Vancouver International Film Festival 2016

Last update 11 October, 2016.

As usual, most of my reviews will sacrifice sober  judgement and circumspect analysis in favor of intemperate passion and my corrupt personal  taste. Otherwise consider my opinions to be completely arbitrary.

But don’t take my word for it. Go to for a full description and reviews of each film. Many descriptions have links to other reviews of the film.

New on the list

The Salesman (Dir. Asghar Farhadi, Iran /France, 126 min.)

Beautiful 2016 ()

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Dir. Juho Kuosmanen, Finland/Sweden, 92 min.)

Elle (Dir. Paul Verhoeven, France/Germany, 130 min. ) About 20 minutes into the screening, the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate the building. Anticipating at least an hour’s wait before the resumption, we decided to go home. But not before vowing to pick up this pr0mising film later.


Read the full reviews in the next section.

Another Evil. What to do with a drunk exorcist.

The Bacchus Lady. An aged prostitute wonders what’s next.

The Handmaiden South Korean cinema at its best.

Lost in Munich. Words from an aging parrot blow the lid off the 1938 peace treaty.

The Love Witch. Bad acting and glorious colour in a send up of soft-core porn.

The Phantom Detective. South Korean shoot-em-up with a unique cast.

Tickling Giants. How to get up a dictator’s nose.

Two Trains Runnin’ The search for forgotten black musicians in 1960s Mississippi.

Previously reviewed

Alone (Dir. Park Hongmin, South Korea, 90 min.) This film is so confusing that if bors me to review it. Stay away. (Reviewed 2016.10.10)

Another Evil (Dir. Carson Mell, USA, 92 min.) An original spin on the traditional spook story. For a while it seems that the exorcist is more trouble than the ghosts. Or maybe he’s right. Recomended. (Reviewed 2016.10.09)

The Architect (Dir. Jonathan Parker, USA, 95 min.) Plans to build a waterfront home  spiral (literally) out of control when a middle class couple Drew and Colin (Parker Posey and Eric McCormack) hire manipulative  architect Miles Moss (James Frain) to helm the project. Lots of potential for a good story is lost here because it is difficult to summon much sympathy for any of the characters. Drew is annoying, Colin is detached, Miles is narcissistic. I am disappointed. (Reviewed 2016.09.21.)

The Bacchus Lady (Dir. E Jyong, South Korea, 110 min). This coming-of-old-age film manages to treat the subject of approaching death seriously without becoming solemn. In fact, it is sometimes downright funny. Youn Yuhjung plays So-young, an aging Seoul prostitute whose clients share her vintage, a fact that leads her to realize that the same emotionally distant way in which she has provided them with sex can also furnish them with ultimate release.  (Reviewed 2016.09.30)

BANG! The Bert Berns Story (Dir. Bob Sarles and Bert Berns, USA, 94 min.) The VIFF review sums up the story of  this film about “the most important 1960s songwriter that you’ve never heard of.” Lots of fun if you remember the ’60s. (Reviewed 2016.09.21.)

Beyond the Mountains and the Hills (Dir.Eran Kolinin, Israel, 90 min.) A film in which everything is clear except for the director’s purpose in making it. cf. Hermia and Helena below.(Reviewed 2016.10.06)

Bugs (Dir. Andreas Johnsen, Denmark, 76 min.) A couple of chefs tour the world looking for scrumptious insects to fry up. Or eat raw. Enough said. (Reviewed 2016.10.08)

Ghostland: The View of the Ju’Hoansi (Dir. Simon Stadler, Germany, 88 min) Members of a bushman village in Namibia get tired of hosting busloads of white tourists and decide to turn the tables by becoming tourists themselves, first in the Namibian capital Windhoek, and then in Germany. Perhaps the most telling insight comes when one of the group looks around at the mass of people in a German airport, each one on his or her own trajectory, and comments “I don’t think they know each other.” (Reviewed 2016.09.21.)

Glory (Dir. Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, Bulgaria/Greece, 98 min)  This film cannot decide if it is a comedy or a tragedy.Tsanko (Stefan Denolyubov), a scruffy linesman for the Bulgarian state railway, is doing his lonely job one day when he happens across a stash of cash scattered over the rail bed. He makes the mistake of reporting his find and falls into the hands of Julia Staikova (Margita Gosheva), PR director for the ministry of transportation, which is being hammered by corruption charges. Desperate for a feel-good story, Julia tries to set Tsanko up as a national hero. And here she runs into two problems. First, Tsanko sports, as well as an unkempt beard, an impenetrable speech impediment. Second, Julia’s fertility treatment program requires her to administer abdominal injections at inconvenient times during the work day. The first half of the film makes the most of the comic set up. Then the plot takes an unexpected nose-dive and we begin to wonder if Tsanko will survive. (Reviewed 2016.09.20.)

Goldstone (Dir. Ivan Sen, Australia, 110 min.) A western set in the Australian outback. Predictable, but well shot. Could well be a pilot for a series. ( Reviewed 2016.10.09)

Graduation (Dir. Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 127 min) Romeo Aldea (Adrien Titieni) should have a contented life. He’s a successful doctor with a bright teenage daughter Eliza (Maria Drăguşand) and an attractive mistress. But then there’s his miserable wife. And Eliza is out to sabotage her father’s plan to have her attend university in England. And someone keeps throwing stones through his windows. Events reach a head when Eliza is attacked on her way to school and winds up in an arm cast which disqualifies her from writing an important exam. Romeo has to break the rules to ensure she gets a fair shake. As events blossom, Romeo’s obsession intensifies. And takes us with it. (Reviewed 2016.10.01)

The Handmaiden (Dir. Park Chanwook , South Korea, 145 min.) Double crosses, triple crosses, suspense, entwined with erotic fantasy. Director Park is at the top of his form in this thriller. Highly recommended. (Reviewed 2016.10.09)

Hermia and Helena (Dir. Mattias Pineiro, Argentinia/USA, 87 min) A film in which nothing is clear except for the director’s purpose in making it. cf. Beyond the Mountains and the Hills above. (Reviewed 2016.10.06)

History’s Future (Dir.  Fiona Tan, UK/Netherlands, 96 min.) This film tries to explain the concept of time and memory. Frankly, I am sick of would-be artists hiding their inability to understand such phenomena behind muddy writing. (Reviewed 2016.10.11)

In a Valley of Violence (Dir. Ti West, USA, 103 min.) Well, the ghosts of Clint Eastwood and Gary Cooper still haunt the Hollywood  sand lots. This time the hero who cleans up the  town is peace-loving Ethan Hawk. Standard  shoot-em-up. (Reviewed 2016.10.10)

Infinite Flight of Days (Dir. Catalina Mesa, Columbia, 78 min.) A gentle and colourful visit to Columbia’s  Jericó,  a centre for religious tourism. What makes this doc memorable is director Mesa’s focus: the oldest female inhabitants. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the “birthday-cake palette” — as Cinema Axis‘ reviewer puts it — of the town. But Mesa lets the ladies speak for themselves and the result is a moving, but often hilarious, take on life. Don’t miss the giant collection of rosaries in the first lady’s bedroom. (Reviewed 2016.09.17.)

Kedi (Dir. Ceyda Torun, Turkey/USA/Germany, 79 min.) Director Torun takes us on a cat’s eye tour of Istanbul in this entertaining documentary. Citizens of the city see themselves as caregivers for the thousands of stray cats that beg or steal food from merchants and animal lovers. No cats were harmed in the production of this film. Unless you rate getting overweight counts as harm. (Reviewed 2016.09.22.)

Keepers of the Magic (Dir. Vic Sarin, Canada, 87 min.) A colorful tribute to the men (and they are all men) behind the cameras of the films you remember. This doc lets cinematographers tell their own stories — of fights with directors and actors, of dismal failures, of accidents that turned into strokes of genius. If you like films, you will love this. (Reviewed 2016.10.1)

KONELINE: Our land beautiful (Dir. Nettie Wild, Canada, 96 min.). Since this is a film about northern British Columbia, we are treated to a brief encounter between members of the Tahltan first nation and the executive of a mining company. But for the most part, director Nettie Wild lets the inhabitants speak for themselves without judgment. The real protagonist here is the landscape of BC. And Wild’s camera captures it. (Reviewed 2016.09.17.)

Lantouri (Dir. Reza Dormishian, Iran, 115 min). A small-time gangster  develops a crush on a journalist who is  out to end Koranic “eye-for-an-eye” justice that lets victims of crime decide whether perpetrators should be punished or forgiven. A topic for an undergrad seminar, right? Right. The film dithers for the first 45 minutes; the real drama begins when there’s 45 minutes to go. Disappointingly free of the complexity that Iranian films usually grapple with. Gets gruesome.  Go and see this only if you have strong nerves. (Reviewed 2016.10.05)

Lavender (Dir. Ed Gass-Donelly, Canada, 92 min.) This standard ghost story reeks of government grants. What Canadian bureaucrats think is cutting edge, five years after the Americans and 10 years after the rest of the world. (Reviewed 2016.10.07)

Little Sister (Dir. Zack Clark, USA, 91 min.) A former goth-girl now taking instruction to become a nun, returns to her home town to mend relations with her mother (a great performance by Ally Sheedy) and her brother, disfigured as a soldier in the gulf war. The film avoids falling into sentimentality, but I was left wondering what led her to choose a religion in the first place. (Reviewed 2016.10.09)

 Living with Giants (Dir. Sebastien Rist and Aude Leroux-Lévesque, Canada, 79 min.) No, no, no. More to come  when I get my passions under control. OK, I’m better now. My uneasiness stemmed from an underlying suspicion that I was being fooled.  And I  was. This film is not a documentary.  It is a drama, posing as a documentary.  There’s a cast  list in the credits. And  it is a hackneyed drama: expect nothing more than the sad old clichés about Inuit life in the north: alcoholism and suicide. How about a film about the thousands of native people who do well? (Reviewed 2016.09.17.)

