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New Genre-Bending WLW Short Film Premieres at Toronto Short Film Festival This March




Emily Schooley‘s new short film, Life and the Art of Lying, has its premiere at the Toronto Short Film festival later this month, and it confirms what many of us already know: Canada is a bright source of LGBTQ media. With recent television shows like Wynonna Earp, Orphan Black, and Killjoys, and web series like the explosively popular Carmilla (which was made into a surprisingly delightful, sleekly produced film), women loving women (WLW) storylines abound in the great north.

Where women hold each other to keep warm.

Life and the Art of Lying centers on Charlie, a queer artist with a close-knit group of friends, one of whom, Mara, she’s in love with. The film opens during a New Year’s Eve party during which Charlie passes out at midnight, chalking it up to intoxication. This is where we first learn about Charlie’s penchant for lying—mostly about how she feels, whether it’s toward Mara or in her body. Because, it turns out, Charlie is sick.

Following a terminal cancer diagnosis, which is a recurrence of previously diagnosed cancer, Charlie proceeds to hide her physical ailments from her friends until she no longer can.

The story, however, doesn’t go where I expected it to. The twist ending reveals the true hero of the story and bends genre. It took me by surprise, and I like that.

Short-form narratives don’t tend to by my favorite, generally speaking. I like to get to know characters, need time to get invested in them, and I enjoy seeing actors/writers/creators develop and grow over time. Life And the Art of Lying, like most well-told short stories, managed to pack a lot into a small space. In a way, this is jarring. Without the time and space for much buildup, the story seems almost rushed and confusing.

However, after some digestion and reflection on the film, I found that the story bends boundaries in a way that ended up working for me. Its surprising—if a little cheesy—ending considers broad societal questions of capitalism, class, and science, and it uses queer women to do it. That’s something I can get behind.

Images Courtesy of Laughing Cat Productions

Full disclosure: The author was sent an early screener of this film. The opinions are her own.

Sarah divides her mental energy between analyzing/crushing on queer characters, training for marathons and sometimes on her day job.

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Friendship in a Time of Blood and Ice Cream




Edgar Wright’s Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, also known as the Cornetto trilogy, is a trio of movies that stand in a league of their own. Each movie is its own story and any of the three could stand on its own without the others. Yet they’re all linked by their craftsmanship, themes and, of course, Cornetto. They’re all top class comedies, while also being well-executed character-driven action movies. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End each focus on the friendship between their protagonist and deuteragonist (each time portrayed by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost respectively). They delve into the deeps of friendship and the aspects, both negative and positive, that can exists in relationships.

It’s not you, it’s the Zombies

Before the zombie apocalypse, Shaun was living aimlessly, while Ed, his best friend, loafed around on his couch playing video games all day. Shaun had a serviceable job, a stable relationship with a girl he loves, good friends, and pub to go at the end of the day. He was hardly living a full life, but he was living. Sure, he had plans for the future—get a better job, commit more to his relationship, and get Ed off his couch—but he never acted on them. He made promises to his girlfriend that he’d do better, but had no follow through. When anyone pointed out that Ed was a hindrance to him, Shaun would always defend his friend.

Ed’s antipathy to development is even worse than Shaun’s. He doesn’t have many expectations for himself. Instead, he’s content to let Shaun defend him while he plays games and does a whole lot of nothing. Ed only helped keep Shaun stagnate.

It’s almost like a visual metaphor for something standing in-between their relationship.

Everything changed when they found zombies in their backyard. It takes the z-word to get Shaun to act on his plans. With the undead knocking at the doors, he firmly decides what’s important to him and sets out to protect it. He finds not only is he good with the follow through, he naturally assumes the leadership role, adjusting quickly on the fly to keep his friends and family safe when their lives are on the line. When disaster strikes, he makes decisions no one should ever have to make, zombie apocalypse or not.

