Wednesday, 2 July 2014

THE RETURNED and What the Zom-pocalypse Could Really Look Like

Rethink Everything You Thought You Knew About Zombies

There is something to be said about a film that sets out to deliver a familiar story told in a whole new way. The Returned not only succeeds at this, but it makes you stop and think, and even RE-think.

Zombies are a major part of popular culture right now, largely taking from the Romero films circa 68-85. Today, they're everywhere we turn - Film, TV, Comic Books, Merch. We have a cross-media phenomenon that no one seems to be tiring of yet. Even so, it always feels as though you've seen it all before, which for the record does not mean you can't enjoy it.

For me, the most thrilling zombie tales tend to be the unexpected ones, ones that gnaw at our own brains by making us question the concepts of life and death. My first experience with this was with a short story by Poppy Z. Brite, "Calcutta, Lord of Nerves". As a first person narration, it allows (what was for me at the time) the unique experience of understanding the zom-pocalypse as a natural disaster - as devastating and horrible on a new level. 

I then read Handling the Undead by John Lindqvist (author of Let The Right One In). It changed the meaning of zombies for me. Here we had people who were witnessing the "return" of their loved ones, and although as zombies they would be ravenous and dangerous, these people were completely torn-up by the idea that they could potentially have back what they had believed to be gone forever. A difficult read, emotionally, but it provided some much needed context to the grand-zombie-narrative which was beginning to grow a little stale. And this idea of getting inside the issue is perhaps the secret to the success of The Walking Dead, which becomes less about the zombies and more about the concept of survival as time goes on.

In The Returned we have Lindqvist's concept taken to yet another (fascinating) level. In a time when there is Zombie treatment, returning becomes a privilege that many can look forward to. However, as the supply runs low, the society is faced with many difficult questions. Whose life is worth saving? Who can afford to have their life saved? How can diseased individuals be trusted? Etc.

Obviously, the story blatantly delves into statements about prejudices, and classism, but there are even connotations about religion (namely, are the doctors playing "God"?). 

Like all good Canadian films, we are left with an ambiguous ending after a long complicated ride about the complex nature of humanity, but that only makes the film stronger. It's one I believe could be watched ten times by ten different people who would all walk away with different sentiments about what was being said. There are so many issues raised in this one that re-watching can only be beneficial. I won't call it cynical per se, but it definitely will make you wonder if right/wrong, good/bad, black/white are ever clearly defined. A+, without a doubt (despite the lack of gore).

While on the topic, I would like to note that the film was directed by the Spanish filmmaker Manuel Carballo, and written by another Spaniard, Hatem Khraiche. Funded by the Canadian government and filmed on location in Ontario, the film is a Spanish-Canadian co-production - evidently this is the dynamic duo of Zombie flicks. 

The Spanish industry brought us the Rec trilogy (see my review here) to which I am forever grateful for for its ability to prove the "found-footage" film CAN be done well. 

Canada has also been known for making curious zombie-flicks, and although this is the first to fully land, it's not the first time the industry has dabbled in the concept of life-after-zombies in a fresh manner. Take Fido for instance which had a very interesting context despite falling flat on its delivery (see my review here). Also, the zom-com A Little Bit Zombie attempts to make light of the zombie-turning process in an unexpected manner (see my review here).

Thursday, 29 May 2014

FIDO: Zombies, Ownership, and Other Philosophical Questions

This dark zom-com has a very interesting premise. The film uses concepts of slavery and ownership through the use of zombies. Set in the a futuristic (or alternate) 1950s-style atmosphere, Fido follows a young boy as he tries to make sense of the strange world around him. In a post-zombie-war environment, (the town is named Willard, a Night of the Living Dead reference) a large cooperation Zomcon has made billions by capitalizing on all the horrors. After a nuclear spill left humans vulnerable to re-animation after death, and after a war to subdue the overwhelming number of zombies, Zomcon created a system to enslave those who turn. Now, in a happy post-war era, you can own as many zombies as you can afford and use them as butlers, nannies, even sex slaves.

Obviously, this is problematic. What young Timmy struggles with is whether or not zombies are really dead. This line of thought clearly opens much more complex doors such as who (or what) is entitled to human rights and freedoms. That being said, I should note that while the story seems very explicitly founded on such questions, they are never properly addressed - perhaps this film's largest failing. As the viewer, you should see the connotations from a mile away, and it's very unfortunate that the film opts not to dive in. Instead, it remains always from the perspective of Timmy and his mother, Helen (portrayed by Carrie-Anne Moss), both of whom are on the verge of asking important questions about their world... They just never quite get there.

Instead, owning a zombie for the first time begins to plant seeds of change in their attitudes and understandings. As their minds open, so to does Helen's heart. Her husband's cold distance and disinterest leads her down a complicated road as she begins to see Fido in a new, welcoming, light. This almost romantic storyline serves to introduce the idea that Fido is something more than a dead guy - but it is also rather uncomfortable since it is nearly impossible to gauge how aware the zombies are about their condition. Fido proves to be special when his bond with Timmy proves to be stronger than that of an owner/owned relationship. But it remains unclear whether this is indicative of the zombie race as a whole. And if not, what makes Fido special is a question for which we are given no answer.

