Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Troy Sivan – Bloom

Troye Sivan’s second opus, Bloom, retains some of the heartfelt, boyish charm of Blue Neighbourhood that won over fans back in 2015. Songs like ‘“The Good Side” or “Postcard” are tinged with nostalgia, juxtaposed over a quiet piano melody or an acoustic guitar strum. The album’s real strength, however, resides in the more mature numbers on the tracklist. “Bloom” and “Lucky Strike”, amongst others, are drenched in upbeat, bass-driven synthpop influences, paired with daring and sensual lyrics, making for an addicting and catchy result. Nonetheless, the variety both in sound and in writing doesn’t change the fact that the album offers an incredible amount of honesty in its lyrics through each song. Bloom is a collection of love stories—some that work out, some that don’t—but most of all, Bloom is an apparent, impeccable product of Troye Sivan’s growth, both as a man and as an artist.


Trial track: “Lucky Strike”




Changing your opinion about an album

How reviewing albums can make you jaded towards music you actually like

When discussing our music tastes, the phrase “art is subjective” tends to come up a lot. I mean, why shouldn’t it? We all like what we like, and there is really nothing we can do to change that except open our minds to new types of art and let our tastes evolve.

Although art is subjective, when it comes to reviewing music, there is pressure to critique it from an objective perspective and explain why a piece is good or bad. However, your opinion of a song, album or artist will always differ from someone else’s. The sky is blue is an objective fact. Metallica being the best metal band of the 80s is not a fact, it’s just my opinion.

This idea of being objective brings me to how the pressure to “get it right” when reviewing albums has made me overly critical of songs and artists I actually enjoy. I realized this about myself while listening to Lil Uzi Vert’s album Luv Is Rage 2. I initially gave the album a 4/10 rating in a review I wrote for The Concordian.

At the time, I was stuck in the mindset of trying to use objective criteria to review albums. I would look at lyrical complexity, diversity of tracks and other factors that, for the most part, are actually subjective. Sure, some albums have more production value and took more time to create, but that doesn’t mean one is more enjoyable than the other—that really comes down to taste.

For example, I compared Lil Uzi Vert to Kendrick Lamar. These two artists operate in the same genre, but with completely different styles that can’t be compared. Yet, when I reviewed Luv Is Rage 2, I rated it in comparison to Lamar’s DAMN, an album I would easily give a 9/10. This method of reviewing is not only misguided, but can lead you to develop a bad first impression of an album.

As mentioned above, I recently revisited Luv Is Rage 2 because of a song Lil Uzi Vert did with The Weeknd called “Unfazed,” which I stumbled upon on YouTube. With my review of the album long gone from my memory, I thoroughly enjoyed the song and went back to the album. As I went through each track, it was as if I was listening to the album for the first time. Instead of trying to dissect it, I came away with a whole new opinion on the album. To be honest, it might be one of my top-five albums of the year.

In the last month or so, I have been making a more conscious effort to critique music on a subjective basis, something I should have been doing from the beginning. Ultimately, it has led me to enjoy more albums because I am less likely to make unwarranted criticisms. Not to mention there are a plethora of other albums I have changed my mind about.

One such example is this summer’s collaborative mixtape between Toronto producer-artist NAV and Metro Boomin’. Although I never wrote a formal review for the album, I remember hating it initially because I was looking at it as an album that just came out after DAMN. This ultimately made me critique the lyrics hardly and not appreciate it for what it was. Listening to it now, however, I like it a lot and have realized the album has a ton of content I relate to.

If it weren’t for giving the album a second chance and ridding myself of the pressure to look at music critically, I would have missed out on one of my favourite projects of the year.

The same thing can be said about DAMN, oddly enough. I loved the album when it came out. However, I was also looking at it from a critical perspective. I was trying to rate it based on criteria about what makes a “rap” album great, rather than determining whether or not I enjoyed it. While I did enjoy DAMN. and still think it’s a great piece of art, I just don’t like it as much as other albums. It’s almost as if I forced myself to give the album a good score because Lamar is such a respected artist.

I guess what I am trying to say is that, when critiquing a piece of music, just go with your gut and how it makes you feel. Don’t judge it based on some “good album” criteria that doesn’t exist. It’s cliché, but art really is subjective and, if you keep looking for objective reasons to like or dislike something, you’re taking away from your enjoyment of that art.

At the end of the day, it’s important not to be ashamed of your tastes. As listeners with individual preferences, we shouldn’t give in to the pressure of liking or disliking something just because critics do.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth


Artfully showcasing unsettling stories

Highlights from the Festival du nouveau cinéma include striking films from two Canadian filmmakers

The Festival du nouveau cinéma wrapped up on Oct. 15, following two weeks of showcasing some of the best new films of the year. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes

It’s difficult to describe this film as anything but disturbing and violent, but it’s not a bad film by any means. Directed by Québécois filmmaker Simon Lavoie, La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes will stay with you long after you’ve seen it due to its graphic depiction of family abuse, neglect and assault. Teenaged Ali (played formidably by Marine Johnson) was raised to believe she was a boy. The film shows her living in isolation with her brother and volatile father, who beats them senselessly any time they step out of line. Although the film is shot in black-and-white, Lavoie still manages to convey the gruesome details, which only elevate the film’s morbidity. Ali’s father seems haunted by a life-altering event, told only in flashbacks throughout the film. In present day, Ali is not only unaware she is a girl—she also doesn’t understand that her brother impregnated her when he raped her in the woods. When a sympathetic man from a nearby town explains who she is and what happened to her, Ali takes control of her life and fights for survival. But when the truth of her family’s secrets are finally revealed, it feels like a punch to the gut. Despite the heartbreaking revelation, the film ends with a glimmer of hope, making it worth all Ali had to endure.

