Sunday, May 6, 2018

Everything You Want is on the Other Side of Fear - A Review of Atomic Blonde

A still from the nightclub scene in Atomic Blonde. Here, Lorraine Broughton makes contact with Delphine Lasalle, a French operative.

Atomic Blonde is a Spy Thriller that delivers; it portrays Berlin during a time of Great Change

The music is pounding. The dancefloor is packed with swaying bodies. And the drinks are flowing. Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) Atomic Blonde's protagonist, orders a Stoli on Ice as she meets Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) a French intelligence operative with key information.

Or so it seems. Nothing is straightforward in David Leitch's expertly crafted spy thriller set during the dying days of the Cold War on the conflict's front line - the divided city of Berlin. The plot is set in motion by the death of James Gascoine (Sam Hargrave). At the time of his death Gascoine is in possession of a very special watch containing the names of Secret Agents working for the East and West.

Said watch also contains the identity of Satchel, a double agent who has been playing both sides. As 'C' (James Faulkner) head of MI6 and Lorraine's boss, points out, "If the Russians get that list we're all buggered. Sideways."

This exposition introduces us to the plot's Maltese Falcon. The thing that everyone is after, no matter what side they're fighting for. As the characters work to recover the watch from a rogue Stasi officer who killed Gascoine to acquire it, they show why the spy business is such brutal, unsentimental work. I lost track of all the lies and double crossings by film's end. Even the relationship between Lorraine and David Percival (James McAvoy) is not what it seems. And they both work for the Brits.

Looming tall over the plot is the impending Fall of the Wall. The American intelligence community, portrayed here by John Goodman's character Emmett Kurzfeld, seem particularly certain that Berlin's hated divider is just days away from being torn down, piece by piece.

It is the nearness of this event that motivates the characters to double cross and / or kill each other to obtain the watch and uncover Satchel's identity. At one point Lorraine is followed into a movie theater in East Berlin's Alexanderplatz. As Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker is screening she works to evade the Stasi's thugs. The violence in this scene and others is pulpy and visceral. Blood is spilled, people are maimed. Lorraine Broughton has more than her fair share of brushes with death.

Atomic Blonde's violence is the most American aspect of a movie set in Europe's new Capitol of Cool. Surprisingly there is only one sex scene. Which is a shame because enjoying sex is a very Berlin thing; shootouts in apartment stairwells much less so.

I will not spoil how the movie ends, suffice to say that all the crossings and double crossings prepare you for a big reveal before the credits roll.

For me, the three best things about this movie are: Theron's acting, the music, and the 'wow' effect of Berlin bathed in cool neon. The colour scheme is consistent throughout - everyone immersed in vivid blues, purples, and reds. Contrasting with London, where Broughton's debriefing is taking place while she recalls the events of days earlier. That city is depicted in cool whites, deep blacks, and greys that make London appear antiseptic. Especially when contrasted with Berlin's colours and rocking 80s' soundtrack - pure ear candy.

You will enjoy this movie if you're a fan of action flicks and 1980s' pop music. (I particularly love how Re-Flex's The Politics of Dancing is used). You'll really love it if you enjoy being in Berlin, a city about to go through another period of great change.

In Oktober werde ich in Berlin leben. Ich sehe eine gute Zukunft in Deutschland.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 - Welcome to the Future

Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is singled out for seduction by a larger-than-life size hologram. Blade Runner 2049 takes the original's dystopian future and makes it relevant to the here and now.

Blade Runner 2049 Expands on the Original's Big Question: "What does it mean to be Human?"

"The World is built on a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there's no wall... You bought a war" - Lieutenant Joshi, AKA: Madam (Robin Wright) to K

Blade Runner 2049 is nothing short of spectacular. A dystopian science fiction updated for the future humanity is creating for itself. It simultaneously pays tribute to the original while expanding on the key themes of climate change, concentration of corporate power, and what it means to be Human.

We enter the story in Los Angeles, circa 2049. There is fog, endless rain, and snow. As with the 1982 original, a pulsing electronic soundtrack sets the mood. Everything is meant to ratchet up feelings of dread and a loss of control. The fact that Blade Runner's sequel depicts snow in Los Angeles shows just how much irreversible damage human beings have done to Earth, to say nothing of the damage people deal each other here. 

