Friday, December 1, 2017


Lexson: My style is in the minimalist realm. It's nature meets carefree black boy.

TorontoVerve: What's the best advice that you've been given?

Lexson: My uncle in Saint Vincent told me that I can always achieve whatever goal I set out to do as long as I have the right attitude. I'm a model in Toronto and my success has a lot to do with believing in myself and remembering my uncle's words.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


I like humour and meaning in my style. I'm wearing something Asian and vintagy today. Tomorrow I'll wear something super gothic and maybe the next day I'll wear some Harajuku. I"m always doing different things to keep it fun.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Women, Fashion & Horror Fandom: Interview with Author Alexandra West

“It’s Halloween. Everyone is entitled to one good scare.” *

I love horror movies. There’s something thrilling about being terrified in the safety and comfort of my living room. I had the pleasure of talking to Alexandra West, the co-host of the popular podcast “The Faculty of Horror” and author of  “Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity". She shares her thoughts about women in horror and more.

TorontoVerve: Why do you think some of us like to be scared? 

Alexandra West: I think it’s because so much of pop culture is happy endings and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think that there’s an inherent darkness to the world. You have light and dark. I think horror films give us a safe way to explore those things. When you get to encounter horror as a fan, you’re entered into this whole new world with a life and death struggle and that’s really vital to a lot of people.

TV: What scares Alexandra West?

AW: Ghost ladies. I don’t know if I really believe in ghosts, but any kind of ghostly female figure shrouded in darkness really scares me. Also, the notion of being truly alone like when you’re lost in a house or a city. We rely so much on community and the people around us — so if something bad happens, we might be safe. But if you’re alone in the woods or if you’re looking for the Blair Witch, that’s terrifying to me.

TV: You once said when you discovered horror at the video store it was like discovering your people. Can you explain?

AW: I loved culture or the idea of culture when I was a kid and I hadn’t found a place where it really made sense for me to fit in. So when I found horror movies, they spoke to me so deeply. I loved being scared. I loved the characters. I loved the tropes and themes. Later on in life, I really started finding my people who are near and dear to me through horror.

TV: Which Final Girl (the last surviving woman in a horror film) do you relate to the most?

AW: She’s my favourite and, as I get older, I relate to her more and more: Sydney Prescott from the Scream franchise. I kinda grew up with that character. She’s smart and she’s strong. She’s confused and pissed off, but a good friend. She’s got a lot of conflict in her and a lot of unresolved issues. That’s what really drives the whole Scream franchise. I think because she’s a really multi-faceted character, I respond to her.

TV: In your book, you mention that France has rejected New French Extremity films because they’re a shameful reflection of its shady World War II past. How much of your perception of France has changed after researching its history and New French Extremity?

AW: It changed quite a bit. I consumed a lot of New French Extremity films and the more research I did, I learned that there wasn’t a big horror movement in France. I didn’t have the best high school history teacher so I had to teach myself French history from the ground up. I learned that France sought to cover up many of its atrocities. France has been marketed to us in a very cheesy way. You can’t go to a Winners or a Marshall’s without seeing these tacky boxes with the Eiffel Tower all over them. There are some amazing and beautiful things that happened in France, but there’s also so much darkness and I don’t think [the French] like to acknowledge that. Everybody was shocked with the Charlie Hebdo shooting. There’s such a long history of terrorism in that country. I think they’ve spent so long covering it up that it felt like New French Extremity was the thing that had to break through.

TV: You wrote the book in 9 months. What does binge watching New French Extremity over and over again do to your state of mind?

AW: My mom said that I looked like shit. [Laughs] It made me really anxious, sad and frustrated. The fact that these filmmakers were constantly putting themselves out there. They really were. They were screaming: “There’s some fucked up shit going on!” They were addressing it in a very visceral way. I was also reading reviews of them. While they were beloved and accepted in the horror community, mainstream film criticism hates them.

TV: I’m a big fan of "The Faculty of Horror" podcast hosted by you and Andrea Subissati. What I especially love about it is how you unpack horror films from an academic point of view. You guys validate horror films which don’t get much love from cinephiles or society in general. What overall response do you get from people outside the horror community when they discover your affection for horror?

AW: A lot of people are very shocked. I think they assume all horror fans look like Elvira and Vincent Price. There’s this immediate reaction — either they think it’s kind of cool or they say, “I hate horror films!” And I tell them: “That’s nice, but I didn’t ask.” There’s a kind of judgement, but I think that’s what a lot of horror fans have become used to. If you love horror, then you understand that most people are going to dismiss you for it. I’ve accepted that.

TV: Despite its racist overtones, I have a fondness for Gone with the Wind. I just have to get over the mammie images and "silly darkie" references, which were normal for its time. Horror -- especially in the 70s and 80s -- hasn’t always been kind or respectful to women. As a feminist, did you or do you have an awkward time watching some of these horror films?

AW: Oh, yeah. Horror is interesting because one of the reasons I love it so much is it often presents really dynamic female leads. You’ve got Sydney Prescott and the women from Black Christmas. You can name anything and there’s a great female character. Friday the 13th Part 7 has a very strong final girl in Tina who’s the telekinetic Carrie-esque figure who takes down Jason for a brief period. She’s an interesting character, but sometimes — even in the same scene — you get these horrible women who are just after money and sex. They’re just evil people. It’s become part of consuming culture as a woman. You’re going to have terrible portrayals of women even in films marketed towards women — like the Sex and the City movies. It’s kind of gross the way some of the women are portrayed. There are points where I decide to engage with it and there are points where I have to check out. Yeah, I know that these are some bad female representations, but this is a fun movie. I think of it kind of like a light switch. Most of the time I have it flipped on, but if I’m having a chill evening, then I could turn it off and enjoy it.

