Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Power of Love

A Masai in full reglia and ear pods, singing I Am Your Lady.  Off key.  In this 8-minute film, we meet three Kenyans who variously describe Celine Dion's music as soothing, stress-relieving and inspiring in their search for a wife.

Having seen some traditional Masai dancing while in Tanzania, I couldn't help wondering at the artistic distance between their energetic straight-up-and-down jumping and the romantic ballads of Dion.  Hmmm.

If you get a chance to see Torontonian Joyce Wong's The Power of Love, take it; you'll enjoy this 8 minutes.

The Bengali Detective

The Bengali Detective chronicled the exploits of the Always Detective and Security Agency in Kolkata.  Rajesh, the pudgy, energetic and totally endearing head of Always, has attracted a team of engaging employees who go darting through the Kolkata traffic pursuing cases of product counterfeiting, spousal surveillance, and a murder case that the police aren't taking seriously.  

At the same time, Rajesh is playing with his son and comforting his dying wife.  We see his anguish as they carry his wife's body down from their apartment and build a funeral pyre right at his front door.

And wonder of wonders, the irrepressible Rajesh also submits his team - The Detectives -  to audition for a spot on a Bollywood dance show.  Under the tutelage of a dance instructor, and, arrayed in all the glitter and glitz the TV studio can unearth, Rajesh and the boys take their best shot at making it through the audition.  Rajesh doesn't exactly have the body for a dancer, but you sure can't fault his enthusiasm!  However, his enthusiam wasn't enough to take the team past the audition.

When Rajesh was introduced for the Q&A, he got a standing ovation.  He definitely won over everyone's hearts and gave everyone a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the cinema!

Mighty Jerome

I liked this movie documenting the life of Canadian sprinter Harry Jerome.  Jerome exploded out of Vancouver to a world record in the 100 yard dash in 1962 when he was only 19, and set a total of 7 world records over his career.  He irritated the press by rebuffing a request for a picture at the Rome Olympics.  When he later pulled up with a hamstring pull in the finals, the press were delighted to declare him a quitter, a label which adhered for years.  Jerome did have a great career at University of Oregon, got gold medals in the Commonwealth and Pan American Games, and a bronze and fourth place in the next Olympics and came back to compete at yet another Olympics after totally rupturing his quadriceps muscle and having a tricky operation to reattach it to the ligament.

The movie took place against the backdrop of the civil rights movement in the US.  While at Oregon, Jerome married a white girl from Edmonton who was studying there and struggled against racial discrimination.  However, when he was interviewed on CBC with his contemporary the white sprinter Bruce Kidd after the Black Power salute by two American athletes at the Mexico Olympics, Kidd was much more supportive of the demonstration than Jerome.  At one point in the interview Kidd turns to Jerome and asks why Jerome's being so moderate, when Kidd's passion on the subject had arisen mostly from Jerome's anecdotes about his own treatment.

In the movie people described as quiet and withdrawn, but also with the cocky confidence that he could run the fastest of anybody in the world.  He was definitely an interesting study in contrasts.  There is a track meet named after him and an award honouring black athletes but many Canadians don't know much about him, so this movie should address a lack.

The black and white movie did a great job of knitting together archival film into a seamless whole.  In the Q&A, the director said he'd used 5 cameras for different parts of the film.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold - My First Movie at Hot Docs

I've attended my first movie of the 2011 Hot Docs season, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.  I've been anticipating this movie since Morgan Spurlock's talk at TED, and did a post about it a month ago.  This movie satirizing moden marketing practices, particularly product placement, was a hoot, and has earned 4 stars in my newly created rating scheme for this Hot Docs.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Garden of Betrayal

It's such a cliche to call a book a page-turner, but that's actually the best description of Lee Vance's The Garden of Betrayal.  With the Cold War long over, thrillers these days are seeking different settings and financial markets are becoming a favoured locale for a thriller.  The Garden of Betrayal delves into the narrower category of the energy sector of the financial market.  Vance, as a former partner at Goldman Sachs, delivers a believable and fast-paced plot.  

I won't spoil the plot for you, but I highly recommend it to you if you like thrillers with lots of plot turns.

A Week in December

I first fell in love with Sebastian Faulks' writing when I read Birdsong years ago.  It was a poignant evocation of the First World War, which still rates as one of my all-time favourite books.  In Birdsong, a love story quietly unfolded and we saw deeply into the two main characters of the book.

 A Week in December is completely different.  It's contemporary, set in December 2007.  And instead of a leisurely pace centred on a couple of characters, this book careens through a week in early December 2007, with the diverse characters converging toward a dinner party they will attend together, as well as other potentially explosive convergences. 
The  characters include an amoral, avaricious  hedge fund manager; a odious book reviewer with a caustic wit; a neglected teen with a drug habit; a gullible young Muslim jihadist; a struggling young barrister; a shy, book-loving Tube driver who loves to read and play online reality games.  

