The Gospel According to St. Matthew: The Outside Looking In

I have yet to see a compelling film about the Christ story as told from a Christian filmmaker. They range from blasé attempts to present the Biblical narrative as “history” — and I mean this both as a criticism of rigid dogmatism and a criticism of the style they are often told in, one of boring high school history lessons lacking flavour and constructed like an overlong textbook devoid of pictures — to glorified torture porn disguised as piety that should shock and appal for all the wrong reasons.

I have, however, seen several accounts of the Bible told by secular filmmakers that are utterly fascinating, full of metaphor and imagery, that examine their source material — in particular, the Christ character — through a lens more appropriate to examining a historical figure who still has an impact on today’s world. The Last Temptation of Christ springs to mind, a film that dared to take Jesus seriously as a human being full of doubt and conflicting values, a man who felt both a higher calling and an inescapable feeling of inadequacy. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew is another movie, this one made by an atheist, that examined Jesus from a Marxist context, that looked truly at the message of radical socialism and free love, and asked us what we can take from the story. While it is flavoured with mythological undertones, the movie never descends into the literal fundamentalism that modern Bible movies so often drown under.

Pasolini was primarily a poet, and, believing in the lyrical value of the Gospel of Matthew, he lifted all his dialogue directly from the source material. There is no embellishment to the fantastical elements of the story — the two biggest “magical” moments, namely Jesus’ miracles of the five loaves and two fish and his walking on water are not presented as swirling special effects sequences that are meant to make us think about how miraculous these unreal events are supposed to be, but rather are presented in a stark simplicity that simply highlight the allegorical nature of the scenes. Pasolini himself had expressed remorse at including these two scenes as he felt they were too obviously pious and not central to the socialist message of the film, and I agree to a certain extent: perhaps the loaves and fish sequence could have been removed without affecting anything, but the water walking scene is quite breathtaking and Jesus’ “why did you doubt?” line doubles down the effect of the rest of his message when coupled with Pasolini’s natural aesthetic. In fact, for a miraculous scene, there is nothing out of the ordinary about its presentation. There is Jesus, here are the disciples.

Terry Eagleton, also an atheist, described Jesus as a Marxist revolutionary in his book, “Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.” For Eagleton, Jesus was a radical who placed the poor, the broken and the outcast at the centre of his revolution against the politics of the time. These outcasts, those abused by the system and (rightly) dissatisfied with it were to be the new rebels, so to speak, the driving force behind a new social system, and from there in the centre, he could spread his message outward and establish a new, socialist society that looked after all of its members with equal consideration. To Eagleton, Jesus became a political figure, one who threatened the power and as a result was politically executed, becoming a martyr and proving his own point that society was broken and in need of change.

For Pasolini, Jesus was also a Marxist revolutionary, one who viewed society as broken and in urgent need of remaking, and who sought to do so by blessing the poor, the outcast and the sinners, and condemning the rich, pious and hypocritical. A scene in which a rich man comes to Jesus asking what he must do to gain entrance to heaven stands out. Jesus replies, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:16-23, quote 19:21). Seen from a Marxist standpoint, this scene epitomizes the message of Jesus regarding political power and wealth and his rebellion against the social system of the day.

There is no need to recount the plot as Pasolini follows Matthew precisely, adamantly adhering to what he considered its artistic value. What stands out then is his neorealism and simplistic imagery. Casting non-actors in his roles, Pasolini’s Christ (Enrique Irazoqui) is a young man brimming with political rebellion but tethered by gentle compassion. Far from the overly-passionate portrayals found in nearly every other Jesus movie that attempts to make Jesus into the “best person ever” and ends up giving him either the emotional depth of a stone wall or the unstable passion of a teenage heartthrob, Pasolini’s Jesus is a calm figure, someone who has a point to make, someone with compassion but also someone capable of misguided anger, who gets a little too riled up at some points, but who always sees things from a curiously removed standpoint, more like a child than a commander. Irazoqui’s beatitudes are recited as ernest poetry, his Lord’s Prayer given as genuine instruction and his rebuke of the Pharisees given with venomous poignancy. He always seems to have a twinkle in his eyes as though he’s just given his followers a riddle to figure out and eagerly awaits their answer.

Pasolini’s striking black and white imagery and powerful use of closeups add a timeless element to his film. For example, the massacre of Israeli children by Herod after Christ’s birth is by far the most emotionally affecting sequence in any Nativity story I’ve seen, one that made me for almost the first time consider the fear of a woman for her child’s life. This sequence, presented only in long-shots and devoid of emotional punches, save for the beautiful and haunting soundtrack, is one example of the many extraordinary uses of Italian neorealism to enlighten and enrich the gospel account.

By the end of The Gospel According to St. Matthew I was moved and inspired by this Jesus, one who put his words into actions and ultimately suffered for his version of a better world. His message of radical forgiveness was not one of free-passes vs. judgement, but one of bettering humanity to be more fully equipped to deal with social and political issues that inevitably arise. This was a Jesus who meant what he said and did his best to put his words into actions, one who was able to inspire others not to take up dogmatic adherence to rules and standards of discrimination under the disguise of piety, but to live a simple life devoted to helping those who needed it.

Fascinating then, that an outsider to the faith would be able to construct a better, more hopeful and meaningful interpretation of the gospel than a pious believer. Were this the Jesus people believed in I should be less surprised were I to find precious few Christians in heaven and a far greater number of outcasts and non-religious peacekeepers in their place.

 

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Valerie and Her Week of Wonders: Erotic Horror/Fantasy and the Coming of Age of Womanhood

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS is perhaps the most enchantingly disturbing movie I have ever seen. It is certainly unlike anything I have ever seen and even now I am questioning the adjectives I have chosen to describe it. In the moments after viewing it I described it as disturbing because I felt used by a movie; now I chose disturbing because it is quite simply nothing else. The film disturbs the emotional state of the viewer and forces them to confront a new spectre of their emotional lexicon they previously didn’t know existed. I chose enchanting because no other film has made me quite so enamoured by my own mood being disrupted.

Anyone familiar with the movie will know there’s not much of a story to be spoken of. Adapted from the 1932 novel of the same name by Vítězslav Nezva, VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS is a Czechoslovakian surrealistic masterpiece of fantasy and symbolism, one of the last Czechoslovakian new-wave films released during the era when narrative dissonance was still at its height. In the decade that followed, traditional narratives would return to the public spotlight, and eventually Czechoslovakia would dissolve. In its historical context, VALERIE may be seen as a time capsule of uncertainty and mystic rebellion as well as a coming-of-age metaphor, not just for the titular character herself, but for the soon to be born Czech Republic and Slovakia as well.

Contrary to its first impression, there is more than enough plot in this movie to sustain its short runtime, even if the film is more regarded for its imagery than its story. Unlike Shakespeare, for example, there is little else to be gained from a first time viewing than the striking visual landscape, but perhaps even exceeding the great bard is the depth the depth that reveals itself, layer by layer, upon deeper analysis and retrospection. VALERIE makes great use of metaphor, religious symbolism, erotica, culture, fantasy, horror, and impressionism to an extent that would undoubtably infuriate high school students just trying to stay awake during English classes even more than Hamlet does.

