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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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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.

Next to read on The Mutt: Tantoo Cardinal propels Falls Around Her in first leading role

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Isabelle brings psychological terror to an idyllic neighbourhood

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Starring Adam Brody, Amanda Crew, Zoë Belkin and others, Isabelle returns to Canada for a theatrical run starting June 28. Photo courtesy GAT PR.
Starring Adam Brody, Amanda Crew, Zoë Belkin and others, Isabelle returns to Canada for a theatrical run starting June 28. Photo courtesy GAT PR.

In a quaint New England neighbourhood, a charming young couple (Adam Brody and Amanda Crew) find the perfect home to move into. But what they find in that home complicates their dream to start a family, as darkness and paranoia emerges in director Rob Heydon’s Isabelle.

Following in the footsteps of other psychological horrors such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, Isabelle comes from a screenplay written by Donald Martin (Milton’s Secret). Having grown up watching genre films like The Omen and The Shining, Heydon approached the project looking to put his own stamp on psychological terror.

“Reading the script, I just got into it cold. Then once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down,” Heydon said. “I thought a lot about what other references it could be like and how I could help bring something to the story and the storytelling.”

Much like other films in the genre, Heydon’s intention for Isabelle was to emphasize the psychology of the terror as a priority. That meant slowly building up the characters and introducing new elements throughout the runtime of the film.

“In a sense, it’s trying to tell a story in three arcs and build the audience’s expectations up to the third act,” Heydon said. “We used the combination of cinematography and editing and music to bring the audience into the mind of the main character and have the audience experience what our main characters are going through.”

Isabelle made its world premiere in South Korea in October 2018, and has since played at 33 film festivals around the world. Photo courtesy GAT PR

Isabelle made its world premiere in South Korea in October 2018, and has since played at 33 film festivals around the world. Photo courtesy GAT PR

The strength of the cast – which includes Brody, Crew and Zoë Belkin as Isabelle – was essential given the nature of the material. Brody was the first to sign on, but other cast members took longer to materialize.

“Amanda Crew wasn’t available at the same time. So it took almost two years to put together the cast,” Heydon said. “But when their calendars lined up, we also got some amazing talent to surround them. Belkin, Sheila McCarthy, who played Isabelle’s mom… we were really lucky.”

Isabelle shot in Hamilton, Ont., with old Victorian homes posing as New England. Beyond the locale, Heydon said the cost savings attained shooting in Hamilton were significant.

“In Toronto, to rent a house for a day might be 10 or 15 thousand per day. In Hamilton, we were lucky to get three houses right next to each other for 20 days for $20,000,” he said. “You just can’t find that anywhere in Toronto.”

Having initially premiered in South Korea as part of the Busan Film Festival (along with fellow Canadian horror Lifechanger), Isabelle will now open to a larger release in Canada. Heydon said genre aficionados should find much to enjoy in Isabelle.

“I’d say read what the film’s about and check out the trailer – I think the trailer says it all. And if you’re interested, come check it out,” he said.

Isabelle begins its theatrical run in Toronto June 28 at the Carlton Cinema. For more information, click here.

Next up on The Mutt: Horror materializes in unconventional ways in Things Fall Apart

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Horror materializes in unconventional ways in Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart, the first feature from director/writer Hussein Juma, plays June 2 at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. Photo courtesy Hussein Juma
Things Fall Apart, the first feature from director/writer Hussein Juma, plays June 2 at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. Photo courtesy Hussein Juma

Those familiar with Hussein Juma, director and writer of Things Fall Apart, know that it’s somewhat fruitless to attempt to fully summarize his work. That’s largely by design – Juma himself says he enjoys injecting ambiguity into his projects.

But more than that, what’s exciting about Juma as a director is his ability to create a sense of atmospheric dread based heavily on context and character and not cliché. So horror fans on the hunt for films that are likely to surprise should take note of what Juma says about his first feature, Things Fall Apart.

“If you like arthouse cinema, things that are going to challenge you and even scare you a little too, I think this film would be for you,” Juma says. “If you’re interested in new ways to tell stories, in indie cinema and the way it can reframe things and put them in different contexts, I think there’s a lot to think about with this film.”

That unique approach to story was evident throughout Juma’s 12-episode web series Horse Mask, a surreal horror that centres around a missing daughter, a forest and many mysterious masks. Though Things Fall Apart is Juma’s first feature, he says working on Horse Mask helped prepare him, given the fact that the runtime of that web series evens out to be around the length of a feature.

Set during a dinner party, Things Fall Apart lets audiences act as a sort of fly on the wall as tensions and emotions emerge.

“Things progressively get more tense between the characters. I think there’s a good balance — there are those moments where you’re going to feel uncomfortable, there are moments where you’re going to be scared, there are moments where you’re going to feel like, ‘What the hell is going on right now?’” Juma says.

Furthering his desire to tell a story in a fresh way, Juma says he employed improvised dialogue throughout Things Fall Apart, making up 80 per cent of the dialogue. Though actors were provided with full scripts, dialogue was written in beats that guided where conversations would go.

“When we finally selected our actors, we extensively rehearsed it multiple times. That was a really cool process,” Juma says. “I had a bare-bones, skeleton idea of where I wanted each conversation to go, but these actors got so into it and took it to interesting places. (Many times) I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s great. We have to keep that.’”

Through using improvised dialogue, Juma says he was able to capture the essence of a dinner party, complete with moments of levity, tension and awkwardness. Photo courtesy Hussein Juma

Through using improvised dialogue, Juma says he was able to capture the essence of a dinner party, complete with moments of levity, tension and awkwardness. Photo courtesy Hussein Juma

The cast, which includes Chengis Javeri (one of the leads in Horse Mask), Bobbi Goddard, Gina Lorene and more, was already familiar to Juma, giving him confidence that they would be able to pull off the improvised dialogue. Juma says surrounding himself with smart, funny people led to a number of happy accidents that made their way into the finished product.

Other times, Juma says he would play off what he knew about the actors themselves.

“If I could see even a sliver of tension between them in the real world or a sliver of something in a look that I see, I can kind of harness that in the film,” he says. “I think that worked really well in terms of when I wanted to play someone against another person. Because I worked with them before, I knew things I could whisper in their ear before a take to throw them off.”

Ultimately, Juma says he wanted to make a film that he would want to see himself. Based on his track record, it’s likely that horror fans looking for a surprising, experimental feature with strong character work will find it in Things Fall Apart.

Things Fall Apart plays June 2 at 2 p.m. at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. For more information, click here.

Next up on The Mutt: The story behind Uwe Boll, the so-called “worst filmmaker” ever

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