A BAD PLACE: CRESTFALLEN (review)

“Certainly there are spots which inevitably attach to themselves an atmosphere of holiness and goodness; it might not then be too fanciful to say that some houses are born bad.”

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

Stephen King labels it “The Bad Place” in his masterful treatise on horror, DANSE MACABRE: A house or home that, through design or luck, houses malevolence in its foundation. Horror fiction has plenty of real estate like this: From Edgar Allan Poe’s House of Usher to Jackson’s aforementioned manor down to Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel – places of security and comfort that harbour anything but good intentions for those who enter its doors. Add Crestfallen Estates to the illustrious roll call of bad places, as Lauren Messervey’s debut novel , CRESTFALLEN, takes us into the aptly-named residence and its equally matched occupants.

The handful of stories found in this unique take on the horror anthology have very little in common – each one is dealing with their own unique personal horrors. What binds them together is location – the titular housing complex. Dilapidated, run-down and liberally trimmed with mold and mildew, Crestfallen is a residence in ill condition, its best days long behind it – if it ever had such days.  From the lonely barista who thinks she may have found a new BFF in her next-door neighbour, the party-girl med student who’ s on the receiving end of a series of increasingly grotesque pranks, to the son of a disgraced game show host who is forced to pay for the sins of his father, each comes through Crestfallen’s doors looking for escape, rebirth, maybe a fresh start or a quiet end to it all. But Crestfallen, and its more shadowy residents, have their own plans in mind for them, and those plans are far from philanthropic.

The anthology is always a tricky beast – the hit-to-miss ratio varying wildly between contributors and stories – but Messervey is able to overcome the pitfalls found in the sub-genre by anchoring the proceedings to one location – a sinister advent calendar with a fresh new horror behind every door. What makes it all the more impressive is the voices she takes one to tell each tale. Told in first-person perspective, Messervey finds each character’s personality and defines them with ease. Each one carrying around very real-world damage – depression, addiction, the shadow of infidelity and other sins of the past – that their new home twists and turns against them. Messervey’s also got a mean streak, as things get both physically and emotionally violent. At the end, each character is changed, scarred and broken – if they walk away at all.

Stephen King (again, I know) once wrote that “nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.” Messervey understands that well, creating a heavy dread not with what we know, but what we don’t.  There’s no greater explanation or backstory for why Crestfallen is so malignant or malicious. The building’s origins are more than a mystery – they’re non-existent. It just is. And it gives the stories such a potent punch.

Crestfallen is an impressive debut, that leaves you uneasy as you turn the last page. It’s mean-spirited and doesn’t give a damn about your finer sensitivities. Whether or not Messervey chooses to tell more untold tales of her apartment building of the damned, or takes us into new and dangerous territory, I know I’m down for wherever she decides to go.

File her under “One To Watch”.

CRESTFALLEN is for sale in digital and hard copy format here.

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DADDY’S LITTLE MONSTER: PAN’S LABYRINTH

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Published on March 25, 2011

NOTE: Through the magic of the internet, I’ve been able to track down the archives for my very first writing gig: DADDY’S LITTLE MONSTER was a tag-team review column I did for Rue Morgue’s blog with my then-11-year-old daughter, Emma. Emma’s now 18 and getting ready to head off to university in a month, so this seems like as good a time as any to revisit these.
I blame Guillermo Del Toro. It was the first pics of Ron Perlman and Doug Jones in full Hellboy/Abe make-up that turned four-year old Emma into the horror kid she is today. While she’s enjoyed the Hellboy movies, she’s been wanting to kick things up to the next level. For some time, she’s been bugging me to get a look at his more mature work, especially Pan’s Labyrinth. I’ve been hesitant: the film is quite heavy, mature and very brutal. There’s not a lot of “fun” to be had, like with our previous choices. After a lot of thought, I decided maybe it was time. And the end result? Read on…

Ron: So, Pan’s Labyrinth. We’ve watched it, we’ve let it soak in a bit. What did you think?

Emma: I liked it a lot. I think because it was “real” horror.

Ron: Now, what do you mean by “real”? A lot of folks would classify this as “dark fantasy” or a “fairy tale for adults,” but not horror.

Emma: Because the monsters aren’t what we should fear, that the humans are the real monsters and that makes it more scary. People are very brutal to each other in this film and with no real reason, either. That, to me, is real horror.

