Archive for October, 2007

Some October commentaries

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Let’s take back the sidewalks!

A few weeks ago, I was walking along Toronto’s Bloor Street when I met hordes of cyclists all chanting “More bicycle lanes on Toronto streets!”

I hope they win their way I’m all for giving the utmost protection to those who choose to pedal their way along or streets: it’s healthier, and better for the environment and the economy.

However, and this is a Big however. Cyclists must be prepared to give a little — and these aren’t just kids. I’m talking about thousands of cyclists who’re abusing our sidewalks invading them at will, expecting pedestrians to jump out of their way. They refuse to stop at red lights and they hurtle down one way streets in the wrong direction.

It’s all very well to blame the police for not being more vigilant but these road warriors know we just haven’t enough police on the streets

I know it takes time and money to establish the necessary bureaucracy to begin an enforceable bicycle licensing system but no amount of dedicated cycle paths will stop this abuse until we do.

A crime is a crime

I’m disgusted over the reported physical attacks on Asian-Canadian fishermen and the spray painting of homes and vehicles with anti-semitic and anti-homosexual slogans in York Region.

This may sound paradoxical, but I feel it couldn’t have happened in a better place. As might be expected, culturally sensitive Chief Armand LaBarge of the York Regional Police Service has been quick to come up with statements that he considers these to be criminal acts.

Too often when anything like this happens, municipal government representatives from mayors to police chiefs to other solid citizens come out with woolly statements which enjoin us to ”wait and see” whether these are really hate crimes or “isolated” incidents.

Whichever way you look at it an offence of this kind against a single mosque or a single synagogue or a single cemetery or a single man, woman or child is a crime.

One such act isn’t just an isolated incident. It’s the product of a sick mind that if it’s swept under the rug will feed other sick minds that are just waiting to sneak out of the closet and back again before their anonymous acts are given the perpetrator’s name.

Wake up, Canadian retailers!

I must confess that when the Canadian loonie rose above parity with Uncle Sam’s I made a little holiday in my heart. For too long, George W Bush and his gang of tricksters have been leading Americans into an inflated sense of their superiority.

But the higher loonie is bad for our exporters and tourism from the United States and I know it’s bad in that it signifies the beginning of what looks like a economic downtown which will affect us all. So let’s hope for the American people and for us that the worst won’t happen.

And I certainly hope the current flood of Canadians shopping across the border slows down; it’s not good for our own retail industry.

Oh yes, I’ll take some of the blame there too, but I intend to mend my ways.

There are certain steps Canadian businesses must take. If parity or an even higher rate begins to look permanent, Canadian retailers had better attend to competitively pricing what can now be obtained for much less south of the border.


Monday, October 1st, 2007

Vol. 7 No 10 — October, 2007

It was a very good year

Monday, October 1st, 2007

(Canscene) — The strong lineup of Canadian films at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival was for me, the highlight of this year’s event.

Eagerly anticipated films like the final film in Denys Arcand’s trilogy; David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises; Jeremy Podeswa’s Fugitive Pieces; Clement Virgo’s Poor Boy’s Game; Silk, by Francois Girard; Promise to the Dead by Peter Raymont and Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg met with deserved appreciation.

In a lighter (but far from lightweight) vein there were gems like Just Buried; Breakfast with Scot; Amal and Young People (Doing You Know What). Some of them were reviewed in my August blog. And I write here only of films that I personally saw. There were many others.

Sensitive adaptation of Fugitive Pieces

Monday, October 1st, 2007

(Canscene) —Recalling how badly many novels have been treated in screen adaptations, gave me cause to me rejoice after viewing Jeremy Podeswa’s inspired translation of Fugitive Pieces from printed page to screen; he wrote the script as well as directing the film.

This first novel by poet Anne Michaels was published in 1999 to great critical acclaim both for her style and the book’s content. Many film makers and financing prospects must have shaken their heads at the daunting project until Robert Lantos, with his usual flair for discovering excellent subject material, decided to run with Podeswa.

Jakob Beer, a Jewish boy fleeing from a Nazi roundup, is rescued and smuggled out of Poland by Athos, a Greek archeologist. Athos manages to keep Jakob from harm until the war is over when he takes a position teaching at a Toronto university and moves to Canada with the boy he now regards as his own son.