While I am not convinced this movie is worthy of much praise, I have to admit the storyline is very compelling. I was dissatisfied at the end, but I also really wanted more, which is actually a bit of a paradox. Perhaps it was trying to do too much in too little time. I think this story would make for a great graphic novel series, which would give it time to develop fully these significant philosophical questions about life, death, ownership, human rights, war... The possibilities are unlimited.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

TOP FIVES: Award Winning Canadian Films - The Mortal Instruments, Enemy, and More

Canada has had its own award ceremonies to honour domestic films for over 60 years. For the past 3 decades, until 2012, these were called the Genies, but as of 2013 they were merged with the Geminis (TV) to create the Canadian Screen Awards (CSA).

Whatever we call it, the point is these ceremonies are some of the best ways to keep up with our film industry, and although there a lot of great Canadian films that don't make it to the CSAs, there are oh so many that do.

This post is just a compilation of the top winners over the last five years. Enjoy!

2nd Annual CSA (2014) Hosted by Martin Short

The big winner this year was Denis Villeneuve's Enemy, taking home 5 awards. Villeneuve won for Best Direction, and Sarah Gadon won for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The film also won in the categories of Original Score, Editing, and Cinematography. It had 10 nominations in all.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who decides to seek out his doppelganger after spotting him in a movie. Watch Trailer Here.

Next in line was the Canada/USA co-production, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. This teen-fantasy film took home 3 awards; Achievement in Make-Up, Achievement in Overall Sound, and Achievement in Sound Editing. It was also awarded the Golden Reel for highest box office gross.

The film is a blockbuster that was long anticipated by many young adult readers who had been following the book series since it first hit stands in 2007. It follows a young girl who sets out to find answers when her mother goes missing during what appears to be a violent attack, only to discover she belongs to an underground world of magic and demons. Watch Trailer Here.

The Best Picture award went to Gabrielle. It is directed by Louis Archambault, and follows the story of a young woman, Gabrielle (if you couldn't guess) with Wiliams Syndromw. Her musical gift leads her to a choir at the rec centre where she meets Martin. The two instantly connect but as they prepare for an upcoming show they are met with prejudices and family-fears about their relationship. Watch Trailer Here.

1st Annual CSA (2013) Hosted by Martin Short, Also

Kim Nguyen's film War Witch (Rebelle) took home an astonishing 10 awards. It won Best Picture and Best Director. Rachel Mwanza received the Best Acrtess in a Leading Role award, and Serge Kandyinda got Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The film was also given, Best Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Overall Sound, and Sound Editing.

The story Komona, a 14 year old girl in Sub-Saharan Africa as she tells her unborn child the story of her life - beginning with her abduction by a rebel army two years back. Watch Trailer Here.

Meanwhile, the Achievement in Visual Effects went to the Canada/USA co=production Resident Evil: Retribution, which also took home the Golden Reel. The sci-fi action horror is the 5th in its series (with the 6th set for release in 2015) and this time it follows Alice as she fights alongside a resistance battle. Watch Trailer Here.

32nd Genie Awards (2012) Hosted by George Stromboulopoulos

The most awards this year went to Monsieur Lazhar, directed by Phillipe Falardeau. It took home six awards, Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Editing; plus Best Supporting Actress went to Sophie Nelisse, and Best Actor to Mohammed Fellag. 

The story unfolds when an Algerian immigrant is hired to replace a public school teacher who recently committed suicide. The dramedy follows his attempts to help the children through their grief, while he deals with his own loss. Watch Trailer Here.

Following so close behind with 5 awards was David Cronenberg's Drama, A Dangerous Method, starring Kiera Knightly, Viggo Mortenson, and Michael Fassbender. Viggo won for Best Actor, and it was also given Best Art Direction, Overall Sound, Sound Editing, and the Achievement in Music for its Original Score. 

The beautifully constructed film is something of a bio-pic of Carl Jung and his ever-deteriorating relationship with Sigmund Freud as the two find themselves drawn to a particularly fascinating patient, Sabina Speilrein. Watch Trailer Here.

Lastly, the Golden Reel went to Starbuck. The film follows David ("Starbuck"), a fortysomething year old who faces a class-action lawsuit when the 142 children he fathered through artificial insemination file against him. Meanwhile, his own girlfriend reveals her pregnancy - good timing. Watch Trailer Here.

31st Annual Genie Awards (2011), Hosted by William Shatner

Incendies was the big winner of 2011, garnering 8 awards. It brought in Best Picture, Best Director (Denis Villeneuve), Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Sound Editing and Overall Sound. As well as Best Actress for Lubna Azabal.

The film follows a set of twins who make a journey back to their birthplace in the middle-East, in an attempt to unravel the mystery of their mother's life.

Barney's Version followed close behind with 7 awards. It won for Art Direction, Costume Design, Achievement in Music, and in Makeup. The cast also did very well, with Paul Giamatti winning Best Actor, Dustin Hoffman winning Best Supporting Actor, and Minnie Driver getting Best Supporting Actress.

The film follows a foul-mouthed hard-drinking 65 year old man who, nearing the end of his life takes time to reflect on his many successes and failures. Watch Trailer Here.

The Golden Reel went to the Canada/USA co-production (again) Resident Evil: Afterlife. Watch Trailer Here.

