Romantic Comedy and Tragedy – William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Romeo and Juliet”

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The Taming of the Shrew (1591)
Romantic comedies have not changed much in 425 years. Typical 21st-century rom-com films have silly plots, outrageous circumstances, shallow characters, questionable actions done by the main characters, and fun music to knit it all together.
Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is no different. Obviously, its plot is silly – grown men dressing up as schoolteachers to flirt with a pretty girl, all the while the girl’s sister is “tamed” by a drunken lout of a husband. Outrageous circumstances – see previous sentence. This arrangement was by no means typical of the Elizabethan era, but rather was just as weird as, say, a woman writing a column about how to lose a guy in ten days falling in love with a man writing a column about how to win a girl in ten days. All the audience would be anxious to see would be which suitor managed to marry Bianca, and whether or not Petruchio would succeed in getting his way with his new wife. How they did so was just window-dressing.
Furthermore, the characters are shallow enough – either interested in money or lust or power. The questionable actions are primarily those done by Petruchio, at least to modern audiences – his abuse of Katherine would probably not be very funny to an audience member affected by domestic abuse. However, to contemporary audiences, it was funny (and is funny) not because abusing one’s wife was tolerable, but because Katherine used her willfulness to wield power (by terror) over her family. Petruchio was breaking her hold over him, showing her how others saw her and that he was not going to be terrorized by her. The one difference between Shakespeare’s era and ours is that at that time, the “natural order” assumed that a man had power over his wife. He was not supposed to wield power by terror, but by love. By the end of the play, Petruchio and Katherine both have their honour restored and have tamed each other. By willing to submit to her husband’s love, Katherine earned her husband’s real love and respect.
All knitting the whole play together is fun music. Shakespeare often included music, song, and dance in his plays. They were open to interpretation – sometimes he included lyrics, but often the stage direction was something on the order of “play music here”, “now X sings a song”, “X does something funny” [and the perennial favourite from The Winter’s Tale: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”], etc. In other words, Shakespeare left it open for future versions of the play to decide what worked best for the mood of the story. What type of music? Which song? What, exactly, is something funny? What is going to get the audience in the right mood for the next scene? What is going to make them laugh?
Updating Shakespeare is a controversial topic, but updating the style of music is usually well-received. If you want the audience to laugh and sing along, dancing in their seats and leaving the theatre in an upbeat mood (even if they dislike how domestic abuse is portrayed in the play), you had better choose music that is relatable. Shakespeare would have approved.

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Romeo and Juliet (1593)

In order to have not heard of Romeo and Juliet while living in North America, one often has to be under the age of ten. It is a very clichéd story and endlessly referenced in other works, as well as being a staple in high school curriculums. It is referenced so often, in fact, that one can be forgiven for not wanting to see the play staged professionally. However, when done right, Romeo and Juliet can be as intense, moving, tragic, and even comic as any play that one is seeing for the first time. It is a great story and very well-written by Shakespeare. Furthermore, slight tweaks to it by individual troupes can make new angles on the story more apparent.
First of all, this play has a whole different interpretation when one views it as an adult. It is much harder to sympathize with the rash, idealistic Romeo and Juliet. Rather, it is easier to understand the motivations behind the adult characters (the Capulets wanting what was best for their daughter, for example) and easier to see how avoidable the outcome of the play truly is. If only Romeo had ran off with his friends from the party, he would not have had time to talk with Juliet. Even if most of the “what-ifs” depend on Romeo and Juliet revealing their secret marriage, the biggest plot hole is why Friar Lawrence decided to concoct a plan to pass Juliet off for dead when he could have simply spirited her away to Mantua to be with the exiled Romeo.
Yet, the inevitability of the plot is also apparent: if the lovers did not die, and if several other characters did not die, the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets would not have ended. In other words, what was necessary to end the fighting was a lot of people being killed. Sadly, there was no other way. It is easy to look back at events and find what went wrong, or where a crucial decision was made that led directly to an outcome. But mistakes are just that – mistakes. Tragedies are just that – tragedies. We may be able to learn from them, but just as often, all we learn is that we ought to treasure our time alive and with our loved ones.
What happened to the remaining characters in Romeo and Juliet after the play ended? Did they truly mend fences? Did they become friends, or did they remain content to simply no longer be enemies? Did Romeo’s father, now a childless widower, find a new wife? Did Juliet’s mother also kill herself, and did the Nurse find new employment? Or did Juliet’s parents miraculously have another child, seeing as her mother was likely barely thirty years old? There are countless theories and countless storylines that could be drawn out of this tragedy because people have to go on living.
What Romeo and Juliet unfortunately does give us is the false sense that death has to be meaningful. Romeo and Juliet kill themselves in each other’s arms (although they don’t realise the repercussions that it will have) and it results in their families’ reconciling. We would best remember instead Mercutio and Tybalt, who died for absolutely nothing other than being very hot-headed. Later, their deaths added to the magnitude of the tragedy and factored into the decision to end the feud, but at the time, they were simply senseless.
Death is only as meaningful as one makes it. Perhaps the dead of a loved one prompts someone to reach out to others in the community. Perhaps the loss of a friend makes one more aware of one’s surroundings. Perhaps one experiences spiritual growth. Perhaps all three outcomes. But the death itself is meaningless, senseless, and tragic – no matter how much good it does. Also, it may have been avoidable, but it was not, and no amount of blame will erase any pain associated with a tragic loss.