Ron: Well, definitely in the case of Vidal. He’s certainly the most brutal and horrific character in the movie, isn’t he? The brutality that he exhibits, and the fact that he’s so cold and unemotional about it – he doesn’t seem to feel anything – I think that makes him more horrific than The Pale Man, and he’s a walking nightmare.

Emma: ALL the worst stuff in the film is done by Vidal.

Ron: Now, we discussed the fact that this film has a different kind of violence than you were used to. No brain-eating, no “splatstick”. Keeping that in mind, from your view, is this a film that parents should be comfortable viewing with their kids?

Pan-Labyrinth-poster-342x490Emma: Oh God, no. No, I wasn’t even prepared for the violence here – it was brutal! When I first heard about Pan’s Labyrinth, I had a completely different idea what it was about. I thought it would be about this girl who ends up in this other world and she has to escape from these creatures who are horrific. I thought would be like Alice In Wonderland, but with evil creatures and it’s not like that at all! The monsters, the other world, they’re not the bad guys at all.

Ron: Well ,except for The Pale Man.

Emma: Right, but all the violence, all the evil stuff is being done by Vidal and his men and that’s way scarier. The movie was not what I expected at all.

Ron: And the violence is not supposed to be entertaining.

Emma: No, not at all. The scene where Vidal takes the bottle out of the farmer’s bag and smashes his face in, like, his face literally becomes flat, because he’s beating him so hard. That’s pain you can feel – I’ve fallen down on the ground and smooshed my nose before, even bumped a tooth – but that, times a million, is basically what he’s doing! I think I actually said “Oh My God!” at the end of it. But the one that got me the worst was the scene with Mercedes and Vidal. He’s about to torture her because she was trying to escape the night before. He’s got all these gruesome tools on this little shelf and she takes out the knife from under her apron – you have to pay attention, because she’s had it there from earlier on in the film – and she saws at the rope. She gets free, stabs him in the back, then stabs him again, like boom-boom-boom, and he’s still not down. And then, she puts his knife in the side of his mouth and she says something like…

Ron: “Don’t you dare touch the girl. You won’t be the first pig I’ve gutted!” I remember it because it’s the first time you see someone stand up to Vidal and take him down a peg.

Emma: Well, she also said another word, but we won’t say it… and she’s tearing at the side of his mouth. I couldn’t even watch it. It still gets to me.

Ron: So, it’s safe to say this probably isn’t the best film for a child to watch. Yet, despite that, I was surprised with just how much you liked the film.

Emma: I did! I really did! I love it.

Ron: Same here. For me, it’s because Del Toro remembers what it was like to be a kid. To believe in magic, to believe that there were things other than what we see. I remember you, years ago, took to sprinkling salt on our windowsills after seeing another movie, The Spiderwick Chronicles.

Emma: Yes, to keep the goblins out.

Ron: Exactly, and as a kid, that’s a perfectly sane and rational response. And Del Toro gets that. But that’s MY reason for loving this movie, what’s your reason?

Emma: Doug Jones. I’ve been a fan since Abe Sapien and I loved him as The Faun because he’s so friendly and sweet.

Ron: I’ve never heard The Faun described that way before.

Emma: I want my own Faun. A BFF: Best Faun Forever [Laughs].

Ron: A friend of mine once asked, “Where’s the Boris Karloff of our generation?” and for me, it’s Jones.

Emma: Look at all the emotions he can show under the makeup. He does so much with his body, especially his hands. He’s covered in latex and he’s just so real and believable. I love The Faun. I love Doug Jones.

Ron: And yet, he’s also The Pale Man, the polar opposite.

Emma: Yeah, I don’t need my own Pale Man. The movements he makes when he’s chasing after Ofelia on those skinny legs, the eyeballs in his hands. He was very scary in that scene. I was on the edge of my seat, going “Eeeeee, come on, comeoncomeon, go!”

Ron: Which leads me to another highlight of the film, and that’s Ivana Baquero as Ofelia.

Emma: I thought she was great. What I liked about Ofelia was she was kinda ditzy, like when she left her good dress on the branch and crawled into the tree and got all muddy. I liked that she wasn’t the smartest kid-hero on earth. She’s still a kid. I think she was supposed to be fourteen or so, but I felt like maybe when her father died, maybe she hasn’t grown up or “matured” from then on. She’s still free-spirited, a real kid with a great imagination. When you see other movies with child actors in them, the child always seem way more mature then they would be in real-life and they’re always smarter than the adults. She felt real and I could relate to her.

