THE BEST GIFT MY FATHER EVER GAVE ME

PROOF I GOT MY GREATEST ASSET-MY IMAGINATION-FROM MY FATHER

Last Father’s Day I did the mushy thing, extolling not only my father’s extensive virtues but also the near infinite patience he demonstrated putting up with me over the course of my life. But this year I thought I’d take another route and get something that’s bothered me for a while off my chest. An annoyance that marches hand in hand with a little bit of gratitude. And what better time than Father’s Day?

I’ve never made a secret of the hyperactive imagination I had growing up and the fact that I began weaving the geek banner I proudly fly as an adult during my formative years. If a movie or TV show had the slightest thing to do with fantasy, science fiction, super heroes or horror, I was all over it. My father and I shared some of those experiences (he took me to see all the original Star Wars movies) but for the most part we were miles apart on what we considered entertaining.

While he was watching an All Creatures Great And Small marathon on PBS, I was waiting for the next episode of Star Trek. While he was waiting for the evening news, I was devouring an episode of Transformers or G.I. Joe or He-Man or whatever after school cartoon was my obsession at the moment. While he was watching Olympic diving I was plotting how to hijack the boob tube to watch Batman for the 113th time. While he was reading the newspaper, I was eyeballs deep in Stephen King or Robert Jordan or Arthur C. Clarke. And so it went. The fact that we had one TV in the house made for some interesting bargaining sessions as well as a few occasional groundings.

For the most part he put up with my nerdiness with patient, good humour. But there were times when he couldn’t hide his thinly stretched tolerance and one memory distinctly stands out from all the rest. One night, while racing towards the house after completing my nightly chores, he asked me what my big rush was. There was a TV movie I wanted to watch about a vampire who was a cop (I think it was the precursor to the Nick at Night television show). Jesus Shayne, he replied, his voice thick with irritated disapproval, why do you watch stuff like that? I can’t remember if I bothered with an answer and in all honesty I didn’t really care (I had long since given up trying to justify my tastes to either one of my parents or my teachers-it was a small town) but that memory has always bugged me. Not for any psychological reason, but because my father watched just as much weird stuff as I did, he just labeled it differently.

A TV show my father never missed was Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. It was a sequel to the seventies show Kung-Fu, it ran exclusively in syndication (that should tell you everything you need to know about its quality) and starred David Carradine as a descendant of the character he originally played in Kung-Fu (trust me, don’t ask). A few of the handy little life hacks Carradine’s monk had picked up along the way included supernatural senses, superhuman strength, a healing factor, the ability to talk to animals, the power to cure cancer through touch, communicate to the dead, ferry souls to the afterlife and I’m pretty sure in one episode he went all Marty McFly and travelled through time-without a time machine. Yet according to my father, all the stuff I watched as “unrealistic.”

When I was a kid I ate professional wrestling up like it was going out of style. Couldn’t get enough of it. The Ultimate Warrior, The Road Warriors, Sting and The Undertaker were among my personal favourites (you’ll notice a pattern) and as you probably guessed, good old Dad was never shy about his disdain for the circus that happened in the squared circle. He was always curious how I could spend so much time (if me and my small circle of friends invested just a fraction of the time we spent obsessing over wrestling on our studies we’d, probably own both Apple AND Google right now) on something that was fake (because a Shaolin monk dodging bullets while fighting demons was the height of reality). But that never stopped him from cheering on the baby faces when they were on the verge of pinning the heel or summoning me to the TV whenever it looked like two of the top names of the day were going to throw down unexpectedly. But, he’d always tell me afterward, he never really liked it.

He refused to watch The Matrix and X-Men because “they had no logic” but he loved Lost and could often be heard trying to explain confusing plot points to unconvinced family and friends every week (even after it was apparent the writers themselves had no idea what they were doing). And just like Kung-Fu, he claimed to never take it seriously because “it was just a show” (and like Kung-Fu, one he never missed). And don’t even get me started on Coronation Street (yes, you heard me right, Coronation Freaking Street).

In the end though, between both my parents I come by my geek credentials and my knack as a storyteller quite honestly. Last Mother’s Day I wrote how my mother was responsible for a good deal of what little creative talent I have, partly because of her understanding but mostly because of her quiet nurturing. And at the end of the day, despite all the differences and complaints, I have Dad to thank for my geek tastes as. We rarely agree on the same stuff, but I think I inherited the seed that would grow into my imagination from my Dad. And of all the presents he’s ever given me, that may be the best one.

Shayne Kempton

 

 

MOVIE SEASON MADNESS

MY TOP TEN LIST FOR THIS SUMMER MOVIE SEASON

Take a deep breath. Do you smell that? It’s summer movie season, Christmas time for movie fans and buffs. Four months of tent-pole releases, franchise films and blockbusters from every genre. We’re already a few weeks into this year’s summer buffet of movie goodness, and one of the titles on this list has already broken the box office, but these are the ten films I’m looking forward to the most this summer. I spoke about a few of them with Dr. Ted on his podcast a few weeks ago (check it out here) but we ran out of time to touch on all of them. So without further adieu . . .

