Nov 282016
 

Yes, it’s getting to that point in NaBloPoMo where trying to squeeze out more blog posts seems harder and harder. The ever-longer titles don’t seem to require too much, but actual content that someone might want to read? Oi.

So how about a feel-good story?

This past summer, I attended (as I usually do) the Vancouver Queer Film Festival.1 I saw a lot of shows, but one that really stayed with me was the documentary Southwest of Salem.

It’s the story of 4 lesbians from Texas who, in the mid-90s, were accused, tried, and convicted of the Satanic sexual abuse of the two young nieces of one of the women. So yes, just some light, frothy viewing for the summer.

I highly recommend the film because it looks into a phenomenon that I lived through as a kid but had kinda forgotten about (because it’s so ridiculous): the period in the 80s and into the 90s where Satanic ritual abuse was on all the afternoon talk shows and nightly news broadcasts and it seemed like it was just popping up everywhere. I’m sure it was more muted in Canada and that’s why it didn’t stick out in my mind more, but yeah, that was a thing; at times it felt like roving bands of Satanists were waiting around every corner and, if you were a kid and you weren’t careful, they were going to scoop you up.

The film basically positions the trial of the 4 women as the last gasp of that particular, ultimately discarded as wildly exaggerated, phenomenon and further ties it to the kind of hysteria Arthur Miller so vividly wrote about in The Crucible, the witch-hunts in Salem. The fact that 3 of the 4 women were Latina and all seemed to be solid working-class gets explored too.

Anyway, spoiler alert, the documentary focuses on what a total farce the charges, trial, and insane sentences were—the woman identified as the “ring-leader,” the aunt of the two girls, received a THIRTY-SEVEN year sentence while her 3 “co-conspirators” got 15 years each—and more recent efforts to have the women exonerated. There’s even a pretty cool Canadian connection.

The film ends on the biggest documentary cliffhanger I’ve ever seen: the four women get released and are allowed to plead their case, asking for full exoneration. The initial judge (who for some reason was the same judge who tried them??) could have exonerated them then and there… but (shockingly! *rolls eyes*), he doesn’t… he does agree the matter requires more consideration and passes it on to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (the highest court on criminal matters in Texas, and essentially their last resort).

AND THAT’S HOW IT ENDS!!! ??????

It ends with no resolution because by the time the documentary was finished, that’s where things were.

Well last week? The verdict came down, and I’ll let you check it out yourselves.

Even in victory, these women lost over 15 years of their lives (each) and several of them didn’t get to see their children grow up. But it’s such a relief, because exoneration was no guarantee. This is TEXAS we’re talking about and there were three possible outcomes, and only 1 was good: they could have just been sent back to prison, they could have had to endure new trials, or what did happen: full exoneration. And full exoneration means they can go after the state for compensation, and while money won’t give them back the time they lost, hopefully it will help make their new lives a lot better.

  1. can I just say I have to admit I really love that they don’t namby-pamby around the word “queer” and actually just call themselves the VQFF? []
Nov 172016
 

This past Friday, my friend kele and I saw the new Amy Adams film Arrival. I’m not sure what I was expecting—probably more of an action-adventure sci-fi flick—but wow, was it ever something completely better! It was fairly slow and meditative, but in a really great way. It did exactly what good sci-fi is supposed to do, which is use the backdrop of the fantastic to explore the beauty and terror of human existence.

It was just really, really good. I am completely shocked it was a huge Hollywood film1 with such big stars—Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker also star. And, always a good clue that it was working at a higher level than most films, the score was so good that I actually noticed how good it was. For some reason, I don’t find the sound aspects of films usually move me very much, so when I do actually sit up and go, “Hey… this movie’s score is amazing!” then it usually means the entire film is a notch above the usual theatre fare.

Anyway, it’s just so so so good—do yourself a favour and go see it!

  1. The last good “thoughtful” sci-fi film I saw was Ex Machina and that was the opposite of a big Hollywood film. []
Dec 312013
 

It’s the time of year where most if not all of the websites I follow regularly do their “Best/Worst” lists so I thought I’d join in on the fun. Most of this is about TV and movies, and there are some SPOILERS so please don’t read if you aren’t up to date on Homeland, Person of Interest, Breaking Bad, or Game of Thrones (I think those are the only real spoilers).