TV: What does it say about our society if audiences are rooting for the killers in horror movies?

AW: I think it goes back to your last question with these terrible portrayals of young kids. In a lot of the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street films, the kids are really vapid, uncaring and selfish. They’re kind of like the bullies who pick on the horror nerds so you’re like, “Fuck yeah, Freddy. Go get them.” When in reality, there are facets to every person and you probably shouldn’t be rooting for even the bully to get it in the end. I think there’s such a toxic masculinity that feeds into those portrayals of Jason and Freddy. They are these figures that cut down youth and if the kids are weird or different, all the better. I don’t love that bombastic masculinity that kind of overtakes that love of horror. It feels very exclusive. Women don’t get to play unless they dress up as sexy Freddy Kruger at conventions.

TV: I learn a lot of survival tips from horror films. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre taught me to avoid exploring in dark woods and Irreversible taught me to not walk alone in poorly lit tunnels. What survival tip have you learned from horror movies?

AW: I go back to one of my favourites: always release the safety lock of a gun. I held a gun in a staged combat class and I did not like it, but if I need to hold a gun, I will remember to look for what I think is the safety and turn it off.

TV: Which horror films can fashionistas watch to find some really cool fashion inspiration?

AW: I think Dario Argento’s Suspiria — the entire aesthetic of that movie is beautiful, but I have a really big love for 70’s fashion. Suspiria provides a great balance between over the top and standard fashion. Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula has some of the most beautiful costumes ever committed to film. If you want some fashion eye porn, you can really be served by that film. When I think of stylish horror, I always think of Aaliyah in Queen of the Damned. She’s got the head dress and the bikini top. It’s like the most bad ass version of Princess Leia’s gold bikini.

TV: How will you be celebrating Halloween?

AW: I will probably be at the Rue Morgue Halloween party. It’s on the Saturday before Halloween at the Velvet Underground. I still have to figure out my costume for that. Usually on Halloween proper, I’m a big fan of staying in and watching some horror films. I try to find something new that I haven’t seen before. Last year, I watched House (Hausu) for the first time and it did not disappoint. I don’t know what I’m going to watch this year, but I’m thinking about it. We shall see.

TV: What’s making you happy now?

AW: Seeing more women take on roles in different positions in the horror community. Andrea just became the Executive Editor of Rue Morgue earlier this year. Films like XX (an anthology horror film directed exclusively by women) are really cool. I recently saw Tragedy Girls and that has some really great portrayals of female friendship. I think in the midst of all of these Harvey Weinstein — I’m sure very factual — allegations, it feels like you’re defeated when you see more and more women coming forward. You think, “How has this been happening for so long?” But you kind of know why it’s been happening. I think of the women who are actively working in the industry and making change and making space for different people — whether it’s a male directed film with great female characters or women behind the camera or behind the computer for magazines. Women have so many different voices and they are starting to make things more inclusive for everyone in the horror community. People with different sexual orientations, people of colour and women can enjoy their horror fandom together. We’re all weirdos.

* Quote from the film
Halloween (1978)

Follow Alexandra West on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.

Pre-order Alexandra's newest book "1990's Teen Horror Cycle: Final Girls and the New Hollywood Formula".

Monday, October 23, 2017


My style is androgynous, but a little more sexy. I like showing off skin. My friend Som Kong designed my outfit. It fits my aesthetic.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Rotten Tomatoes’ Grae Drake is Ready for her Close-up!

She’s the Senior Editor of Rotten Tomatoes and the wildest dressed film critic on the junket. Grae Drake talks about her extraordinary style, the movie that made her hug a stranger and Samuel L. Jackson reading her wedding vows.

TorontoVerve: How would you describe your style? 

Grae Drake: My style is whatever feels right for me in the moment. It’s really something that I feel works because if I have to think about it too much then I don’t know what works. It’s really an intangible thing.

TV: How does fashion play a part in your job? 

GD: Because a lot of my job is about media, doing appearances and being on television, I have to think about how I look more often than I would prefer to, but when I do, the way that I make it more meaningful to me is to use it as an expression of what’s going on with me. One of the things that is super important in the way that I present myself is that when I’m walking into an interview, it tells someone who I am. Having pink hair to start with and adding things on top of it may tell people that my crazy level is maybe at the ceiling, but then when I begin talking, they realize that it’s just a couple of feet below that. It’s nice to lull people into a false sense of security. Generally, I think that my style gravitates towards being fun.

TV: What was the best celebrity reaction to your style? 

GD: Overall, people’s reaction toward my style is so positive. That tells me ultimately that I’m doing the right thing. One of the best reactions happened when I was doing Iron Man 3 interviews. I had an Iron Man shirt that lit up like his power source in the chest. It was just a t-shirt and I had a cute jacket over it with a skirt. I also had high top, laced-up black sequined Converse, which are my favourite go-to shoes. So I walked into Gwyneth Paltrow’s room and I had a pre-conceived notion of who she was and what she might be like. And the minute that I walked into the room, she was like “Oh, my God! What is happening with you? You are the coolest person that I’ve ever seen. Before we even start your interview time, I have to find out everything.” We sat there and we talked for about a minute — totally off the clock because she knew I only had only four minutes and it would take me a lot longer than that to describe what I wearing. She was so nice to me and supportive. In subsequent interviews, she remembered me and we’re always chatting about what’s going on and what we’re wearing. She’s so nice and funny and that surprised me. It was a good lesson because she responded to what was in my heart.

TV: Colour is a big part of your personality. 