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  1. Suicide Squad (August 5): Of all the movies on this list, this is the one that makes me the most nervous. I wasn’t a fan of the Suicide Squad comics (never read a single one, in fact) and after the sour taste that Batman Vs. Superman left in my mouth, my confidence in Warner Bros./DC is more then a little shaken. The fact that after the success of Deadpool (or more importantly the comedy in Deadpool), Warner Bros. ordered extensive reshoots for Suicide Squad to make it “lighter” isn’t exactly reassuring (when a movie is doing significant re-shoots six months before its release date, that’s a rarely a good sign). And honestly, is a movie about a team of super villains carrying out near impossible black ops missions in return for having their death sentences commuted the kind of film where you want a laugh a minute? But DC continues to build hype around Squad, there’s buzz that they plan to spin off Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn into her own movie and there’s no shortage of audience anticipation to see Jared Leto’s Joker. Could this be DC’s Guardians of the Galaxy: an obscure property that hits big in the steamy days of August? After the critical and box office disappointment of Batman Vs. Superman, they need it to be.

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  1. Alice Through the Looking Glass (May 27): When Alice in Wonderland hit theatres back in 2010, my niece had just graduated to being a toddler and I was becoming a little desperate looking for strong female role models in current media. I found one in Alice. Returning a teenage Alice to a broken and bleak Neverland as she’s essentially being pimped out to some high society husband so she can spend her days as an obedient, doting wife and mother was a brilliant stroke of storytelling. Making it so she had to overcome her self-doubt as well as her amnesia about the fantastic Wonderland before she could face the evil threatening it was even better. By the end of the movie, Alice was no princess needing rescuing or a damsel in distress; she was a sword-wielding warrior saving an entire world by slaying the ancient and dreaded Jabberwocky in battle. Toss in Johnny Depp’s performance as the Mad Hatter and Tim Burton’s signature visuals and Alice in Wonderland was a solid hit. Here’s hoping the sequel, with Burton producing instead of directing, lives up to the original.

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  1. Warcraft (June 10): Based on the uber popular online game, this Universal release has a reported 160 million dollar production budget. And by the looks of it, it was all invested in the special and visual effects department. Make no mistake, I’m not expecting any brilliant storytelling (the trailers seem to have already given away the plot), but I fully expect this movie to be sold on the basis of its breath taking visuals and the scope of its world design. What other movie are you going to see this year that includes knights, sorcerers, orcs, griffins, monsters and maybe a dragon or two? What it all boils down to is this is the perfect movie to satisfy my inner geek. It should also be interesting to see how Warcaft is received by moviegoers in general; while the game is still popular it’s not the global phenomenon it once was and video game movies have a pretty bad track record in Hollywood (let alone ones that have a 160 million dollar price tag). One thing’s for sure though, the producers of next December’s Assassins Creed will be paying very close attention to Warcraft’s box office performance.

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  1. Jason Bourne (July 29): I was never really a Jason Bourne fan-never read Robert Ludlum’s books and I still haven’t seen the last two movies-and besides, how often does the fifth film in a franchise rise above mediocre on the quality scale? But Jason Bourne looks like a smart, inventive action flick, reminiscent of last summer’s Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (my favourite action movie of 2015) and the fact that Matt Damon was lured back to the property by the script is a pretty good sign as well. It may very well be a dud, but it looks smarter and sharper then the rest of the action fare Hollywood is churning out these days.

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  1. Finding Dory (June 17): I was never really that pumped to see Finding Nemo. As much as I love Pixar, a movie about a talking fish searching for his lost son didn’t exactly captivate my imagination (I had the same feelings about Cars and Ratatouille). But when I finally sat down and watched Nemo the whole way through, I spent the entire time smiling like I was in the fifth grade again (and yes, I had similar reactions to Cars and Ratatouille when I took the time to watch and appreciate them). To this day, the mantra of the seagulls (Mine! Mine!) is one of my more favoured catch phrases (it just never gets old). So while the idea of Dory may not excite my imagination the way The Incredibles or Wall-E did, Pixar’s bar of excellence remains the highest in the animated film industry and I’ll walk into the theatre with an open mind and an inner child jumping up and down for joy.

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  1. Independence Day Resurgence (June 24): Hitting theatres almost 20 years to the day that the original Independence Day enthralled movie audiences, Independence Day Resurgence is following the same formula Star Wars: The Force Awakens did with its characters; it mixes some of the golden oldies from the original with a handful of new faces (although hardcore fans are already disappointed with Will Smith’s absence). The original Independence Day broke tonnes of new ground with its mind-blowing special effects and it looks as though the long awaited sequel is following in those same award-winning footsteps. And while I fully expect Warcraft to appeal to my inner fantasy geek, I expect the story of the human race fighting for its collective survival against a second, more pissed off wave of world conquering aliens to do the same for my inner sci-fi nerd. And while I doubt that a Mac power book will save human civilization this time around, I’m kind of hoping we’ll get to see the White House atomized again. Because let’s be honest, twenty years later that’s still everyone’s favourite scene.

