If you walked into Noah Baumbach’s latest drama Marriage Story without knowing anything about the film, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a love story. It opens with the leads Nicole (Scarlet Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) talking about each other’s greatest qualities; she is a good mom, dancer, is attentive even to strangers. He is a good dad, eco-conscious, self-sufficient.

But then the rug is quickly pulled from under you. These lists were created after a marriage counsellor suggests they read them to each other.

Charlie passive-aggressively offers to read his first, Nicole doesn’t want to read hers at all. That’s when you realize this isn’t going to be a movie about a hip New York theatre couple. This is a movie about a frustrated separated couple that will soon become a divorced one, and the brutal road it takes to get there.

This is Baumbach’s second foray into directing a movie centred around divorce. The 2005 film The Squid and The Whale was inspired by his parents’ divorce and in that story, Jesse Eisenberg was clearly the Baumbach stand-in.

This time it’s Adam Driver’s turn, in a story based on his own 2013 divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh. Because Baumbach is using moments from his own life to write and direct this story, it’s perhaps not surprising that Driver gets more of the focus in the film.

While I did want to see more of Nicole’s side of things, honestly focusing on Charlie didn’t ruin anything for me. I’ve loved Driver ever since he was the horny weirdo on Girls and in this film he delivers a career-best performance in a career that’s already filled with really great ones.

The scene about half-way through the film when Charlie and Nicole decide they need to have a sit-down in his temporary LA apartment he’s begrudgingly rented to spend more time with his son stands out especially. It’s a 10-minute one-act play in many ways.

It begins with the couple tensely but calmly expressing the desire to work out their issues, and increasingly escalates until people are punching the walls, sobbing uncontrollably, and wishing the other person was dead. It’s a master class in acting and guaranteed to get Johansson and Driver both Oscar nominations. In Driver’s case, I think he has a really good chance of winning.

Neither Charlie or Nicole is a blameless victim in this split. Yes, Charlie cheated, but Nicole has also taken their son across the country to LA and has no intentions of sending him back to New York.

Their lawyers (Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta) go from trading witty barbs to brutal punches as they try to paint their clients as the victims or heroes in this story. But we know that neither is really the case.

While this all sounds like a monumental bummer, I assure you the film isn’t all non-stop heart-wrenching drama. There are in fact plenty of humorous moments in between all the serious ones to give you some breathing space in between the more intense scenes like the one I mentioned above.

The product of all this is without the best film I saw at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema, and so far my pic to win all the awards this season.

Marriage Story will have a limited run in theatres before streaming on Netflix December 6th

“So that was basically Inglorious Kingdom, right?” I overheard someone tell their friend as I left Cinema Imperial after last Sunday night’s screening of Taika Waititi’s (What we do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarock) latest project, the Nazi-buddy comedy Jojo Rabbit.

As I’ve thought about the film the past few days, I feel it’s the perfect way to explain this movie to people: It balances broad comedy and the (historically inaccurate) horrors of war like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds while also being a sweet coming of age story filled with fairy tale colours and hipstery music choices like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

The film tells the story of Johannes (newcomer Roman Griffin Davis) a 10-year-old boy living in World War Two era Germany. So much is Johannes indoctrinated in the Nazi propaganda machine that whenever he needs a good pep talk to get himself psyched up, he imagines the Fuhrer himself (played by Waititi, who is a triple threat here as writer/director/actor) coming to give him some words of encouragement.

While it’s a little suspicious that Johannes would envision his hero to be this silly and effeminate, as a viewer you get it. If there’s anyone out there who deserves to be mocked and derided, it’s Adolph Hitler.

As we follow Johannes to Nazi youth camp, (where his instructors include Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, and Rebel Wilson, who all deserve recognition for doing their best with very cartoonish, undeveloped characters) we see that as much as he protests that he’s “really into swastikas” he can’t murder a rabbit when asked. It’s very clear that Johannes, or “Jojo Rabbit” as he’s now called by his fellow Nazi youth campers, is never going to be the ruthless fascist he aspires to.

