ISPs throttle students

Last week, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission made a ruling that could change the quality of every Canadian’s Internet connection. On the request of Rogers and Bell, the CRTC allowed Internet service providers to “shape” Internet traffic through a process known as throttling. Throttling would allow ISPs to slow downloading through peer-to-peer file sharing, video streaming, and other high-bandwidth activities with only marginal oversight from the CRTC.

This decision, like so many others made at the highest echelons of our country, disproportionately affects students. As one of the most wired groups in Canada, university students tend to be the largest data consumers. Our computers have ceased being just word processors; they now function as a library, classroom, movie theatre, and television. We live in an age when global connections are necessary and crucial for higher education: journal articles need to be downloaded, online courses need to be streamed, and web-conferences need to take place. These new restrictions imposed by the CRTC will restrict students’ ability to fully utilize their learning capabilities.

The ruling threatens the central concept of net neutrality—an idea that seems to be in rapid decline in Canada. Net neutrality is the basic premise that all Internet traffic should be considered equal. Whether we like it or not, ISPs have gained control over when we can access the Internet, and at what speed. As a result of this new ruling, you may no longer be able to stream that 6 p.m. lecture at the cost or speed you’re used to. When ISPs are able to shape how people use the Internet, the net can no longer be considered neutral.

Throttling, in its basic form, shows that all Internet traffic is not created equal. Streaming of television shows or online classes will be relegated by acceptable, “throttled” Internet traffic, which will get full bandwidth.

My question is: why haven’t heavy data users, students among them, spoken out? Have we just accepted that Bell, Rogers, and the other ISPs get to increase our charges while minimizing our access? Have we decided that net neutrality doesn’t matter, and that we’re fine with being treated as second-class Internet users?

Here I thought neutrality meant unbiased usage, where according the CRTC and the ISPs, it means regulation. The telecommunication companies say this is only about ensuring better efficiency to their customers, but in reality, it creates two classes of users. Sadly enough, I, like many university students, will now be in the disadvantaged Internet user category, and there’s little that I can do about it. So download, stream, and be merry; for tomorrow we will be throttled.

Programming the brain

University of Toronto researchers have discovered a brain protein that could shed light on the underlying causes of brain disease such as Alzheimer’s.

Researchers characterized a previously unknown regulatory protein known as nSR100 and described its role in neuronal development. This marks the first time this family of proteins has been found to play a specific role in tissue development in the body. The findings were published in the prestigious journal Cell last month.

The nSR100 protein functions by regulating “alternative splicing events” in target genes. It acts to increase the complexity and diversity of the nervous system’s cells by tailoring neurons to perform the specific functions that distinguish them from other cell types. The process of alternative splicing is akin to editing a film: nSR100 works with the raw footage of the genetic code to cut the unnecessary scenes and determine which of the required segments are pasted together.

This specific type of protein is found only in vertebrate genomes, which suggests it evolved to enhance cell diversity in the nervous systems. The team’s findings may partially explain why less complex organisms, such as nematode worms, have simpler nervous systems. Humans can produce a much larger array of cellular messages from roughly the same number of genes as nematodes through the action of tissue-specific splicing regulators, such as nSR100. These messages can then act in concert to orchestrate the diversification of functions in specific tissue systems.

A graduate student in the Department of Molecular Genetics, John Calarco, began the search for a nervous system alternative splicing regulator over four years ago under the supervision of professor Ben Blencowe (Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research) and professor Mei Zhen (Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital). After a computational search of mammalian genomes they idenfified nSR100, a member of the SR protein family, as a potential candidate. Its expression was then tested experimentally and found to be present specifically in the nervous tissue of mice and zebrafish. Calarco and colleagues then performed a series of additional biochemical experiments to confirm that nSR100 contributes to fine-tuning the expression of
genes to customize undifferentiated cells into brain-specific cells through alternative splicing.

The authors noticed that their computational search identified more than 100 RS domain protein genes, many of which are yet to be studied. In other words, scientists are sitting on a potential treasure trove of proteins that may unravel some of the darkest mysteries lurking in the human genome.

Such discoveries are leading the way to a new paradigm shift in molecular genetics. Rather than survey the expression of thousands of mRNAs (the chemical messengers that turn the info in DNA into proteins), scientists can now observe more complicated aspects of RNA processing, including alternative splicing, to get at the heart of how gene expression is regulated. Now the race is on not only to identify proteins that regulate cell development, but also to describe how all those proteins act together to develop the complexity of the human body, and particularly the brain.