Sweet Virginia

Jon Bernthal (right) and Christopher Abbott star in Sweet Virginia, a chilling and cinematic thriller.

There is nothing sweet about this film, and that’s what makes its title so effective. Set in a small town where three brutal murders have just taken place, Sweet Virginia tells the story of Sam (played by Jon Bernthal), a tortured ex-bull-rider who now manages a motel, and his friendship with Elwood (Christopher Abbott), a deranged hitman who inserts himself into Sam’s life. Rounding out the main cast are Rosemarie DeWitt and Imogen Poots as Bernadette and Lila—two disgruntled widows harbouring a few secrets of their own. Elwood books a room at Sam’s motel shortly after murdering three men in a local diner, two of whom are Bernadette and Lila’s husbands. Sam befriends Elwood, not knowing who he is, and the two strike up a rapport. The tension between them rapidly builds as Elwood’s motives—and Sam’s connection to one of the victims—becomes clear. Bernthal impresses as the quiet, kind-heart Sam, but Abbott is the true standout here. He showcases Elwood’s increasingly maniacal and sociopathic behaviour through subtle gestures—such as his ever-present and ever-creepy groan—along with an off-puttingly upbeat candor. While the ending is rather predictable, the audience is still jolted out of their seats when the film reaches its climax. Moreover, the film is visually stunning. Director Jamie M. Dagg managed to capture interesting features even in the most mundane settings, such as a motel room or the front seat of a car, through non-traditional camera placement. If you’re into crime thrillers set in moody small towns, then Sweet Virginia is for you.


Review: Kendrick Lamar takes a victory lap

The show highlighted Lamar’s appreciation for dance, martial arts and, most of all, his fans

The DAMN. tour hit Montreal Thursday night, and it did not disappoint. Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar showcased his new album while incorporating an appreciation for martial arts culture and a gratitude for his fans.

The show opened with a light-hearted performance by DRAM, who danced along with the crowd in front of bright neon lights. Through and through, DRAM performed with a massive smile on his face to hits like “I Like To Cha-Cha” and the infamous “Broccoli.” He shimmied off stage to greet the crowd, which gave way to the confident YG.

I never realized how many songs I knew by YG, and it felt like I was in a club somewhere on St-Laurent Blvd. in 2015 — especially when he set up a fake strip club booth, complete with two stand-alone stripper poles and dancers to grind with.

YG’s set was mostly about having fun and getting “f**ked up.” His performance of “FDT,” which stands for “F**k Donald Trump,” was the only exception. YG brought out a Trump impersonator to open the outspoken song.

“This crowd is very big,” the impersonator said over continuous boos from the audience. “It’s almost as big as the KKK meeting I just came from.” YG chased the impersonator off the stage, and the crowd belted out the simple lyrics to the infamous song.

Aside from the YG song, I thought the show was going to be more political than it ended up being, which the audience clearly appreciated.

The DAMN. album has a much stronger political tone than Lamar’s older projects, but he never made America’s current political climate a focal point of the show. It really felt more like a victory tour for Lamar, with a set list packed full of timeless hits, art and a focus on having a memorable time with his audience.

Lamar draws heavily on his alter ego, Kung Fu Kenny, in DAMN. and in concert. I talked to some people before the show at his pop-up shop in Montreal. One of the things fans kept mentioning was Lamar’s tendency to assume different characters in his music.

“To me, there’s a relevance [between Kendrick’s lyrical themes and Canadian life]. I grew up in Montreal North, so there’s a lot of gang violence going on. Not as much as in Compton, but I’ve seen all that going on. So to see him rap about it without glorifying all that gangster stuff is really refreshing to me.”

— Anonymous Montreal native

A DAMN. album lyric is pictured on a fan’s hat as he stands in line at the pop-up shop in Montreal. Photo by Sarah Jesmer

Lamar’s set opened with a short video where he’s learning from a wise master, gathering wisdom about who he, Kung-Fu Kenny, is and what he’s capable of. It was reminiscent of the type of stop-and-go storyline that Lamar crafted using the poem in To Pimp A Butterfly, weaving the videos in and out of the show in between songs like a train of thought.

As the video ended, Lamar emerged from beneath the stage in the middle of what looked like the spring-back foam floor typically seen in a dojo. Lamar was crouched in smoke, and the audience felt more than a minute go by. This happened a lot during the show — Lamar would stand still and alone, looking out over the sea of people, nodding as he listened to the crowd roar regardless of whether he was making noise or not.

In between back-to-back hits like “ELEMENT.,” “King Kunta,” “Collard Greens” and “M.A.A.D. City,” there were pauses that made it seem like everyone was pinching themselves, trying to grasp the reality that they were in the same room as Kendrick Lamar. The crowd showed an overwhelming sense of appreciation throughout the whole affair.

“I think there’s a better word to describe what we got going on,” Lamar said before starting “Loyalty.” Lamar is one of the biggest, if not the biggest name in hip hop right now, and he’s aware of it. It was fitting to see him standing on a dojo floor in his yellow button down and matching pants. He was facing the front with a zen-like aura, calculating his next moves. Like a samurai or a martial arts master, he was focused.