Pans-BanqueroRon: I think Baquero was so natural in this film and so believable. When she’s being chased by The Pale Man, like we talked about earlier, her fear wasn’t hysterical or over-dramatic. It was how a real kid would probably react in such a scenario: mute, wide-eyed and frantic.

Emma: But she’s still brave in her own way, especially at the ending.

Ron: Yes, the ending. Without giving away too much, we did have an interesting chat about the ending, didn’t we?

Emma: Yeah, like you said, the film could be seen in two ways: was her imagination making all these things appear real, or were The Faun, the Pale Man and the fairies real?

Ron: And there’s enough evidence to support either side of the argument that there is no wrong answer. Either ending works equally well, but I like the fact that it keeps me guessing.

Emma: Yes, but when you watch it from the “real” grown-up perspective, that’s like the saddest ending ever and that really sucks. But if you see it from Ofelia’s point of view, the ending is much happier. I prefer the happy ending.

Ron: Yeah, me too. The grown-ups’ view is very tragic, very dark and probably more realistic, but this is a fairy tale, so I’m sticking with the happy ending too. So, overall, what’s your take on Pan’s Labyrinth?

Emma: It’s one of my favourite films now. I want to watch it again. Doug Jones and Ivana Baquero were amazing, they did a great job. All the actors were really good. But it is not for kids. I would say maybe fourteen and older, because the violence is really disturbing. I also want to say that this is not Harry Potter or The Spiderwick Chronicles. The fantasy stuff is pretty short, and most of the film takes place in the “real world”, so your kids may not even be into it. But I loved it. How was that?

Ron: Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Now, we’ve been hearing from some people that we’re too agreeable, that the generation gap isn’t as wide as they were expecting. “When are you two gonna fight?” they ask. You’ll get a taste of that next time. The knives are coming out for that one. In the meantime, sweet dreams, Little Monsters.

DISINTEGRATION (or: Fuck It)

“Do you remember when you found out you wouldn’t live forever? People don’t talk about this, but everybody had to go through it because you’re not born with that knowledge.” 

David Cronenberg

It’s been nearly eight years since I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 39. I was an anomaly – no prior history (save for type 2 on my mother’s side) or obesity. A genetic fluke, a mutation, according to my clinicians.

It’s malicious, this condition. A parasitic body-horror that turns your own body against you in a conspiracy to weaken and eventually kill you. And it doesn’t get better. There’s no improvement, no eradication of the condition. There’s only maintenance and constant supervision of this presence that wants nothing more than to eat away at you, piece by piece. And with all that? Depression. Anxiety. Stress. All adding to the mix, all accelerating the decay. And if you already have depression or anxiety at the start, it only feeds faster. I have reduced sensation of varying degrees in my feet and fingertips. My vision has deteriorated significantly. I heal much slower from cuts and bruises now.

And for the past two-plus years, I have been impotent. I’m not going to sugar coat it with the “erectile dysfunction” label, because it’s a sterile and PC-clean descriptor that doesn’t convey how crippling and soul-draining the condition really is. It has broken the last shred of my self-esteem. It has affected my relationship with my wife. It has made me insecure and emasculated to the point where shutting off would be easier than feeling anything anymore. Erectile Dysfunction sounds like a malfunction with an airplane’s landing gear. Impotence means “without power” or “helpless”. And if you’ve never had a problem with your virility, you will NEVER understand just how true that definition is.

I’m getting help. I see a therapist bi-weekly to discuss the mental and emotional state of the union. I’ve shut down my social media presence for now, maybe more permanently later on, because the last thing I’m feeling is “digitally social”. I have an impending visit with a urologist to discuss possible plans of affordable treatment, if that is even an option now. I’m exercising – weights and running, nothing fancy. We’re starting a new dietary plan at home for healthier living. They’re all positive steps, and I’m glad we are doing them.

But I don’t harbour any illusions about my state. I don’t expect reversal of fortune anytime soon, possibly not at all. I have to be prepared for the possibility that it won’t get any better, that this is the new normal that my wife and I are going to have to navigate. And that it sucks. I have spent the better part of my life brushing things off – “que sera sera” and pushing onwards. I don’t know how to do that now, because I’m tired. And angry.