Johannes’ blind devotion to the cause gets even more muddled when he returns home and realizes that his eccentric mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, who gives another amazing performance after last year’s Leave no Trace) in the walls of his dead sister’s bedroom. Talking with Elsa whenever Rosie is out of the house, Johannes comes to realize that all the stuff he’s heard about Jews is wrong. And maybe instead of being revered, Hitler should just fuck off?

Jojo Rabbit has received mixed reviews since premiering this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. Some people have said the film is not funny (which I vehemently disagree with, I thought it was hilarious) and that trying to make a coming-of-age story set in Nazi Germany is problematic.

I do agree with that to some extent. The film definitely shows the horrors of war when it wants to, and then either avoids or over sentimentalizes other moments when it wants to focus on the comedy/coming-of-age bits.

But that still doesn’t dissuade me from recommending this film to people. In fact in many ways, I’d say it’s the Hitler buddy comedy you never knew you needed.

Jojo Rabbit has already played at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema. But it’ll have a wide release in Montreal theatres this fall

Ever since I saw Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother I’ve been a huge fan of the Spanish auteur. I’ve always been impressed by how this filmmaker can make films that are outwardly so outlandish in scope; with their eccentric characters, brightly hued colour palettes, and melodramatic storylines… feel so intimate and authentic.

A lot of has to do I think with the autobiographical elements the filmmaker sprinkles into his stories. With his latest film, Pain and Glory, Almodovar creates one of his most personal stories yet.

It follows a charming but depressed ageing director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas in a career-best performance). Salvador is not-so-subtly inspired by Almodovar himself. His house is apparently an exact replica of Almodovar’s, and Banderas even wears some of the director’s own clothes.

One of the reasons Banderas’s performance is so great here is while he gives a brilliant homage to one of his most frequent collaborators (the pair have made eight movies together since the 1980s) he still manages to make Salvador feel like his own man. Never once when you’re watching the film do you feel like “This is Banderas playing Almodovar.”

Salvador hasn’t made a film in years and he’s consumed with a litany of physical ailments that may or may not be psychosomatic in nature. Just when he’s wondering what the hell to do with himself, he gets a call from the local cinematheque; they want to screen one of his films from thirty years ago and would like him to come speak to the audience afterwards.

This call inspires Salvador to track down the star of the film Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) with whom he famously had a falling out years before. Seeing Alberto again is both a disaster (he convinces Salvador to try heroin for the first time) and a good thing; it allows Salvador to reflect on other key moments from his past.

He ends up reconciling with an old lover. We see glimpses of his relationship with his mother (Penelope Cruz and then portrayed in later years by Julietta Serrano) and his first crush on a local handyman Eduardo (Cesar Vincent) that sparked his realization that he was queer.

Dealing with these ghosts of his past seems to spark hope in the director. He may not be the bad boy of Spanish cinema anymore, but he’s ready to create more personal, contemplative stories.

Again it’s hard not to see the parallels between Salvador and Almodovar himself here; because this film is without a doubt his most personal and contemplative yet. Critics have been comparing this film to Fellini’s 8 1/2 and it’s an apt comparison.

Let’s just hope instead of a filmmaker at the end of his career looking back, that this is just the beginning of many more Almodovar films to come.

Pain and Glory plays on October 17th at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema and opens in regular theatres October 18th

Dirty God, Dutch filmmaker Sacha Polak’s English-language debut, tells the story of Jade (Vicky Knight) an acid attack survivor who’s trying to rebuild her life. Fresh out of the hospital, Jade has plenty to contend with; nightmares of her ex-partner and father of her child who perpetrated the attack, her young daughter calling her a ‘monster’, her hard-partying circle of friends not quite knowing how to handle her.

After interactions with her family and friends don’t prove helpful, Jade turns to the internet for relief. First through obsessively researching plastic surgery options, secondly by connecting with strangers for video sex chats. Unfortunately, both of those avenues lead to disaster as well.