The book also takes us on some detours to explain modern financial markets - in fact it does a better job than the recent movie Inside Job.  Faulks' biting description of the financial markets and the venal people who inhabit them is very well done.  Goldbag, Moregain, and Lemon Brothers are some of the firms treated to his bitter satire.

The satire in the book extends beyond the financial system.  Education comes in for a beating.  One character explains why he actually knows something about the world.   "I suppose I was lucky enough to be educated at a time when teachers still thought children could handle knowledge.  They trusted us.  Then there came a time when they decided that because not every kid in the class could understand or remember those things, they wouldn't teach them any more because it wasn't fair on the less good ones.  So they withheld knowledge.  Then I suppose the next lot of teachers didn't have the knowledge to withhold."

Another character felt "almost sympathetic to the Americans.  They had been so shaken by the Twin Towers that they no longer knew what they were doing.  The country had had a nervous breakdown with the wrong man at the helm; their hapless president was an ex-drunk without a map and almost, it seemed, without an education."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

the cosmonaut's last message to the woman he once loved in the former soviet union

the cosmonaut's last message to the woman he once loved in the former soviet union explored the breakdown in human communication in many different ways.  52 scenes following many characters as they struggle with their inability to communicate - the cosmonaut stranded in space whose communications equipment is broken, a failing marriage exposed when the breakdown of their TV shows they don't have anything to talk about, two people who don't speak each other's language, a person unable to speak after a stroke, an international peace negotiator trying to establish communication between hostile factions.  
The play was inspired by the true story of a cosmonaut who was stranded on Mir for 4 months as the Soviet Union broke up.

 Personally I really liked the play and its complexities and humour.  It was very ironic that as we arrived in the box, two men were sitting there stony faced; I guessed that they had just had an an argument.  As they returned after intermission, one spoke quietly "we really have to communicate better".  I guess the message of the play have resonated with this couple.

Actors played at least two parts, not due to frugality but at the direction of the playwright.  It was perplexing that some of the characters tried to speak in accents (except for the Scottish ones, highly unsuccessful) while others didn't.  Given the poor quality of accents I've heard lately, I'm really moving to the position that actors simply shouldn't bother.  I don't like reading reviews before seeing plays - especially when I already have the tickets - but discovered today that The Globe and Mail liked the play while the The Star most emphatically did not.  The theatre was very sparsely populated, so perhaps most of Toronto took their cue from The Star.  For what it's worth, I would recommend it.  My husband was better able to contain his enthusiasm.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hick on a High Wire

Hick on a High Wire.  This description of Sarah Palin is my favourite line from Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Lifetime, a juicy inside look at the 2010 US nomination and election campaigns. 

Supported by inside sources, the book digs up lots of dirt behind what was seen on the public stage.  Clinton is clearly smart and deeply knowledgeable, but her campaign is ravaged by a totally dysfunctional team, suffering from internal rivalries and the ever-present danger of Bill  (would there be publicity about an affair, would he overshadow Hilary, would he veer off message).   

Edwards comes off as an arrogant lightweight, who studiously avoids facing the truth that his affair has doomed his campaign.  He can't even time his capitulation cleverly enough to earn any concessions.  And the angelic Elizabeth Edwards emerges as a disagreeable and belligerent partner, engaging in nightly arguments with her husband.  

Obama is cool and calm and his team works together well.  They are meticulous in planning for each part of the campaign and in their selection process for VP.  They make few missteps and his opponents seem unable to exploit his vulnerabilities.  Hilary bristles when the press punishes her so relentlessly, but gives Obama a magical ride.  "Why don't people like me?", she plaintively asks.

McCain sleepwalked half-heartedly through the campaign, showing neither energy nor competitive spirit, nor clarity of message.  The big question "How did Sarah Palin get on the ticket?" is answered.  Sheer carelessness.    After vetting at length the five candidates on the short list, McCain concluded no one would be a 'game changer'.  So at the last minute, he resorts to the long list, where Sarah Palin's name had landed based on a computerized search for women Republicans.   They rushed through a sloppy vetting process and Palin arrived for her talk with McCain 12 hours before the announcement deadline.  Game changer indeed!  Even those who worried about Obama being a Muslim with links to terrorism and perhaps not even born in the US would vote for him rather than risk a Palin Presidency.

The description of Palin's arrival in the deep end of the pool, with no qualifications (except that God meant her to be there) was riveting.  When overwhelmed with trying to flash-learn what she needed to know, she would simply dissociate herself from the whole process.

We see flashes of Obama's cockiness (well, you'd have to be cocky to take a run at the Presidency from where he started, wouldn't you?) in private moments.  But one of his most contented smiles is when he has finally convinced Clinton to be his Secretary of State.  

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book, despite making some assumptions about its readership - like knowing in detail how the caucus system or that a reference to 42 meant Clinton (42nd President).  I highly recommend this book to anyone.