To recap the plot as it first appears: a strange man comes to down. Valerie learns that he is the lover of her grandmother who has come to reclaim the house she lives in. He is also a vampire and needs Valerie’s life-force to regain his vitality. Valerie has in her possession magical earrings that repel the advances of the evil forces that threaten her. She is also enamoured by a young man who she takes turns saving and being saved by when her world collapses in around her. Her grandmother dies. She saves her grandmother. A young woman is married to a vampire and bit. She saves the young woman. Her mother at last returns and introduces Valerie to her father, who is also her grandfather, who is also a vampire. Also it’s all a dream. Within a dream.

Or something like that. Christopher Nolan’s head would spin if he saw this movie.

The plot isn’t really the point, the imagery is, but the imagery informs the plot. Consider the following: the movie begins with the onset of Valerie’s menstruation, her introduction to womanhood. Her story then, takes place in a world where she is old enough to be sexualized but young enough to escape into childhood fantasy. Indeed a recurring scene sees Valerie spying on young women bathing in a stream, nymph characters engaged in innocent sexuality — a striking contradiction if ever there was one, but one more reflective of teenage reality than any of the Hollywood coming-of-age movies ever released, particularly from the female perspective — to which Valerie covers her young breasts and looks away ashamed, yet intrigued. Consider also the sexual predator nature of the original vampire mythology. Here, bites are turned to kisses, in greeting, in comfort, and in consumption. Priests are predators, grandmothers are mothers, grandfathers are vampires, and a boyfriend is also a brother. Ambiguity plays a large role as Valerie navigates her dual nature: she is a child and a woman; her world is real and fantastic; her life is both magical and horrific.

All these metaphors play a key in interpreting the narrative. Valerie is thrust into a world where she doesn’t know the identity of anyone else, who may or may not be a vampire, may or may not be a victim, may or may not be a family member. Sexuality blossoms in a confusing way, consider Freud’s theory of sexual abuse suffered at the hands of family members affecting the sexual lives of adults. From this lens, the plot follows a young woman trying to navigate her newfound world and understand her conflicting feelings about those she loves. As far as traditional stories go, very little more explanation is needed. There have been movies made with less plot than this that are still considered complex.

Important too to understanding the story is the striking imagery: water flowing reminiscent of Tarkovsky, blood droplets on flowers paralleling the fruit Valerie eats, paralleling the bloodlust of the vampires, paralleling menses. Religious iconography contrasts with death, also a new introduction to Valerie. A priest hangs himself from a window in crucifix pose. Men flagellate themselves, women tear their clothes in torment, exposing their breasts while men look on as they cover the eyes of their children. Nuns bless themselves and pray while a prophet curses Valerie and threatens to burn her at the stake unless she confesses she is a witch. Of course a young women possessing the power to defeat evil (sexual dominance) is accused of being a witch. How is she supposed to answer this? If she confesses the will burn her for being a witch, if she does not, they will burn her for denying the “truth” anyway.

For her youth, Valerie is not innocent. A not-so-veiled lesbian tryst results in the salvation of a character whose life is compromised by her vampire husband. Valerie’s own nakedness is never seen as sexualized to the viewer, but is seen so to her patriarchal figures, but it is her own deliberate innocence — not the innocence thrust upon her by the pedophiliac nature of society around her, but that which she chooses to maintain as a weapon against evil — that is her secret power. A gift is given to her by her lover that repels a predator and then stolen by that same lover, a metaphor for virginity that turns on itself as Valerie learns she is in command of her powers herself.

It is virtually impossible to end up spoiling this movie by giving anything away. The narrative is fractured and repeats itself, folding in on dreams within dreams while leaping from scenario to scenario without any need to maintain an internal consistency, and that is the point. There is no need to make sense of what we are seeing, only to fall into it. The music is hallucinatory and spiritual, like a childhood nursery rhyme sung in a church choir. The images are frightening and fascinating, the world in which the story takes place strikingly simplistic and hellish at the same time. Comforting, yet disturbing. A contradiction of itself.

To return to my opening statement, this is indeed one of the most disturbing movies I have ever seen, yet now upon reflection I find myself wondering if I mean that in a negative way. Perhaps some movies ought to disturb us, some stories ought to make us question ourselves in ways that make us uncomfortable. I have to wonder what my impression of VALERIE might be if I were a woman as even from a male’s perspective I find myself identifying more with femininity through this film than I ever have watching a movie directed by a woman. Perhaps that is a strange detail to take note of but it is one I am painfully aware of nonetheless. There is a sense of longing conveyed in Jaromil Jireš’ erotic fantasy that eschews the patriarchal gaze and replaces it with the mystery of adolescence and womanhood. Or perhaps I’ve finally gone too far in trying to interpret a movie that evades analysis at every turn, kind of like the cusp of adolescence itself does.

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS is available on Criterion blu-ray

 

Cries and Whispers

Ingmar Bergman fascinates me. He is not as much of an entertainer as he is an academic, and his movies are less works of art than they are strenuous, challenging studies of difficult topics. Of course he is an artist and his movies are entertaining but not in the familiar tradition of escapist fantasy or movies designed for you to take a date to. Do not take a date to a Bergman film, unless you want to spend the rest of the evening sitting in silent despair, wondering what the point of it all is.

Perhaps this is why it takes me so long to watch through Bergman’s collection of work. Nearly every movie of his that I’ve seen could stand as a testament, a landmark to a specific passage in my life. Like a great Russian novel, Bergman demands patience and effort, and the experience is exhausting long before it is over.

Great art challenges you and forces you to grow. Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, whose movies would make for a monolithically challenging double feature with Bergman’s, said, “The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as an example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good.” If this is the case, and I do believe it is, and if there were one movie that should be required viewing for anyone to confront their own mortality, then Cries and Whispers would be that movie.

The film is harrowing and tiresome, burdened with bleakness and pain, suffering from the weight of death at every turn, at times genuinely frightening, perhaps more so than a horror film because unlike horror films, which use scares as a means of confronting and revealing hidden griefs within us, Cries and Whispers only presents us with those very secrets, leaving us afraid of what we might find if we look inside. And yet, in all the turmoil, hope and innocence remains.

There are four women in the film, three of whom are sisters and the fourth who is a servant, but feels more at home with the other women than they do with each other. Agnes is dying and her sisters, Maria and Karin have come to stay with her, along with Anna, her housemaid, who looks after all three of the women. Anna’s daughter died many years ago and every morning Anna beseeches her god to look after her daughter. The other women know no such grief in the past and it is only now, watching their sister die that they are confronted with the scale of their loss, not because their sister is dying, but because they have had the misfortune to have to be within proximity of someone dying. Neither of them are capable of comforting Agnes, who repeatedly cries out for someone to hold her. Only Anna can calm Agnes’ screams.

The rest of the story is told in bold flashbacks and we see, ever so slowly, that the true loss the sisters have suffered is that of their own lives. Slowly, perhaps even beginning in childhood, each of them began to lose a little bit of themselves. Maria feels nothing for her husband even when he attempts suicide upon discovering her affair. Karin despises her own husband and self-harms not to punish herself or find relief in pain, but simply because she knows it will disgust the man she lives with. Agnes has always been jealous of Maria’s relationship with their mother.