Many of the elements from the 1982 original are faithfully recreated here and updated accordingly. The taciturn Detective whose body language and facial expressions do most of the talking. Dialogue straight from one of the old school hard boiled Detective novels. A Villain who represents the monolithic power corporations have in this future world. And the settings - the golds, yellows and deep shadows of his stronghold recall the Tyrell Corporation of old.

In the first few minutes of Blade Runner 2049 we are introduced to Agent K (Ryan Gosling). He is one of a number of new Nexus 8 Replicants. These obedient models were created after corporate food titan Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) salvaged the Tyrell Corporation's remains. Apparently Tyrell went bankrupt after too many of the original Replicants - sent 'off world' to do slave labour - killed their masters.  

There are still a few of the older model Replicants out there. Creations that look human, but were created in laboratories. Some of them come with pre-programmed expiration dates, after which they will die. Others have no such date and can live on indefinitely.

Like Rick Deckard before him, Agent K is a Blade Runner. A division of the Los Angeles Police Department whose members are assigned to track down and kill rogue Replicants. K doesn't speak very much, though as brought to life by Ryan Gosling he doesn't need to. Sadness is written all over his face. Loneliness too. 

K's girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) is a 2-dimensional hologram. We learn from seeing advertisements later in the movie that Joi is just one of thousands of such programs. No real lovers for the working man in this darker future - the idea of one will suffice. 

This review will not give much of the plot away, save for a bare outline. In pacing and structure Blade Runner 2049 hits a home run. There are 3 Acts:

Act 1) Introduction of the Problem (involving Replicants, of course) and the Principal Characters

Act 2) Fleshing out the Characters - their wants, needs, and what makes them tick. Main characters begin trying to solve the central Problem

Act 3) Action building to the climax and denouement

Of course, there would be no problem or dramatic tension without a worthy villain - and Blade Runner 2049 gives one to us.

Niander Wallace is a man of incredible wealth who, the plot suggests, helped save humanity from starvation after he patented new ways to farm food. Mainly protein in the form of Worm farms. After buying up what remained of the Tyrell Corporation, Wallace set about creating his own Replicant workforce. With his beard and soft speech, Wallace could be the anti-Jesus. He who gives life, and just as easily takes it away.

Leto's character is a symbol of the concentration of corporate power. In 2049 the very few have so very much. Wallace lives in a temple-like structure complete with a showroom packed with older Replicant models. His focus is on giving Replicants the ability to procreate - thus giving humanity a disposable workforce to take it to the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond. He refers to his creations as Angels - making explicit what the original only hinted at. Think along the lines of Satan being tossed from Heaven and falling to Earth.

Like any evil boss worth his salt, Wallace leaves the work of maiming, killing and intimidating to his Personal Assistant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). She is herself a Replicant. There is something unsettling about watching Luv do her evil creator's bidding. There is a sense of steely control, and also a simmering rage barely kept in check. 

If the character of Luv represents hate and all its associated negative emotions, then Joi represents what is still right with the world. During one scene she and K share a moment in the rain. K has bought a device to liberate Joi from the confines of their shared apartment. For all of Joi's 2-dimensionality, there is real feeling whenever these two share the screen.

Which brings me back to the movie's central question: "What makes us Human?" Do memories make it so? Or is it in our Genes? Or is it simply as Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) says near the film's end: "I know what's real."

I won't give you any of the answers here. Though Blade Runner 2049 certainly guides us toward them in a more definitive way than its predecessor. Go see this one. It's a special sequel indeed to equal the power of its namesake.

Welcome to the Future.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Darkness without Light: House of Cards Season 5

Frank and Claire Underwood's scheming in Season 5 begins to feel meaningless. The viewer is left wondering why they should still care.

"With all the foolishness and indecision in your lives, why not a man like me?"

Season 5 brings the return of Netflix's first original series, House of Cards, into our living rooms and bedrooms. The show continues to chart the political rise and schemings of Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), though this season felt tired and un-anchored the closer I got to the final episode.

