Yes, winter is coming, but this spring, Canadians will be able to legally stream Game of Thrones without a cable subscription. Crave (formerly Crave TV), Bell Media’s Netflix competitor, just added an extended package that includes all HBO and Showtime content, including new episodes and a feature called On Air that allows you to watch shows from those networks as they air on TV before they show up in the on demand menu.

You have to get the basic Crave subscription at $9.95 a month and then add the extended package for another monthly $9.95, so $20 a month plus tax for HBO and Showtime, plus a bunch of recent movies (including what looks like all of last year’s Best Picture nominees), shows like Star Trek Discovery, and original content like Letterkenny. There’s even a very interesting back catalog with classic sitcoms like Cheers, but no Night Court…like c’mon, someone pick up Night Court, please. 

It’s currently available on computers and mobile devices and will be available on Samsung Smnart TVs, Apple TV and other platforms as of November 15th. From the looks of it, it’s a better deal than Netflix.

While I’m clearly gleefully plugging this product, this article is not sponsored content, but rather rare editorial praise for Bell Media from a frequent critic. It looks like they have finally embraced the way a good chunk of the population consume TV and have stopped trying to push an old model on those who clearly don’t want it.

Even as HBO made all of their content available, with no strings attached, through their GO app in the US a few years ago, Bell, which owns the Canadian rights, refused to see the light. Sure, they made an app, too, called TMN GO, but you had to get a cable or satellite TV package first and then subscribe to HBO Canada on TV before you could pay the ten or so bucks for it.

So basically, in a lot of cases, the choice was pay over $100 a month on top of the cost of an internet connection to watch one show or risk getting an angry letter for illegally downloading it. Yes, HBO is much more than GOT, but that show’s the hook for people living in a post-cable world.

Bell was effectively ignoring a potentially huge market that they could easily get with no risk of losing the cable and satellite market they already have as a result. My friend’s parents who have been paying for a satellite package and HBO for years aren’t going to cut the cord just because the same content is now available in another format.

Meanwhile, people who don’t give Bell Media any money but still consume the content might be inclined to pay and go legit if presented with a reasonable offer and become customers Bell wouldn’t have any other way. Now, it looks like Bell Media has finally accepted and embraced that fact.

This will only help them promote original content, too, as it will now be running on the same platform as really popular shows. Come for Game of Thrones, stay for Letterkenny.

The future is an internet subscription and two to four streaming services. With the Crave expansion, Bell Media clearly wants a part of that future. Now if only they could add Night Court.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feature photo courtesy of Don Hertzfeldt

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

(watch it on Netflix)

Feature image courtesy of Warner Sogefilms

Panelists Samantha Gold, Cem Ertekin and Jerry Gabriel discuss the Ghomeshi trials, recent terror attacks around the world and Netflix’s new actions regarding VPNs and Proxy Servers. Cem also gives us a McGill Update. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha

Panelists

Samantha Gold: FTB Legal Columnist

Cem Ertekin: Editor at The McGill Daily

Jerry Gabriel: Podcast regular and FTB contributor

 

* Ghomeshi and terrorism reports by Hannah Besseau

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

There was a time when Bell Canada had a monopoly on telecommunications in this country. That may have changed decades ago, but it’s clear they still haven’t gotten over it.

Sometimes this comes out as frustration at no longer being the only game in town. Try ordering internet through a third party ISP that has to use Bell’s lines and technicians. When the Bell rep activates the service and tells you in no uncertain terms that they will only do the one thing they have to, no more, it will become clear that this is a company which still yearns for the good old days.

Sometimes, though, it seems like top executives are in denial about the company losing its former dominance. This “it’s still the 70s” mentality is most apparent when it comes to technology that didn’t even exist 20 years ago.

Shaming Canadians for Accessing US Netflix

Yesterday new Bell Media President Mary Ann Turcke asked the public to shame those who used VPNs to access the American version of Netflix. She also lamented media articles that she called a virtual how-to on unlocking Netflix content not officially accessible to Canadians.