According to Calarco, “The brain is a playground for many factors that coordinately control numerous ‘layers’ of gene regulation. A major goal now is to figure out how these various layers communicate with each other to generate the incredible degree of cellular and molecular diversity observed in the vertebrate nervous system. Further investigation into the network of splicing events regulated by nSR100 may uncover important aspects of how neurons normally function and also how they become impaired in neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The opportunity to study the brain’s complexity drew Calarco to pursue research in neurogenetics as a graduate student at U of T. He began his research career as a modest research assistant mixing solutions in professor Blencowe’s lab. Calarco advises undergraduates interested in pursuing research to ask lots of questions and get lab experience early. Learning the ropes in a laboratory environment will help determine whether research is a good fit and give young researchers the skills and contacts to become innovators in emerging fields.

Calarco plans to continue exploring neuronal gene expression with a post-doctoral fellowship in neurobiology and to eventually run his own independent ‘gene searching’ lab. His work demonstrates that great research is about asking the right types of questions, and when it comes to brain research, it’s a lot to wrap your head around.

Funding for this project was provided by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the Ontario Research Fund, and Genome Canada (through the Ontario Genome Project).

What’s up with swine flu?

On Tuesday, October 27, 13-year-old Evan Frustaglio died from the H1N1 virus. In response, Toronto Public Health officials said immunization clinics will open Thursday, four days ahead of schedule.

But what’s really up with swine flu? What are the stats? How does it differ from the seasonal flu? And most importantly, should you be worried?

The fact is that even if an outbreak of H1N1 occurs, death is unlikely—even more unlikely than with the regular seasonal flu. According to the World Health Organization, last season’s outbreak of H1N1 infected some 35,928 people around the world, out of which 163 died. That’s less than a half of a per cent of all those who contracted the disease. The WHO also reports that the seasonal flu kills about 41,400 people out of three to five million cases each year—approximately .08 to one per cent of those who get sick.

Despite such statistics, medical professionals across Canada say it’s time to fear being infected, and have launched a massive advertising campaign on how to avoid contracting the virus, including television advertisements and flyers mailed to every address in Canada. The Ontario Health Ministry has also launched a television campaign announcing, “This year, it’s a different flu season.”

I must admit, it is a new flu season—H1N1 kind of came out of nowhere and surprised many people at the WHO and health agencies around the world. But statistics show it’s no more risky than seasonal flu. It may be a new strain, and may have appeared suddenly, but the facts speak for themselves.

The University of Toronto is planning for an H1N1 emergency. Its website, which provides similar information to what the government had given on proper hygiene, states that hand sanitation stations have been installed on all three campuses. Furthermore, ROSI has a new section that you may have noticed, entitled “Flu Absence Declaration.” The university is hoping that those who contract the flu stay home to keep the virus from spreading.

As a result of these measures, classes are a little extra-empty this semester. I’m sure I’m not the only one getting a flood of emails every week from classmates in search of lecture notes for a missed class due to illness.

There have been instances where students have come down with H1N1, and have actually been hospitalized. In those cases, the university’s response has been appropriate. Professors have been instructed to choose the best course of action to accommodate those affected by flu symptoms so they do not lose marks for their absence.

However, there’s no need to fear contracting H1N1, because even if you do contract it, it’s a rather mild form of the flu according to researchers at McGill University. In fact, unless you go to the doctor to be tested for H1N1, you probably won’t even know you have it. The university doesn’t need to do anything it wouldn’t do in any other year. Students should observe a regular regimen of hand washing and avoiding contact with those who have the flu (any form of the flu), but no extra caution needs to be taken. Basic common sense should keep people safe.

A recent Strategic Counsel poll taken for CTV News showed that 51 per cent of Canadians do not plan on getting vaccinated for H1N1. Furthermore, only 67 per cent perceive the vaccine to be safe for adults, and 59 per cent believe it is safe for children. It seems that Canadians in general are not overly concerned with H1N1.

It is ultimately up to you whether you feel the need to get the vaccination for H1N1. Whatever you decide, make sure it’s a well-informed and safe decision. And, if you do get swine flu, stay home!