Hidden Gem Movie: Philomena

I should have known any movie featuring Dame Judi Dench was going to be good but I was unconvinced that I would be able to tolerate Steve Coogan as her co-lead. (He also wrote the movie, which is based on a true story.) How wrong I was! Not only was Dench amazing, Coogan kept up with her. Throw in a touching gay angle to the film and this is likely the most under-the-radar film of 2013 that you really should go see.

Best Sequel That Avoids “Middle Movie” Syndrome and Exceeds the Original: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Somehow Catching Fire managed to not only to be better than The Hunger Games (dropping “shaky cam” was a huge step in right direction) but also an excellent movie in its own right. Perhaps most importantly, it avoided feeling like filler, which “middle movies” in a sequence of films can often do (Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part I, I’m looking at you!). It will be interesting to see if the next movie, which will be the first half of the final novel Mockingjay, will be able reach the bar set by this installment.

Worst Movie That Was Far Too Critically Lauded: Captain Phillips

Why Mr. Dull and Dreary continues to get any attention as an actor (as opposed to, say, as an all-round “nice guy,” which I am far more willing to buy into) is completely beyond me.  This “rah rah US military” film should never have been made.

Worst On-Going Ad Campaign: We are all Canucks

Seriously, no, we’re not! I’m not a Canuck.  I hate hockey and I hate the Canucks in particular. It is beyond insulting to be continually confronted by this forced inclusion, which only serves to exclude any Vancouverite who *gasp* doesn’t like a sport where the main “entertainment” is grown men beating on each other as if that represents either skill or sportsmanship.

Runner-up: Telus

Telus stole its white background/cute animals ad campaign in the NINETIES when it bought 3rd party cell provider Clearnet and it still hasn’t run out of members of the animal kingdom to CGI-exploit, 15 years later. We get it: animals are cute!

Best Single Episode of an Ongoing TV Series (and possibly of all time, ever): “Hitting the Fan” (season 5, episode 5 of The Good Wife)

If you aren’t watching The Good Wife by now, well, you really should catch up. Few shows last 5 seasons these days, let alone reach their apogee this far in, but this already amazing show has pulled out all the stops this season with a status quo shake-up that has pushed an already superlative ensemble to new heights. In a season of fantastic performances (including the Season 5 premiere), the show’s fifth episode blew away the rest of this year’s competition. It’s no surprise The Good Wife is the only network drama nominated for Best Drama by the Golden Globes. While Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead have all produced amazing episodes this year, inherent in the succcess of those episodes were multiple major character deaths—literal bloodbaths. The Good Wife‘s fifth episode this season blew them away, no fatalities required.

Best Performance(s) of an Actor in Seven Plus Roles: Tatiana Maslany

Canadian Tatiana Maslany is the antithesis of another Canadian actor: William Shatner. While Shatner is capable of playing only a single character in any endeavour, Tatiana Maslany has shown us just exactly what acting is, so convincingly playing multiple clones on Canadian/American BBC America production Orphan Black that you forget there is only one person behind the 3, 4, or more performances each episode. Orphan Black takes one of the major conceits from fellow sci-fi show Fringe and blows it out of the water every week (sorry Anna Torv). And as much as I enjoy Nina Dobrev’s double performance as Elena and Katherine on The Vampire Diaries, anyone who whines that she was doing “the same thing” as Maslany well before Orphan Black aired… uh… yeah, NO. Dobrev is good, I’ll grant her that, but the biggest distinction between Katherine and Elena is that Katherine is bitchy and Elena is (generally) sweet. Forget actors whining about the difficulty of playing against green screens: try playing against yourself week after week, complete with at least 3 different accents, different body language, different energies, and a variety of insane wigs. Then try playing one of those characters impersonating one of the other characters. Orphan Black redefines the concept of “meta” on a variety of levels and it’s Maslany who serves as the lynchpin (lynchpins) that make that possible. After the Emmy snub heard ’round the world (which one critic called the best publicity a show could hope for), the Hollywood Foreign Press was the first major awards show sponsor to sit up and take notice of Maslany, nominating the relative newcomer for “Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama” at the Golden Globes. In an industry where sci-fi and fantasy shows and performances are criminally overlooked and ignored, Maslany will be rubbing shoulders with such industry heavyweights as Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Robin Wright (House of Cards), and the much-buzzed-about Kerry Washington (Scandal). In a rational universe, Maslany would win hands-down but no matter what happens in reality, her nomination is groundbreaking… which is fitting because that matches the astonishing achievement of her performance.

