When another’s success is your failure

Brad’s Status is a movie for those who wonder if they’ve chosen the right path

Directed and written by Mike White, Brad’s Status is a movie about a man reflecting on his life, and wondering how he got to where he is.

Brad’s (Ben Stiller) life is comfortable. He is happily married and the founder of a non-profit organization. His son, Troy (Austin Abrams) will soon be going off to college with the hopes of gaining admission to Harvard University.

Brad has a lot to be happy about. And yet, he is kept awake by his nightly reflections on his life. Is he enough? Has he fulfilled his potential? Did he peak early?

This feeling of having fallen short is exacerbated when he compares himself to his old college friends—a big shot Hollywood director, a hedge fund manager, a White House spokesperson and a retired tech guru. Brad’s feelings of mediocrity are enhanced while touring university campuses with his son, who allegedly has the grades to get into whichever school he wants, including Harvard.

Brad is haunted by what could have been. He has a hard time accepting his perceived mediocrity, so instead he blames his wife and external circumstances.

Interestingly enough, the film was shot at Concordia. If you watch closely, you’ll clearly see parts of the Hall building, the CJ building and the Loyola campus. During one scene in particular, you can even spot a few posters advertising Concordia’s strategic directions.

The film takes an introspective look at how Brad analyzes his life. To do so, it uses mostly voice-over, which both works and detracts from the film, as there is a lot of telling rather than showing. Though it makes for an easy watch, it also undermines the very real despair Brad feels. It’s a poignant film that takes an intrinsic look at the sense of lacking one feels not with their own achievements, but rather when faced with the success of one’s peers.


The race to light up the world

The Current War pits two electricity titans against each other in a fight of wit and ego

It is the age of darkness, and two bright minds compete to be the first to turn night into day.

The Current War depicts the intense competition between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), two brilliant American inventors whose respective patents saved lives and changed the world in their own right in the late 1880s.

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, the film shines a light not only on the brilliance of the men at the forefront of science, but also on the egos that ruled their decisions, pitting sheer innovation against strategic political marketing. It pulls the curtain back from these historical miracles to highlight how sometimes the greater electrical system isn’t the one that is most efficient, but the one that is best marketed.

When Westinghouse finds a better, cheaper way to transport electricity over vast distances, he reaches out to collaborate with Edison, who scoffs at the thought of someone creating a better electrical invention than his own. But as more American cities subscribe to Westinghouse Electric, Edison uses dubious methods to ensure that his system is perceived as safer and better overall. As the 1893 Chicago World Fair approaches, Westinghouse and Edison wage a very public battle to secure the contract to light up the fair, thus ensuring their names be inscribed in the history books.

The film dabbles in the mudslinging used in the press, especially by Edison, who claimed his competitor’s system was dangerous. Fueled by the fear of having his ideas stolen from him, Edison uses all tactics possible to destroy Westinghouse’s reputation, preying on the fears the general public had of electricity.

The film idolizes neither inventor, instead portraying each as human. Despite their brilliance, both Edison and Westinghouse were ruled by their egos and were deeply flawed human beings. But this contributes to the film’s success as it shows that even the most brilliant and revered historical figures were human.


Explosive, on and off the ice

I, Tonya recounts the true story of competitive ice skater Tonya Harding

Directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers, I, Tonya is a dark and dramatic comedy recounting of competitive ice skater Tonya Harding’s career. Starring Margot Robbie as Harding, the film portrays the foul-mouthed, powerful athlete’s rise to fame and subsequent fall from grace.

Thick-skinned, no-nonsense Harding refuses to adjust her image in order to please the uptight judges. She skates powerfully to upbeat disco songs while wearing low-quality, handmade costumes. Though her abilities are far superior to the competition, her status as an outlier in the skating community results in docked marks for presentation.

When she becomes the first American woman to land a triple-axle during a competition, her name is secured in the history of competitive figure skating. Yet, Harding’s success is jeopardized when her ex-husband and deranged friend hatch a plan to secure a spot for her on the 1994 Olympic team, resulting in an FBI investigation.

The film is shot documentary-style, including ‘interviews’ recounting past events from each character’s perspective. The dry comedic slap comes when the ‘true’ portrayal of events is shown, often contrasting with the story that is shown in the movie.

