All posts by Alyssia

About Alyssia

Alyssia is an Information Assistant at the Vaughan Public Libraries. Nothing makes her happier than a great book and a great cup of coffee. She loves fiction in all formats - books, movies, television, you name it - and is always on the lookout for awesome new music.

Post-Apocalyptic Optimism?

We’re in the midst of the annual Canada Reads tournament, wherein a panel of defendants select their choice of Canadian book they believe can “shift our perspective.” At the end of each round, one book is eliminated until only one remains standing. This year, the 2014 novel Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel is in the running even though it’s almost a decade old, which got me wondering what gives this particular post-apocalypse story such staying power. Of course, this story about the world after a flu pandemic was re-introduced to audiences through the excellent HBO adaptation in 2021 (yikes at that timing, though). And the apocalyptic genre has come rushing back into fashion through the popularity of The Last of Us, based on the video game (for the sake of ease, I will be referring to those mushroom-infested people as zombies). But I think readers (and audiences) can find some odd comfort in Mandel’s version of a ravaged future, the same way people connected with the emotional elements of The Last of Us. These works of fiction contend with the spectrum of humanity (including the good parts) in the face of existential crisis.

While I raptly watched each episode of The Last of Us, I couldn’t help but hope that the show would transcend the usual zombie trappings. And it did…sometimes. I’m not a gamer, so I suppose the plot structure is shaped by its devotion to the source material. In my opinion, the show was at its best when it was at its most specific (the cannibalistic Christian cult, for example, is the opposite of specific: weirdo church guy turns out to be a bad man? Who knew!). And it’s especially at its best when it bucks the expectations of the genre. There is a reason that the third episode, called “Long, Long Time” after the Linda Ronstadt song, was the most well-received by audiences and critics. After two episodes of stellar (but typical) zombie fare, “Long, Long Time” caught viewers off guard by spending an entire episode on a side character’s love story. This genre tends to be bleak and nihilistic, and puncturing that narrative with an unexpectedly sweet and moving—if only marginally relevant—side story was an unexpected but welcome detour.

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Awards Season Fun

Calling all film buffs! On March 6, we’ll be hosting our annual Oscars Trivia Night from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm. Wear your finest as we quiz you on Oscar winners and losers throughout the ages. Prizes available! Register on Eventbrite.  

It’s Oscar season once again! While it’s always a fun time for film fans to discuss predictions, snubs, grudges, and hopes, the ceremony itself can be a little self-serious. The show’s messier little sister the Golden Globes, with its free-flowing booze, lack of food, and dubious prestige, tends to be a more entertaining night (except, of course, when things go awry). To wrap up this award season, I put together my own list of the year’s highlights in the vein of the once-iconic MTV Movie Awards (now called the MTV Movie & TV Awards—yes, it’s still a thing, apparently), known for unique awards like Best Kiss, Best Fight, Best Villain, and something called “Most Frightened Performance”. The show knows we already have a wealth of awards like Best Picture and Best Actor, so they ask: what about all of the other elements that make movies fun?  

Below are my own picks, based on the various things that made an impression on me in some way, whether from serious Oscar contenders or the countless fantastic horror movies of the previous year (since the Academy seems averse to acknowledging horror in any way). Because sometimes the least serious movies deserve the most love! Anyway, on to the list: 

Best Murder-Dance Sequence: M3GAN  

A worthy addition to the evil doll canon, M3GAN got 2023 off to a campy start. The whole movie is perfect, in my opinion, but no scene sums up the film’s competence as a horror-comedy better than the one where M3GAN (the titular doll) dances threateningly down a hallway and chases a man with a large paper cutter. Editors wisely used that scene in the trailers, which likely owes to the film’s massively successful theatre run. But the scene in the film itself is paired with “Walk the Night” by Skatt Bros, making an already memorable scene even better. I for one can’t wait for M4GAN.  

Best Accent Work: Daniel Craig (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery) and Austin Butler (Elvis

A tie! Because I’m indecisive and these aren’t real awards. The first goes to Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc for his cartoony, Foghorn Leghorn Southern drawl in the Knives Out sequel, Glass Onion. Blanc’s distinctive diction was already iconic from the first film (“It makes no damn sense! Compels me, though” is an all-timer) and it continues here, and Twitter had a field day applying it to any and all situations. The second goes to Austin Butler, who was seemingly possessed by the spirit of Elvis Presley after playing him in the film Elvis. Even well after the movie was released, Butler did all his press in his fake, husky “thank you very much” voice, baffling everyone. He claims to be phasing it out now, which is disappointing to me, as I find it hilarious.  

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The Sleeping Car Porter: Canada’s Hidden Black History

February is Black History Month! To celebrate, VPL has put together programming for all ages, including Black History: The Music and the Message for kids, and an adult book club where we’ll discuss The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole. For more programming options, check out our What’s On Magazine.

Suzette Mayr’s The Sleeping Car Porter uncovers a portion of Canadian history lost to time—more specifically, Black Canadian history, lost to time due to institutional neglect. The 2022 Giller Prize winning novel follows a young Black man in the 1920s named Baxter, who has come over from the Caribbean for a job as a train porter in order to save up money for dental school. The novel’s timeline is a single cross-country train journey, from Montreal all the way to Banff, during which Baxter’s lack of sleep results in a blurry delirium made worse by the constant demands of his customers.  

I’ll admit I knew nothing about sleeping car porter history prior to reading this novel, but there were enough intentionally placed, specific references to suspect that there was likely a well of history behind Baxter’s story. Why, for example, did (white) customers keep calling him George? What was this Brotherhood they keep mentioning? Turning the last page over to Mayr’s extensive bibliography was the final clue that this novel is very, very heavily based on real Canadian history. So like any good nerd, I went on a bit of a deep dive and checked out They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada by Cecil Foster and My Name’s Not George: The Story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada by Stanley G. Grizzle, two titles from Mayr’s research that are available at VPL. They Call Me George is a particularly useful companion read to The Sleeping Car Porter, as it often answers the questions brought up in the novel. What I learned took me by surprise: Black porters were not only part of the Canadian cultural consciousness of the early to mid-20th century, they were also instrumental in instigating a Black middle class, and even helped cement—not by accident, but by will—our identity as a multicultural nation, on which we now pride ourselves.  

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