Monday, January 26, 2015

New Year, New Start

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Is it me, or did 2014 go by a little faster than expected?

Perhaps too fast for me, especially when you look at the date on my last post. Don't do that, it'll just make it worse.

It's been a long time (official measurement: a buttload... or 6 months), and I have little in the way of excuses beyond the usual "my life is proof that God has a sense of humour". Family stuff has been hard, harder than I let on to most people. For some reason, despite the fact that it makes me feel so much better, I always seem to let the writing slide first when I'm feeling overwhelmed by life. My dad's illness is progressing aggressively, and I continue to be torn between being devastated at the thought of losing him and tortured by the fact that he's alive and suffering daily. It's a picnic, really. All of this sounds pretty gloomy, which is actually not how I'm feeling at all.

tom Hiddleston blue eyes
Now gaze at this unrelated photo of Tom Hiddleston and let's forget it happened...

Is shit hard? Oh yes, yes it is. I could easily dwell in the fact that I know, for a fact, without any mystery, that the biggest source of stress in my life will definitely 100% continue to get worse. But instead I'm very firmly trying my best not to let that storm cloud follow me around day and night, and so I want to share some of the awesome things going on.

First, I have a new job at Attractions Ontario, a job that I actually love. Bonus, the people I work with are incredibly awesome and my employment rights are not being violated on a daily basis. I don't even have to suffer through thinly veiled sexism or intense, unrelenting bullying! In short, it is the exact opposite of what my professional life has been like for the last... 5 years? As you guys know, I rarely talk about work here because I separate those realms of my life much like I separate my mashed potatoes and my peas, but you may hear me sharing a few things from my new position when I think they might be of interest to you. Basically, my job is giving people awesome free stuff, so I doubt you'll complain.

What's the second great thing happening right now? It's OSCAR SEASON.

I thought the best way to come back with a bang, and to make an effort to keep a promise to myself that I will keep doing things that make me feel good even if they require a little work, I am commencing the 3rd annual Oscar Challenge!

But Kate, what in the name of Channing Tatum is the Oscar Challenge?

I'm glad you asked, random reader. I always liked you.

The Oscar Challenge is a game I have been playing every January and February since 2012. I go through the list of Oscar Nominees and I watch every single one. That's right, as long as it has had a release (digitally or in theatres) in my area, I watch every film. Last year, there were only a few titles that weren't available pre-ceremony (which, in my opinion, is still unacceptable), so I end up watching a lot of movies. Then, by the day of the Oscars, I make my predictions about who will win.

Last year there were 57 films nominated. This year, there are 60. I thought surely that number would go down, but there you have it.

You can follow along with my progress, find links to all my reviews, and download your own scoresheet to play along on my Oscar Challenge Page. You can also read everything I do that's Oscar related by viewing my posts tagged "The Oscars".

I really hope you guys will do your own Oscar Challenge with me and make it a great start to 2015 for film and life. The greatest thing about the Oscar Challenge is even if you don't see them all, you still win because you've watched some awesome movies. I've already gotten a head-start, so keep checking back for more reviews as I dust off my keyboard and get to reviewing the awesome films (and some bad ones) that have come out this year. There were a lot that flew under the radar, and that's just not right!

How many Oscar Nominees can you check off your list so far? I'm at 12, so don't feel bad.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Trailer Time: SDCC

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San Diego Comic Con has become the place for film and television studios to release trailers for their most anticipated features and shows. This year hasn't disappointed, and so I'm bringing you some of my favourite trailers in one place so that you may join in my unbridled excitement. This may be a somewhat crappy summer for movies, but it looks like there are definitely some enormous hits just on the horizon.

Also, I realized after listing these that they are all post-apocalyptic. Dystopian landscapes are so hot right now.


This remake of the massively popular film trilogy from the 80s (starring Mel Gibson, back when he was more Australian and less racist) is being welcomed by fans, and it's easy to see why. George Miller directs Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in this reboot, and it looks both amazing and true to the spirit of the original.


Jennifer Lawrence is back as Katniss in Part 1 of the conclusion to The Hunger Games trilogy (or... quadrilogy?). While the teaser remains very vague, we do see hints of what's in store: violence, unrest, war, and a lot more great acting out of Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, and the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. 