The film emphasizes Harding’s relationship with her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney) and her boyfriend-turned-husband-turned-ex-husband, Jeff (Sebastian Stan). Both relationships were chaotic and violent, with both Jeff and LaVona claiming to care for Harding despite their actions showing otherwise.

Serious issues such as domestic and parental abuse, class struggle and the negative effects of fame are central to the film’s narrative. It presents Harding as a victim of circumstance, as well as a deeply flawed person who refuses to hold herself accountable for her mistakes. As a whole, this film is a worthwhile addition to the sports drama genre.


Taking a taxi to a gunfight

A journalist and cab driver risk their lives to report from the front lines in A Taxi Driver

Directed by Jang Hoon, A Taxi Driver starts out as a light film about Man-Seob, a cranky cab driver in Seoul. The year is 1980, and the demonstrations against Dictator Chun Doo-hwan’s martial law are an unnecessary wrench thrown into Man-Seob’s routine. He curses the student protestors getting in his way and damaging his taxi.

A widowed single-father with rent to pay, salvation seems to come along when Man-Seob overhears another taxi driver boasting about a foreign customer. For an enormous sum, all the driver has to do is bring the foreigner to Gwangju and back before the curfew. Man-Seob sneaks off and steals the passenger, thinking he’s struck the best deal of his life.

But as they approach Gwangju, things quickly become violent. The military have turned on the students and civilians, shooting, beating and shoving innocents around. Amid the bloodshed, Man-Seob’s passenger, a German journalist, is capturing the violence on tape with the intent of broadcasting the injustice to the world. This quickly puts a target on their backs, as the government has no intention of letting word escape Gwangju.

The film, which had its international premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on Aug. 2, does a superb job not only of depicting the clashes between the military police and demonstrators, but also between the journalist and Man-Seob. Whereas one wants to hightail it back to Seoul, the other wants to edge closer to the front lines. Incredibly, the story is inspired by true events that took place during the Gwangju revolt in 1980.

The tone of the film is intricately linked to Man-Seob’s perception of the demonstrators. While lighthearted in the beginning, the film grows more somber as his eyes are opened to the police’s unnecessary violence, and he sees the bodies gradually pile up. A Taxi Driver is a story of the strength of democracy and the lengths to which people will go either to hoard or share power.


Harnessing the power of the stars

Documentary on fusion power explores alternative to fossil fuels

In Let There Be Light, which had its Quebec premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on July 27, scientists are in a race against time to try to harness the power of the stars in an attempt to find an alternative to fossil fuel. This might sound like a science fiction movie, but it is actually a documentary. Directed by Mila Aung-Thwin and Van Royko, the film sheds light on the experts working on producing fusion energy — the same energy produced by stars.

Whereas nuclear energy, or fission, is the process of harnessing energy by breaking atoms apart, fusion is the collection of energy by pushing and smashing atoms together. This is done using extremely high temperatures — numbering in the millions of degrees Celsius — and collecting the energy from the bonding of two lighter elements to form a heavier atom. It sounds simple enough in theory, but it has yet to be achieved.

Let There Be Light explores some of the challenges facing fusion energy, and who’s working towards achieving the impossible. Notably, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France, which is in the midst of building a massive magnetic fusion generator. The megaproject, composed of over a million pieces, was scheduled to finish in 2019. But amid construction delays, poor management and a blown budget, the project is still far from complete.

Though the theme of fusion might seem far-fetched, as if plucked from the distant future, it has actually been around since the 1940s. The film not only shows where fusion is headed, but also delves into the past to see where it came from. In this way, it deconstructs a difficult scientific field and simplifies it for the audience to understand. The film includes interviews and expert commentary, as well as beautiful cinematography.


The things that divide us

Abu is a personal story of a man trying to reconcile with his father over what he can’t change

Arshad Khan’s Abu is a raw, emotional story of a fraught father-son relationship. The documentary, which had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 16, is composed of found footage, elements of animation, home videos and interviews.