Most Homosexual Show Not Actually About Homosexuals: Teen Wolf

It borders on uncanny just how gay MTV’s Teen Wolf is. Whether it’s the two main characters cracking wise in a gay bar or the initially off-screen imagined but now moving winkingly on-screen romantic “tension” between Stiles and Derek, Teen Wolf is a super-gay show without actually being, well, a gay show. Which makes the next category so frustrating…

Worst Exit Because The Show I’m On Is Way Too Gay and I Don’t Want People to Keep Bringing Up My Past Modelling for Gay Teen Magazine XY: Colton Haynes leaving Teen Wolf for Arrow

This one is pretty self-explanatory. See a recent likely related case of an exit from a show over the gay ick: True Blood Exclusive: Luke Grimes Exits Prior to Seventh and Final Season, Role Will Be Recast (okay, to be honest, it’s not clear that Grimes is leaving True Blood because they are going to take his character in a lavender direction but that’s where I’d put my money)

Most Surprising Venue for Insightful Commentary on Class Difference in America: ABC Family’s Switched At Birth

Leaving aside the fact that Switched At Birth is a stellar, groundbreaking show on completely different merits (first show to do an episode nearly entirely in ASL, first show to regularly feature diverse Deaf characters played by actual Deaf actors, etc. etc. etc.), it’s pretty amazing that a show from the family-friendly arm of the most family-friendly world dominant corporation (Disney) actually acknowledges class differences. But even more amazing is that they have Daphne, one of the show’s two teenage protagonists, school the show’s resident GOP supporter—her biological father John Kennish—on how people from a disadvantaged class background can’t just “work hard” and achieve the same impressive accomplishments that he, a former MLB star, has.  The show has never shied away from the awkward clash of cultures resulting from Daphne being raised by Regina, a single Latina mother from “the wrong side of tracks,” while Regina’s biological daughter Bay’s was brought up amidst the stratrospheric wealth of the Kennish’s lives… and the show is that much stronger for it.

Show That Shockingly Makes You Pine For The Early 1980s: The Americans

Cold War period spy show The Americans marks the welcome return of Felicity‘s Keri Russell to series TV. Her heartwrenching, kickass performance–alongside TV husband Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters), who turns in an equally kickass and moving performance–as KGB deep cover spies Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings does what I would have thought impossible: casts America in the early 1980s in a warm nostalgic glow.  During the episode that dealt with the failed assassination of then-President Ronald Reagan, though, I was still rooting for an alternate history version where Reagan actually bit it. Oh well. Russell and The Americans delievered perhaps the most brutal knockdown fight of 2013 when Elizabeth loses it on her KGB handler Claudia, admirably played by the super-versatile Margo Martindale. If anyone had any doubts that JJ Abrams’ first female hero could hold her own against his second, Alias’ Jennifer Garner, The Americans puts those doubts firmly to rest.

Most Respect Shown to Actresses Past A Certain Age: American Horror Story: Coven

Ryan Murphy’s “adult” TV anthology, somehow more gripping and realistic despite its supernatural goings-on than Glee, has always been a great showcase for female talent but Coven takes a group of actresses often shamefully jilted by Hollywood–the over-50 set–and puts them front and centre. Any one of Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Frances Conroy, or Patti LuPone are total acting powerhouses but put them all together and you have a powder keg of dramatic flair just waiting to ignite. This collection of acting greats is like Golden Girls on meth.

Current Overused TV Trope That, Well, Needs to Die: “nothing ever gets better and then everyone dies”

Between Breaking Bad, DexterGame of Thrones, and The Walking Dead (and, to a lesser watered-down extent, Revolution), you’d think the majority of TV writers and creators feel that the only way to engage with today’s ostensibly over-stimulated audiences is to feed them an ever-worsening series of situations set in post-apocalyptic conditions that culminate with every character you’ve been encouraged to connect with being horribly slaughtered.  Look, I’m the last person who wants everything to end with an “and they lived happily ever after” ending but there’s a lot of room between everyone getting unrealistic happiness and the pure misery so many shows seem to think they have to put their characters through.  Just like everyone getting everything they’ve ever wanted isn’t realistic, either is having everyone’s life go downhill, then more downhill, then hit rock bottom, and then having them be killed after they’ve been forced to watch everyone they’ve ever loved be killed first.