After Agnes departs, Karin tells Maria she hates her. She rejects her tender advances and attempts at reconciliation, pushing her away and screaming “don’t touch me.” Eventually Maria stops trying. In another scene, the two of them hug and caress each other and we see that their relationship has been restored. In another scene, Maria denies that this happens and Karin recoils from her goodbye kiss. There is no sense that these sisters care for each other at all, and this is presented as perhaps the greatest death in the movie.

Anna has a dream in which Agnes returns from death, calling out once more for comfort, from each of her sisters. Karin is horrified and disgusted and leaves nearly as soon as she arrives. Maria tries hard to comfort Agnes but eventually is repulsed by her dead sister. Finally Anna herself strokes Agnes’ hair and whispers the distressed soul through her journey into the afterlife. What does this mean? Does the dream tell us of Anna’s pure heart or of her jealousy of the sisters? After all, Anna is perceived by the others as lesser than them, and given only a brief thought and an obligatory reward for her services. Only the priest who performs the funeral praises Anna’s faith as greater than his own, and indeed, Anna’s faith is unwavering in the face of death.

Cries and Whispers is a difficult film to watch and an even more difficult film to understand. It doesn’t have answers because it doesn’t seem to have questions to begin with. It is a confrontation with mortality, with the death of the body, the death of relationships, and the death of the soul. Yet it is ultimately a hopeful film. It is easy to see why the sisters seem to despise Anna. She is over-willing to serve, she seems to have little strength of character, and she has no one to care for her. As the priest remarks, however, Anna has faith, and maybe that’s the point. No matter how ugly things get, Anna gives us hope.

The Blogger Recognition Award

So a long while back the lovely Tash at The Bookie Monsters nominated me for The Blogger Recognition Award.

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These awards are fun and mostly harmless. Unfortunately for me, I’ve spent so little time on the blogsophere this summer due to taking too many classes and I don’t have fifteen other blogs to pass this award on to! So… here’s the thing.

This is a chance for you to get involved with me!

Technically I’m fiddling with the rules here, but this is my blog and I can do what I want.

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Comment on this post with a link to your best blog entry and I’ll give it a read and check out the rest of your blog so I can nominate you, and then you can be a part of this as well.

Because that’s how I feel like doing this.

Now, if you actually do that and get yourself nominated, here are the actual rules that you have to follow in my place (you WILL follow the actual rules, right?)

The Rules:

Write a post to show off your award: Give a brief story of how your blog got started, and give a piece or two of advice to new bloggers.

Select 15 other blogs you want to give the award to: Do some digging! You cannot nominate yourself or the person who has nominated you.

Comment on each blog: Let them know that they’ve been nominated. Provide a link to the award post you created!

Provide a link to the original Edge of Night postThat way people can find the original guidelines.

In lieu of writing a bit about me, which you can find on the About page or home page or somewhere, I have a bit of an announcement to give regarding this upcoming year of writing.

I am fast approaching my 100th post on this blog, and I’ve been looking back over how my writing has evolved since I started it in January 2014. I originally began blogging in 2011 writing pretty classic movie reviews and eventually started writing about music, books, and posting some of my own writing. Over time that dwindled down a bit as I focused on different aspects of my career but when I began this blog, which has been my most successful, I was committed to keeping it up. So far, I have, and it has been quite an adventure. I’ve noticed my writing style become more elegant and mature but also distinct. I’ve taken my early overly-ambitious 20-year old angst writing style and refined it into a more sophisticated combination of manic philosophy and artistic storytelling prose. I’ve introduced feminism and politics into my work and tried to add a socially-relevant angle to what I have to say, and this has all led me to deciding that I would like to ever-so-slightly change the direction this blog works.

What I will be doing in the future is broadening my reach a little bit. I will be writing and posting more fiction for starters. I will also be doing more in-depth analyses of movies. I’d like to have a longer word-count so I can really discuss what I’m watching and bring a keen eye to how movies reflect society.

I will also continue to write more in-depth posts about how movies work. What makes good cinematography? How does editing affect the subconscious experience of the viewer? How to write good characters? Things like that.

If you’ve been a fan of my blog so far, you will love what I have planned.

But enough about me.

I’d like to thank Tash once again for nominating me for this award, and I’d like to thank you, my readers, especially the ones of you who click the like button or leave a comment 😉 You make this all worth it. I mean cash helps, but mostly you all.

So cheers to a new year of writing and good luck!

The Broken Lamp – Short Story

She stood still, surveying her surroundings. A broken lamp. Clothes thrown in a furry. The corner table knocked over. Remnants of last night. A fight. A breakup. A tearing of souls, limb from limb. She stood in the midst of it all, not moving. Not feeling. And then it all came rushing in.

A meeting. A hitting it off. The summer love. The romance. Sweet kisses in the park at night. Candlelight dinners and drinks by the river. He had kind eyes. She had a small mouth. Their hands fit together, snug not tight. Entwined. Walking home between class, between work. A few minutes, here, there, in between the business. Stolen memories out of time, a lifetime of moments collected privately, two children sneaking behind the house to explore the backyard full of possibilities. Exploring hands, exploring bodies. A summer love faded into an autumn fairytale.

“Amanda.”

She turned.

“Amanda, let me in.” Knocking at the door. She still couldn’t move. “Just a minute.” She sounded empty. No one home. Go away, please. Don’t leave me. I want to be alone. Don’t go.

“I’m coming in.” A key turned in the lock. The door opened.

“Josh and I had a fight.”

“I see.”

“We broke up.”

“Are you all right?”

A shrug. There was a stain on her sweater. Why hadn’t she noticed that before? Was it mustard? She hadn’t eaten anything in this sweater since she had last done laundry. It can’t be mustard then. Maybe it was the light. She always hated the lights. She used lamps instead. The shards of broken glass would have to be cleaned up and the lamp replaced.

They bought that lamp at a garage sale from an old couple. A sweet old man and an even sweet old woman, finally unable to provide themselves with enough care, moving into a home. Selling their old things. So many old things, things nobody would want now. They hadn’t sold much all day. Maybe they didn’t want to. She saw the lamp and asked how much it was. The lady smiled and said she could have it. She insisted on paying for it. Finally they agreed. She carried it home. It had a brass base and a stained-glass mosaic lampshade that cast a multicoloured glow throughout the room. It was a small lamp but it provided more than enough light. And it was comforting. It would have to be replaced. You can’t replace these things. Now everything was over lit from the main lighting, the lighting she always hated. And it left a stain on her shirt. Or was it from a dye?

“I’m sorry.” And she felt a hug. She felt it but she didn’t respond. It felt unreal.

“I’m hungry.” She suddenly felt the need to get out of the house. The broken glass could wait, she had to get out. “Let’s go out.”

“Are you sure?”

She grabbed her coat.

“You probably won’t need that.”

“I’m cold.”

____________________

Paige was right, she didn’t need her coat but she wrapped it tightly around her anyway. The leaves were turning colour but the air was still warm and the sun shone bright. A perfectly normal day in a perfectly normal life. Nothing out of the ordinary. It was as if last night hadn’t even happened.

“And for you?”

The waiter had a moustache that didn’t belong on his face and long red hair tied back in a ponytail. Paige had already ordered and was looking at her. She didn’t know what she wanted. She always knew what she wanted. A pastrami sandwich with pickles and mustard and a spinach salad with a raspberry vinaigrette on the side. She ordered a house salad and a glass of water. Paige stared at her. The waiter wrote down her order.

“How hard can it be to remember that without writing it down?”