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4.  X-Men Apocalypse (May 27): There are plenty of reasons to look forward to the next installment in the X-Men film franchise. When Fox made the prudent decision to erase the reviled X-3 (and possibly the two Wolverine solo films) from continuity with 2014’s Days of Future Past, they made a lot of fans-both of the X-Men comics and movies-very, very happy. After Wolverine’s time hopping in DoFP, many of the original X-Men are back, and we get to see them during their formative teenage years during the 80’s, aka the Decade of Absurd Excess. Storytelling wise, it was a time in the character’s lives when most fans fell in love with them (the ultimate teenage outsiders fighting off one world threatening menace after another) and in real world time, the 80’s were when the X-Men exploded in popularity and became Marvel’s comic cash cow juggernaut. My anticipation for this is also equaled by my curiosity-how do they plan on weaving in that curious Wolverine cameo they’ve been teasing us with? Freed from the cumbersome storytelling baggage of the previous X-Men movies, the special effects in Age of Apocalypse look amazing, you just know Jennifer Lawrence is going to kill it in what could be her final turn as Mystique (whose run the gamut between reluctant hero to villainous sidekick and back to reluctant hero again, with a stop as a world saver in between) and Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto, skating the tragic line between salvation and villainy, is always worth the price of admission. And Olivia Munn’s Psylocke looks like she could be this movie’s Black Panther or Wonder Woman, a breakout character that steals every scene she’s in.CVvJUtwWoAAO2Z5.jpg-large

  1. Star Trek Beyond (July 22): Hey, did you know that this year is the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise? Did you know there’s a new movie coming out this summer to celebrate it? No? Don’t sweat it, because few people outside outside of Trek’s hardcore fan base or TV aficionados seem to. Up until last weekend, Paramount barely promoted it, dropping a handful of stills and a single trailer before this month’s fan event. You’d think that a summer tent pole release during Trek’s big 5-0 would have the studio bringing out and then breaking all the proverbial stops, but Paramount’s campaign has been the exact opposite so far. I love Star Trek. I don’t speak Klingon or own a classic Trek uniform but I’ve always enjoyed the various versions of Gene Roddenberry’s classic science fiction vision. But there are plenty of red flags about this movie already-Simon Pegg, who co-wrote it in addition to playing everyone’s favourite Scottish starship engineer, reportedly quit a number of times and had to be talked into returning by J.J. Abrahams (who remains with the franchise as a producer). Combine a possibly disgruntled Pegg with persistent rumours that the budget was slashed just before filming began and a head scratching lack of promotion and it could all add up to disaster for one of Hollywood’s greatest entertainment properties. I really hope I’m wrong, or at the very least my affection for Trek can blind me to any warts, no matter how big. Besides, Idris Elba as the big bad? That promises to make everything better.

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  1. Captain America: Civil War (May 6): This one has already dropped (you can read my review here) and it was everything I hoped it would be (which was primarily a much needed palate cleanser after the bleak, steaming mess that was Batman Vs. Superman). The third and final Captain America standalone film was everything BvS wasn’t; fun, bright, exciting, funny and it only needed two weeks to bury DC’s much maligned movie at the box office, beating both it’s domestic and international gross on its third weekend of release. It has also provided plenty of fuel for the online hate wars that have been raging over BvS since it was released last Easter. Seriously, the people who loved watching Batman and Superman beat the snot out of each other for five minutes in a two and a half hour movie need to find lives, get out of the house more and work on their blood pressure.

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  1. Ghostbusters (July 15): This movie started receiving record amounts of hate the second it was announced, most of it due to the fact that it has an all female cast. The haters don’t want to admit it but that’s what all the fuss boils down to. I love the original Ghostbusters and even the (admittedly inferior) sequel too-watch them every Halloween in fact-but unlike the Internet, I was thrilled to hear there was more on the way, female cast or no. It’s been both amusing and saddening watching the logical knots the haters have gone to trying to disguise their woman bashing. “Women can’t be Ghostbusters because the proton packs are too heavy and we all know how much realism we need in our movie about busting ghosts!” Or one of my favourites, “why can’t they leave such a classic alone?!?” Like I said guys, I love me some Ghostbusters, but this is a movie where New York was almost destroyed by a fifty story Stay Puff Marshmallow Man. This ain’t the Godfather, so calm down. Hopefully Ghostbusters is a box office success despite all the venom from the men’s rights idiots, #Gamersgaters and closet misogynists, who can then stick all those dollar bills in their collective pipes and smoke them until they run out of hate tears.

NEW FORCE RISING

I ENJOYED IT BUT I WISH IT HAD BEEN MORE ORIGINAL

(Originally posted on Hautnews.com on December 17th, 2015)

Director: J.J. Abrams

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Domnhall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels and Mark Hamill

Studio: Disney/Lucasfilms

Rated: PG

Running Time: 2 Hrs, 15 Mins

Ever since Return of the Jedi ended it’s theatrical run in 1983, Star Wars fans have been desperate to return to the galaxy that was far, far away in a time long ago. There was no shortage of novels, comic books, video games and toys but it just wasn’t the same. George Lucas gave the world hope when he unleashed the infamously bad Prequels in 1999 but quickly stole it back again when we wiped the nostalgia from our eyes and saw those movies for the hideous dreck they were. But cautious hope sprang eternal again when Disney bought the Star Wars franchise from Lucas in 2012, setting off a wave of growing hysteria that has lead to this weekend’s release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Watching the new Star Wars movie is like slipping into a warm comfortable sweater; it goes out of its way to duplicate the winning formula of the original Star Wars (which we all loved) but it would have been nicer to see it stretch it’s own legs a little more.