I wish they were comprehensive how-to guides. Then they would include free options like Hola, which is available as a Chrome extension and takes less than a minute to set up. You simply click it when you’re on Netflix and identify which country you’d like to be virtually visiting from. It also works on other sites which employ geo-blocking just as easily.

hola
Screenshot of hola.org in action

These articles also don’t mention Media Hint which turns an entire browser, usually Firefox, into a US-based surfing device. Recently they’ve only made their service free on a trial basis, but supporting them financially isn’t the worst thing you can do.

It’s Not Stealing If You Paid For It

The most galling part of Turcke’s statement is that she equates getting around geo blocks with stealing. Her messaging hearkens back to commercials from a few decades ago that argued illegally accessing cable and satellite signals was basically the same as shoplifting.

Now, if she was talking about illegal downloads or streams from pirate sites, she would have a point. I’m not going to get into a piracy debate now, only to say that her narrative would be consistent if she was talking about Pirate Bay, but she wasn’t, she was talking about Netflix, something people pay for.

Canadian Netflix clients pay the same per month as those in the US, but because of geo blocks, they have access to a fraction of the content. There’s no option to buy the American version.

How can you be stealing something if there’s no option to buy it? But, in this case, you did buy it.

Editorial cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator - Friday June 5, 2015
Editorial cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday June 5, 2015

Imagine walking into a store, paying for a case of beer and as you walk out the door, the clerk realizes it’s 11:10 pm and in Quebec, where you are, there are supposed to be no beer sales after 11.

In this scenario the store could be in trouble for selling alcohol after it is legally allowed to, but you did nothing wrong. While that point can be debated (did you know it was after 11?) one thing that is absolutely clear is that you did not steal the beer. You paid for it and were entitled to walk out of the store with it.

If you pay for Netflix and access US content, you are not stealing. Period.

Turcke’s statement is just a desperate attempt to make people who have committed no crime feel guilty. Canadian media conglomerates, with help from the CRTC, already tried to go after Netflix. That didn’t work because Netflix is doing all it can to prevent virtual border jumping.

Geo blocking is unenforceable as those circumventing it are committing no crime. They’re not stealing. They may be breaking paragraph whatever, subsection something of the Netflix user agreement, but the last time I checked, that wasn’t enforceable by federal law.

So Bell has resorted to public shaming. Problem for them is there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and everyone outside of the Bell bubble knows it.

Old Media Models Need to Go

When you access US content in Canada with a VPN service, you aren’t taking food off the table of content producers, directors, performers or crew. The only thing you’re doing is forcing giant companies like Bell into the 21st century.

When television content needed to be carried across great distances by conventional means, it made sense to have local distributors. Online, though, there is no need. Sending a friend who lives a few blocks away a Facebook message is just as easy as texting, even though your question about where you are meeting that night bounces to and back from a server in California before reaching its destination.

There are no natural geographic barriers on the internet, only those we impose on ourselves. The Canadian old media business model of buying US content and then redistributing it for profit is quickly disappearing. Likewise, the concept of selling content to distributors for specific markets needs to be done away with, too.

No More National Media

A few months ago, I argued that Canadian media companies should focus on producing original programming instead of paying to re-distribute US content. The biggest argument against this idea whose time has come is the fact that they would never be able to compete. The US is too huge a market.

If you see the entire population of media consumers in all 50 states as one block and Canadian media consumers as another, they’re right. However, if the media model no longer called for national distribution by a network that broadcast to an entire country, then the size of a particular national market would no longer matter.

A drama about hockey, for example, produced in Canada, may not get “picked up” by a major American network as a distributor (because people in Nashville and Tampa don’t really care about hockey cc: Gary Bettman), but could build an audience in this country and in major American markets like New York, Boston and Washington, plus in parts of Europe. If the model was one source distributing online to the world, that source would do very well.

Stuck in the Old Ways

Instead of trying to be that source of innovation, Bell would prefer stick to the old ways. Along with their Canadian media conglomerate compatriots, they rolled out sites like Shomi and Crave TV and called them Netflix competitors. Problem is they aren’t competitors at all because you need to first get a cable package before signing up.

shomi crave tv netflix

Either they just don’t get what people want or they chose to be oblivious to the reality of the current global media landscape. Either through ignorance or arrogance, they are acting like the old Bell who had a monopoly. Now, though, they want to make you feel guilty about not buying into their view.