“I’m sorry?”

“I said how hard can it be to remember that?”

“Bring us two glasses of white wine.”

“I just want water.”

“And a water.”

The waiter kept writing everything down. He didn’t ask any more questions. He muttered something about being right back and left. She watched him go and he glanced back over his shoulder but quickly turned and darted back inside when he caught her eye.

“I said I just want water.”

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

“I’m fine. I’m thirsty.”

When the water came she drank it all at once. The waiter brought her salad as well but she just stared at it. Paige said thank you but she was just being polite. Paige never meant it when she said thank you. She only meant it if she hugged you. You could count on that. She hugged a lot of people. A lot of boys. It always confused them but she seemed to like the attention even though she’d pretend she didn’t. She treated love like a game and had never had her heart broken. She always broke hearts when she got bored. She must get bored a lot.

“He’s an asshole.”

“Who?”

“You know.”

“He’s not an asshole.”

“You’re allowed to admit he’s an asshole.”

“It’s fine.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Nothing.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not good at this. Do you want to leave?”

“No.”

“You’re not eating.”

“No, I’m not.”

“We can go somewhere else.”

“I’d rather stay.”

Paige kept sipping from her wine. Her pasta came and she ate. Amanda ate a bit of her salad but left her wine untouched.

____________________

“The rules of the game are simple. If you guess correctly, I do a shot. If you guess wrong, you can either do a shot, or get someone else to answer. If they guess it right, I do two shots, but if they guess it wrong, you both do two shots.”

“Seems a little too easy then.”

“The point isn’t to be right.”

“THE POINT IS TO GET DRUNK” everyone shouted and cheered.

Aaron had a way of making sure that everyone always had a good time. He was always cheerful, always the life of the party but never the centre of it. Amanda didn’t care for the bitterness of whiskey. She preferred wine and maybe a beer if she was feeling a little carefree. Aaron hated vodka and would always use whiskey. He seemed to take a sadistic pleasure out of watching girls try and stomach the taste of whiskey shots or the guys who tried to prove themselves but were unused to the stiff drink. Nonetheless everyone always had a good time by the end of the night.

When it was her turn, Amanda guessed wrong. She passed the question on to a guy sitting opposite her. Something about his leather shoes that didn’t match his belt that was clearly displayed because he had tucked in his plaid shirt fascinated her. He shouldn’t be wearing a plaid shirt tucked in, she thought. It makes him look short, but his legs are long enough that even though he’s sitting down you can tell he’s quite tall and slim. He would look a lot more handsome if he didn’t tuck his shirt in. And if he shaved. And got a haircut. But his shoes, they were interesting, and they stood out since everyone else had taken their shoes off at the door, so she chose him. He answered wrong too. Two shots. Someone passed her a shot glass but she gagged when the smell hit her. She shook her head no. The crowd booed. Someone yelled that she had to, that was the rules. She shook her head again.Aaron stepped up and took the glass from her hand and downed the contents in one smooth gulp. The crowd cheered and the game continued. 

“I was going to do it.”

“Were you?”

“Yes I was.”

The guy sitting across from her had taken off his shoes and now he wasn’t as interesting. He just looked like part of the crowd.

“You can have the second one.”

The glass was refilled and thrust back into her hand by someone she didn’t look at. She sniffed it and suppressed the urge to gag again.

“Go on.”

Nobody was paying attention. It was somebody else’s turn and the party didn’t even seem to have taken any notice to this rule violation. She had a feeling that everybody thought they were taking the game seriously even though they weren’t. They would enforce the rules hap hazardously and give people a hard time if they didn’t drink but then they would almost immediately forget about it and move on. This is why she didn’t really like parties. She liked going to them. She liked talking to people. She liked the way people got drunk and let themselves loose a little bit. It made them more friendly and easier to be around, somehow. She took her shot and swallowed immediately, keeping her face stoic as the liquor burned down her throat and then the vapour wafted up through her nose, causing her eyes to water slightly, but she kept her face together.

“You don’t like it, do you?”

“No.”

“That’s cool. Did I just pressure you into drinking?”

“I guess you did.”

“Now I feel terrible. Can I get you some water?”

She held up her beer. He stared at it, confused, then laughed.

“You’re making fun of me.”

“Is that cool?”

“I guess it is.” He sat down and extended his arm.

“Aaron.”

“I’m Paige.”

“I thought that girl over there was Paige.”

“Yes, it is. I’m Amanda. I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that.”

“Is that your version of the things girls do where they give a fake number to the guy hitting on them to get him to go away?”

“Sounds like it must be.”

Aaron sat down beside her. He smelled of whiskey and men’s shampoo.

“So Amanda, who are you?

____________________

She couldn’t sleep. It was hot. The kind of hot where your sweat sticks to the sheets so they cling to you. She hated clinginess. She hated her hair. She got it cut too short. She shouldn’t have cut it. It was too straight. It was too dark. People looked at her like she was evil because her hair was too dark. They didn’t look at her eyes. She didn’t mind that as much. Some people never broke eye contact and that creeped her out. She guessed businessmen liked that in people. They liked confidence but they never seemed bothered by unending eye contact. She always felt like people were trying to sell her something or figure out her weaknesses by looking into her eyes so they could exploit her. But she didn’t like it when they stared at her hair, which was clinging to the pillow and damp with sweat. She wished she felt comfortable enough to sleep naked so it wouldn’t be so hot. She tried drinking some cold water but it just made her body heat up afterward. It also made her have to pee which meant by the time she got back to bed the sheets would be cold and damp. Maybe she should sleep on the floor.

The floor was significantly cooler than her bed but the carpet was rough and made her itch. She didn’t dare look at her phone to find out what time it was.

Stop thinking so much. Think about something else. Think about nothing. How do you think about nothing? Is it possible to think about nothing? Isn’t nothing something? I mean isn’t the thing that is nothing a thing itself? You know what I mean? Of course I do. How does my brother just fall asleep? He can just lie down and be asleep in a minute. It takes me at least half an hour just to lie still for long enough to start feeling tired and as soon as I realize I’m getting tired I wake up again. Does everybody else think in the first person? You’re being silly. 

She wanted to kiss somebody. She just wanted to feel her lips pressed against someone else’s. It didn’t matter who. It mattered a little bit but that wasn’t the point. A good kiss would put her to sleep. She lifted her hand to her mouth and mimed a little smooch. Like that. But on another person. And then they can leave so I can get some rest. Like a booty call but without the booty, just the lips. That would be nice. She got up to get another drink of water. The light from the fridge was way too bright and it hurt her eyes. She spilled water all over the floor. She wiped it around with her foot. It felt gross and dirty but cold. She went back to her room and wiped her foot on the carpet, trying to get the dirt off. She climbed back into bed. She didn’t feel like sleeping at all anymore. She should try getting something done. She should read a book. She should watch a movie. A good cry might put her to sleep. She hadn’t cried yet. That was weird. She was tired of feeling worn out. She wished she could cry but nothing came. She just got a headache instead. Perfect. Just what I need now.