Perhaps the best example of this is a speech by President Underwood announcing his resignation to Congress in the second last episode of the season. It starts off strong - Spacey's monologues have always been a high point of the American version of House of Cards. However, by the end he is going on about the, "end of the age of reason." Spacey's saucy humor (it's in the smile) and steely aggression are both evident - yet something feels off.

It probably has to do with the departure of Beau Willimon, the writer at the helm for House of Cards first four seasons. Without his writing, I sometimes found myself wondering why I should care about the characters. Frank and Claire's plotting, Doug Stamper's (Michael Kelly) covering his boss's evil tracks, and a host of supporting characters sometimes left me shrugging and saying, "Meh..."

The dramatic tension evident in the first four seasons is noticeably missing from large parts of Season 5. Another reason for this is because at five seasons, House of Cards has clearly outlived the Shakespearean frame it was built upon. Our anti-hero's journey was supposed to fall into three distinct stages. 

First Stage: coveting power from afar and scheming how to obtain it. We saw this in Seasons 1 & 2 when Frank and Claire worked to pull the rug out from underneath President Garrett Walker (Michel Gill).

Second Stage: Obtaining power. This happened in Season 3 when Frank Underwood assumed the Presidency. Here the character's weaknesses start to become apparent as they deal with the burden of power. "Uneasy lies the head that wears the Crown," as Shakespeare would have put it.

Third Stage: The Fall from Grace where the protagonist loses their power. This third and final stage has been delayed, by necessity, from the series long run. Instead of being dragged down, Frank and Claire just keep on winning. 

In the current season, there is no better example of this than when the Underwoods take down Governor Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman). As Frank's Republican rival for President, he has the election yanked from underneath his feet when Frank orchestrates the closures of key polling stations. Having his prize stolen works a number on the Governor's mind, causing him to lose mental stability. Eventually, leaks of the Governor's private meltdowns make their way to the Underwoods - who then use this evidence to finish what they started.

I hope House of Cards can finish strong on its Sixth Season. If the show goes on for too much longer, more viewers will be left wondering why they should still care.


Fiction vs. Reality

Perhaps the problem is that House of Cards can no longer compete with the grim reality of the world. I'm not just referring to Donald Trump's presidency when I write this. For too long in the developed world we've had so much (materially) and given each other so little in terms of human warmth and love. In this way House of Cards no longer feels like a fictional show, but one that is in lock step with the place we wake up in every morning.

A personal note to end this blog entry - I will be finishing a second draft of my fictional novel of short stories over the fall. It is my intention to share excerpts of the first chapter of that book here on my blog when it is ready to publish. The book will be darkly humorous with a moral core. More or less my version of Larry Kramer's Faggots.

I look forward to sharing it with all of you. Until next time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On Berlin

Berlin has Risen and Fallen More Than Once. We're About to See it Rise Again. 

Sunset over Schlüterstraße. Berlin, Germany. 01.19.2017
Germany has come a long way since the days of Otto von Bismarck and his famous, "Blood and Iron" speech. If one were to trace Germany, and Berlin's, history on a graph it might resemble a Sine Wave. 

Going up with Bismarck's unification of Germany, and then down with Kaiser Wilhelm II and the First World War. With the ascension of Hitler and the Nazi Party a brief period of economic growth followed by the destruction and death of World War II.

Having just spent a month in Berlin, I think it's safe to say the city is coming 'up' once more. There are construction projects underway in several neighbourhoods, and Germany can only become a more desirable place to do business in. Particularly with the United States under Trump being so unpredictable for at least the next 4 years.  

Fragments of Berlin's history can be found everywhere; sometimes you almost trip over them because there are so many. It's almost impossible to understand the Berlin of 2017 without knowing something about the city's long and sometimes dark history. Reading Rory MacLean's Berlin: Imagine a City sheds light on this history by using each chapter to tell the story of a person who did something of consequence while living in Berlin.

Many of MacLean's subjects are famous - Marlene Dietrich, David Bowie, and to a lesser extent Christopher Isherwood are all household names. 

