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Killjoys negotiates an AI threesome in order to save a child’s life

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Killjoys airs Fridays at 10 p.m. E.T. on Space. Photo courtesy Bell Media
Killjoys airs Fridays at 10 p.m. E.T. on Space. Photo courtesy Bell Media

Spoilers for Killjoys Season 4, Episode 5 – “Greening Pains,” follow.

It’s difficult to say that any one modern television episode is bad. The much more professional nature of modern tv (and the accompanying increased budgets) means that even a poor episode tends to be well-made, have passable acting and even a decent script. It’s the nature of a medium which has so rapidly advanced in quality and competency over the past two and a half decades. This is especially true when it comes to science fiction, where the usual frames of reference come from the mid-1990s to the 2000s due to the general lack of new sci-fi television offerings over the past decade. If compared to the filler episodes of something like Farscape or Babylon 5,Greening Pains” is a perfectly acceptable hour of television. However, it just doesn’t measure up to the standard Killjoys has set over the past three seasons.

The main plot to the episode is simple: D’avin’s child is rapidly aging due to his Hullen genetics and Team Awesome Force needs to find a way to stop it before it kills him. This requires kidnapping a bio-weapons expert from everyone’s favourite cyberpunk techno-goth strip-club, Utopia. Things go slightly south when it turns out that the expert has uploaded his mind into a computer core, but the team manages to “hack” (even by tv standards it’s a bit hokey) him into a PDA and partner him up with Lucy in order to develop the cure. Along the way D’avin gets incredibly high through combat stims, while Zeph and Pip apparently get off on watching Lucy and John negotiate something uncomfortably close to an AI threesome/cuckolding scenario (Lucy ends up liking it a lot more than she thought she would).

The problem is that there is very little actual tension this time around. D’avin is remarkably casual for a man facing the impending death of his child and the show’s cutting away to Zeph’s increasingly desperate attempts at keeping the child alive doesn’t really fix this. In part, a lot of this comes down to a sense of wearying inevitability. Babies are pretty limiting, fictionally speaking. They can look cute and make parents look cute and goofy, but outside of that? Not much. The episode comes off as a painfully apparent tool to get D’avin’s child to a point where the show can do something with him, and the audience is essentially along for the ride. Is it better to have an in-universe explanation for things rather than the normal method of sending the character away for a season to get aged up? Yes. Still, it could have felt less perfunctory.

If anything, it’s the side characters who are the real stars of this episode, despite it being the most trio-focused (D’avin, Dutch and Johnny) of the season. Pip and Zeph get a few moments that flesh out their growing relationship, and there are signs that Pip is growing on her. Zeph’s trust in Pip speaks volumes for someone who tries to remain as emotionally distant as possible. More to the point, it also shows a bit of why she might be so distant due to her roots in a strongly patriarchal culture where she was expected to be a womb and nothing more. We see some of the same at work between Pree and Gared as well, with Pree jokingly lamenting that the big man was getting him to settle down after a life of debauchery and crime. Considering the paucity of gay relationships on tv, it’s always nice to see the show give the two some air time.

Speaking of Gared, this episode finds him partnering up with Fancy to track down child thieves on Westerley. Fancy seems to have reverted back to his older, jerkier state, leaving Gared to be the face of the operation. There are some nice touches here, with Gared continuing to show a lot of warmth and the thieves disguising themselves as creatures from Westerlyn folklore. Killjoys has always been good at worldbuilding, and it gives Westerlyn culture a real richness. It turns out that the Hullen were behind the kidnappings as part of their search for D’avin and Anneela’s kid, and now Gared has been taken too. This felt like the tensest part of the episode and it is a plotline that I look forward to seeing more of. Last season had the ice cold Delle Seyah as the main audience viewpoint into the Hullen, so Gared will be a refreshing change of pace, especially when compared to the even more alien forces of the Lady.

Meanwhile, things at the armada have gone pear-shaped as the Lady seems to have asserted control over the drones there and called them back to her own forces. The drone Zeph mind-jacked appears to have joined the Killjoy side, saving Turin’s life as he faced down the newly-awakened drones. The combination of Turin’s sarcastic jerk-ness and the drone’s sheer earnestness was hilarious, and hopefully a dynamic the show continues.

Killjoys Season 4 Episode 5 - Greening Pains. Photo courtesy Bell Media

Killjoys Season 4 Episode 5 – Greening Pains. Photo courtesy Bell Media

The show ends with three real scenes which appear to set the table for the main plot of the season moving forward. First, the Lady finally acts through Pip, mind controlling him into kidnapping D’avin’s now-teenaged son. It’s been pretty clear what happened to him since episode two, so it’s nice to see the show finally fire Chekhov’s Gun. The fact that Zeph is the first person to show trust in Pip, knowing that something must be off, is refreshing. The past few episodes have shown her to be a bit dismissive towards him, but she’s also been the only one to see what lies beneath his seemingly immature façade of a slimy criminal.