And Ed, well, actually, Ed doesn’t change all that much. He’s more interested in getting to drive the cool car than he is about the zombies in the street. In the few minutes, Shaun takes to get his mom and stepdad he manages to crash the car. When they’re surrounded by a horde he nonchalantly takes a call (from a guy he occasionally sells drugs too).

Shaun’s willing to forgive and ignore Ed’s apathy until this moment. It takes the world ending and their lives at stake to Shaun to finally confront his friend. The apocalypse becomes the catalyst that pushes Shaun to making decisions. One of those decisions is letting go of a friendship that had been holding him back.

But it’s not all sad; Shaun gets the girl and still finds time to play games with Ed occasionally.

Nevermind Ed’s a zombie.

They’re not Bad Boys

Nicolas Angel is kind of cop who’s good at his job. Every part of his job, including the paperwork, but everything else in his life suffers. He breaks up with his girlfriend. The other officers are all too happy to get rid of him because he makes them look bad by comparison. The only constant in his life before moving to Sandford is his Japanese Peace Lily.

They even make the paperwork cool.

Danny, on the other hand, is the kind of cop who never had to be good at his job. He lived his whole life in a small village where the most work the cops had to do was deal with ‘accidents.’ His father is the inspector. Everything he learnt about his job was from action cop movies.

Friendship in Hot Fuzz goes in a different direction. Nicolas and Danny aren’t the lifelong friends Shaun and Ed were. In fact, a drunk Danny almost runs overs Nicolas when they first meet. Danny actually learns what it means to be a cop from Nicolas. Nicolas learns there’s more to life than the service and there’s more to service than enforcing every law. For Nicolas, Danny becomes the person he cares about more than the job.

By learning more about Sandford from Danny, Nicolas becomes more willing to let smaller infractions go when working to keep the greater peace. By the climax, he even enlists the help of some vandals he’d been suspicious of on his first night in the village. Danny, on the other hand, learns that being a cop isn’t about the big action shootouts, and even when the big action shootout happens, he and Nicolas fight their way out while only using non-lethal takedowns. In this view of friendship, each one makes each other a better cop and a better person.

The Crowning Glory of the End of the World

Gary King is the king in his mind and every king needs a court. For Gary, his court is made up of his friends or, to be more accurate, his enablers. Like so many, Gary found his adulthood paling in comparison to the glory of his youth and has been trying to regain that feeling. The height of his youth had been trying to conquer the Golden Mile, a twelve pub crawl with four of his best friends. They never finished the Mile, but that night still left a mark on Gary. For him, it never got better and that’s where the problems start.

He keeps searching for that same high in the substance he linked with the first: alcohol. Never finding it, he makes one last ditch attempt to regain his crown by reclaiming the Golden Mile and finishing what they’d started all those years ago. He rounds up his old friends, who have all grown up and progressed in their own ways. Among them is Andy Knightley, who used to be Gary’s right hand but has been sober since the very night Gary is trying to reclaim.

Amidst the discovery that their hometown has become a hub of alien activity, Andy learns just how deep Gary’s addiction goes. Of the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, Gary King is the most tragic protagonist. His addiction sends him on a dark spiral. Even as he tries to regain his youth with his friends, he keeps them at distance emotionally. He thinks he needs drinking buddies more than he needs true friends who will help him.

Gary’s inability to say no to a drink inevitably leads to the World’s End, both the name of a bar and the actual end of the world. But when he hits rock bottom and realizes Andy was willing to follow him there for his sake, that’s when he finds the strength to stop living in the past.

It’s another visual metaphor.

Be it the heartbreak of losing good friends, the surprise of finding friendship in the unlikeliest of persons or wanting to help a friend who’s not ready to help themselves, the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy portrays the complexities of platonic relationships. Best of all, it shows how they evolve as we grow and change.

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures. 

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‘BlacKkKlansman’ Sizzles With Rage and Wit




BlacKkKlansman is an act of cinematic rage. Spike Lee’s latest film is a wild, somewhat sprawling nuanced look at how a black detective, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) infiltrated the KKK. The humor is sly, and Lee’s targets range from politics to the history of film itself.