In the hands of a lesser director, Dirty God could easily have become either a dreary drama about a woman who can’t catch a break, or a sentimental puff piece about someone finding the beauty within. Thankfully the film walks masterfully in between those two extremes; it’s able to find moments of happiness for the feisty and resilient Jade without losing its grasp on reality. Jade has had a hard life and it’s likely only going to get harder, but she’s a woman strong enough to face these adversities and keep going.

There are some strong supporting roles in this film, such as Katherine Kelly as Jade’s shoplifting mom Lisa, and Bluey Robinson as Naz, Jade’s best friend’s boyfriend who just may have feelings for her as well. But what really makes this film worth seeing is the performance of Vicky Knight in the lead.

It was important to director Polak that Jade be portrayed by a real burn survivor. As a child, Knight’s body was burned badly in a fire. Imagining Knight would understand what Jade is going through isn’t much of a stretch. The fact that she easily carries this whole film on her performance alone, especially when it’s the first time she’s ever acted, is something even more impressive.

Dirty God plays at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema on October 18 and 20th

What is it about dysfunctional father/daughter relationships that female directors find so appealing? Whatever the attraction is to tell these kinds of stories, I’m glad they’re being made; it’s led to some truly great cinema. After last year’s Leave no Trace, the actress turned filmmaker Annabelle Attanasio gives us her impressive debut feature Mickey and the Bear.

Set in rural Montana, the film tells the story of teenage Mickey (Camila Morrone) and her Iraq-war veteran father Hank (James Badge Dale). While there are brief glimpses of Hank’s charm, he’s mostly a violent and pathetic addict who doesn’t know how to function in the world anymore. With her mother dead for an undetermined amount of time, Mickey has taken up the mantle of running the household.

Mickey celebrates her eighteenth birthday early in the film and with adulthood, she finds herself at a critical crossroads. Does she stay in Montana and keep taking care of her father, who clearly won’t survive without her, or pursue her dreams of a life out west?

While it’s clear she loves her father, it’s impossible to deny their relationship has become increasingly toxic. Things get especially disturbing when Hank gets a little too handsy and keeps calling Mickey by her mother’s name during his binges.

Morrone and Dale both give impressive performances as the conflicted father and daughter, but it’s Dale who really shines. Hank likely was a good person at some point but has let his rage and disappointment in the world consume him. Dale manages to show all of that with a simple glance or line delivery.

It’s the first film I’ve ever seen with Morrone but after her nuanced performance as a teen desperate to discover her purpose, I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next.

That goes double for writer/director Annabelle Attanasio. Although I’ve seen this type of film before, both as a writer and filmmaker she manages to make it feel fresh through the intimate story, interesting music choices, and most of all, allowing her performers to shine.

Mickey and the Bear plays at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema October 15th, 16th and 19th

Anyone who knows me even casually knows my deep devotion to film. Which is why I’m excited, after years of blogging about music and theatre, to be getting back to my roots and covering the Festival du Nouveau Cinema for Forget the Box. I encourage anyone interested in international film to check our site during the festival, as I’ll be posting regular reviews of the films I see.

While preparing for my upcoming festival experience, I had the pleasure of speaking with Zoé Protat the head of programming. She explained that while other Montreal film festivals cater to niche audiences, FNC is more of a general festival that has “a little bit of everything for everyone.”

Her rule of thumb while selecting which films make it into the festival? “Basically it comes down to two things,” Protat explained, “I want to be surprised, and not bored.”

One of Protat’s personal pics for this year is Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century

While Protat is eager for audiences to see all the films, she admits she has a soft spot for new talent: “The core of this festival is really about showcasing first features.”

In that vein, when I asked about films she’d recommend this year she gave me the following three suggestions; Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (which recently won Best Canadian First Feature Film at The Toronto International Film Festival) and Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body (Which has won several awards including the Grand Prize at the Cannes Critic’s Week) and the Polish film Monument which Protat describes as one of “the boldest, edgiest films I’ve ever seen.”

So what am I looking forward to at this year’s FNC? It’s a combination of the newest offerings of my favourite auteurs, discovering new female filmmakers, and a couple of wild cards that could either be amazing or complete disasters.