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Post-Apocalypse Done Right

Sunrise (2014)

Mullin, Mike. (2014). Sunrise. Terre Haute, IN : Tanglewood Press. 466 pgs. [3rd in the Ashfall trilogy]

The final installment of Mike Mullin’s Ashfall trilogy is by far the most gruesome and most chronologically-long of the story, but it is also the most optimistic. Sunrise continues the story of Alex, Darla, and their family, friends, and neighbours in the aftermath of a Yellowstone volcanic eruption. Picking up from the previous story, it has been nearly a year since the catastrophe and the town of Warren is at war for its survival with the town of Stockton. Spanning the next three years, Alex grows into a man and despite his youth, he finds himself the leader of a new community that struggles to establish itself and survive amidst famine, yearlong winter, and anarchy. Themes of hope, love, community, and leadership are prevalent. Despite plenty of gore and violence, this book is a testament to the author’s faith in humanity’s goodness. It is written with young adult readers in mind, but this trilogy is fascinating for older audiences as well. Recommended for ages 13 and older.

 

Longer Review:

In a post-apocalyptic story, there is a delicate balance of shock and hope. Some stories keep the hope to a minimum and prefer to dwell on the shock-worthy elements: the disaster, violence, anarchy, devastation, and despair that accompanies any major unsettling event – be it war, earthquake, volcano, or power outage. The story can be as pessimistic or as optimistic as the author wants or believes. However, too much focus on destruction can be off-putting for the reader, while too much focus on hope and rebuilding can lead to accusations of not taking the story seriously enough.

It is a common myth that humans will resort to animalistic violence in the face of disaster. Evidence from the real world is far to the contrary: in natural disasters, neighbours help each other, even to their own detriment in some cases; in war, the usual reason for treating fellow humans inhumanely lies in mistrust and propaganda. As long as we recognise the humanity in our fellow human being, we are far more likely to want to help them, not hurt them.

Luckily, Mike Mullin explores both sides of this myth in Sunrise (as well as in the previous books in the trilogy). The majority of the characters work together for their common survival, even as they argue on the details, or they work to save their own group at the expense of another – albeit generally with the “noble” goal of sacrificing a few for the benefit of the many. Meanwhile, some individuals take power into their own hands and attempt to survive by using fear and oppression. These rogue individuals cause a lot of damage and sorrow, but they turn out to be just that – rogues.

Alex finds himself the leader of what is at first a small group consisting of his family as they build a new, secure, self-sufficient outpost. The town of Warren abandons them at the insistence of their deluded mayor, who dreams of a mythic rescue from the American government. Alex’s own mother prefers the mayor’s fantasy to her son’s reality. I was reminded of how the outlying provinces of the Roman Empire felt as the legions retreated in the face of foreign invaders. Most certainly, they dreamed of a Roman rescue long after such a possibility no longer existed. Mullin has created a realistic scenario wherein the United States has abandoned its Midwestern heartland to its fate (we never find out why, but readers are free to dream up as many disastrous scenarios as they want).

