Toronto After Dark 2014: Zombeavers Review!

You already know if you're going to watch Zombeavers. There's probably nothing I could write here, no revelatory tidbit of information, that would either encourage or discourage you from watching badly-on-purpose assembled beaver puppets viciously tear apart every piece of wood and flesh onscreen.

The setup is the same as you've seen a million times before. Mary (Rachel Melvin) arranges a girls weekend with the shit-disturbing Zoe and naive Jenn (Lexi Atkins) at a remote lakeside cabin, which is soon interrupted by boyfriends Tommy (Jake Weary), the effusive Buck (Peter Gilroy) and Jenn’s recent ex Sam (Hutch Dano). We’re also introduced to several quirky locals along the way. I'd elaborate but I don't think it's a spoiler to say that getting too attached to any of them is unwise in a movie about rampaging beavers.

The origin story of the crazed rodents is razor-thin, and as one would expect, is partly the fault of John Mayer (yes, that John Mayer in a cameo role). It's secondary to the point though, which is that these beavers are dangerous, completely relentless, and even cunning to a hilarious degree. Yes, these buck-toothed bastards are smart. Smarter than most horror villains, actually.

I think what elevates Zombeavers above the Sharknados of the world is the fact that everyone looks like they’re having a great time on set and with the material given. There are points in the film where the actors, especially Palm, Dano, and Gilroy, seem to be fighting to one-up each other, as well as the beavers themselves, in chewing the most scenery. It gets excessive at times, but movies like this have no place for restraint and nuance.

Director Jordan Rubin is competent enough behind the camera and is very aware of what he's doing, and that's all you can really ask here. Ultimately, if you're ever going to watch a movie in which a group of teenagers is overrun by unkillable rabid beavers who communicate with each other sonically by slapping their tails, make it Zombeavers.


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Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: Housebound Review!

I've seen worse family photos

Though it's a feature of nearly every horror film out there, very few entries into the genre manage to balance comedy with genuine scares in a way that neither steps on the other's toes. In Gerard Johnstone’s debut feature Housebound, while the humour is certainly at the forefront of the film, the scares and the seemingly endless twists remain extremely effective and uncompromising. 

After a botched ATM robbery, Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is sentenced to house arrest, complete with electronic ankle bracelet to prevent her straying, at her childhood home with her mother (Rima Te Waita) and stepfather (Ross Harper). Before long, the brooding miscreant is plagued by strange, seemingly supernatural happenings on the property, leading to the revelation that her mother has long suspected that the house is haunted. What follows is a series of twists and turns as Kylie, her mother, and parole officer Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) attempt to unravel the truth.

The titular house is as much a character in Housebound as any of the people that inhabit and explore it. Simultaneously sprawling and confining, it evokes Wes Craven's The People Under The Stairs as it serves to completely disorient the viewer with its hidden rooms and passageways so that, in the third act, you never really know where the characters actually are in the labyrinthine house. It works on multiple levels as well, as it starts off displaying a few cluttered rooms to bring out Kylie's feeling of confinement to the small space, and then more of the layout is revealed to show Kylie's gradual understanding of the house's history and the horrific events that occurred there.

Though I have a few issues with the characters — the mother and Amos seem to vacillate between true believers in the paranormal and complete skeptics every other scene — Johnstone does a great job of keeping you guessing throughout the 100-minute running time with enough twists that Housebound seems a lot longer than it is (in a good way). As you can probably tell, I watch a lot of horror movies and movies in general, so there’s not much I haven't seen, but I can honestly say that I never knew what was coming next in this movie. By the time the final payoff comes (and boy does it pay off), you’re almost exhausted from the journey there.

A New Zealand horror-comedy may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you're looking for something to watch that’s just challenging enough while remaining light and fun, but Housebound definitely fits the bill. A welcome surprise and a great way to open After Dark 2014, and Gerard Johnstone is definitely a filmmaker to keep your eye on.


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Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.



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Toronto After Dark 2014: Suburban Gothic Review!

Peekaboo!

After an ambitious, shocking, mind-blowing debut with 2012’s Excision, most everyone that saw that film was salivating at what Richard Bates Jr would come up with next. Unfortunately, in what I assume was a reaction to the extreme nature of Excision, it was nearly impossible for Bates to obtain funding for a sophomore effort. Out of the depression associated with the closing doors he faced came Suburban Gothic, a film that attempts to make sense of the tortured artist unable to pursue his true calling. For many reasons, Suburban Gothic can easily be written off as a failure, a pastiche of quirkiness that attempts to draw from the Wes Anderson well too often, but it’s not entirely devoid of charm.

After the MBA his father demanded he obtain fails to land him a job, Raymond (Matthew Gray-Gubler) is forced to move back in with his parents (Ray Wise and Barbara Niven) and the town he thought he left behind. Raymond’s past as a picked-on fat kid whose secrets start with the ability to communicate with the dead and get stranger from there, is the central theme of Suburban Gothic and its unraveling is what drives the film. The horror is all in Raymond and his maybe love interest - we’re told this but there isn’t an ounce of chemistry between them - and their intent to cleanse their small town of a vengeful spectre.