I will try to restrain myself from further objectifying Norman Reedus as I introduce the most exciting thing I've seen all summer: a sneak peek into the 5th Season of the Greatest Show on Television... also known as The Walking Dead. Knowing this series as well as I do, I think we should all be prepared to lose some big characters. Not Daryl though, I think it may actually start a riot. Those fangirls aren't messing around. I should know, I'm one of them.  

Which upcoming film are you most excited about? 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Obvious Child

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Some of my favourite films of all time are independent features. Most of these made it on to my radar after being catapulted into unexpected commercial success based solely on their artistic merits, and in spite of their shoestring budgets and almost complete lack of traditional marketing. It is what happened with Juno, and what happened again with 500 Days of Summer. It happened last summer with The Way Way Back. These films rely on word of mouth, film festivals, and... yes... bloggers, to get noticed.

I want this same "surprise hit" status to befall Obvious Child, perhaps my favourite film of the year so far.

Before I even review it, I want you to watch the trailer, because the trailer helps really frame this unusual little movie.

It stars the familiar yet still not "famous" faces of Jenny Slate (formerly of SNL), and Jake Lacy (who played Pete on the final season of The Office) in a romantic comedy that centers around the most unfunny of circumstances: an impending abortion.

Slate is Donna Stern, a 27 year-old stand-up comedienne who is cheated on and unceremoniously dumped by her douchey boyfriend in the bathroom of a comedy club. She then has a bit of a meltdown, drinking heavily and partaking in what she describes as some "light" stalking. Her friends, Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann) and Joey (Gabe Liedman) do their best to support her. Neither is concerned when Donna meets the straight-laced "nice guy", Max (Lacy), after a disastrous and drunken stand-up set and equally disastrous attempt at flirting. For some reason, Max finds Donna's unhinged and unapologetic humour endearing, and the two end up having a very silly, very drunken, one-night-stand.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Hot Docs, Casey Kasem, and Where the Hell I've Been

Well, I'm back.

It's not the longest I've left you, blog friends, but it felt so very long. For the last few months I've told myself almost every day to come back and write. Every day, I've put it off.

It started easily enough, I took a brief hiatus at the end of April to help my friend Ryan cover the Hot Docs Festival for his blog. You can find my coverage here. It was an amazing opportunity for me to watch some truly inspiring films and even meet and interview a personal hero of mine, Oscar-Winning Documentarian Barbara Kopple. I'm so grateful to Ryan for being such a generous and supportive writer and friend.

But after Hot Docs came and went, I still put off writing here. I've seen a handful of films, some of which will likely be on DVD before I review them, but I couldn't find my voice to write anymore. I think I needed a bit of a break. There were more pressing things going on in my life than whether or not I liked the newest Seth MacFarlane movie.

Then the Casey Kasem story broke. He was suffering from a mysterious disease. He was gravely ill. His family was fighting over what to do. And then, a few weeks ago, we found out that Kasem had died at 82, his iconic voice forever silenced.

It's a story that is more personal to me than it likely is to the average person. No, not because I grew up listening to Kasem's velvety voice playing the top hits for me and my Barbies (who's complicated lives were scored to the Top 40 hits he jockeyed every weekend). Because the mystery disease that took his life, the mystery disease that everyone remains so confused about, is the same disease that is stealing my father from me.

I knew the next thing I wrote about needed to be this. I needed to lay it all out on the table. But actually doing it is a million times harder than I anticipated when I first began composing this post weeks and weeks ago.

Lewy Body Dementia is not a traditional dementia. It is not what we imagine when we picture elderly people leaving their car keys in the fridge and forgetting their address. It is often confused with other diseases, misunderstood by the public, and still a mystery to the medical community. For instance, many news outlets reported that Kasem died of Parkinson's Disease. Parkinson's is itself a terrible disease, and often is accompanied by dementia in it's end stages. This is not what my father has. It is not what Casey Kasem had. It's a trick.

LBD attacks the brain. It toys with the body and the mind, mimicking the symptoms of Parkinson's in the body, and throwing in symptoms of dementia and severe mental illness just to make things interesting. I first noticed my father wasn't right when he, never having had so much as a parking ticket, could no longer drive.  He couldn't even figure out left and right turns anymore. He told me he was scared something was wrong with him, but I encouraged him to go to the doctor. I really thought it would be nothing. Maybe he needed some medication or had a chemical imbalance or something. It was surprising to see how quickly he had deteriorated, though, as only months earlier he had retired from his job at Statistics Canada, on his 60th birthday no less. It was supposed to be a happy, healthy time for him. Stress free. Relaxing.