30th Annual Genie Awards (2010)

Scooping up 9 awards was the drama Polytechnique, directed by Denis Villeneuve (he's kind of a big deal if you can't tell yet). It took home, Best Picture, Best Director, Cinematography, Editing, Original Screenplay, Overall Sound, and Sound Editing. Also, it won Best Supporting Actor (Maxime Gaudette) and Best Actress (Karine Vanasse).

The film is based on the true story of the 1989 school shooting in Montreal which resulted in the deaths of several female engineer students at the hand of a crazed misogynist. Watch Trailer Here.

The runner up for most awards goes to Fifty Dead Men Walking, but it only took home 2! It won for Art Direction and Best Adapted Screenplay.

This one is also based on a true story. It tells the story of Martin MacGartland, an Irishman (played by Jim Sturgess) who in the 1980s was recruited by the British Police to go undercover in the deadly Irish terrorist group known as the IRA. As he works his way up the ranks of the IRA, things become increasingly complicated until his whole life feels like a grey area. Watch Trailer Here.

The Golden Reel went to the comedy Father and Guns (De Pere en Flic). Directed by Emile Gaudreault, it follows the strained relationship of a father and son. Both policemen, they are shocked to find they have been paired up on an undercover assignment, at a father-son therapy camp no less. Watch Trailer Here.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

THE DIRTIES: An Award Winning Debut-Feature With a Meagre $10 000 Dollar Budget

An Uncomfortably Dark Comedy About High School Bullying

Why did Kevin Smith decide to sponsor this little indie-Canadian film, a debut for director Matt Johnson? Apart from his open-relationship with the Canadian Film Industry (and Degrassi), he genuinely believes that it is "the most important movie you will see all year". And many agree.

The film was first released at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2013 where it won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative, among numerous others. It has also screened at San-Diego Comic-Con, and the TIFF Bell Lightbox Theatre.

So what makes this ridiculously low-budget film so special? The topic of bullying is always rampant, especially in the last few years with the recognition of cyber-bullying and its connection to teen-suicide/homicide, but part of what makes this film so fresh is its back to basics approach. The bullying is shown to be all in-school, perpetrated by one group (nicknamed The Dirties), in an 80s movies fashion. So despite the constant publicizing of cyber-bullying, this film reminds us of the harsh reality of the HS hallways, when you don't fit in.

The plot follows two best friends, Matt and Owen, who start off by trying to raise awareness about The Dirties by making an action-packed revenge film which they plan to screen for class (it may be a project assignment, but its conception is a little vague). Matt is shown to be the main figure in the filmmaking process, and his enthusiasm just makes you smile. But more importantly, his desire to create positive change from his work is very compelling. But unfortunately, the film doesn't go over the way he had planned - the blow is unbearable. As he becomes more and more frustrated with his film having no impact on his fellow classmates, Matt suggests the problem is that they did not actually kill The Dirties... like, for real. What starts as a joke quickly becomes a reality as Matt becomes more and more set on exacting a revenge that will be more meaningful, he also begins to lose his connection with Owen who finds the entire plan a little too real.

In a Revenge of the Nerds meets Elephant approach, the film uses a mock-umentary style to ground itself in the real issue. The film is properly contextualized, with references such as Columbine and The Catcher in the Rye, but these are used passingly which somehow gives them more depth. In this way, the film comments on how eerily normal such violences are in our everyday lives. The film's charm comes form earnest moments like these, oh, and the meta-film approach as the two main characters are portrayed as having quite the movie obsession.

After seeing the film at Slamdance, Kevin Smith offered to promote the film on his podcast, but his support did not end there. Eventually Smith told the young director that he would like to release the film through his company. When Johnson was asked why he believes his film is generating a wider release in the U.S. than in its domestic market, he said:

"People are more interested in the perspective of it there than they are in Canada because it’s so in the consciousness of the public...The reception to the film -- in terms of the positivity -- has been equal with Canadian and American audiences, but certainly there seems to be a much deeper fascination with it stateside." (Wide Screen)

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Hollywood Messes Up a Canadian Classic

Early slasher cinema will be forever indebted to Bob Clark's Black Christmas, a low-budget Canadian film starring Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder. And yet - Hollywood went ahead and screwed it up in a reckless attempt to remake and modernize the story, clumsily relying on the foundation of Psycho.

(Beware of Spoilers)

Sadly, Glenn Morgan’s 2006 remake of Bob Clark’s 1974 film Black Christmas is not a terribly coherent film. In a messy effort to do too much, the film does too little - it loses the essence of the first one which was all about the actual terror of suspense. Here, Billy’s extensive backstory crosscuts throughout the plot, exposing a set of reasons why he is incapable of functioning ‘normally’ in society. Moreover, the theme of sexual harassment, overly present in the original is played down by having the calls no longer be perverted, and yet Billy as a voyeur becomes a major theme. Meanwhile, the film seems to try to use the themes of voyeurism and the breakdown of the family to create an intertextual relationship to Psycho

Subequently, the film is no longer explicitly about the vulnerability of women as there is no sexual harassment (save for the one scene in which Billy secretly watches Lauren shower as an obvious and out of place homage to Psycho). Instead, it becomes more traditional in its exploitation of the bad mother/good mother myth through its use of the virgin/whore dichotomy, albeit updated to embroider the good mother/virgin (Kelli) with feminist characteristics such as rationality, and authority and vigor when necessary. By the end however such characteristics are subdued when she is taken home by her mother in a traumatized state. Somehow, she becomes just another victim.