The second scene is Johnny’s confrontation with Delle Seyah, which in many ways encapsulates why this episode felt so disappointing. In my past two reviews I’ve stressed that the greatest strength of Killjoys is its emotional continuity. Even side conversations are often rich with implied callbacks to previous episodes, which plays a key role in how natural the relationships between the characters feel. It is fitting that it’s Johnny who is the person to finally tell Delle Seyah that she needs to make amends, to earn back the humanity she might have never had to begin with. But the scene is written in a painfully generic way. Johnny just tells her that she is a bad person and should maybe think about not being bad in order to stop feeling bad.

This is the woman who murdered his fiancée in cold blood. She’s pushed him to break so many of his moral boundaries (he decided to hold his unborn nephew hostage last year to try and stop the Hullen invasion she instigated). Out of all the conversations in Killjoys, this should have had the most history pulsing through it, and yet, at a critical moment, Killjoys greatest strength is nowhere to be found. It’s puzzling, especially considering that Adam Barken, this episode’s writer, is a veteran of the show and even wrote “Johnny Be Good,” the episode where Pawter died.

In the last scene, the main trio meet up to establish the core plot for the rest of the season. Killjoys has a tendency to break its seasons into five-episode chunks of linked storylines. The first half of this season was about setting up the recovery of the Jacobis brothers, the birth of D’avin’s child and the coming of the Lady. After running into holes in Khlyen’s story last episode, Dutch finally realizes this episode that he deliberately inserted inaccuracies into her memories in order to trick the Lady. Having finally realized what’s going on, the team is in a position to start delving into Johnny and Dutch’s memories in order to find the tools Khlyen gave her to stop the Lady. Considering how lost the team has felt this season, it’s nice to finally see them find a sense of direction in the face of an ancient and seemingly overpowering evil.

In short, this episode wasn’t very good, but it did its job. D’avin’s kid is now a more usable character within the show, Westerlyn is slowly returning as a focus and the main trio know what they need to do to take the Lady down. Could it have been better? Probably. But there are times when a show just needs to get on with it and take care of certain issues, and it’s best that Killjoys did this sooner, rather than later.

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Calgary Underground Film Festival

CUFF 2019: Director Rob Grant on the tension (and dark comedy) of HARPOON

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From director Rob Grant (Mon Ami, Fake Blood), Harpoon will make its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Photo courtesy CUFF
From director Rob Grant (Mon Ami, Fake Blood), Harpoon will make its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival April 28. Photo courtesy CUFF

Adrift on the seas on a luxury yacht, three friends find themselves stranded without food or supplies and quickly realize their survival is less than assured. An official selection at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2019, Harpoon will make its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) April 28. 

The Mutt spoke with director Rob Grant prior to the film’s screening at CUFF. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

THE MUTT: Can you tell me a bit about the genesis of Harpoon?

ROB GRANT: I had a great relationship with my producers (Knuckleball director Michael Peterson and Kurtis Harder) from a film called Fake Blood. I pitched Mr. Peterson on this idea that was a mix between Polanski’s Knife on the Water but by way of Seinfeld characters on the boat. I grew up in Vancouver, and the original idea was, “Well, I spent a lot of time on a boat, we could go take a boat out to the ocean and try to isolate ourselves out there.” Once a budget came into play and the idea grew, suddenly we were shooting the interiors of the boat in a set in the middle of freezing winter in Calgary, and shooting the exteriors on a boat in tropical Belize down south.

TM: Was it difficult for you to balance those comedic elements and still find a way to ratchet up the tension?

RG: It was very difficult, and there were a lot of discussions about that. When you have to give the elevator pitch, you have to say: “This is the genre and this is what it means.” But I subscribe to the logic that in life you can feel in one moment that you’re in a love story and the next minute in a horror movie, and that’s the way real life actually works. But it seems a little more rigid in movies. We were aware of potentially disrupting viewers’ experiences of watching the movie. (We thought) a movie could, or should, be multiple things at once. We’re willing to accept that there’s going to be some audience members that are going to reject that as a movie experience, but we wanted to try it.

Harpoon director Rob Grant said premiering the film at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2019 was a very validating experience. Photo courtesy CUFF

Harpoon director Rob Grant said premiering the film at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2019 was a very validating experience. Photo courtesy CUFF

TM: Can you tell me more about those influences you mentioned? I’m curious about how you mixed something like Seinfeld with more traditional thriller elements.