Unfortunately none of the horror elements in this supposed horror-comedy are effective at all. There’s nothing that approaches scary here, and certainly nothing that’s as jarring or affecting as the stuff Bates put onscreen in Excision. Without this element, the comedy would have to compensate, and whether it does or not will probably divide people. Ray Wise is always good for a laugh whenever he’s in a scene (though his blatant racism gets a little out of hand for my tastes) and Gray-Gubler does a pretty good job of holding his own in his frequent sparring with Wise and the many other cameo characters he encounters (including a hilarious Jack Plotnick who I wish there was more of). Kat Dennings is, well, playing the single character she’s played in every film or show I’ve ever seen of hers. If you’re a Kat Dennings fan, that’s probably a positive. It’s not for me.

There is just so much thrown at the wall in Suburban Gothic, and there’s almost no way anyone could entirely love or hate it. For me, it’s almost exactly 50/50. I love the completely offbeat humour most of the time, and there’s a genuine quality to Gray-Gubler that’s endearing to me. That said, the horror aspect of the film is basically non-existent and forgettable, and large parts of the film, including many jokes, come across like someone wrote them on Ambien. People in Suburban Gothic seemingly just say the first things that pop into their heads, and that only sometimes reads as funny rather than simply quirky for its own sake. By the end of the film, the ‘whoa, random!’ element definitely wears thin.

If you told me that this was Bates first film and Excision was his second, it'd make a lot more sense to me. Excision is a polished, well-balanced, genuinely scary, important addition to horror.  Suburban Gothic is the exact opposite, but it shows glimmers of the genius that Bates debut had on full display. For that alone, I say it's worth 90 minutes of your time.


 
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Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: The ABC's of Death 2 Review!

With the anthology horror film having experienced a bit of a renaissance with the V/H/S films (now on its third installment), it’s not any coincidence that directors/curators Ant Timpson and Tim League have gone back to the well for a second iteration of their popular ABC’s Of Death anthology. It allows for a titanic slate of popular directors to showcase their work in one place, and in many ways speaks to an audience that has grown up with things like YouTube and Chatroulette, where tiny bursts of entertainment can be consumed and discarded with little consideration for long-term retention.

The major flaw, and in my opinion it is major, with ABC’s Of Death 2 is its sprawling, ill-conceived premise. As appealing as the idea of 26 horror shorts sounds (to a horror geek like me), it simply doesn’t make for a pleasant traditional movie experience simply due to its gigantic size. With no connecting theme for the shorts (beyond the trite ‘letter of the alphabet’ conceit), it reduces almost all of the works to either one-note jokes or incomprehensibly banal gross-out scenes.

This makes me wonder exactly who or what situation this anthology is for. Sitting in a theatre and watching the pieces unfold at a clip, there’s almost no way you can retain all 26 shorts after the credits roll. Traditional anthologies cap off at around four to five shorts, which seems to be the sweet spot in terms of balancing a varied slate of ideas and direction with enough length for each film (and the viewer) to breathe. It seems to me that the best way to consume the ABC’s films is to watch them either at home, with the benefit of a pause button so you can watch a few segments at a time, or have them running in the background of your Halloween party where guests can drift in and out. Long attention spans are not welcome here.

All of this is not to say that ABC’s 2 is absent of quality. There’s some outstanding talent here and their submitted segments truly make you want more time than they’re given. The Soska Twins (American Mary, See No Evil 2) turn in the gleefully grotesque T is For Torture Porn which skillfully upends the Hollywood casting couch trope, and the crown jewel of the anthology is X is For Xylophone by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (Inside, Livid) which is a moody, haunting little piece. Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice)’s U is For Utopia and Steven Kostanski (Manborg, Father’s Day)’s W is For Wish are also major standouts.

Again, though, the problem with ABC’s 2 is that the pieces I’ve named make up less than a fifth of the shorts on offer, and are not only buried by worse segments but are also backloaded towards the end of the film when almost any viewer will be burnt out. Other anthologies are not hamstrung by the need to have 26 films, many of which are terrible jokes (Alejandro Brugues’ E is For Equilibrium is little more than an unfunny ‘women, am I right?’ flop) fly by the audience over the course of two hours and they are better for it.

While I realize that the alphabet concept is the hook for ABC’s of Death 2, I wish that Timpson and League had, perhaps, chosen a word to spell out with the short films to curb the sheer number of stories that are thrown at you. It’d certainly prevent the overall piece from becoming Tired, Emotionless, Direction-free, Ill-conceived, Overwrought, Underwhelming, and Silly.


 
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Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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Doctor Who's Adrenaline Junky Time Travel Addicts

[Spoilers up to "Mummy On The Orient Express", the eighth episode of Season Eight.]

Recently, I've been re-watching Season Four. I just got to the bit where Martha comes back, so that for a few brief episodes both she and Donna are travelling together on the TARDIS. Those two stories — the ones with the Sontaran invasion and the Doctor's cloned daughter — are full of interesting parallels to the current season. There's all sorts of soldier stuff going on: the Doctor clearly hates the military, but he learns that he's helped drive Martha to join UNIT and is forced to confront his own soldierly instincts in the mirror of his cloned solider daughter.

