Category: episodes

Haymaker – New Film From First-Time Director a Modern American Love Story

This movie surprised me. For whatever reason, when I saw the poster, my mind immediately thought it was an action film. Plus, it’s called Haymaker, which is a type of knockout punch in boxing. The lead character – Nicky “Mitts” Malloy – is an ex-fighter turned bouncer and security guard; in a way, it all the ingredients of a cold-blooded action romp.

What I got instead was a remarkable, layered, nuanced love story between the aforementioned Malloy (played by first time writer-director-actor Nick Sasso) and transgender performer Nomi, played to perfection by trans singer, writer and actress Nomi Ruiz, who also acts as a producer on the film. Sasso and Ruiz are their characters to a t. In Malloy, Sasso embodies the quiet, reserved, grizzled ex-muay thai fighter who is also a loyal, soft-spoken soldier and bodyguard. As for Ruiz, she likes to say that the movie version of Nomi is her when she was just starting out – complicated, with something to prove, yet also loving and down-to-earth.

Haymaker follows these two around the world – from their base in New York to Los Angeles, Greece and Mexico – and a deep, unspoken love develops between the two. For Ruiz, she became attracted to the role as the “transness” of her character was just a-matter-of-fact and not a significant plot point; something she hopes can become more commonplace in Hollywood and society at large.

For a first time filmmaker – Sasso has experience in the industry as Visual Effects Supervisor (a role which he also fulfilled on Haymaker) as well as a production assistant on The Sopranos and Angels in America, – he attracted some experienced talent for his passion project. Stunt master Zoe Bell (most known for her work on the Kill Bill series) co-stars as Nicky’s trainer in addition to serving as Stunt Coordinator, 2nd unit director and chipping in as executive producer. Additionally, the great D.B. Sweeney shows up as Nicky’s supportive brother. German acting legend Udo Kier gives the film some weight with a one-scene appearance as a rich benefactor of Nomi’s.

In many ways, Haymaker is a groundbreaking film as it has a queer, POC character as the lead as a romantic lead, even if it is a non-traditional romantic drama. Sasso’s minimal dialogue not only allows the characters to subtly communicate with emotion and body language, but also engages the audience by allowing them to focus on the subtext; something that is not always easy to accomplish as a writer. May we see more from him in the future.

Aleks in Chains: A Tale of Redemption and Choice

Redemption has long been a theme in film. It is at the heart of many morality tales, and the best story arcs contain characters that often undergo a positive change. In Chained, the new film from writer-director Titus Heckel, morality and redemption take centre stage.

The cat-and-mouse chess match stars Marlon Kazadi as Taylor, a bullied 13 year old with an emotionally tough father and a passion for gardening. Adrian Holmes co-stars as the teen’s cop dad Pete and Vancouver legend Aleks Paunovic is his typical self as a complicated brute criminal. On the run from school bullies, Taylor stumbles into an abandoned warehouse, where he comes across Paunovic’s Jim, a man in shackles who may or may not have a killed a man in a case that is connected to Taylor’s dad.

Although is hard to like any of the three lead characters – their actions don’t necessarily bemoan sympathy – the actors themselves turn in great performances. Kazadi is great as the angry teenager; his role and style reminiscent of Jahi Di’allo Winston, the young star of the great but gone-to-soon Netflix Show Everything Sucks. Kazadi has many scenes with Paunovic and holds his own emotionally, finding just the right balance of subtlety, anger and manipulation. Paunovic – a master of brute force – shows his softer side during some tender moments between criminal and kid, with the two creating a highly dysfunctional relationship and Paunovic’s Jim even engaging in a game of battleship and giving the young horticulturaist advice on kissing his crush Nora.

Speaking of Nora, the actress who plays the role of the girlfriend, Leia Madu, might just lowkey be the best performance of the movie. She is certainly the most likeable character in the movie and takes great effort not to be merely a sidepiece, as characters have been in the past. Her emotional arc is realistic, she doesn’t try and do too much; she just wants to be a normal teenager – Nora and Taylor are only 13 after all. She is not simply the confused girlfriend, but causes significant decisions and actions to be taken by the characters.

Although, there are some problems with the script – namely that it never really answers “why”, as well as some questionable tonal shifts and music choices, overall Heckel was able to create a thought-provking experiment on the power of choice and what happens when the drive to succeed combined with toxic masculinity is taken to harrowing extremes. That and Aleks Paunovic still kicks ass.