RG: Hitchcock’s Lifeboat was definitely in there, as well as Polanski’s Knife in the Water. But I had to still find the dark humour in it, and Seinfeld came up specifically because as much as we all find the Seinfeld characters enduring, they’re very much in it for themselves. They’re worried about their own outcomes. So I tried to use a lot of that. As much as these people like to say they’re looking out for each other, the second it becomes a survival story they’re all kind of in it for themselves. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia was another one, not only for mixing drama and humour, but definitely because the narration was less focused. It sets up what’s going to happen without speaking to much on the nose about what you’re about to see.

TM: I understand there’s some great gore and effects in Harpoon. What was your approach to that, and what effect do you think that has? 

RG: I’ve explored the effects of violence in cinema with Fake Blood, and this was an extension of that. The entire movie, these people speak very casually and aloof about the things that potentially will need to be done without actually considering what that entails until suddenly when it happens. I felt like it would be a good idea to make sure that was extremely violent and horrible, not only because we’ve been teasing up to this moment, but I do believe there’s a certain element that people do not consider the actual realities of having to do something like that. So it’s very shocking, very brutal, it’s like, “ha ha ha this was all funny to discuss” and now that it’s happened it sucks the wind out of you. That was a very intentional decision.

TM: What do you think Harpoon does in a unique way when compared to other similar films? What do you hope the audience walks away with?

RG: I hope when people leave the cinema that it wasn’t the movie they were expecting, that it was a little bit of a different take. I do think it’ll challenge them depending what their expectations are. I just hope they’re expecting something interesting in the genre, and that they’re along for the ride.

Harpoon makes its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival April 28. For tickets, click here

Click here to read our roundup of 9 Canadian films playing at CUFF 2019.

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Calgary Underground Film Festival

CUFF 2019: The story behind Uwe Boll, the so-called “worst filmmaker” ever

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F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story dives into the background of the notorious filmmaker, featuring a number of interviews with colleagues, critics and with Boll himself. Photo courtesy CUFF
F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story dives into the background of the notorious filmmaker, featuring a number of interviews with colleagues, critics and with Boll himself. Photo courtesy CUFF

Director of the critically-maligned video game adaptations Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead and BloodRayne, Uwe Boll has long held a unfavourable reputation in the film industry not only due to the perceived quality of his films, but also due to his antagonistic response to his online “haters.” 

But a new documentary, F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story, seeks to better understand the firebrand filmmaker, diving into Boll’s past through a series of interviews with colleagues, critics and Boll himself. 

The Mutt spoke with F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story Vancouver-based director Sean Patrick Shaul prior to the film’s Alberta premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival April 27. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

THE MUTT: How did you first become acquainted with Uwe Boll?

SEAN PATRICK SHAUL: I first met Uwe Boll on the set of Assault on Wall Street. I worked as a crew member with him. Seeing him work was so fascinating. The way he directed was like no one I had ever seen before. He was such an interesting guy. That was almost 10 years ago and I ended up working on a TV show that was shooting in his restaurant. That was how I came across the idea for the documentary. The idea was to look at someone who is widely known as the world’s worst director. It was more asking, “Why was he considered that? How did he get that title, and whether or not he was.”

TM: As his persona on the internet developed, did that mesh with what you knew of him? Did you feel he was being portrayed in a way that was inaccurate?

SPS: I had seen some of his movies and I understood the reputation he had. He also fuelled that himself through the internet, engaging with all of these trolls and these critics. He takes it head on, which is fun to watch. But I had no idea what he would say when I pitched the documentary to him. Within five minutes, I realized we had a lot in common. He was excited about the documentary, excited to have that side told of it.

Vancouver-based director Sean Patrick Shaul first encountered Uwe Boll on the set of the 2013 action thriller Assault on Wall Street. Photo courtesy CUFF

Vancouver-based director Sean Patrick Shaul first encountered Uwe Boll on the set of the 2013 action thriller Assault on Wall Street. Photo courtesy CUFF

TM: How does Boll feel about being referred to as the “world’s worst director”?

SPS: He thinks it’s very unfair, which I guess I would agree with. Art is subjective, so it’s hard to say whether something is good or bad. But I think he’s also aware of the type of movies he was making. He didn’t think he was making The Godfather. He knew these were video game adaptations movies, so his expectations were low with those. But he has made more personal films (since then), but he already had this black cloud following him around. It stalled his career in that way. I thought that was really interesting – he made 32 movies, but by his fifth movie, people had already written him off.

TM: Why do you think Boll feels the need to respond to his trolls and his critics online?

SPS: I think he’s a very proud guy. He’s aware of his accomplishments and I don’t think he can let a comment like that go. If someone has the motivation to go after him online, he has the equivalent motivation to fire back at them. He hasn’t really calmed down on that too much. I think he’s currently banned from Twitter for going after trolls. It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek for him when he goes after these people. He enjoys it, he likes engaging with them. It became part of his personality. As much as it hurt his career, it also helped his career in a way.