By the time Lamar started “HUMBLE.”, one of his hits off DAMN., the audience was electrified after heartfelt performances of “LOVE.” and “LUST.” He rapped maybe two lines of the first verse, then cut the music and slowly faded his voice out. The audience carried the rest of the song, reciting it back to the artist on stage in acapella. When it ended, everyone got quiet and the air seemed heavier with the love shown. For a minute and a half, Lamar stood and looked out at the crowd, nodding in approval. The audience cheered and bowed their arms when they weren’t clapping. The show was full of awe-inspiring moments like these.

“I say he’s probably the most significant artist in hip hop right now. He’s got a lot to say.”

— Alex Bisaillion from Ottawa

Lamar’s performance revealed his deep appreciation for dance and martial arts. For example, at the beginning of the show, he left the stage momentarily to showcase a dance battle between a woman and a ninja.

The show’s visual elements consisted of big-screen video projections of Lamar in a coming-to-wisdom enlightenment story with clips of VHS-quality shots of King Kong and the Apollo 11 moon landing, which played behind the track “untitled 07.” The videos gave Lamar a chance to rest his voice. He is known for utilizing voice manipulations on his records, and the difference was noticeable between his natural voice and the studio. This was most apparent during older classics like “Money Trees.”

I appreciated how he didn’t shy away from putting the focus on his voice while rapping along to songs like “XXX.” towards the end of the set. Before Lamar closed with the encore track, “God,” he singled out a guy in the front and passed him a shirt that he’d grabbed from backstage. For Lamar, it’s all about the fans, his loyal following. And Montreal’s fans were no exception.

“I will be back,” Lamar yelled as he walked away for the night. A job well done, indeed.

Student Life

“Read any good books over the holidays?”

Concordians recommend their favourite winter reads to students

  • Utopia for Realists– Rutger Bregman
courtesy of press

By following mainstream media on a daily basis, we aren’t given the impression the world is doing too well. In a lot of ways, it isn’t. However, in this book, young European theorist and journalist Rutger Bregman argues the world has also come a long way in many ways. He talks about “two centuries of stupendous progress,” where the world saw a decline in warfare and a spike in technological advancements in the 19th and 20th centuries. He writes: “What would have been miraculous in the Middle Ages is now commonplace.” His book is a well-researched, detailed and refreshing exploration of modern-day society and the new dystopia we face today. He discusses problems within the food industry, advertising and how societies have lost their sense of leisure. He argues that a lot of the world has become pessimistic, and many refuse to believe another utopia could be around the corner. Bregman thinks what is lacking, most of all, is the will to believe in an upcoming utopia, complete with 15-hour work weeks and long, healthy lives. This nonfiction book makes you think and forces you to reflect on the modern world—how things have evolved and how they will continue to evolve.

By Danielle Gasher

The Hidden Life of Trees– Peter Wohlleben

courtesy of press

Spending more time looking at screens than the sky has been normalized in North American culture. This is why Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees is a refreshing, interesting read.  Wohlleben spent more than 20 years studying, working and writing about trees. His admiration for trees is obvious in his writing. He writes about them with the same affectionate tone pet owners use towards their animal companions, which helps him direct the reader’s’ attention to the many similarities between animals and trees. Once you enter the intricate world of forests—a world perhaps you didn’t know existed—you won’t want to leave. Wohlleben is adept at translating complicated scientific concepts into an easy-to-understand and engaging story, featuring trees as the main characters. Life tends to be busy and fast-paced, especially for students.  This book is a striking reminder there is so much going on in the natural world we are unaware of, and we should pay more attention to these things.

By Aysha White


Born a Crime– Trevor Noah

courtesy of press

A lot of us know Trevor Noah as the funny and smart new face of The Daily Show. But upon reading his compelling, humorous and sometimes heartbreaking memoir, the South-African-born comedian and television host became so much more to me. This maturely-written book has made me care about The Daily Show and Noah’s commentary more than I already did. In his book, Born a Crime, Noah shares extremely personal experiences—bringing us into his childhood of troubled households, poverty and life within a politically unstable country. His memoir recounts unexpected and intimate aspects of his upbringing, such as his trouble-making habits as a boy and his complex relationship with his mother and grandmother. Through humour and poignant storytelling, Noah transports us to Johannesburg in the 90s. This book is an important one—a thought-provoking read recounting the life of an important and admirable public figure.

By Danielle Gasher



Allah-Las – Worship the Sun (Innovative Leisure, 2014)
by Mia Pearson

Worship the Sun (Innovative Leisure, 2014)

Worship the Sun? More like worship this album. It seemed like an impossible task for Allah-Las to follow their incredible self-titled debut, but the band’s perfect sound seems to shine eternally. Worship the Sun has a nostalgic sound that burns back to ‘60s grime and glamour. The album elegantly weaves in Miles Michaud’s soft vocal harmonies, backed by waves of twangy guitars slowly reverberating, while the drums whisper warmly throughout.

It’s as if each song was filtered through circa 1960s thick gold jewels, dug-up on the beach and spit-polished by a pool-side model. Their tunes are so sharply unique that you’d think band members leave a trail of glitter and sand wherever they walk. The album begins by blaring “De Vida Voz” which travels fast into a listless chant. Further unravelling, “Had It All” could be a slowed-down Kink’s song, had The Kinks grown-up lounging on SoCal beaches. The album peaks midway with “Follow you Down”– a catchy tune with a cute pop chorus. The sun sets on the song, “Every Girl,” with a few ‘ya ya ya ya’s…

Trial Track: De Vida Voz
Rating: 11/10


Sondre Lerche – Please (Mona Records; 2014)
by Paul Traunero

Please (Mona Records; 2014)

Please is not your typical break-up record. Conceived during the sudden divorce from his eight-year marriage, the Norwegian singer-songwriter expands on his signature corky indie-pop style, with a sonically-adventurous interpretation of his heartbreak.