But the thing that really struck me, having just watched "Mummy On The Orient Express", was the relationship between the two companions. The conversations they have. Martha has decided that she's better off without time travel; she's trying to lead a relatively normal life with her fiancee instead. ("Never mind the universe," as she puts it. "I've got a great big world of my own now!") And as you might expect, she's worried about the new companion right from the very beginning of their very first episode together. One of the first things she does when she calls the Doctor back to Earth is to ask Donna whether she's telling her own family the truth about her adventures. After all, Martha lied to her loved ones and it almost got them killed by the Master. She warns Donna about keeping secrets. And about the dark side of life with the Doctor. "He's wonderful," Martha tells her. "He's brilliant. But he's like fire. Stand too close and people get burnt." Donna ignored her warning. And it didn't end well.

I couldn't help but think of Clara Oswald during that conversation. Over the last few weeks, she's been faced with the same kind of choices. Last week, after feeling betrayed and abandoned by the Doctor during all that baby-moon-space-dragon-egg business, it looked like she was going to pick Martha's path: give up time travel in favour of a life with the man she loves. But now, just one week later, she's thrown it all out the window. Life on the TARDIS is just too amazing. There are mummy mysteries to be solved. Space trains to save. And this time around, the Doctor was... well... at least a little bit less of a jerk. So, instead of leaving the TARDIS behind, Clara makes the same decision Martha lived to regret — the one Donna never got the chance to regret: she lies to her loved ones. She lies to Danny about the Doctor. And to the Doctor about Danny. 

Clara's been lying a lot this season. And there have been plenty of signs that her adventures on the TARDIS have warped her sense of right and wrong. As Perkins the engineer suggested this week, "That kind of job could change a man." In "Time Heist," Psi even called her out on it.

Rose-coloured glasses skies
The Doctor seems more than okay with that: he seems to be actively trying to change her. As Chris Lough points out in his review of this week's episode: "Over the course of the season... he continually places her in positions that will make her just like him." This is two weeks in a row now that he has forced her to make the same kind of impossible decision he's usually forced to make. Last week, it was the moon. This week, it was lying to Maisie about her chances of survival. On both occasions, Clara has made the same decision the Doctor would. She saved the moon dragon even though it meant ignoring the democratic will of the planet. Now, she lies and manipulates Maisie because she believes it's for the greater good. She's not just the Doctor's companion anymore. As she says herself, she's been turned into his accomplice.

Last week, that was enough to drive her into a rage. This week, she only briefly gets upset. The rage passes quickly. She changes her mind. Makes excuses. And maybe worst of all: she lies to herself. "As long as you get me home safe and on time," she tells the Doctor. But she knows perfectly well that neither one of those things is guaranteed. She's smart enough to acknowledge what's happened: she's addicted to time travel, to the Doctor, to their adventures together. But that's only the first step. She still can't help herself. And she's willing to lie to Danny in order to get her next fix.

Thing is, that lifestyle — the adventure, the danger, the making of life and death decisions on behalf of other people just like you do in the military — takes a toll. There are consequences. We've seen it over and over again. In Danny Pink, who can't hold back his tears. In Journey Blue, who lost her brother. In Robin Hood, separated from the love of his life. In Orson Pink, stuck at the end of the universe. In the captain of the Orient Express, who suffers from PTSD. In the mummy solider, who keeps fighting and fighting even though its body is decaying into tatters. And in another ancient warrior, too: the Doctor, who frees the exhausted mummy just like he freed the exhausted minotaur in "The God Complex", but who still carries on himself, as immortal as they were, and even more addicted to it all than Clara is.

Martha managed to break away in time to escape relatively unscathed. But she's the only companion who has pulled off that feat since the show came back in 2005. Donna had her memories wiped. Rose and Amy and Rory are all exiled. Even Victorian Clara fell to her death. Heck, so did Kyle Minogue.

So, as we draw ever closer to the end of Clara's time aboard TARDIS, I'll have Martha's warning in mind:

 "People get burnt."


Other thoughts:

- All of this has been enough to remind some people of the Seventh Doctor. He was secretly in the process of preparing his companion, Ace, to join the Time Lord Academy before the show got cancelled in 1989. That storyline was later picked up in the Big Finish audio plays.

- I do wonder how differently Clara would be feeling if Maisie actually had died. Would she still be travelling with the Doctor then?

- This week, a reference to the Bechdel test. The show even manages to pass the test — Clara and Maisie do talk about things other than the Doctor while they're trapped. It's about time the show began to address some of these issues in the Moffat era. Though we're still a far cry from actually, you know, like hiring some women writers or something.

- On the Verity! podcast this week, Kat Griffiths nailed her description of the funny walk Capaldi has been doing as the Doctor: "overconfident duck."

- The Excelsior Life Extender the grandmother was using as a chair is like the thing inside the mummy is like the Doctor having a whole new regeneration cycle that might last forever for all he knows.

- Comedian Frank Skinner, who played Perkins the engineer, is a HUGE fan of Doctor Who. When they called to ask him to read for the part, he was even in the middle of watching episode three of "The Sensorites" from the show's very first season. He's also got a TARDIS ringtone and a big cardboard cut-out of a Dalek.

- Great references to older episodes this week, like the jelly babies, the argument the Twelfth Doctor seems to have with the Fourth Doctor talking aloud to himself, "are you my mummy?",  plus of course, the callback to the phonecall the Eleventh Doctor received at the end of Season Five, inviting him to the train.

- According to the BBC's Fact File: "Clara’s incoming call alert image for the Doctor appears to be a picture of a stick insect with a top hat! This brings to mind her words in Listen, when she tells the Time Lord, 'People don’t need to be scared by a grey-haired stick insect, but here you are. Sit down, shut up!'"