Chained recently premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival

  • Dan McPeake


Lots of exciting guests coming up on Endeavours:

July 15 – Director Jared Cohn

July 17 – Actress & writer Precious Chong

Other upcoming guests include musician Hawksley Workman, philosopher Francesca Ferrando, actress Magda Apanowicz, actress-director Romola Garai, author Preston Lautenberg and author Andrew Pyper

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Episode 198 – Adam Zucker

Adam Zucker has worked mainly as an editor, but also as a cinematographer, writer, producer, and director. His previous directorial efforts include Greensboro: Closer to the Truth and The Return. His third feature documentary is American Muslim, which follows Muslim community members, leaders, and activists in Zucker’s hometown of New York City and surmises what it means to be Muslim in America in the age of Trump. The film is screening as part of Cinematters: The NY Social Justice Film Festival which runs from January 16-20.

Hedley: Let’s Talk About Fan Culture (And How Problematic It Is)

The #MeToo movement has been rocked as well as the Canadian music scene as Vancouver pop-punk band Hedley has been hit with numerous allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour with underage fans. The allegations started on twitter and range from the band being vulgar and handsy with girls after the show, to one that outlines them bringing back a 16 year old fan back to their hotel room for sexual acts. Police are even investigating a potential rape that occurred in London, Ontario in 2005. The alleged victim was 14. (It should be noted here that at that time, the legal age of consent in Canada was still 14, not being changed to 16 until 2008. So the girl may have been of legal age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the band’s actions were consensual).

Although I was heavily entrenched in the Vancouver music scene for years – either through interviewing bands or reviewing shows – I was not among Hedley’s fanbase, although I have seen them perform three times. My only experience with Jacob was a five-second hello and handshake backstage at the Saddle Dome in 2005. Up until two days ago, I had no prior knowledge of any of the allegations against Jacob Hoggard, Tommy Mac and the members of Hedley. I am not here to add anything substantive to those reports. Rather, what I’ve noticed is a strange divide.

Obviously, this kind of behaviour is nothing new. The 60s and 70s were legendary for their rock and roll behaviour and the general hedonistic lifestyles that often came with being a touring musician of that era. That’s not to say that every single artist engaged in these types of questionable morals, but it certainly was more common than not. But this is not your grandparents and these aren’t your parents concerts. If the recent events in Florida are anything to go by, it’s the young people – men and women – have had enough of being ignored. This being the digital age though, those accused are often able to share their shade of events easier and more quickly. In their statement on facebook that Hedley posted after the accusations surfaced, the band alluded to engaging “n a lifestyle that incorporated certain rock and roll clichés”, while remaining adamant there was a line they would never cross. The band can say one things, but fans can tell a different tale.

It all started on twitter, where many of the accusers first spoke up, there were recurring stories of Jacob having an unpleasant and in some cases creepy nature. Yet others are vociferously defending their chosen Gods and engaging in various levels of disbelief, name-calling and victim blaming. While a good number of commenters are polite in their defence, others are hurling curse words and various attacks at anyone who tries to say anything bad about the band and calls out those who haven’t given “true facts”. One facebook user felt that accusing men of heinous acts is now the cool thing to do, although I’m sure survivors and victims of assault would strongly disagree.

Many of Hedley’s defenders are supporters of the #MeToo movement and at least one is a survivor of assault. So what, if anything, makes these specific allegations different? Every case is different – whether it’s the multitude of bizarre sex antics levelled against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, or a single allegation as is the case with actor George Takei and journalist Steve Paikin. Certainly, any sort of emotional connection will play a role, but at what point does fandom become irrelevant? Musicians and rock stars are, to certain a degree, often held in higher stature than actors or sports figures, and often have a seeming greater amount of infallibility than there famous counterparts. But is there something in the Vancouver music scene and pop punk culture in particular that make it a breeding ground for inappropriate behaviour? I spoke with a few avid concert goers and pop punk aficionados to try gain some insight.

Lydia Bader says although she was never assaulted by any members of the band, she had a rude encounter with them years ago, which included lead-singer Jacob Hoggard cursing at her when she asked for a photo. She was about 14 at the time. While her experience wasn’t as bad as some of the allegations, Bader points out the type of behaviour that is pervasive in the Vancouver music scene; on her Tumblr page she goes into great detail about how she was assaulted by Sheldon Stenning, lead singer of another Vancouver-based pop-punk band – Sharks! On! Fire! (Although these allegations have also yet to be proven, as of Sunday night, it is now an active and ongoing police investigation). She stresses however, that it’s not limited to just this one type of music. Fans of all genres are vulnerable to the exposure of certain “rock and roll cliches” – the type alluded to in Hedley’s facebook statement.