The film follows Khan’s life, starting with his early childhood in Pakistan, continuing with his family’s move to Canada during his teenage years. Whereas Khan embraced Canadian values and multiculturalism, his mother and abu (Urdu for ‘father’) found solace in religion, turning to Islam and the religious community.

Specifically, Abu is a coming-out story for Khan about the difficulties LGBTQ South Asians face when they find themselves at the intersection of modernity and conservatism. The film tells the difficult story of Khan’s relationship with his father, whose gradual, greater embrace of Islam meant a stronger rejection of his son’s sexual identity. The use of home videos draws the audience into the story, as they can see the love, joy and tension between the different family members at different moments in their lives.

Abu is a frank, real look at a mostly taboo subject for South Asians, telling the story not only of one man navigating his new identity, but also of the hardships faced when his family cannot bring themselves to accept his lifestyle. Overall, Abu is a heartfelt, introspective look at family dynamics, and a case study for what can happen when old concepts clash with new values.


Tilt is a glimpse at the dark side of fatherhood

In this film, a father-to-be fears the loss of his freedom under the pressure and shackles of parenthood

Directed by Kasra Farahani, Tilt is the story of a man slowly giving in to his darkest and most abhorrent urges. The film, which had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on July 13, is rife with cinematic cues and hints that help the audience understand the protagonist’s fraying mental state, perhaps even before he understands it himself.

Joseph (Joseph Cross) and Joanne (Alexia Rasmussen) are having a baby, and everyone is happy for them. Or at least, everyone except Joseph, who can’t seem to feel excited at the prospect of becoming a father. He might have his biological baby coming, but he also has his other creation: a documentary film on America’s “Golden Age” and the country’s almost religious devotion to consumerism. Unsurprisingly, his friends are more interested in his biological child than his creative one, a reality that irks him.

As Joseph struggles with the impending and profound lifestyle change, he slips ever deeper into darkness, his nightly escapades becoming increasingly violent and deranged. He is stressed, his project is stalling and he is facing potential financial insecurity. At the epicentre of all his concerns, frustrations and rage is his unborn child. In a particularly chilling scene, the audience realizes that Joseph doesn’t inherently have a problem with all babies — just his own.

Tilt will keep you on the edge of your seat as you anxiously watch Joseph sink deeper and deeper into his frenzied behaviour, worrying what his next outburst will be and who it will be aimed at.


Absurdity meets petty crime

Free and Easy pits one scam artist against another in this beautifully shot film

A desolate town in northern China, in which trees go missing and inconsequential crimes abound, sets the perfect stage for an absurdist comedy about crime and pettiness.

Directed by Jun Geng, Free and Easy is a film that embodies the absurdist comedic genre. A travelling soap merchant tries selling his magic soap — but smelling it makes people fall unconscious, allowing him to pick their pockets while they sleep. From there, one crime leads to another until the characters have a murder on their hands.

Free and Easy, which had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on July 17, is, in some ways, an ode to small-town life and petty crime. Life in the post-industrial, mostly abandoned town seems incredibly dull. But as the movie progresses and crimes are uncovered, one discovers the life beneath the apathy.

The editing of the film is poetic, with languid shots of the snowy landscape and a minimal, almost absent score that blends in perfectly with the cinematography. The absurdist humour comes through in the settings and the contrasts between different characters — a crook masquerading as a monk, a forest ranger thoroughly confused as to how someone could steal his trees (which tower over six metres high), and two completely useless cops asked to investigate a petty thief.

Free and Easy is a deadpan comedy of the most absurd and dry kind, finding humour in the pettiness of life.


My Friend Dahmer is hauntingly good

The film, which had its Canadian premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, focuses on Jeffrey Dahmer’s high school years

Monster. Murderer. Cannibal. There are many ways to describe Jeffrey Dahmer, one of America’s most notorious serial killers. One word that doesn’t typically come to mind, however, is human.

Yet that’s exactly how he’s portrayed in My Friend Dahmer, and it’s largely why the film is such a success. Directed by Marc Meyers and starring Ross Lynch as a young Jeffrey Dahmer, the film takes us through Dahmer’s late adolescence and young adulthood.