- The BBC put together a Who-themed video for Foxes' cover of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now", which was featured in the episode. It includes super-brief clips from other episodes, including the ones we haven't seen yet:


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Read our previous recap: "Doctor Who's Elitist Jerk of a Time Lord" here.

This post posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at adam@littleredumbrella.com.


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Doctor Who's Elitist Jerk of a Time Lord

[Spoilers up to "The Caretaker" and "Kill The Moon", the sixth and seventh episodes of Season Eight.]

I keep thinking about "Deep Breath." Specifically, about that speech the Doctor gives to the Half-Face Man. The one about how precious every individual life is. "I prefer it down there," he tells the clockwork android as they float above London in a hot air balloon made of skin (ew). "Everything is huge. Everything is so important. Every detail, every moment. Every life clung to."

It's a belief we've heard the Doctor repeat over and over again. But he doesn't always act as if he actually see things that way — certainly not since his most recent regeneration. The Twelfth Doctor follows up that speech by pushing the Half-Face Man out of the balloon to his death — or, at the very least, by convincing him to jump — despite having called him "more human... than machine." He's completed unfazed by the killing of the soldier near the beginning of "Into The Dalek". And he seems completely unconcerned with the details of ordinary human lives. This Doctor, even more than his previous incarnations, seems to be thoroughly exasperated by humans. Even Clara seems to baffle him. He's not interested in their petty concerns — like, oh, say, feelings. He's focused on the big picture. The Greater Good. He is, after all, a Time Lord: he saves entire species, entire planets, all of space and time.

We see this big picture thinking in "The Caretaker." It's the Doctor, it seems, who is responsible for putting the school in danger in the first place. The Skovox Blitzer was attracted by all the artron energy — a byproduct of time travel; it's there because of the Doctor's longstanding connection to the school. But instead of trying to lure the super-deadly robot away from all those children, the Doctor decides to lure it closer instead. He comes up with a plan to quite literally turn the school into a battlefield. He places time mines all over the place. Then, he gets the killer robot to come inside the school, where he opens a big, dangerous time vortex in the middle of the assembly hall. It is at night, so the children, hopefully, won't be around. But this is clearly a Time Lord willing to take risks with other people's lives. Of course, we've seen that before time and time again.

It's a plan so morally iffy that the Doctor tries to hide it from Clara. She, after all, has a duty of care when it comes to the children of the Coal Hill School. And she also has a duty to care for the Doctor — in the "she cares so I don't have to" sense. (He might be the janitor, but it's Clara who is the real caretaker here: both for the school and for the Doctor.) Clara, as she reminds him herself, is there to be his conscience. But a conscience might get in the way when you're trying to lure a killer robot into what is supposed to be a safe environment for children.

The Doctor is okay with his own risky plans because he's convinced that what he's doing is for the greater good. It might be dangerous and it might put people at risk. But even if a few people do accidentally die during his adventures, he's sure he will save lives in the long run. It's the same kind of brutal math that military commanders have to do all the time. And on this occasion, just like a General, the Doctor doesn't want his subordinates questioning his decisions.

The Skovox Blitzer
"The Caretaker" drives the military parallel home. It's there during the big showdown with Danny in the TARDIS and even in the way the Doctor finally defeats the Blitzer: by pretending to be its General. But this is far from the first time the theme has come up on the show. We know the word "doctor" means "warrior" on some planets. He's had a whole secret War Doctor incarnation. He spent hundreds of years fighting on Trenzalore. He turned Martha into a soldier. And as Rory angrily points out, the Doctor regularly convinces people to put themselves in danger and to sacrifice themselves to his causes.

The Twelfth Doctor might hate soldiers much more passionately than his past incarnations — a reaction, we're left to assume, to his recent war-soaked past — but he is, himself, no stranger to the battlefield. He might have avoided becoming a soldier as a young boy in that barn all those centuries ago, but only by joining the Academy and becoming a Time Lord instead. He still fights in plenty of battles. And Danny is right, it's there in the name: the Doctor does have all the baggage of the officer class. He has joined the aristocracy of the universe. Is there anyone in all of space and time with more privilege than a white, male Time Lord?

"It’s one of the show's most uncomfortable underpinnings," Emily Asher-Perrin wrote in her review of "Kill The Moon", "the fact that the Doctor always appears to be a white man, and spends his days flouncing about making galactic choices without anyone's say-so but his own. It's distinctly Imperialistic."

Doctor Who has never shied away from discussing questions of imperialism. The series has been deeply concerned with those questions ever since it was created — in the wake of the Suez Crisis and the waning days of the British Empire. The Doctor's attitude has a lot in common with invaders who like to think they're being benevolent: making huge decisions on behalf of the people they're claiming to help, killing plenty of them in the process. As Lynne M. Thomas pointed out on the Verity! podcast last week, "If you're looking at the character of the Doctor from the perspective of a conquered people, he's terrifying. He turns up and stuff is going to blow up good!" Which doesn't sound entirely unlike the coalitions of nations willing to bomb, oh, say, Iraq in the name of democracy. There will be collateral damage, sure, but it's all for the Greater Good...

"I think the collateral damage is another key thing for this season," Thomas continued, "that we're seeing over and over and over again. And I think this is the season where the Doctor is being forced to actually confront his collateral damage."