Dietrich made her career as a film star who fled Nazi Germany for the United States. You can still find plenty of artwork, including one of Berlin's famous bear statues, devoted to her at the Intercontinental Hotel on Budapester Straße

David Bowie arrived in Berlin in 1976 to kick a Cocaine addiction and re-energize himself creatively. The result was his 'Berlin Trilogy' of Low, Heroes, and Lodger. At the Hansa Studios located at 38 Köthener Straße he made wonderfully edgy electronic music with Brian Eno and others that has stood the test of time.

My personal favourite chapter of Berlin: Imagine a City is devoted to author Christopher Isherwood. While in Berlin he lived near Nollendorfplatz, now one of the city's defined gaybourhoods. There Isherwood wrote Goodbye to Berlin, which depicts a city on the edge of becoming something else under the Nazis. Much is hinted at, and deeper meaning is left for the reader to piece together.

Part of the point of coming to Berlin for Isherwood (and many other gay men) was the opportunity to act on his desires and live the life he wanted for himself.

As MacLean writes: "Isherwood didn't want to live forever in his head. He wanted to touch, and be touched. He was a sensual boy, hemmed in by an English timidity of physical contact... (In Berlin) Isherwood could touch and be touched, stroke and sink into surrender." 

Today Berlin is still a place where you can do this, regardless of whether you're gay or straight. The wonderful directness of many Germans, together with the existence of certain clubs and venues, is a gift. The emphasis here is on having sex and a good time - not on endless game playing. Which is as it should be.

Even with the armies of tour guides and pieces of history all around you, what's worth paying attention to most is Berlin's future. 
Having been there for a month, it`s not hard to imagine a time when Berlin is the beating heart of Europe. A capitol for tech savvy, open minded, curious people to grow and thrive in. 

To all the Earthbound Extraterrestrials and Misfits reading this - take note. 

Berlin is a place for you. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Closet Monster is the Best Movie of 2016 - Warm, Sensual, and More than a little Freaky

Closet Monster's Hero Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup) and Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) share an intimate moment.

I first noticed posters for Closet Monster around downtown Toronto in mid to late July. Vividly colourful, it features the faces of the film's three principal characters overlapping each other in red, blue, pink, and green tones. My decision to see the movie was made by gut instinct and some chatter among my friends.

I was not disappointed. Director Stephen Dunn's movie about Oscar Madly's coming-of-age in small town Newfoundland is 2016's best movie. It takes you like a street fighter while dispensing with the genre's tired clichés in favour of something more aggressive and visceral.

We are introduced to a very young Oscar, who has just received a talking Hamster (Isabella Rossellini) from his parents, who are divorcing. Mom we never get to know very well. Peter Madly (Aaron Abrams), Oscar's father, is a charismatic fellow with dark emotions he keeps in check - just barely.

Soon after his parents separate, Oscar witnesses a gay bashing near his school. Of the most brutal kind. The victim has a metal rod shoved up his ass. We are left to surmise that, if he survives at all, he lives on as a paralyzed wreck.

Sitting at home with his Father, Oscar watches a news report on the bashing. He asks Dad why this happened. Peter tells him it's because the kid is gay. He follows this up with a suggestion that young Oscar cut his hair - the idea being that long hair is effeminate. Something only a queer would have.

Then we fast forward in time. An 18-year-old Oscar played by Connor Jessup is applying to schools to further his budding interest in monster makeup. Best friend Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf) doubles as Oscar's model and muse.

Here is where reality begins to bend in the film - to wonderful effect. Oscar's interest in Monsters goes beyond a desire to photograph Gemma when she's done up like a Sea Creature. In Oscar's mind homosexuality and monstrosity are intimately linked. His fear of the gay beating he witnessed as a young child is holding him back from finding true connection and intimacy.

Oscar's work at a local hardware store brings him into contact with Wilder (Aliocha Schneider). Wilder is the most deliciously blunt of free spirits. At one point while Oscar is stocking shelves, Wilder taps him on the shoulder and asks: "How much for a blowjob?" This blond haired Adonis is only in town for a summer. Beyond that Wilder's future will take him to the sensual overloads of Berlin - or so he claims.

Things only become more intense from here on in. I won't give any more away. It's best experienced by watching the movie.