Best Vancouver-Filmed Show Actually Set In Vancouver: Continuum

This one is a bit of a cheat because Space’s Continuum is the only Vancouver-filmed show set in Vancouver. But apart from that interesting distinction, it is a great show and finally gives Rachel Nichols, who spent years playing second-fiddle replacement on shows like Alias and Criminal Minds, a chance to shine.

Not With A Bang But With a Whimper “Award”: Brody’s death on Homeland

As lots of people have pointed out, Season 3 of Homeland was uneven (although I didn’t hate the Dana storylines like most people). But even though I knew they had to be heading towards losing their leading man, the actual loss of Brody left me strangely… empty. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the character, and Damian Lewis is a fantastic actor, but the character’s demise just didn’t create any pain. Maybe because after all he’d been through, it seemed like a welcome release? The only part of the Homeland finale that had any emotional impact was Quiver McQuiverLips’ breakdown in front of her father and sister.

Most Moving Death On A Show Not Known For Killing 30 Characters An Episode: Carter, Person of Interest

Without a doubt, Carter’s shooting on Person of Interest was perhaps the most moving death on TV this year (among shows not known for repeated character funerals). Even though to me it felt like her apparent love affair with John came out of nowhere, and even though I knew for weeks that it was coming, it was just so. sad.

Most Moving Death On A Grim Reaper Show: Catelyn Stark, Game of Thrones

Catelyn Stark’s demise during the bloodbath of the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones somehow stood out. Probably only because Michelle Fairley is beyond talented. It takes a lot of talent to draw focus away from a pregnant woman who was just slaughtered a few feet away. But please, someone… ANYONE… kill Joffrey! I don’t care whether or not he lives in the novels–he. must. be ended.

Best American Remake of a British Show: SyFy’s Being Human

Say what you will about the American penchant for remaking British TV but Being Human is a great example of it being done extremely well.

Best Zombies-As-Gay-Metaphor Show: BBC Three’s In The Flesh

Do yourself a favour: even if you’re not into zombies or gay stuff, go watch In The Flesh. You won’t be disappointed you took the time to introduce yourself to one of the most poignant shows currently on TV.

Most Odious Overused Guest or Recurring Actor: Robert Knepper, Mark Pellegrino (tie)

I used to like Robert Knepper when he was on Prison Break. But since then, when he’s shown up on an insane variety of shows playing pretty much exactly the same smarmy character, I’ve gotten over it. And now he’ll be on Arrow and in the Mockingjay movies. *sigh*

Conversely, I have never for a second liked Mark Pellegrino or the generally exact same smarmy characters he plays either. And some fool made him a main cast member of the CW’s The Tomorrow People. *sigh*

Moonlighting Award for Best “Will They/Won’t They”: Oliver and Felicity on Arrow

I don’t “ship” people because “ship” is not a real verb but if I were to “ship” two people together, it would be these two.

Grammatical Trend That Needs To End: the abandonment of the subjunctive in English

There are so many possible contenders here, from the moronic use of apostrophe-s to form plurals to the lack of the use of “whom” all the way to people confusing discrete with discreet (primarily on gay location-based hookup apps like Grindr). But I knew this was the winner for 2013 when every single time I listened to One Direction’s “I Wish,” I couldn’t help cringing whenever they sing “Oh how I wish that was me.” No! You wish that were you!

Learn the subjunctive. Love the subjunctive. Suffice it to say, use the subjunctive lest you be taken for a fool!

Best Grindr Profile Line: “I wish there were a Grindr for single people”

Oh Grindr… how we love to hate thee. And there are so many, many reasons why. But this line so eloquently and succinctly sums up one of the big ones.

Best Discrediting of Natural Foods: Walt poisons Lydia’s Stevia, Breaking Bad

Who knew a natural sugar alternative could be deadly? I mean aspartame we hear about all the time, but on Breaking Bad, Stevia’s pretty damn dangerous.