In her dreams she was having a party. Or rather her roommate was having a party, which was strange since she didn’t have a roommate and she couldn’t figure out which of her past roommates was supposed to be the one in the dream. A lot of people came over who she didn’t know. One of them was a character from her favourite TV show except it wasn’t really her. They were trying to go see a movie but nobody could agree on which one or which theatre or how to get there. Their house was two levels now, a main floor and a basement suite that was supposed to be separate but somehow was connected via an intricate series of doors and stairways. There were stalls in their bathrooms like the change rooms at a public pool and there was water all over the floor. They finally decided on a movie that was the worst movie of the year but was only one hour long so they figured even it was awful it wouldn’t be a complete waste of time. The movie still cost the price of regular admission. When they tried to leave she kept having to run back into the house to get a jacket or her wallet but she was going to miss her ride. Then she was at the theatre with everyone else and they were trying to find seats while the movie started playing. It was packed but nobody yelled at them to sit down or be quiet. Everybody kept arguing about how to get back home and she had a crush on one of the guys who lived in her house but she didn’t know who he was or how to find him, even though he lived in her house. She just couldn’t find him to talk to him. No matter how hard she looked.

She didn’t know where she was when she woke up and it took her some time to realize she was no longer dreaming and there was still a broken lamp in her living room.

____________________

Today was a good day.

____________________

The snow was falling heavily now and she was shivering under her jacket. Her scarf was tight around her neck like a noose and almost made her gag but it was more bearable than the cold air cutting into her exposed skin, already burned red and stinging.

Her fingers were numb as she fumbled to fit her key into the lock on her new home. She turned the handle and pushed but the door creaked with ice and did not open. She leaned on it. She threw her weight against it. Finally she pounded on the door, hoping Ashley was home. She saw her looking out the window and waved frantically, pointing at the door. Ashley shouted something but the sound was muted. She pointed at the door again trying to communicate with hand gestures. She heard a loud creak but no movement on the door’s part. Even with both of them trying to coordinate their movements it still wouldn’t budge. She fumbled with her phone and managed to dial.

“Get some warm water, or a hairdryer.”

“Okay just give me a minute.”

She wrapped her hands into her coat trying to find a pocket of warmth. She couldn’t feel her toes anymore. She looked like a convict in a straightjacket. A minute passed. She tried to peer into the window. Nobody was there. She pounded on the door again.

Her phone buzzed.

“Go around to the back.”

The back door was never used so the yard was covered in a foot of snow and the pathway hadn’t been shovelled. She stepped cautiously, snow pouring into her boots, freezing what little skin around her legs still had feeling. She slipped and fell landing on something hard that jutted into her hip. Now she would have a bruise. Her face was turning redder every moment. Something warm trickled down her leg.

The window at the back was frozen over so nothing was visible through it. She tried to scrape the frosting away. Her fingers trembled. Her fingernail snapped. She pounded on the door. A gust of wind billowed through the yard kicking snow into her face and hair. Her scar unravelled from around her neck exposing her skin that screamed and stung in the cold. It was getting dark. If she didn’t get inside soon she would freeze. At least she felt like she would. She couldn’t feel her insides anymore.

Ashley still showed no signs of appearing. The lights inside were all off and the frost was spreading, covering all the windows. No sign of life. No chance of warmth.

She ran back around to the front and tried to door again. It groaned and something cracked but still wouldn’t move. Her hair was wet with melting snow and weighing her head down more with every passing minute.

She tried to shout but her voice caught in her throat as the wind took her breath away. She gasped sharply, covering her mouth with her hand, trying to wrap her scarf around her face.

She was alone.

She leaned against the door and closed her eyes to rest. Her phone buzzed again. She struggled to remove it from her pocket.

“Where are you?”

“Front door.”

It was all she could manage to say. She dropped her phone in the snow. She bent over. Thrust her hand into the snow. She couldn’t feel how cold it was. Finally her fingers brushed against the hard plastic cover and she managed to scoop it up. She leaned back against the door, trying to clean away the snow.

The door opened and she fell inside. Ashley yelped and jumped out of the way, dropping a hair dryer.

____________________

She was settling into her new routine. Class in the morning. Work in the afternoon. Study in the evening. Sleep. Repeat. On weekends she went for drinks with Paige. Sometimes Ashley came along. They talked about politics and art. She was studying sociology. Ashley was studying interpersonal psychology. Paige had graduated and worked in an office and complained about the air conditioning. Mostly they were happy. She had bought some new furniture. She put new photos up on her walls and replaced the broken lamp in the corner with a house plant. She didn’t know what kind it was but it livened up the room and smelled fresh.

“Amanada.”

Josh stood in front of them. He was with a girl who stood close to him and folded her arms in front of her as though she didn’t know what to do with her hands.

She felt nothing.

“This is Paige and Ashley.”

“We’ve met.”

“Yes we have.”

“I’m Josh.”

“I’m Ashley. How do you know Amanda?”

She glanced at him quickly and looked away. It was uncomfortable but not awkward.

“This is my… this is Kathleen.”

She felt no need to break the silence. She felt almost nothing beyond the slight loss of words she always felt at meeting new people. Nothing significant. Nothing with history.

“You look well.”

“So do you.”

Ashley fidgeted with her drink. Paige held her glare on Josh’s face. Kathleen tugged at Josh’s arm. Josh started to say something, stopped, pretended to stifle a sneeze, cleared his throat.

“Well I’ll see you around?”

“We’ll catch up sometime.”

“I’d like that.”

She turned back to her friends. She knew they would never actually catch up. She didn’t mind. Not the way she used to. She didn’t watch him walk away. She didn’t watch Kathleen take his hand. She didn’t see if he looked back or not. She finished her drink and started a new conversation about whatever came to her mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture via: http://artmosaiclamp.com/urun/f7ab6a71b25e0b66079eb1ae2259d754.JPG

Jurassic World & Morally Responsible Filmmaking

Jurassic World is not so much a bad movie as it is a lazy one. The performances are clocked it an just above barely competent, with Bryce Dallas Howard giving one of the most forced excuses for acting in the decade so far and Chris Pratt trying his best but being forced to prance around with a plastic pea-shooter of a prop gun for the majority of the running time. The direction is lazy and uninspired, essentially ripping off all of Spielberg’s best scenes from Jurassic Park except doing the exact opposite of what the box-office wonder did to make his magical dino-marvel movie work. The editing is choppy and doesn’t allow for us to process any of what we are seeing, which is mostly sub-par special effects anyways. Compare the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park to those of Jurassic World – where the former were majestic (it probably helped the actors having something to react to other than a green screen), the latter are nothing impressive and lack any conviction in their movement. Sure, they look fine on the surface but there’s no inspiration behind them. Disney studies animals to an endless extent just to make their animation seem convincing, but none of that dedication is to be found in the lacklustre mechanical nature of Jurassic World’s “wonders.”

But none of the shoddy craftsmanship holds a candle to the pathetic waste of paper that is the script. From the complete lack of structure, to the making-it-up-as-we-go plot contrivances, to the complete black hole of character development, to the deus ex machina climax and forced resolution, Jurassic World is a world devoid of coherence, logic, and emotion. The characters are all stupid and the internal consistency of the story changes depending on whatever makes sense for the moment. This isn’t just a bad amateur in film school script that doesn’t know how to balance its big ideas with pragmatics, this is just a bad all around script that doesn’t know anything.