Jakob in adulthood has an identity problem leading him into a failed first marriage. He believes his sister, abducted by the Nazis on the day he escaped, might still be alive but meets with frustration at every turn.

Jakob’s one enduring bond after the death of Athos is neighbour Ben who with his parents has also been a Nazi target and through whom he meets Michaela, his beloved second wife.

Podeswa, who directed TIFF award winner The Five Senses in 1999, has honed his skills on some important TV productions such as Six Feet Under, Rome and Nip/Cut and is firmly in command of his material, allowing his camera to capture Anne Michael’s poetic insight into the human heart.

This is a film about love and the need to give and accept it.

Arcand scores again

Monday, October 1st, 2007

(Canscene) — Denys Arcand’s completion of the trilogy begun with Decline of the American Empire and continued with Barbarian Invasions, departs from the characters that peopled the first two films. In L’age des tenebres (Days of Darkness) he focuses on Jean – Marc Leblanc a $68,000 civil servant and his Walter Mitty like mental escapes into sexual encounters with women.


Jean-Marc, played by Marc Labreche is totally frustrated with his inability to help human rights complainants and numbed at his wife’s success as realtor.

The film is played out with a great sense of the absurd but our ridicule turns to concern for Jean-Marc and the outcome of his growing resentment of life and his family’s attitude toward him.

Denys Arcand chose wisely when he cast a professional comedian in the lead role, played to perfection by Marc Labreche. He is supported by a fine cast including Sylvie Leonard as his ambitious wife and Macha Grenon, as an attractive woman who indulges in similar fantasies to Jean-Marc. She imagines herself to be Beatrice de Savoie, a medieval noblewoman. Jean-Marc attends a joust she has organized with the help of a re-enactment group. But the reality of his participation as a would-be knight which ends in ignominy helps spur him to action.

What will be the outcome of Jean Marc’s predicament? Violence, self-destruction or continued complacency?

I found the ending highly satisfactory and a lesson that all middle aged men should take to heart. Unless we discover for ourselves the true values we should be living by, we’re lost.

Silk: a film of rare beauty

Monday, October 1st, 2007

In Silk, director Francois Girard, who with his producer Niv Fichman brought to the screen the innovative 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould and The Red Violin has once again scored with an absorbing and beautiful to watch film. Photogaphy by Alan Dostie also behind the camera in the former two collaborations, is superb as it moves from rural France, through Europe to the mysterious Japan of the 1860s.

This is the story of young Herve Joncour(Michael Pitt), soldier son of the mayor of a small French town whose prosperity depends on its silk industry. In the 1860s, a blight kills the eggs of the European silkworms hitherto used and Baldabiou (Alfred Molina) , a local entrepreneur persuades Herve to leave the army to go in search of healthy eggs said to be at their finest in the remote interior of Japan, a country still unknown to westerners.


Story of a good man captivates

Monday, October 1st, 2007

(Canscene) — Our screens are thickly populated with anti-heroes; even those characters seen performing decent acts have their flaws. It must be discouraging to a film maker to consider depicting a person of principle without creating a namby-pamby cliché of a character.

But in Amal, his first feature, young Mississsiuga born director and co-writer Richie Mehta (no relation to Deepa Mehta) has succeeded in creating a character whose innocence drives his life-affirming actions.

Adapting a story by his brother Shaun , Richie introduces us to Amal, an illiterate auto-rickshaw driver who plies his trade through the chaotic streets of New Delhi. When he witnesses the injury of a young girl in a traffic accident, Amal takes the child to a hospital and prays for her recovery. He learns that she needs an operation which will cost him dearly and the sale of his vehicle to a loan shark.


Leafs ignore fundamenalist protests

Monday, October 1st, 2007

(Canscene) — If a couple of fundamentalist groups in the United States had got their way, Breakfast with Scot would never have made it to completion. Thanks to the management of the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey team, their threats were ignored.