Lost in Munich (Dir. Petr Zelenka, Czech Republic, 105 min.) Don’t miss this hilarious take on European history.  Background. On 29 September, 1938, the governments  of Britain, France and Italy met in Munich and agreed to surrender a chunk  of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler’s Germany. On the 70th anniversary of this betrayal (2008), an intrepid Czech reporter uncovers the existence of, and kidnaps, a parrot — yes, you read that right, a parrot — that overheard and can repeat private comments made by the 1938 French prime minister Edouard Daladier praising Hitler and excoriating Czechs as weaklings. The nation of France is offended. Czechs are out for blood. There’s a contract out on the parrot.  From here on, things get complicated. Very complicated. Stay awake. (Reviewed 2016.09.30)

The Love Witch (Dir. Anna Biller, USA, 120 min.) Director Anna Biller hits all the right notes in this techni-colorful send up of  ’60s soft-core porn. The sets, costumes and make-up are as realistic as birthday cake and the acting is deliberately atrocious. See it if you dare. (Reviewed 2016.10.10)

Magnus (Dir. Benjamin Ree, Norway, 76 min.) Director Ree skilfully evokes the tension of international chess without explaining strategy — or even the rules of the game. The subject here is not chess, but the personality of Magnus Carlsen, a Norwegian teen who took on the best of the world’s chess masters, and won.  We follow Magnus through his clumsy childhood, his awkward adolesence to his fumbling adulthood. In spite of all his  social defects, Magnus feeds ?? our support/love ?. If you like chess, you have seen this film. If you don’t know chess, check it out. (Reviewed 2016.10.10)

Maliglutit (Searchers) (Dir. Zacharius Kunuk, Canada, 94 min.) Inuit director Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) brings us another adventure in Canada’s arctic. When Kuanana returns from the hunt to find his wife and daughter missing and the rest of his family murdered, he sets out over the snow to straighten things out. Kunuk’s pacing is much more relaxed than that of John Ford, whose The Searchers was an inspiration for this film. A must-see for anyone interested in the lives of America’s indigenous people. Not a white face appears in the film. (Reviewed 2016.10.05)

The Model (Dir. Mads Matthiesen, Denmark, 105 min.) Leaving her home in Denmark to start a career as a model  in  Paris,  sixteen-year-old Emma learns too much about the fashion culture. Standard predictable fare. Lots of drinking, sex and nudity. Why did her parents let her go in the first place? And — kids — don’t take pills offered by a stranger.(Reviewed 2016.10.11)

Neruda (Dir. Pablo Larrain, Chile/Argentina/Spain/France, 108 min.) I cannot do better than the VIFF description of this winner. Though the film will work better for you if you have read some of Pablo Neruda’s work. Recommended. (Reviewed 2016.10.03)

Operation Avalanche (Dir. Matt Johnson, Canada/USA, 94 min.) This ingenious “documentary” follows the efforts of a set of CIA  special  agents (actually 2015 film students at York University in Toronto) to create a phony NASA moon landing in 1969. Well acted and produced. Though unconvincing. (Reviewed 2016.10.10)

The Ornithologist (Dir. Joäo Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal, 118 min.) Who would have thought that bird watching was hazardous? Our hero Fernando is out in a river in a remote part of Portugal (is this the first time the words “remote” and “Portugal” have appeared in the same sentence?) when he his canoe is capsized by rapids.  A pair of female Chinese pilgrims rescue him, feed him, tie him up and then plan to castrate him. Fernando escapes and runs into a deaf and dumb shepherd-boy called Jesus with whom he has sex and then kills. Then the film gets really weird. In the last scene, Fernando changes his name to Anthony and  in the company of Jesus’ identical twin (now disguised as a bird) strides into the Italian city of Padua and is greeted as Saint Anthony of Padua. I’m not making this up, but some religious nut () did. (Reviewed 2016.10.08)

The Phantom Detective (Dir.Jo Sunghee, South Korea,  125 min.) Winner of this year’s award for the most ammunition expended in a single film. If crazy Kim in the north had seen this film when it came out, he would have attacked immediately, believing that his enemy was out of bullets. But this film is worth seeing anyway: it has the thriller  requirements — a flawed hero, an apparently invincible  big bad guy and — something new — an adorable six-year-old with the ability to smooth talk her way out of any certain death situation dreamt up by the apparently inexhaustable supply of bad guys. Recommended. (Reviewed 2016.10.03)

Power to Change — The Energy Rebellion (Dir. Carl-A. Fechner, Germany, 94 min). Director Fechner puts a positive spin  on the struggle to save the planet by focusing on environmental projects, both private and public, that actually worked. As well as those that did not. Among the successes  —  a mobile machine that turns vegetable waste into fuel pellets and a charity that provides energy-saving gadgets. Fechner’s message is that lots of small clean projects can drown the bad effects of a few large dirty ones. I was unconvinced. (Reviewed 2016.09.20.)

Prison Dogs (Dir. Perri Pelz and Geeta Gandbhir, USA 72 min.) Feel-good movie   of the fest. (Reviewed 2016.10.10)

A Quiet Passion (Dir. Terence Davies, UK/Belgium, 125 min.) Only the British could work up a full two-hour biopic about an American woman to whom nothing happened. That  woman would be Emily Dickinson, by the way. There’s a lot of strolling in the Dickinson gardens. And there is ample opportunity for Emily (Cynthia Nixon) to demonstrate that Dickinson was no fading violet. I suspect that this movie, combined with some additional material (so long as it exists) will make it to the small screen on PBS. (Reviewed 2016.10.05)

Reset (Dir. Thierry Demaizierre, Alban Teurlai, France, 110 min.) Ch0reographer Benjamin Millepied prepares his initial production  as new director of the Paris Opera Ballet. Sweat, strain and stumble with the dancers as Millepied  drives them to their limits. Oddly, the final credits inform us that Millepied resigned from the company in 2016, three months after the production. A bit more investigation reveals that he has since moved to Los Angeles. I’ll let you work that out. (Reviewed  2016.10.01)

RiverBlue (Dir. David McIlvride and Roger Williams, Canada, 95 min.) The first half hour of this documentary evinces groans from the audience with its depiction of the slow but complete deaths of rivers — in China, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh — choked with industrial waste. Directors place the blame squarely on the fashion industry, which demands cheap denim for blue jeans and cheap leather for shoes and belts. Religion assists though by assuring Bangladeshi workers that toiling in toxic water is their lot and by promising ignorant Indians that dunking in the poisonous, feces-and-corpse-ridden soup of the Ganges will get them into heaven. Be prepared to come out flush with  righteous disgust. (Reviewed 2016.09.22.)

River of Fables (Dir. Bhaskar Hazarika, India, 118 min.) This film weaves  together four  Indian folk tales about girls and their  parents. The classics of European fairy tales are all here: the evil step-mother, the abandonment of the new-born, the mysterious vegetable that becomes a child  and the search for an appropriate suitor for a daughter(a python in this case). Like European fables, these stories are brutal and bloody. Not for the squeamish. (Reviewed 2016.10.10)

Seasons (Dir. Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, France, 95 min.) Billed as a history of life in the forests that blanketed Europe for the last 10,000 years, this film is nothing more than a nature documentary. There’s no investigation of exotic creatures — lions and elephants, for example — that lived there. No science at all. In fact, the directors edit the film at their disposal to (occasionally) inject some Disney-like anthropomorphisms that made me cringe. Good nature photography though. Your kids will love it. (Reviewed 2016.10.03)

Sins of the Flesh (Dir. Khaled El Hagar, Egypt, 124 min.)  If the  title didn’t warn you, the situation 15 minutes in will. It’s the beginning of the Arab Spring in Egypt, and Ali, serving 25 years for murder, escapes and seeks refuge at the farm run by his cousin. You know things are going to get out of control when it turns out that Ali and his cousin’s wife, Fatma, are not exactly strangers. To make things more complex, the rich owner of the farm also has an interest in Fatma. Melodrama notwithstanding, the film  is well directed and photographed. There’s hardly a dull minute in the two hours of movie. (If you want, you can interpret the film as  an allegory on the state of Egypt, with Fatma representing Egypt, Ali representing the rebellion, and so on.) (Reviewed 2016.09.17.)