And yet, none of my complaints are as relevant as the moral bankruptcy on display by the filmmakers. Jurassic World is the embodiment of millennial entitlement. Just by virtue of having made a film, the filmmakers seem to feel, they deserve accolades and praise. Don’t get me wrong, the fact of existence of any film is a wonder and most audiences are oblivious (fairly so) to just how much work goes into making any dream a reality. Still, there’s been a certain trend in modern blockbusters that disturbs me more and more, especially among younger filmmakers (look at Mad Max: Fury Road for the opposite example, this is a movie made by a veteran filmmaker that has more to say as well as more energy and vital enthusiasm than any summer movie I’ve seen in years, but that’s another topic) where ethics and moral responsibility go out the window in favour of computer generated faux-effects. It’s time we start talking about this.

A quick caveat on the subpar expertise in Jurassic World. Is it really too much to expect movies to be good? I know, I know, it’s supposed to be enjoyable, but enjoyment is not synonymous with “anything goes.” I paid fifteen bucks for two hours of my life I’ll never get back. I would never dream of shelling out money for a bed that doesn’t support my weight, or a bookcase that crumbles at the weight of my ever-increasing book collection, but somehow it’s supposed to be completely justifiable to spend my hard-earned cash on something that amounts to nothing more than a waste of my precious time? That doesn’t sit well with me and I feel sorry for audiences who have been suckered into believing that this lack of a standard Hollywood has put forward is the best they can get and they better just accept it and be complacent to be gifted with the little entertainment value they can get. Let’s have at least a little pride. It wasn’t always like this, after all. Yes, there have always been subpar movies and many of them are not necessarily the fault of anyone in particular but are rather failed experiments, but at least they usually aspired to something. Especially for a franchise reboot, or continuation, or whatever Jurassic World is supposed to be exactly, some adherence to the expectations laid down by previous movies should be met.

Enough on that topic however, since it is a sad reality these days but a reality that may be simply unavoidable due to economic trends and factors beyond anyone’s control. What really disturbs me about Jurassic World is its complete lack of social conscientiousness. In a world systematically troubled by social issues, with progress slow and far in between in the realm of women’s rights, minority representation and animal treatment, Jurassic World does nothing but set us backward. Not only is Bryce Dallas Howard a glorified damsel in distress (she’s even worse than that as she spends a good portion of the third act… hiding in a truck) but her pathetic character is every rich white boy’s fantasy, as proved by the forced “romance” where Chris Pratt gets to save and kiss his white heroine without her even having so much as a single moment of characterization. Yeah, she fires a gun at one point, which, by the way, comes out of nowhere since we haven’t seen any suggestion that she’s even capable of holding a pen properly without having a full blown panic attack. Poor Bryce, even though her performance is absolutely appalling, I still feel bad for the demands placed on her to do nothing but scream and look desperate for the whole movie.

There’s even a scene where Jake Johnson does the noble thing and stays behind to manage the heroes and dinosaurs while everyone else evacuates the failed Jurassic World park, and he makes a move on his female colleague. She pulls back, saying she has a boyfriend. Fair enough, but why is this even in the movie? If the writers really thought this was an odd move for a man to make on his coworker who, by the way, has no real relationship with him beyond sitting beside him looking perky, then they wouldn’t have included this throwaway sexist gag at all. It’s not that it’s there that troubles me, it’s that we’re supposed to laugh at the awkwardness and feel sorry for him for not getting the kiss. It suggests a lack of social awareness on behalf of the writers, not that it’s really surprising at this point.

Finally, there’s the appalling treatment of the dinosaurs. While Jurassic Park was about men in power trying to hijack biology for their own power – definitely a legitimate plot angle given the real world concern about cloning and technological advances in the face of biological extinction – Jurassic World seems to care less about dinosaurs than oil companies do about climate change. Not only are the animals treated like commodities but this treatment is used for comedy again and again. I actually felt dirty watching the movie, like I wanted to tell my parents I loved them and maybe apologize to all the people I’d hurt just to try and reconcile myself with my moral standards. I can’t imagine how animal rights activists would feel watching this.

It’s unfortunate at the best that Jurassic World, this summer’s biggest tentpole release, is so completely mediocre and uncaring. In today’s media saturated world, a larger than ever responsibility falls to filmmakers, writers, journalists, and all other members of the media to uphold a standard of human decency, to be socially aware enough to make constructive comments on society, and to help us aspire to something greater than what we are currently. Movies have a magical hold over us, as all storytelling has throughout human history, to mould our consciousness, to shape our ethics, and to guide us into the future. It’s time filmmakers started recognizing that instead of churning out moment-by-moment gratuitous indulgences designed to elicit nothing more than a momentary visceral response. I hate to bring it up again in an unrelated essay, but Mad Max: Fury Road still inspires me a month after I saw it to be a better person and to treat others as my equals, to look up to my friends, to respect my elders, to prioritize the women in my life who have made me what I am today, and to ultimately fight for justice and what is right. Jurassic World taught me that women are weak, that animals are pathetic, and that children are stupid. Wow, what a game changer…

 

 

JOE & MARY’S KID – A CURIOUS, POIGNANT SHORT FILM

Children are our route to immortality. If we can’t live forever ourselves, then perhaps our genetic code can. The pursuit for immortality however, does not come without a cost. With creation there must also be destruction. A parent dies, a child lives.

This philosophical conundrum is explored adeptly in JOE & MARY’S KID, a charming and affecting short film written and directed by Dan Rosen. Joe and Mary cannot have children so Joe builds one, a mechanical one, to compensate. Consider the paradox at work here: Joe and Mary cannot create a child biologically but they can create a fake stand-in. Creation vs creation. Children are genetic remixes of our own organic matter, robots are mechanical remixes made up of other parts. This child, Izac, is for all purposes completely real to Joe, less real to Mary. Joe’s priorities centre around Izac while Mary’s are more concerned with maintaining her relationships with other people. She attempts to seduce Joe, he resists. From a purely biological perspective, the end goal of any romantic relationship should be the children, but this fails to account for the entire scope of the human experience.

Mary of course tries to accept Izac into her life but the child’s mechanical voice and automatic responses fail to trigger any sympathy in her. Her warmest moments with the robot are watching him from afar, distancing herself from any real connection. Replace Izac with any human child and little has changed: at a distance, we’re all just robots to each other, it is only when we are willing to get up close and personal that we recognize our humanity. When Izac falls apart, it is Joe who attends to him, while Mary is more concerned with the dog. Here is another contrast between life and non-life, mother and father, woman and man.

The short film’s most profound moment is its dealing with destruction. Mary’s weapon of sabotage is milk, the giver of nutrition and well-being and a symbol of femininity, while Joe’s is pure, unbridled violence. Once again the relationship between opposites is clearly demonstrated.

It is only by destroying the mechanical with the essence of life that Mary can restore her marriage and bring Joe back from his brink of despair. In the beginning, Joe brought life into the world, but all was not good. In the end, Mary destroys the non-living “life” that Joe created and all is well again. The symbolism recalls Biblical metaphors and fits well with any paradox of equation. Yin and yang, male and female, good and evil, whatever you may have here.

The path to immortality then, lies not in creation but in life itself. Izak ultimately serves as a reminder to both Joe and Mary of their relationship, of all the good things worth having and remembering. Their happiest moments were holding each other dearly and living their lives without fear of what may happen when the lights go down. Funny how it sometimes takes a materialistic thing to make the nonmaterialistic matter.