GD: I think so. The hair evolution took a long time and it was something that I never thought I would have. I’ve had a lot of hair colours. I was blond when I visited my current hair dresser Tonia Jost many moons ago. I was going through a break-up and I told her that I was feeling emotionally vulnerable and I just wanted to be brown again. And very gently she said, “I don't think you’re a brunette.” I told her to do her thing. I trust her and she’s very empathetic. She does things for your inside as much as your outside and that’s how pink started. It’s funny — I think back to me in high school when I had very long brown hair and I want to tell that girl that she’s going to grow up to become a girl with a pink mohawk and that’s going to feel right. [Laughs]

TV: Who styles your outrageous costumes for your interviews? 

GD: In the past, I have done the majority of work for my interviews on my own. I do style myself, but now the Rotten Tomatoes team is growing and supporting me in new ways. One of the biggest style achievements that I’ve been able to attain is largely due to Quentin Owens who helped me make four of the most amazing costumes for the San Diego Comic Con. Working with Quentin was the first time that I was able to actually collaborate with someone who knew better than I did about how to achieve something that didn’t exist. He’s amazing.

TV: You’ve mentioned the special connection that you’ve had with Gwyneth Paltrow. You’ve built relationships with the people you’ve interviewed. One that comes to mind is Samuel L. Jackson. 

GD: Ooohhh, I love Sam.

TV: How did your friendship with Sam even start? Was it developed through social media? 

GD: The first time I talked to Sam was at Comic Con and I was dressed as Lady Riddler. The look on his face when he realized that he was going to be interviewed by Lady Riddler was priceless. I put my hand out and I said, “Hi, Mr. Jackson. My name is Grae” and he said, “No, no, no. We’re going to hug.” [Laughs] And I was like “Yay!” The vibe was so amazing. I don’t know where it came from, but I asked him if he wanted to hear some riddles and he was like, “Hell, yes. I want to hear some riddles.” After that we followed each other on Twitter and exchanged messages. I think one of the reasons that we’ve continued to get along is because I feel the most understood by him out of the majority of people that I’ve spoken to. He really understands that I love movies. I like creating a real moment in a very artificial environment of junket interviews. He really gets me. And he read my wedding vows to my husband. [Laughs] Because every time I started reading my vows, I started to cry so I thought maybe I could just play them for my husband. If I could pick someone who gets me and read them in the voice that makes sense, it would be Sam. So I played Sam’s recording of my vows. What’s great about my husband is he was surprised and delighted, and then he was not surprised at all: “Oh, yeah. Of course. Sam Jackson read your wedding vows.” Sam is just like the most gracious, professional and warmest person. What’s even funnier is when most people speak to him, they think he’s going to be like his movie roles. The thing that I’ve learned most about is that the meanest people in the movies are often the nicest people in real life. And Sam definitely likes to play with that and when he senses that someone is nervous and thinks that he’s going to be Jules from Pulp Fiction, he likes to mess with them, and I like to mess with people too. Maybe that’s why we get along so well.

TV: Which movie you don’t want people to miss this year? 

GD: I feel that Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit was a watershed moment in my movie viewing because the way that it hit me finally dislodged something in my brain that I didn’t even know was there. In the movie there are two white girls who are completely outraged at what’s going on in the Algiers motel and they’re being mistreated terribly [by the police officers]. I thought, “Oh, my God. They have no idea that other people are being mistreated like this every day and they are so outraged that it happened to them. Now they see it when it’s happening to them.” The thing that Detroit did was help me understand that there was a part of me that was like them. And even though I still don't fully have that experience, I understand that I don’t understand. That’s big.

TV: It’s so interesting that you’re saying that because black film critics are saying that Detroit wasn’t made for Blacks because we’re all too familiar with racism. It was made for white people so they can understand the horrors of anti-black racism. 

GD: I was so moved and horrified. It was so important for me to see it. I saw it in a mostly empty theatre and I felt bad for the guy sitting near me because he had to hear me sobbing through the whole movie. When the credits were rolling, I was trying to calm down. I knew the guy was still there and I was super embarrassed. Finally I looked up at him and he just opened his arms and I totally hugged a stranger after that movie. I wondered: What are we going to do about this? It really makes me sad that no one saw Detroit. It’s not the kind of movie that I can tell people that they’ll have fun watching. It’s not that kind of movie. It’s important. It’s been an emotional year for some Americans. People want to escape and I understand why people don’t necessarily want to spend their hard earned money on their date night to see that film, but I really want them to so we can all talk about it. And I’m hoping when it gets all these award nominations that it will spur people to go and see it — in spite of the difficult time that they’re going to have watching it.

TV: I’m going to close on a "Pop Culture Happy Hour" question: What's making Grae Drake happy these days? 

GD: I really like Fall movie season a lot and I really like kicking it off [at TIFF]. It just feels right for my Southern California self. I’m happy that it looks like we’re going to see some new stuff. We don’t have to sit through the same movies about the same people anymore. I’m really jazzed about that. And I’m also a huge pumpkin spice latte person. The Fall is the best. [Laughs]

* * * 

Follow Grae Drake on Twitter and Instagram.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Stevie Nicks' nomadic, flowy scarves and witchy elements inspire me. I practice contemporary witchcraft and magic factors into the way I dress.

Check out Jae's Instagram to learn about his spiritual explorations. "I do a lot of stuff with ancestral work. I feel that a lot of us -- especially People of Colour and queer and trans people of colour are really disconnected with our ancestry because sometimes we have to leave our family behind in order to be who we need to be. But the homophobia and the violence and oppression towards us comes from colonization and systematic erasure. If we go back far enough in our ancestry and look at our pre-Christian cultures and traditions, we see that queerness was celebrated. And what we call queerness was considered holy and sacred. I blog about how I reconnect with that and I try to help others reconnect with that too."