It’s mid-life crisis writ large and funhouse-mirror exaggerated. That slow creep of IMG_4020disintegration, accelerated and visible to the naked eye. In every sore muscle, in every numb extremity, in the reminder that I am “incomplete”.  I’m not doing this for pity or to eventually dispense some sunny-side-of-the-street bromides about how “it’ll get better” and to “keep your chin up”. Because fuck that. This sucks. I’m sharing this with anyone else going through this to say it’s okay to be angry and hurt and sad. I’m sharing this to say “guys, there’s no shame in this”. But there is rage and frustration from having that part of us taken away without our choice. So be pissed. For as long as you need and as long as it takes. Maybe you push through all this and come out better on the other side,  new men with a new perspective. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe it will finally break you and you’ll just close off.

Because sometimes, there are no solutions.

Sometimes, it doesn’t get better.

Sometimes, things just stay awful.

What you do with that knowledge, well, that’s up to you.

Me? I’m going to lie low for a while and start figuring out where to go from here.
Because I don’t want to be sad and angry anymore and I’m in dire need of a break.

 

 

PATCHWORK

Always looking out,

Grabbing and clutching at something,

Anything

To patch up the open spaces.

Cobbled together with scraps and other people’s “you”

Because you know of no other existence.

You can fill those holes with anger.

Or misery.

Or even the quiet insistence of compromise.

The body is flexible, soft

Eager and hungry and wanting to take whatever you feed it,

But the void remains,

unchecked, unsatisifed

and you push on.

All shambling gait and weary bone,

The weight of time and expectations, pushing on the space between your shoulders

It’s a dull pain, this, easing with familiarity,

But it keeps you static, keeps you still,

Moving without gaining ground.

The slowest of deaths,

One that comes at the hands of a tiny thousand regrets

Leaving you bleeding,

splayed across a pool of wet and crimson “what if?”

 

 

“The Man Of The Future”: Richard Strickland, THE SHAPE OF WATER’s “Prince Without A Kingdom”.

 

THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE SHAPE OF WATER.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION

“What makes a man a ‘man’ , a friend once wondered. Is it his origins, the way he comes to life?
I don’t think so. Its the choices he makes; not how he starts things but how he decides to end things.”

HELLBOY (2004)

This question, and the notion of 20th-century masculinity, has long been a theme in Guillermo Del Toro’s films, be it in subtext or front-and-centre. In his worlds, the real ogres wear very familiar forms. Usually handsome (or at least, rugged), with a penchant for sartotial style over inner substance. More often than not, they can be found in a position of authority or “respect”, which they wield with impunity and brutality. They are hard men with no appreciation for beauty or compassion, products of their environment or merely the latest recipients of an ongoing cycle of abuse. This essence, this spirit of toxic masculinity, takes many names and many faces. It’s in the impeccably groomed sadism of PAN’S LABYRINTH ‘s Captain Vidal. CRONOS’ thuggish Angel De La Guardia. The sullen Jacinto of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. And in THE SHAPE OF WATER, in Michael Shannon’s sharp-dressed company man, Richard Strickland.

As Occam Aerospace’s Chief of Security, Strickland is the man of the hour, the hero of his own story. Having captured the film’s amphibious Amazonian “Asset”, Strickland carries himself with the air of a decorated war hero: rigid, shoulders back, his tall frame restrained in a tailor-made suit that keeps him tight and streamlined. His life at home is Rockwellian perfection, his family of the prototypically nuclear variety. He has a doting and beautiful wife, a daughter & son and a home-cooked meal waiting for him when he walks in the door. Cold War-era suburban perfection. And none of it seems to make him happy.

Sex with his wife is a passionless chore – as he laboriously makes love to his wife, he puts his hand over her mouth, silently whispering for quiet. His relationship with his children rings hollow, with a detached half-interest in what his children tell him about their day. When his family’s unyielding chatter and the loud volume of the constantly blaring TV become too much, he escapes to his car in the driveway and sits. The only sound, the patter of raindrops against glass and Detroit steel. This is a man out of sorts with the perfect life he’s created for himself.