Years after the events of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker has vanished and the fanatical, fascist First Order has risen from the ruins of the Empire (the First Order consider free will and democracy chaos). A resistance movement supported by the galactic Republic opposes the expansion of the Order while General Leia (Carrie Fisher) searches desperately for her lost brother, believing he is the key to returning peace to a once again war torn galaxy (the Order, lead by its mysterious Supreme Leader, is also searching for Skywalker so it can prevent the rise of any new Jedi Knights to oppose them). On the planet Jakku, Leia’s agent and legendary Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is captured during his investigation, setting off a chain of events that results in the gathering of unlikely heroes thrust into unimaginable battles facing impossible odds with the fates of entire worlds hanging in the balance.

Strong willed and tough as nails scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) soon finds herself in the middle of a battle beyond her imagination (or comprehension) while a Storm trooper who will come to be named Finn (Jon Boyega) rediscovers his humanity when he decides first to flee the Order and then when he decides to stop running and take a stand (Storm troopers are no longer clones, but are children taken from their parents at young ages and psychologically programmed by the Order to be perfectly obedient and ruthless soldiers). Along the way legends Leia Organa, Han Solo and Chewbacca (Fisher, Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew respectively) all return, two generations of heroes fighting (sometimes reluctantly) alongside one another. Even C3-P0 (Anthony Daniels) makes an appearance. It’s a buffet of nostalgia with a few new items on the menu.

Above all else, Awakens is a cinematic time machine. From the moment the storytelling scrawl begins climbing up the screen, you’re eight years old again, watching an epic battle of good versus evil unfold on the silver screen. The inclusion of original characters is a brilliant touch, both for fans of the original movies but also to pass the torch to a new generation. Nowhere is this decision (and its success) reflected more then the adoption of BB-8 as the movie’s new mascot, replacing the classic R2-D2. And there is no shortage of Easter eggs thrown in to pay respect to the original movies (yet thankfully ignoring the Prequels-which should never be discussed ever again).

Director J.J. Abrams not only embraces the themes of the original Star Wars, but heavily recycles its plot as well. Awakens is pretty formulaic and mirrors A New Hope almost exactly in its narrative. Pivotal characters are thrown together through seeming chance, are soon immersed in a galactic battle of wills and wind up trying to destroy a doomsday weapon that can end the Resistance (the new Rebel Alliance) and force the entire galaxy to its knees (the new Starkiller makes the Death Star look like a Roomba vacuum cleaner). The only new things about Awakens is a few new characters and the fresh coat of paint on some old favourites (like the classic X-Wing and TIE fighters). It would have been nice to see a few new tricks and we can only hope that Disney kept them up their sleeve for future films.

The initial disappointment was the movie’s primary villain, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is no Darth Vader. Vader was a terrifying presence, an imposing force of nature and even the bravest soul withered in his shadow. Ren is conflicted, uncertain, occasionally petty and he falls well short of being the heartless monster that epic movies require for their heroes. But Awakens appears as if it’s not only introducing new heroes at their moment of origin (as Hope did with Luke Skywalker), but possibly the villain as well and it looks like Ren will become a far more evil instrument of destruction for the rest of the trilogy, his further descent into darkness mirrored by the rise of a new force for good. While the original trilogy was essentially all about the redemption of Anakin Skywalker, this one could well be about the final battle between good and evil, with destruction being the outcome instead of salvation. If that is the case, we can only hope that Driver brings the imposing venom needed to bring the part live.

As for any Star Wars movie, the effects are excellent and the filmmaker’s decision to return to a mixture of visual effects and actual set pieces and physical props makes this the best-looking Star Wars film by far. The franchise looks to be in good acting hands with the casting of virtual unknowns Boyega and Ridley. Boyega brings a few moments of genuine levity to the film while the strong willed Ridley takes her place alongside an impressive crop of female action stars this year.

Awakens should please long time fans, making their favourite toys brighter and shinier while giving them a whole new sandbox to play in. It may also reel in some new fans as well, but the question is was it worth all the hype? Disney’s well oiled promotion machine spent the better part of the last year generating unprecedented buzz and the House of the Mouse broke all kinds of records for advance ticket sales (Canadian theatres fell over themselves to make room on additional screens and adding new showings to meet demand). Make no mistake, Awakens had it’s fair share of moments (a scene where a squadron of X-Wing fighters race to the rescue over a mist covered lake will give you goose bumps) but it often seemed pre-occupied with copying what the original movies did to be successful instead of exploring it’s own potential. It is the movie equivalent of the child full of promise who decides to go into the family business instead of following their own hopes and talents. By all means a perfectly valid, acceptable decision but also one that’s a little disappointing.

Hopefully Abrams and Disney used Force Awakens to get the homage out of their system and they may have already planted seeds to move this trilogy in it’s own direction, a fate it deserves (it would be a shame to see it chained by the original movies). It serves as a decent spring board into the rest of the trilogy, welcoming us back into the Star Wars house, giving us a chance to say hi to some old friends while shaking hands with some new ones. And now that that’s out of the way, let’s hope the kiddie wheels come off and we see where they can really take this franchise.

Shayne Kempton

KRAMPUS KRINGLE

WELL THAT WAS DIFFERENT

(Originally Posted on Hautnews.com December 04th, 2015)

Director: Michael Dougherty

Starring: Emjay Anthony, David Koechner, Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Krista Stadler and Thor

Studio: Universal Pictures

Rated: PG

Running Time: 1 Hr, 38 Mins

Looking for something a bit different this Holiday movie season? Something other than the Oscar hopeful releases, the (so far) underwhelming tent-pole films and the Christmas themed fare? Well, if it’s a mindless diversion you need, you could do worse than the Christmas horror/comedy Krampus, where a dysfunctional family battles the spirit of Anti-Christmas. Yes, it’s nearly as crazy as it sounds and it is completely different from anything else you will see this holiday season. Maybe even the rest of the year.