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


I have an intimate relationship with what I wear.  I work with a lot of symbolism and things that develop from my experiences. It's who I am in a deeper sense. Sometimes I'll be feeling a certain way and I'll wear something that expresses that. Or I'll intuitively wear something that I'm not really sure why and then something will align that helps me realize what it is I'm going through that connects with that energy. So it's a certain art of bringing the sacred connection back into material form, which really resonates with me because in a lot of ways we're disconnected with that. It doesn't have to be that way. Everything is divine.

Monday, October 2, 2017


Julia: If a circus collided with a piñata  -- that would be me. That's my style.

TorontoVerve: What's the best advice that you've received?

Julia: You wouldn't care how much people thought about you if you realized how little they do. That was from my mom -- given to her from a friend's mother when she was younger. I figure that if you pretend to be really confident, people aren't going to look closely to find out that you're not. There's that and there's also: always make the bed in a hotel room before you leave because you find stuff.

Thursday, September 21, 2017


My dad told me, "F@#k society. Do whatever you please." I struggled for a while trying to find myself. I'm from a small town and the people were very judgemental. My dad saw what I was going through and gave me that piece of advice. It's helped. I know exactly what I want now.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Black Girl Nerds in the Six!

The Black Girl Nerds are making a name for themselves in the media industry with their unique perspective on all things nerdy like comics, video games, movies, television and fandom culture.

I spoke to founder Jamie Broadnax and her team while they were in town for TIFF.

[Pictured from Left to right: Founder Jamie Broadnax, Kyndal Wilson, Lauren Warren, Kay-B & Jacqueline Coley]

TorontoVerve: There was a time when being a nerd was something to be ashamed of. Now people are embracing it. How do you think that cultural shift happened and when did you realize that you were a part of it? 

Jamie: The term “nerd” is elusive. It means different things to different people. I think now people want to own their sense of identity in a very unique way and they’re building communities off of that.

Lauren: I guess I’ve always accepted that my likes weren’t necessarily in line with everyone else’s. I didn’t really know if it made me a nerd or not, but I just knew that it made me “me”. I didn’t know that other people enjoyed the same things.

Kay-B: The “nerd” community has definitely gotten a bit larger. It’s become more of an embracive environment.

TV: Jamie, when did the idea of BGN come to you and how did you bring it together? 

Jamie: In February 2012, I googled the term “Black Girl Nerds” and nothing came up so I decided to create a Blogger account with that name. Literally within 24 hours, a published author reached out to me and said, “I want to write content with you.” Then it slowly began to build into this online community — when at first, it was all about me and my personal musings. Now we do meet ups all over the country and go to Comic-Cons. [Black Girl Nerds] is a safe place for women where they can express themselves in a way that they haven’t quite been able to do before.

[Founder Jamie Broadnax]

TV: What was the reception like for BGN? 

Jamie: The biggest one was in the September 2013 issue of Marie Claire Magazine when Shonda Rhimes said that I’m one of her favourite people to follow on Twitter. That’s what made it real. She even Tweeted to me about Comic Book Day. It’s remarkable to see how celebrities have reacted to it.

Kay-B: It’s grown so much. I just did an interview here at the Toronto International Film Festival and they were like, “Oh my God! Black Girl Nerds! I’m so excited! This is so awesome.” Over the years, what Jamie has built has dramatically increased and celebrities and our followers have really been positive and receptive to the brand.

 [Kyndal Wilson] 

TV: When I was a kid playing with friends, I never wanted to be the black guy from TV shows or movies because there was nothing special about them. That all changed when I saw Miami Vice and Philip Michael Thomas' Tubbs. For the first time, there was someone I admired and looked up to. When did that moment happen for you all? 

Lauren: I thought about this a few weeks ago when I saw the #FirstTimeISawMe hashtag. Desna from Claws really resonates with me. Desna is taking care of everyone except herself. Has everyone’s best interest in mind except her own. She’s always last. Everyone else comes first. But we’re talking about the year 2017. That’s a long time for me to watch TV and see a true reflection of myself.

Kay-B: For me, it was The Cosby Show. Seeing a dynamic Black family in different shades on TV meant a lot to me. Claire Huxtable was the epitome of the mom that you wanted to see. She was fierce and a [tough disciplinarian], but she also made sure that her kids knew that they were loved. She was someone who I looked up to and aspired to be.

Jamie: Netflix partnered with BGN for the #FirstTimeISawMe campaign. Kay-B, Afiya, Joi and Connie participated in it. We all shared our experiences of the first time that we saw ourselves reflected in media and it was so cool to see that hashtag go viral because of the BGN community. I’m so proud that we were a part of that campaign.

[Lauren Warren]

TV: Jessica Chastain recently said at Cannes that she was displeased with the state of women in the film selections. How do you feel about it after seeing some TIFF films? 

Lauren: Well, 40% of TIFF shorts were directed by women, which is a vast jump from last year, but it’s not indicative of what they could be doing. I think TIFF is doing more than what most festivals do. There’s always room for improvement for writers, directors and producers. I can understand her disappointment, but for her disappointment, there are many other people who see far less of themselves and who reap fewer benefits. There are some solutions that need to be brought up and she can do something to help because she has some clout. So you’re disappointed. What are you going to do to fix it?

Kay-B: Yeah, be a part of the change.

Lauren: Bring me solutions not problems.

Jamie: It’s not always about White women. It’s also Women of Colour. In those feminist arguments, they don’t see Women of Colour in the spectrum — they only see White women. That’s why intersectionality exists.


TV: I’ve been rather vocal on Twitter about whitewashing in film -- especially about Ed Skrein and Hell Boy. Do you feel him stepping down from the role will change things in Hollywood? 