A loner with few friends and an interest in bones and dissecting road kill, Dahmer was a peculiar child who struggled to socialize. He manages to make friends with a group of boys interested in taking part in his silly pranks. But as he gradually succumbs to his inner demons and dark desires, they begin to distance themselves, noticing that something is wrong. Something is off about him.

The film does not romanticise Dahmer or his actions, but charts his trajectory from troubled teen to serial killer in a way that underscores his humanity. Based on the cult classic graphic novel of the same name, My Friend Dahmer is eerie, chilling and raw, portraying Dahmer as a troubled teen struggling with a family that’s breaking apart, alcoholism and his own fetishes.

My Friend Dahmer had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal on July 16. For more information, visit


Bad Genius shows there are different kinds of smart

The film, which had its Canadian premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, is a heart-stopping drama about cheating

In Bad Genius, a Thai drama directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya, high school students have taken control of their future by getting a few incredibly smart scholarship students to help them cheat on their tests.

Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) is smart. Genius level smart. A mathematical prodigy, Lynn has breezed through school with awards, medals and a perfect GPA. When word spreads that Lynn gave her friend, Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan), the answers to a math test, Lynn starts receiving cash offers from other students who desire her help. As the stakes get increasingly higher, so does the payoff. The underlying goal: don’t get caught.

As incredibly entertaining as Bad Genius is, it’s more than just a film about cheating. It is an ode to students trying to control their uncertain and precarious futures, as well as a critique of academia, where the extreme focus on grades can push students to find alternative ways to succeed. It asks the question: what do grades really mean?

Bad Genius will have you rooting for the characters and their final high-stakes plan: to fly to Sydney and take the STIC (SAT) exam in a different time zone in order to smuggle the answers back to Thailand. As the students hatch more dangerous, creative and elaborate plans, you’ll begin to ask yourself if cheating isn’t taking more energy than studying would.

The student in all of us will be cringing throughout the movie, waiting to see who wins: the system or the students.

Bad Genius had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal on July 16. A second screening is scheduled for July 21 at 5:15 p.m. For more information, visit


All Our Wrong Todays looks at what is and what could be

Debut novel from Concordia alumnus explores technology, the future and storytelling

What if today wasn’t the today we were supposed to have? What if the present was supposed to be the future that was dreamed of in the 50s and 60s—with flying cars, teleportation and jet packs? What if we somehow ended up with the wrong today?

That’s the premise of Elan Mastai’s debut novel, All Our Wrong Todays. The book has a solid core of science fiction, but with a lot of dark humour and a sprinkle of heartfelt romance, wrapped into one futuristic story that hops between what could be and what actually is.

All Our Wrong Todays centres around Tom. Tom lives in a world where teleportation and space travel are passé. Family vacations to the moon are mundane. The world runs on sustainable, renewable energy. It is the perfect future, but today, in 2016.

As the son of a prominent scientist, Tom is frequently overshadowed by his father and his incredible work involving the newest frontier: time travel. After the sudden death of his mother, Tom grudgingly helps his father with his time travel pet project. Except it doesn’t take long before things go horribly wrong.

Mastai’s film, The F Word, received critical acclaim.

What was supposed to be a great discovery soon spirals into a disaster of monstrous proportions after Tom sends himself back in time, accidentally altering the timeline and completely changing the future. Suddenly, Tom finds himself in our today. No renewable energy, no flying cars, no jetpacks. Now, Tom must find a way to fix his mistake without screwing things up even more.

Though this is Mastai’s first novel, he is no stranger to storytelling. The Concordia communications graduate has been writing screenplays since he was in high school. His most recent film is The F Word, starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan and Adam Driver. The film was nominated at the Canadian Screen Awards for Best Picture, and won Best Adapted Screenplay.

Mastai’s interest in science fiction started when he was a child. His grandfather, a chemist by trade, had a whole bookshelf full of science fiction novels. Mastai would peruse them, admiring the artwork. But something became very obvious very quickly: “even as a kid, I knew there was some kind of disconnect going on, because the future that was imagined by these writers and artists in the 50s and 60s did not turn out the way everyone had imagined it,” Mastai said. “I did not get a jetpack for my ninth birthday.”

That interest in technology and the past’s perception of the future followed him throughout university. At Concordia, he had the opportunity to think about it differently through the different theories in his Communications classes.