Though never a stranger to eccentricities and catchy pop hooks, Lerche’s bold new direction often creates a feeling of distance from the listener. Not only are most of the tracks on his seventh studio album structurally disjointed and riddled with askew breakdowns of yelping guitar and strobing electronics, they also suffer from over-production, which often drown his voice in the chaotic soundscape throughout.

Perhaps, if Lerche had dealt with his heartache and loss, instead of evading his feelings in the studio, Please would have sounded more like a gratifying assertion, rather than a desperate plea.

Tria Track: “Sentimentalist”
Rating: 7/10

John Southworth –  Niagara – (Tin Angel Records, 2014)
by Lan Thockchom

John Southworth definitely has the capacity to surprise us with the wide range of musical styles on his latest album, Niagara. However, despite his efforts and talent for many music genres, the album itself lacks cohesion. It sounds more like a collection of music that aims to put you in a state of relaxation than like a complete work. Some tracks stand out, such as “Fiddler Crossed the Border” or “Folk Art Cathedral.” The album would have benefitted from sounding like those songs, with their folk/blues rock sound and Leonard Cohen-inspired female backing vocals. Southworth is well respected for his his ability to recreate the sounds of some legendary folk artists, but he still needs to work on making an LP sound complete. There were some tracks that sounded really genuine and dynamic, but there were some throw-off tracks such as “Ode to Morning” and the opening track, “Niagara Falls.” Those songs fell short because of their generic structure and uncreative lyrics.

Trial Track: “Fiddler Crossed the Border”

Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love (Atlantic; 2014)

by Paul Traunero

Already one of the fastest-selling albums of 2014 on the UK charts, with 109,000 copies sold in its first week, Caustic Love, is a masterpiece. The 27-year-old, Scottish-Italian singer-songwriter rose to fame alongside Amy Winehouse, yet never achieved her credibility—until now.

With his signature raspy vocals and retro-soul swagger, Nutini exudes confidence and maturity beyond his years with his third album. Though steeped in vintage sound and channelling R&B legends like Curtis Mayfield, James Brown and Bill Withers, this album displays a tasteful level of restraint and contemporary pop sensibility that transcends its retro labeling.

Caustic Love is more than a collection of chart-topping singles: it is a coherent and innovative album for its genre, by an artist who has finally found his identity and the critical success he deserves.

Trail Track: “Iron Sky”
Rating: 9/10


Fantasia International Film Festival in review: the best and worst of this year’s edition

The Best
The Zero Theorem (2013)
Directed by Terry Gilliam

Set in a dystopian future, The Zero Theorem features a colorful cast of misfits.

From the comedic genius of Monty Python to the numerous surprising movies that he has made, Terry Gilliam has shown what is needed to become a giant in the artistic universe. The third and last opus of his “Orwellian triptych” reconfirms it. The Zero Theorem is a story about a peculiar character named Qohen Leth, interpreted by the always-wonderful Christoph Waltz, working for a Big Brother-esque company called Mancom. In a dystopian world, an array of colorful misfits pass through Qohen’s life to disturb his routine, either to help or disrupt his progress towards completing his important assignment. This said mission, bestowed upon him by the almighty Management of Mancom, is to prove the zero theorem, therefore confirming that everything in this universe is meaningless. For those of you familiar with dark but still fascinatingly amusing movies like Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, you can start to fathom what kind of absorbing and interesting world Gilliam is able to create. With his surprisingly lovable protagonist evolving in a not-so unrealistic futuristic society, Gilliam points out and critics many important and smaller facets of today’s world. With some slight exaggerations and caricatures of our own contemporary habits and surroundings, he is able to make us see the incongruity of an over-stimulated, productivity-obsessed, sex-driven civilization. The beauty of it is that The Zero Theorem never feels like it is patronizing. It uses clever humor and poetic representations to let us understand how absurd humankind could become. Let us hope that even in this dystopian future we will still be able to appreciate ingenious masterpieces such as Gilliam’s last work. Watch the trailer here.

Bloody Knuckles (2014)
Directed by Matt O’mahoney

Bloody Knuckles brings in the pain with the help of a zombie hand.

We all hate censorship. Well, at least when it concerns our favorites shows, artists or even media figures. Still, some people might think that a selective censorship is necessary for some “unacceptable” things in our society. In recent history, we can think of Jyllands-Posten’s Muhammad cartoons controversy for example. Bloody Knuckles, when you pass over the vulgar absurdity and the usual gore fest associated with decent B-movies, is a testimony of freedom of speech and the right of laughing about anything and anyone. The film portrays an uncompromising cartoonist named Travis (Adam Boys) using his comics to critique and joke in a particularly obscene fashion about well-know figures. Sadly for him and his soon to be severed hand – the subject of his last comic – Chinatown’s ultimate mobster, Leonard Fong (Kasey Ryne Mazak), is one of those people that thinks that sometimes you should censor yourself. Luckily for us – and the young, now depressed and silenced artist – the disconnected hand comes back from the dead with its offensive attitude to help his master get revenge. From there, the cartoonist, the zombie-hand, a clever journalist (Gabrielle Giraud), and one the most awesome and funny vigilante ever put on screen called Homo Dynamous (Dwayne Bryshun), group up to defeat the evil criminal gang. Bloody Knuckles is not what we would call a classic blockbuster. It will not win an Oscar and could be criticized for its few attempts at serious drama. Still, most of what Bloody Knuckles does is done right. If you are looking for an unconventional and wildly entertaining genre movie, go fetch this pus-covered hand and have a great and disgusting moment! Watch the trailer here.