Director Stephen Dunn has done such a wonderful job on so many levels that it's difficult for me to overpraise this film. When Oscar finally maneuvers Wilder into bed (or maybe it happens the other way around) there is one of the most satisfying, sensual scenes I've ever watched.

The central question Closet Monster asks the viewer is this: How do you unfuck yourself after a difficult experience?

Rest assured, the question is answered in a powerful, definitive way.


Musings on 2016 - The Death of David Bowie and Rise of Donald Trump

For me, personally, 2016 has been a mostly good year. I'm very much looking forward to moving ahead with various projects in the New Year. Projects that include finishing a long delayed first draft of my novel Marginal People.

2016 was a crappy year if you believe all the memes floating around on Facebook and other social media platforms. It's easy to see why, given all the deaths of important artists and cultural figures. As well with Donald Trump's election - it's hard to stomach the fact this orange haired, spray tanned carnival barker will be the next President of the United States of America.

There is so much I could say about why Trump's election does not bode well for the world. I'll leave it with re-posting a quote from an older blog entry that was spoken by Trump's former rival in the Republican primaries, Marco Rubio.

"The politics of resentment against other people will not just leave us a fractured party. They're going to leave us a fractured nation. They're going to leave us as a nation where people literally hate each other because they have different political opinions."

If only Rubio had stuck by those words instead of changing his mind and endorsing Trump. So many Republicans did - men whose careers would suggest they have principals. People you would think are capable of standing up to the Cheshire Cat smile of the Donald. Apparently not.

A second event that marked 2016 for me was David Bowie's death on January 10 in Manhattan. He was a singer, songwriter, actor, painter, and earthbound extraterrestrial to be reckoned with. Even today much of his music still feels like the future.

Particularly the 1977 album Heroes. It was Part 2 of Bowie's Berlin Trilogy. Tell me that you don't feel the future coming at you, head on, in the crisp mix of pianos and synthesizers on Beauty and the Beast.

"Nothing will corrupt us, nothing will compete. Thank God Heaven left us, standing on our feet. My, my... Beauty and the Beast."

Have a wonderful New Year's Eve - make sure the people you love know it. We have an unpredictable year ahead of us.

See you all in 2017.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Equals is a Touching, Artfully Directed Love Story

In cool blues and greys, Drake Doremus's new film encourages you to, "Find Your Equal."

The tagline for Director Drake Doremus's new movie Equals challenges viewers to, "Find Your Equal." The script, written by Doremus and Nathan Parker (Moon) tells the tale of a future 'utopia' where physical contact and intimacy are forbidden. It stars Nicholas Hoult as Silas and Kristen Stewart as Nia, graphic designers affected by Switched On Syndrome (S.O.S.).

Nathan Parker knows a thing or two about writing stories set in cold, futuristic environments where the protagonists struggle with alienation and isolation. He co-wrote the script for 2009's Moon with Dunan Jones; another futuristic movie about a lonely miner extracting natural resources from the lunar surface.

Equals colour palette is all cool blues and greys. Meant to reflect the emotional distance and isolation enforced by this future world's Collective. From the background given it would seem that humanity nearly destroyed itself some years earlier. Survivors pegged human emotions as one of the prime culprits and sought to genetically eliminate them.

Silas and Nia work in the same office creating graphics and spoken word descriptions, respectively, for television programming. Silas works in the company's Speculative Non-Fiction department. In this world Silas, Nia and their co-workers wake up alone, take the subway to work alone - eyes focused on giant monitors - and spend most of their work days essentially alone tapping on enormous touchscreens.

Sustained eye contact is avoided and physical contact forbidden. As we learn in a public service announcement less than 10 minutes into the movie, some members of the Collective suffer from S.O.S. which is divided into 4 stages. Essentially their emotions are taking hold.

Equals is pointed social commentary that sticks it to corporate mandated conformity and a smartphone obsessed world.

After several lingering glances and much mutual pouty-lipped staring, Silas and Nia fall in love with each other. Silas has been diagnosed with Stage 1 S.O.S. and is soon ostracized by co-workers who give him his own mug and seat themselves far away at lunch. Just in case S.O.S. is contagious.