Alex and Darla’s outpost soon grows as more survivors hear of it. They face invasion, scavenge for supplies behind enemy lines, and seek to make contact with other outposts. As well, they face the usual pioneering struggles to feed themselves, secure their homes, and sort out their individual differences. In some ways, this book rushes through long stretches of time in favour of devoting most of the plot to adventures and battles. It could have spent more time on the psychological toll that building the community took on the survivors. However, even as an adult, I certainly grasped the seriousness of the situation and all of the “adventures and battles” are treated with utmost respect. They are violent not for violence’s sake, but because they would be in life.

Some reviews of this novel raise the question of how Alex could be respected as a leader by adults over twice or thrice his age. This issue is raised within the novel itself, both by adults and by Alex himself. However, when a person exhibits the ability to lead, to look after others, to organize, and takes responsibility for consequences, it does not matter how old they are – they have the air of authority about them. These qualities command respect. Furthermore, in a world thrown into chaos, experience has less weight than it otherwise would. Alex is no less familiar with the post-apocalyptic world than the mayor, and unlike the latter, he lacks the hubris and false reassurance of age.

Nonetheless, this story is not about one young man’s rise to power, but about how a community rises from the ashes. The people hold on to their old values – still pledging allegiance to the vanished United States of America – but they adapt them for their current circumstances. They resolve their differences. They become self-sufficient rather than relying on old items from before the eruption. They carry on with their lives – getting married, having children, building windmills, etc.

Sunrise is exactly that – a brilliant story of how one community might survive, transform, and grow after a disaster. Ultimately, it is about facing a new day, much as teenagers find themselves suddenly faced with the life-altering reality of leaving home and finishing high school. Entering the adult world is no volcanic eruption, but it is a shock nonetheless. Our modern culture has kept young people in the “child” category longer than they should be. A typical teenager goes from living in security with parents to living in a strange environment such as a dormitory or an apartment, having to take charge of their own affairs. Yet, it is also a hopeful time: a young person can discover their strengths, learn to fend for themselves, and forge their own identity, facing the new day as an adult.

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Divided Loyalty on a Sumptuous Romance

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Gabaldon, Diana. (2014). Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. London : Orion Books. 864 pgs. [8th in the Outlander series]

The latest installment of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander saga continues the story of Jamie and Claire, a Highlander and a time-travelling doctor respectively, and of their extended families as the American Revolutionary War rages. Gabaldon manages to balance romance and warfare in such manner as to immerse the reader fully into the world of late eighteenth-century America and she bringing new perspectives to the traditional Revolutionary War narrative. Also heavily featured are Jamie and Claire’s daughter, Brianna – trying to protect her family in 1980s Scotland – and son-in-law, Roger, who finds himself so far back in the past than one wrong move could negate his wife’s very existence. Recommended for lovers of historical fiction and romance. Familiarity with the series is not necessary due to Gabaldon’s frequent use of flashbacks and repetition, but having read the previous installments of the Outlander series is an asset.

Longer Review:

There is no doubt that Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is a work of literature. She incorporates multiple genres into her work, does diligent and exhaustive research, and develops multi-faceted and relatable characters. Were it not for the heavy romantic elements, Gabaldon’s work would likely receive greater praise and recognition. It remains to be seen whether the new television series based on the first book will create more enthusiasm for the novels, or whether the historical elements will be sacrificed on the altar of fantasy, violence, and sex.

Unfortunately, the sumptuous romance overwhelms most of the narrative, particularly for our main protagonists. When they are apart, Claire and Jamie seem to dwell mostly on how much they miss each other; when they are together, it is all they can do to keep their hands off of each other. I get it – they are deeply in love (and lust, but in the good sense – that of desiring one’s spouse physically). They have a very physical and earthy marriage. I quite enjoy seeing a positive portrayal of an older couple in this way. However, it was overly repetitive in a book that was over 800 pages long. If the romance was contained only to Jamie and Claire, the repetitiveness would have been welcome respite from a novel about battles, protecting one’s children, and preserving the historical timeline – but the romance also extended to multiple other couples, all of whom shared this same earthiness and whining. I did not feel that there was much difference in the various couples’ relationships. However, I admit that by now, Gabaldon is writing for her fans, and her fans love Jamie and Claire, so in order for her new couples to be as well-loved, their relationships have to mirror Jamie and Claire’s. Gabaldon knows what her readers want. The romance is sexy, humourous, and thoroughly enjoyable, but very repetitive.