At work, though, Strickland has power. His office, highest point in the building, where he can see all from his desk. The augmented courage he feels with his sleeves rolled up and the slick-black cattle prod clenched in his fist. Here, he feels strong. Here, he feels complete. And he has no hesitation in exerting his influence among the others at Occam. Whether it’s belittling “the help” with racist or sexual innuendo, or mocking the project’s chief researcher for his more humane concerns for The Asset (“ Scientists…they are like artists: They fall in love with their playthings.“), Strickland feels more himself away from the confines of domestic life, where his brutish nature and lack of empathy prevent him from forming a meaningful relationship with his family. He has purpose, and that purpose is serving “the greater good” – in his case, the military-industrial complex who sees his violent nature as boon, not bane. Both Del Toro & actor Michael Shannon have hinted that Strickland’s character notes detail a less-than-ideal realtionship with his father, most likely abusive in nature (and considering his thematic predecessors, it’s easy enough to connect-the-dots here). It’s in his relationship with The Asset that we see his true nature: a natural tendency towards domination, the superior being to this “affront” to nature and God’s will (“You may think that thing looks human- stands on two legs, but we’re created in the Lord’s image. And you don’t think that’s what the Lord looks like, do you?“). In a later scene at a car dealerhsip, the salesman tells Strickland, “You are the man of the future.” It’s a line, a sales pitch, but in Richard’s mind, it’s just simple truth, isn’t it?  He is Homo Americanus, the alpha male, by birthright and by dint of his gender , his species and the colour of his skin.
It’s only fitting that he would seek a similar figure of authority as his surrogate father. A man like General Hoyt: the most basic (and laziest) definition of masculine power, Hoyt views emotion and compassion as weaknesses, defining his identity with the brass on his chest and the symbolic weight of his title. The modern ideal of American “manifest destiny”, Hoyt is a fellow “man of action” that someone like Strickland can easily identify with, and willingly emulate.

When The Asset is stolen, Strickland’s grasp on control begins to slip. We see it manifest in his temper, we see it in the rot of his hand, the reattached fingers from his altercation with the amphibious humanoid becoming gangrenous and black, the physical manifestation of his own disintegration. It’s all on him, and he’s feeling the pressure. Enough so, that in a rare instant of humility and honesty, Strickland confides, with Hoyt, his feelings on their dynamic and the weight of it all. The result is one of the film’s strongest moments, and perhaps the only time he elicits any sympathy from the audience .

You’ve know me for how long?… and in all that time, I… This is…what happened here is…A man is faithful, Sir: loyal, efficient all of his life. All of it, and he is useful. And he expects, he has certain expectations in return. And he fails, then. Once. Only once. What does that make him? Does that make him a failure?

When is a man done? Proving himself, Sir? A good man. A decent man.

And in return for opening up, for baring his soul?

Decent?

A man has the decency not to fuck up- that’s one thing. That is real decent of him. The other kind of decency? It doesn’t really matter. We sell it, sure but it’s an export. And we sell it ‘cause we don’t use it.

See? Thirty six hours from now this entire episode will be over. And so will you…

Our universe will have a hole in it with your outline. And you will have gone on to an alternate universe. A universe of shit. You will be lost to civilization. You will be unborn. Unmade. Undone.

So, go get some real decency, son. And unfuck this mess.

Years of dedication, brutality and servitude, all dismissed with the most casual of airs, by the man he respected the most. A mistake on his part , a moment of weakness, one that he knows he’ll never make again. Strickland doubles down on the “man of action” stance, descending further into rage and violence. He gives himself a pep talk in the bathroom mirror to psych himself up, reminding himself that above all else, he delivers. But even as he performs this act of willful affirmation, though, he’s coming undone. Emotionally and physically, the tight grip of order he has worked so hard to maintain all these years is coming unraveled. There’s a rot taking place, manifested outwardly by his hand, betraying the real sickness that has infected his soul.

At his core, he is a lost little boy, one of Del Toro’s  “princes without a kingdom” : a man with no positive male guidance in their lives, suffering from either abuse or neglect and filling the emotional breaks and gaps with hardness and cruelty. A defense against the world that’s seen fit to break them at an early age. As a child, they were not given everything they needed to feel loved, protected. As an adult, they become the very force that shapes them, the rotten apple falling far too close to the diseased tree. Somewhere along the way, Richard Strickland was broken and robbed of any potential for kindness or sympathy before he even had a chance. But sooner or later, a man chooses whether he will break the cycle or continue to perpetuate it. And it’s that choice that marks the line between sympathy and revulsion. Strickland’s choice, like Vidal and Jacinto before him, ends up determining his fate. and unlike our star (and species) crossed lovers, it’s not a happily ever after.Any sympathy for his sad childhood gets eliminated by his willful cruelty as an adult. Like the other “lost princes”, Stickland dies at The Asset’s hands, right after his final moment of revelation (“Fuck me, you ARE a god!”), finding himself in the presence of a higher power at the very end. Richard Strickland suffers the fate of most tyrannical men. He finds no great reward or tribute for his actions. Only death, bleeding out in the fall rain. His life ends just as he chose to live it: violently, and alone.