TM: In spending time with Boll, what surprised you about him as you got to know him better?

SPS: Before, I thought he was kind of an asshole, from his online persona, I thought he was just kind of a jerk. Through meeting him, I realized he’s a super sweet guy, he’s a really, really genuinely nice guy. He cares about films, he’s a real film guy. He knows all of the classics, he’s seen all these foreign films – he’s a real cinephile. But there’s something about him not being able to pull that off. All his favourite movies are the classics, but for some reason he can’t make those films himself. He was kind of handcuffed by all these tax loopholes and funding schedules, that he would have to pump these films out in a certain timeframe to get the tax credit. There’s a lot of reasons his earlier films turned out the way they did. They didn’t turn out the way he envisioned.

TM: Given that he knew the documentary wasn’t going to be all positive, why did Boll want to participate?

SPS: I think he just wanted someone who was looking at the larger picture instead of comparing him to a Tommy Wiseau or a Ed Wood. He wanted to explain himself a bit. The articles and the small kinds of podcast interviews don’t really give him enough time to explain himself, or they ask the same five questions. Almost every headline is “world’s worst director” – I think he wanted to look at something deeper. But he wasn’t shying away from that title. I told him early on in production that we’d be definitely looking at that angle and talking about it. He was more than happy to look at it. Most people would want this buried, but he looked at it head on. “I have that title, but let’s look at why.”

F*** You All: The Uwe Boll story plays April 27 at the Calgary Underground Film Festival. For tickets, click here.

Click here to read our roundup of 9 Canadian films playing at CUFF 2019.

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Acquainted takes a raw and honest look at modern love

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Acquainted stars Giacomo Gianniotti and Laysla De Oliveria as Drew and Emma, two high school classmates who discover sparks between them upon reuniting, despite the two both being involved in committed relationships. Photo courtesy Red Eye Media
Acquainted stars Giacomo Gianniotti and Laysla De Oliveria as Drew and Emma, two high school classmates who discover sparks between them upon reuniting, despite the two both being involved in committed relationships. Photo courtesy Red Eye Media

In Acquainted, a new romantic drama from Toronto-based director Natty Zavitz, high school classmates Drew (Giacomo Gianniotti of Grey’s Anatomy) and Emma (Laysla De Oliveria of The Gifted) reunite with each other at a bar and instantly connect, discovering they share some serious chemistry. Problem is, the pair are both in serious, long-term relationships.

The script for the film was partly inspired by the deterioration of Zavitz’s last major relationship, said producer Jonathan Keltz (Entourage, Reign), who also plays Allan in the film.

“(Zavitz) sent me the script almost four years ago and I just connected so deeply and was so blown away by his script,” Keltz said. “(I was blown away) by how defined his voice was. I was completely moved by it.”

Inspired by films such as Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset trilogy, Acquainted is an honest look at relationships and adulthood, exploring the subject matter with introspection. Keltz said the film examines fidelity and infidelity from a judgement-free place.

Alongside Gianniotti and De Oliveria, Acquainted also stars Johnathan Keltz (Entourage, Reign), Rachel Skarsten and Parveen Kaur. Photo courtesy Red Eye Media

Alongside Gianniotti and De Oliveria, Acquainted also stars Johnathan Keltz (Entourage, Reign), Rachel Skarsten and Parveen Kaur. Photo courtesy Red Eye Media

“The characters are not villains or victims. It’s a raw and honest look at being in relationships, to have these type of things happen and how to deal with that,” he said. “The relationship with the self and the seeking to find out who you really are is really what’s crucial to the building of a relationship with somebody else.

“It’s about taking the time to do that work that puts you in the best position to be a partner with somebody and to be an adult in this world.”

Many of the cast and crew on Acquainted have worked in Toronto’s film community for years, making the set of the film a reunion of its own. 

“In front of the camera and behind the camera, (the film involves all) kinds of amazing artists. It’s really a Canadian film and a Toronto film,” Keltz said. “It’s not trying to either hide that or beat you over the head with that.

“I think that’s done in a very unique way, and in a way that is both Torontonian and Canadian but also universally and commercially viable.”

Keltz said he thought the film would be emotionally affecting to audiences, offering perspective that could help to contextualize modern love and relationship.

“I think this is a really raw and honest and beautiful film about what it means to be in love, to be heartbroken, to be devastated, to be inspired and to try and build a life for yourself and figure out what that means,” Keltz said.

Acquainted is now playing at Cineplex Movies Yonge and Dundas in Toronto, International Village in Vancouver and at Landmark Cinemas nationwide.

Next up on The Mutt: With maturity and depth, An Audience of Chairs reflects on mental illness

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