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.

Recommended

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

 

Recently

 

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)

 

 

 

Previously

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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Misleading medical tests

Kerfuffle

There’s been a kerfuffle in the media recently (March 2012) about a blood test that will with “90  per cent accuracy” predict whether people over 70 will develop Alzheimer’s Disease within three years. You can Google “test Alzheimer” to get the details. Or go to  Voice of America, which quotes neuropsychologist Mark Mapstone:

“The biomarker[s] were able to detect at 90 percent accuracy those who would go on to develop the disease. . . .”

On the other hand, Steve Connor in The Independent writes

The test raises ethical concerns, however, as it is only 90 per cent accurate in its current form – meaning that up to one in ten people could be wrongly diagnosed with a disease for which there is no effective treatment.

Both reports acknowledge the limitations of a test for a disease for which we have no cure, but both radically misinterpret what the “90 percent accuracy” means.  Ironically, Connor, in attempting to raise the legitimate concern about false positives, gets it dead wrong. The “90 per cent accuracy” refers only to those who will contract the disease; it says nothing about how the tests perform on people who will not get the disease. In fact, there is nothing in either news report that mentions this. Yet when we account for the people who will not get the disease, we find that the accuracy of the test is far from 90 per cent.

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VIFF 2013: Gore Vidal; Lawrence and Holloman; Felix; A Story of Children and Film.

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia (USA, 89 minutes, director Nicholas Wrathall ). Just what I thought: all you need to do is point a camera at Gore Vidal, turn it on, and wait. Vidal, America’s cold war pet liberal, could always be relied upon to fire a pointed, scathing — and usually shallow — epithet towards the likes of William F. Buckley. Still, you have to admit that he was invariably entertaining. See this only if you are over 40 or have heard of Gore Vidal. Or, to put it another way, avoid it if you are 40 or under and have never heard of Gore Vidal.

Lawrence and Holloman (88 minutes, Canada, director Matthew Kowalchuk ). One thing you learn from fans of the Vancouver International Film Festival is this: Stay away from Canadian films. Why? Simply because they go off the wall trying to outgross American films. This film does. Starting with a childish premise involving an incompetent nerd and an irritating idiot, it builds to a grotesque conclusion. Unless you like fiddleheads on your poutine, stay away.

Felix (120 minutes, South Africa, director Roberta Durrant ). Omigosh! This film is so sweet and endearing that my inner cynic closed shop in the first 20 minutes and took an all-expenses holiday in Ohio. Here’s the set up. Felix is a diminutive black kid whose talents land him a scholarship to a newly-integrated private boys’ school in post-apartheid South Africa. Felix’s main troubles come not (as you might have expected) from the snobby white kids, but from his mother, who, seeing jazz and drink as  the criminals that stole her late husband from her, refuses to let Felix near a saxophone. Problem is Felix has inherited his father’s talent. And Dad’s aging chums are all out to help him become as great a saxophonist as his dad. The resolution is as  predictable as the conflict. Bring a hanky. And enjoy.

Story of Children and Film (101 minutes, UK, director Mark Cousins). Director Cousins dips into his vast knowledge of film to present us with a montage of clips featuring children ranging from Chaplin’s The Kid to Spielberg’s ET. Cousins provides an erudite and entertaining commentary.

 

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VIFF 2013: The Strange Little Cat; Stand Clear of the Closing Doors.

The Strange Little Cat (72 minutes, Germany, director Roman Zucherto). Family members gather for dinner in a small apartment. There’s a cat in it. If anyone knows what else this film is about, let me know.

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors (94 minutes, USA, director Sam Fleishner). A 13-year-old autistic boy wanders into the New York subway days before Hurricane Sandy hits the city. His mother, a Latino immigrant working as a maid, cannot afford to take time off to hunt for him. Rikki’s lack of anxiety as he weaves and anonymously and dumbly through crowds contrasts with his mother’s increasing desperation. The last few minutes as Rikki shuffles into a dark tunnel in the abandoned subway system, while the hurricane thunders overhead and the first trickle of water begins to cover the rails, is truly frightening.

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VIFF 2013: Cesar’s Grill; Liv and Ingmar

César’s Grill ( 88 minutes, Ecuador/Germany/Switzerland, director Dario Aguirre). Several years after leaving Ecuador for a job in Germany, film maker Dario Aguirre returns to  help his father run the family business — a small failing restaurant in a derelict building. And in doing so, Dario strives to establish an emotional bond with his remote father. Much of the appeal of this small film grows from Dario’s personal charm.  It does not quite make my must see list, but don’t miss it if you have a chance.

Liv and Ingmar. (83 minutes, UK/India/Norway, director Dheeraj Akolka). Yes, it’s Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman we are talking about here. In particular, Liv.  Now long-retired, the Norwegian actress (you thought she was Swedish?) faces the camera to describe her on-off life-long relationship with one of the most revered directors of the 20th Century. And, genius or not,  what a controlling bastard he is. Having seduced the star-struck 20-something Liv while they worked on an early film (Persona?), Ingmar keeps her pretty much a prisoner in his home. Although she escapes to make her own career, Ullmann still revels in his adulation of her: “He called me his Stradivarius,” she says. Film nuts will go ape recognizing the various Bergman film clips that appear. I recognized parts of Persona, Cries and Whispers, The Silence, Fanny and Alexander, Scenes from a Marriage, and (I think)  Smiles of a Summer Night. This makes my must-see list simply because of its subject matter.

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