Young Max’s (Emjay Anthony) holiday spirit is under siege. He is trying to hold onto the last few fragments of childhood Christmas magic but a cynical, consumerist culture is straining what grasp he has left. When his extended family arrives to spend Christmas at his house, the resulting frustration drives him to bitterly surrender the last of his Christmas faith. In the process he unwittingly summons Krampus, an ancient demon that has spent thousands of years visiting families at Yuletide, not to reward as Santa Claus does, but to punish and drag non-believers to the Underworld.

Max and his entire family soon find themselves isolated from the rest of the world by an unnatural blizzard while fighting Krampus and his horde of demons, who twist and pervert the most innocent and traditional Christmas symbols into instruments of murder. Not even Max’s wise “Omi” (grandmother), who had a brush with the demon lord in her youth, or the family dog are safe.

Krampus is an interesting exercise in movie reviewing. There’s really no acting or direction to break down. The cast is comprised almost exclusively of television veterans who appear handpicked for their ability to land the jokes that are peppered throughout the movie. Director Michael Dougherty does an adequate job of managing the camera during the suspense scenes and for the most part the story is pretty linear. Krampus does borrow some tropes from both old style slasher flicks and other Christmas comedies about dysfunctional families but does not really commit grand larceny. Much of what the movie does is decent but doesn’t really hit anything out of the park.

The special effects are not exactly new, though some of the visuals (particularly of Krampus himself) are pretty memorable and odds are you won’t look at a jack in the box the same way again. But there are two things that do stand out.

This isn’t the first movie to mine the mysterious pagan legend of Krampus (no one can really tell you what the legend’s origins are or how old it is, except that it likely pre-dates Christianity in Europe) or try to combine the horror genre with the Christmas one (Black Christmas), but it is the first one to use it’s premise to make a not-so-subtle commentary on the modern state of Christendom’s most cherished Holiday.

When a movie about Christmas opens with consumers fighting each other tooth and nail for discount DVD players and kitchen appliances, security guards gladly tazing unruly customers and children crying in the corner as the chaos stampedes around them while Christmas carols play in the background, you suspect it isn’t going to pull any satirical punches. Aside from the pretty accurate reproduction of Black Friday, Krampus makes a more intimate comment on western family life during the Season of Giving and Brotherly Love. It isn’t the culture of consumerism that kills Max’s faith, rather it’s his family that drives the final stake through his belief, triggering the events that end with the arrival of an ancient monster.

Krampus is described as the “shadow of St. Nicholas,” the opposite of the spirit of joy and giving. While Kris Kringle brings joy to the good kids the world over, Krampus mercilessly delivers punishment for the greedy, bad ones. Krampus is he spirit of discord and reckless malice, avarice and violence, intolerance and spite. In essence, Krampus is us and we are Krampus.

The ultimate irony is that Max is easily the best member of his dysfunctional family, putting others before himself in his letter to Santa and struggling to hold onto noble ideals, yet for a single pivotal moment his purity is twisted just enough by his family’s malicious failure to condemn them all. Krampus’ ending also deserves mention. At first it looks like it’s going to cheap out with a stale and disappointing resolution before taking a slightly unexpected twist. It offers perhaps the most unique look at Purgatory in recent movie memory.

Krampus will never be considered a great movie and it probably is not going to keep anyone awake, but it uses its premise to make a few valid statements about modern culture and the families that fill it, Christmas or not.

Shayne Kempton

 

HALLOWEEN MOVIE MADNESS

(Originally Posted on Hautnews.com October 24, 2015)

So here we are, all Hallows Eve, when the shadows fall longer and we can be our true selves a little more while pretending to be someone (or something) else. The dark becomes a little more seductive while a restless moon whispers long forgotten secrets to those brave enough to listen. No doubt you’ve seen AMC and Peachtree TV running the same offering of horror movies over and over (and over) this past month, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to list my ten personal favourite Halloween flicks. Make no mistake, I don’t consider these the top ten horror movies of all time, but rather the ones I try to cram in before the trick or treaters hit the streets. It just doesn’t feel like the Devil’s witching hour until I’ve caught these bad boys. Enjoy.

  1. SINISTER: The most recent entry on this list, the 2012 flick starring Ethan Hawke was surprisingly effective. When true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) moves into the home of a murdered family to research his new book, he inadvertently becomes the next link in a chain of bloodshed and murder that spans the entire country. What I loved about Sinister was that the protagonist was the victim of his hubris and arrogance just as much as the murderous supernatural forces that were gathering around him. That and a killer of a primal soundtrack made this a memorable horror movie.
  1. SHAUN OF THE DEAD: Before this comedic parody of the well-worn zombie movie hit theatres in 2004, no one this side of the Atlantic had any idea who Simon Peg was. For that fact alone this movie deserves celebration, but SoTD manages to offer plenty of patented dry British chuckles at the genre’s expense while still delivering some genuine pathos (the scene where Shaun has to shoot his mother in the head after she turns into a zombie is particularly memorable).