Lauren: It’s a drop in the bucket, but I hope that it shows actors that they do need to start being held accountable for their actions. [Movie] producers no longer have the option to say, “But I need a bankable star.” Bankability doesn’t necessarily equate to responsibility and Ed was being responsible when the producers were not — so kudos to him.

Kay-B: It’s a wonderful first step, but going forward two things could happen. Either actors can continue to step down or [filmmakers] can properly cast from the beginning. You don’t have to go through this process at all.

TV: Lauren, the world was recently introduced to the first Black Bachelorette and you and Joi covered it on your podcast. So what do you think? Has the show been a leap forward for race in television or have we stepped back enormously? 

Lauren: I wouldn’t necessarily call it a leap. I’m going to say that we took a very small half baby step and every time we hear about Shonda Rhimes getting deals with Netflix or Will Packer & Aaron McGruder getting deals to do shows like Black America on Amazon, those are good steps. They’re not leaps. It will be a while before we see leaps. We need more [People of Colour] in power to make those leaps happen.

[Jacqueline Coley] 

TV: I’ve been wanting a Wonder Woman movie since the TV show so I was really excited about seeing it. I was happy to see Black Amazonians on Themyscira, but disappointed that we didn't get to spend more time there and possibly learn more about them. What were your feelings about the film? 

Jamie: The absence of Nubia was telling. As a comic book reader and someone well versed with Black women in comics, I would have liked to have seen her. I would have liked to see them hang out on Themyscira for a while because the little bit of Black women that we did get…they only had one line. Wonder Woman was revolutionary for White women, but not so much for Women of Colour. That’s something that still needs to be recognized and talked about when we see these films with White female protagonists.

TV: What can we expect from BGN in the future? 

Lauren: Growth, expansion — definitely more Comic-Cons.

Kay-B: More video content and podcasts.

Lauren: And more live Tweets.

Kay-B: There are a new slew of shows coming this Fall so we’ll have new live Tweets. Obviously, we’ll continue to be a respected media outlet and brand and be able to sit at the table with everyone else.

[Carolyn Hinds]

Monday, September 18, 2017


My style is definitely my own. I did the cut of my shirt myself to make it more sexy. My fashion is inspired by the sun, which represents warmth, light and beauty. If the sun can shine every day, so can all of us.

Check out Henri-Abraham's style blog, Into the World.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

TIFF Talk: Laurie, "Village Rockstars"

Name: Laurie from Toronto

The Film: Village Rockstars (India)

What's it about? 

It's a coming of age film about a young Indian girl who wants nothing more than to become a rock star. The only problem is her widowed mother can't afford to buy her a real guitar.

Did you like it?

I loved the film. It sort of played like a doc in so many ways. It has patient storytelling and you forgot that there was a film crew and a director directing actors because it felt so incredibly authentic. I don't want to give too much away, but this child learns the value of hanging onto a dream despite the fact that society around her believes it's not a girl's place to dream about being a rock star. She also gets berated for climbing trees with boys. It's a film that spoke to the little rebel and rock star in me. The story is reminiscent of my younger days running around wanting to do things that were traditionally male-oriented. I was especially moved by the mother/daughter relationship and how the mother supported her daughter's dreams.

Village Rockstars currently has no official release date.



Saturday, September 16, 2017

TIFF Talk 2017: Richelle, "Sammy Davis Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me"

Name: Richelle from Toronto

The Film: Sammy Davis Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me (USA)

What's it about? 

A documentary based on the life and times of performer Sammy Davis Jr.

Did you like it?

I loved it. There were lots of things that I didn't know about Sammy Davis Jr. and I, like many, made several assumptions about him. Maybe we should feel a little ashamed about that because he did open a lot of doors for People of Colour in the entertainment industry. I think that his legacy will definitely live on. The movie captured the essence of who he was.

I'll be honest. As a Black woman, I did have some of the same views that he was a "sell out". He was often the butt of the joke with his affiliation with the Brat Pack -- the uncle tom, etc. etc. Also his marriages to White women impacted how he was received in the Black community.

Overall, I'm pleasantly surprised. I'm glad that I came to the screening. It's really challenged my thinking of who he was. Audiences will love it. For those who don't know his story, they're going to be amazed and impressed. For those who already know Davis' history, they're also going to be amazed and impressed.

Sammy Davis Jr: I've Gotta Be Me will be released sometime next year.


TIFF 2017: Director Matt Embry "Living Proof" Documentary

As the film title says, director Matt Embry is "living proof" that there are effective alternatives to fighting Multiple Sclerosis than conventional pharmaceuticals, but you won't hear his inspirational story from Big Pharma or research corporations like the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.

At 18, Embry was diagnosed with MS. Shortly after, his father, Ashton Embry Ph.D, dedicated himself to finding answers in scientific literature. When he discovered a link between MS and nutrition, his son eventually began to show great progress in fending off the incurable disease. But when his father shared his promising medical treatment to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, the nation's largest MS research company, they didn't want to hear it. Strange -- especially when Matt Embry doesn't show any symptoms of the disease -- even to this day, twenty-two years later.

Living Proof is a heartfelt film that follows the director's journey of coming to terms with his looming infliction. It's also an engaging exposé that shines the spotlight on what appears to be corporate collusion to continue to profit on the sick (i.e. MS patients are kept in the dark about cheaper medical alternatives and encouraging experimental treatments are tied up in FDA bureaucracy).

In the Q&A, Matt Embry emphasized that he's not a doctor or researcher, he's just advocating for change. "I believe that the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada is important to have. They have programs that are supporting people. The question is: What can that change look like? That's what we're trying to get to."

