Thursday, July 16, 2015

movie review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max
(USA, 2015)
directed by George Miller

We saw this with friends who had already seen it in the theatre but were willing--actually, eager!--to see it again. After the movie was over, I could understand why.

I can think of only one other movie experience that left me with such a feeling of exhilaration, and that was Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. When I left the theatre after Death Proof, I felt like someone had pumped me full of adrenaline; I felt the exact same way after Mad Max: Fury Road. The two films actually have a fair amount in common: 1) they're both centred around fast, loud, powerful vehicles, and 2) the main characters are all smart, strong women trying to survive pursuit by a violent man.

In Fury Road, the leader of the group is Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who has facilitated the escape of a group of sex slaves, "The Wives," from their captor, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Joe is the violent, power-hungry ruler of the Citadel, a brutal, ghastly city-state in the film's post-apocalyptic society. The job of the sex slaves is to produce heirs for Joe, and future warrior-leaders for his army.

We are introduced to this world through the eyes of Mad Max (Tom Hardy), who is captured despite his most valiant efforts and held prisoner to do duty as a living blood bank for Joe's army of Warboys. The movie's visuals are mesmerizing throughout, but they are especially compelling in the beginning. The desert Max comes from is bleak, and the world he is taken to is violent and ugly. In the opening scenes, the camera often jolts and shudders; the film is frequently sped up and choppy. Despite how it sounds, this effect is never used gratuitously, but rather to highlight Max's panicked mental state.

Fortunately for Max, being a mobile blood bank is only the beginning of his journey. Essentially, Fury Road is a quest narrative. It has all the elements:

1. a protagonist
2. a journey
3. group of loyal helpers
4. desired object (in this case, a place)
5. obstacles along the way
6. final battle
7. achievement of goal

The interesting thing about Fury Road is that it starts out by making the audience think the protagonist is Max, but really, the protagonist is Furiosa. After he is rescued by Furiosa, Max transitions seamlessly from the focus of our attention to the periphery; he goes from protagonist to helper.

Fury Road passes the Bechdel Test beautifully and features multiple strong female characters who exhibit plenty of agency. It's well-filmed, well-paced, and over the top in a really enjoyable way. It is the most unabashedly feminist action movie I've seen for quite some time, and what I particularly liked about it was that the female representation was not just limited to ONE strong woman character. This is a problem with many, many movies that want to make the claim for being feminist. It's just not enough to have ONE woman in a film, no matter how strong she is, if she rarely or never interacts in a meaningful way with other women. In Fury Road, we not only have Theron's fantastic Furiosa; we have many, many strong and intelligent female characters determined to take back their destiny and create a better world for themselves and their progeny.

Both Max and Furiosa are perfectly cast. Hardy and Theron embody their characters with strength and determination; the characters clearly respect each other. Also, spoiler alert, I really appreciated there was no stupid romantic storyline between them. I imagine it'll be a long time before that happens in an action movie again. The supporting actors are also excellent: Nicholas Hoult is very good as Nux, a fearless Warboy who ends up being less brainless than it seems at first glance. The group of women escaping from Joe are also given agency, and despite the movie's generally limited dialogue, each is given an individual personality. The other characters met along the journey (I don't want to give too much away) are also strongly and memorably drawn in the movie's efficient shorthand.

I totally recommend Mad Max: Fury Road if you are looking for an action movie with some brain and a lot of brawn. Because fear not--even though there's some thinkiness and social commentary in here, there are also a lot of satisfying explosions and car crashes!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

movie review: Line in the Sand

Line in the Sand
(Canada, 2015)
directors: Tomas Borsa and Jean-Philippe Marquis

Line in the Sand is a feature-length documentary about the how communities in northern British Columbia and Alberta have responded to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. The proposed pipeline would traverse the northern part of British Columbia and part of Alberta, carrying diluted bitumen (dilbit), a toxic, tarry substance, across pristine wilderness to tankers just off the coast of BC, near Prince Rupert.

The pipeline has been controversial for many reasons, including concern about its safety, its possible effect on the environment, and the way it would cross traditional First Nations territory. Borsa and Marquis interviewed ordinary people from communities along the proposed route to ask how they feel about it and why. (You can check out their "Line in the Sand" blog here.)