Sufferings of Ninko (Dir. Niwatsukino Norhiro, Japan, 70 min.) What’s the worst thing that a celibate monk could discover about himself? An ingenious mix of live action and animation brings Ninko’s dilemma to life. (Reviewed 2016.10.04)

Suntan (Dir. Argyris Papadimitropoulos, Greece, 104 min). Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou), a dumpy middle-aged introvert, is the only doctor on a small Greek island. In the winter, he treats the island’s 800 inhabitants. But in summer, his practice expands to include the hundreds of young sybarites who flood the island’s beaches. Predictably, Kostis falls for one of them; but for Anna (Elli Tringou) sex with Kostis is nothing more than a notch on her thong. If she ever wore a thong. Kostis’ obsession can only end badly. A predictable plot that seems to be constructed largely as an excuse to display a record number of hectares of human skin of all genders. (Reviewed 2016.10.01)

Tickling Giants (Dir. Sara Taksler, USA/ Egypt, 111 min. ) This documentary is worth a viewing. The Arab Spring of 2012 gives surgeon Bassam Youssef a chance to be what he always wanted — a satirical comic in the manner of John Stewart. Bassam’s show, featuring cutting humour, was broadcast for three years until the government of Abdel el-Sisi shut it down. Most revealing about the state of Egypt are the comments, not by government shills, but by common citizens, that satire and criticism are subversive. Guess those people will always be with us. (Reviewed 2016.10.08)

Tower (Dir. Keith Maitland, USA, 82 min.) Director Maitland rotoscopes us back to August 1966, when sniper Charles Whitman spent two hours in the clock tower at the University of Texas in Austin shooting down people on the campus below. A must-see if, like me, you remember the strange day that saw the first mass gun deaths in the United States. (Reviewed 2016.10.05)

Twilight over Burma (Dir. Sabine Dirflinger, Austria/Thailand, 99 min.)  In the 1950s, a young Austrian girl marries a handsome, idealistic Burmese prince and goes to live with him in Burma. While she slowly learns the customs  of her adopted country, her husband struggles to set up a democratic government.  Then a military coup threatens the young family’s freedom and lives. Pretty scenery but predictable plot with weak acting. (Reviewed 2016.10.01)

Two Trains Runnin’ (Dir. Sam Pollard, USA, 82 min.) This imaginative  doc has two teams of courageous country blues buffs heading into the racist hell hole of 1960s Mississippi to track down forgotten heroes of black American music. On the way, they run into bigotry, violence and spirited music. An inventive potion of politics and poetry. Highly recommended if you like the blues or the triumph of friendship over fear, music  over malevolence. (Reviewed 2016.09.17.)

Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt (Dir: Ada Ushpiz, Israel/Canada, 125 min) If you don’t know who Hannah Arendt was, this long, dense analysis of her work is not the film for you. But if the phrase “the banality of evil” makes you think of Adolf Eichman, you will find  a feast of ideas as Arendt’s friends and critics discuss her views on the holocaust, zionism and moral responsibility. You might want to take notes. (Reviewed 2016.10.01)

The Yard (Dir. Måns Månsson, Sweden/Germany, 79 min.) I agree that this film depicts industrial alienation. It sure as hell alienated me. I thought we had been through all this two generations ago. Read the precis in the program guide and prepare to be depressed. (Reviewed 2016.09.22.)

Yellowing (Dir.  Chan tze-woon, Hong Kong, 133 min.) This 133 minute doc about the 2014 “Umbrella” protests against the Beijing-dominated government of Hong Kong could do with some editing. And Chan could have supplied a couple of minutes of historical context to put the audience into the picture. But Chan’s on-the spot camera captures the passions of the youthful demonstrators, especially  when it contrasts them with the bland faces of the police. (Reviewed 2016.09.17.)



History’s Future

The Ornithologist

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Two films worth seeing

Oh, yeah. The new Star Wars is just about out. But before leaping on board the starship Fantastic Nonsense and drowning in its swimming pool of soda pop, check out two docudramas also showing at your local film-plex.

The first is Trumbo. Here Bryan Cranston (of Breaking Bad) portrays the award-winning screen writer Dalton Trumbo, who put his career on the line by refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. Cranston’s Trumbo comes across as brash, articulate and brave. Watch for his takedown of the bumptious John Wayne. Helen Mirren plays the witless LA Times gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. The film is a splendid dip into the ocean of realism.

Spotlight recounts the struggle of the Boston Globe to tear down the Roman Catholic church’s  cover-up of child abuse by priests. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams plunge in to lead the team of investigators, battling the waves of resistance from the church. But for my money, the outstanding character is Liev Schreiber’s understated role as editor-in-chief Marty Baron.

Sorry about the continuing swimming metaphors.

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Resisting evil: Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog, I described the famous Milgram experiment that revealed the tendency of humans to obey authority, even when that obedience led to inflicting intense pain on others. The reactions to this apparently dour news ranged from hopeful denial (“It’s not true.”) to morbid acceptance (“Well, that’s human nature.”) None of the comments — at least none that I have seen — spotted the bright side.

There’s a bright side?

Yes, and here it is. If you are aware of this unfortunate human tendency, you can choose to disobey it.  This is immediately obvious if you imagine yourself a volunteer in a Milgram-like experiment, one in which the student is really being shocked. Now think. Knowing what you know now, would you obey the scientist and continue to increase the shocks?

I assume the answer is “no.”

Or imagine yourself as a prison guard, part of an army occupying a country whose customs and language are foreign and frightening to you. Would you you mistreat the prisoners? Would you be willing to torture them? Lots of soldiers under the Nazi regime seemed to have no problem. More recently, American guards at the Abu Ghraib prison  in Iraq happily abused prisoners.

But knowledge of the Milgram experiment gives you a choice. Admittedly this is possibly a hard choice if you are threatened when you refuse to play along, but at least you realize that you have the freedom to disobey. You do not have to follow your compulsion to obey.

So by revealing our tendency to obey authority, Milgram did us a favour — he  gave us choice.



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Resisting evil: Part 1

Early in the morning of June 1, 1962, in the Israeli town of Ramla, prison officials executed Adolf Eichmann. It had been just over two years since Israeli agents had kidnapped the war criminal and smuggled him from Argentina to Israel, where he had stood trial for his part in sending thousands of Jews to their deaths during the Nazi regime in Germany. And one of the striking characteristics of that trial was Eichmann’s defence. Far from desperately trying to distance himself from his part in the mass slaughter, Eichmann presented himself as a powerless bureaucrat who was merely a cog in a greater machine. It was his placidity that led author and social critic Hannah Arendt to coin the phrase “the banality of evil”.

While Eichmann was awaiting execution, Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram was designing an experiment that cut right to the heart of Eichmann’s actions. You may have heard of Milgram’s studies of obedience, but in case you haven’t or in case you have the details wrong, here is how it went.

A male staff member posing as chief investigator informs the subject, along with another subject (who is in fact a collaborator), that the purpose of the test is to estimate the effectiveness of punishment on learning. The investigator then explains that one of the pair of subjects will be assigned the role of of teacher, the other the role  of student. The student is to learn a list of word associations; the teacher will administer an electrical shock to punish the student if s/he fails to recall the correct association. By an (apparently) random process, the real subject is then assigned the teacher role and the collaborator the student role. The “student” is then sealed in a separate room, strapped in a chair wearing an arm band that would carry the electric shock. The teacher can hear, but not see the “student”.  Meanwhile the teacher learns the controls that will determine the strength of the shock.

To begin with, the student does well, but as the test becomes harder, s/he gets more items wrong. The investigator insists that the teacher increase the shock, the more the student gives the wrong answers. Soon, the student begins to complain. The teacher hesitates, but the investigator insists he increase the shocks. Then the complaints turn to screams. Still the investigator demands an increase in the strength of the shock. The teacher reluctantly  obeys. Increases in shock are eventually met by silence. Has the student fainted from pain? The investigator states that the rules of the experiment state that the shocks be administered until the maximum level is reached. The teacher is now in a quandary. Should he obey or resist?

Before he launched the experiment, Milgram described the experiment to his students and fellow faculty members and asked them to estimate the percentage of “teachers” who would continue the shocks to the maximum voltage. The students and professors guessed that fewer than five percent would allow this level of punishment.

They were wrong. Most of the teachers (26 out of 40 in the original experiment) obeyed and went all the way. Many of the others tolerated the screams before resisting. You can read the results in detail by following this link — Milgram experiment  — or googling the phrase.

(It might be needless to say — but I will say it anyway — that the “student” never actually got shocked. He just put on a good act.)

That’s rather a long introduction (570 words) to my main point. What should be our reaction to the Milgram experiment?

You can read some of the reactions of more modern university students (who in 2000 were shown a film of the experiment) here. So far as I can see, the students reported the following emotions.

  • Embarrassment. The first few shocks were greeted with nervous laughter, laughter that tended to fade as the shocks got worse.
  • Denial. Some students averred that they would never have gone to the same lengths as the teachers. Others claimed that things have changed and that the experiment would get quite different results if done today. For example, “anc1626”  says, “People these days do not obey higher authorities as well as they used to and there would have been plenty of complaints about the experiment. I think its weird that they even decided to come up with that type of experiment and test people.”
  • Hope. Others merely hoped that they would never have administered extreme shocks.

None of the students seemed to have fallen into the trap of simply assigning the results to an ineluctable tendency of human beings to act in an evil way. Though I have heard such sentiments from religious people who cling to the belief that we are all evil at heart.

Another reaction, quite common among academics, was that the experiment itself was unethical: when informed about the real purpose of the experiment, many “teachers” had deep feelings of guilt and helplessness. This criticism, although it has merit, can be viewed as an avoidance.

But seeing the film Experimenter at the Vancouver International Film Festival recently led me to a quite different, and more optimistic, reaction. More tomorrow.


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VIFF 2015 Reviews

8 October 2015

With these last   I am    done. 50 films reviewed below.

Best So Far

45 Years Taut drama featuring two of the best actors around.

The Daughter Based on the Ibsen play, The Wild Duck.

Experimenter. Exam nightmares come true.

Golden Kingdom A surprise sleeper from Burma.

Marshland A police procedural in which the landscape plays a part.

Meru.  A vertigo inducing film about mountain climbing.

My Friend Victoria Race relations in France. Or not.