The First Doctor
This does seem like a particularly important moment for the old Time Lord. At the beginning of this whole new regeneration cycle, in the wake of his revisiting the Time War in "The Day of the Doctor" and the hundreds of years he spent fighting at Christmas, he's been trying to figure out exactly who he is. As Alisdair Wilkins puts it in his review of "The Caretaker", the Doctor is having "a newfound crisis of conscience, as he can't be entirely sure that his appearance as a good, peaceful man was just as much of an affectation as the pin-striped suit or the bowtie." The First Doctor, after all, was an abrasive and more violent man — he was about to commit murder in his very first story until his companion stopped him. It was his travel with human companions that softened him and led him to become the much more charming Second Doctor. So who is he, really, behind the storybook hero facade? Is he really a good man?

The answers so far haven not been reassuring. The Twelfth Doctor is, frankly, a jerk. And without all that flirting and gallantry and spinning around the TARDIS console like the eccentric owner of a chocolate factory, it's easier to see all his other flaws, too. He's insulting. Arrogant. Manipulative. And he is too often oblivious to the consequences of his actions — whether it's accidentally turning young Danny Pink into a solider or telling Courtney Woods she's not special or getting a young woman from the Gamma Forests to join the army just for the chance to meet him...

But it is, in the wake of all that bloodshed, the military criticism that seems to hit closest to home. The Doctor is fucking pissed when Danny confronts him about it in the TARDIS. And in "Kill The Moon," as Asher-Perrin points out, "the Doctor is clearly trying to prove Danny Pink wrong."

So he makes a big show of changing his ways. After centuries of making decisions on behalf of the people of the Earth, he leaves this one important choice about the giant moon dragon creature to the Earthlings for a change. He withdraws and lets the humans decide. He even seems to mayyybe subvert his own long history of misogyny by leaving it up to two women and a girl. "Womankind," as he chooses to put it.

But he's missed the point. For one thing, it's not entirely clear how much he really is leaving it up to the humans. He — just like any empire installing a puppet government — has handpicked the people who get to make the choice. Two of the "deciders" wouldn't have even been there if it weren't for him: the same two who agree with him. Clara's own views have been deeply influenced by her time on the TARDIS. The Time Lord has changed her. And as her fellow bank robber, Psi, pointed out in "Time Heist", she may be a little too willing to see things from the Doctor's perspective.

Angry Clara Oswald
Clara does, at first, try her best to make the decision about the moon a democratic one — even if the only people who get a vote are those who control the power grid in the Western hemisphere. But then she overrules even that modest attempt at democracy. This time, it's the not the Doctor who makes a big decision about the Earth despite the wishes of its citizens. But it is his disciple.

In the end, we're left wondering just how much of a puppet Clara has been. And more importantly, so is she. The Doctor has withheld information, manipulated his supposed friend, tricked her into a dangerous situation filled with heavy responsibility. And he did the same thing to one of her students, too. Of course, that's not new. It's the same way the Doctor has been behaving ever since Ian and Barbara first stepped on board the TARDIS in 1963. The big picture is what matters. The details — like peoples' feelings and trust and friendship — elude him. But this time, during one of the most memorable and unsettling scenes in the entire history of the show, Clara calls him on it.

Madame Vastra was right in "Deep Breath": the Doctor has lifted the veil. But what it revealed is an elitist jerk of a Time Lord. You're damn right Clara is judging him. And the rest of us are too. But with Clara's confrontation if feels like we might have finally reached a turning point. For the first time this season, it feels as if there might actually be a light at the end of the Twelfth Doctor's asshole.


Other thoughts about "The Caretaker" and "Kill The Moon":

- I didn't delve into the strange abortion stuff going on in "Kill The Moon" — in part because I'm still not really sure what to make of it — but Whovian Feminism has a very interesting post about it. And they discussed it on the Verity! podcast this week as well.

- Dear god the science and related logic in "Kill The Moon" is absolutely pitiful. The moon isn't 100 million years old, it's 4.5 billion. Courtney floats but the others nearby don't? Why does she drop back to the ground the moment she touches the yo-yo? Those "bacteria" are supposed single-celled? They spin webs? The moon isn't made of rock? It just harmlessly disintegrates? The giant moon dragon creature laid an egg bigger than itself? I mean, I know Doctor Who isn't Cosmos but that's a whole lot ridiculous for one episode.

- The quotation on the board in Clara's classroom at the end of "Kill The Moon" is from Charles Dickens' David Copperfield: "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."

- The Brigadier retired from UNIT and became a maths teacher. Just like Danny Pink.

- My favourite moment in "The Caretaker": when the Doctor whistles Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall". My favourite moment in "Kill The Moon": the Doctor's joy when he reveals the moon is an egg.

- Another good point about "Kill The Moon" from Alisdair Wilkins: "consider the implication of that line: If abandoning Clara was a sign of respect, what does that mean for every instance in which he stays to help?"

- And Wilkins' thoughts on the recipe for the Twelfth Doctor: "a fascinating mix of the irascible, uncertain morality of the 1st Doctor, the imperious authoritarianism of the 3rd Doctor, the unknowable, anarchic alien of the 4th Doctor, the ego and the remoteness of the 6th Doctor, and the general prickliness of the 9th Doctor."

- Clara twists herself in knots worrying about overruling the choice of the planet. The Doctor wouldn't at all.