Living Proof currently has no release date.

To learn more, visit Matt Embry's website


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

TIFF Talk 2017: Rocio, "A Fantastic Woman"

Name: Rocio from Toronto

The Film: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

What's it about?

[After her partner unexpectedly passes away, a transgender woman clashes with his disapproving family.]

Did you like it?

I really liked it. It's very moving. It's set in Santiago, Chile where Trans women are not seen as real women. The situation in Santiago is not the greatest for the trans community. Society there is very religious and highly Catholic -- so seeing a film for and by LGBT people from Latin America is very powerful.

Some audiences will find it shocking or intense. It has some violent scenes, but it's an eye-opener to the realities of many women in South America.

Daniela Vega, the lead actress, gave a wonderful performance and I hope that she reaps all the benefits of that. I feel that the art community in Santiago loves to tell stories like this one, but it hasn't fully embraced the LGBT lifestyle. Hopefully that will change in the near future.

A Fantastic Woman is in theatres beginning November 17th.


TIFF Talk 2017: Carrie, "mother!"

Name: Carrie from Toronto

The Film: mother! (USA)

What's it about?

It's a story about mother, but it's not like somebody's mother, it's the nature of mom.

Did you like it?

I'm not really sure if I like it because I just finished watching it. I still have to organize my thoughts. However, if I compared it to Black Swan, I much prefer Black Swan. I found this movie difficult to understand, but I would still recommend it to my friends. It's really crazy and out there. It's an original. There's just really so much to take in. It's scary. I felt like I couldn't breath.

It'll definitely be polarizing. A lot of people around me loved it and I think a lot of people will dislike it too.

mother! is in theatres this Friday.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Talking with Film Reporter Alicia Malone, Author of Backwards & In Heels

The only thing I love as much as watching movies is talking about movies and that’s why I was thrilled to talk to film reporter Alicia Malone. Malone is the host of the weekly show Indie Movie Guide on Fandango, and a host on Filmstruck, a movie streaming service by the Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies.

Malone was in Toronto to cover TIFF and promote her first book, Backwards & In Heels: The Past, Present And Future of Women Working In Film.

TorontoVerve: How did you become so passionate about film?

Alicia Malone: It started at an early age. My dad loved classic movies, so he used to drag me out of bed at night to watch the late night classic films. My mom also loved movies, and we would go to the video store every week and I would get 7 films for 7 days for 7 dollars. It wasn’t until I was a bit older at school that I realized that it was kind of a strange thing that not everyone loved classic movies as much as I did. But luckily, I now found the dream job where I get to see movies for a living.

TV: Do you recall the movie that really got you interested in film?

AM: I remember that Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock was one of the first films that I saw that made me realize that someone was making it. That it was a director, that it was his vision, and that everything was there for a purpose. I thought that was really fascinating, so that led me to start reading film books and film history books to try to learn more about the art of cinema. I never went to university, so I studied on my own — trying to watch all the classics and figure out why they were so important.

TV: What got you the most frustrated and the most excited when doing research for your book?

AM: Most frustrated was how often this happens: how every time that there is a movie that’s successful that’s directed by a woman or starring women, how it seems to be a fresh surprise to Hollywood – and then they quickly forget about it. I noticed when I stepped back and started researching the whole history of American cinema how many peaks and troughs there were for women. That was frustrating because it seems like history repeats itself time and time again for gender and racial diversity. But the most exciting thing was when I was talking to people like Ava DuVernay, Geena Davis and JJ Abrams — people who are working inside of Hollywood to try and change things — they were so optimistic about the future that it made me excited for the future of Hollywood.

TV: Which female filmmaker's story resonated with you the most?

AM: I love the story of Lois Weber who was one of the earliest female filmmakers of the world. In 1916, she had the highest grossing movie and it was a film about abortion. She was someone who was focused on social issues and paired that with incredible visual images. I love her story because she also helped a lot of women get into the business. She was a great mentor. She was very strong with her vision and paved the way for so many women in the future.

TV: I really appreciate the diversity in your book and how you shared stories about People of Colour like Hattie McDaniel, Anna May Wong, Dorothy Dandridge and Pam Grier, to name a few.

AM: I try to be inclusive as possible. I’m a white girl from Australia, so I don’t know these stories. I don’t know what it feels like to be a person of colour in America. I tried to consult as many diversity experts as I could and do interviews, and then come at it from like a fact-based thing. But I wanted to tell their stories. It’s hard enough being a white woman, let alone a woman of colour in this industry.

TV: Geena Davis told you after Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own that she thought "everything would be different" for women in film. And it wasn't. Now that Patty Jenkins has broken all records and expectations with the success of Wonder Woman, how hopeful are you that "everything will be different”?

AM: I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve seen some articles now about Wonder Woman saying, “Everything is different now. Everything is getting better because Wonder Woman is successful.” But we don’t have another female-led superhero film until 2019 with Captain Marvel. And if you look at the statistics of today’s Hollywood, nothing has really changed. However, I remain hopeful because of the level of conversation, and that’s brought about with social media which we didn’t have back in those days. I think that there’s a real awareness now that there’s an issue, and I don’t think that people are as willing to let the studios get away with it as they used to, and we saw that recently with Ed Skrein and the whitewashing issue with Hell Boy. He stepped down from that because people — rightly so — took to social media and there was an uproar about it. So, I think that with the level of conversation, it’s virtually impossible for studios to get away with it now. They’re not going to change by themselves, but they will change because we will push them to change [Update: As of yesterday, Hawaii Five-O's Daniel Dae Kim will be playing the role vacated by Skrein].

TV: It’s concerning that Warner Bros. hasn’t signed Patty Jenkins yet to direct the Wonder Woman sequel [Update: As of two days ago, Warner Bros. has rehired Patty Jenkins to direct the sequel].

