark Places unfortunately isn’t likely to receive the same amount of praise and attention. It isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not a particularly ground breaking one.
There are several reasons for this. The most obvious is the lack of director David Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenwenth. While Fincher has become a master at Hollywood noir cinema, French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner doesn’t display the same kind of confidence. That being said, according to IMDB, Dark Places appears to be his first big-budget Hollywood feature.
What Dark Places certainly isn’t lacking in is star power. With Charlize Theron, Christina Hendricks, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicholas Hoult and Corey Stoll, the film is packed with some of the best A-list talent Hollywood has to offer.
In the 1985 section of the film, Christina Hendricks gives a strong performance as a mother at the end of her rope. Unfortunately sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on Hendricks’s performance because she wears some of the ugliest outfits ever put on camera. Can Hendricks and costume designer Janie Bryant please stay a team forever?
As the lead role of the film, sometimes it felt like Theron, like her character, was hanging around for the paycheck. Plenty of other films have showcased Theron’s talents as an actress, but Libby Day will not go down as one of the great characters of her career. Theron does little in this film except act pissed off.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Hoult does his best with a pretty thankless role. The character of Lyle has a lot of potential to be interesting, but unfortunately the script never lets him get there. Stoll finds himself in a similar situation as prison inmate Ben. While Dark Places is unlikely to win any awards, but hopefully it can show producers that Hendricks, Hoult and Stoll all deserve bigger, meatier leading roles in future Hollywood productions.