Playoffs draw near

In a much-anticipated clash between two of the top teams in the OUA league, the Varsity Blues women’s soccer team played to a draw with the Ottawa Gee-Gees 1-1 on Oct. 25 at Varsity Centre. Nevertheless, it was more than enough to send the Blues through to the quarterfinals of the upcoming OUA playoffs.

Having shut out the RMC Paladins 6-0 in the previous match, the Blues maintained a one-point lead over the Gee-Gees in the OUA East division table going into the clash. In order to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs, the second-ranked Toronto only needed a tie, whereas the third-ranked visitors needed a victory.

The match thus carried more significance for the home team. On Oct. 10, Ottawa handed Toronto its only defeat of the season, ending the Blues’ undefeated streak of 11 games. The Blues were looking to retaliate, rather than anticipating a friendly draw. At the beginning of the match, both sides defended well, with neither team dominating the midfield. Then Toronto started to put pressure on the Gee-Gees, causing its defence to scramble several times. The Blues finally broke through the Ottawa defence, and took the lead in the 16th minute. Following a defensive error by the visitors, the Gee-Gees goalkeeper Melissa Peasant found herself facing Toronto striker Jennifer Siu one-on-one. Attempting to clear the ball, Peasant made a critical mistake by kicking it back to Siu’s feet. Siu then comfortably sent the ball into the far post through a low shot, scoring her second goal in two matches.

As the game went on, both teams faced dangerous moments in front of their goals. The Gee-Gees scored an equalizer in the 43rd minute after some chaos in the penalty area following an Ottawa corner kick. The Toronto defence blocked a few attempts by the visitors were blocked, but finally Tara Condos had enough space to fire a shot to the high right corner of the Toronto goal, keeping Ottawa’s hopes of winning alive.

The second half saw a livelier game, with Ottawa pressing forward in an attempt to score. Gee-Gees striker Courtney Luscombe threatened the home team’s defence several times by racing down the left flank. Her efforts resulted in a number of opportunities for Ottawa to score, but either the shots were too wide, or the chances were denied by Toronto goalkeeper Mary-Ann Barnes or the defence line, led by Nav Deol and Alisha Lashley. The two central defenders cleared any attacks through firm headers and clean tackles, and were able to start counterattacks with great passes to the front.

Toronto’s counterattack saw Siu racing down the right flank, and forward Jessica Fantozzi keeping the pressure on the Gee-Gee’s defence. Towards the end of the match, Fantozzi fired a powerful shot and forced Peasant to make a fine save. Even though Ottawa were making huge efforts to score in the final minutes, the Blues put up a solid defence and kept the score of 1-1 unchanged until the end, receiving a first-round bye in the OUA playoffs.

“It was our game plan we knew that we had to tie, or win. […] Our tactic today was just to defend solidly, to hold your line, and the girls did just that,” said head coach Eva Havaris.

Toronto scorer Siu was also satisfied. “It feels great to have a good result with this team. Last time we didn’t feel good about the results, so today we just came out here with high intensity,” she said. “It was good to get a goal. It was very unfortunate that they scored again on us, but […] we are happy for the tie for now. It feels really good to score twice but really it’s a huge team effort and all of us contributed to bring in the results. […] What we focus on is not individual results, it’s a team thing, and we work together to produce results.”

The Blues finalized their second-place finish in the OUA East division, earning 37 points in 16 matches (with an 11-1-4 record). Compared to last year’s top-place finish that saw the team garnering 32 points in 14 matches (with a 10-2-2 record), this year the team has performed just as well, if not better.

“We are getting stronger as we go, starting to peak at the right times. So overall, the girls are fine, they are coming together as a team, which is what we want to see, so I am pleased,” said Havaris. “We finished second, we’ve beaten the top-placed team; we’re just looking ahead to playoffs. This team is now ready to go.”

Looking to the future, Havaris is optimistic about the team’s performance in the playoffs. When asked about the heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the Carleton Ravens in the quarterfinals last year, she said, “It was the game that beat us last year, not that other team. We dominated that game, but I am not concerned about last year. This is a new team.” She claims that the team is not going to prepare for the playoffs differently this year.

“We were very disappointed with the result [last year], the defeat to Carleton,” said Siu. “So this year, we’ll come out stronger with more intensity, and especially if we play Ottawa again, we’re looking to win.”