That was a little less than two years ago. Since then, my father has deteriorated so quickly that I imagine he will be dead before his many doctors can agree on how they should be treating him. He began to have serious delusions and hallucinations, along with severe insomnia and pain. We placed him in a retirement community to make things easier for him (and us), as he couldn't even remember to eat regularly or bathe himself. Within a few months of moving him, he had an episode so severe the he forgot how to walk. He thought he was a spy, and that the government was watching him. He started to believe that there were force-fields all around him, and he couldn't walk through them or he would die. He was put in hospital for a few months. Then a long-term care facility, once he realized he was not (sadly) James Bond.

He seemed to calm down there; he was a staff favourite. As the youngest there by far, many of the nurses seemed to be lulled into a false sense of security about his condition. Then, in May, he hallucinated that he was trapped in hell. He assaulted staff, threw tables and chairs, and eventually pulled the fire alarm. They had to evacuate the entire care facility, and only police were able to calm the situation down and get my father back under control. He was then placed into the geriatric unit of The Royal Ottawa Mental Hospital. He barely remembers this happening, but often asks us if he was arrested, when his court date is, and if the people he hurt are okay. He never hurt anyone, and was never arrested, but his brain can't connect the dots anymore.

Most of these violent episodes are due to a combination of the disease deteriorating, and improperly medicating him. Doctors see the symptoms of Parkinson's, and so they treat him for it. They see the symptoms of Alzheimers, and so they treat him for it. Unfortunately, treating patients with Lewy Body with the drugs for these other diseases shaves months, if not years, off their lives. It sets them back and causes massive psychiatric episodes. But they don't know any better, because most doctors know little to nothing about LBD.

It is a thief. It robs people of their past, present, and future. It robs families of fathers and mothers; it's robbing my unborn children of a grandfather. It is quick, destructive, and terminal. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, and yet it will affect millions of families this year in North America. My hope is that, in the tragedy of Casey Kasem's death, we will find a poster child for LBD.

I'm 26. My brothers, only 23. None of us could have imagined, just 2 years ago, that this is what we would be facing. We are discussing my father's funeral arrangements. A few weeks ago, my mother asked me if I would prefer her to wait until morning to tell me if my father dies in the night. A few months ago, she discussed what my plans are for my inheritance. They're conversations no one ever wants to have, but certainly not so young. It's too soon to be worrying about this. I sometimes feel like I'm in a waking nightmare.

This June, I spent what will more than likely be my last Father's Day with my dad... in a mental hospital, surrounded by incredibly old, incredibly sick people in nothing short of constant suffering. What's worse is that, as more time goes by, my father looks less and less out of place in these facilities. Rather than talking happily about the future, my father anxiously asked if I was going to be okay, and wondered why he even bothers waking up in the morning.

To be completely frank, the last two years have been the darkest and most difficult of my life, and I often find my creative voice stifled by the weight of it all. I want to still be able to escape into movies, to meditate in writing about them, and to find peace amidst the craziness that's currently swirling around me, but I can't plan far enough ahead to know what that will look like going forward. It will probably take a while for me to regain my balance, but I'm hoping you'll stick with me while I figure it out. Because somehow, amidst all this terrible suffering, there is still so much hope and joy in my life. All I can do now is try to multiply that hope as much as possible, and take the rest as it comes.



Friday, April 18, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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If someone would have told me that I would enjoy "Phase 2" of the Marvel Cinematic Proliferation that has begun post-Avengers, I would have laughed them off. Part of me was always certain that my love for this series of interconnected and yet mutually exclusive films would quickly devolve from inspired to money-grubbing. Even after Thor: The Dark World (which I was surprised to find I completely loved), Captain America: The Winter Soldier was still a wild card in my mind. 

The first Captain America was my favourite of the intro-movies, being that it was the only period piece and carried a large weight in the overarching Avengers storyline.... also Chris Evans' abs. But how would they bring this "man out of time" into the modern world without turning him into a gimmick? How would the story continue to be meaningful to the audience, and still profitable to the studio? By changing it's genre, that's how. 