Also, I cannot help but think that the pacing of Written in My Own Heart’s Blood was slightly off. Brianna and Roger’s storylines seems smothered in the middle of the main narrative and do not flow well. Really, their story in this and the previous novel (An Echo in the Bone) could have been its own book in the series. By the time we encounter them in this installment, we are so invested in the Revolutionary War that their story seems like an interesting interruption that goes on for far too long.

What I really did like about this book is its honest portrayal of the conflict of the American Revolutionary War. There were many layers and sides to this conflict, much to the chagrin of propagandists. Frequently in literature, Loyalists are portrayed as foppish, wealthy aristocrats who were against independence because it interfered with their own power. Gabaldon does everything to portray them as honest folk, even as she wants us to believe that they were wrong. Several scenes are particularly poignant, one of which includes Loyalists being loaded onto a ship and having the soldiers tell the refugees that they have to leave their belongings behind. These people fled their homes with little more than their clothes and packed their favourite possessions – as we all would have done in that situation – and are then being told that they cannot take them. While we can tsk-tsk the folks with their china tea-sets and cuckoo clocks, it is much harder to do so at the middle-aged widow with her dogs. Dogs – living creatures! Why wouldn’t she want to take them with her?

The second such poignant scene is a reflection by Loyalist soldier William, who notes that a modest upper middle-class family is carting along their household furnishings into the unknown: this was a strong, happy family home and a symbol of prosperity and stability, now reduced to a broken cart carrying a hodgepodge of possessions and a very fancy clock (prized due to its connection with Europe). These people are being driven out of their homes and communities for not supporting American independence, or for being suspected of not supporting independence, or for merely formerly occupying an office connected to the British Crown.

Overall, this was a great read. The joy of this series is being able to reread it due to having missed parts before because of the sheer volume of it. It is also helpful that Gabaldon uses lots of flashback and references episodes from previous books with so much detail that readers who have not read every book in order (or those who have forgotten details from earlier books, since it has been a while since they were published) can still understand and enjoy the story. The characters are relatable, fun, and complex; the setting is detailed; and the plot is compelling and unpredictable.

Expect a lot of moaning of all kinds!

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Orphan Black – Season 2 (April-June 2014)

OrphanBlack Season 2

Once again, the creators and actors in Orphan Black have told a tale that is a perfect blend of frightening realism and action-packed fantasy.  Over the course of ten episodes, the writers wrap up the cliffhangers from the last season and set in motion several new plots, tapering them off in the season finale and leaving just enough open for cliffhangers for next year.  In other words, they executed a perfect season as far as writing is concerned.

Tatiana Maslany returns as Sarah, Cosima, Helena, Alison, and Rachel, and she brings at least two more characters to life as well.  Her ability to play each character as a separate, distinct individual is still as commendable as last year, since once again, a viewer could be forgiven for forgetting that she plays all of them.  Perhaps one of the reasons that she failed to win more accolades (besides her being an unknown actress in Hollywood) is because her characters are so distinct that her portrayals appear to lack subtlety.  In this show, that is a good thing!  On an individual basis, the clones do exhibit subtlety and a range of emotion that would stretch acting limits, but viewers might miss this in the stark contrast between Sarah (the Action Heroine), Cosima (the Geeky Girl), Helena (the Crazy One), Alison (the Fake One), Rachel (the Villain), and others.  However, the fact that Maslany fills all of these roles in the show necessitates a wide skill range.  Most actors get type-cast into one of these roles for much of their careers!

That said, the rest of the cast are also fun to watch.  Last year, we were introduced to a conspiracy involving clones.  We were introduced to a cast of secondary characters and now they get more of a chance to develop as individuals: Felix goes from sidekick to pawn to Mr. Exposition and back to sidekick; Donnie goes from confused husband to action hero; Kira gets to be a hero in her own right as well as kidnapping victim; and Mrs. S. gets a chance to shine as an action-heroine and conspirator.  Paul seems to shift allegiances more often than underpants.  The police officers seems to be in a different genre of story altogether, but Art remains helpful while Angie makes for an amusing sideplot.  Vic proves to be an annoyance.  Dr. Leekie is the consummate Evil Scientist while maintaining an affable exterior…or maybe not.  Delphine is sweet and torn between her love of science, her love of Cosima, and her sense of duty.