I could go on and on, but I think I’d rather marathon Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, available on US Netflix.

So it looks like some people who have been downloading movies and TV shows illegally are going to get letters. That’s right, not even emails. Actual snail mail. Threatening snail mail at that.

Not sure if this will have any effect, given that our mail service is soon not going to be a door-to-door thing and also considering that these warnings are nothing more than that. There are no fines or jail time possible, they’re just toothless warnings.

But Canadians are, for the most part, a well-intentioned people. I’m sure we’d happily pay to support the shows we want if there was a way. That is, if there was a way that didn’t involve having to first pay for a cable service and then the content we’re looking for.

Such a thing exists south of the border, or rather it will exist soon. HBO is finally making it possible to purchase the GO platform, accessible through computers, smartphones, tablets and as an app on Smart TVs, without first having a cable subscription, but only in the US.

That’s right, all that fine HBO program… Yes, Game of Thrones, new season, because that and maybe True Detective is all we’re really after, right? The service should cost $12 a month and while that’s a pretty penny to pay for one show, it also may include quite a bit of the back catalogue, kind of like Netflix. That means Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, old episodes of Game of Thrones, pretty good deal, if you ask me.

I would gladly pay $12 a month for HBO legally, instead of “going to a friend’s house” (cause I’d never do anything illegal… and then admit it online). A lot of time, energy, talent and money went into these shows and I’d happily support them. Unfortunately, due to my geographic situation, I can’t. Instead, I’m free to support Canadian cable conglomerates that had no hand in creating the programming I want. I have neither the will or the funds to do that.

It’s time that Canadian media companies shifted focus away from fighting hard to reinforce a system that allows them to become rich by buying then re-selling content they didn’t make, through an outdated method, and instead creating some great content of their own and distributing it through apps and streaming services that the whole world has access to.

There has never been a better opportunity for Canadian-produced media to shine globally. Sure, Canadian companies don’t have the marketing or production budgets that Hollywood does, but that can change and will change if they stop focusing on distribution, and opt for a simple model, using something like a website and an app, and instead of buying US shows, pour that money into content production and promo instead.

Hollywood has a reason to fear the internet, Toronto doesn’t. We should let the full American version of Netflix come in without people having to be clever, same for HBO GO. Who cares what Canadian company owns what? We won’t be buying shows anymore, we’ll be making them.

The internet should have no national boundaries. Not only does that democratize things for smaller content producers, it also makes it possible for national media companies that aren’t American to get a leg up.

Unfortunately, for now, it looks like our media conglomerates are clinging to the old ways so much they’ve resorted to sending letters.

But honestly, guys, if you blow this chance, THE NORTH WILL NEVER FORGET!

2014 has been a phenomenal year for Marvel Studios. The two highest grossing movies of the year have their stamp on them, and each one has enough critical acclaim to fill a library with gushing, enthusiastic reviews. And it’s not even over yet. The release of Big Hero Six (technically a Disney movie, but I’m counting it as a legit Marvel movie because shut up), the animated adaptation of another lesser-known Marvel property is a month or so away, and I’m not sure if you’re aware but it looks fucking amazing. I mean Jesus, did you see that last trailer? Good luck getting that song out of your head by the way. And to add to all that, the hype train for the long-awaited Avengers: Age of Ultron is warming up to leave the station, with a trailer apparently set to release with that boring looking Christopher Nolan space movie. But what comes after that? As exciting as the last year has been, Marvel has a lot of potentially exciting projects in the pipeline, and news about them has been steadily trickling out for the past few months.

So for this week’s FFR, I thought it would be fun to take another look ahead at some of the more interesting things Marvel and their Disney backers plan to unleash on us in the next year or so. Because remember, speculating about comic book movies is roughly 50% of what the internet is for.