A Nazi Legacy: What Our Fathers Did Sons of the Holocaust face their fathers’ sins.

Nina Forever What to do when your ex-girlfriend just won’t stay dead.

No Land’s Song Learn why Iranian women are not allowed to sing in public.

New Reviews (and reviews to come)

The Club (Chile) You think the Islamic State is evil? Visit a  sanctuary for the  worse. and get a load of these Jesus-squeezing catholic child abusers. The  only honest one kills  himself.

Green Room  (USA) A bloody  good bloody drama starring (of all  people) Patrick  Stewart as a   backwoods honcho   who imprisons a  gypsy   rock band in his bar. Two of the cast of tens survive.

James White (USA)   A  no-good son reforms to take care of his dying mother. Great acting and direction from first-time film-makers.

London Road (UK) This adaptation of a National Theatre blockbuster fails to engage.

Already reviewed

100 Yen Love (Take Masaharu, Japan). Ichiko is a fat. slovenly 32-year-old who spends her days gobbling junk food and playing video games with her nephew while her sister and mother struggle to keep the family business — a bento takeout joint — going.  Until . . . . Well, that’s really the problem. For some undisclosed reason,  Ichiko suddenly becomes an adult, gets a job, gets her own place to live. And takes up boxing. There is nothing remotely realistic about the plot here.

45 Years (Andrew Haigh; UK) You can’t go  wrong with an intense drama fleshed out by two of Britain’s best actors. And director Haigh never misses a beat. Retired  teacher Kate (Charlotte Rampling) gets a shock when her husband of 45 years Geoff (Tom Courtenay) receives a letter from Switzerland  informing him that Katya’s body has been found, frozen in a glacier for more than 50 years. Katya? The name means nothing to Kate. But it means too much to Geoff. Rampling is brilliant as a woman who begins to suspect she has  been second-best for 45 years. Highly recommended.

Accused (Paula van der Oest; Netherlands) Canadians  of a certain vintage will remember the case of Susan Nelles, a nurse  falsely accused of using digoxin to murder newborns in a Toronto neonatal ward.This is the Dutch version. And the Dutch, like Canadians, confuse the brutality of the crime  with the question of who did it.

Alice in Earnestland (South Korea) To quote Monty Python, this film is “just plain silly”. And I  don’t mean that as a compliment.

All Eyes and Ears (Vanessa Hope; USA/China) US – China relations   in the last decade as seen through  the eyes (figuratively speaking) of both dissident blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng and Lily, the 11-year-old Chinese-born adopted child of the American ambassador. A nice juxtaposition of points of view. Check this out if you would like to learn about Jon Huntsman, an intelligent Republican senator who has a chance to be a presidential candidate.

The Anarchists (France) A political romance with echoes  of the Red Army Faction or the Stern Gang. It’s 1899 in Paris and a young cop is sent to infiltrate a group of anarchists. And of course he falls for one of the girls. So, what to do when the group plans assassinations?

The Assassin (China) “Is you is or is you aint my enemy?” It is hard — no, impossible — to sort out who’s on which side and why in this colourful but dilatory medieval Chinese drama.

Breathe Umphefiumla (South Africa) I am not sure what to make of this film, in which  black South Africans step way  out of their own culture to present  an African version of Puccini’s La Boheme, complete with the famous soaring arias. If you know the opera, the film is both satisfying  and disappointing. But what would Africans say if we dipped into their culture and reproduced their melodies for our own enjoyment.    Oh, wait.

The Chinese Mayor (China)  Mayor Geng Yanbo of Datong is ruthless in his desire to recreate Datong’s splendid history and turn his town into an international historical tourist destination.  Geng has no tolerance for incompetence: contractors who fail to deliver on time are brusquely fired. But he runs into problems with residents of the city quarters he wants demolished.

The Competition (Spain/Andorra, Angel Borrego Cubero). I’ve been to the tiny principality of Andorra, high in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. It was quaint, beautiful and friendly. It has one city, also called Andorra, famous only for its Romanesque murals. So why does the government of Andorra suddenly announce an architectural  competition to design a multi-million gallery to house its treasures, a competition that draws entries from the likes of Frank Gehry, Zeha Hadid and Jean Nouvel? See the entries, bet on the winners. You’ll be surprised.

The Daughter    (Simon Stone; Australia) The sins of the previous generation come to rest heavily on the youngest. Based on Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. Highly  recommended.

Dheepan (France) Posing  as family, Tamil officer, a widow and an orphan girl manage to make their way  as  refugees from Sri Lanka to France. Where things  are worse than in Sri Lanka. Good plot up until the last five minutes, when Clint Eastwood seems to have taken   the helm. The first five minutes in the refugee camp, however, are illuminating.

The Dinner (; Italy) Two brothers, one a ruthless lawyer, the other a compassionate pediatric surgeon, discover that their teenage  children may have committed a brutal crime. This popular film delivers the emotional goods (with one bang to start and another to finish). But the drama might have played out better in the hands of Henry James or Joseph Conrad.

Embrace of the Serpent (Columbia). Heart of Darkness doubled. A shaman leads two separate European missions, 40 years apart, down the Amazon in search of a magical healing plant. Ostensibly an indictment of western religious and commercial interference in native culture. What happens to the Christian mission 40 years after the priest dies is particularly unnerving. Ends with a 2001: A Space Odyssey colour show that stands for hippy enlightenment. In black and white except for the light show. Original and worth a view, so long as you don’t take it seriously.

Erbarme dich: Matthhaus Passion Stories (Ramond Cheling; Netherlands). If you are a Bach enthusiast you will love this retelling of the Christian story of the death of St. Matthew by such luminaries as Peter Sellers and Pieter Jan Leusink. This is not an analysis of Bach’s work, but an interpretation by Christian believers. Well worth a viewing even by atheists such as I.

Experimenter (USA) This docudrama is about Stanley Milgram. Vaguely familiar name? Read on. Suppose you volunteer to be a subject in a Yale University experiment designed to assess the effect if punishment on learning. Another subject is chosen at random to be the learner and is secluded in another room where he or she is given a memorization task. You as teacher test the learner using a set of questions. If the learner gets the answer wrong, you inflict an electric shock. The more answers the learner gets wrong, the greater the shock. After a while, the learner’s grunts of pain turn into screams. But the scientist in charge insists you keep increasing the shocks. Would you stop? This is the famous experiment undertaken by Milgram, the psychologist who discovered that the majority of “teachers” obeyed orders and continued increasing the “punishment”. Milgram’s point is that most of the human race, like Nazis, will obey orders. Milgram’s research in other areas led to the “letter on the street” phenomenon and the “six degrees of separation” phenomenon. Intriguing fellow.

The Falling (Carol Morley; UK) It’s too easy to poke fun at this story of mass fainting hysteria at an English girls’ school  in the late 1960s. But what else can you do? There is little chance to identify with the main character and the hysterical act-outs are comical rather than dramatic. I’m with the stern headmistress all the way — “You girls! Cut it out!”

Frank and the Wondercat (Tony Massil, Pablo Alvarez-Mesa; Canada) The adventures of a cat called Fudgie-Wudgie. And his owner Frank., who dresses him up. The cat is interesting. Less so the owner, on whom the film dwells. Five minutes on YouTube’s cat movies can get you more fun than this flick.

From Scotland with Love (Virginia Heath, UK). I found the best part of this film happened when the whiney, awful music died and the credits rolled. This flick is nothing more than a monotonous montage of film clips of Scottish newsreels from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Boring, boring, boring.There is no theme, no structure, nothing. And I grew up partly in Scotland in those decades. The clips and the songs went on and  on until I wanted to scream. This is trash. Everyone else loved it.

Golden Kingdom (Brian Perkins; USA/Burma) Praise of the resourcefulness and bravery of children. When their abbot is called away, four novice monks ranging in age from about six to 14 are left to fend for themselves in war-torn Burma. I highly recommend this film.

Hilda (Andres Clariond Rangel, Mexico). Part comedy, part tragedy. Rich by marriage, middle-aged Susanna tries to relive her   college days by adopting the personality of her young maid, Hilda. Things get really out of hand when her husband tries to arrange a dinner party for some wealthy American investors. Get in touch with your inner cynic here.

Hockney   (UK) A biography of one of the most intriguing artists of the Twentieth Century. If you know Hockney, you will love it. If you don’t you may grow to love his work.

Hurricane (France). Great photography follows the life — and the storm has a personality — of a hurricane from its   birth in Senegal to its landfall in Puerto Rica, Cuba and the mainland.

In Transit (Albert Maysies, USA). This is a work of genius. How could you ever get  on a train running from Seattle to Chicago and manage to interview the dullest passengers in America. The  people we meet are so dense they could bend light. Competes  with From Scotland with Love  as the most annoying film so far. I am in a minority in dissing this film, so maybe you will like it.

Love Among the Ruins (Massimo Ali Mohammad, Italy/USA) The 2012 earthquake in northern Italy shook loose a crack  in the wall of Ferrarra’s art museum revealing several canisters of film from 1922.  The first part of this documentary describes the origins of the film and its  restoration. Then we see the film itself in all its silent glory. A worthy tribute to the masters of silent black and white film. The special effects featuring the Zeppelin are impressive considering the film is nearly 100 years old.