 

  1. DAWN OF THE DEAD: You know, I never gave Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of George Romero’s classic a second thought and ignored it when it hit theatres. But after a glowing recommendation from a friend of mine I gave it a shot. I still wasn’t initially impressed with it but this movie, full of frantic zombies that ran you down instead of stumbling around aimlessly, got in my head somehow, and I actually had zombie inspired nightmares for a week afterwards. So naturally I have to watch it once a year (have fun with that little nugget armchair psychoanalysts).

 

  1. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2: You’d be forgiven if this choice makes you groan; the Paranormal franchise has pretty much worn out its welcome but just keeps on churning out films. But PA2 was actually a pretty effective little fright fest. There were no CGI ghosts or flesh eating zombies commanding the screen, but the second chapter in the story of a pair of sisters being haunted by a relentless and malevolent demon (turns out their grandmother may have auctioned them off to the highest satanic bidder in return for successful business advice-and you complain about your family) has more than a handful of chilling moments. The scene where the family’s German shepherd-who knew something was up the whole damn time-was dragged whining and crying into the dark cave-like basement to have who knows what done to it by a pissed off demon was the scene that truly made me uneasy. One golden lesson I’ve learned from horror movies is to always pay attention to your pets.

 

  1. ZOMBIELAND: Focusing on a handful of unlikely survivors trekking across Zombie ravaged America (everyone’s favourite apocalypse); Zombieland is carried by Columbus’ (played with tongue-in-cheek perfection by Jesse Eisenberg) list of tried and true rules for survival (“Double Tap” and “Cardio” are my personal faves), Woody Harrelson’s bad-assery, Emma Stone’s smart sexiness and a brilliant cameo by Bill Murray. This comedy was also responsible for a spike in global Twinkie sales, courtesy of Harrelson’s persistent quest to find the last perfect cream filled pastry among the ruins of the United States. Say what you want about Zombies, at least they keep their rotten hands of the Hostess goodies.

 

  1. THE CONJURING: The Conjuring is based on real life supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren’s attempts to help a Rhode Island family combat a bloodthirsty (and royally pissed) demon hell bent on all kinds of unpleasant shenanigans. This movie is pure crafted creepy, from the spooky countryside to the grim and dismal house (with faded wallpaper, rusty faucets and screen door hinges that just won’t shut up). Special effects are kept to a minimum but used effectively when they make an appearance as director James Wan goes old school for his scares, using clever cut shots and well timed music. And wouldn’t you know it, the family dog seems to know the whole thing is going south way before anyone else and suffers because of it. When your dog is acting like Michael Vick is lying in wait for him, take the hint and hightail it the other way people.

 

  1. INSIDIOUS: While this inventive flick of a boy who can travel the astral plane while he sleeps (attracting all kinds of scary and unpleasant things in the process) threatens to go off the rails once or twice, it’s a solid movie that pays homage to the likes of Poltergeist and the Exorcist. The first sequel was pretty flat despite some decent writing and Chapter 3 was just plain forgettable but we have Insidious to thank for (briefly) refreshing the horror genre with smarts and originality. Anyone else who thinks there should be another Constantine movie but with James Wan in the director’s chair raise your hands. Anyone? Going once . . .

 

  1. BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA: I was lucky enough to catch this one in the theatres back in the day, and the one thing I will remember until I take the dirt nap is the scene where one of Dracula’s vampiric brides chows down on Keanu Reeves man goods. The entire row I was sitting in doubled over and shrieked in pained sympathy as her fangs bore into his vulnerable and unsuspecting manhood. But seriously, how Gary Oldman didn’t get any Oscar love for managing to portray the world’s most famous vampire as both an evil bastard and a sympathetic, tragic figure is one of modern cinema’s greatest crimes. Almost equally memorable was Anthony Hopkins borderline sociopathic portrayal of infamous vampire hunter Van Helsing. While occasionally over the top, BSD is probably the best movie portrayal of the horror classic (without all the racist undertones). And ladies, in case you ever needed a reminder, just stay as far away as possible from the tall, dark and handsome strangers. It never ends well.

 

  1. THE CROW: “Its justice for victims.” That was how Brandon Lee, who played The Crow’s titular character, summed the movie up just before he was tragically killed in a stunt gone wrong. It’s Devil’s Night in the desolate urban wasteland of Detroit, and Eric Draven watches helplessly as his fiancé is raped and tortured to death before he’s thrown out the window to his death. A year to the day later, guided by an all-knowing crow, Eric returns from the dead. And he isn’t happy (hint: things don’t end well for the people who put him and the love of his life in their graves) and The Crow indulges in some dark poetry when it comes to meting out vengeance. Dark, violent, prophetic and at times beautiful, this cult favourite should be on everyone’s must see Halloween list.
  1. GHOSTBUSTERS (THE ORIGINAL): Turning 31 years old this year (feel old yet?), this comedy classic is so beloved that people have been clamoring for a third Ghostbusters flick since a somewhat disappointing sequel in 1989. The recent loss of Harold Ramis has, pardon the pun, laid to rest any chances to see the original quartet of ghost hunters strap on their proton packs again, but the surviving cast are all set to make cameo appearances in Paul Feig’s Ghostbuster remake next summer (circle July 22nd on your calendars). This movie screams Halloween. Fun, witty and irreverent, Ghostbusters embodies everything that makes this time of year magic. The chemistry the original cast shared was lightning in a bottle and it was highlighted by Bill Murray’s cool charm and pure smart aleciness (yeah, I invented that word, sue me). His trademark smirk alone was worth the price of admission. And what Zombieland did for Twinkies sales, Ghostbusters did for marshmallows, turning the Staypuff Marshmallow Man into the most absurd instrument of human extinction ever conceived. That alone sums up the spirit of this classic.