Ant Man previewAnt-Man

Whenever I bring up that Marvel is making a movie about Ant-Man, people’s reactions tend to involve raised eyebrows or uproarious laughter. And it’s not hard to see why, mustering up enthusiasm about a guy who’s powers begin and end with the word “Ants” is like trying to get enthusiastic about….well, the movie Antz. Remember when that was a thing? With like, Woody Allen and Gene Hackman? God, that was weird.

Anyway, up until recently, my smug assurance that Ant Man was gonna blow peoples’ minds came entirely from the phrase ‘Directed by Edgar Wright’. But then Wright departed the project over creative differences, and my reaction was pretty much this. Shortly after, Marvel rushed in a new director, Peyton Reed, best known for recent films Yes Man and The Break-Up. I’m not overly familiar with Reed’s work, and I’m sure he’s a fine director, but I think a lot of people’s hype for this movie went out the door with Wright, and of all Marvel’s upcoming projects, Ant- Man seems most poised to be their first real failure.

Agent Carter

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Marvel’s first foray into basic cable TV programming, has been met with a mixed reaction, with choruses of “It gets better!” failing to drown out the deafening “Meh” that resounded during the first half of Season 1.

But Marvel isn’t done with TV yet, and their next foray into the small screen, Agent Carter, will hopefully meet with more initial success than their last. A lot of what Agent Carter will be about was actually set up in Winter Soldier, around that one sequence where Captain America and Black Widow find the dingy, long disused hidden office where S.H.I.E.L.D was started by the supporting cast of the first Captain America flick. Hayley Atwell is set to reprise her role as the British intelligence agent who goes on to play an important role in the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D, presumably before they had killer blue jumpsuits and those flying aircraft carriers that make physic students go completely insane. Other familiar faces like Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark are set to show up, and Winter Soldier directors Joe and Anthony Russo will drop in to direct a few episodes.

Defenders

Daredevil & Netflix

Not content with just movies and TV, Marvel recently began production on a series of miniseries produced in partnership with Netflix, the first of which, Daredevil, has begun filming. Daredevil will soon be followed by three other shows based on other street-level Marvel characters and superheroes: street wise African-American hero Luke Cage, the mystically empowered martial artist Iron Fist and former superheroine turned private-eye Jessica Jones. Once all four have been established in their own shows, they’ll all team up for,the last Netlfix series, Heroes for Hire…what? It’s not Heroes for Hire? It’s The Defenders? Are you sure? Because that sounds like a Heroes for Hire lineup to me. Ok, if you insist.

So far, only Daredevil has been cast (as far as Marvel have announced anyway), and with strong talents like Charlie Cox in the title role and Vincent D’Onofrio as Daredevil’s arch-nemesis The Kingpin. Previously, the show was going to be helmed by Cabin in the Woods director Drew Goddard, before he dropped out to direct Sony’s Sinister Six movie, because why work with Marvel when you can work with the people trying to imitate Marvel and failing horrendously? Stephen S. DeKnight stepped in to fill Goddard’s shoes, and I’ve heard enough decent things about those Spartacus shows that I’m looking forward to see how it turns out.

One rather large question that’s come up about Daredevil recently is what time period the show will take place in. DeKnight has said that the show will have a “gritty 1970s New York feel”, which could mean one of two things. It could mean that the show will simply be trying to evoke 70s crime movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish, in the same way that Captain America: The Winter Soldier was modeling itself after political thrillers from the same period like Three Days of the Condor. But it could also mean that the show will actually be set in the 1970s. It isn’t an entirely new idea, Joe Carnahan threw around the idea of a Daredevil movie set in the 70s before the rights to the character reverted to Marvel (which is sad, when you think about it, since a Joe Carnahan Daredevil movie could have been the best thing in the world since popcorn flavored jellybeans), but if it’s true, it throws a new spin on what the other series in the Defenders project could be. Does this mean they’ll all be set in the 70s?

It sounds far-fetched, but given that Marvel already has another period-set TV project in the pipeline, anything’s possible.