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (2013)
Directed by Stéphane Beria and Mathias Malzieu

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a musical that tugs at the heart strings.

We all have this one Disney movie that we cherish and re-watch secretly every once in a while. We also have a special spot in our hearts for their soundtracks. Still, when we grow up we tend to get more and more annoyed by sing-songy characters and predictable children’s movies. That is why the musical and lyrical gem that is Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart more than surprised this Concordian! With its flamboyant characters, its classic but still interesting romantic story and its poetic penchant, this movie has the ability to charm you. One of the strong points of the movie is the surprising array of well-known French artists lending their voices and musical styles to the lovable animated figures. Grand Corps Malade’s guttural yet sensible sound for example, gives Joe – one of the villains – an indescribable quality. The gorgeous cinematographic style and the well-crafted story, both originating from Mathias Malzieu’s novel La Mécanique du Coeur, brilliantly complete this musical score composed by the French rock band Dyonysos. Yes, in the end it could be considered as just another childlike animated movie with singing redundancy, but that would be completely ignoring the ‘petit je ne sais quoi’ of Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. This movie has something special to offer to young and old alike. You should give it a chance to charm you, you will not be disappointed.  Just be sure to make a bit of place in your head for another lovely song or two to add along to your favorite Disney melodies. Watch the trailer here.

The One I Love (2014)
Directed by Charlie McDowell

The One I Love takes the tried and true romantic getaway for a new spin.

What starts as an often seen storyline quickly changes to something much, much different. A couple, named Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) and Ethan (Mark Duplass), are struggling to save their marriage. Their therapists recommends a retreat, promising that this weekend away will renew their relationship. The couple embarks on a journey, unknowingly crossing the line between normal and abnormal.Once arrived at the retreat – which is a beautiful house – seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the couple spends a lovely evening. Things only start to go awry when Ethan discovers the guest house. In it lies an almost identical copy of their significant other. Only one member of the couple can be in the guest house at once, meaning that Sophie and Ethan cannot meet their clones, but can interact with the other version of their spouse. But how could this be? As the couple tries to wrap their brains around this new (clearly impossible) reality, even stranger things start to occur. What follows in an amazingly different story, a film that could be considered the perfect combination of a romantic comedy and science fiction. The film includes flawless acting from both Moss and Duplass, and beautifully shot scenes. It is incredible to think that such a complicated story line can be so well delivered by only three actors, one of which is only in the first few minutes of the film. The film will keep you guessing until the very last minute, and will leave you with a smile on your face, thinking ‘of course!’. Nothing less than genius can be expected from the people who created Jeff, Who Lives at Home and Safety Not Guaranteed. Still, The One I Love is one of the films to see this year. Watch the trailer here.

– written by Nathalie Laflamme

Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (2014)
Directed by Ching-Po Wong

Once Upon a time in Shanghai brings us back to the golden age of Bruce Lee and Asian Kung-Fu cinema.

Once Upon a Time in Shanghai is one of those movies that perpetuates the image of the god-like Kung Fu fighters, and does it really well. More traditional and lyrical in its approach and its cinematographic look than recent martial arts action movie such as The Raid. This movie takes you back to the era of old-school martial arts’ cinema, a time in which CGI did not over-stage the actual talent of the men and women seen on screen. This is probably one of the main qualities Once Upon a Time in Shanghai: it feels authentic. Still, the creators of this movie are well aware of the day and age in which we live in, and use plenty of effects and added stylistic details to give to the film a persona of its own. Simply put, it is theatrical and grand. A classy but still very dangerous Shanghai is portrayed and used as context for the two talented good guys, powerful mobsters and an evil army man trying to take over. It is the story of how it can be hard and unrewarding but still necessary to do good so that justice can prevail. A good old (but brand new) martial arts movie for everyone who misses the virtuosity of mister Bruce Lee himself. Watch the trailer here.

The Worst
WolfCop (2014)
Directed by Lowell Dean

Trite and forgettable, Wolfcop is the bane of all buddy-cop movies.

A movie about a dreadfully stereotyped and one-sided alcoholic cop who becomes, in spite of himself, a werewolf. That is WolfCop for you. This review could probably end here and now, but it is necessary to make people understand how awful this film truly is. The unpleasantness of it all first comes in important things such as the characters. As mentioned, the main protagonist is a low-life alcoholic cop that becomes a werewolf (Leo Fafard). Around this un-nuanced character evolves an obnoxious cast including a redneck weirdo, an objectified barmaid, a puritan politician and a poorly executed mix of The Matrix’s Neo and the Driver’s role in Drive as the main villain. Other than that, the plot is pretty simple. A cop becoming a werewolf becomes an efficient wolfcop and starts cleaning the city of bad guys until the final revelation, a cheap and easy plot twist to say the least. Also, some on the most annoying things in WolfCop are some little, exasperating details and scenes. For example, you would be surprised how at how rapidly and seemingly without incident the main protagonist accepts his newly obtained status of werewolf. I don’t know about you. fellow readers, but I would need a few minutes to cope with the news. Additionally, there is an exquisitely ironic sex scene between a scantily clad red riding hood and wolfcop. Very classy, I tell you. It is necessary to admit though that the movie offers a few funny choreographies and werewolf moments. WolfCop could have been exempted from the “Worst” list since it is clearly a B-movie simply doing its thing. Nonetheless, other movies that could be included in the B-movie category such as Bloody Knuckles shows that it is possible to do it right. Sadly, Wolfcop failed miserably. Watch the trailer here.