Love is all You Need (Kim Longnotto; UK) No, it isn’t. You also need an editor.   One who would  pare down to 30 minutes this ramble through sexuality as presented in British film. I get the story. I lived it. Sex in Britain before the 1960s was such a dirty, creepy secret that it makes me shudder to recall it. Now we have  gay sex, inter-racial sex and even gay inter-racial sex. Good. But I already knew that. Preceded by a 19-minute montage from Austria called The Exquisite Corpus, that attempts to present pornography in its proper setting. What was  titillating in 1950,  for example, is laughable now — topless men in jock-straps and and women in thongs. But the film maker cannot leave well enough   alone: we are assaulted by a  barrage of cinematic pyrotechnics  that leave the viewer with a headache rather than illumination.

Marshland (Spain) Ostensibly  this is a police procedural investigating the disappearance of two young sisters in the Las Marismas marshes of southern Spain. But it is set in September 1980, just five years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, and the police investigators have to set their politics aside to discover the perp. The mystery  is intriguing, but the high-altitude shots of   the marshes that director Alberto Roderguez includes are spectacular.  Highly recommended.

Meru  (USA) If heights make you queasy, avoid this account of two attempts (made by the same three climbers) to reach the top of the “Shark’s Fin” or Meru, a smooth granite peak rising above most of the Himalayas. Having nearly died on the first attempt, the three get  together to try again. This despite the fact that in the interim one of the climbers suffered brain damage in a skiing accident, and the other two were nearly swept away in separate avalanches. You leave the theatre with the certain conclusion that these guys are nuts. But they make a nail-biting  film.

Monty Python: the Meaning of Live  (Roger Graef, James Rogan; UK). Thirty-something years after  their last show, the  surviving  members reunite for a live performance in London. Python fans will love it (the parrot, the Pope, the cheese shop and the rest are here, at least in  part). Non-fans will not smile. Well, you’ve got to look on the bright side of life.

My Friend Victoria  (Jean-Paul Civeyrac; France) The double meaning in this film makes it well-worth seeing. Based on a short story by Doris Lessing, it probes the life of Victoria, a French-born woman of African ancestry who gives birth to a daughter by Thomas, a white Frenchman who is the scion of a left-wing but rich Parisian family. Far from being racist, the rich family rejoices in their newly-found grand daughter and showers her with gifts and affection, much to Victoria’s discomfort. By inviting us to tease out the reason for Victoria’s alienation, director Civeyrac offers an analysis of racial conflicts in modern Europe. Or does he? There is little overt racism in the film. Victoria’s best friend (also black, and the narrator of the film) bounds through college, lands a perfect job as a reader for a publisher and moves easily through the mixed race society of Paris. Watch the film carefully and you might discover more reasons for Victoria’s pain than the colour of her skin.

My Internship in Canada  (Philippe Faladeau; Canada) Only if you are Canadian will you get the jokes about an obscure rural Quebec MP who, owing to a political quirk, winds  up with the balance  of power.

My Life with a King (Carlo Encisco Catu; Philippines) The “king” here is Francisco Gunto, the elected king of Kapampangan poetry. The post is so important to the Pampangan people of the Philippines that it comes with a crown and a chauffeur. The latter job falls to city boy Jaypee, who is assigned to transport the irascible, hard-drinking Francisco, via motor scooter, to competitive poetry readings. They are invariably late.

A Nazi Legacy: What our Fathers Did (UK) This is the most emotionally searing films I have seen so far at the festival. Director David Evans introduces us to the sons of two Nazi high officials who oversaw the murders of thousands of Jews during the second world war. The trouble is the two sons don’t agree. Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank, is quite open about his father’s guilt. Horst von Wächter, son of Otto von Wächter, stubbornly denies that his father was responsible.

No Land’s Song ( Avat Najafi , Iran/Germany/France)  Fed up with the ridiculous ban on women singers in Iran, singer Sara Najafi (sister of the director Avat Najafi) plots a complex route to present a concert of women vocalists. Despite implacable hostility from the religious powers, she succeeds. If you enjoy music or even if you are merely ticked off by religion, this film is for you. Watch the imam writhe as he makes up fairy tales about women in order to justify the ban.

One Million Dubliners (Aoife Kelleher; Ireland)  An emotional trip around Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, which has been receiving the remains of Ireland’s  citizens — rich and poor, famous and forgotten — since 1832. But far from a jingoistic rant, this is an   examination of death, and life. The last few  minutes are an unwelcome surprise.

Original Copy (Florian Heinzen-Ziob, Georg Heinzen; Germany) The pointy end of a Bollywood production is its actual screening in a theatre. Here we follow the efforts of the sign painter at the Albert Talkies Cinema in Mumbai to prepare a giant mural featuring all the stars. An appreciation of artist Sheikh Rehrman and his talented assistants.

Paco de Lucia: A Journey  (Francisco Sanchez Varela; Spain) Even if you know little about flamenco, you will be  pleasantly impressed by the musical talents of Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia and his colleagues. There is little foot stamping and a lot of intricate string plucking.

Racing Extinction(USA) A good kick in the pants for those of us who, like me,  have ignored the destruction that humankind has wrought on sealife.

Rams (Iceland). Two brothers, both sheep farmers, battle old hatreds as an  epidemic of deadly scrapie savages their herds. Very good, very popular film, but I was unable to rave.

Remember (Canada) High production values and the efforts of Christopher Plummer and Atom Egoyan ensure this will come out commercially soon. An intriguing plot keeps the action going, but in retrospect it makes little sense.

Royal Tailor (Lee Wonsuk; South Korea). Who knew high fashion could be so dangerous? In this original period piece set  in medieval Korea, young free-lance tailor Kongjin (Ko Soo) comes to the rescue when the new king orders court tailor Dolsuk (Han Seokgyu) to supply a complex ceremonial robe overnight. Kongjin’s success leads both to an ambivalent friendship with Dolsuk and, unhappily, to an entanglement with court intrigues involving the new king’s legal wife and the young girl he wants to marry. No sword-play; lots of needle-play.

A Syrian Love Story (UK, Sean McAllister) The hidden actor  in this documentary          is the director Sean McAllister who combed the streets of Damascus in search of a family torn apart by war. It was McAllister’s luck rather than talent that he stumbled into the family of Arer, a Palestinian, bringing up four children while his wife Raghda was imprisoned by Assad regime. War or no war, Arer and Raghda are so far apart emotionally and intellectually that this marriage seems doomed. Many film fest people disliked McAllister’s manipulation of the couple, but I rather liked the central conflict. So I am recommending it.

A Tale of Three Cities  (Mabel Cheung; Hong Kong/China). Get your tickets early; this film will be a big hit in the Chinese community of Vancouver. Like Dr. Zhivago, this is a romance in war time. Young widow Chen and her lover Fang meet during the Japanese occupation of China. Over the next decade they are repeatedly torn apart and reunited first by the Japanese then by savage fighting between Chang Kai-shek’s army and the communists. You know they will survive because the story is based on the lives of the parents of martial arts star Jacky Chan.

Very Semi-serious (US) Every week the cartoon editor of the New Yorker magazine selects for publication just 14 or 15 out of hundreds of submissions. If you like witty one- panel cartoons, see this.

Ville-Marie  (Guy Edoin; Canada) This film starts with an emphatic bang that might lead to expect a mystery thriller. Instead, what follows is a taught drama featuring an internationally famous actress, her gay son, a paramedic and an emergency room nurse.

We Did it on a Song (David André, France). A docu-drama-musical featuring five high school students in Boulogne-sur-mer facing the final examinations that will determine whether they will be able to fulfill their dreams. And, yes, they occasionally break into song.

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Testing, testing . . . .

In his book Bad Science, columnist and psychiatrist Ben Goldacre presents the following simple problem. (I have modified it a bit, but the basic idea is the same.)

I have a deck of 100 index cards. On one side of each card is a letter; on the other is a number between 1 and 10 (inclusive). That information you can take as true. I then deal out four cards as follows.

cardsNow I ask you to test the following hypothesis as well as you can by turning over just two cards.

Hypothesis: Every card in the deck that has a vowel on the letter side has an even number on the number side.

Question: Which two cards do you flip?

I leave you to mull that over before you go on.

Continue reading

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William Tanner and the Peterloo Massacre

Peterloo Massacre.png

On the Sixteenth of August, 1819, a crowd of some 80,000 gathered on St. Peter’s field in Manchester. Their main purpose — besides enjoying the uncommonly good weather — was to demand reform of the rigid parliamentary rules that disenfranchised most citizens of northern England. The crowd, which included not only workers in Manchester’s textile industry but also a large contingent of middle class citizens, was about to hear famed orator Henry Hunt’s address, when a regiment of sabre-wielding drunken cavalry charged onto the field, cutting down people at random. By the time the crowd has dispersed at least 15 people lay dead. Many more were wounded, some of whom may have died later.

The British victory at Waterloo, which had put an end to Napoleon’s career, having occurred just four years before, the St. Peter’s square incident soon became known as The Battle of Peterloo or  the Peterloo Massacre. While there were no immediate changes to parliamentary rules, Peterloo did motivate the creation of a progressive newspaper, The Manchester Guardian, now known simply as The Guardian.

It was not known until recently that one of the dead, a constable who wandered the field after the cavalry had dispersed, was in fact killed by a 12-year-old youth, Jack Riordan, who escaped detection by adopting the name William Tanner.

Riordan/Tanner subsequently lived a life crowded with incidents both erotic and intellectual. We know this because his journals, written in 1905 , were recently discovered  in Vancouver. In them, Tanner relates his scientific triumphs (his discovery, long before Mendel, Darwin or Einstein, of Mendelian genetics, Darwinian evolution and Einsteinian relativity). But most of his energies were sapped by his insatiable libido and he spent most of his life on the run, fleeing from furious betrayed husbands or pistol-waving deceived lovers. As Tanner himself puts in: “You don’t stop to discuss sexual ethics with an armed lover after she’s discovered you’ve been bouncing her maid on the side. I suppose there’s a lesson in that, somewhere.”