Furthermore, more characters join the party: Cal (a blend of action-hero and conspiracy-theorist), Henrik (a Dr. Leekie-type turned religious fundamentalist), Gracie (Henrik`s haughty daughter), Mark (Henrik`s lackey with a dark past), Daniel (Rachel`s fixer), and Marion, who seems to be an even bigger villain than Rachel, only to turn out to have ulterior motives similar to Sarah`s.  These and more make for an amazing ten episodes.

At the beginning of the season, Kira has been kidnapped and Sarah sets out to find her.  When she does, she seeks to protect Kira from just about everyone – only to be outwitted by Rachel in the penultimate episode.  In the finale, all seems to be well for Sarah and Kira, but what she learns from Marion might change that soon.

Cosima, meanwhile, is dying and spends the season trying to discover a cure for her illness.  In the end, she too is outwitted by Rachel, but she at least hangs on temporarily.  Helena…well, major spoiler alert – she is not dead yet.  Instead, she shows the surprising ability to forgive her sister and shows a desire to help her family.  Henrik and his cohort take a special interest in her, and by the end of the season, she might very well wish that she had died.  She seems to be destined to be a science experiment.

Alison gets to be the comic relief: she stars in a musical (giving Maslany a chance to sing and dance), goes to rehab, tries to outwit Donnie, and ultimately ends up playing Sunshine Cleaners while reconciling with her husband.  Rachel`s motives are hard to discern, meanwhile.  She is rather deranged underneath her calm, collected exterior.  She seems to want a family – something denied her through various means throughout her life – and she will go through many means to get them.  Her fate is uncertain, but as she replaced Helena as the season`s villain, it is possible that she will make a comeback next year.

As I said, the writers executed a perfect season, writing-wise.  Within the first couple episodes, the main questions from the previous season`s finale had been answered.  Throughout the whole ten episodes of the season, several plots began and ended.  In the last couple episodes, a few new storylines were introduced to create cliffhangers for next year.  Overall, however, the story arcs were complete and satisfying.  I was only disappointed in how quickly the time seemed to go when I watched this show.

Ten-episode seasons are a better method of storytelling than twenty-episode seasons if one is to present a coherent narrative arc as a show`s raison d`étre.  Unlike a crime procedural or formulaic show, the characters and plots are what draw the viewers into the story.  There may be a mystery to solve, but it is not wrapped up in nice, clue-laden, 44-minute chapters.  Procedurals can have longer seasons because so much of the storytelling is focused on individual mysteries.  Orphan Black, on the other hand, would end up stretching the plot.  One episode was particularly disliked for introducing a clone character, only to then send them on a bus for the rest of the season.  This is forgivable in a short season because it is a) one episode only, and b) likely setting up a plot for next year.  However, a longer season would create opportunity for many more episodes and characters of this nature.  A shorter season does not allow much room for nothing much happening in an episode.  It does not allow for many gimmicks or throwaway plots than do not go anywhere in future seasons.

Overall, the second season of Orphan Black is arguably better than the first.  The plot thickens, the characters develop, and the questions arise.  Even with legislation that would prevent people from being owned by corporations who created them, would that stop said corporations from believing that these people are their property?  When does a person stop being a science experiment?  What would a corporation`s responsibility be to a cloned person?  What rights does a cloned person have, particularly if they have altered DNA?  How do cloned individuals related to one another?

In other words, another season of food for thought until Season 3 in 2015.

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Happy Canada Day!

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Courageous (2011)

Courageous (2013)

Films are stories and works of art – by nature, they have no religion. Therefore, “Christian films” are often hard to enjoy as films in of themselves. The message tends to overwhelm the story. While I am all for stories having messages and meaning, I believe that this should be more open to interpretation. As a viewer, I like to be able to enjoy a good story for its own sake on one level and be able to pick out symbolism, lessons, and religious imagery on a deeper level. Often, Christian symbolism is not what the filmmaker intended, but as a Christian viewer, I take the meaning to heart from the faith and tradition that I already have.

Hence I started watching Courageous with much trepidation and scepticism. Here is a film made by a Christian company, by a Christian director, written by Christians, starring avowed Christians, and marketed in Christian bookstores along with accompanying reading materials on the program that the main characters embark on. The message already overwhelmed the story in the summary on the back of the DVD case. To boot, many of the stars are also pastors and some of the Duggars made cameo appearances as extras.