Leaving a hole, with his outline, in the universe.

 

IN CONVERSATION: CYNTHIA LOYST & THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE

It isn’t much a of a stretch to call Cynthia Loyst a “renaissance woman”. Currently one of the hosts on CTV’s THE SOCIAL, Cynthia has been working both in front of the camera (including hosting duties on Space’s INNERSPACE) and behind the scenes ( producing as well as hosting City TV’s SEX MATTERS & SEX TV) as one of Canada’s most well-known and respected media personalities. She’s been a keynote speaker and guest lecturer at colleges and universities. She’s received numerous awards and commendations for her work in sex-education and is also a  member of SIECCAN (The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada) and a graduate of The University Of Michigan’s sex education program. And she’s not done yet, as she’s embarked on her most ambitious project yet: Find Your Pleasure.

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In her words, FYP is ” a space dedicated to candid talk about love, sex, and the relationships that mean the most to us. And because pleasure is about so much more than great sex, it’s also about sensual living – and the everyday joys that we can all be thankful for. ”

In between recent speaking engagements and her daily gig with THE SOCIAL, I was able to get some time to talk to Cynthia about life and pleasure – where to find it, how to get it, as well as working it into one’s regular routine.

What was the impetus to start FYP?

Well, when we first launched The Social, I had just given birth a few months before hand, so I was not only sleep deprived but very hormonal.  Even though I loved working on the show, I also felt quite conflicted about leaving my young son every day.  I was also rushing around trying to be AMAZING at everything: I wanted to be an amazing host, I wanted to be an amazing partner and, of course, I needed to be an amazing mom. And inside, I felt miserable.

It all caught up to me when a few months into working on the show, I had a minor panic attack live on the air. No one knew, and I didn’t tell anyone even afterwards but it was a real wake-up call for me.

The thing was, logically, I knew there were all kinds of things in my life to be happy about and thankful for. But I was drowning in “must-dos” and “should-dos” and general ennui about life. I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I did something I loved JUST FOR ME. When I started asking my friends about this, I discovered it was the exact same thing for them. So I started to do a deep dive on pleasure and realized that it is a super fascinating and highly complex topic. And that eventually led to the website.

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The launch party for Find Your Pleasure, February 8, 2017, held at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

Sexuality forms a large component of FYP’s coverage. While we’ve become very open in discussing sex, as far as gender identity and equality, we still get squeamish when talking about the act itself. Do you still see self-repression among the masses, or are we finally getting over the hump?

In some ways the conversation around sexuality and gender has really progressed…I’m part of an online mothers’ group in my ‘hood and I’m so happy when I see them often sharing articles about sex education or about transgender youth.  But in some ways, we are still so far behind.  I have written an advice column for years and I still get the same types of questions over and over again which basically circle around this idea of “normalcy.”  People are super concerned if they are having the “right” kinds of sex or “enough” sex or making sure that their fantasies or desires aren’t too out there. There’s the side that we think we should show to the world and the side that we show to a lover and then there’s the side that we only show to ourselves.  If there’s one thing I hope that I get through to people is that everyone is unique. As long as you approach sexuality with the safe, sane and consensual mantra, the most important thing is to find out what pleasure looks like to you.

You lead a very busy life. How do YOU juggle all of that and still find the time to take part in life’s simple pleasures?

I have to shut down sometimes.  I just got back from a 9-day cruise and I just turned off my phone. It was hard but it was also so rejuvenating.  But I also have recently been researching about other people’s morning rituals and trying to come up with my own. Like, did you know that Benjamin Franklin used to take an “air bath” every morning? I know you’re wondering: what the heck is that? He would go out into the cold air – naked – and wander around (I’m assuming he had no neighbours or maybe he was an exhibitionist?) and then slip back into bed for an hour to have another short nap before starting his work for the day. I like the idea of having a little daily ritual to ground myself for the day. I highly doubt mine will look like that though.

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The simple things, the little pleasures in life – which ones get you through your day?

My morning coffee that I make every morning from fresh beans and sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon. Getting outside and going for a bike ride along the lakeshore. Painting rocks with my son and just listening to his sweet, crackly voice.  Playing board games with my other half or having a scotch with him at the end of the day. Cooking strange recipes. Going for long walks in the woods. Getting to bed early to read or to just luxuriate in the coziness of it all. Reflecting at the end of a day on everything that I am grateful for.

What are the plans for FYP’s expansion?