You see, Breakfast with Scot is about an ex-Leaf star — Eric (Tom Cavanagh), now a sportscaster who’s openly gay, living with his partner Sam (Ben Shenkman) a lawyer in a civilized neighbourhood. Their’s is a peaceful existence until Sam’s sister dies leaving 11-year-old Scot in the care of his father. Only the dad isn’t living in Canada. He’s somewhere in Brazil and obviously doesn’t want Scot down there. Scot moves in with Uncle Sam and Eric.


Detecting signs of effeminacy in the boy, Eric is determined to bring out the straight side in Scot with some amusing and often embarrassing results until Eric is forced to look at the situation realistically.

Directed with sensitivity by Laurie Lynde, Breakfast with Scot reveals Cavanagh’s gift for comedy and is peopled with such sterling Canadian actors as Megan Follows, Sheila McCarthy, Fiona Reid and Graham Greene.

Noah Bernett as Scot gives an endearing performance and Cavanagh proves his adeptness at comedy in a film that bridges gaps effortlessly but those of us who will be rewarded by seeing this tender film mustn’t forget the laurels owing to the Toronto Maple Leafs for not having been bullied away from their association with Breakfast With Scot.

Wonder whether Don Cherry has voiced an opinion on this one yet?

A Winnipeg like no other

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Canscene) — if there’s one thing predictable about a Guy Maddin film it’s this: it will be an iconoclastic, black-and-white production.

My Winnipeg is hardly a paen of praise to the city of Maddin’s birth but neither is it a hate message. In recent years, offsetting genuine hard core documentaries we’ve seen the rise of some amusing mockumentaries. But how to describe My Winnipeg? Maddin himself calls it a “docu-fantasia.”

He takes us in and out of docu-reality from genuinely and little known facts of his city’s history to personal musings all told in a narration that ranges from the sardonic to the philosophical and is frequently very funny.

The best advice I can give you is: see My Winnipeg for yourself! I think I need to see it again once or twice to get the most out of it.

From Fu Manchu to Flower Drum Song

Monday, October 1st, 2007

(Canscene) — Here comes a doc that makes social comment tinged with a sense of amusement .

Hollywood Chinese for all its ironic comment carries little rancour about the gross misrepresentation of Chinese people on Hollywood screens. Instead there’s a sense of amusement at the crassness of western producers in so frequently using non-Chinese actors, aided by eye makeup and costuming.

Hollywood Chinese is the work of documentarian Arthur Dong who has assembled a cast of characters such as actors Luise Rainer (still living at 92), Christopher Lee, Turhan Bey Nancy Kwan and Lucy Liu. Dong also includes interviews and comments from such Chinese producers, directors and writers as Ang Lee, David Henry Hwang, Justin Lin and Amy Tan.

Recalled super- villains include the sinister Dr. Fu Mancho, first portrayed by Hollywod’s Warner Oland (of Swedish origin by Boris Karloff (English) and later by Britain’s Christopher Lee (Anglo-Italian). Oland went on to play the famous Charlie Chan, Honolulu detective and after his death was followed by Sidney Toler and Lawrence Winters, both Westerners. We see all three in Hollywood Chinese.


The opening and closing sequences of the film feature the Hollywood musical Flower Drum Song by Rogers and Hammerstein and featuring an “all Chinese” cast. Or rather a film whose characters are all supposedly Chinese residents of San Francisco but some are actors of Japanese origin like Miyoshi Umeki and James Shigeta. Some applauded the overall scope of the film whle others, like author Amy Tan deplored it.

The situation has improved somewhat with genre films featuring the Bruce Lees and Jackie Chans, and we are likely no more to see such major Hollywood productions as The Good Earth and Dragon Seed; In the former Paul Muni and Luise Rainer headed the cast of mainly westerners in a reverent adaptation of Pearl S. Bucks bestseller, whle the latter –made in wartime — starred Katherine Hepburn, Walter Huston and Turhan Bey. After Pearl Harbour, Japanese male characters were portrayed by Chinese actors due to the massive internment of Japanese Americans.

An interesting historical sidelight is the fact that in 1916 actress Marion Wong began making a series of silents featuring Chinese casts beginning with The Curse of Quon Gwon. During their brief lifetime these productions were enthusiastically viewed by Chinese audiences in America. Facts like these are what makes Hollywood Chinese such an important addition to film history.