Bros Before Hoes (2013)
Directed by Steffen Haars and Flip Van der Kuil

Forgettable, childish and misogynistic, Bros Before Hoes doesn’t quite deserve attention or merit.

There is not much to say about this movie, really. It is an example of what Hollywood does badly and repeatedly, this time executed by filmmakers from the Netherlands. Two brothers (Daniel Arends and Tim Haars), after living through their parent’s messy divorce, swear never to get involved in serious relationships, and therefore sleep with different women daily. Soon, one woman changes things (Sylvia Hoeks), and a love triangle become apparent. Sex related, scatological and all other kinds of stupid jokes are hashed and rehashed in this misogynistic movie for horny teens. The overused romantic comedy tale is painfully executed by a whole cast of characters that seemed to try too hard to imitate How I Met Your Mother’s over-the-top protagonist, Barney Stinson (Season nine Barney Stinson… Yes, it is that bad.) This movie uses all the poorest stereotypes and easy jokes there is in the book. By far the worst movie this sorry Concordian editor had to suffer through during this whole festival. Even the substantive amount of Rambo: First Blood quotes cannot save this movie from ending up in a good amount of body bags. Watch the trailer here.

The House at The End of Time (2013)
Directed by Alejandro Hidalgo

While The House at The End of Time might be formulaic, the ending is what truly adds the nail to its proverbial coffin.

This Spanish horror movie is as basic as can be. In the same veins as The Orphanage and The Others, The House at The End of Time is putting its viewers into the familiar setting of a strange and seemingly haunted house. It presents what appears to be a regular family with regular problems, well at least at first. This simplistic premise and set have been seen in numerous occasions, but this does not mean it is a bad thing. Even in the various techniques used by the director to scare the viewers–loud noises used in contrast with heavy moments of silence, mystery hiding behind a closed door, footsteps coming from beyond– almost every conventional horror technique is used. The horror genre is known to use the same formulas over and over again, and still succeeds to deliver some surprising and widely entertaining movies. You do not have to reinvent the wheel to make a great horror film. So, why is The House at The End of Time in the shameful “Worst” list you may ask? Simply put, it is mainly because of the last fifteen minutes. A no spoiler policy will be strictly enforced for this article so we will not go into any specific details, but what seemed to be a decent and honest horror movie just frankly lost it all at the end. Some other critics may be prone to advance the argument that this said ending is a complicated but still very clever twist. This is merely because in our generally simplified cinematic era, an over-complicated ending is often wrongly associated with a sign of quality. Confusion does not automatically rhyme with ingenious. Because of this unsuccessful attempt at cleverness, the movie just loses most of its significance. Sadly, the original tension that you felt during those few good moments just fall flat because of those odd and inconsistent final explanations. Sometimes, mysteries are simply better left alone. Watch the trailer here.

Monsterz (2014)
Directed by Hideo Nakata

With such a great pedigree under his belt, director Hideo Nakata’s Monsterz is forgettable at best.

We have all seen and been traumatized by either the remake or the original versions of some horrifying Asian movies, such as Ringu or Ju-on: The Grudge. Hideo Nakata, the director of the above-mentioned Ringu and Monsterz, is considered a master of the art. However, this recent installment will not stand in the annals of Asian horror movies. The plot revolves around two young men, one with the power of bending the minds of anyone unlucky enough to meet his gaze, and another that seems to be the only one immune to this power.  From this premise comes an ever-lasting duel between those two superior beings while society decides that they are a threat to humankind. It is cautionary tale about exclusion and stigmatization. Yet, even if it is evident that there were people with good intentions and talent behind this movie, Monsterz does not hold up to the expectations. Annoying characters, including the most outrageous gay stereotype of the last decade showed on screen, sometimes totally illogical moments and ridiculous dialogues ruins the potential of the movie. This movie had a great concept at its core, but failed to exploit it properly. Hopefully, this will not be the swan song of one of the most talented director when talking about Asian horror movies. We will just need to forget about this unsuccessful attempt. Watch the trailer here.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Directed by Tobe Hooper

There’s little that hasn’t already been said about this classic piece of cinema history.

If you are into horror movies, you must have been there with us. If you are a real fan, you could not miss this once in a lifetime chance. Yes indeed, I am talking about the screening of one of the best horror movies of all time, the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in all its splendor on the big screen! Not only that, but the actual horror legend that gave us this horrifying gem, Tobe Hooper, was there to present it to the lucky people able to enter the presentation. For those of you who cried for a week after having realized the missed opportunity, here is a general overview of the evening. After an energetic presentation by the hyperactive Fantasia host and a short appearance by Tobe Hopper himself, everyone meowed their heart out and the festive ambiance suddenly became creepy with the opening credits and iconic photo-taking. Then the whole audience proceeded to scream, laugh and get traumatize by the amazing classic that is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was very interesting to think about how horrified the public must have been back in the day by the gruesome film. It was also easier to experience how this movie not only perturbs its viewers psychologically with its demented protagonists and the general craziness, but also how it affects the audience physically. Indeed, the fact that it was properly presented on a cinema screen with quality surround sound made you realize how unsettling the numerous camera movements, high-pitched noises and general atmosphere and that all those elements could affect you directly and physically. Overall, it was wonderfully frightening to see this movie screening with a public composed of die-hard horror fans. Sadly, the interview and Q&A that followed with the director was not as satisfying. After a few rounds of applause, the Fantasia host started a very interesting and informative interview, or at least he tried to. Maybe mister Hooper was tired or maybe he just did not feel like being there, but in the end even the most stimulating questions directed at him were answered by anecdotic moments or non-related stories. Frankly, it felt more like a reading of IMDB’s trivia pages than a unique opportunity to interview and listen to one of horror’s most talented directors. Still, Tobe Hooper will remain the creator of one of the scariest films ever made. Thanks to him, and the Fantasia International Film Festival, we could finally be scared properly by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Watch the trailer here.