I persevered, not because the first part of the film drew me in (it did not), but because by thirty minutes in, I realised that this film really did have a heart and a good story after all. There was a lot of humour and the characters struck me as realistic people once I got over their clunky, clichéd dialogue in some of the scenes. Above all, a large number of the actors looked like real people, flaws and all, rather than plastic dolls. The film was at its best when the characters acted naturally.

The plot is this: four police officers (and one tagalong friend) rally together when one of them loses a child in a freak accident. They are all fathers and for the most part, they are indeed good fathers. They pay the bills, they care for their children, and they are good husbands. They play with the kids, they look out for them, and they try to figure out how to connect with them. However, in his search for meaning after the loss of his daughter, the main police officer discovers that he is not being a good Christian father. After that, he tells his friends about what he has discovered, and sooner than later, they have all taken a vow to be the best Christian fathers that they can possibly be. The film then goes on to show them try to live out this vow and model a life of integrity and love to their children.

Honestly, I had a lot of complaints with the film as I watched it and as I drove home from church. Why was the tagalong friend the Hispanic one? He, along with his family, was portrayed highly stereotypically. The stereotypes were annoying, even if they may have been accurate. Also, the storyline was not crafted as well as it could have been. There were about three climaxes, causing ending fatigue, and the beginning started off with the aforementioned clunky, clichéd dialogue that did not develop into a decent storyline until the main character’s daughter died. Perhaps these were artistic choices – but they made for an awkward viewing experience.

My final complaint was that the film seemed to neglect the women and the role that the mothers do play in the Christian family and marriage. For two of the police officers, the women are not in the picture at all. The wives of the three main police officers are portrayed as cheerleaders, nags, or broken birds. While the film is trying to put to bed the stereotype that Christian mothers are the main vehicle for the faith of their children and that Christian fathers must be stern, aloof disciplinarians, it unfortunately spins the role of the mother out of the picture. Yes, this is a film about fathers and fatherhood, but the Christian wife and mother is not a passive cheerleader. If this was just a story, I could forgive the lack of focus on the women, but this film is intended to promote a way of life for Christian men. I can only hope that the accompanying books clarified the importance of the woman’s role. A wife is not an overgrown teenage daughter who needs protecting and educating.

Above paragraph aside, as a story alone, Courageous is a very good film. It is made by Protestants and reflects that theologically, but I would have been highly surprised if it had been otherwise. But the characters alone are wonderful. I enjoyed their stories and it was a pleasant escape to retreat into the foreign world of Christian America for two hours. If one is not a Christian, I would not recommend watching this film. There are lots of other stories that discuss the importance of fatherhood.

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Helluva Friday Night Movie – Wolfcop (2014)

Wolfcop poster

Sometimes, you watch a movie just to have fellowship with friends or family, to spend some time with your significant other, or to relax after a long week.  The film itself?  Really, it could YouTube videos of dogs chasing Frisbees.  These are “Friday Night Movies” – fun and only as thought-provoking as you want them to be.

Wolfcop is indeed as thought-provoking as the viewer wants.  On the surface, it is a very simple plot: lazy, alcoholic cop (perhaps the laziness is just a result of his severe addiction?) is turned into a werewolf and discovers that his small town holds dark supernatural secrets. He takes on the criminal establishment and… well, survives to fight another day.  Really, this almost seems like the pilot episode of a television series rather than a feature film.  The acting and effects are very good – if parts of the film feel cheesy, it is because the filmmakers intend them to be so.  We are supposed to be laughing, not jumping out of our seats in terror.  This film is like a stand-up comic – we are taken along for a predictable routine with new twists on old punchlines, and we laugh just the same, ever still waiting for the comic to say “You guys have been great, thank you very much and have a good night!”

That said, comics often take on serious issues, and Wolfcop takes on a few serious issues of its own.  Yes, they make light of them, but they are still serious.  Namely:

1.       Our protagonist is a serious alcoholic.  His addiction is hardly funny until he gets turned into a werewolf.  Up until that point, he could barely function, was unable to take his job seriously, and was the laughingstock of the town.  He had no self-respect.  Basically, this film illustrates just how severe alcoholism can become – if the werewolf is taken metaphorically as well as literally, the cop is portrayed as no longer even being human and seen instead as an impulsive, destructive monster.