One of those lovers — she with the pistols, in fact — was Lord Byron’s mathematically talented daughter, Lady Ada Byron (later Countess Lovelace), now known for her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytic Engine, the world’s first programmable computer. Tanner’s account of the Analytic Engine differs from the accepted story: it was Tanner, not Babbage who came up with the design of the Analytic Engine.

The first part of Tanner’s diaries, The Lost Journals of William Tanner, will be published electronically on March 1, 2015.

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Vancouver International Film Festival: 2014 Reviews: Oct 4 Update

Updated October 4. But not fully. Some reviews are  missing, but I think I have the full list. I should count them some day soon.

Below, you will see a heading “Recommended”. Under it, you will see a short list of films I recommend.

Further down you see the heading  “Recently”, under which you will find reviews of  films that are new to the blog.

Under the heading “Previously”, you will find reviews that I have previously  posted under “Recently”. These films appear in alphabetic order.

If I make no recommendation, consider the films seeable, but not mandatory. The date at the end of each critique is the date I  saw the film. I am also considering a category of films to avoid, but I haven’t seen any such yet.

Get it? Got it. Good.


Check below for detailed reviews.

Class Enemy — my biased  view is passionately positive.

Corn Island — dramatic and even, yes, riveting

The Fool — politics, corruption and thrills

Hope and Wire — The 2010/11 Christchurch earthquakes

Just Eat It — fun.

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed — the perfect road movie

Nuoc 2030 — An aquatic mystery from Vietnam

Stations of the Cross Kids — just say no to religion.

Still Life — best so far




The Decent One () In diary and letter fragments, Heinrich Himmler, his   wife and his daughter give their version of the holocaust   while film clips show the horrors. The clincher comes when Himmler describes himself and his minions as essentially “decent” people who did what was necessary. There is no commentary; we are left to brood about the actions of “decent” people. (2014.10.02)

Pregoland () A supermarket cashier, shut out of her high school clique because she is not (a) married (b) pregnant or (c) a mother, fakes her own pregnancy. Chuckles ensue. No kidding. This film has its laugh moments.

Face of an Angel() Director Michael Winterbottom scores a 0 here. Not a film you want to see if you are looking for insight into the famous murder. (2014.10.02)

Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed (David Truba, Spain). A comic romantic treat. It’s 1968 and a teacher of English in a Spanish  high school takes a trip to meet his hero, John Lennon, who is filming in Spain. On the way, he picks up a   couple of hitchhikers. A real charmer that will leave you feeling good about life. (2014.10.03)

Riot Club (Lone Scherfis, UK) This is the sort of film that can’t go wrong. Why? Well, it follows the extravagances of a group of privileged Oxford undergraduate boys who believe they can buy their way out of any damage they cause. All director Scherfis has to do is point the camera and let the actors play drunks who bully and brutalize their victims. If you  like to cringe, this film will induce  cringe. (2014.10.03)

The Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, France/Switzerland/Germany). Juliette Binoche turned 50 this year. That’s relevant because Binoche plays a middle-aged star who decades before had played the younger woman in a lesbian drama. Now she’s toying with an offer to play the older woman in a remake. There’s a parallel here, for her relationship with her twenty-something personal assistant, Val, is about as intimate as possible without being sexual. And the third line in the parallel collection is the relationship between Binoche herself and  Kristen Stewart (who as Val proves she is a lot more than a pretty face). But Binoche takes her role in the film courageously, unafraid to show every wrinkle. (2014.10.03)





52 Tuesdays (Sophie Hyde, Australia). It’s hard to decide what this film is about: adolescent angst or the perils of transexuality. The angst begins when teenager Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) learns that her mother Jane (Del Herbert-Jane) has decided to become a man. We follow Jane as she is transformed into James, but the real centre of attention is Billie who tries her own sexual experimentation with the help of fellow teens Josh and Jessica. In spite of the inevitable emotional pain all this causes Billie and Jane/James, there is a sense of optimism running through the film. We know that these people are strong enough to survive. (2014.09.12)

The Boy and the World (Alê Abreu, Brazil). An animated look at the horrors of industrialization. A boy leaves his bucolic home to seek his father in the   big city. Predictable, but . . . well, predictable. (2014.09.08)

Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers of Democracy (Stephanie Vallaotto, France). A natural pleaser for those of  us who despise autocrats. We meet a  dozen journalist-cartoonists   whose publications have raised the hackles of senior  politicians in both democratic, autocratic and theocratic regimes. A must-see for those of us who are pissed off at the current despots in __________. Fill in the blank capital  city of your choice. (2014.09.24)

Casa Grande (Fellipe Barbosa, Brazil). The most remarkable thing about this well-produced, acted and directed film is that there is nothing remarkable in the plot. Teenaged Jean (Thales Cavalcanti), a perfect storm of hormones, tries desperately to have sex with his girl friend, while his upper class family dives into bankruptcy. There is a bit of a subplot about racism, but it is not well developed. (2014.09.15)

Class Enemy (Rok Bicek, Slovenia). I took a  train through Slovenia in the mid-1960s (when it was part   of  Yugoslavia) and learned some of the language; the generous people shared their food with me; and later I shared an uncomfortable bed with a very comfortable blonde pixie whose name, I am ashamed to  admit, I have forgotten. Good thoughts to you both, Slovenia and your blonde daughter. But  on to the film, which is set 50 years after my visit. When a senior high school class loses its student-friendly German teacher to a maternity leave, it comes face-to-face with her replacement, a passionless intellectual who distributes Ds, Es and Fs  like lager at a Munich beer hall. When a popular female student commits suicide after a traumatic private meeting with the teacher, the class rebels. The resulting battle drags in teachers and parents; signals are mixed; positions misunderstood. And it seems that no one is going to get away undamaged. Highly recommended. (2014.09.17)

Clownwise (Viktor Taus, Czech Republic/Finland/Luxembourg/Slovakia). Each year, I look out for films from the Czech Republic, which along with South Korea is in the habit of coming up with original ideas. This is the only film this year that bears the Czech stamp and it is a disappointment. True, the idea is original. A member of a three-clown comedy act who has defected to the west years before returns to look up his former colleagues. But none of the three possesses an appealing personality. The director adds the odd clown joke (the three get into a car and the wheels fall off, two of them smoke cigarettes and the third blows out the smoke). Doesn’t help. Surely the purpose of clowning is to frighten children, not to entertain adults. (2014.09.22).

Corn Island (George Ovashvili, Georgia/Germany/France/Czech Republic/Kazakhstan).  Now this is something to see — 100 minutes of film with just two minutes of dialogue in Abkhazian, Georgian and Russian. The subtitles are superfluous: all you need to know is that Abkhazia, Georgia and Russia are fighting for territory. In the midst of the struggle an old man, accompanied by his granddaughter, laboriously builds a hut on a tiny, bare island in the middle of a river running through the disputed territory, and proceeds to raise a crop of corn. Over the course of the summer he is visited by soldiers of all  sides; days and nights are punctuated by sounds of gunfire; and occasional groups of drunk soldiers shout lewd suggestions to the girl from the river bank.  As the pair silently tend the corn, the tension grows. Best film so far. (2014.09.15)

Creator of the Jungle (Jord Morato, Spain) An engaging look at Garell, an aging but talented nut case, who insists on building tall and intricate towers of wood in a sliver of Catalonian forest. Every time he is forced to destroy his creations (by vandals, the highways department or the provincial government), he starts to build again. He also thinks he is Tarzan. If you like documentaries about eccentrics, this is for you. (2014.09.27)

Dangerous Game (Anthony Baxter, UK). Okay, another sequel. This one follows Baxter’s You Have Been Trumped,  which  excoriated billionaire Donald Trump’s attempt to build a golf course on one of Scotland’s ecologically sensitive regions. This time Baxter extends his target to condemn the whole sport of golf as a threat to humanity. Dunno about ecology, but as a participant in just one round of golf twenty years ago, I can say that golf’s real threat is to bore humanity to death.(2014.09.08)

Everything Will Be (Julia Kwan, Canada). This inside look at the fragmentation of Vancouver’s century-and-a-half old China-town will be of the greatest interest to those of us who have lived more than a score of years in Vancouver. Kwan’s expedition to the secret corners of the often ramshackle buildings is an eye-opener and a belated call-to-action  opposing the condominium towers that are slowly taking over. This film is a credit to the often neglected National Film Board. (2014.09.12)

Exit (Chienn Hsiang, Taiwan/Hong Kong). Chen Shiang-chyi gives a gripping performance as a menopausal woman, deserted by her husband and ignored by her daughter, who finds her life shrinking around her. Visiting her ailing (and comatose) mother-in-law in hospital she notices a  moaning man swathed in bandages in a nearby bed and discovers that massaging his hands and neck reduces his discomfort. Then she finds that bending his wrist intensifies his pain. Gradually she becomes dependent on this  exercise, the only activity that draws a reaction from another  human being. A slow-moving but remarkably well-produced film. (2014.09.09)

Field of Dogs (Lech Majewski, Poland). The director who  brought you The Garden of Earthly Delights and The Mill and the Cross closes his trilogy with this allegory on Dante’s Inferno. I was confused by the symbolism and disappointed by the lack of narrative. But if you like Majewski, you may appreciate this. (2014.09.28)