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie (2014)
Directed by Kevin Finn and James D. Rolfe

As James Rolfe’s magnum opus, The Angry Video Game Nerd movie is a sure-shot for fans of the YouTube superstar.

Most people got to know him as the “Angry Nintendo Nerd” when he first began his short and corrosive reviews of old-school video games a few years ago. Today, James Rolfe is an Internet superstar with over 1.5 million subscribers to its YouTube channel and fans from all around the world, showing a dedication rarely seen on the web and its micro-celebrity sphere. With the help of these devoted fans, the nerd finally delivered his ambitious movie project. In this movie, the infuriated geek and his friends go on a quest to unfold the mystery surrounding the so-called “worst video game of all time”, Eee-tee The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600. James Rolfe delivers in this wacky film a fair and honest comedy that is surely going to appeal and amuse all of us who watched and laughed at his countless comical videos. The various references to different movie genres, the caricatural characters, the iconic frustrated moments of the nerd himself and the chaotic finale are all elements that kept the whole crowd laughing for nearly two hours. On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that most of the audience members were Rolfe fans. The reason this movie is not in the “The Best” category is that this is a movie for those fans. It is very doubtful indeed that people who never heard of the “Angry Video Game Nerd” and its original web reviews will like this film. This movie is more of a continuation of the work of James Rolfe and the people that helped him more than a solid stand-alone film. Nonetheless, Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie will satisfy anyone who loves the rolling rock’s drinking character that will play those games that…Oh well, you know the song as well as I do and if not, you probably won’t like the movie. Watch the trailer here.

Mr. Go 3D (2013)
Directed by Yong-hwa Kim

It is a South-Korean blockbuster about a gorilla that becomes a baseball star…in 3D. What else do you need? Watch the trailer here.

Goal of the Dead (2014)
Directed by Thierry Poiraud and Benjamin Rocher

Who knew zombies and sports would go along so well?

What could have been a cheap use of zombies to justify a bad story installed in a sport related setting was after all a nice revelation. Not good enough to be in the honorific “best” list, but its uniqueness, a characteristic rare enough in our contemporary zombie-filled cultural landscape, makes it worthy of our attention. Created with the help of Canal+, this horror comedy will surely entertain you with its smart use of the sometimes laughable world of international sports and the anger and admiration it stirs up. By offering a nice little analogy of the absurdly violent hooligans, it gives us a light and easy to watch two-part movie. It is necessary to precise that people unfamiliar with the French general culture and people may find the movie a little less funny that it really is. Nonetheless, it stands as a nice zombie movie anyway and that is something we all ought to like. If you do not, well you can always go play soccer outside…at your own peril… Watch the trailer here.

It is important to precise that that many wonderful movies and plenty of very bad ones have been omitted in this article. Big titles such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Welcome to New York and I Origins have been left out but certainly deserve your attention. Indie gems such as The Unusual Metalhead and critically acclaimed international hits such as Jacky au Royaume des Filles have also been overlooked. This list is clearly imperfect and insufficient to give a complete portrayal of what the festival has to offer. Your humble writers had to make some difficult choices to bring you this article, and hope that you will understand that, to really experience the Fantasia International Film Festival, you have got to simply be there and make the most of its brilliant selection.


Quickspins + Retroview

Plants and Animals – The End of That (Secret City Records; 2012)

Montreal rockers Plants and Animals return with a more stripped-down sound on their third full-length album The End of That. Unlike their previous records, this album leaves behind the realm of orchestral psychedelia for a more mellowed out sound with hints of early 1970’s rock ‘n’ roll. Lyrically, the record finds the band dwelling on times past, loves lost and the difficulties of adulthood. From his Lou Reed-esque cadence in “The End of That,” to the no holds barred wail of “Lightshow,” vocalist Warren Spicer demonstrates his ability to use his voice as an extra instrument, greatly adding to the overall effect. Even so, while still featuring some solid tunes, it gets lost somewhere around the halfway mark with the last four tracks melding into one big rock anthem.

Rating: 6.0/10

Trial track: “The End of That”

– Cora Ballou

Field Music – Plumb (Memphis Industries; 2012)

I feel it is my duty to warn you that Plumb may possibly be too wacky for public consumption.
The fourth studio effort from Sunderland natives Peter and David Brewis is a progressive pop-rock frenzy. With 15 tracks crammed into 35 minutes, there is an indelible sense that these songs were constructed by someone with a seriously short attention span. Best described as a collection of half-congealed ideas piled on top of each other, with hooks that rise but then are quickly discarded, this album is nothing more than an unmemorable mess.
It’s a shame, because the Brewis brothers seem to have a real knack for writing quirky, hooky little numbers. There were moments when I decided that Field Music may, in fact, be Queen’s long-lost hipster nephew. With a little Ritalin and some production assistance, there may still be hope for these boys to become more than just a silly novelty.