The recurrent victimization of women in slashers has been discussed by many, including William Schoell who asserts that this tactic is connected to the fact that the idea of women needing protection is simply “ingrained in the public consciousness”, and is therefore unlikely to ever go away. Ultimately though, Billy’s violence becomes a consequence of his life and psychosis rather than being explicitly about women as it was in Clark’s version. Instead, violence is all he knows. This is another example of the way the film may be thought of as borrowing from Psycho

Speaking about Hitchcock’s film as a pre-cursor to the slasher, Clover notes the significant conventions as follows: “the killer is the psychotic product of a sick family, but still recognizably human; the victim is a beautiful, sexually attractive woman; the location is not home, a terrible place...”. Unfortunately, Black Christmas certainly lacks both the cinematic and narrative sophistication of Hitchcock’s film. Instead, major themes such as voyeurism, consumption, and the virgin/whore dichotomy, seem to be simply thrown together in a blender with little to no use of critical thought. 

Despite the story being founded on Clark’s original ideas about the character Billy, the film is seriously lacking anything that resembles finesse. It’s all about the spectacle of the wet death (a phrase by which Isabelle Christina Pinedo describes all post-modern horror), denying the viewer any reason to care about anyone or anything that’s going on. 

In a word, it’s a MESS.

Click Here for my look at the original and why it is such an important film in slasher history

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sexuality, Nationalism, and Religion in Deepa Mehta’s ELEMENTS Trilogy

From 1996-2005, the Toronto-based-Indian-born female filmmaker, Deepa Mehta, produced three films that have now become known as her Elements trilogy. The films, Fire (1996), Earth (1998), and Water (2005), written and directed by Mehta, are all critically acclaimed as well as highly controversial. Her intent was to make three films that she would find meaningful in dealing with the politics of sexuality, the politics of nationalism, and the politics of religion, respectively. Despite the fact that the films deal with specific events in Indian history, and are thus set between 1938 and 1947, by producing them in a time when issues of citizenship and national identity are being publicly confronted, Mehta is able to present a new perspective on “past” issues. In fact, bringing these past events to the forefront at such a time employs them as reminders that these issues have long been in existence, even if they were not being addressed. The films challenge what it means to be Indian, and question the status and rights of Indian women. The bold storytelling Mehta takes on with this three part project must, I argue, be considered a form of feminist and social activism, and is thus worth serious attention for their willingness to consider issues of gender and citizenship. 
In a chapter on Globalization and Women, Valentine Moghadam points out that the interpretation of globalization as westernization was a major prompt of Fundamentalist groups which are very concerned with sustaining traditional ideologies about gender, among other things (45). This frame of thought has caused quite an uproar surrounding Mehta’s films. For instance, during the making of Water (a film about Hindi widows who are bound by religion to live lives of self-denial, starvation, and chastity), it took only two days of on-location shooting for fundamentalist groups to fight against the production hard enough to have it violently shut down by authorities. The film was subsequently shot in Sri Lanka. The reason fundamentalists are so enraged about the film is because it suggests that the sacred Hindi texts are being used as a guise for the society to mistreat women and strip them of their right to be full citizens, to the benefit of men who remain rich and powerful by the same laws.

In Earth, Mehta takes on the division of India, which created Pakistan and was the cause of much bloodshed. This film highlights the problematic nature of the idea of national identity and the issue of multiculturalism. Earth is bloated with debates about who belongs where based on religion, and about how the Indian people negotiate their “English” identity. Significantly, the political arguments and terrorist style violence are all led by men in the film, while the women are shown as lacking political voices, but also as being deeply emotionally affected by not knowing where they “belong”. The film therefore strives to portray the problematic social structures created by the concept of nationalism, especially in relation to gender. The concept of globalization finds its way into this discussion because it seems to have informed Mehta’s perspective in telling this story. If, as Scholtz suggests, modernization is one way to understand globalization, then it can be argued as being relevant to Mehta’s film, which is underlined with the idea that individualism and rationalism are lacking in the situation. The characters seem to possess these qualities before the division, but quickly revert to traditional ideas about nation and religion informing a group-identity once Britain puts independence on the table. 

Meanwhile, the earliest installment of the trilogy, Fire, demonstrates women’s dependency on their husbands, without whom they have no place in society. It was the first mainstream film to deal explicitly with homosexuality (specifically lesbianism), inspired by the feminist Indian writer Ismat Chughtai. Again, Mehta is challenging national policies by wondering why women must assimilate to patriarchal heterosexual ideologies in order to have rights in their country. Not surprisingly, this film was heavily protested in India as well for both its critical nature and its “deviance”.