Without further ado, here’s my top five FNC list in no particular order:

Dirty God

After being the victim of an acid attack, a young single mother in London must try and make sense of her life in this film directed by Sacha Polak.

Marriage Story

Yes, this Baumbach divorce drama will hit Netflix eventually. But given the opportunity, I want to see it where one should see an auteur’s most personal work to date; on the big screen.

Mickey and the BearMickey and the Bear

Camila Morrone stars in Annabelle Anttanasio’s Mickey and the Bear

Teenage Mickey takes care of her PSTD-afflicted father. As their relationship becomes increasingly toxic, Mickey is forced to make major decisions that will change the rest of her life in this film directed by Annabelle Attanasio.

Family Romance LLC

Werner Herzog’s latest film explores Japan’s phenomenon of “rentaru furendo“: agencies that fill emotional voids in people’s lives by offering the services of actors to pretend to be family members or lovers.

Feral

A young homeless woman on the streets of New York City does what she needs to survive before the first snowstorm of the year hits in this film directed by Andrew Wonder.

Featured Image: Scarlett Johanson and Adam Driver star in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story

The Festival du Nouveau Cinema runs from October 9th to 19th

I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the Olympia theatre to see Steve-O: The Bucket List. Steve-O is mostly known for his work on the MTV stunt films and TV show, Jackass. The description said he’d be talking about stunts and showing us clips. It didn’t feel like the kind of thing you’d see at Just for Laughs, but it was that and a whole lot more.

It should be said that this show is not for the faint of heart. If you have issues with seeing feces, nudity, semen, pus, and excruciating pain, you might want to avoid it, but if you have a strong stomach and an open mind, you need to see this show.

Opening for Steve-O was Brad Williams, who’s been coming to Just for Laughs for years. Williams is a comedic powerhouse, a dwarf who is unafraid to make fun of himself and anything else.

True to the pattern in his comedy where he bitches about how he’s frequently mistaken for other famous dwarves, he came on stage announcing that he was NOT Wee Man, the dwarf from the Jackass series. The rest of his set was jokes about being married to a tall woman and the challenges it brings. It was a great intro.

When Steve-O took the stage my first thought was that he got old. He was clad in a plaid shirt and khakis – the clothing choice of middle aged men everywhere – and above his glasses he has a little gray about the temples. His hoarse voice proceeded to talk about getting older, proposing to his fiancé, and the challenge of what to do now that he’s in his forties.

Does he continue his ridiculous stunts or not? The show was about tackling his bucket list of crazy stunts he wants to do.

Before showing the video clip of every stunt, Steve-O tells the audience the tale of what inspired the stunt, the logistics involved, and any difficulties they ran into along the way.

The overall vibe you get from Steve-O is one of gratitude.  His storytelling is at once dramatic, engaging, and funny. He is self-deprecating and endearing and the video clips that follow his stories are every bit as hilariously absurd as he describes.

The stunts you will see include things like “Vasectomy Olympics”, which he attempts painful crotch torturing activities following his vasectomy, and “Skyjacking” in which he masturbates before skydiving nude.

One particularly hilarious stunt was when defecates into an electric fan. In the story preceding the video he describes how the stunt made him realize his fiancée was “the one”, as she was the only one who didn’t run when the stunt went awry. Though the show was graphically disgusting in many ways and I had to cover my eyes at least once, of all the Just for Laughs shows I’ve been to so far, it was at this one that I laughed the hardest.

That said, if you’re feeling brave see this show. You will laugh and cheer for Steve-O.

Just for Laughs continues until July 28, tickets available through hahaha.com

Nick Broomfield’s new documentary, Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love follows the peaks and valleys of beloved Canadian singer/songwriter/poet, and Montreal local, Leonard Cohen’s life, throughout his career up until his death, beginning with his time on the Greek island of Hydra in the 60s.

It was there that he first met his longtime lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, who served as inspiration for one of his most beautiful and successful songs, So Long, Marianne. When Ihlen and Cohen first found each other, Cohen had yet to cross over into the world of music, and spent many of his days on the island, which was at the time somewhat of a known Bohemian Utopia, doing speed and working on his book, Beautiful Losers.