- I'm not really trusting Danny Pink right now. He strikes me as pretty condescending to Clara. And while he has that line in "The Caretaker" — "It's funny, you only really know what someone thinks of you when you know what lies they’ve told you." — he certainly doesn't seem to be telling her the whole truth about himself.

- "Kill The Moon" had lots of little references to classic episodes. The BBC's Fact File lists them. The most relevant to my own thoughts: the Doctor's line about the Earth not being his home, which is the same thing he told Sarah-Jane in "The Pyramids of Mars": "The Earth isn't my home, Sarah. I’m a Time Lord… I walk in eternity."

- I'm intrigued by this business of Courtney Woods preferring to call Clara "Miss." Which makes sense, of course. But it also highlights a way in which their student-teacher relationship parallels the Doctor-companion relationship. He has his companions call him "The Doctor"; they're never equal enough to have them call him by his real name either.

- We're still getting lots of mirrors this season, fitting the theme of the Doctor doing some self-examination

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This post posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at adam@littleredumbrella.com.


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The Hierarchy of Losers, Luck, and Our Inconvenient Reality by Melissa Hughes

I’ve been thinking about a man I encountered yesterday: a person I had an opportunity to meet, but chose to pass by. He was standing on the corner of Bay and Wellington, his coat in tatters, his toes poking out of holes in his shoes. His shoulders shook almost rhythmically, and he approached me, saying, “excuse me, miss—”

There is a thing people do where they look you in the eye  —  you’ve made that important, human contact  —  and yet you refuse to properly return their gaze. I did that to him, stepping around him as he approached, as one would dart around a taxi.

Later, I sat in my living room, with its hardwood floors and high ceilings and its winking, wide-eyed view of the lake, and I thought about a thing from years ago, the kind of recollection that can enter a clearing in your mind when you’re troubled by your own behaviour.

I was at a cocktail party in Rosedale, one of these events I’m forced to attend from time to time, that make me want to draw a circle around myself with chalk and sit in in it, reading a book and speaking to no one (this worked for me in high school. Not so much, lately).

Of course, I was asked what I do for a living. As my answer was clearly insufficient, he pressed, “But what do you want to do?” “Well, I want to help people,” I said, simply. He leaned in with a quizzical look, as if pondering some math problem, or how to properly carve a ham (in fact, he was looking down my dress). “Well,” he smiled. “I never thought of helping anyone.”

I have this problem with people. Sometimes I laugh in their faces. I have my methods of suppression: a strategically placed cough, the feigning of a sudden grimace of pain. To be clear, I do not laugh at stupid people, or ugly people, or those who are guilty of dull conformity. However, I have no problem pointing and laughing at someone who is unkind. I suppose it’s an unfair bias. People get mean the same way they get ugly; they’re born with it, or it develops over time from bad thoughts and generalized neglect. It’s fashioned out of emotional laziness, or, its opposite: overwrought ideas about themselves and their place in the order of the universe.

Let me be clear: there is not one fuck I give about a person’s social status. It’s bullshit, and, worse still, it is boring  a simple mechanism of sorting; it means we’re likely to be surrounded with those who are only outwardly like us, who look like us and sound like us and agree with our choices no matter how mediocre they are. And, so, it comes to pass that the first question you’re asked by a potential acquaintance is, “What do you do [to make money]?” (I’ve decided this is the white collar conversational equivalent of smoking.)

Social status is meaningless because a large component of life is luck. We can only transcend some circumstances. Hard work and perseverance won’t beat back mental or physical illness or profound personal trauma. You can go to war for yourself and your place in the world with all your might  —  and lose. Failure is always an option, and our society promotes a comfortable hierarchy of losers: our athletes are the easiest example. He gave it his all. He tried his best. He made $10 million last year, but let’s not judge his inability to win all too harshly.

The losers down at the bottom of the rope  —  those who have clearly been rattled by some devastating misfortune, the kind that leaves you passed out in a pool of your own urine with commuters stepping around you  —  they’re the ones who should have tried harder.

Chances are, they’ve also been through something most of us can’t begin to comprehend. And that something —  the mere fact of having survived  —  might be the opposite of the kind of life experiences that churn out average people destined for mediocrity. They have a voice  — something to contribute to the human conversation  —  and, yet, they are unseen and unheard. Voiceless.

I walked away from the fellow on Bay Street because the conversation was inconvenient. I was in a rush. I felt overwhelmed by my own small tragedies. His very existence was an annoyance to me.

But the most fragile and irretrievable equation in life is other people. They’re the thing we cannot replicate, the inconvenient reality. Life is cruel, and rarely fair. If we stop and look straight at it, we face a brutal and terrifying fact: all that separates us is often as slight as one terrible turn of luck.

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Melissa Hughes is a Toronto-based writer whose freelance work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Ottawa Citizen, and on CBC radio. She has worked as a reporter for the London Free Press and the Barrie Examiner. You can read all of her posts here, follow her on Twitter @meliss_hughes, and follow her Twitter novel in progress @hrtbleed.

 This post originally appeared on Medium.

Photo: The Toronto-Dominion Centre (Adam Bunch)


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Blue Jays Triple Play Techno by DJ Flex Rock

It was one of the most infamous plays in all of Blue Jays history. It happened during Game Three of the 1992 World Series. The fourth inning. A man on first and second and nobody out. Halle Berry's fiancee — Atlanta outfielder David Justice — comes to the plate. He hits a long, deep fly ball to centrefield. Blue Jays centrefielder Devon White races back to make a spectacular catch as he crashes up against the wall. That's the first out.