JOE & MARY’S KID is a poignant short film, confidently shot, employing symbolism to achieve meaning many directors struggle to spell out explicitly. All I usually ask for in a fifteen minute video is something to, well, entertain me enough to make me forget that I spent a whole quarter-hour watching it. This short film gives far more than that. It is interesting enough as a curious story of mechanical wonders, but it has something to say and to contribute to the canon of human pondering that drives all storytelling.

 

Watch JOE & MARY’S KID below:

 

Or click this link to go to vimeo.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON — Just As Empty As Ultron Himself

There may be no strings on Ultron, because AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON needs them all to support its limp, spineless body. This is a movie whose greatest strengths are its very downfall, which is unfortunate because it is everything a superhero movie can aspire to be.

Joss Whedon has become unhinged. He used to be a legend, a champion of the nerds, now reduced to a punch line for a joke that you walked in on halfway through. The entire running time of AGE OF ULTRON I kept waiting for the movie to stop trying to sell itself and get to its point, but that never comes. It’s like a really, really, really, really long trailer — there are a lot of trailer moments, big action set pieces, witty one-liners, flashy splash panel frames, but nothing really there at the end of it but a giant caption reading “Written and Directed by Joss Whedon” which might as well say “Coming soon to theatres near you at some point in the vague and distant future, maybe, if we ever get around to it, but it’ll be awesome we hope.”

Let’s talk about the basic plot. Tony Stark makes a giant artificial intelligence called Ultron that’s supposed to do The Avengers job of avenging for The Avengers so they don’t have to. It’s the ultimate weapon to achieve world peace, until it develops its own ideas about what peace means. Of course, since world peace can only be achieved through a weapon, and of course since weapons only lead to war. Everyone knows this including some of The Avengers themselves, but Tony Stark is Tony Stark and so… well, that’s the plot. It’s simple, it doesn’t require a bunch of exposition, and it’s effective.

Then there’s a romance subplot, a what’s-really-going-on subplot, some behind the scenes subplots, some good old fashioned buddy-buddy conflict, and your usual run of the mill in-jokes designed so that all the nerds in the theatre get just a little bit more enjoyment out of the movie than anyone else. There’s enough material in this film for MARVEL to start a TV series about the every day lives of each of its characters and still have time left over to continue its global domination in the superhero blockbuster market. DC still can’t manage to lock down a director for Wonder Woman, or write a decent script.

But AGE OF ULTRON is just so… empty. While the first AVENGERS had one of the worst first acts ever, at least Whedon knew when to play his cards so that by the time the movie gets going it’s also one of the best times I’ve ever had in a theatre. AGE OF ULTRON doesn’t suffer from the first act problems its predecessor did. Instead it just suffers for the entire run time, building up to a crescendo that never arrives.

Here’s an example, the aforementioned splash panel sequences. Whedon makes a true comic book movie and he does so with a little too much glee. No action movie has ever been framed like this before. Almost every other scene is taken right out of a comic book, designed to maximize visual stimulation in a way that is incomprehensibly overwhelming, and it’s a delight to see, for a while. However, like I said, no action movie has ever been framed like this before… for a reason, because it means nothing. Nothing motivates the camera or the framing or the things filling the frame because none of it matters. All that matters is getting the eye candy. This could be a really good porno movie. Or a really bad porno movie.

MARVEL has done something right lately. IRON MAN 3, CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY were all some of the best work the company has produced. They took superheroes to a new high, giving them not just incredible action and great characterization but gravitas and relevant meaning. AGE OF ULTRON is supposed to be about teamwork, I think, but it doesn’t touch on anything GUARDIANS didn’t. “We’ll do it together,” somebody says several times, in case we missed that point. Thanks for spelling it out for us, Joss.

Whedon is about as subtle as a drunk with a banjo at his best but he goes about it so earnestly that he succeeds. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER was always at its best when it wore its heart on its sleeve because that’s when it was able to really matter. This time, he abandons the heartfelt meaning for references to things nobody else understands. I’m not even sure if reference is the right word. The movie could be a series of vignettes that are all meta references to each other in a weird meta spiderweb way while the whole thing adds up to a meta reference to something else. Dan Harmon would be proud but at least Harmon would make the meta the point. Whedon just feels like he thinks he’s being cool.

But let’s not get all down on the movie. It is glorious at times. Sure, there’s no HULK SMASH, and although James Spader is no Tom Hiddleston, he’s pretty impressive as Ultron, really turning the CGI character into a personified being. It’s remarkable that the most interesting character is actually just a giant conglomerate of special effects.

All the pieces are there for AGE OF ULTRON to be the pinnacle of superhero movies except for its whole. I left the first AVENGERS giddy with the highlights flashing through my mind. I left the second one just trying to remember how it had started. I hate the idea of turning off your brain to watch a movie, but if you don’t want to feel like you’ve wasted two and a half hours doing nothing but flooding your visual cortex with over saturated colours and hyperkinetic stroke-inducing dizziness — not that there’s anything wrong with that, if that’s all you’re looking for then this is the perfect movie — then you’re going to need to turn your brain off for this one.

 

 

Purple Squirrels — Interview With The Creator

 

I recently watched the pilot for a bold, new Canadian television series, Purple Squirrels. Go here to read my review. The series is a lot of fun, shows great potential and is a refreshing take on Canadian life, combing elements of big city sitcoms like HBO’s Girls with the workplace satire of NBC’s The Office.

I’ve been in contact with the series creator and director Mike Lippert to do a brief interview about the creation and production of the Purple Squirrels pilot:

 

SR: Mike, what was your inspiration for the idea of Purple Squirrels?

ML: The primary inspiration was to write a funny, half-hour character drama. That’s what I started with. When it came time to decide the setting, Recruitment made sense. I’d worked as an agent in that industry for close to four years, so I knew it was something I could write to from an insider’s perspective. I wanted the show to be funny, but also wanted it to have that feeling of authenticity, like viewers were getting a backstage glimpse into this world they had no idea existed. The possibilities for comedy in that world are endless and something the rest of the series really builds upon. The title comes from a recruitment industry term to describe a candidate with a skill set that doesn’t exist. Like a Help Desk person with a PhD. In Astrology. It’s something that all recruiters spend a great deal of time searching for. Hence the tagline “Everybody’s searching for something.”

SR: What’s your favourite shot in the pilot? 

ML: It’s hard to pick one. There’s a lot of great stuff in there. I love the opening streetcar montage with the footage of Toronto and every time Alex makes that career defining trek from the washroom back to the office in the third act, I’m with him every step.

But really, my favourite, and the most impressive shot in the pilot is the closing credits. There’s a full crew of around 48 people in those credits and it blows me away every time I see it. This pilot was made with no budget, by people with no formal filmmaking experience or connections in the film industry. I went to the industry and said “Here’s a script, there’s no money but we’re going to make it. Would you be willing to help out?”

Every person on that credit roll said yes, just based on their belief in the script. I’m grateful to each and every one of them and can’t wait to work with a lot of them again.

SR: What was the most difficult part of making the pilot? Was it in production, writing or was there a specific technical day that really challenged you?

ML: The hardest part about making a television pilot for no money is making a television pilot for no money.

But seriously, the biggest challenge was probably writing the pilot. The pilot took around 12 months, on and off, to write. You have to establish a setting, introduce an environment, introduce a handful of characters, tell a self-contained story and leave the audience with enough to want to tune in next time, all within 25-30 pages. Not easy.

