The Flayin’ Chilean reflects on two decades trashing movies for Planet S

20 Years | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | Sept. 29, 2022

I landed in Canada in 2002. I could tell you stories of my hardscrabble early days in Saskatoon, but my first gig off the boat was “sales associate” in the Sears linen department, and the biggest challenge (besides having no money) was getting people to stop calling me “George”.

Never mind having access to high thread count sheets at a discount, my first love was journalism (to this day), so one morning in September I set out to find a job, or at least some freelance work, in my field. The Star Phoenix seemed awfully institutional, so I targeted the local weekly (or bi-weekly): Planet S.

The editor at the time, David Shield, a personable, gangly young man who would go on become one of the groomspeople at my wedding, personally received my resume and seemed genuinely interested in my story. The magazine had a film critic, Roger Bakes, but David promised to remember my name if something came up (an assurance I’ve heard hundreds of times through my career that seldom materialized).

A month and a half went by before the phone rang. At that point, I was fearing my survival job at Sears would last forever (funny story about that…). The assignment? Review a mid-budget thriller like the ones Hollywood used to make before the streamers arrived — a forgettable Courtney Love vehicle called Trapped. Those who regularly read these pages know bad movies make excellent reviews, and mine was dripping with sarcasm and EAL gaffes.

I was at Halloween party dressed as one of the Reservoir Dogs (wearing a Sears jacket I was planning to return the next day) when I saw my review in the paper. It was a proud moment. I’d written hundreds of articles for a Chilean newspaper, but this was my first work published in English. I knew then everything would be all right.

It was and it wasn’t. Writing for Planet S for the last 20 years has allowed me to meet several of my heroes (Paul Verhoeven, Michael Haneke), some of whom exceeded my expectations (film critic Mark Kermode) and others didn’t come close (Mr. Coupland, you made a powerful enemy that day). Yet I remain a freelancer, feeling every hit print media receives on regular basis.

In those early days, I interviewed a weirdly disproportionate number of comedians. Howie Mandel phoned me from his car and called me “George” the entire time (his shtick is still the same). Steven Wright cracked me up and invited me to meet him backstage during his show in Saskatoon (I didn’t dare).

I also got to talk with a couple of local legends no longer with us who I still remember fondly: scriptwriter Bill Boyle — who invited me to play Texas hold ’em with the same actors I had just ripped in a Persephone show review — and Rocky Horror Picture Show vet Henry Woolf, a larger-than-life figure (best friends with Harold Pinter!) living just off-Broadway.

Life goes on, and my wife and I eventually moved to Vancouver (where we married), then to Toronto, then Vancouver again, then, as of this summer, to an undisclosed location on the island to raise our son. Living in this country has been a great adventure, and writing for Planet S is so intertwined in my Canadian experience I can’t imagine one without the other.

It’s been a good two decades. Let’s keep it going. 5/5 planets.

Jorge Ignacio Castillo still has a horcrux hidden in Saskatoon.