FlashForward “Award” for Fastest Derailing of a Promising TV Show: Hostages

I really love Toni Collette.  I mean, I’ve loved Toni Collette since Australian gem Muriel’s Wedding in the mid-90s.  I LOVED gone-far-too-soon United States of Tara.  So I really, really wanted to like HostagesBut after a promising pilot, this show went downhill from “enthralling” to “stupid” faster than award-namesake FlashForward. That show at least managed to maintain its momentum for 6 or so episodes; Hostages started coming apart at the seems in Episode 2.

Felicity Award for “Let’s Obsess About Something Completely Irrelevant to the Show”: Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow should be one of the most ridiculous shows on TV. It should be as mindlessly insipid as Charmed. And somehow, some way… it’s just not.  It’s simply really fun, gripping television. So apparently to balance this out, entertainment writers have decided to provide the ridiculous by continually questioning if and when the main character, a resurrected 18th century Ichabod Crane, will ever stop wearing his distinctive, circa 1770s coat. “Doesn’t it need to be washed?” “Wouldn’t it smell?” These are ostensibly serious questions I’ve seen asked in several entertainment publications in a display of journalistic insanity that rivals the crazy that surrounded Keri Russell when she cut her hair for the 2nd season of Felicity and was blamed (in a fit of sexist, misogynistic lunacy) for somehow causing the show’s ratings to suffer.

Most Deliberate Non-Attention to Period Details “Award”: The Carrie Diaries

So even if you could somehow overlook the 9-11 insanity-fuelled fact that the people in charge of The Carrie Diaries have essentially decided the World Trade Towers that would have dominated Manhattan’s skyline in the 1980s simply did not exist (great way to honour your dead, Americans—let’s just pretend it never happened!), it borders on the criminal that the same producers can have an ongoing plotline involving a main cast member’s character coming out as a teenaged gay guy in the mid-1980s in New York and somehow have never breathed the words “AIDS.” The Walt storyline has been handled really well otherwise but the fact that the show is set at the height of panic over AIDS and NO ONE has mentioned it even ONCE in conjunction with Walt’s discovery of his sexuality and his first tentative attempts to date is mind-blowing.  Apparently in the world of the show, if chronologically accurate aspects of the show’s setting are too touchy, they’ll just pretend they don’t exist.  Come to think of it, that’s pretty much exactly the approach of the American government to AIDS when it was first devastating hundreds of gay men in America, particularly in big cities with significant gay populations like San Francisco and… wait, what was that other one? Oh right: NEW. YORK.  Shame on this show and its creators for this Pollyana historical revisionism.

Shocking Unprecented Double Uncancellation Award: AMC’s The Killing

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of a show being uncancelled twice. Sure, JerichoDrop Dead Diva, and Unforgettable are all fairly recent examples of shows that were cancelled and then revived.  But while AMC revived The Killing for a third season after dumping it once they finally resolved the two-season Rosie Larsen murder mystery, they said “third time’s the charm” after a pretty compelling Season 3. Enter Netflix playing the part of the 2nd Phoenix to resurrect the series a second time for a fourth (and final) 6-episode season. This must all be related to series star Mireille Enos starring on a certain fairly awful zombie movie this year.

Best Character Who Should Be Gratingly Annoying But Is Instead Weirdly Engaging: Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) on Nashville

I have to give Hayden Panettiere credit for somehow taking a character who could be fairly accurately described as an incredibly bitchy Taylor Swift-type and turning her into a really compelling human being. Even though Juliette regularly makes some terrible life decisions, you find yourself really rooting for her.

Dexter Award for Making Us Root For a (Budding) Serial Killer: Bates Motel

Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates gets the bulk of the attention showered on Bates Motel, the delightfully creepy “prequel” about Norman Bates’ (from Hitchcock’s Psycho) teenagehood before he became a cross-dressing serial killer. That’s too bad because British import Freddie Highmore is really doing amazing work getting people to cheer for Norman and secretly hope the series will deviate from its source material and somehow let Norman be redeemed. And let’s not forget this show has pretty much the hottest set of (half-)brothers since… well, a while. (HELLO, Max Thieriot!)

Best Description of a Character by the Actor Portraying That Character: Sarah Shahi on Shaw, Person of Interest

“If James Bond and Sarah Connor had a kid, Shaw would kick its ass.” And she is totally right.

And that’s the very ecletic set of my “reviews.” Did I miss anything significant? Do you have alternate recipients? Hit the comments and let me know!

Meanwhile, have a happy and fun New Year’s Eve; wishing you a fun and fulfilling 2014!