Shayne Kempton

NO THANKS, LAS VEGAS

WHY THE NHL SHOULD SAY THANKS BUT NO THANKS TO THE LAS VEGAS EXPANSION BID

(Originally Posted on hautnews.com September 2015)

The NHL announced last month that the expansion applications for both Quebec City and Las Vegas had progressed to Phase 3, bringing their realizations of having an NHL franchise a little bit closer. How much closer though is anyone’s guess because no one has the slightest idea what the significance of Phase 3 is and the NHL is pretty mum on the subject. For all we know the two hopeful cities are just taking the first step on the proverbial thousand mile journey.

This current expansion process (the first undertaken since Minnesota, Nashville, Columbus and Atlanta joined the NHL between 1998 and 2000) has smeared more then a little egg on the League’s face. In June the NHL sent out sixteen invitations to parties it was convinced were interested in NHL expansion, yet only received responses from Las Vegas and Quebec City. The NHL even got a little catty in the press release announcing the two responding applicants, taking swipes at those who didn’t respond.

The simple fact is that the earliest word on the chances of these two cities joining the NHL club won’t come until December and fans should manage their expectations. There’s just as much chance that both applications will be rejected as there is of either one being approved. But if in their clandestine discussions the NHL decides to only approve one of the applicants, word is that it would most likely be Vegas, and that should inspire more then a little head scratching around the sports world as well as more then a little concern in the hockey one.

This isn’t about Vegas’ long-term prospects or its viability as a hockey market. Vegas is in the middle of building a state of the art arena that can house over seventeen thousand hockey fans and they have taken deposits for over twelve thousand season tickets based on just the hope that the NHL comes to Sin City. And it doesn’t look like the 500 million dollar entry fee will be a problem for potential owner Bill Foley (more on that a little later).

Rather it’s about the complications that would inevitably arise from having a franchise in a city that’s slogan is “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” (Or roughly translated: Spend Your Vacation here Doing Things That Would Get You Arrested, Fired and Divorced at Home!”)

There’s a good reason none of the other major professional sports leagues have ever called Vegas home. The truth of the matter is that in the U.S., the NHL trails the NFL, the NBA and MLB in popularity by a mile and in many parts of the country NASCAR, professional golf and apple pie are more popular then professional hockey. Yet none of the NHL’s more popular competitors have ever considered a franchise in North America’s casino capital. If the NHL were to expand into Vegas, it would be the first genuine sports franchise ever in that city.

And while there have been plenty of top of mind reasons not to put a team in Sin City, the number one reason no pro sports league has wanted anything to do with Las Vegas is simple. Bad headlines.

Consider the following scenario: As an expansion team, Vegas would have one of the first selections in the NHL entry draft for it’s first few seasons in the league. That means that the initial influx of talent would be 18 and 19 year old kids, many probably hailing from small towns. On top of that, they’ll be signed to multi-million dollar deals and most will have little to no experience managing their own finances or money, let alone the millions of dollars dropped in their lap their first day on the job. In Las Vegas, a city notorious for selling every vice known to man on every street corner and in every price range.

So you’re essentially taking a teenager from Nowhere Manitoba or Tiny Town Pennsylvania, giving them a couple million dollars and dropping them in a city where you can buy, sell or indulge in anything? Grown men can’t handle that kind of temptation let alone a nineteen year old. How long until one of their mug shots winds up on CNN? How long until it’s for a crime worse then possession or solicitation? How long until one of them finds themselves wrapped in the tentacles of the less then admirable forces behind the Vegas gambling industry (which is the biggest reason the NFL and NBA will avoid Vegas until the sun burns out)? The prospects would make a bookie’s head spin.

Hockey sells itself as a family sport, celebrating hockey moms, bringing dads along on road trips, supporting anti-bullying initiatives and sponsoring minor league teams, but the NHL has lost some of its PG lustre this summer. Between Mike Richards recent indictment for crossing the border with oxycontin, Slava Voynov spending the summer in a jail cell for spousal abuse (which could conclude in his deportation) and Patrick Kane being investigated by New York authorities for rape, the NHL’s PR department can’t wait to forget the summer of 2015. The inevitable complications that would almost instantly arise from a franchise in Las Vegas would inflict a relentless barrage of body blows on a fragile family image.

And even if the NHL is convinced it could manage the inevitable image problems (an exercise in delusion), there are still a number of other concerns that another franchise in the desert could pose (see Coyotes, Arizona-who were sued by their home city of Glendale this summer). So the next question should be does the NHL really think it should be first professional sports league to try and make a go of it in Vegas? Does Gary Bettman really want to be the Pro Sports-Las Vegas guinea pig?