Speaking Overall, Mehta’s films are especially interesting to analyze within the framework of globalization because of her own relationship to transnationalism. All three films deal explicitly with the contentious issue of belonging within a national framework, a subject Mehta cannot be unfamiliar with as a Canadian citizen for over 20 years. That she continues to make films that challenge the politics, and gender politics, of India affords her a distance from the subject that may make tackling these difficult issues easier, if not only for her access to Canadian government funding. And yet as an Indian woman, she is afforded a certain level of authority which allows her a privileged position from which to criticize. What she goes through to get these stories told is remarkable and for that will alone she must be commended. 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Lucky Girl (John Fawcett 2001): It's a Long Hard Fall From the Top

Like many Canadian directors, Fawcett has headed some exceptional feature films, but often sees much of his time and creativity dedicated to guest-directing on outstanding Canadian TV shows. This is the even case for some bigger names such as Bruce McDonald (Hardcore Logo, The Tracy Fragments) and Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Adoration). It's one of the unavoidable consequences of the Canadian industry which has long been more adept to television - subsequently some of our best movies are also made for TV.

Hence Lucky Girl A.K.A. My daughter's Secret Life.

Immediately following his great success with Ginger Snaps in 2000 (easily one of the strongest werewolf films ever made), Fawcett directed this dark drama featuring the then up-and-coming Elisha Cuthbert. In it, she plays 17 year old Kaitlin, who in her final year of high school is looking for quick ways to make quick cash as she excitedly plans a trip to Europe with her best friend. As something of a mathematician, when she stumbles upon a knack for cards she is thrilled by the thought of how much money she can make. But it's not long before her luck runs out.

This is not a movie about a card-shark, it aims only to show how easily a young girl can get herself into a whole lot of trouble. Eventually, Kaitlin owes more than she can pay, and a sudden romance with a 22 year old gambling addict only makes things worse. From being jumped in a bathroom, to robbing a house, to being held hostage in another - it's safe to say Kaitlin completely loses control over her life.

Although the film is completely different from Ginger Snaps, Fawcett develops some undeniable thematic links, especially in the depiction of the home. Again we have a "typical" middle-class family featuring the passive father whose relationship with the mother is disconnected, to say the least, and a mother who is delusional about the bond she shares with her daughter. This atmosphere heavily informs how the girls view the world and their place in it. While in Ginger Snaps the girls rebel aggressively against the status quo which they see "caricaturized" at home, here Kaitlin simply has no sense of how to properly connect with people - nor does she understand herself as having any responsibility to do so within the world. She is not a sympathetic character, and yet there is a desire to see things work out for her because despite all of her mistakes it still seems as though the people around her are failing her more than she is failing them. Much of this has to do with the depiction of her parents and their inability to actually parent.

All in all, it is an interesting story with interesting characters, no one is particularly likeable and yet everyone seems to have a side worth getting to know. It is one of the better TV movies I have seen, with an impressive 7 star rating on IMDB. Originally a CTV production, the film is also available on American Netflix.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

BITTEN Season 2?


The new Canadian Fantasy Series Bitten, based on Kelly Armstrong’s book series Women of the Otherworld, is coming up on its first season finale, so naturally the question is, will it be back? 

Premiering as an original Space network production on January 13, the story follows Elena Michaels (played by Laura Vandevoort of Instant Star), a werewolf who has left her pack to attempt a “normal” city-life in Toronto, Ontario. Things become complicated, however, when she is asked to return in order to help her pack track down serial-killing “muts” who seem to be targeting them. The show also airs on Syfy.
Although the supernatural has been becoming increasingly popular with record-breaking viewerships for shows such as True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries, the female werewolf is a character of a much more rare variety, hardly seen in the lead role aside from the rare film - notably Ginger Snaps in 2000. In a recent interview Vandevoort took some time to reflect upon her position as the only Lady Wolf lead in mainstream pop culture, stating: 

“I’m very proud of the show for that alone… But honestly I don’t know why it’s like that. We’ve all grown up with the male werewolf… perhaps it’s hard for audiences to accept a female playing this strong and dominant werewolf. I don’t know why it hans’t come up until now but I’m glad that things are changing and that it’s accepted” ( 2014).

Clearly, this fresh angle allows the show to stand out from similar shows such as Lost Girl and Being Human, but will it be enough?

We’ve all experienced the disappointment of losing our favorite TV shows, and we all know ratings and viewership has a lot to do with the decision to cut a series loose. While there has been official no word yet on the fate of Bitten, it has garnered mostly positive reviews, with adoring fans turning to comment pages hoping for a renew. Critics have had more mixed reactions. The Philadelphia Inquirer has referred to the show as a “sexy, diverting drama”, so that although it may be limited by its tight budget, it remains “smoothe” with “solid performances” (Tirade Derakhshani). Meanwhile, the Boston Herald argues that the show moves far too slowly, giving it a C grade (Mark Perigard).

Of course, adaptation can be tricky. People tend to get attached to the original work, however, Armstrong has been good enough to address such concerns on her tumblr page. She expresses her own excitement about the show and explains “There’s enough of a demand that I’ve never felt I could refuse to sell the rights”. Whether this demand has manifested into dedicated viewership that will keep the show going is yet to be seen, but there is certainly reason to tune in and check out TV’s first Female Wolf lead. 

The season finale is set to air Monday, April 7th.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

BLINDNESS (Meirelles 2008): A Co-Production that Looks to the Destruction of the National on Multiple Levels

(Beware of Spoilers)

Officially cited as a co-production between Canada, Brazil and Japan, Blindness also credits an impressive seventeen production companies as contributing, following which the screen reads “a very independent picture”. While the film never explicitly states the name of a city as its setting, iconic yellow cabs and busy streets indicate New York (despite the filming location being Guelph, Ontario). Clearly, much can be said about transnational film production in the age of globalization in regards to this film. Even more so however, the film seems to speak to the inevitability of the destruction of the National within a Globalized world.