I will admit that there are a few things Netflix is good for. Stealing the food out of hard working video stores’ metaphorical mouths. Making presumptuous and often completely wrong assumptions about what I would enjoy watching. Reducing the experience of choosing and watching a movie to a cold, emotionless algorithm, devoid of any human connectivity or exchange. And documentaries, Netflix is good for documentaries. So good, in fact, that I’ve decided to devote this week’s FFR to a list of all the fine bits of cinematic FUN-ducation that can be streamed by anyone with a Netflix-ready device and a nail to drive into the coffin of the video rental industry, which by now is probably more nails than wood.

Turtle Power posterTurtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It honestly surprises me that it took this long for someone to film the chronicle of TMNT, arguably one of the cultural touchstones of my generation. But “coincidentally” just in time for that horrendous looking new movie, first time director Randall Lobb has crafted a film that examines the history and cultural impact of everyone’s favorite amphibian mad-libs, taking us from the foursome’s pairing by two struggling comic book creators to its meteoric ascent to popularity.

The doc has a lot of style and pazazz, with animated segments and flashy transitions to take us through its exhaustive collection of interviews with just about anyone who really matters when it comes to TMNT and its history. This isn’t some quick hack job with maybe one or two actually important interviewees and a bunch of commentators and critics who really have nothing to add. Almost everyone who gets major screen time feels like an important voice, and that makes for a doc that feels full of passion, energy and information.

It does occasionally feel padded out, especially towards the end, and I would point out that there’s plenty of Turtles media the film skips over entirely, making the “definitive” part of the title a bit of a misnomer. But it has a lot of heart and charm put into it, and that’s enough to carry it comfortably through its run time.

Wonder Woman! The Untold Story of American Superheroines

While Turtle Power focused solely on a history of the Ninja Turtles franchise, Wonder Women!, which was suggested to me afterward, takes a more interesting approach. From the beginning it seems like a mere history of Wonder Woman and her small but dedicated fanbase. However, as the film progresses, it widens its scope and reveals itself not really as a documentary about Wonder Woman, but rather American feminism as seen -through- Wonder Woman.

Because of this, Wonder Women! feels like a much tighter and more driven film than Turtle Power, and the hour or so run time doesn’t hurt in keeping things very concise and to the point. While Turtle Power sometimes felt a bit overly long and eschewed any kind of real thesis or drive in favor of a broad history, Wonder Women feels like a tightly packed analytical essay, with a point to make and a clear voice to say it with.

Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s dry or academic. Like Turtle Power it keeps things stylish with lots of animated segues and colorful montages, but I’d put it above many other, similar docs I’ve seen on comics and comic heroes for its clarity of purpose, and for how coherently and effectively it says what it wants to say.

Cane Toads: The ConquestCANE TOADS 1SHT.indd

From comic book superheroes back to amphibians, almost as though Netflix is growing self-aware and can recognize patterns and motifs. In this case, I won’t complain, as it presented me with a singularly fun and enjoyable doc. But don’t think I’m not sharpening my axe for when things get all Skynet on us.

Cane Toads focuses on, unsurprisingly, Cane Toads, a species of toad introduced into Australia shortly after the turn of the century in an attempt to control the spread of sugar-cane eating insects. Of course, the whole plan backfired and the toads entirely failed to stem the spread of insects and became an even worse problem themselves, breeding like mad and beginning a slow spread across Australia.

I went in to Cane Toads expecting a fairly dry but informative nature doc. Imagine my surprise when I was met by one of the funniest, most rigorously directed documentaries since Errol Morris’s Tabloid.

The film starts off as just an informative but highly amusing look at an ecological disaster in the making, but as we get further in the interviews and vignettes get more and more outlandish and off-the-wall, until the viewer begins to question more and more of what they’re seeing. In some ways, this may undercut Cane Toads‘ goal of shedding light on a very real problem, but given that it makes the film such an enjoyable experience, it doesn’t strike me as a problem personally.

I can’t remember a documentary actually made me laugh as much as Cane Toads did as it flew further and further into absurdism like some strange, toad-addled Icarus. But even though I still question a lot of what I saw, I feel like I learned a bit, and a documentary that can educate and entertain is hard enough to find that coming across one is like striking oil, or finding the Criterion Collection release of Flesh for Frankenstein for cheap.