Ihlen, a Norwegian expat and recent divorcée, was also seeking refuge from the trials of life on the idyllic island with her son, Axel, when she met Cohen. There was an immediate connection between the two, and thus began the start of an on/off relationship which would go on for a decade, and a connection that would last for a lifetime. 

Nonetheless, what seems to be the beginning of a blissful companionship under the sun between the poet and his muse is put on hold when Cohen decides to return back home to Montreal. While he’s there, he decides to play a piece of Suzanne for Judy Collins.

Also featured in the documentary, Collins recounts his nervousness, as he says he can’t sing or play the guitar, but the song ultimately speaks for itself. Suzanne is an immediate hit, and Collins gets Cohen to perform it at a fundraiser with her. His timidness on stage—even leaving the stage halfway through the song, only to be brought back out by Collins—is a huge part of what has made the charming, but humble poet so beloved by all.

This is a life-changing moment for everyone; Cohen’s success skyrockets from this point on, as the world gets a new star, but Ihlen’s picturesque partnership with Cohen will never again be the same.

Though the title posits a love story, Ihlen’s presence in the documentary is scarce. In spite of the director’s inside connection to her as a close friend as well as a former lover, very little detail of Ihlen’s personality or life is incorporated into the film, with her only notable screen-time being footage from her deathbed—arguably something perhaps too intimate for the screen.

For the most part it seems that the film is primarily a Leonard Cohen story, following the eruption of his career and success, and weaving through the familiar tale of his fame, including his countless lovers, indulgent drug use, and overall turbulent mental health.

What we see of Ihlen is a fragmented portrait of a young, blonde woman, often looking out longingly at the sea, seemingly dreaming only of Cohen. Contrasted by the occasional peripheral remark about the toll of it all on her young son, Axel, who spent much of his life in and out of institutions as a result of the somewhat hedonistic insouciance that characterized the 1960s and 70s.

The story is in many ways more revelatory of the time than it is of its characters, with little unique insight into the mind of either Cohen or Ihlen. In the light that Broomfield sets the scene, it feels to be somewhat evident that the “undying love” between Cohen and Ihlen proves to be far less romantic than Cohen’s poetic ballads. 

Overall the documentary makes for an interesting watch as you are guided for a nostalgic stroll down memory lane with a great deal of interesting footage of Cohen throughout his career. Though of course there is undoubtedly substantially more documentation of Cohen available for use than there would be of Ihlen, perhaps titling the film Marianne and Leonard is somewhat misleading.

Broomfield still, however, manages to paint a complete picture of the time during which the famed relationship occurred, and even chips away somewhat at the unwoven seams of Cohen’s character and career, even if Ihlen’s character is never developed beyond mere ‘muse’.

There is still a chance to catch it in theatres.

As anyone who has attended Montreal Comic Con knows, one of its great privileges – in addition to hobnobbing with creators and celebs – is seeing the best of our local cosplay scene. This year proved no exception, as can be seen in following gallery of costumes covering everything from Star Wars and Disney characters to Horror icons and Burton films. Enjoy!

Bust out your back issues and binoculars folks, because it’s that time of year again. Montreal Comic Con descends upon the Palais Des Congres this weekend for three days of autographs, celebrity encounters, cosplay and of course, comic books.

This year, the 1990s will be very well represented, and not just by those sporting fashions from Forever 21. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman’s very own Man of Steel, Dean Cain, will be present to reflect on his time in the iconic red and blue tights, as well as his turns as Vandal Savage on Smallville and Jeremiah Danvers – aka Supergirl’s foster father – on CW’s Supergirl.

Dean Cain, 90s Superman, will be there

Voiceover actor extraordinaire Jim Cummings will also be making a long-awaited appearance at the Con. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, his voice certainly will.

Remember the classic after-school programming block known as the Disney Afternoon? Cummings worked on nearly every animated series you raced home from the bus stop to check out, from Gummy Bears, Duck Tales, Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers, Aladdin and Gargoyles, to the comic book/sitcom Darkwing Duck, where he brought the titular Masked Mallard to vivid, egomaniacal life.