I’d say, given the circumstances, the production was very smooth. We had 48 hours to get everything we needed, in an office that wasn’t ours. People were on the clock for no money and we had a full cast and crew to manage. Looking back now, it seems daunting, but I think the key was that everyone saw that we were there to work and make something that would get recognized. No one wanted to be that person that dragged the whole team down. It’s a really rewarding feeling to see so many people get on the same page and strive for the same ends. You put so much time and effort into creating a show and you have no idea how anyone will react to it, but it all came together. Although everyone worked their asses off, I can tell you that I have never seen so many happy people on one set before. It was a very inspiring moment for me.

SR: Why should Canadians watch Purple Squirrels?

ML: It’s funny, it’s relatable and it’s very Canadian while also pushing the standards of what people have come to expect from Canadian television. The only place for this series to go is up. Remember, this is a completely independent production so I hope people will discover the pilot, see the potential for these characters and this setting and spread the word. Canadians have been waiting for a show like this. I think it’s time someone gave it to them.

 

Special thanks to Mike for taking the time to answer some questions and discuss his new show!

Watch the trailer for Purple Squirrels below:

 

I really recommend checking this series out. As I’ve mentioned in my review, I think it’s funny and smart and very exciting to see. Canadians will take a special interest in the show as it portrays a different side of Canadian life than most of the shows we see do, but it’s not a culturally exclusive show. It has a wide appeal, and I think anyone should be able to enjoy it.

The pilot is available to watch on the Purple Squirrels website.

Where Are the Men in HBO’s “Girls?”

by Jose Manuel Flores

“I think I may be the voice of my generation.” Hannah Horvath said in the very first episode of her hit HBO series, Girls, and little did we know, she was right. Girls is a very well-written comedy show about four female friends living in New York while complaining about the white girl problems of their generation. Hannah Horvath, Marnie Marie Michaels, Jessa Johansson and Shoshanna Shapiro (holy shit, they’re all alliterations) deal with shitty relationships, career paths, abandonment, sexuality and all the troubles that privilege entails. Oh, and privilege is horrible, by the way. A lot of people give the show a lot of flak for how selfish the titular girls are, but they do their best given the circumstances. However, I am not here to talk about the girls.

When Hannah said she was the voice of her generation I think she was absolutely right, so I started thinking that “Girls” wasn’t the best title, not that I could come up with a better one. The show stopped being about the girls a long time ago and it became about today’s culture overall, and the boys are an important part of the show too. But maybe, in a sick way, “Girls” is the perfect title for a show that encapsulates our generation, because all the boys of Girls are neutered.

There are a lot of shows out there about emasculation, from The Sopranos to Breaking Bad to name a few, but I propose that Girls is actually a show about castration. Most, if not all of the male characters in Girls are impotent when we meet them or become so over the course of the series. From Elijah’s sugar-daddy, to Jessa’s friend from rehab, to Hannah’s dad (who is totally gay), Girls is a show about men who willingly surrender their literal and metaphorical manhood to the girls.

Take Charlie, for example, whose sensitive and caring nature towards his girlfriend, Marnie is a point of mockery and annoyance during the first half of Season 1. Hannah and Marnie complain about how nice and unthreatening he is and Hannah even writes in her dairy about how Marnie must feel awful to “date a man with a vagina.” Even after publicly dumping her in a rare moment of awesomeness Charlie still doesn’t get the satisfaction of ending the relationship. Marnie goes to his apartment for the first time in the several years they’ve been dating and begs Charlie to take her back, only to immediately break up with him while having sex. Marnie dumped Charlie while his penis was still inside her. And Charlie is not a bad guy, he’s just so bland and vanilla. He is not a man in the eyes of Marnie or the audience. What Marnie really wants is a guy with balls, like Booth Jonathan, who bluntly tells her that he’s gonna fuck her so hard it will scare her, because he is a man, and he knows what he is doing. If only Girls hadn’t neutered Booth Jonathan too.

If Marnie seems like a bitch because of her treatment of poor, ball-less Charlie, take a look at Jessa. Maybe because of her abandonment issues, Jessa seems to be a magnet for guys begging her to take their manhood away. She acts like a tease to her boss in Season 1 and to her hipster ex-boyfriend (you know, the one with a girlfriend named Gillian), and especially to her husband Thomas-John. I hated TJ. He was the definition of white privilege and what it entails. He was also seemingly 12 years old and had a twisted idea of how women work. In his introduction episode he screams that Marnie and Jessa owe him a threesome because he works hard and they’ve never had to work for a living. They were blue-balling him by shutting him out of his own fantasies and he deserved it. Thomas John tries to reassure himself that he is still a man by controlling women (which by the way, is never okay). Jessa terminates the marriage early and in defiance, smashes his most prized, phallic award.

Let’s look at “Old Man Ray”, a 30-something year old guy making ends meet as a glorified barista. He is one of the characters on the show who started out already neutered. When Shoshanna ultimately broke up him after their sweet affair, she was quick to point out how he had no interests, no goals, no career plans, nothing to live for. Unfortunately for him, she has a point. The show has never pretended that Ray is anything more than the pathetic loser we see. Even when Marnie starts revenge fucking him she acts like it’s the most disgusting thing she has ever done right to his goddamned face, and he doesn’t even mind.

Not all the recurring male characters were always a flaccid mess. Take Adam, whose dominating and borderline abusive personality actually felt like a sharp criticism of a culture permeated by the celebration of hyper-masculinity. Adam is by far the most traditionally masculine of the main cast: he is a tall brute in a moustache, he works with wood (both literally and figuratively) and he is very sexually dominating. For the majority of the show’s run I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to hate him for being such a toxic influence in Hannah’s life or like him for being the only one who wasn’t a whiny bitch. But when Adam and Hannah broke up at the end of Season 1, his character took a turn for the nasty. As the intense guy that he is, he gradually fell madly in love with Hannah, admitted she was his new purpose in life and was immediately rendered useless by a passing bus that put him in a bed for months, requiring Hannah to look after him by day while she porked Donald Glover’s character by night. Unable to use his penis on his own, Adam even needed Hannah’s assistance to pee. By Season 3 I stopped recognizing Adam as who he was at the beginning. He didn’t engage in the sick (and frankly very entertaining) sexual practices that made him unique in Season 1. He compromised his artistic vision more than once for a job, something that Hannah had suggested earlier on. He became a better man for sure, but I never felt like he was a happier man. Hannah basically took his manhood away and eradicated what he felt had made him a man, effectively castrating one of the most dynamic characters of the show.

I’m not saying it’s fair to propose that the girls are the ones responsible for all the neutering going on. As I mentioned before, they are doing their best in their own shitty situations and they all lack the emotional maturity they need to have any functional relationship. All of the characters in Girls, male or female, surrender their individuality or their sexuality to someone else in order to function in their culture. For example, Hannah lets her meek, Santa-looking boss grope her just so she can keep her job, yet Hannah and the women at her office still have all the power over him. So is it any wonder that a show called Girls, and which claims to be the voice of our generation, features no traditional “real men”? More and more shows are redefining the notions of masculinity and patriarchy, and young men are still trying to figure out what it means to be a man in today’s society. Just like Hannah, we are all trying to figure out who we are.