Not surprisingly, the clash drew a larger crowd than most of the previous home games. Realizing how important this game was for the Blues, the home fans were lively throughout the match, cheering loudly for the home team. The atmosphere certainly boosted the morale of the Blues. “The fans support is huge for us, because that really livens the spirit and keeps the girls in the game. So that was a huge part today,” said Havaris.

The Blues will now start their quest for the OUA title, facing either Carleton or Ottawa in the OUA quarterfinals on Saturday, Oct. 31 at 1 p.m. at Varsity Centre.

Tough road to democracy in Afganistan

Afghanis will soon go back to the polls in a runoff ballot to choose between the two leading presidential candidates following July’s contentious election: the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah. But one questions if the results will even matter in a nation plagued by corruption, decentralized authority, and dependence on foreign powers for protection.

One of the reasons NATO took on the war in Afghanistan seven years ago was to create a working democracy with a framework of human rights in a formerly theocratic and totalitarian state. There is a lot of work yet to be done.

The runoff follows an election that was marred with corruption from the beginning. Beyond the election results, the process was dubious. Hamid Karzai had already twice delayed the date of the vote, citing security and logistical problems, which effectively extended his term in office past its end date set by the constitution.

When the election finally happened, it was marked by extensive corruption and fraud. A BBC report exposed voter cards being sold openly in Kabul markets, and large amounts of money being exchanged between tribal elders and political candidates. On top of this, voter turnout was low, 30 to 35 per cent—partially because of threats by the Taliban, but also partly because of voter apathy.

But Afghanistan’s election woes stem from before the recent election. Perhaps NATO was grabbing the wrong end the stick when its member nations decided to start by focusing on democracy. Instead, they should have concentrated on making Afghanistan independent through its security forces, and bolstering the newly-formed government’s legitimacy among the Afghan people.

Since the fall of the Taliban as an official ruling power, the American army has taken a major role in outfitting and training the Afghan army, and President Obama has pledged to triple the number of soldiers in uniform. However, the nascent Afghan army has been plagued by corruption, low motivation, widespread desertion, and overall lack of discipline. It simply cannot be expected to keep the peace any time soon.

Regardless of outcome, the winner of the upcoming runoff will be completely dependent upon the armies of NATO for security. Not only will this do little to improve the winner’s legitimacy as leader—it will serve to make him unpopular with his own people.

Furthermore, the government of Afghanistan has little sway over most of the country due to ethnic differences and the ubiquitous power of local warlords, both factors that only exacerbate the natural divisions caused by the country’s mountainous geography. The leader of the government, whether fairly chosen or appointed by corrupt means, will be powerless to enforce laws or oversee development far outside the outskirts of Kabul without the goodwill of local warlords or foreign armies.

The questionable legitimacy of the Afghan political system points to a much deeper failure in our mission in that country. After seven years of occupation by NATO, millions of dollars of aid, and over a hundred Canadian army casualties, the establishment of a stable and viable democracy continues to elude us.

Blues hand Concordia a stinging defeat

The Concordia Stingers limped into Saturday night’s contest against the Varsity Blues, carrying the baggage of a 0-5 start to the season.

To say that confidence is in short supply for the Stingers is an understatement. You could smell it in their game as a lack of offensive flair, indecision with the puck in the attacking zone, and mediocre goaltending led to a 5-2 setback against the Blues (who are 3-3) at Varsity Arena on Saturday.

For a Toronto team smarting after blowing a two-goal lead against Carleton the night before, Concordia proved to be the salve that soothed the Blues’ soul.

“That is a team that is struggling right now, so I think their confidence is shaken a little bit,” said Toronto head coach Darren Lowe. “When a team doesn’t have confidence everything seems to go poorly.”

The Blues opened the scoring at 1:24 of the first period, when Rob Kay collected a bounce off the end boards and roofed a shot that beat Stingers goalie Maxime Joyal to the short side.

The Blues took two consecutive minors following the goal but had the best chance to score. Toronto isn’t the most offensively gifted team, but this chance was a tap in, literally.

Sean Fontyn took a Joel Lenius pass and went in alone on Joyal. Fontyn sent him to the deck with a slick forehand move, went to his backhand and, from the top of the crease, lifted the puck over the glass. Instead of celebrating a goal, Fontyn looked to the rafters in frustration.

The Blues upped the lead to two at 2:56 of the second when Bryden Teich took a pass in the slot from Brent McGrail and one-timed a shot that whizzed Joyal’s glove for his second goal.