Rating: 4.0/10

Trial track: “A New Town”

– Paul Traunero

Farewell Republic – Burn the Boats (Unsigned; 2012)

Farewell Republic’s debut brings a new addition to the post-punk scene. Hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., the group has put out their 11-track record, Burn the Boats, available on Bandcamp.
Sivan Jacobovitz and Brian Trahan make up the permanent members, while a rotating cast of live and session musicians aid in creating the musical landscape that is illustrated on the album.
The music has an almost film-soundtrack quality in its composition. However, the sheer chaos, which would make an excellent backdrop to an art-house film, becomes quickly draining, almost numbing the senses. The listener’s ears bleed at times from the sound generated from the noise of layered guitar feedback. Even the dissonance is reflected in the album cover’s imagery.
However, there is still hope for the band, that once they mature, their narrative voice and artistic vision will no longer be lost in the white noise. Hopefully then it will enjoyable.

Rating: 3.0/10

Trial track: “Wake”

– A.J. Cordeiro

U2 – The Joshua Tree (Island Records; 1987)

When I think of the best rock album, I think of The Joshua Tree, U2’s fifth album that has earned itself a spot among the best albums ever made in the history of music, up there with Abbey Road and The Wall. The Joshua Tree was released in 1987 and was immediately acclaimed as the album that transformed U2 from great to superstars. Just naming the classics on this CD makes me shiver: “With or Without You,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and there are so many more. The songs on this album are what make thousands of people wait days to see U2. The Joshua Tree encompasses so many real emotions and it has touched many around the world.

Trial track: “Where the Streets Have No Name”

– George Menexis


Quickspins + Retroview

Band of Skulls – Sweet Sour (Electric Blues Records; 2012)

Sweet Sour is the second studio album from British trio Band of Skulls. Their sophomore effort brings back the gritty guitar riffs and smooth vocal harmonies that put Baby Darling Doll Face Honey on the alt-rock map, but fails to fully live up to the debut’s promise. The first half of Sweet Sour groups together all the heavy songs, which results in a feeling of “where did the album go?” as the second half closes with one meandering, slow number after another. As a whole, the album lacks expected creativity and plays on the safe side of the music industry, seemingly vying for a single on MTV and a radio hit.  But its shortcomings don’t mean that it isn’t an enjoyable album. Stomp rock track “The Devil Takes Care of His Own” easily steals the spotlight as the best showcase of Russell Marsden’s catchy, dirty guitar riffing. It just never finds the breakthrough originality it needs.

Rating: 7.0/10

Trial track: “Wanderluster”

– Lindsay Rempel

Young Liars – Homesick Future (Self-released; 2012)

Electro-indie group Young Liars will have you bobbing your head and swaying your hips along to their rhythmic tracks from their latest EP Homesick Future. The Vancouver-based band released their first EP in early 2011 and have plans to make their full-length album debut sometime in 2012, but have released both EPs to tide listeners over until then.
All seven songs on Homesick Future have lengthy instrumentals that encompass you in the music. In contrast to the verses, the choruses have simple, repetitive lyrics, allowing the listener to pick them up in no time.
Unfortunately, at times the music seems to overpower the vocals, creating a cacophony of sound that breaks the melodic flow. The songs on Homesick Future are catchy but easily forgotten, with the exception of the song “Colours” where the electronica background music, guitar riffs and fresh vocals mesh together perfectly.
Overall, Homesick Future is good without being great.

Rating: 6.8/10

Trial track: “Colours”

– Natasha Taggart

Tennis – Young & Old (Fat Possum; 2012)

A little over a year after disembarking from Cape Dory, husband-and-wife duo Tennis are landlocked and ready to release their sophomore album, Young & Old.
Teaming up with The Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney to oversee the production, the album reveals an obvious divergence from Tennis’ previous songwriting with a more polished sound. A welcomed addition, Carney seems to lend a much needed structure to the songs. He is likely also responsible for a tinge of sass in lead vocalist Alaina Moore’s crooning vocals, especially demonstrated in R&B-inspired “My Better Self” and “Petition.” Despite the occasional quirk, the 10 tracks follow the same brisk-paced urgency, rendering the album monotonous.
My main concern with Tennis is that they don’t seem to be able to find their voice. Remaining true to their kitschy sea-shanty act would become tiresome, but too big a change in any direction would cause fans to question their sincerity.

Rating: 6.0/10

Trail track: “My Better Self”

– Paul Traunero

The Grateful Dead – American Beauty (Warner Bros. Records; 1970)

There aren’t too many people who can say they’ve mastered composing, poetry, songwriting, piano, banjo, guitar, pedal steel guitar, painting and drawing, all while missing a key digit from their right hand, but The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia did, and American Beauty exemplifies his prowess. The classic jam band’s fifth studio album further cemented the Dead as one of America’s great, iconic jam bands with timeless hits like “Ripple,” “Box of Rain,” “Truckin’” and “Sugar Magnolia.” Building upon the country and folk styles of their previous albums, American Beauty epitomizes easy listening and pure audio delight. The album takes you on a voyage through 1960s America. All of the usual suspects are there: freedom, love, music, travel, luck, and of course, drugs. Anyone who hasn’t heard this album multiple times from beginning to end is doing a disservice to themselves, and possibly even the world.
So, go make yourself a headband out of daisies, put on your tie-dye, and let this album move you in ways you never knew possible.

Trial track: “Till the Morning Comes”

– Allie Mason

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