He’s also voiced both Winnie the Pooh and Tigger for the last few decades, and stood in for Jeremy Irons and Christopher Lloyd as the singing voices of The Lion King’s Scar and Anastasia’s Rasputin. He’s lent his pipes to various Looney Tunes projects, all sorts of video games and even theme park attractions. Suffice it to say, if there’s an animated property you hold dear to your heart, he was likely involved.

Speaking of Disney, the voice of Belle herself, Paige O’Hara, will be present to reflect on that tale as old as time, Beauty and the Beast. Given her character’s reappearance in Ralph Breaks the Internet and the continual popularity of the ‘Disney Princess’ brand, one can only wonder whether we’ll be seeing more of the brunette bookworm in the years to come.

So will Paige O’Hara, voice of the animated Belle

Celebrated Canadian comic artist and writer Ty Templeton will also be in attendance once again this year, telling stories and taking commissions from his booth in Artists Alley. Templeton is best known for having adapted the classic superhero cartoon Batman: The Animated Series into a monthly comic for DC through the 90s and 00s.

The Batman Adventures series won multiple Eisner Awards and helped introduce a whole new generation to the Dark Knight Detective. Though Templeton’s credits span multiple DC and Marvel titles, as well as the late, great Mad Magazine, which only this week was cancelled after 67 years in print. Try not to bum him out about that one.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers fans will be tickled by the appearances of Austin St. John, Karan Ashley, Walter E. Jones and David Fielding aka the Red, Yellow and Black Rangers and their amorphous floating head of a leader, Zordon. Though the action-packed live action kids series became a pop culture phenomenon in its day, it also left us with plenty of unanswered questions, such as: how exactly is saber-tooth tiger a dinosaur?

Ray Park will be there too, probably without the makeup

All this isn’t to suggest other decades of comic book and pop culture deliciousness won’t be equally represented, mind you. 70’s Hulk Lou Ferrigno will be hulking about, X-Men and Star Wars actor/athlete Ray Park will also be around (and maybe even demonstrating roundhouse kicks? No?) and Elijah Wood will be reminiscing about the Lord of the Rings films with the one and only Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, holding court for autograph seekers, no doubt surrounded by Starship Enterprise memorabilia.

Comic Con is the perfect time to let your inner geek out, whichever era you prefer, so take some time this weekend to enjoy its more than 200 activities and remember to invite children under the age of five to tag along. Because they get in for free…and because it’s never too early to start obsessing over sci-fi.

For full program details and ticket information, visit montrealcomiccon.com. Comic Con runs from July 5th to the 7th

If Ned Starks’ death before the end of season one of Game of Thrones didn’t do it, the Red Wedding in season 3 cemented the fact that no character was safe on this show and anything could happen. The way the hit HBO show messes with the audience and defies expectations is why it’s the best show on TV right now and quite possibly one of the best of all time.

Now that The Long Night (the title of season eight, episode three) is over and the dust, or rather the shards, of former White Walkers has settled, it’s clear, at least to me, that The Battle of Winterfell delivered exactly what Game of Thrones promises. It’s just not in the way fans may have become accustomed to.

The Screen is Dark and Full of…I Don’t Know

Watching the episode live, our group wondered if there was something wrong with the streaming service we were watching it on as it was difficult to see a lot of what was happening at the beginning. Turns our Crave (I’m Canadian) wasn’t overloaded, parts of it were dark, in the literal sense, for everyone.

While this lead to complaints and even an explanation from the episode’s cinematographer (something about HBO’s compression rate), I think that the showrunners should just own this as an artistic choice. Because it’s a brilliant one.

It’s war. At night. In Winter. You’re not entirely sure what The Army of the Dead is throwing at our heroes. Well, neither are they.

When the flaming Dothraki swords go out, you don’t see what is happening to them, but you know it’s bad. You’re getting the same view of the battle that Jon (sorry, not going to call him Aegon until he asks another character to do so), Dany, Sansa and the Unsullied are. When the dragons crash into each other because of poor visibility, you don’t know right away that it’s just Jon and Danerys, and neither do they.