I want to start a pleasure revolution!  I have been loving doing speaking engagements and hope to one day write a book.  I think pleasure has often been seen as the bad cousin of happiness. I’m here to preach the importance of pleasure because it is intimately connected to happiness – you can’t have one without the other.

Cynthia Loyst can be seen on THE SOCIAL weekdays (and Saturdays) on CTV and CTV TWO – check local listings for times. She can also be heard Wednesdays mornings as Virgin Radio Toronto‘s weekly sex expert.

FIND YOUR PLEASURE can be found on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

IT’S EVOLUTION, BABY: 20 YEARS OF GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S MIMIC

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Published February 10th, 2017 for Blumhouse.com

It’s an all-too familiar story: internationally-acclaimed director, hot off the success of their debut film, courted by Hollywood with the promise of success, only to end up getting chewed up and spit out by the system. It’s happened to the best of them. Including Guillermo Del Toro, with his studio directorial debut, MIMIC, which debuted 20 years ago.

Having gained much acclaim for his first feature, CRONOS, Del Toro was approached by The Weinstein Brothers to contribute a segment for a planned sci-fi anthology film. When that project was scrapped, MIMIC was bumped up to feature status. Written in collaboration with Matthew Robbins and loosely based on the short story by Donald A. Wollheim, MIMIC takes us just ever-so-slightly into the future. A new plague has come, borne on the back of the common cockroach and laying waste to Manhattan’s child population. In an effort to stop it at the source, scientists led by entomologist Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino, still fresh off her Oscar win for MIGHTY APHRODITE) create a new hybrid insect – The Judas Breed, spliced together from mantis and termite DNA – to infiltrate, assimilate into and destroy the cockroach population with a secreted poison. The Judas Breed are custom built for this job alone, with a built in “one generation” expiration date. But, as with all best-laid plans of mice and men, nature’s got other ideas in mind. The Judas survive. And grow. And blend themselves into the city to get closer to their next prey: us.

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MIMIC had all the elements in place: a solid cast, a great “there are things man should not tamper with” premise and a hot new visionary in Del Toro at the helm. Alas, the film opened to middling reviews and a final box-office haul that nearly undid hiss Hollywood aspirations before he even got out of the gate. And, in hindsight, it seems downright odd that there was a time where he would ever be labelled “mediocre” (let’s be honest – the man’s work is too grandiose and operatic to warrant that label). In the end, MIMIC is a serviceable B-movie creature feature, with a little more smarts and art under the hood than most of its cinematic brethren. There was a restored director’s cut issued in 2011 which brought the film closer to his intended narrative pace and vision. But even without the additional footage, with all the studio interference and changes mandated by The Weinstein Brothers, there’s enough on view in MIMIC’s original cut that’s worth talking about. Specifically, the first traces of the themes and motifs that would thread through his movies like celluloid DNA.

TORONTO: MIMIC would be the first film Del Toro would shoot in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It wouldn’t be the last, either. PACIFIC RIM, CRIMSON PEAK and his recently-wrapped THE SHAPE OF WATER were all filmed in Canada’s largest city.  Toronto has long stood in for any of America’s larger metropoli, but Del Toro also makes a point of filming there because… well, he just likes it so much, as he stated in an interview with The Toronto Star:

I love the city, I love the (film) crews first of all. I love the people and then I love the city…I think it’s the most livable city. The food is amazing, the cultural life is amazing, the urban life is amazing and what is great is it’s a city, a proper city. It’s not a big town or a wannabe. I love this city.

LOVE (FOR) BUGS: As an amateur entomologist Del Toro’s affinity for insects runs through all his works. Whether overtly ( the fairies in both PAN’S LABYRINTH and HELLBOY II) to the less-obvious ( the hive-mind social structure of BLADE II’s Reapers and THE STRAIN’s Strigoi), his fascination with insects made MIMIC a custom-fit for his sensibilities. When talking about The Judas Breed (and the experience of filming MIMIC) in the book, GUILLERMO DEL TORO:  CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, Guillermo shows reverence and appreciation for both the fictional and real insect kingdom .“The insects in Mimic were all organic, but mankind needed glasses, artificial limbs. The mimics are the perfect ones, not us…I do happen to believe that insects, as far as form and function, are the most perfect—albeit soulless—creatures of creation.”

 

 

DOUG JONES: Burton and Depp. Scorsese and DeNiro. Hitchcock and Stewart. When an actor and director click, collaboration becomes a recurring thing such is the case with Del Toro and actor Doug Jones. Jones has appeared in several GDT films, often in multiple roles. But it all started here with his appearance as one of the film’s insect “Long Johns (“Long John Number 2”, to be precise).