When a mysterious plague referred to as the “white sickness” steals the eyesight of all but one woman, replacing it with only white light, chaos ensues. Within this narrative, the destruction of nation is literal. At first the government tries to control the situation by forcing the infected into quarantine, but with the number of the sick rising at a frightening rate, the quarantined find their quarters overcrowded, lacking in resources, and overrun by a select few patients. This is not a treatment centre nor is it a care facility. The only employees are heavily armed guards whose only concern is keeping the sick locked up and far from them. Shown in an extremely negative light, the guards are guilty of opening fire on the crowd, disregarding their basic human rights, and ignoring their pleas for help. If as government officials they represent the national, the eventual disappearance of the guards implies a combination of insignificance and powerlessness. They try to assert power by force in the beginning but eventually have to give up, presumably because the state of the world is out of control. 

Meanwhile, life inside the isolation facility quickly deteriorates until it itself becomes a representation of what we would consider to be the Third World, that is, the crowded, dirty, space seems unlivable by First World standards. Within the building are separate wards which come to stand in for different cities in this newly formed society, with each electing a ward representative. However, it is not long until people begin to challenge this imbedded desire to recreate democratic social standards, and instead revert to chaotic and violent means of asserting dominance to ensure survival. This results in one ward’s takeover, physical assaults (including sexual), and “war”.

Upon escaping the quarantine building, though, the characters find that the outside world they know has ceased to exist. Hopeful, and led by the only woman who can see, one group enchantedly begins to build a new life; a fresh start with less rigid social standards. In a beautifully sensual scene, the group feels the rain on their skin for the first time since being locked away, and their genuine happiness emphasizes the water as a symbol of rebirth. In a particularly telling scene, they all return to the home of their leader, where the women strip down and shower together. This communal shower, though not sexual, indicates a definite break from Western culture. Furthermore, the joy the women experience in this scene suggests a desired freedom from what used to be. This move away from what was expresses a break from concepts of national identity in a very positive light. Whereas within the quarantine people recreated a Third World experience, in the safety of this house, there is an expectation to build a new, utopian, world. 

Outside, people ravage one another in the streets in a ‘survival of the fittest’ plight, but when the narrator assures us with his final words that they will all regain their sight and that “This time, they would really see”, there is an implication that what the group has created inside the house will spread once the madness calms.

Not only is the film challenging the idea of national identity through the destruction of the functionality of the state and the social rules it abides by, but also through the characters themselves. The presence of multiculturalism is always the first way to problematize national identity since it suggests that people live in ‘hyphened spaces’. In other words, within a given nation there is a makeup of peoples who ‘belong’ to more than one culture. This immediately undermines the idea that they are responsible solely to one set of national policies and/or cultural standards related to one particular nation, and may in fact negotiate two or more opposing national ‘identities’. Within the film, this is portrayed through the use of two languages and many accents, as well as through racial tensions. Interestingly, it is suggested that racism will likely disappear in a world without eyesight. This takes place in a scene where a white man makes a racial slur about a black man. He does so without knowing the friend he is speaking to is himself black. When reminded by this black man that he cannot be sure of anyone’s race without his eyes, the man responds “I can tell from the voice”. Of course, he is wrong; the man he is talking about is shown to not be black. 

Another way that cultural specificity is questioned in the film is with its ambiguous relationship to religion. The question of whether divine intervention has had a role in the ‘white sickness’ is left unanswered, but a strong argument can be made. First, there is the fact that the people are plagued by a white light as opposed to blackness, which is what medical blindness is defined as. Meanwhile, white light has explicit associations to religion. 

Second, there is the church scene. Here, the woman with sight enters a church and finds that all the statues of religious (Christian) figures have been blindfolded. Reminiscent of the one religious scene in Meirelles’s earlier film City of God, high and canted angles are used, but the topic is not returned to and so the audience is left not knowing the significance of it. The characters do briefly speculate about what it might mean, wondering if the priest did it because he knew this plague was coming. It seems to me though that the blindfolds can be interpreted two ways, either this was a warning message to the people, or an attempt to keep God from seeing what people are really capable of in chaos. However, both interpretations imply the existence of God, as well as a confirmation of Christianity itself as the ‘correct’ religion. By not actually answering the question of divine intervention however, the film does not explicitly approve of this line of thought. Moreover, because of the film’s hostility towards national identity, the question of Christianity becomes yet another indicator of how complex such an idea really is; Christianity may be the ‘official’ religion of America, but because of the ‘melting pot’ representation of America, even this has to be problematized.

Blindness has a strikingly circular narrative structure. The film opens with a man going blind in his car. In the final scene, it is this man who suddenly regains his sight. The group celebrates for him and for themselves with the new found expectation they they too will see again.  At this point, the narrator wonders about the future of the characters. But the real question is what will their world be like now that the social standards have been destroyed along with the imagined security of national rights? Until the plague, national citizenship (in a First World especially) would have implied safety through government intervention and class hierarchy (a hierarchy that has historically had a relationship to gender and race as well). However, the white sickness not only took away this sense of security, but also broke down the hierarchies by forcing them to function without distinction of skin color and class. In a way, the sickness made them equals. 

