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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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Honey Bee is a revealing look at human trafficking in Canada

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Honey Bee, directed by Rama Rau, stars Julia Sarah Stone as an underage truck stop sex-worker on a journey of survival.
Honey Bee, directed by Rama Rau, stars Julia Sarah Stone as an underage truck stop sex-worker on a journey of survival. Photo courtesy A71 Entertainment

Honey Bee director Rama Rau may be known to Canadian audiences mostly due to her acclaimed work in documentary, including League of Exotique Dancers (2015) and No Place to Hide (2015) – the former profiling aging burlesque dancers and the latter taking a focus on the world of cyberbullying.

But though Honey Bee marks Rau’s narrative feature debut, her instincts honed in documentary filmmaking remain essential, as much of the film is shot as though it were a documentary feature.

“I think that was key in telling the story, for me,” Rau said. “The actors were never acting – they were always in that state.”

Much of the film’s dramatic power is supplied by lead actress Julia Sarah Stone, who plays Natalie, an underage truck stop sex-worker on a journey of survival.

“She was literally the crux of the film. She was everything,” Rau said. “When I saw her audition, and I looked at a lot of auditions, I really wanted her to be in my film.”

Rau spoke with The Mutt about Stone, transitioning from documentary filmmaking and the too-infrequently discussed prevalence of human trafficking in Canada. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

THE MUTT: So tell me about Honey Bee.

RAMA RAU: It’s about a girl groomed from the foster home system and put into a human trafficking ring. She thinks the person grooming her is her boyfriend. That’s how they get young girls from the foster care system in Canada. Then, she’s caught in a police raid and sent to a farm and the movie really begins there, her coming to terms with what has happened. A lot of it is her finding herself.

TM: What were your first thoughts when you initially read the script?

RR: I was a bit shocked, to be honest. I was stunned that these things happen in Canada. I wondered if I wanted this to be my debut feature. But it’s never frightened me to go into the underbelly of society. But films have the power to open up areas that we don’t normally talk about. I also said as a woman director I can bring a certain perspective to it. And I found my way into the story, and said, “This is how I’m going to do it, and if you’re OK with it, I’m happy to work on this film.”

TM: What were those specific elements you wanted to bring to the film?

RR: I knew I wanted it to be totally told from the perspective of Natalie, from her POV. I knew I wanted it to be a very personal film. In documentary, we use handheld cameras a lot. We literally run behind our characters. I wanted that sense of urgency in this film. We kind of blurred the lines between fiction and fact. I wanted to go so deep into the story, so the audience never knows, “Is this a real story, or is this a person acting? Does this really happen in Canada?”  [There was a scene where] and we ran behind [Natalie] like we were a camera crew.

TM: This film is obviously so based on character and Natalie’s experience. Do you think approaching things with that documentary mentality, did that help you capture small character moments?

RR: Yes, absolutely. I think that was key in telling the story. For me, the actors were never acting, they were always in that state. I encouraged them to be that way for as long as we were filming. I think they really took that to heart. They really lived their characters, and that was so rewarding for the camera because the camera picked up every little twitch of the cheek and movement of the eyebrow. I think that really lent to the authenticity. I even told Ryan (Steven Love), I want you to not talk too much to the women and I want them to hate you by the end of the film. So it’s really beyond method acting, it’s really living and being that character for that period of time.

TM: Having someone capable in the lead is obviously very important, because you need someone who is able to deliver that authenticity. How important was it having Stone in that role?

RR: Oh my god, she was literally the crux of the film. She was everything. I know she did so much research. I think she really carries the film on her shoulders. That’s why I had to choose such a strong actor like Martha to offset Julia’s stunning performance. I got so lucky in getting such great actors. God knows what I would have done if Julia wouldn’t have been able to deliver, because the film is totally based on every nuance of her face.

TM: Why would you recommend people check out the film?