They start out in Alberta, where they talk to farmers who have entered into agreements to let pipelines cross their land. These farmers have discovered the hard way that the pipeline companies have a great deal of unexpected control over the land once they are on it: for example, they have sued farmers for "trespassing" on their own land. These are the same companies who pay a lump sum, trash the land and render it unusable, then leave a huge mess for the farmers to take care of. The toxicity of what the pipelines transport have left animals dead and with birth defects. However, the companies have no legal obligation to rehabilitate the land, find less toxic ways to do business, or compensate the farmers. Do they have an ethical obligation? The farmers think so.

Borsa and Marquis are personable (they were at the screening I attended in Prince George at the College of New Caledonia, and gave a Q and A for the audience afterwards) and it shows in the natural, expressive interviews they managed to get with regular folks along the proposed pipeline. In the film, one person after another speaks candidly and with passion about what their community and the landscape mean to them. We see beautiful shots of northern British Columbia that help someone who has never been here understand what is at stake. We hear from researchers and scientists who describe the potential risks of the pipeline and the repercussions if there is a spill. There are a few people who speak in favour of the pipeline, but they are outnumbered by those who are against it. (The filmmakers were asked at the screening I attended whether they had sought out people who were in support of the pipeline and they said they had, but the number of people who are in favour of the pipeline in the film is representative of the number of people they found who were willing to do so.)

There is much blunt talk about Enbridge's incredibly poor track record regarding pipeline integrity and spill response. Some of the most arresting footage is from a man who worked on the Kalamazoo spill cleanup--Enbridge fired him after they discovered he had secretly filmed cleanup workers being directed by Enbridge to simply cover up spilled oil with a layer of sand.

The filmmakers interview many First Nations people about land rights, self-governance, and the uncomfortable relationship between large and powerful companies and small, economically depressed First Nations communities.We see large protests against the Northern Gateway and smaller acts of defiance--one series of shots shows a number of colourful handpainted signs in one First Nations community on the pipeline's proposed path.

To me, the main theme of this film is larger than just the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. The filmmakers wisely show us not only the actions of Enbridge to coerce and bully communities into accepting the pipeline--they also dig deep into the federal government's attempts to paint any opposition to the pipeline and similar projects as anti-Canadian, anti-patriotic, and, most frighteningly, as "radical eco-terrorism."

Watching Joe Oliver denounce those who speak out against the pipeline--and watching the charade that was the Joint Review Panel "consultation" process--simply highlights the need for the Canadian public to educate themselves not only about the potential effects of the Northern Gateway project but also the effects of a federal government bent on stifling opposition with swift brutality and little regard for the democratic process.

Overall, this is an excellent documentary. The cinematography is gorgeous, the issues outlined clearly, and the filmmakers wisely let the residents of northern Alberta and northern BC speak for themselves about why they have chosen to draw this particular line in the sand.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Tree Change Doll Peasant Blouse knitting pattern

Tree Change Doll Peasant Blouse

Designed for the Two Rivers Gallery Doll Makeunder Workshop, based on Sonia Singh’s Tree Change Dolls. Pattern inspired by Shellee Floyd’s Magic Loop, One Piece Barbie Dress.

If you want, you can download a PDF of the pattern here


Small amount (18 m or 20 yards) of DK or light worsted yarn
Set of 3.25 mm or US 3 double pointed needles OR long circular for magic loop
Yarn needle


CO 22 sts. Join to knit in the round, being careful not to twist.
Rounds 1 and 2: Knit all sts.
Round 3: *K, yo.* Rep until end of rnd; end with yo.
Round 4: *K 11, CO 11.* Rep once more to end of rnd.
Round 5: PM to mark beg of rnd and join again to knit in the round.
The CO sts now form two armholes for the blouse. You will continue to knit a tube for the rest of the body.
Continue to K in the rnd until blouse is desired length.
When you are ready to bind off, P last rnd.
CO all sts knitwise.
Break yarn and weave in all ends.
You’re done!