Entertainment vs. art vs. ghosts 

click to enlarge must watch Highway of Tears, the download of the week
  • must watch Highway of Tears, the download of the week

We go to the movies to watch stories unfold, but the true value is not in what happens on the screen, it's how that makes us think or change what happens off the screen. This is why no one will talk about The Avengers 3 in 40 years (or probably even 10) but we are currently ready to take another hard look at Soylent Green.

Hollywood, most of the time, is much more concerned with making entertainment instead of art. Thankfully, we are also living in a golden era of documentary and independent filmmaking with an unparalleled direct-distribution system allowing more artists to tell more stories than, perhaps, ever before in history.

And so the download of the week, available on Netflix, is Highway of Tears, a made-in-B.C. low-budget doc about the dozens of women, mostly indigenous, who've gone missing or been murdered along B.C.'s Highway 16. This is not an entertaining film, it's a peek under the rug of tragedy and pain with shameful implications lurking in every dark corner. And for those reasons, it's also a film that needs to be seen by all Canadians.

As Highway of Tears filmmakers Matthew Smiley and Carly Pope travel 724 very rural kilometres from Prince George to Prince Rupert, they talk to local authorities, outreach workers and the families of some of the 21 (or more) missing or murdered women (some who were as young as 12 or 14).

Through personal stories cut with desolate landscape shots we discover how the effects of the Canadian residential school system, a lack of public transport, high unemployment and systemic racism all played a role in this tragic history of violence and is a shameful reminder that Canada has always, and continues to, marginalize our indigenous populations, especially the women.

The good news is that times seem to be changing. And after decades of half-assery and blatant neglect from authorities on almost every level, the Highway of Tears murders recently gained enough attention that a special RCMP investigation project was launched. (It took the disappearance of a young white girl to really get things moving though.) As well, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to launch an official inquiry to look into these crimes and the other 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women country-wide. As the mainstream media flits around the issue, the film Highway of Tears will remain a strong reminder for all Canadians that some stories are not meant to entertain us, but they also must never be forgotten.

Other stories do entertain and will never be forgotten, like the original 1984 Ghostbusters, but there's an old Hollywood mantra that goes something like this: "Moviegoers don't want something they've never seen before; they want a familiar story, well told, with a minor twist."

Which means the new Ghostbusters remake opens this week at the Whistler Village 8 and the "minor twist" is that all the Ghostbusters are women. Much was made by Internet losers and dickweeds with too much time on their hands about casting women as Ghostbusters, but the real question should have always been: Why bother at all?

And the answer is: special effects, not story. The ghosts are better in this one even if half the characters are not. Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy) didn't stray too far from the original plot: misfit ghosthunters for hire save New York. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are the best-known stars in this one but they seem a bit stuck in the shadow of the Aykroyd/Murray roles from the first one. Leslie Jones shines (and smashes the "token black character" stereotype) but this film belongs to weirdo SNL alum Kate McKinnon as Holtzmann, the asexual engineering nerd tech wizard who spouts lines like, "I improved beam accuracy by adding a plasma shield to the RF discharge chamber." How could the Internet trolls not like that? (Hint: it's because they've never been laid).

In the end, this Ghostbusters is familiar, told well enough, and while the "twist" works, it's the new special effects technology that really elevates this into one of the more watchable remakes in recent memory. Feig seems to pander to prior fans a bit more than he should have, but it is refreshing to see women making the kind of dumb-fun flicks that we usually only see in male-dominated comedies. And hearses are cool again!


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