AM: It is. Yeah, it’s really concerning. I’m hoping that she gets signed to the sequel and gets a good decent amount of pay. Again, it was frustrating to see people say, “Wow! We didn’t know that this woman could direct a superhero film, and it’s been successful.” For Jenkins, she directed Charlize Theron in Monster, and it was 14 years between her two feature films, and that’s ridiculous.

TV: There would be a huge outcry if Warner Bros. didn’t rehire her.

AM: Exactly. They’re going to be under pressure, and that’s a good thing.

TV: What are your thoughts about this trend of all-female versions of male dominated films: Ghostbusters, Ocean’s Eight, and now the newly announced Lord of the Flies?

AM: I know. [Laughs] I’m dubious about Lord of the Flies because it seems like it’s the anti-version of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman showed a utopia filled with women, and I think these days we don’t need to see women tearing down other women because we get that narrative so often in reality TV shows and tabloid magazines. But I do think in terms of Ghostbusters, etc., it’s a start. It’s a simple way to get more women on screen. The same with Ocean’s Eight because they know that the franchise will work. It’s a safer bet than an original film. Obviously, what I want is original stories made for women, made by women, telling stories about women. That’s when there’s real change, but it’s a step in the right direction.

TV: Made by women. Yes, because Lord of the Flies will be written by two men.

AM: Yes, written by two men and probably directed by a man, and I think it will lose some of the nuance. Lady Bird, which is playing here at TIFF, is a great female-driven film because director Greta Gerwig put her personal story into it. It’s a coming-of-age story about a girl going off to college. The mother/daughter relationship rings so true, and Saoirse Ronan’s character is so realistic. You can really tell the difference.

TV: With Colin Trevorrow exiting Star Wars, a lot of people on social media are calling for a woman to direct a Star Wars movie. JJ Abrams would love to see Ava DuVernay direct one [Update: As of today, JJ Abrams will be writing and directing Episode IX]. Why do you think Disney should consider a female director?

AM: I think they should to show that it can be done. One thing that I’m concerned about – which is why all the directors are leaving – is because the franchise is so important. The brand to the studio is more important than the people in it. They want to protect their brand at all cost, which means there’s less ability to make an original story and have original voices like directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller who have a unique sense of style. What they wanted for the franchise clashed with the studio, so they got rid of them. I would love to see someone like Ava DuVernay, who has proven herself as a director, get a chance at something like Star Wars just to show that women can direct a big action movie like we saw with Wonder Woman, but only if they get their own opportunity to have their voice, and not have to just paint-by-numbers to fill in a franchise.

TV: Did it surprise you when Kathleen Kennedy first came out and said that a woman can’t direct a Star Wars movie?

AM: Yeah, it surprised me when she said that nobody has asked her and they should just pick up the phone. I think that’s a very hard thing to do. I don’t think that she’s that easily accessible, and there is this misnomer that people say to me all the time on Twitter, “Maybe women just don’t want to direct Star Wars.” No, Star Wars is universal. Everybody loves Star Wars. There’s so many fans of different genders and backgrounds. I think that Star Wars is for everyone. It shouldn’t be a surprise that women can or want to direct Star Wars. So, I was hoping for her to be more of an ally for women. Now is her chance.

TV: You mentioned Patty Jenkins and her 14-year gap between Monster and Wonder Woman. It frustrates me when I see white males, like Colin Trevorrow, get their big shot at a major franchise after a few indie films. 

AM: Yeah, it’s so true. Colin made a small film (Safety Not Guaranteed), which was great and very well-received at Sundance. But then he went to Jurassic World — such a big jump for him. That’s what I discovered in writing the book that the pipeline is not the same. That women can make these small interesting films at Sundance and Toronto and other festivals. They can be successful and win awards – but once they have to move up the system and ask for more money from studios or financiers, that’s where they get blocked; because it’s still seen as a risk to give money to female directors rather than male directors. Whereas Colin Trevorrow, he got the job on Jurassic World because [Director] Brad Bird said, “I know a guy who reminds me of me.” And it’s that kind of thing of like they just feel safer if it’s a white guy. It’s just so unfair that it doesn’t work the same way — that pipeline or that jump up for women.

TV: I guess things could change if more women with power in Hollywood speak up — like Jessica Chastain did at Cannes recently. 

AM: Yes, and she’s someone who has made an active difference – not only speaking up at Cannes – but also vowing to work with female filmmakers, and she’s got a movie at TIFF (Woman Walks Ahead) directed by a woman. She’s really someone who practices what she preaches, and we need more of that in the industry.

TV: Your dream is to run your own one-screen theatre. What would your first double feature be, and why? 

AM: [Laughs] Oh, that’s such a good question. If I were to do a double feature of a great female filmmaker, it would have to be Dorothy Arzner. She was the only female filmmaker working during the 1930s. She was a feminist. She was outspoken. She made these great movies. So, I would program Christopher Strong (1933) which starred Katharine Hepburn as a female aviator, and follow it with Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) which is a very scathing look about women in entertainment. That would be my Dorothy Arzner double feature. It would be awesome. One day, I will have my theatre. One day.


Alicia Malone’s book Backwards & In Heels: The Past, Present And Future of Women Working In Film is available on Amazon and in book stores everywhere. 

Check out Alicia’s playlist of some of her favourite dynamic leading lady performances on Fandango Now. 

Follow Alicia on Twitter.