And I’d like to add that it looked beautiful. Everything doesn’t need to be brightly lit for it to be a cinematic treat.

Just as he did in The Battle of the Bastards, director Miguel Sapochnik made the audience feel as though they were in the midst of things for real. Low visibility and confusion for the audience is the new “I can’t believe you killed” x character.

All My Faves Didn’t Die

Speaking of character deaths, there were some major ones in this episode: Jorah, Theon, Melisandre, Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Edd and, oh yeah, The Night King and the entire Army of the Dead (plus we don’t know about Rahaegal the dragon and Ghost). Most of the fan focus, though, has been on those who did not meet their end.

With this discussion terms like “plot armor” pop up in order to infer that GOT has lost its edge and joined the ranks of ordinary storytelling. It’s actually the opposite.

Brienne of Tarth got knighted last episode, something she has always wanted. Grey Worm and Missandei made plans to travel when all of this was over, the Westeros equivalent of three days away from retirement from the police force and I bought a boat.

These characters didn’t enter the battle with plot armor, they did so with giant narrative bulls-eyes painted on their backs. Their survival here is as much an unexpected event as Ned’s death was way back when.

Of Course it Was Arya

So Arya Stark killed the Night King and with one stab ended the Army of the Dead. An unexpected twist ending. Well, not killing the Night King to win, that was the main part of the plan laid out in the last episode: use Bran to lure him to the Godswood and then somehow take him out.

No, the surprise is that it was Arya who assassinated him. Yes, the only trained assassin in Winterfell at the time carrying out the assassination was the big surprise.

Even if you ignore those who called Arya a Mary Sue (it’s easy to, they ignored the season and a half we saw her training to do just what she did in The Long Night), there are still plenty of people who were surprised by (and also elated at) the choice.

Sure, this is something the show has been setting up since season three. Sure, the guy who knows everything gave her the weapon she ended up using last season. Sure, she snuck up on Jon in the same location two episodes prior.

It’s just that Arya had her own storylines. The Night King was part of Jon’s storyline and later Dany’s. He wasn’t even on Arya’s list. Arya killing the Night King is about as unexpected as Jon killing Cersi.

With this move, GOT defied expectations by having the most logical thing happen. Now no plotline is safe from being intersected by another.

Cersi as the Final Boss

So wait, the Night King and the Army of the Dead are no more? The finale is Jon, Dany and company versus Cersi for the throne? That can’t be right.

Or so I thought for a bit after the episode ended. Pretty sure I wasn’t alone in this, considering how they have been building the supernatural zombie aspect of the show since the very first episode and the Night King specifically since Hardhome.

But they’ve also been building up the intrigue, the scheming and Cersi Lannister from the very first episode. And with good reason: her double-cross which seemed selfish and ignorant of the big picture turned out to be really good strategy.

The Army of the Dead are all truly dead and Dany’s forces are seriously diminished. And even if someone (hi Arya) assassinates Cersi, the Lannister forces and the Golden Company won’t instantly shatter like glass.

Making the battle for all life in the world the second to last act is a truly unique choice. The kind of expectations-defying choice that Game of Thrones has made throughout its run and continues to do in its final season.

In light of the recent #MeToo Movement, several radio stations removed the duet Baby It’s Cold Outside, a holiday classic, from rotation. Some, like the CBC, later added it back.

Critics consider it inappropriate and suggestive of date rape because of a line the woman has: “Say, what’s in this drink?” If you are familiar with the early 1940s, when the song was written, you will realize that was said as part of harmless banter.

Things were simpler, people were nicer, and conservative morals reinforcing the stereotype of the good (chaste) girl were ever-present. Most people who were courting did not end their nights in bed together unless they were married, to do otherwise broke a social taboo.

So, it is really sad that the song is being perceived in any way but innocent and sweet banter between two lovers. Banning it is ludicrous, especially considering what other songs we have playing on the radio today.