For fan Lizzie, although she found Jacob to be “quite attractive”, she says pop punk appeals to her because of the “sense of community” it brings. When pressed if similar stories of behaviour were ever to be alleged against her all-time favourite band, Lizzie flatly states that she would be “extremely heartbroken” and may have “to let them go”, as much as she would try to see all points-of-view. She is also quick to note that the whole Hedley situation has been a “lesson” for her as they were one of her favourite bands.

Many fans are still fervent supporters however. On twitter, many users lament that it’s no longer innocent until proven guilty, or point to the lack of real, tangible evidence, as reasons for why they are sticking by their favourite musicians. Many of them try to place the burden of proof with the alleged victims, which can be a difficult thing to ask, as something that happened years in the past and often leaves no physical evidence can be a tough sell. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. To point to a real-world example where this happened, one can look at the trial of U.S Gymnastics coach Larry Nassar, sentenced to over 60 years in prison after upwards of 30 victims testified. Now it may never come to that with Hedley, but in many cases, the court of public opinion ends up in the right corner.

With supporter Charlie however, the relationship with Hedley goes beyond simple fandom. She worked for them as a merch girl in their early days. On why she is still supporting them even after they have been dropped by the Junos, their management, radio stations and their openers, she believes that it’s important to acknowledge that there are two sides to every story, especially since some of the allegations took place over a decade ago. But she doesn’t necessarily think that the accusers are all lying. “ These are their stories and this is how they felt at the time and still do” she laments. “To them, this is how the meetings took place.” It’s not my place to say they’re untrue” but she is to point out that if the band is proven innocent, “I definitely think an apology” would be in order.

Given that all the accusers are female, and that Hedley and to a larger extent pop-punk’s fanbase is mainly comprised of teenage girls and young adult women, does that aspect of fan culture play into certain “rock and roll cliches”?

For Bader, this is absolutely true, especially in Vancouver. “Fan culture in Vancouver is a mess. There’s no boundaries or respect from either side”. For her, there can be a lack of maturity on the part of the fans. “The problem is that the mainly female fan base is so young that they put themselves in horrible situations not truly knowing the [potential] outcome.” For Lizzie, she says that while the fanbase can be problematic in terms of drama, she hasn’t experienced anything too negative, but knows that a lot of other fans have. For her, “concerts should be definitely treated as a safe zone. Everyone goes to concerts to run away from their own issues and to be happy.” Bader however, is skeptical that “safe spaces” will make much of a difference stating “If people want to lie about their age, they will. If musicians want to believe these girls are old enough despite clearly being 16, they will.”

As a survivor of assault, Charlie sees things a little differently. “I personally wouldn’t explain my story as a hashtag on the internet. What happened to me is private and if I want my story spoken I tell those I trust. If that’s someone’s choice to tell their story then that’s their prerogative.” A key objective of the #MeToo movement is giving victims a voice and a supportive community. The challenge for anyone accused is that they now have to contend with the court of public opinion more than ever before. Charlie feels the fan base will ultimately make their own decision although “parents with younger children will have something to say about it.” She then harkens back to a situation with British band Lostprophets when their lead singer, Ian Watkins, was charged – and ultimately convicted – of numerous sexual offences against children and possession of child pornography. “You don’t hear from them anymore” says Charlie. (In June 2014, a year and a half after the allegations first came to light, and roughly months after Watkins pleaded guilty, the remaining members created No Devotion with new lead singer Geoff Rickly.)

Fans on the both sides of the debate though do seem to be in agreement about one thing: Hedley’s apology could have been better. Bader called it “disappointing” and claimed it did nothing to save their image, while Charlie was a bit more nuanced in her criticism “It’s as sincere as their PR wanted it to be. I think they’re stepping around the issue and could have been more personal about it. It got turned around onto them instead of about the victims. But that’s just a “ rock and roll clichè” right?”

While all three agreed to be interviewed for this piece, only Lydia Bader consented to have her name published in full.

Update: Since this story was first published, the police investigation against Sheldon Stenning has been closed without charges being filed. Vancouver police are not pursuing the matter any further.

Best of Endeavours – Henry Rollins, Marc Maron, Neil Degrasse Tyson

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