For a generation of movie buffs who have decried that politics and entertainment should never meet, Lee must resemble something akin to hemlock. Lee makes every film he makes feel as if it might be his last one. His movies feel alive and unpredictable. A breadth of ideas and themes Lee is less interested in you liking him and more interested in prodding a reaction or a thought out of you.

BlacKkKlansman opens up with a famous tracking shot of Gone With The Wind. Scarlett wanders the train yard of wounded soldiers as the camera pulls back to reveal the mass of wounded bodies and corpses. The camera hovers over the train yard, a Confederate flag waving proudly in the left-hand corner.

It’s impossible to watch BlacKkKlansman and not think about current events. An intentional act by Lee as he is trying to show us both the circular nature of our tendencies as well as the creeping evolution of a new kind of fascism. A more gentle but no less poisonous and bigoted form that smiles at you warmly in a sort of “Aww shucks” manner.

Hollywood has long shown us racists, but they have been racists caricatures. These characters have been barely people. Instead, they have been tropes with a name and a face. These films have looked at racism less like something that is institutionalized and more a trait that reveals the character’s true villainy. Lee blows up this trope and shows us in more ways than one what “good ‘ol boys” look like. Which is to say like someone you might meet walking down the street.

We are shown an instructional PSA with Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard (Alec Baldwin). He gives a bigoted rant against desegregation and civil rights. Beauregard stands in front a series of pictures from that era. His vile thoughts and words are punctured as Lee cleverly shows us an unpolished ill-prepared man. Beauregard stumbles and pauses to do vocal warm-ups, calls for his lines, and stops from time to time to complain about the structure of a sentence.

It’s the normalization of racism that tumbles through BlacKkKlansman. Everyone is the hero in their own story, as a popular writing maxim goes. Lee endeavors to show us how terrifyingly accurate the maxim is in reality. After all, David Duke (Topher Grace) isn’t the Grand Wizard of the Klan. He prefers to be called the National Director or Organizer.

Lee is often accused of being less than subtle. He has always had the rare ability to make his films highly artificial and yet somehow deeply emotionally resonant. It’s as if his heightened artificiality allows him to get at the emotional core of his characters.

But he is subtle. Notice the scene where the Klan watches D.W. Griffith’s infamous Birth Of A Nation. Lee and his cameraman, Chayse Irvin uses the same techniques so often cited as the reason to watch the film.  They indulge in close-ups, pans, even the way Barry Alexander Brown edits the montage, is reminiscent of the infamous movie. Lee portrays the white Klansman the way blacks are portrayed in the film.

Brown and Lee cut between the Klan’s watching Birth Of A Nation and a meeting with black student activists. Ron’s girlfriend Patrice (Laura Harrier) is leading a talk. The klan hoots and howl at a bygone piece of propaganda and decry black people’s humanity. While Patrice and her fellow students sit around an old man Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte) as he gives witness of being black in early America.

Turner is surrounded by images, of lynchings, and beaten black bodies. Lee is showing us the power of images. Showing us the kind of images White America has time and time again shown they prefer. Early on in BlacKkKlansman Ron attends a Black Power meeting. The guest speaker Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) tells the all-black audience about black beauty and black agency. Lee and Irvin superimpose the faces of the black audiences members, so they grow large as they are told, black is beautiful.

Ron’s partner, and white double, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) doesn’t understand Ron’s desire to bring these men down. A Jewish detective who “passes” he is slowly radicalized to Ron’s cause. His radicalization comes both from the men he is forced to befriend and the connection with his own Jewish heritage. Early on in the film, Ron asks Flip if he’s Jewish. “I don’t know. Am I?” Little by little Flip begins to see and understand Ron’s urgency in monitoring the local Klan.