David Mooney got the eventual game-winner at 6:15 of the second when he took a feed from Byron Elliott to beat Joyal low to the glove side.

“[Mooney] seems to be making the right plays right now,” Lowe said. “He’s really been a surprise and I hope that he keeps getting better.”

A goal from Eddie Snetsinger just over four minutes later appeared to have the home five on cruise control.

Inconsistency is becoming the trademark of the Stingers, even early in the season. A brief letdown, with less than six minutes remaining in the second, changed the Concordia attitude from hopeless to hopeful.

Stingers right winger Marc-Andre Element converted a Cory McGillis pass and 13 seconds later Kyle Kelly hit pay dirt on a rebound for his fourth of the season.

“I’m not too sure exactly what happened [on both goals],” said Blues defenceman Brendan Sherrard. “From talking to the guys in the room it was poor face-offs to begin with and poor slot coverage, so two breakdowns in two shifts and two goals for Concordia.”

The Stingers went on the offensive but couldn’t capitalize before the period ended.

Toronto goalie Russ Brownell, in his first start since Oct. 16, wasn’t severely tested late in the second but made a few solid stops and looked confident doing it.

“He played a strong game,” said Lowe. Brownell stopped 30 shots for his first win of the year.

The Blues came out in the third and re-established the formula from the first period, giving them a four-goal lead.

“We just had to get back to what we were doing in the first period,” Lowe said. “Just getting the puck in deep and playing smart hockey and showing poise. Sometimes it’s just a case of bringing the guys back to a place they were successful.”

Kay put the game on ice with his second of the night at 5:31 of the third. He battled two Concordia defencemen in the crease for positioning and redirected an Elliott pass into the empty net.

“That’s the kind of effort we need from everyone at all times,” Sherrard said. “That goal really put them away.”

“It was a great second effort,” Lowe said.

Elliott ended the night with three assists and now has a least one point in each game.

“[Elliott’s] probably our best natural goal scorer,” said Sherrard. “He can see the ice really well and he can make the pass.”

Haunted hardcore

“Our first Halloween gig was at Wavelength six years ago,” explains Jonah Falco, the drummer for the bloody, hardcore, emotionally-charged, and Polaris Prize–winning band Fucked Up. “We didn’t think that we’d go over very well and just decided to be as ridiculous as possible. So we spent some time on my parents’ porch, carving pumpkins to put on our heads—we all had this kind of Ichabod Crane thing going on. And instead of indie-rockers just staring back dumbfounded at these five morons with pumpkins on their heads, this brigade of our friends stormed in. The pumpkins got smashed, and we had one of the best shows to date.”

The band started Fucked Up Weekend as a tribute to this performance, and as a way to keep performing and make live shows more energetic, involved, and ridiculous. This year, the live act notorious for performances riddled with blood, temper tantrums, and gratuitous male nudity—and for smashing up MTV Live two years in a row—will perform at Kathedral and Sneaky Dee’s over Halloween weekend. The year has already included some major successes for the band: they’re coming straight off a Polaris win, which made the band’s heads “fat, but not too fat,” and a world tour that had the band in a castle, opening for Korn in front of a screaming crowd of 10,000 and in a tiny bar smeared with filth in China. Fucked Up truly seems to be on a rampage of the hardcore scene.

“It’s a way to focus on ourselves that doesn’t seem so egotistical. It’s just a great excuse to push the limit and make our own shows bigger and better,” Falco explains. When asked what the audience has to look forward to, he responds with a string of cryptic phrases: “Unity of imagery, bit of a mess, airborne, war zone hat, slam skank, omega excessive enforcers, burning spirits, and a happy Halloween.”

“When the unveiling happens, I’m sure you’ll be slapping your knees and falling over,” he adds with a smirk.

Clean-cut and smelling of after-shave, with a black scarf and a latte in front of him, Falco doesn’t look like he could be a member of the controversial band that once had to rush lead singer Damian Abraham to a hospital after smashing a pint glass into his head. This is the same Fucked Up whose guitarist once stormed offstage because Abraham crushed a fluorescent light bulb into him. Surprisingly articulate and down-to-earth, Falco seems to approach his work with the band with equal degrees of self-deprecating irony and fierce pride.

“There’s kind of this folklore about Fucked Up, that everybody is a huge prick, emotionally unstable, and genuinely just a terribly mean person who hates puppies and all small animals. And that on weekends we go to the park and shoot pellets at ducks. But, I mean, I love puppies,” he says.