While Thor embodies all of the fantasy elements that people crave, and Iron Man brings us all the cool gadgets and snarky retorts, Captain America (Chris Evans) is a soldier no matter which decade he's in. He and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are also the only two Avengers who stay on with S.H.I.E.L.D after the events of The Avengers, and with a noticeably-absent Hawkeye, S.H.I.E.L.D needs them (it's rumoured that Jeremy Renner will be replaced after complaining about his role in The Avengers, which will be a true test of Marvel's resiliency.)

With The Winter Soldier we are brought into a new but familiar world for the Marvel characters: spies! With Black Widow at his side, Steve Rogers  must attempt to learn life in the new world while also coming to terms with the new nature of American war. No longer do men go to the front-lines, dig trenches and fight for justice. War is backhanded and secretive. You can trust no one, and the methods for maintaining freedom are often difficult to swallow. Cap and Black Widow are now part of a strike force that could be described as "Navy SEALS on steroids", and it's putting Cap in a major moral dilemma. 

If it sounds as if the series has become blatantly political, it truly has. It's impossible to deny the real world connections to Rogers' problems with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s tactics for both maintaining peace and gathering intelligence. They don't go so far as to directly address drones, but the do everything but. Eventually, Cap, Black Widow, and their new (very cute) friend Sam Wilson aka "Falcon" (Anthony Mackie) must turn against the United States Government to protect it from a secret that may have been borne from within: The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Blind Spots I Didn't Know I Had: DIE HARD I & II


When I sat down one lazy weekend to watch Die Hard, which seems to play at least twice a week on AMC, I thought it was going to be a re-watch. Completely convinced that I had seen the film at least once, probably more, I began to experience a phenomenon that is fleeting to those of us who watch movies for a living: it was unrecognizable.

"Maybe I just missed the beginning when I was a kid..." I told myself. But when the film hit the 30 minute mark and I was still totally in the dark, I came to the stark realization that I hadn't, in fact, seen Die Hard. I only thought I had. I was fully convinced that I knew this film intimately, and yet I had inexplicably gone my entire life without ever watching a single moment of it.

Following what turned out to be my first viewing of the action classic, I immediately put on Die Hard II, and I realized I DEFINITELY hadn't seen that one, either.

I gotta say, it was kind of a nice surprise.

In a way, I had seen them. Die Hard I II are the holy grail of action movies. They are both spectacularly violent and devilishly self-aware. John MacLane (Bruce Willis) is the sarcastic, unkillable hero that cannot be paralleled by anyone before or after him. Even the contemporary John MacLane can't hold a candle to the MacLane we see in the first two films.

They also act as a monument to the state of America in late 80s and early 90s. The films labour under the pretence that MacLane is fighting against a variety of terrorist threats where he just happens to be in the right place at the right time. In reality, it feels more like one talented cop fighting against the gross negligence of American Law Enforcement agencies with a variety of African American sidekicks.

Moreover, these films couldn't exist today, if only because the things that happen in these films often seem like uncanny predictions of what was to befall America 10 years later on September 11th. Exploding skyscrapers, hijacked planes being flown into the ground, Law Enforcement powerless against foreign enemies technical prowess and careful planning... these things felt like fantasy in '88 and '90. Now, it's all too real. It's nice to watch a film unsullied by these events; it almost feels innocent.

So, unexpectedly, Die Hard I & II were the newest additions to my apparently spotty film education, and the ever-constant meter stick from which all action movies are measured. Michael Bay WISHES he was this good.

For more of my Blind Spots, click here, and don't forget to check out Ryan McNeil's Blind Spot series that started it all at The Matinee!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Single Girl Survival: Beauty Secrets

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Today I saw an advertisement for an unbelievable "product" that I immediately knew I needed every woman that reads my blog to see. Men too, even.

While I waited for a YouTube video to load, I found myself in the usual routine of watching an ad and waiting for the little "skip this" bar to appear. I never clicked it. I watched all the way through. When it was over, I was completely blown away.

Dove is known for their revolutionary advertising and products that help women feel more beautiful. Watch the video below and tell me what you think! It completely changed my outlook on myself, and the products that I buy.

Even though it's technically an ad, it feels more like a public service announcement. Share it, and leave me a comment below!