Whether it’s as PAN’S LABYRINTH’s The Faun or The Pale Man or HELLBOY’s Abe Sapien or his role in the upcoming THE SHAPE OF WATER,  Jones has been an integral part of Del Toro’s world-building. There are many reasons that some actors and directors inevitably forma tag-team dynamic. Leave it to Del Toro, though, to put it as succinctly as only he can on Twitter:

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FAMILY: the relationships between generations old and young often form the backbone of Del Toro’s movies, specifically an older paternal figure with a young child or grandchild. While this started right off the bat in CRONOS with the loving and unconditional love between Jesus Gris and his granddaughter, MIMIC continues that thematic thread with the old shoeshine man, Manny (Giancarlo Giannini) , and his autistic son, Chui (Alexander Goodwin, below). When the boy is taken in by the LongJohns – attracted to him by his habitual spoon-playing, which ‘mimics’ their communicative clicks – Manny goes into the metaphorical bowels of hell ( the sewers below New York) to rescue him. It’s a narrative that gives the story its heart, and one that would continue to appear in subsequent films. From the father/child dynamics of Hellboy & Professor Broom (HELLBOY), Stacker Pentacost & Mako Mori (PACIFIC RIM) and Carter Cushing & his daughter, Edith (CRIMSON PEAK), the bond between elder and child is the lynchpin that holds his narratives together.

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“BEAUTIFUL DECAY”: every director has their trademark visual motif. Burton has his spin on German Expressionism. Wes Anderson’s work is defined by both his specific colour palette and razor-sharp symmetry. For Del Toro, one such recurring visual signature is an aesthetic that can only be described as “beautiful decay”. It’s in MIMIC that we get to see Del Toro’s first swing at this blend of architectural deterioration and fairy tale-like surrealism. Where the film starts out in the standard urban environs of New York, it takes on a more decidedly artistic flair as our characters go deeper underground to face off against the Judas Breed. The walls are coated with mildew and rust. Machinery, long left to decay in the abandoned subway tunnels takes on the appearance of urban fossils, technology of a bygone era. This aesthetic has become a mainstay in his filmography – informing the design of both HELLBOY films and BLADE II, before reaching its pinnacle in CRIMSON PEAK’s opulently deteriorating Gothic estate – and it’s arguably here where viewers got their first taste of it.

 

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Perhaps more importantly than all these ongoing aesthetic choices, though, it was Del Toro’s experience in making MIMIC that gave him one of the most important lessons a creator can learn: failure and the politics of studio filmmaking. Del Toro approached the project with loftier themes in mind – most specifically, humanity’s failure as a species and its replacement by a species engineered for evolution – but was hamstrung by producers and a studio who wanted the final product to be a little more ‘accessible’. In CABINET OF CURIOSITIES’ chapter on MIMIC, Del Toro tells of how the first shot in the film, an elaborate shot of a children’s ward, became a source of contention.

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It was the first day of shooting of MIMIC, and I thought it was a very beautiful, a very striking image…It was the first image that got me into deeper trouble because some of the producers hated that image from the start. They said ‘It doesn’t look like a real hospital. It looks like something off another planet. What are you doing? Are you making an art film out of a B-movie bug picture?’ And I said to them, ‘Well, I think they are one and the same. I think they are one and the same…it was a losing proposition from the get-go.

They say the hardest lessons are the most important, and MIMIC was the hardest one yet for Del Toro. In the end, the film was taken out of his hands and recut by the studio for its theatrical release. And yes, the 2011 Director’s Cut does its part in salvaging the original vision for the story, but the experience itself left an indelible impression on him and galavanized him for the rest of his career. From here on in, clarity of vision would always supercede compromise, be it for love or money.

“This is a struggle you have as an artist. Hellboy, in HELLBOY II, when he shoots the elemental, he’s shooting it because he wants people to like him…and they boo him and throw stones at him. As an artist, I’ve gone through that. You say, ‘Okay, I’m going to do what people like.’ I go and make a commercial movie like MIMIC, and it’s a huge hurt in my life. Then when you go and do the hard choice, there’s a reward in there.”

PHOTOS COURTESY OF:
Miramax Films

INTERVIEW PASSAGES COURTESY OF:
The Toronto Star 
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: CABINET OF CURIOSITIES (HaperCollins Press, 2013)