Nia is a Hider, someone who knows she has the condition and does not want to be diagnosed and labelled.

When Silas and Nia share the screen, the movie's colour palette warms up so they appear as actual flesh and blood humans to us. The contrast between people who can love and those who are loveless is obvious.

In one memorable scene Silas and his boss Leonard (David Selby) exchange words late at night after everyone else has gone home. Leonard is worried that Silas is developing a crush on Nia. As they talk Leonard's half of the screen remains icy blue and grey while Silas's outline is illuminated with colours that remind me of sunrise.

I love Equals because it affirms the power of touch, and of intimacy as being key to growing and fulfilling our potential. There are comparisons to be made between Equals and Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

First proposed in 1943, Maslow's Hierarchy is often represented graphically by a pyramid. According to the theory, human beings must have their deficiency or 'd needs' met before they can progress further. The most basic needs Maslow listed are: Physiological, Safety, and Love/Belonging.

Love and Belonging are about an individual's ability to be accepted as part of a group. If we don't fulfill our needs at this level, we risk being felled by depression and anxiety. Interestingly, in Equals there is overlap in the symptoms of anxiety & depression and the Collective's so-called Switched On Syndrome.

Our smart, attractive protagonists soon realize the Collective is trying (and failing) to suppress basic human needs.

At one point in the film, members of the Collective gather in a large atrium to view a spaceship launch on yet another giant screen. As children Collective members are told the answers to humanity's problems lie in the stars.

They might.

Or they may be just a kiss away to quote the Rolling Stones Gimme' Shelter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Toronto 2016: The Meaning of Pride

Staff from Toronto's Glad Day Bookshop circa 2000. L to R: Toshiya Kuwabara, Andrew Cecil, then store owner John Scythes, Alex Rowlson, Marcin Wisniewski, and Prodan Nedev. Photo Credit: Jearld Moldenhauer

"I hope we can keep finding new ways to be closer. There must be lots of joys of being closer that we haven't found yet. I hope you're hopeful and not discouraged about us."
Sam Wagstaff in a letter to Robert Mapplethorpe 

Just over a week from today Toronto will celebrate Pride weekend 2016. More than 40 years after the Gay Liberation movement came to Canada, Pride is now a city sanctioned month-long happening. It's a chance for events usually packed into 2 days to be spread across an entire month, which I'm all for.

I've always believed Pride does an important service for Toronto's gay community. It of course serves as a giant party where people can dance their asses off, and is a chance to see friends and acquaintances you wouldn't normally cross paths with. Secondly, Pride is a chance to connect in meaningful ways with friends and foes alike. It demands we answer an important question - which I'll get into later in this post. 

Pride allows us to celebrate our community's achievements and remember the people and institutions that made our victories possible. Two of those institutions are Pink Triangle Press and Glad Day Bookshop. Until 2015 Pink Triangle Press published print editions of the Xtra! newspaper in Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver. For decades the press has been vital to LGBT intellectual life and community building in these 3 cities. 

Glad Day Bookshop is North America's oldest gay and lesbian bookstore. It was founded in 1970 by Jearld Moldenhauer, who also founded the University of Toronto Homophile Association (UTHA) and had a hand in the creation of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA). His website is an excellent resource for those who want to learn about Toronto's queer history. I was involved with Glad Day for several years as then owner John Scythes's personal assistant and sometime Cashier.

Though little known, Glad Day and Pink Triangle Press started out as two halves of a whole. The Body Politic movement for a time shared space with the bookstore at 65 Kendal Ave., and later at 139 Seaton St. Members of the Body Politic Collective shared living space as a sort of gay commune. Moldenhauer would later break from the Collective to make a full-time living as a bookseller - a smart business move in the movement's early years. Glad Day Bookshop would later have a Boston location as well.

Both the Boston and Toronto stores thrived for much of the 1980s' and 1990s'.

Fast forward to 2016 and the game has changed. Xtra!, the paper that succeeded The Body Politic after TBP folded in 1986, is now found only online. Glad Day Bookshop remains at 598A Yonge St., where it has been for several years. Though not for much longer. The collective that currently owns the store is fundraising to move to an undisclosed location on Church Street. Given the sums owner Michael Erickson mentions in interviews, the stakes are high.