RR: I think human trafficking in Ontario is not talked about enough. I think people watching this film will find a way into thinking about it. It’s not a news item. It’s more of a story of a girl who has been through the sex trade and has been bartered like a piece of furniture. I think we need to give these girls a voice. Since documentaries on these subjects can’t be made because it brings a lot of danger to their lives, these sort of films based on social issues is what opens up peoples’ minds to these sorts of issues. That’s why I think this film is crucial for people to watch if we have to tackle things like human trafficking in Ontario.

Honey Bee opened in select theatres on Sept. 20 and will be available on Video on Demand on Dec. 10.

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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 made its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) April 28. The film will release on VOD in Canada on October 15.

The Mutt spoke with director Rob Grant prior to the film’s screening at CUFF 2019. 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 will be released on VOD in Canada on October 15.

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There Are No Fakes is a shocking journey into the world of art fraud

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Directed by Jamie Kastner, There Are No Fakes is a shocking feature-length documentary that centres on the work of Norval Morrisseau. Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions
Directed by Jamie Kastner, There Are No Fakes is a shocking feature-length documentary that centres on the work of Norval Morrisseau. Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions

Some of the best documentaries of the past two decades involve hard left turns – films that begin in one direction but end in another due to events that unfolded during production. There Are No Fakes, directed by Jamie Kastner, joins that select company of documentary as its comedic opening slowly morphs into something much darker.

There Are No Fakes centers on the work of Norval Morrisseau, the Indigenous Canadian artist of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation, sometimes referred to as the “Picasso of the North”. Morrisseau, who died in 2007, sought to remove forgeries of his art from the marketplace, establishing the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society in 2005.

After Kevin Hearn (of Barenaked Ladies fame) buys one of Morrisseau’s paintings, he starts to doubt its authenticity and discovers a bizarre feud consolidated around Morrisseau. It’s this conflict, and the dark secrets hidden beneath it, that form the backdrop of There Are No Fakes.

Kastner (The Secret Disco Revolution, Free Trade Is Killing My Mother), who was friends with Hearn in high school, learned through conversation about Hearn’s ongoing lawsuit surrounding the Morrisseau paintings. It became clear to Kastner that such a story would be perfect for his next project.

“It was almost unbelievable. There was so much crazy stuff in this story, I couldn’t quite believe it,” Kastner said. “I told him if I was going to proceed with it, though we were friends he would have no editorial control. As a journalist, I would be talking to both sides, and he agreed.

“I went off on my own doing my own kind of digging and research. Lo and behold, everything he told me and then some turned out to be the case.”

Norval Morrisseau of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation was sometimes referred to as the "Picasso of the North". Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions

Norval Morrisseau of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation was sometimes referred to as the “Picasso of the North”. Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions

As the story unfolded and as Kastner continued to meet a succession of larger-than-life characters, he found himself shocked at what he uncovered. Bringing footage back to his editor provoked a similar reaction.

“He’d say, ‘Holy f***!’ Then I’d do another one, and he’s quite an even-keeled guy, and he’d say ‘holy f***,’” Kastner said. “So it was a series of ‘holy f***’ moments. I tried to recreate that experience for the audience.”

Documentaries can often unfold much as expected, with a known story dictating the outcome of the production. But given the fluid situation surrounding the events of There Are No Fakes, Kastner followed the story as it led him, knowing he had been handed an incredible gift.

“It’s definitely a privilege and a responsibility (to tell this story). You’re dealing with the legacy of one of our most important artists,” he said. “You wind up dealing with very serious issues of abuse of different kinds, so I felt a real responsibility.

“You have to handle it very carefully as a documentary filmmaker. It really is so unique and unusual and special and horrific and inspiring and a whole range of things that you don’t usually get in one film.”

There Are No Fakes made its world premiere at Hot Docs 2019, receiving highly positive reviews. Kastner said the film provided fascinating insight into the legacy of Morrisseau, touching on multiple problems still at play in Canada.

“It’s a very dramatic story. People can’t believe that they’re real people. They seem like characters out of some HBO series or something,” Kastner said. “I think it’s a very entertaining, edge of your seat, jaw-dropping type of story that happens to be a documentary.”

There Are No Fakes will screen at multiple locations throughout Canada in July 2019. For more information, click here.

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