Happy Canada Day! To celebrate our national holiday, four of our contributors list their favourite oeuvres made in Canada. Let’s hope you find these gems before Prime Minister Harper bans their distribution in an effort to, uh, “balance the budget”.
The Mad (2007)
Ever since David Cronenberg’s Shivers repulsed audiences from the four corners of the world in 1975, Canada has been known for producing weird horror flicks. Its reputation for offbeat scares remains to this day, not least in Las Vegas, where Céline Dion performs every night at Caesar’s Palace. Over in the obscure DVD bins, you may find such low-budget gems as The Gate (1987), Cube (1997), and my recommendation: The Mad, about unregulated organic meat products causing a zombie outbreak in the countryside.
As its title indicates, the horror comedy plays off the BSE (otherwise known as “mad cow disease”) scare of 2003, critiquing not just the ethics and practices of the stock breeders on whom we depend for sustenance but also our hypocrisy regarding organic farmers, whom we allow to bypass standard health controls because of a vaguely healthy-sounding label. However, what makes John Kalangis’ The Mad a must-see are Billy Zane and Maggie Castle’s performances as Dr Jason Hunt and his daughter Amy, who keep underreacting to the mayhem surrounding them. I love their purely Canadian cynicism toward political correctness: “It’s retarded […] I’m sorry. That’s mentally challenged.”
Neverwinter Nights (2002)
Based in Edmonton, Alberta, Bioware is one of my favorite game developers. In fact, the company has yet to release a game I didn’t enjoy. I’ve already recommended a few of its releases such as Baldur’s Gate and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Here, I’d like to showcase another classic: Neverwinter Nights, which tells of a mysterious plague killing the citizens of Neverwinter, a city set in the Forgotten Realms from the Dungeons and Dragons universe. As you begin your search for a cure, you soon realise that the plague is just the tip of the iceberg and that a more sinister plot is afoot.
On the surface, Neverwinter Nights may seem like any other RPG with such familiar concepts as character classes, abilities, alignment, and experience, but the game engine allows you to create your own campaign and share it online so you can play with friends. A simple Google search will allow you to find and download a number of great player-made expansions, giving you more bang for your buck. It’s unfortunate that Neverwinter Nights II by Obsidian Entertainment in Irvine, California, doesn’t match its predecessor’s quality, but that’s what happens when you take a Canadian product and outsource it to an underdeveloped country like the United States.
Men with Brooms (2002)
Men with Brooms is a 2002 comedy made in Canada by Canadians with Canadian music and, above all, Canadian subject matter. It tells of a disgraced curler (everyone’s favourite Mounty, Paul Gross) returning to his hometown to attend his former coach’s funeral ten years after he blew a big game and abandoned his fiancée. Once there, he makes amends, finds happiness, and provides a context for lots of Canuck pop culture references and even a cameo by The Tragically Hip, who play a rival curling team from their hometown of Kingston, Ontario.
I admit that the movie is a little predictable. Really, you can see every plot twist coming before the rock reaches the other end of the sheet. I imagine our non-Canadian readers are already confused, but allow me to delve deeper into this already obscure metaphor: even if the rocks miss the button once in a while, at least they lie in the house a foot or so closer than their competitors’, scoring a few points for team Canadian culture. So what if we have to sweep away the debris? The game wouldn’t be as much fun if there wasn’t a little work to be done to get home, and that’s why I like Men with Brooms.
You Can’t Do That on Television (1979-1990)
My go-to piece of Canadiana is The Littlest Hobo, but does such burnished television perfection need my sales pitch? Down the road it will go, picking up fans along the way… No, seriously, for this piece, I want to recommend something that struck, something that drilled into my young brain and taught me to see the world in a different light: no Leonard Cohen, Alice Munro, or Margaret Atwood. Rather, I’m referring to Ottawa’s You Can’t Do That on Television, which kicked off in 1979 and aired every Saturday morning until 1990.
The offbeat sketch comedy aired around noon in my household and, with its broad humour and pre-teen cast, served as a welcome epilogue to the morning’s cartoon binge, easing me back to live action and then, as I clicked off the TV during the credit roll, actual people. Believe it or not, this is the show that developed my taste for Monty Python. We can also thank You Can’t Do That on Television for introducing green slime to Nickelodeon. Has the world been the same since? I don’t know.