Those who tried to recreate hierarchal systems were figured as evil and punished. Thus, the ambiguous ending of the film is flirting with the idea that in order to create a utopia, like the one pointed to in the house,  there has to first be a destruction of any system that is run on hierarchies, such as of class and race. Nationality is of course one of the strongest systems of this sort. By destroying peoples faith in such a system, the white sickness provides the first step towards a new world. In relation to globalization, this is very significant because in breaking away from national systems there is also a complete dissolution of borders, creating an open, globalized, world. Therefore, Mierelles seems to argue with this film that the only way to function efficiently and happily in a globalized world, with equality, is to destroy the national and live only in the global.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Top Fives: Canada on American Netflix

I have a secret about Netflix to share... There is far more Canadian content on American Netflix than the actual Canadian one.

Mind blown, right?

Both Netflix regions allow you to search Canadian content, in Canada it is listed under genres (odd but true), while to find this stuff on the American version, you must specifically search "Canadian movies".

These searches will yield 68 results on the Canadian, while the American list yields just over 200 titles! 

If you have access to American Netflix, I highly recommend you check out some of these, and to help you make your picks I've put together some Top 5 Lists.

As you may know, the Canadian film industry is often stereotyped as only having Docs and Horrors... But that is mostly true, so these will be my points of focus.

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1. Lost and Delirious (Lea Pool 2001)

4.5 Stars

Genre: Drama/Romance


Plot: A coming of age tale that explores sexual awakenings and young love at an all girls boarding school.

Starring: Mischa Barton and Jessica Pare

Location: Lennoxville, QC

2. Tucker & Dale VS Evil  (Eli Craig 2010)

4.25 Stars

Genre: Comedy/Horror


Plot: Two "Backwoods" guys have their weekend in the woods go terribly wrong when they are mistaken for psychotic killers by a group of vengeful college kids

Starring: Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk

Location: Alberta, Can.

3. The Whale (Chisholm and Parfit 2011)

4.25 Stars

Genre: Doc


Plot: Exploring the conflicts over Luna, a whale living off Vancouver Island

Starring: Ryan Reynolds (yup)

Location: Vancouver, BC

4. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (Dunn and McFadyen 2010)

4.25 Stars

Genre: Doc


Plot: Exploring the progression of Canadian Rock Band Rush from 70s rock to their new Heavy Metal sound

Starring: ...Rush 

Location: Toronto, ON

5. Goon (Michael Dowse 2011)

4.2 Stars

Genre: Comedy


Plot: The true story of how one sweet hockey fan, Doug Glatt, became a hockey legend... For his fighting skills.

Starring: Sean William Scott and Jay Baruchel

Location: Manitoba, SK

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1. Tucker & Dale VS Evil (Eli Craig 2010)

Netflix: 4.25 Stars

My Rating: 5 Stars


Gory and hilarious, this film subverts not only genre conventions, but stereotypes in general. The first legitimately good horror/comedy since Scary Movie (that I've seen, at least).

2. American Mary (Jen/Sylvia Soska 2012)

Netflix: 3.75 Stars

My Rating: 4 Stars


Gory, with a story to tell about life. With all the ups and downs, these characters prove that learning how to be you is of the utmost importance - oh and revenge, that's pretty high up there too.

3. Haunter (Vincenzo Natali 2013)

Netflix: 3.5 Stars

My Rating: 4 Stars


Suspenseful and dark, this film subverts the haunted-house narrative when a young girl must solve the mystery of her own demise.

4. A Little Bit Zombie (Casey Walker 2012)

Netflix: 3.25 Stars

My Rating: N/A (Looks great!)


A Zom-Com that looks to be along the same comedic lines as the original Evil Dead trilogy.

5. The Moth Diaries (Mary Harron 2011)

Netflix: 3.2 Stars

My Rating: N/A (Looks Chilling)


A Gothic tale - Boarding school, New Girl, Dark Secrets (That's probably enough said). 

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TOP 5 DOCS (Sad to say, I've seen NONE of these ones)

1. The Whale (Chisholm and Parfit 2011)

Netflix: 4.25 Stars

My Rating: N/A (Looks Heartwarming)

Confliction over Luna, the killer whale off the Vancouver coast.

2. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (Dunn and McFadyen 2010)

Netflix: 3.25 Stars

My Rating: N/A

A look at the 40-year career of Canadian Rock-Legends, Rush.

3. Reel Injun (Neil Diamond!! and Catherine Bainbridge 2009)

Netflix: 3.25 Stars

My Rating: N/A (Neil Diamond?!)


An examination of Hollywood's wildly inaccurate depictions of Native Americans throughout time.

4. 65_RedRoses (Lyall and Mukerji 2009)

Netlfix: 3.1 Stars

My Rating: N/A (Strikes me as a Must-See)


Following the life of Eva Markvoot, a young woman suffering from the fatal illness Cystic Fibrosis as she develops an online network of support, creating friendships with other patients across borders.

5. Greenwich Village: Music that Defined a Generation (Laura Archibald 2012)

Netflix: 3.1 Stars

My Rating: N/A (Canada has a long relationship with beautiful Music-Docs, so it's fair to have high expectations)

Blending interviews and archival footage, this doc is a profile of the Folk Legends who put Greenwich Village on the map (so to speak).