“I was interested in technology and futurism and where technology was going. [I was] looking at historical examples of how technology influences society, to think about how new technology moves us forward,” Mastai said. “My time here was a time when I was taking that stuff that was a childhood fascination and thinking about it more critically.”

When Mastai was thinking about his story, he knew it needed to be told through a book. But transitioning from writing screenplays to writing a novel had its challenges. Screenplays follow a format—no matter the genre, tone or length, the style remains the same. The writing is lean and visually dynamic, and screenplays are always written in the third person and in the present tense.

Working on the novel gave Mastai complete creative freedom of expression—a freedom that doesn’t exist with screenplays, which is a more collaborative medium.

“That was the big change. As a novelist, I needed to figure out what type of book this was,” Mastai said. “Something as simple as ‘are you telling it from the first person or the third person?’ ‘How much authority are you going to have in terms of the main character’s psychology?’ ‘What is the tone?’”

Mastai has already sold the rights to Paramount, and begun work on adapting the book into a screenplay. Just as learning how to write a novel posed its challenges, the same goes for the process of adaptation.

“When I was writing this story as a book, I wanted to embrace all the literary techniques that work in a book,” Mastai said. “Likewise, when turning this into a movie, you want to embrace all the cinematic things that can work in a movie.”

All Our Wrong Todays is the amalgamation of the topics and ideas Mastai studied during his degree at Concordia, wrapped in a veil of narrative storytelling. Though technology is the cornerstone of the book, the story is told through the decisions the characters make.

“There are always unintended consequences of technology. Fundamentally, technology doesn’t solve any problems,” Mastai said. “Technology is the tool, the sort of material manifestation of human ingenuity, and a lot of the mess in our world is because of human ingenuity. But it’s also what’s going to save us.”


Permaculture: Becoming part of the whole

Cinema Politica film offers alternative to unsustainable, destructive agriculture model

Conventional agriculture is about extracting from the land to produce as much food as possible. It’s taking without giving back. The current model of industrial agriculture is unsustainable, inefficient, polluting and unnatural.

Finding a viable alternative that will feed the world’s population, while also decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, is one of the complicated and thorny issues of our times.

And yet, the solution might be embarrassingly simple: permanent agriculture, or permaculture.

Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective explores the principles of this new vision of agriculture by showing the viewer different farms that abide by the principles of permaculture.

Directed by Costa Boutsikaris and produced by Emmett Brennan, the film is both beautiful and poignant. The subject in and of itself is fascinating, but the cinematography and beautiful score, composed by Aled Roberts, carries the narrative. The film has an optimistic feel through its uplifting score—a nice change from the typical doom-and-gloom outlook on the future.

Permaculture is about designing a living, breathing ecosystem—one in which plants and animals coexist symbiotically with one another and the land. It is a step further than sustainability. Permaculture is about making things better through intelligent design and structural adjustments, while sustainability is simply about making sure the environment doesn’t worsen. It is the complete opposite of conventional industrialized agriculture, which is the attempt by humans to control nature.

In theory, spaces that adhere to the principles of permaculture would continue to function if the human element was removed. Fruit trees coexist with vegetables, perennials, flowers, insects and even grazing animals—all working together to form an ecosystem.

The film’s central argument is that no space is too large or too small to abide by the principles of permaculture. It is divided into different points of focus, and rounds out its argument by looking at how different scholars, artists, farmers and ordinary citizens have transformed their spaces to create ecosystems. It looks at suburbs, cities and farms, exploring how each space can be transformed through intelligent design.

There are 40 million acres of lawn in the United States that could be producing food, while also bringing people together through communal gardens. In cities such as New York, there has been a surge in rooftop green spaces. Not only is this a more efficient use of space, but it also diminishes the burden on sewage systems during intense rains. These are just some of the examples highlighted in the film.

Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective was one of the last films to screen at Cinema Politica this semester. The final screening, on Monday, April 18, will feature a selection of feminist short films from the 2016 Fantasia Film Festival. A total of nine shorts will be featured, focusing on intersectionality in feminism. Screenings take place in H-110. Admission is by donation.

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