Patrice forces Ron to come to terms with the duality of his existence as a black man and as a cop. The black community and law enforcement have a long and troubled history. Lee does not shy away from the complexities of this long and torturous relationship. Ron forces Flip to come to terms with his own roots and his role in the fight. All of them drag the Colorado Springs Police Department into an era of equality kicking and screaming.

Blackkklansman is not a hopeful movie. But the script by Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, and Kevin Willmott surprises us with a wry and dark wit. Flip rides along with one of the Klansmen Felix (Jasper Paakkonen) he is told, “We don’t call ourselves the Klan. We’re The Organization. Or The Invisible Empire.” Ron contacted them by calling a number he saw in the paper in the ad section. “To contact the Klan call…”

As Blackkklansman barrels toward its conclusion, it lands one final and gut-wrenching blow. Lee ends with footage from Charlottesville. As you may recall, white supremacists descended upon the city in a “Unite The Right” rally. Brown and Lee edit the news footage to bring home Lee’s point. Racism is not over, and neither is the Klan.

They may talk politely as they smile and walk around without robes and hoods but the hate burns brighter than ever. I must warn you that Lee also includes footage of the young woman who was run down by a car and killed. Her name was Heather Heyer. The final shot is of Heather, her birthday and day of death. It dissolves to an upside down American flag which turns black.

BlacKkKlansman is a bit like Sorry To Bother You. Lee’s offering is more polished but also more focused. His rage becomes infectious as the images of Charlottesville dance across the screen. Yes, it’s based on a true story, but Lee is saying something more than that. He’s saying it’s still happening. What are we going to do about it?

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

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‘Christopher Robin’ Doesn’t Understand Pooh




Christopher Robin has the melancholic beauty of the postcards you find in gift shops. It looks nice and makes you go “aww” but then you forget about it and move on. Much like Cars 3, Disney once again tells the story of a middle-aged man dealing with a midlife crisis—to children.

Christopher Robin opens up promising enough. Marc Forster has worked with his cameraman, Matthias Koenigswieser, to create a story dripping with sepia-toned nostalgia. We see glimpses of Christopher Robin’s (Orton O’Brien) childhood with Pooh and the other creatures from the Hundred Acre Wood. Forster and Koenigswieser play with time. They give us snapshot glimpses of Christopher’s childhood. We see frames dissolve into drawings in a children’s book. But they mistake having a look for having a tone.

Slowly we see Christopher Robin the boy become Christopher Robin the man (Ewan McGregor). Christopher Robin meets Evelyn (Hayley Atwell). They get married. Christopher Robin goes to war leaving behind a pregnant wife, only to return home to a daughter he’s never met. By itself, this alone would make for an interesting story to explore, with or without Tigger (Jim Cummings).

Forster and his cadre of writers, of which there are five, decide to focus on Christopher Robin the efficiency expert at Winslow Luggage. I’ve seen loads of people online bring up Spielberg’s Hook just from the trailers alone. But while Spielberg made Peter Pan an accountant, we never had to sit through scenes with Peter at the office.

Forster wants to weave a tale of magic and wonder for the kids, while giving the adults a wistful reminder of their youth. He achieves neither. Pooh (Jim Cummings) is fond of saying “Nothing comes from nothing.” A clever little line. Or would be if it weren’t repeated to death. Repetition can either enhance a line or beat it to the ground. All meaning and context fleeing for the Hundred Acre Wood.

We spend the first half of the movie watching Christopher Robin grow old and see how miserable his life has become. The middle portion is only marginally better. Pooh shows up nearby Christopher Robin’s house. Christopher Robin, in order to get any work done, must take Pooh back to the Hundred Acre Wood. The third act is, of course, a race to the board meeting to save Christopher Robin’s job, which he hates.

The adults won’t be bored senseless but I’m not so sure about the children. Don’t get me wrong, there will be stretches where they will surely be enraptured. For all it’s missteps Christopher Robin does nail the voices of Pooh and his friends. Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Roo (Sara Sheen), and Owl (Toby Jones) are all perfectly cast. Except Forster doesn’t seem to know what to do with all these characters.