* * * * * *

Well, I hope that helps spruce up your Canadian Film Viewing - Might as well take advantage of this freezing weather and stay in!


Thursday, 13 March 2014


Undoubtedly, the great success of Halloween (John Carpenter 1978) allowed the modern slasher to thrive in the 80s, but prior to this the genre had already taken form in Canada. Bob Clark’s 1974 film Black Christmas was the first of many to be produced and cherished in the North.

Everyone has heard the argument that Halloween changed the face of horror and created the slasher formula, with those to follow upping the ante by showing more violence and more nudity. What fewer people realize is that four years prior, Black Christmas set the stage for the better part of this formula. In fact, the film is even more graphic, with more blood and a higher body count. 

Violence and the Killer-Point-of-View :

While Halloween only boasts 4 on screen murders, and one extra body, Black Christmas features 3 on-screen deaths (all more gruesome than Carpenter’s 4), and 4 more bodies, 3 of which are shown for bloody effect. Moreover, while Halloween is so often credited as the first to use the killer-point-of-view, the truth is, Black Christmas did it first - perhaps even more effectively.

The film is set in a sorority house just as the holidays approach. Many of the girls have left to visit family, and the ones who stayed behind are festively celebrating, and drinking quite heavily. A point-of-view shot opens the narrative inviting the viewer to immediately identify with the killer, as he peeps into the windows of the house. This five minute opening sequence crosscuts between the killer-point-of-view as he sneaks into the attic, and the unaware girls and their party guests carrying on. Like Peeping Tom (an early example of slasher cinema from Britain), the film prioritizes the insidious action of looking as the main source of horror, bringing to mind Carol Clover’s statement that “eyes are everywhere in horror cinema”. At the level of narrative, she explains, either seeing too much, or seeing too little, is problematic. In this brilliant scene, Black Christmas reveals the danger of both. The gaze is positioned as dangerous since it belongs to a psychotic serial killing pervert. On the other hand, being ‘blind’ to the dangers around them, the girls’ lack of seeing is what will inevitably get them killed. Throughout the film the point-of-views will continue to shift back and forth, always keeping the audience privy to what the killer is seeing. This keeps the tension very high - and his heavy breathing invading the sound track keeps the atmosphere very creepy.

The Women (Spoilers):

The Final Girl is one of the most important aspects in a slasher film. While Laurie Strode will always be my number one, it must be pointed out that the concept was first developed by Clark in Black Christmas
Barb is the first girl introduced. Despite a subtle knack for observance when she yells at the other girls for leaving the front door open (ironically this is not how the killer enters), Barb is drunk and continues to be so throughout the film. The viewer learns very little of her, but it is clear that she has left an unstable home in the city to attend university in a small town. Likely on her own for the first time, she takes full advantage of the free-spirit of the sorority house, wailing “this is a sorority house, not a convent!” Not surprisingly, Barb’s irresponsibility is said to provoke the ‘moaner’, a name given to the killer by the girls for his perverted phone calls. Her character is a lot of fun (played by Margot Kidder - yes! Lois Lane!), but obviously, she is too wild to qualify as a Final Girl. 

Enter Jess. She is sweet and protective of her “sisters”. But she is also career-oriented and rational, and it is these “masculinities” that make her a great Final Girl (the idea that the Final Girl is masculine is still very popular in the scholarship although I find the concept outdated). She would rather not fight, but she will when backed into a corner. In fact, she is one of the few Final Girls to have actually killed someone. 

You may recall, even Laurie can only hold Michael off until help arrives.


Although Black Christmas does not feature any sex or nudity, for it’s time it is unmatched for crudeness. Barb gets all of her kicks from dirty jokes, from convincing a police officer ‘fellatio’ is a new telephone exchange, to dinner conversation about the mating habits of turtles. Meanwhile, the alcoholic House Mother traipses around cursing like a sailor and her efforts to appear stable only make her seem more ridiculous. This comedic aspect provides a much needed break from how incredibly scary the situation is. 

With no idea who the killer is, the viewer only knows he is in the house, and that he is taunting them over the phone while he knocks them off, one by one. Leaving them in poses (yes, like in Halloween with Linda and Annie) when he’s finished.

In an interview, Bob Clark was asked how he felt about Carpenter ripping off his film. But Clark is a stand up guy and while he admits that when his film was released he did spend some time with Carpenter who was eager to discuss the possibility of a sequel, he also gives Carpenter credit for his own masterpiece. Clark states, “John was a great fan of Black Christmas… He loved the movie and I believe he was influenced some by it, but he did not copy my movie and Halloween is entirely John Carpenter’s and it’s one of the Greats of its kind.” And, that it is!

Meanwhile, the slasher continued to make its mark on Canadian Cinema and the Horror genre with some of the most popular films being Prom Night and Terror Train (both 1980 featuring Jamie Lee Curtis), My Bloody Valentine  (1981) and Visiting Hours (1982). Also, many Canadian slashers have recently been subjected to the US remake (co-produced). Sadly, Black Christmas was one of these. 

It’s nothing against remakes in general - but really, take my advice, and stay clear of this one.