Food Chains (Sangay Rawal, USA) This film documents the exploitation faced by immigrant agricultural workers in the United States. Its main  point is that the exploiters are not the farmers who employ these underpaid tomato pickers, but the big chain stores — Safeway, Rutgers and Wal-Mart — that set the counter price of produce. The film makes a point that Canadians as well as Americans need to notice. (2014.09.11)

The Fool (Yury Bykov, Russia). Hollywood, put down the gun and step aside. This thriller is real. A plumber who is studying for an engineering degree  finds evidence that a Stalin-era apartment building is about to collapse. When he crashes a vodka-ridden party to inform the mayor, however, city officials (all corrupt) close ranks to avoid the problem. This fist-clencher is worthy of an American remake. Must see. (2014.09.29)

Free Fall (Gyorgy Palfi, Hungary/France/South Korea) One look at the three linguistically disparate countries that claim a stake in this film should warn you: This is not a movie for viewers looking for coherence. Led by a limping corpulent housekeeper, we visit a half dozen apartments that house bizarre events: a party attended by a stark naked woman; a love scene between lovers so fearful of disease they bind themselves in plastic wrap; a meditation group  in which the guru dresses down a student for levitating and walking through walls; and more. Just be warned. (2014.09.30)

Gente de Bien (Franco Lolli, Columbia). There’s a greater gap between rich and poor than mere income, as 10-year-old Eric (Brayan Santamarià) learns when he is dropped off to spend Christmas with his father, Gabriel (Carlos Fernando Perez), an impoverished handy man whose current income comes from building bookshelves for a university professor. Gabriel lives in a dive, but he does his loving best to care for this son. Things come apart, however, when the  professor invites Eric and Gabriel  to spend Christmas at her expansive out-of-town estate. Great performance from Brayan Santamarià. But I came away from the film feeling cheated: there seemed to be no resolution. On second thoughts, there is more here than can be gleaned from a first viewing. Sorry to be so ambiguous. (2014.09.17)

Hill of Freedom (Jayoo iu Indeok, South Korea) A Japanese man visits Korea to find his long-lost lover. Comprehensible, but  boring. (2014.10.01)

Hope and Wire (Gaylene Preston, New Zealand). This little gem from New Zealand offers a dramatization of the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes that struck Christchurch. We follow the experiences of a dozen people (including a middle class Maori family, an aging working class immigrant, a money-hungry lawyer and his wife and adolescent daughter, and a gang of thugs) as they try to survive in the wreck of their city. The earthquake scenes are frightening (especially for a Vancouver audience — we may be next), but watch  out for the scene in which one character steps out of her back door and disappears into a deep pool of silt. Preston skillfully intersperses actual scenes of the damage without impeding her drama. Well worth a look. (2014.09.23)

How I Came to Hate Maths (Olivier Peyon, France). Since I have taught mathematics  from high school to grad school, I was  looking forward to this. Why do some people hate maths? Or, more important, why do some of us love the subject? The film answers neither. But it is  a good look at mathematicians at work. And it dumps, gratifyingly, on the myth that mathematics is (a) not creative and (b) only for nerds.  Well worth a view if you don’t hate maths (2014.09.29)

In Order of Disappearance (Hans Petter Moland, Norway/Sweden) After his son is murdered, a taciturn Norwegian  snowplough driver (Stellan Skasrsgaard) unleashes an avalanche of death and destruction among the criminal classes. Done with characteristic Norwegian wryness. Well worth a view.(2014.09.28)

Journey to the West (Xi You, Taiwan). A one-hour film that felt like two but that could have been compressed into a minute. A Buddhist monk, clad in a scarlet robe, steps slowly (and I do mean slowly) though the busy streets of Marseilles. Try walking so that each step takes two minutes and you get the idea. There is no explanation for this bradypedia, so those of us who gave up Zen when we grew up are left exasperated. And asking “How did he manage to cross a busy street?” (2014.09.27)

Just Eat It (Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer, Canada). Grant and Jen feature themselves in this delightful film, which chronicles their six-month project to live on discarded food. Their motivation to engage in a half year of dumpster-diving? The fact that over 30 per cent of the food produced in North America is thrown away. The pair soon learn that the “best-before” date displayed on many foods is not a “do-not-consume” order. Many foods are safe to eat for weeks after their expiry dates. And misshapen bananas, potatoes and tomatoes are not poisonous — but many supermarkets and distributors junk them as “low quality”. Once Grant and Jen get a hang of the game they find their kitchen so overloaded with free food that they have to give it away to their friends. Watch out for the little trick-or-treater who finds four high-quality chocolate bars dropped into her sack. Grant puts on weight. Not the greatest film, but a real treat. (2014.09.12)

Liberator (Alberto Arvelo, Venezuela/Spain). This biopic of Simon Bolivar sketches his life from idle rich boy to revolutionary. I inferred from this film that Bolivar might have been more successful as a politician if some of his courage had been replaced by cunning. I don’t know how faithful the film is to history. (2014.09.28)

Looking for the Light (LukeDodd and Michael Whyte, UK). A sure fire hit if you are at all interested in portrait photography, this film follows the career of Jane Bown, photographer for The Observer. Intermixed with comments from Bown (now 89), the film features examples of her work, including portraits of Mick Jagger, Woody Allen, Bertrand Russell, Bette Davis and Truman Capote. (2014.09.09)

Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg, Canada). Duck, Hollywood. Cronenberg just aimed a flamethrower at you. With the help of  veteran actors Julianne Moore and John Cusack, Cronenberg toasts the narcisism of the American film industry, and  industry that sees thirteen-year-old boys wielding million dollar power while competent actresses are put out to pasture at age 23. This film is for those of   us who treasure independent film makers and people like David Cronenberg. (2014.09.29)

Men Who Save the World (Liew Seng Tat, Malaysia/Netherlands/Germany/France). Both as a comedy or as a social comment, this film misses the mark. There are truly comic moments — indeed the plot driver is the desire of a villager to move a house he finds in the Malaysian jungle to his village to serve as a wedding present for his daughter. Things get complicated when an African immigrant, fleeing police, makes the house his hiding place. Superstitious villagers mistake him for a ghost and from there on things go down hill. It could have been very funny; it was merely annoying. (2014.09.17)

Mercedes Sosa: The Voice of Latin America (Rodrigo H. Vila, Argentina). I don’t know enough about the subject to review this documentary. (2014.09.18)

The Midnight After (Fruit Chan, Hong Kong) Seventeen passengers on a mini-bus suddenly find themselves in a deserted Hong Kong. Standard traditional sci-fi/horror with a very confused ending. (2014.09.29)


Miss and the Doctors (Axelle Ropert, France). France — the country in which the food is miraculous, the art is magnificent, the   populace is arrogant and the films are incomprehensible. Get this. A pair of brothers, both physicians, run a  practice in Paris in which patients see the brothers in tandem — one patient sees two doctors. Waste of resources? Well, yes. But that’s just the beginning. The brothers each fall in love with same client, the mother of a diabetic child. Hello,  Ethics 101? Don’t seek to fuck your patients. Oh, this is  just crap from the first  scene on. The characters are boring too. (2014.09.24)

Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh, UK). A sketch of the later life of William Turner, the English artist whose sky and water paintings previewed the impressionists and abstract art. Timothy Spall does a good job of portraying the grumpy womanizer. The lack of any reference to his early life and paintings was disappointing. (2014.09.28)

Non-fiction Diary (Jung Yoonsuk, South Korea). An insightful examination of South Korea’s use of the death penalty. Should corporate executives whose negligence led to the deaths of hundreds in a building collapse get away with trivial jail sentences while the poor are executed for killing a few victims? (2014.09.29)


Nuoc 2030 (Nguyen-Vo Nghiem, Vietnam). This is why I like the Vancouver International Film Festival. You fill in time between flicks you have chosen as must sees  by dropping in to one that you felt you could miss. And it is, like Nuoc 2030, a gem. The action takes place in 2030 after global climate change has raise sea levels and left Vietnam as a series of island and its inhabitants clinging to life in stilt huts. As the film opens, Sao is called to the mainland to retrieve the body of her husband Thi, who has drowned while, according to the police, in the process of stealing something from a  local corporation. Sao, unsatisfied with this scenario, begins to delve deeper and finds she has a prior connection to the mysterious corporation. Sounds like a mystery? Well, yes, it is. But a mystery set in an aquatic location. The water, rough or calm, is a major character in this luscious film. Highly recommended. (2014.09.28)

Of Horses and Men (Benedict Erlingsson, Iceland). This film got a lot of local buzz as a winner. I was disappointed. It is a rambling collection of stories about Icelandic horses and their human herders. Pleasant enough, but nothing special. (2014.09.28)

Ow (Suzuki Yohei, Japan).Ow, indeed. This film made no sense to me. It is so incoherent that it will likely win the Dragons and Tigers award. (2014.10.01)

Queen and Country (John Boorman, UK). This sequel to Boorman’s tale (Hope and Glory, 1987) of a young boy in wartime London, sees Bill nine years older and now conscripted into the army to fight in Korea. But the only military action Bill sees is instructing new conscripts how to type. Things get blacker and more comic as the plot progresses. David Thewliss gives a convincing performance as a by-the-book warrant officer; and Brían F. O’Byrne is frighteningly menacing as a Regimental Sergeant Major. Mum, Dad and big sister are back, though played (except Dad) by different actors. If you liked Hope and Glory, this is for you.(2014.09.08)