2.       The town of Woodhaven, where the story takes place, has a high crime rate and a lacksidaisical law enforcement.  The only ones trying to do anything to change things are either eliminated or kept “under control” and gaslighted.  Many communities indeed have these kind of problems and rarely does anyone stand up to what seem like insurmountable odds (face it – the supernatural does seem rather insurmountable) to fix them.  When they do, they face demons so powerful that most of the time, their efforts are noble but fruitless.

Our heroes are indeed those who end up embracing their inner demons and deciding to do their duty and beyond.  It is no mere cutesy title – “Wolfcop” is exactly who our protagonist is.

It is rather too bad that this is not a television pilot, as I would love to see the storylines that some decent television writers could come up with for our leads.

Pass the popcorn!

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The Sinking of the Empress of Ireland – 100th Anniversary (May 29, 2014)

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Only a week and a half after the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland did I find any type of commemorative mention of the event – namely, a stamp collection at the post office. There was a major commemoration near the site in Quebec in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but one would have had to have been looking for it to find it. The news only mentioned the anniversary on the day itself.

Furthermore, for many, the newscast was the first time that they had ever heard of the Empress of Ireland. To recap, the Empress of Ireland was a ship that sank in the St. Lawrence (at the beginning of an otherwise routine crossing to Britain) after colliding with another ship in the nighttime fog. Over a thousand people, including over a hundred children, drowned or froze. Taking proportions into consideration, the ratio of deaths was much worse than the Titanic.

Why, then, has there been little publicity about the tragedy? Where is the blockbuster film? Why is this not an event every Canadian schoolchild knows about?

In the early summer of 1914, the sinking of the Empress of Ireland was indeed a major news story. There was an inquiry into how the ships collided. A Salvation Army conference in England – to which a large number of the passengers had been headed – had a memorial service and placed empty chairs for their lost delegates. Stories of survival and loss filled the newspapers.

However, to be fair, in August of 1914, the First World War broke out. The war, followed by an influenza epidemic, dwarfed any other tragedy that came immediately before or after it. A thousand dead in a shipwreck? Compared to the number of soldiers and civilians killed in the First World War, a thousand was very small. A ship sinking was merely an unfortunate accident – no different than a bus or train or airplane today. It was a tragedy for those immediately affected, but not memorable.

The Empress of Ireland was not a big ship like the Titanic. It did not have many celebrities on its passenger list. It was sailing on a second-rate shipping route (transatlantic voyages from Canada were less prestigious than those from or to New York) and had made the trip dozens of times before. There was absolutely nothing noteworthy about the ship until it sank. It had all of the required safety equipment. No one had boasted that the ship was unsinkable. It had barely even begun its voyage and was not even in the open sea yet.

Furthermore, the ship sank in 14 minutes. If James Cameron wanted to make a film about the tragedy, he could have actually done the sinking in real time. There was little room for storytelling or dramatics. The survivors were too busy escaping the ship to notice much. Most of the victims drowned in their cabins (hopefully in their sleep). Those on shore who helped rescue survivors and witnessed the event remembered little but chaos. In other words, the sinking was more of an apocalyptic action film than a dramatic love story.

However, it was indeed a dramatic story. Those thousand victims were individuals with families, friends, livelihoods, careers, and dreams. The survivors were that as well, and they managed to put the horror of the tragedy behind them to continue their lives and pass the story on to their children. The Salvation Army in Toronto, the home base of over a hundred of the victims, still has an annual memorial.

Why shouldn’t there be a movie? Why aren’t there children’s books?

Ultimately, the Empress of Ireland was an accident – the sinking did not have widespread lessons to teach society or spawn any awareness campaigns. Nonetheless, it was a tragic accident that could have been avoided and perhaps that is indeed its legacy.

Accidents happen a lot. Sometimes, they lead to dramatic loss of life. Sometimes, it is hard to assign blame – and sometimes, there really is none. Other times, it really doesn’t matter because the tragedy overshadows everything else.

Who knows how those who died in the early morning of May 29, 1914 would have affected the world had they continued to live their lives? How many children they might have had? Would they have survived the sinking only to die on the battlefield?

Nothing is guaranteed.

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