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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

Subscribe to Endeavours on Spotify, Apple, Google, Pocket Casts, Breaker, or wherever you listen!


Image courtesy of Erika Tooker PR.

“You’re a young one, why are you here?” That was the question the increasingly-drunk lady behind me asked me midway through a Midge Ure concert Friday night. In many respects, it was a fair question; I was a millennial amongst a sea of Gen X-ers and boomers. Then again, why can’t younger people be musically cultured? To be fair though, I look anywhere from five to ten years younger than I actually am. The truth is, I was long familiar with Midge Ure – his stage name being a phonetic reversal of Jim – and a vague knowledge of Ultravox and Thin Lizzy, and knew that he was a co-founder of Live Aid, but I would have been hard pressed to name an actual song of his.

The show in question was different then most I have attended in the past. The venue – Hugh’s Room Live – finds that delicate balance between classy and pretentious – and on this night, played host to a solo acoustic show from Midge, interspersed with an audience Q&A. I had been to exactly one of these before – Randy Bachman in Vancouver – that was a bit more raucous, mainly because of the crowd and venue. I was a little unsure of the show at first; not all aging rockers have maintained their voices 40 years into a career, and there were times where I could sense Ure straining a little bit. With his typical self-deprecating, dark Glaswegian humour, a Brexit joke and reference to Doctor Who, Ure quickly won me over.

The audience “questions” largely consisted of song requests (hello “Vienna” and “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes”, which Ure finally admitted may be a love song), to Thin Lizzy Memories, and his favourite ever collaboration – it’s Kate Bush. Inevitably, Live Aid was brought up and, after a bit of prodding, Ure relented and crooned “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. While that means he technically played a Christmas song in January, I’ll give him a pass this time around. 

While there were other great moments – his memories of Visage – his rendition of “Fade To Grey” which had most of the audience in unison during the chorus, stands out as a particular highlight for its simple yet powerful beauty. It had an almost anthemic quality to it. What I appreciated most about Ure, was that he didn’t come with a prepared set-list; he chose what to play based on the audiences desires and feedback. That’s how I knew it was entirely an exercise in vanity, and he truly was doing it for the fans.

In his memoir, Bruce Springsteen noted that if was going to become a true rockstar, it would be because of songwriting rather than his voice or guitar skills. I feel the same way about Midge Ure. His voice, while certainly not terrible, is not what makes Ure memorable. As I never got to see him during his new wave or rock days, it is difficult to musicianship on an acoustic instrument from the back of a crowded jazz club. I have to hand to him though, he played solo after his multi-instrumentalist back-up musician pulled out hours before they were scheduled to leave the U.K. due to illness. At the end of the day, it was the way he used his words to navigate a story and re-capture the joy so many of us seek. In a world dominated by derision and decision, it felt nice to be united, however briefly, with the lovely group of people I was surrounded by. Except for you drunk lady, except. Music often brings strangers together; Midge Ure certainly did that. – DM

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.

The Anxiety Diaries: Stage One Meta

Two different bodies. A million different minds. Never quite in tune with anything, let alone each other. This is what it feels like to have anxiety. Let me explain.

There are days, quite a few of them actually, in which I very rarely, if at all, leave the comfort of my own bed. I suppose for many, this does not seem like anything out of the ordinary. After all, aren’t all millennials lazy and entitled? The answer couldn’t be further from the truth. For a mind wracked with anxiety, not moving is simply done out of fear. My mind tells my body to stay where it is because any other action could possibly adverslely effect myself, or more importantly, someone else. Irrational as it might seem, anxiety minds live in this constant state of fear-based analysis (or would that be analysis-based fear?). Even the most mundane, innocuous non-actions are subject to the most intense scrutiny, second-guessing and philosophical debate. The answer is always simultaneously both yes and no. Every move is both right and wrong at the same time.