What it all boils down to is that the NHL is hungry for the half a billion-dollar entrance fee, nothing more. It is blinded to all other concerns by its financial obsession (probably to subsidize the mounting losses in Arizona). Which is fine, just as long as the NHL stops trying to convince everyone that money isn’t its primary concern and is prepared to live with the inevitable PR fallout. Because at the end of the day, much bigger, much better managed sports leagues have repeatedly looked at Vegas and decided it isn’t worth it, which is why the NHL should respond to Vegas’ application with a resounding no thanks.

Shayne Kempton

NO FEMALES LEAGUE

AS THE NEW NFL SEASON GETS UNDERWAY, JUST REMEMBER LADIES, THE NFL MAY LOVE YOUR MONEY BUT DOESN’T REALLY CARE ABOUT YOU

(Originally Posted on Hautnews.com, September 2015)

Today is pretty much Christmas in September for football fans. After a long off-season, the NFL is back. All the bone crushing tackles, fantasy pools, cheerleaders, the drama and the spectacle, it all returns this week. And the off season was anything but uneventful, filled in typical NFL fashion with off field legal antics, the least of which was the prolonged Deflategate drama, ending when the NFL’s controversial four game suspension of New England quarterback and four time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady was overturned by a federal judge just days before opening day.

During the months that Deflategate stretched on and on (and relentlessly on), you couldn’t help but wonder how uncomfortable some female fans must have been. Because if the fallout from Tom Brady’s deflated balls proved anything, it was that domestic abuse and violence against women is a reluctant, almost non-priority for the NFL’s power brokers.

Remember Ray Rice? The Baltimore Ravens running back became a household name when the NFL suspended him in July of 2014 for “conduct detrimental to the league.” The conduct in question was captured in video footage taken in February of that year of him roughly dragging his then fiancé Janay’s unconscious body from an Atlantic City hotel elevator after “detrimenting” her out cold. When speculation on how long his inevitable suspension would be, people began referencing previous suspensions, weighing those acts against the images of Rice’s unconscious wife. After all, not only had Rice apparently knocked his wife out, he’d also committed the cardinal sin of getting caught on camera doing it.

Besides, Roger Goodell was the commissioner that suspended Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth for 5 games in 2006 for stomping on another player’s unprotected head during a game. He suspended Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress 4 games in 2007 for accidentally shooting himself in the leg with his own gun at a nightclub and he handed Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington an entire season for marijuana use (his second infraction of the NFL’s substance abuse policy). Goodell also banned dancing in the end zone after a touchdown (inspiring many fans to start referring to the NFL as the No Fun League) so surely Rice’s ban would rank up there with Michael Vick’s 2007 indefinite suspension for dog fighting. So when Goodell lowered the NFL’s heavy boom of justice on Rice for a whole two games, everyone on the entire planet responded with a collective “ex-freaking-cuse me?” According to the NFL’s math, a player’s wife was worth about fifty percent of his leg.

The NFL did reluctantly come to its senses and suspended Rice indefinitely (though the Ravens had already cut him and the CFL wasted no time announcing Rice was not welcome north of the border) but only after security video footage from inside the elevator was released by gossip site TMZ showing Rice savagely punching Janay in the face (before dragging her body into the hallway with casual disregard). The NFL claimed that it had only initially slapped Rice on the wrist because it wasn’t aware of the second, more graphic video’s existence (a story that has been refuted by security at the hotel where the whole thing went down). Apparently the NFL thought Janay was rendered unconscious by a particularly rousing game of Parcheesi (just to throw a little extra rocket fuel on that particular fire, there are some claiming that the NFL was aware of the incriminating footage as far back as April of 2014).

And in a purely chivalrous moment, Goodell managed to twist his failure back on Janay, claiming he didn’t want to damage her credibility by questioning her version of events (or something to that effect) because isn’t it just always the woman’s fault?

And you have to wonder how many football fans are aware that several NFL franchises have been dragged into court by their cheerleading squads in recent years. It seems that’s it become regular operating procedure for some members of the NFL’s billion dollar club to pay its cheerleaders, the second biggest reason millions of middle aged men tune in every Sunday, less then fast food workers when they’re paying them at all. Oakland’s “Raiderettes” settled with the Raiders for 1.25 million dollars last year, with some of the women being awarded up to ten thousand dollars in back pay (and the team is now legally mandated to pay all of its cheerleaders California’s minimum wage).

Buffalo disbanded its cheerleading squad, the “Buffalo Jills,” when they filed a lawsuit against the Bills because they weren’t paid at all. Giving Buffalo an extra PR black eye is that the Bills issued a twelve page handbook to every one of the Jills, generously offering tips on fashion, hair-styles, cosmetic maintenance, being conversational (“never be opinionated”), personal cleanliness, shaving pubic hair (“always change that razor ladies!”) and menstrual hygiene (“change your tampon every four hours unless you’re sleeping”), treating them like colouring books with pubic hair and not paying them a single cent in the meantime.

And that brings us back to Brady and his flat balls. There’s little doubt that the entire Deflategate saga soaked up more media attention and was more polarizing then Rice or the cheerleader squabbles (teams love the attention scantily clad, pompom waving women get they just don’t want to pay them for it), but according to the NFL, tampering with the air pressure of footballs is twice as bad as punching your wife unconscious. The ugly truth is the whole debacle exposed the NFL‘s callous hypocrisy and more then anything proves that while the NFL loves the money women may spend, it really has no interest in the safety or dignity of women themselves.

Shayne Kempton