Then, the runners get confused — Terry Pendleton accidentally runs past his teammate, "Neon" Deion Sanders, which means that Pendleton is out too. That's two down.

Now the ball is thrown back to the infield and comes to the Blue Jays' gloriously mulleted third baseman, Kelly Gruber. He chases Sanders — a man so fast he also returns punts in the NFL — back toward second. Gruber dives, his glove outstretched, and tags Sanders on the back of the foot. Sanders is out. It's a triple play. It's only the second time that's ever happened in a World Series.  It's history.

But the umpire fucks it up. He calls Sanders safe. And more than 20 years later, Blue Jays fans still can't believe it.

So what better possible inspiration could you find for a three-song EP of electronic music? None. And that's exactly where DJ Flex Rock has found the theme for the three songs on his latest release. Each of the tracks is named after one of the Atlanta players who made an out on that play all the way back in the days when the first George Bush was still President and Boyz II Men were at the top of the charts.

DJ Flex Rock's Triple Play '92 EP is being exclusively debuted by The Little Red Umbrella. You can stream it or download it for free right here:




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Posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at adam@littleredumbrella.com.


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Things That Happened At The ArtsVote Mayoral Debate 2014

With a full third of the theatre blocked off for press and the candidates staffers, Cinema 1, the largest in Bell Lightbox, has never felt smaller. As this seemingly interminable municipal election cycle enters its final throes, ArtsVote's debate between the three front-runners in the race, as well as 'fringe' candidates Morgan Baskin and Ari Goldkind, manages to draw enough people to fill both Cinema 1 as well as Cinema 2, where the debate will be simulcast.

Damian Abraham isn't your typical moderator. As the lead singer of hardcore band Fucked Up and the most recent and sadly, the final host of Muchmusic's recently-cancelled rock/indie show The Wedge, Steve Paikin he ain't. Genial and self-deprecating while maintaining a steady focus on the issue at hand, even as Chow and Goldkind attempt to slyly steer the debate towards transit, Abraham deftly keeps control over his charges.

The stated topics are four-fold; the role of a mayor as an arts and culture champion on Council, the creation and maintenance of affordable, accessible arts spaces, sustainable arts funding year-over-year rather than short-term, unreliable injections, and the fostering of committed partners in culture both inside and outside of downtown. There are also some pre-selected questions, some of which are read out by 'all-stars' from the arts community, like Katie Stelmanis from the band Austra and Piers Handling, the programmer and CEO/director of TIFF. No questions from the audience at all.

As a format it's a little rigid and doesn't leave much room for the candidates to banter back and forth. While this means a lot less bickering, it also seems to result in candidates repeating themselves often, and lots of statements go unchallenged. Morgan Baskin, who was the strongest and most sincere candidate on display here, unleashed one of only two major barbs in the debate, pointing out that Doug Ford has voted against most of the arts funding-related motions that have crossed his desk. He laughs this off. We move on.

Ari Goldkind has a lot of thoughtful points and is easily the most animated of the candidates, but a lot of his energy and time is spent exchanging with Abraham and, as mentioned, tried on at least two occasions (unsuccessfully) to bring up transit in an accessibility context and to put a green deck on top of the Gardiner. Both are ideas I'd personally support but are misplaced in a debate about the arts. That said, his position is otherwise fairly clear: the government has a role in arts-related policy but it should take the lead from the community and profit shouldn't be the only consideration. This, of course, plays very well with the crowd. 

Baskin is the most thoughtful and passionate candidate at this debate. Possibly the biggest takeaway from her answers and statements is that she feels that art should be injected into the small places, and be considered in all or at least most of the design decisions within the city. She also hammers Doug's constant (and it is constant) references to the Austin City Limits Festival that he, Mayor Rob, Gary Crawford, and Michael Thompson attended last year. Her contention is that Toronto should be crafting its own cultural identity rather than lifting it from Austin, which is a great line and hit home for a lot of the audience — many of whom were, of course, local cultural creators and curators.

Doug Ford is uncharacteristically subdued, and has clearly been coached for this outing. He relies heavily on two points: the aforementioned trip to Austin City Limits with his brother and several councillors, and a mural he worked on with some local kids. The latter is talked about when Ford is asked about his 'most transformative experience with art' and while that answer is pandering and thin, it's better than anyone can expect from Doug at this point. The bar, folks, is pretty low.

John Tory and Olivia Chow both come out, naturally, as strong supporters of the arts and culture, and both provide specific ways in which funds can be allocated to these areas. There's not a ton of disagreement on these points and both advocate for stable, year-over-year funding and attainable, realistic targets. Tory has a neat-sounding idea about beautifying vacant storefronts and turning them into arts spaces. Chow calls on her experience with Artscape as well as promoting the awesome Remix Project.

And then there's the part you've already heard about. It plays out like the climax of Stephen King's prom-com gone wrong, Carrie. The bucket of blood teeters above Carrie's head, and there's a minute before it drops where you can't look away. Olivia Chow starts talking about her personal experience as an artist, and you think "hey, that's great, that’s the one thing she brings to the table here that no one else does."