When living with an anxious mind, every decision is sorted into a list of pros and cons, a rapid-fire, critical-analysis form of woulda-coulda-shoulda-but-ultimately-dind’t mental conversation. For me, most of this comes in the form of silence. More accurately, an almost pathological, devout non-speaking. Whether it’s crushing on another human and trying to strike up a conversation, figuring out what to say in a job interview, or simply making a phone call, the act of non-verbal (non) communication becomes my body – and my mind’s – greatest defense mechanism.

To speak, or not to speak, that is most often always the question, and on some days it almost becomes like a vague form of self-torture and harm. A depressing dance around a vortex of emotional explosions. Yes I should, no I shouldn’t, a back-and-forth that only serves to drives my mind more crazy than it was five or ten seconds previous; an endless loop of thought processes and over-active cerebral corteces.

But it’s not only about the verbal aspects of one’s daily life. Night time is often hell. For me – someone who considers themselves an artistic night owl – that often be particularly egrerious. Lately, anxiety has gone hand-in-hand with insomnia and it’s easy to see why. A body physically exhausted, a mind so wide awake it’s exhausting. It’s a constant Cartesian battle where there is often no winner, merely one side catching up with the other, hyper-aware of the constant tug-o-war taking place beneath its walls. How bad can the insomnia get? As I write these words, it is four twenty in the morning and I probably won’t get to sleep for another two hours at least. Good thing I work nights.

Speaking of work, there are days where I don’t stop working, don’t stop moving, because if I do, it will be the wrong course of action, it will negatively affect me or someone else. In times like these, my body often finds itself wandering aimlessly, with no real direction or purpose, whether its a walk down the street or simply pacing back back-and-forth in the office space I currently call a bedroom. And yet, senseless hyperactivity is almost preffered to the overactive silence that comes with our self-imposed social exile due to the fact that it stops the mind from thinking about the bigger picture.

Occasionally, life as a whole will come in focus – future plans, finances, work situation (social and professional) – but often only when the mind is really forced to think about it or is triggered by some random memory or thought that occurs on the 5th of watching Youtube videos, many of which were watched the day or week before. It really is just an endless onslaught of the inane yet relatable. I often try not to reach this stage as it can become borderline schizophrenic, but when engaging in acts of mental self-mutilation, goals and end results very rarely match up.

But sometimes I have to go there. Why? Because not thinking about anything – having a blank mind and staring into yourself – might just be the worst thing of all. At least when thoughts are racing through your mind, there is a certain sense of accomplishment, however vague or morbid it might be. The mind celebrates with “yay, I had a thought today, better than being a slab of dry concrete too thicki for any particle to penetrate”. The battle is starting anew however, when the mind thinks about how it is thinking or not-thinking, then starts thinking about why it is thinking about thinking. You get the idea. And yet by not thinking about anything at all, my brain feels like it’s letting everything – and everyone else – down because it is of the opinion that it should at least be thinking about something, even if it’s what colour socks to wear in the morning.

Even as I write this, I am wondering if I should go back, erase everything, and start again while at the same time realizing that this my only way of organizing any sort of thoughts as my body would never dare to vocalize even one syllable because it would be the wrong thing to say. Of course it would.

So how do I cope? Chai latte and beer mostly, though usally never at the same time. Does it help? Who knows? The latte often gets me into work mode, while the alcohol generally calms me down afterward and helps me take my mind off my mind, so to speak. It’s not ideal, given that I’m spend $5-10 dollars a day extra that I don’t have, but it’s often the easiest, and is, at the very least, a trusted coping mechanism that has served me well (mostly) over the years.

I’ll sum it up this way: anxiety is gettiing both distracted by your own distractions and distracted by nothing at all. It is a jumbalaya of depression, ADHD, and whatever else you decide. I even get anxiety about anxiety. My mental health has reached Stage I Meta, so that’s cool I guess. Also nerve-wracking. Which in of itself is both cool and nerve-wracking. Oh no, not starting down this rabbit hole again.


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