“We’re hoping to crowdfund $50,000, we’ll probably borrow $120,000, and then we’ll raise $50,000 from the current owners and some new owners,” Erickson told Xtra's Jeremy Willard. Since they purchased the store in 2012 from John Scythes, collective members have faced the challenges every independent bookseller faces. They've done their best in the face of those challenges.

If Glad Day Bookshop closes, Toronto would lose one of the most vocal advocates for freedom of expression and freedom from censorship. Jearld Moldenhauer and John Scythes put their necks on the line many times to fight court battles with the Ontario government. The Joy of Gay Sex, Descent, and Bad Attitude are just a few of the titles that sparked these battles.

Pre-Internet Glad Day was a major gathering point for the community and an important stepping stone for many people. Both Glad Day Bookshop and the gay press have been there through the 1980s' bathhouse raids, the fight for gay marriage, and too many other important events to name here. 

As someone who helped out behind the counter and behind the scenes at Glad Day, I will always be proud of the work I did there. It's my hope that the proposed move to Church Street goes smoothly, and the new business model of a hybrid café / bookstore / event space proves profitable.

I've also worked with the gay press. For a brief time I interned at Xtra!, and I wrote several articles for fab magazine, Xtra's competitor from 1994 through 2013. As the, "gay scene magazine" it provided a counterpoint to the sometimes dry and serious tone Xtra! struck. It was at fab where I met Paul Bellini - who, as far as I'm concerned, is the best columnist Toronto's gay press ever had. 

Bellini is known for being The Towel Guy from Kids in the Hall. This was a walk on role - he was primarily a writer for the CBC comedy series. We've been friends for years now, and have worked on several fun side projects together. 

Back to my main point - with the press gone from our newspaper boxes and Glad Day's future uncertain, it's more important than ever to be visible as a community and continue the fight they started. The dangers of being complacent and resting on our laurels are succinctly stated in Ken Popert's 2014 article While we weren't looking. The article is about Rob Ford, and more broadly the dangers of politicians who don't have our best interests at heart. 

Popert's article concludes: "I’m looking at Ford and looking at a possible future. That future does not look friendly. But it is just one possibility; if we start looking, the future can still be ours to make."

Coming Together for Pride

Which brings me to the key part of this entry: because we risk losing the gay press and bookstore - the voices of our community - this Pride is more important than ever. Jearld Moldenhauer would sometimes refer to Pride as, "Bury the Knives Week" with his uniquely dark sense of humour.

He meant that people forgive each other for slights both perceived and real. And that for one week we come together and treat each other well.

This touches on what I think is the heart of the matter. The heart of the question Pride asks us, even as we dance to the beat. "What kind of people should we be? How should we treat each other?" The question applies to friends and foes alike. The quote that leads off this entry is from a book about Sam Wagstaff.

For people who know me, it's no secret that Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe is one of my favourite books. In addition to being Robert Mapplethorpe's boyfriend, Sam Wagstaff was a friend to many and patron of some of America's most well-known Pop artists.

This excerpt is from a letter he mailed to Mapplethorpe when they lived mere blocks from each other in downtown Manhattan.

To the question, then: What kind of people should we be?

I think he gave us the answer.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Beyond Marriage: House of Cards Season 4

Underwood and Underwood for the win. Season 4 sees Frank and Claire maneuver to become running mates on the eve of a U.S. Presidential election.

"Beyond Marriage" 

House of Cards stormed back into our imaginations with the launch of a fourth season on March 4. It's no coincidence that four years marks the series length so far because it's also the span of a single Presidential term in office. For those who felt Season 3 ended with a whimper instead of a bang, you won't be disappointed with the new episodes. Season 4 of Netflix's political drama has more twists and turns than a rollercoaster at Canada's Wonderland.

The drama begins where we left off — with our protagonists (antiheroes?) squaring off against each other. Frank (Kevin Spacey) is in the midst of a tightly contested re-election campaign. His wife, the formidable Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), has left Frank to jumpstart her own political career, away from her powerful spouse's shadow.