Then the bucket drops.






Chow reaches into a folder and extracts a crude rendering of Tory's admittedly-flawed transit plan. The crowd groans. That other sound you hear? The faint hiss? That's Chow's campaign deflating a little bit. She is, sadly, a candidate in desperation mode and clearly throwing anything at the wall she thinks will stick. As someone who walked into Cinema 1 with Chow as my first choice, it's more than a little disappointing. Chow's latest poll numbers — keeping in mind that we're still a month away from the election itself — seem to reflect a downward trend that this progressive finds disheartening.

However, Chow's jab at Smarttrack is a valid point and should be the central issue for this campaign. We have seen how the ill-thought-out haphazard election year transit plan can leave us in stasis we can't afford, and throwing money down a hole created by yet another scheme will necessarily take needed funds from things like the arts. However, this was a mistimed stunt that shows a complete misreading of the crowd in attendance.

On a more positive note, Baskin emerged from this debate as — while not a front-runner in this particular election cycle — someone who should definitely be watched in the next few years, as a spot on Council and possibly the mayor's office is likely in the cards. She's articulate, extremely knowledgeable, and tremendously confident. If Baskin is the future of City Council and municipal politics, well, I think we'll be okay, Toronto.


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Credit to @ivortossell, @graphicmatt, and @goldsbie for their tweets.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.
 

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"Time Heist" & The Ever-Changing Face of Doctor Who

[Spoilers for "Time Heist", the fifth episode of Season Eight.]

A caper! Last week, for the first time in its 51 years, Doctor Who tackled a heist story. And for 45 minutes, the show fully embraced the genre. There was the team of bank robbers with unique skills. The un-break-in-to-able vault. The surprise twists. Even a flashback at the end to fill in all the blanks. And the direction by Douglas Mackinnon — who was also behind the viewfinder for "Listen" — matched the script step for step. There was badass slow motion, a heisty soundtrack, plus lots of wipes and other fancy "Hustle"-style cuts.

Of course, that's one of the show's most famous strengths. The premise allows the writers to tackle pretty much any story they want in any genre they want. In this half-season alone, we've seen a Fantastic Voyage-esque quest in miniature and the Robin Hood romp of "Robot of Sherwood". And over the course of the last half century, we've seen everything from horror to comedy, from historical dramas to futuristic space missions, from murder mysteries to action adventures... and on and on and on. While most television programs are naturally forced to maintain one consistent genre for their entire run, Doctor Who adapts itself to whatever story it happens to be telling that week.

A little, you might say, like Saibra in "Time Heist" — whose face changes to match the face of anyone she touches. Or even the Doctor himself — whose face has changed so many times over the years. And who, this week, adopted yet another facade: the mysterious Architect.

The first half of this season has been all about that kind of change. The Doctor's most recent regeneration was easily one of his most dramatic. And the show has been exploring the contrast between this abrasive Twelfth Doctor and the flirty faces who preceded him. Almost every episode of Season Eight has been thematically centered on the idea of the Doctor trying to figure out exactly who he is. As he begins an entire new regeneration cycle, he's been learning which parts of his personality are the passing peculiarities of individual incarnations and which are the core elements that make him who he is.

Some of those answers haven't been pretty. At times, he's been not just grumpy, but downright unkind. Psi's accusation of professional detachment seems particularly biting given what we've seen so far this year. In "Into The Dalek", the Doctor is callous — unmoved by the death of the first soldier killed by the antibodies. Even worse than that, when Rusty The Dalek looks into the Time Lord's soul, what he finds there is genocidal rage.

But "Time Heist" finally showed us the other side of that equation. This was the Doctor we know and love. The fearless, problem-solving leader. The Time Lord wiling to risk his own life to save the lives of others. And this week, when it seemed like the people around him were dying in much the same way they did inside Rusty The Dalek, it turned out in the end that the Doctor had found a way to save them. Not only that, he also managed to get them the things they wanted most in the universe. 

Most heart-warming of all, we see what the Doctor himself wanted out of the heist: to save the Teller and the Teller's mate. It seems the thing our favourite Time Lord wants most in the universe is to save a species. To do good. To be a good man. It was a welcome reminder in an unsettling season: while the show might race from genre to genre and the Doctor's face might transform from a goofy youngster into a stern and greying man with scary eyebrows, there are still some things that haven't changed at all. 


Other thoughts:

- My favourite moment of the episode: while the dashing Doctors ran all over the place, the Twelfth runs out of breath and gets his companions to stop running.

- Um, while he wiped his own memories of the plan for the bank heist, isn't the Doctor full of lots and lots of guilt about other stuff? You would think that might come up.

- Psi is called "half-computer", so this season's robot theme seems to be continuing.

- Lots of memory-themed stuff this week, which was been a frequent feature of the Moffat era. In fact, I wrote a whole post about it after the Christmas special.

- I'm ever building an impregnable space bank, please remind me not to include lots of convenient, human-sized vents.
- "She hates her own clones," they say of Madame Karabraxos. Which echoes the Doctor's attitude toward himself whenever he meets another one of his own incarnations. And his attitude toward the Architect, too.
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Read our next recap — "Doctor Who's Elitist Jerk of a Time Lord" — or our previous recap: "Doctor Who & The Monsters Under The Bed".

This post posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at adam@littleredumbrella.com.
 

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