If this song is banned, then half of the playlist should be banned too. Eminem’s Guilty Conscience, Robbin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, Eminem and Rihanna’s Love The Way You Lie, Jay Z’s 99 Problems and many other songs that convey mistreatment of women in one way or another still play with no protest to ban them.

It’s truly sad that a beautiful song that was written in the 40s as romantic flirtatious banter can be put through such scrutiny and judged by today’s standards while songs written a few years ago aren’t.

It is true that violence against women is an issue that needs to be exposed and spoken about on a more regular basis, but removing a holiday classic from radio play is not the way to go about it. Especially since there are far worse songs out there than Baby its Cold Outside.

I have grown accustomed to a new Star Wars movie around the holidays. Since there isn’t one this year, what better time to post my really late spoiler-filled review of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which I finally got around to watching about a month ago:

This was the first time I had the chance to see a Star Wars movie in the theatre and didn’t. I even saw The Phantom Menace twice on the big screen. Not sure why I put off watching it, but I’m glad I did.

I really enjoyed it and I think seeing it on a smaller screen first helped, even though the performances, effects, stunts and the production as a whole were all blockbuster caliber. Where Rogue One was a standalone story that drew from and tied directly into the saga films, Solo was more tied to the Star Wars TV shows, The Clone Wars in particular.

Yes, we get Han, Lando, and Chewie meeting for the first time, the Falcon doing the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs and a reference to the “big job” on Tatooine, plus there’s a pretty good explanation for Han’s standoffish approach to Leia in the Original Trilogy. In broad strokes, this film is tied to the most iconic movies in the franchise.

However, this movie lives in the universe of the TV shows. If you didn’t get and enjoy the references to the Pike Syndicate or Aurra Sing, you never saw The Clone Wars or at least not all of it. If you were confused by the hologram near the end and thought “Didn’t that guy die in The Phantom Menace?” instead of “Of course she works for Maul!”, your fandom is limited to the big screen.

That said, this movie certainly checks all the boxes for a flick that can be enjoyed on its own by someone who has never seen any Star Wars (such people exist, I’m told) as much as people who know the franchise inside out. It’s easy to see how the people who think they know Star Wars and should be getting all the references but aren’t may feel let down.

For hardcore fans like myself, the kind of people who like to rank the Star Wars films, don’t rank Solo. In general, I don’t think the anthology films should be in the same ranking system as the saga films, as they’re basically really good, extremely high-budget, live action Star Wars TV episodes. In the case of Solo, it’s the pilot for a series I am interested in seeing more from.

The problem is that the only other anthology film released to date is Rogue One, which is up there with the best of the saga. Better than Empire? Maybe. Better than the prequels? Sure. It’s basically Episode 3.5.

Solo is not Rogue One, nor should it try to be. It’s what I thought the anthology films would be like all along.

Solid storytelling. I felt sad when Han didn’t walk away with Qi’ra, though happy I had watched Emilia Clarke on screen for over two hours without once thinking of Daenerys. Plus we all know who Han ends up with.

I also loved the bits about droid self-determination and the reveal that the so-called marauders were actually the rebellion in its infancy. I honestly didn’t see the last one coming but I’m glad that it did.

I like the way Star Wars is going and can only hope that Disney realizes poor box office for Solo is primarily due to it being released in the summer, directly competing with Marvel (ie. Disney) and take that into account as they re-evaluate their rollout strategy. I also hope that fans learn to appreciate these anthology films for what they are and not expect every one to be Rogue One.

If you haven’t seen this one yet and you’re a Star Wars fan, I suggest that you do. If possible, around this time of year and in a way that Disney will register, so they remember that Star Wars features now work better in the winter.

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

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

Bad Reputation

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

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

Kilo Kish

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

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

Puces POP

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

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

Molly Nilsson

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

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

Art POP

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

Où sommes-nous

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

Pop Pavillion

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

Whispering Pines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original trailer for the film

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

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

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

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

Feature Image Courtesy of Cineplex Odeon Films

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who do you think needs to hear this message most?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you mean by that?

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

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