Red Knot (Scott Cohen, USA/Argentina). Newly-weds (she’s an artist, he’s a writer) spend their honeymoon on an Antarctic research ship. They fall out and the new marriage grows into a  love triangle. This is a routine plot backed up by some spectacular sights of the Antarctic. (2014.09.28)

La Sapienza (Eugene Green, France/Italy). A successful French architect and his  wife visit Italy to probe the life and work of Renaissance artist Francesco Borromini. There’s drama here, but it is buried under Green’s slow pace and stylized direction. From the start, the actors are clearly commanded to perform like statues. Worth a view  if you can  get over that. (2014.10.01)

Stations of the Cross (Dietrich Bruggerman, Germany/France) Excellent film. Although there are three tracking shots, director Bruggerman sticks to a fixed camera for eleven of the fourteen scenes in this film. That’s to remind us of to fourteen pictures of Christ’s progress to Calvary so often displayed on the walls of Catholic churches. The stations of the cross here refer not to Christ but to young Maria (beautifully acted by Lea van Acken) who pledges to sacrifice her life to God if her  (presumably) autistic younger brother learns to speak. But she runs into cross fire from her priest and overbearing mother (Franziska Weisz, in a performance that will  make you want to strangle her) who are determined to see Maria suffer. Catholic or not (and I am certainly not), you   will walk out infuriated at the end of this  film. (2014.09.27)

Still Life (Uberto Pasolini, UK/Italy). Veteran actor Eddie Marsen plays John May, a reclusive civil servant whose job it is to dispose of the remains of people who died alone. Sometimes, John finds relatives to attend the funerals that he arranges, but more often he is the only mourner. Then he comes across the body of Billy Stoke, a violent ex-paratrooper whose remains were found in the same public housing development that John May himself inhabits. At this point the film changes from character study to detective story as John tracks down Billy Stoke’s history. Director Pasolini and actor Marsen allow the truth to emerge slowly, so we can follow John May’s emotional journey. You will be tempted to predict where John is going, and you may be partly right. But don’t leave the theatre before the credits roll: the last minute is a satisfying surprise. Highly recommended. Get your ticket early; there will be a rush line up. (2014.09.18)

To Kill a Man (Alejandro Fernandez Almendras, Chile). A vengeance film with a difference. Daniel Candia portrays a man harassed and bullied by a gang local thugs in his home suburb of Santiago. Appeals to the police are fruitless. Then the chief thug attacks his daughter. Director Almendras skillfully stretches out the tension using long tracking shots with a hand-held camera. Look especially for the 15-minute one-shot sequence in which Candia’s character lures the chief thug into a danger zone and . . . . Well, no spoilers here. Well worth the price of a ticket. (2014.09.24)


Trespassing Bergman (Jane Magnusson/Hynek Pallas, Sweden/France). Oh, no. Not another excavation of Bergman’s work. Oh, yes. This time the diggers are other directors including Haeneke, Scorcese and Coppola.   Interestingly, only Woody Allen offers detailed and useful comments. This film is for Bergman lovers only.(2014.09.11)

Turbulence (Soran Mardookhi, Canada). Those who attended the media screenings generally dissed this Vancouver-shot film. And for the most part they were right. The acting (with one exception), script and direction were awkward and amateurish. But the theme struck a chord with me. The plot surrounds an aging electrical engineer and his adult daughter. They are the remains of a middle-class Iraqi family shattered by murder and violence,  who have escaped to Canada. The father (well-played by Kamal Yamolky) makes his living as a translator for the Canadian immigration service and putters around his flat devising what looks suspiciously like a perpetual motion machine. (An electrical engineer should know better!) But his real passion is saving his daughter who has fallen into drug-addicted prostitution. To make things worse, Dad is showing the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. This is a recipe for a film to become mawkishly sentimental. This film doesn’t. (2014.09.09)

The Vancouver Asahi (Ishil Yuya, Japan/Canada). This film is sure to be a hit with British Columbia’s Japanese community. It dramatizes the experiences of a Japanese baseball team (the Asahi) which played in the Vancouver district league in the years before the Second World War. Despite racism (Japanese — even those born in Canada — were second-class citizens relegated to low paying manual labour) the team struggles from a no-win season to eventually win the league, and gain some grudging respect from the white community. The film ends, as expected, with the internment of the entire Japanese community. Good writing, direction and editing make the 135 minutes of this film go by very quickly. Don’t go expecting to see familiar Vancouver sights. There are none. Apparently the only surviving member of the team is expected to attend the first screening. (2014.09.22)

Walking Under Water (Eliza Kubarska, Poland/Germany/UK) The Bajao people, who inhabit the seas between the Philippines, Borneo and Indonesia, depend largely on spear fishing for their livelihood. Trouble is, they fish by diving deep and using compression engines to force down air to prolong their stay underwater. Thus their culture is dependent on western technology. Like many such cultures, they are slowly fading away.   (2014.09.11)

What Are We Doing Here?(Julie Hivon, Canada). Four young friends deal with the death of the fifth member of their group. This film is, well, nice (in the modern sense). There are no objectionable (or even interesting) characters. Except there’s a gorilla called Gustave in it. (2014.09.15)

The Wound and the Gift (Linda Hoaglund, USA). Visits to animal  sanctuaries (for wolf-dogs, cranes and other exotics) are held together by an animated folk tale about a wounded crane. A very pretty, restful film if you like animals or want to take a break from searing dramas. (2014.09.22).

Zero Motivation (Talya Lavie,Israel) The Israeli girl version of Queen and Country (op. cit.). Two girl (and I do mean “girl”, not “woman”) army conscripts cause trouble  in a remote camp. One winds up in jail, the other in officer training. And who knew the Israeli army treated its soldiers so kindly. Lots of  laughs though. (2014.10.01)

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Canada’s elections system aint broke.

Canadians are baffled by the chaos of American federal elections  in which 50 different jurisdictions pick through a snowstorm of hanging chads in an attempt to decide which party each state will send to the electoral college which in turn will choose a president. In Canada things are simpler. And fairer. we have a single non-partisan national agency, called Elections Canada, that is responsible for (a) running the federal election (b) making sure that as many citizens as possible are registered to vote and (c) investigating cases of voter fraud.

Maybe that last one rubbed the present Conservative government the wrong way when, in the last election, Elections Canada found that some local conservative associations telephoned supporters of the opposition Liberal party, pretending to be Elections Canada officials, and directing them to the wrong polling station.

“No more!” said the Conservatives. Not “no more dirty tricks”, you understand. Rather “no more investigations of our dirty tricks.”

To ensure this, the Conservative government is pushing a bill that will weaken the ability of Elections Canada to pursue wrong-doing.

That’s not all. Misnamed the “Fair Elections Act”, this bill will also do away with the current issuance of cost-free identification cards, a move that will virtually disenfranchise thousands of poor, elderly, disabled or homeless citizens, many of whom have no proof of permanent address. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that all citizens have a right to vote. All citizens. Not just citizens with drivers’ licenses. (Oddly, the U.S. constitution does not guarantee all citizens the right to vote, and conservatives there are busily frightening poor and uneducated citizens with threats of  prosecution if they try to vote.)

That’s not all. The “Fair Elections Act”  will allow winning parties to appoint poll supervisors for the next election. Right now, the non-partisan Elections Canada appoints the supervisors.

We Canadians have been smug too long about our healthy democracy. It is now under threat.

PS — I wrote this months ago. The Conservatives have since mellowed their attack on democracy, but they still nip at its ankles. They rarely fail to disgust me.

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Four things that Americans desperately need

Before anything else, let me say it: I am not anti-American.  True, the U.S. political system hosts some nasties, but on the whole Americans are decent, friendly and clean. As opposed to the British (who are decent), the Italians (who are friendly),  the Germans (who are clean), and the French. As a Brit who emigrated to Canada fifty years ago, I have lived next door to America most of my life. I know a lot of Americans. I even married one of them.

But a recent trip to New York threw into focus four glaring fundamental problems with American society that are not shared by most of the rest of the world. Some of these may seem trivial, but they trip up everyday life. Here’s my advice.

1. Dump the dollar bill. There is nothing so frustrating as trying to feed a damp and droopy dollar bill  into a vending machine. Besides, it must cost a fortune cleaning and recycling old dollar bills. Get over it, Americans, a dollar nowadays is loose change. So treat it as loose change and make a dollar coin. P.S. To avoid the Susan B. Anthony debacle, make it bigger than the 50 and 25 cent pieces. And put a picture of George Washington on it.

2. Get a single-payer  health care system. There is no reason for people to die because they don’t have health insurance. And don’t listen to Republican politicians lying about the Canadian health care system.  Though imperfect, it is infinitely better than the ramshackle jigsaw of “systems” that exist south of the border.

3. Ditch the English system of weights and measures. When ever I meet an advocate for the English system, I ask two questions. “How many feet are there in a mile?” and “How many one-ounce drinks does a one  liter bottle of vodka contain?” I have never had a clear answer. On the other hand, there are 1000 metres in a kilometre and 1000 mililitres in a litre. Enough said.

4. Learn how to make a cup of tea. On a trip to see my in-laws in St. Louis, I watched with horror as my wife’s cousin heated a cup of water in a microwave for a minute, dunked a tea bag in the lukewarm result and proceeded to consume the revolting result. Americans, if you want to make tea, boil the water. Boil it. Boil it. Got it? Good. And while we are at it, tea is tea. It is not infused with lavender, apricot, petunia petals or any other trash. Asians know this. The English for all their food faults know this. Why don’t you?

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