Monday, September 11, 2017

TIFF 2017: Director Maggie Betts & Her "Novitiate" Cast

[Pictured left to right: Maddie Hasson, Rebecca Dayan, Director Maggie Betts, Margaret Qualley, Dianna Agron & Melissa Leo]

In 2008, I saw a young director's amazing film debut at TIFF. I loved everything about his movie and I remember telling myself, if it ended at this very moment, it would be perfect. Suddenly it cut to black and the end-credits rolled. I was floored. The director spoke to everyone who wanted to talk to him in the theatre lobby and I waited patiently to meet him. I finally got my one-on-one and enthusiastically shared my great admiration for his film. He was so delighted by my comments, he gave me his card. When we parted, I thought, "That guy is going to have an extraordinary film career." The movie was Medicine for Melancholy and that director was Barry Jenkins. That story comes to mind because after seeing the masterful Novitiate, I strongly believe that writer/director Maggie Betts is destined to have the same trajectory as the Moonlight director. 

Set in 1964 amidst the great reforms of the Catholic church, Novitiate tells the story of a young girl (Margaret Qualley) discovering her love affair with Christ as she and her peers endure their Reverend Mother's (Melissa Leo) wrath. 

"Love and sacrifice" is their mantra, but we scarcely see any semblance of love in the nunnery. Inevitably, we -- along with the nuns-in-training -- begin to wonder if their sacrifice is worth the price.

Betts handles her characters respectfully and although their devotion to God is intense, we never dismiss them as mere fanatics. Even Leo's sadistic Mother isn't depicted as a complete monster. She genuinely believes in what she's doing to make the young women in her image. 

Novitiate comes highly recommended and is confirmation that Betts is a new auteur to watch for. 

Coming to theatres on October 27th.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

TIFF Talk 2017: Dryden Rainbow, "I, Tonya"

Name: Dryden Rainbow from Toronto

The Film: I, Tonya (USA)

What's it about?

The film follows 1990's figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) who was involved in a huge scandal with her skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan, around the 1994 Olympics. It's about her and her husband (Sebastian Stan) in kind of in a faux documentary.

Did you like it?

I really liked it. I knew nothing about the scandal. It happened when I was very young so I did not follow it at the time. The movie reminded me a lot of The Big Short in terms of being a serious biopic, but also being funny. I, Tonya has a lot of comedy in it.

I saw the film mostly because Allison Janney is in it. She's one of most favourite actresses. She plays Tonya Harding's mother and she's the worst mother who has good intentions, but poor execution.

The film made me feel sympathetic towards Tonya Harding. I watch the Olympics every year and the film reminded me of the controversy with U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas.  Four years ago, everyone was supporting Gabby and this year she didn't hold her hand on her chest during the national anthem and everyone vilified her. It's weird how we vilify young women who just want to compete for their country. Obviously, this crazy pattern has been happening for a long time.

I, Tonya will be released sometime next year.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

TIFF Talk 2017: Andrew, "Call Me By Your Name"

Name: Andrew from Toronto

The Film: Call Me By Your Name (Italy/France)

What's it about?

It's a coming of age story about a young man who's trying to come to terms with his [sexual] identity.

Did you like it?

I really love the film. As a queer male myself I thought it captured a lot of things that I went through in my youth. I would say that it's a great representation of the young male experience coming to terms. It's beautifully shot. The music was perfectly paired. The script is beautiful, but that's because the source material is beautiful.

I think audiences will receive it really well. I think it requires people to really sink into it and allow themselves to become lost in it -- otherwise you might find its two hours and 10 minutes running time too long.

The performances were great. The young man played by Timothée Chalamet was exceptional. I've never seen him in anything before so I was really taken by him. I think Armie Hammer was incredible, but I think he's always incredible. I think he's really bold for taking on the role. Traditionally he's your archetypal male lead so for him to take on this role that challenges him in this way and to conquer it the way that he did, I thought was amazing.

I had a hard time buying into their relationship at first, but as the two of them sort of allowed themselves to buy into it, I was totally sold by the end.

I love everything about it.

Call Me By Your Name will be in theatres on November 24th. 



Friday, September 8, 2017

TIFF 2017: Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

Grace Jones scared me as a kid and not in a bad way. Her brute strength and larger then life persona overwhelmed my senses. In fact, I thought her fierce image and wild album covers were unworldly. Grace Jones was more powerful than anybody I knew -- man or woman. James Bond didn't have a more formidable foe. That's what I felt as a little boy growing up in Montreal and that's how I still feel as a man in my 40's -- especially after catching the World Premiere of her new documentary, Bloodlight and Bami, at the opening of TIFF last night.

Directed by Sophie Fiennes (The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology), the film follows the 69 year old singer on tour and captures charming moments of her family reunion in Jamaica. We see much of the Grace that we know and love on stage, but offstage, we're treated to a stripped down version of the iconic performer. Gone are the flamboyant hats, androgynous costumes and dynamic make-up. In Bloodlight and Bami, we not only see Jones in her civilian-wear, we also get to see her as a loving daughter and sister. Interestingly, when she communicates with her family, she drops her English/American accent and code switches to Jamaican patois. We get a strong sense that these are genuine family moments and that Jones is not performing for the camera. But when she does perform, it's hysterical. After having trouble opening an oyster, she casually says, "This is a tight muscle. I wish my p#ssy was this tight." Another funny moment happens when she shares her disgust for a tacky stage where she has to perform with all-female dancers. "I feel like a lesbian madame in a whore house!"

Jones attended the premiere and acknowledged that she's always been in control of her image, but put her trust in Fiennes with displaying her less than flattering side. "At times I felt that my tummy was a bit fat," Jones told the audience. "Ahh, I told myself, let your vanity go for once. It was freedom. It made me a stronger person." Who thought Grace Jones needed to be stronger?

Bloodlight and Bami has no scheduled release date.