When Pooh and friends leave the Hundred Acre Wood to go help Christopher Robin, only Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger go. All well and good, except part of the genius of Winnie the Pooh is how each character is to some extent a manifestation of a child’s psyche or emotive state. To only use half the characters for most of the story seems a great disservice to the others.

Perhaps, giving Forster some credit, this is his point. After all, Christopher Robin is about discovering one’s inner child. Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore are the purest in their representations of childhood. Even though it still feels as if Kanga, Roo, Owl, and Rabbit are barely even thought of.

When Christopher Robin comes back to the Hundred Acre Wood he can’t find Pooh. But he does stumble onto Eeyore, followed by Piglet. But then the script has him stumble onto the rest of the animals all at once. I return to the lack of tone. Sometimes Christopher Robin feels measured as if it’s building to something. But almost always it abandons all it’s hard work just to jump into a loud wacky moment.

Scenes where Christopher Robin trying to convince Eeyore and Piglet he’s not a Heffalump are beautiful and subtle. They hint at a better more complex movie underneath. The idea is of course discarded for a wacky over the top quick solution. “If you really were Christopher Robin, you would defeat the Heffalump.”

The other animals hide in a log. Christopher Robin pretends to fight a Heffalump to assuage his friends’ fears. It’s a wonderful idea but it’s too hastily done and rushed.

Pooh and his friends look alive and as if they literally sprung from a child’s imagination. But, and here’s where I am reminded I am an adult, Forster and his writers have made the odd decision that Pooh and his friends can be seen and heard by everyone. So when Christopher Robin leaves, he’s not leaving his imaginary friends, he’s leaving his actual friends. Even more confusing is Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga, and Roo all look like stuffed toys come to life. Rabbit and Owl seem to be real animals.

I know, I know, this is a kids movie. Christopher Robin is at its best when it sticks to being a Winnie the Pooh movie. A.A. Milne’s dialogue is still as potent and poetic as ever. The warm and clever words of Pooh and his friends expose the crassness of the rest of the script. The simple wit and charm of the characters of the Hundred Acre Wood are cheapened. The lines are repeated by those in the real world, like an echo. As if the kids are too stupid to have understood them the first time.

Hayley Atwell continues to be underused, misused, underwritten, and sidelined for no good reason whatsoever. We are firmly in the 21st century. It’s depressing that so many men in Hollywood still have no clue what to do with a character who happens to be a woman. Don’t even get me started on Christopher Robin’s daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). But I guess of the, again five writers, one who was a woman, it was too much to hope for.

It would have made more sense for either Atwell’s Evelyn or Carmichael’s Madeline to be the main character. Set in post-war London, it could have explored Evelyn’s broken dreams or Madeline’s strict, almost joyless father. In the beginning, we see Evelyn was an architect during the war. Afterward, though she was, like most women, told to go back to the kitchen. Madeline seems less like a normal little girl and much like her father, eager to explore and with an imagination positively bursting at the seams.

Throughout all of Christopher Robin, the message is never grow up. Never stop playing. Never lose your toys. I couldn’t help but laugh. Maybe the message wouldn’t have rung so hollow if it didn’t come from Disney, a studio that cranks out Star Wars and Marvel movies—and their toys.

Christopher Robin is dull, dull, dull. Charming for bits, but only the bits involving words and characters not created by the army of writers hired by Disney. Slick and polished Forster always seems rushed. The emotion is never allowed to build. Instead, in the end, I was left with a feeling of morose apathy.

The magic of the stories of the Hundred Acre Wood is how simple and direct they are. Christopher Robin mistakes this directness for eschewing complexities and boiling everything down to boilerplate Pooh-isms. Or believing that just repeating the lines in awe makes them more impressive. Nothing comes from nothing may be true. But Christopher Robin also shows us that sometimes nothing is preferable to something.

Image Courtesy of Disney

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