At the same time, Falco mocks the idea of a perfect band, imitating a loving song-writing process in a high register like a dreamy-eyed schoolgirl recounting her summer love. He stops.

“No, it’s not like that at all. […] Beers and tears go into our hit singles. Straight up, there are a lot of tears at our rehearsals.”

“Almost all of the most ridiculous things to happen onstage revolve around one person,” he continues. “All the crazy stuff revolves around the singer.”

Falco continues to recount Abraham’s legendary exploits: performing a grotesque and over-the-top striptease to the audience, tucking himself between the legs, and turning around to reveal himself to the audience sans genitalia.

“And see, I always [see] this [from] behind,” Falco says with a sort of bemused bafflement. “So I’m getting the full, reverse, nudity, and I just kind of try to look away. It’s difficult to concentrate. The most ridiculous times are, of course, when it falls apart. It’ll all be going according to plan until Damian whips around to the audience, and I just have this naked, vulnerable guy staring at me.”

“A live show is all about confrontation,” he explains. “We’re a band that’s had a lot of tense moments, and we thrive on conflict, so there’s a lot of tension on stage.”

As for this year’s Fucked Up Weekend, what does Falco recommend seeing?

“Check out The Bitters and Little Girls on Thursday, go see the Cro-Mags, or if you want something a little bit less aggressive, check out Red Bass. And my God, do not miss D.S.B., even if you don’t go, just say you were there. First Japanese hardcore band to play in North America. Go to the after-parties, leave your inhibitions at the door. Oh, and you should probably go see Fucked Up, too.”

Fucked Up Weekend runs today through Oct. 31. For more information, visit matadorrecords.com/fucked_up.

This Vampire requires major assistance

In The Vampire’s Assistant, Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia), is just a regular adolescent until he attends a freak show at an old, abandoned theatre with his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson). One thing leads to another, and suddenly Willem Dafoe is popping up for cameos, Darren’s been turned into a half-vampire (prompting his discovery of hair gel), and an epic battle arises between the Vampires and the Vampaneze (evil vampires who—gasp—actually kill their victims). Manipulating all this is the ironically obese Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris). who is changing a book with his mind. The plot just gets more twisted from there.

Talented actors such as Orlando Jones appear all of a sudden and disappear from the film just as quickly. Subplots run wild, from Larten Crepsley’s (John C. Reilly) love for bearded lady Madame Truska (Salma Hayek) to a convoluted storyline involving DNA. If the movie hadn’t been structured around a battle between good and evil, it would have spun itself into incoherence.

The animated opening sequence was definitely the scariest, and, unfortunately, the best part of this film. The beginning got me all excited, but then the real movie started. The flashbacks and special effects feel as inauthentic as the film’s tap-dancing vampires, who fight with their fingernails and knock out mere mortals with their breath. The movie does point out that these habits are really no more ridiculous than believing that vampires are blood addicts, afraid of the cross, or able to turn into bats.

The bigger problem is that ˚ can’t seem to figure out what genre it belongs to. It starts off as a horror comedy, only to become a fantasy, and then morphs into an action film with a great big moral pasted on at the end, as if the director wasn’t really sure how to conclude the thing. The film really could have worked as a horror comedy, seeing that the humorous scenes were the most enjoyable and given director Paul Weitz’s past work on American Pie and About a Boy. Having John C. Reilly in one of the main roles also should have brought the humour to the forefront, though he did an excellent job given the wooden dialogue he had to work with. (It was also great watching Reilly battle Ray Stevenson, as if he was fighting Titus Pullo from HBO’s Rome.)

With so many vampire movies these days taking themselves too seriously, it would have been refreshing to see one that tried to be fun instead. But Vampire Assistant’s attempts at depth, including metaphors comparing puberty to vampire (sorry, half-vampire) transformation, are uninspired. At the same time, it was hard to take this movie seriously when Darren lies in his coffin, calmly playing games on his cell phone and aware that his family is mourning him just above.

On the whole, The Vampire’s Assistant might be a nice way to ease kids into the vampire genre on the way to Twilight or The Lost Boys. It will also resonate with fans of the books of the same name, which I myself read as a kid. But though the film has its laugh-out-loud moments, it probably isn’t worth a spare afternoon.

The Vampire’s Assistant is now in theatres.