Seeing them crisscross the United States while trying to out-network and outsmart each other is great fun to watch. As is the return of Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) Frank's conflicted, emotionally troubled Chief of Staff. His character walks a fine balancing line — though he has done horrible things, you can't bring yourself to hate him. As the season progresses we see the effect of some of Stamper's decisions on his moral and spiritual well-being (or lack thereof).

Then, just when you think you can see around the next curve on the track, the tone of Season 4 changes dramatically after Frank is shot at a political rally by Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus). Goodwin, formerly an Editor at The Washington Herald was sent to jail by Frank and his associates in Season 2 for trying to uncover the crooked politician's trail of murder and lies. During the gunfire Frank takes a bullet in his liver and is left clinging to life on a Hospital bed. His bodyguard Edward Meechum (Nathan Darrow) is killed by Goodwin, though not before taking down the would be assassin.

While waiting for a liver transplant Frank enters a dream state where he is haunted by the ghosts of Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) and Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara). One moment he is in a crowded train car that's rattling along toward some unknown destination. Then he sees Zoe, her hair cut short. Perhaps the train is a reference to the subway car that Frank pushed Zoe under at the beginning of Season 2. The next moment he is together with Peter and Zoe inside the Oval Office. Claire is only just visible outside the window. Inside the dead are more real than the living, inviting the corrupt President to enter their world.

It's nail biting stuff to watch, and one of Season 4's best episodes.

Frank survives his near death experience by receiving a last minute liver transplant. Unsurprisingly, people die for Frank to get back into the game. One of those deaths weighs heavily on Doug Stamper, and is a thread that follows through the rest of this season.

To heal a rift with Claire, Frank agrees to maneuver her into place as his running mate on the Democratic ticket. This plot arc provides even more tension and genuine surprises. The Underwoods decide on an open convention to play up the theater of politics, only to have Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson) their Secretary of State, make a play for the Presidential nomination herself when she discovers the Underwoods have betrayed her.

In my favourite scene from Season 4, Frank uses intimidation and fear to force Durant to abandon her challenge. One-on-one he drops his southern gentleman mask to show her what lies below the pleasant surface. From there, the Underwoods' path to secure the nomination is guaranteed.

From personal terror to fear on a large scale, the Islamic Caliphate Organization (ICO) enters the picture in the last third of the season. A stand-in for ISIS, the terrorist organization is spreading fear in the Middle East and provides a means for Republican Governor and Presidential hopeful Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman) to portray Frank as a weak and indecisive leader.

So it goes through to Season 4's logical conclusion - a hostage situation. A situation the Underwoods take advantage of to horrifying effect in the last episode. Season 4's ending feels like a punch to the gut. Frank and Claire anticipate and allow the execution of an ICO hostage to take control of the situation when Tom Hammerschmidt and The Washington Herald publish an
exposé on Underwood's path to the White House.

The ending hits uncomfortably close to some of our biggest fears in the western world. The fear that tomorrow we could be next.

Frank concludes: "That's right. We don't submit to Terror; we make the Terror."


A small digression to end this blog. This time about two real life politicians:

Rob Ford, former Mayor of Toronto and longtime city councillor, died of a rare form of Cancer on March 22. His death is tragic, and I feel sorry for the Ford family. However, as Mayor, Rob Ford's politics held the city back. Simple slogans like: "Subways, subways, subways" and the former Mayor's view that Toronto should be run like a business didn't just miss the mark. They stopped us from evolving and moving forward. Complex problems cannot be solved by sloganeering and refusing to read briefing binders.

Which brings me to Donald Trump. The billionaire's rhetoric on the campaign trail makes all of Ford's shenanigans pale by comparison. Promises to build a wall along the U.S. / Mexico border, to deport Muslims, singling out certain ethnic groups, and the list goes on. Not only does spouting this kind of hate not solve anything, it turns people against each other.

When Marco Rubio failed to win his home state of Florida, he pulled out of the race for his party's nomination. What he said that night should be a wake up call for all American voters, regardless of who they intend to vote for.

"The politics of resentment against other people will not just leave us a fractured party. They're going to leave us a fractured nation. They're going to leave us as a nation where people literally hate each other because they have different political opinions."

Food for thought.