Sunday, April 26, 2015


The movie Danny, a highly affectionate portrait of the ninth premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, the pugnacious Danny Williams, is set against the backdrop of Newfoundland history. When Newfoundland - somewhat reluctantly - joins Confederation at England's urging, it was a resource-rich independent nation. Williams argues vigorously that Canada gained more than Newfoundland from the Union. This was a minority opinion in Canada, where Newfoundland was a 'have-not' province and the recipient of enormous transfer payments from Ottawa. However Williams contends this wouldn't have been the case if Newfoundland had received its fair share from the Churchill hydro project.

Williams isn't going to let that happen again, even if it takes press-conference theatrics like pointing to Canadian flags and vowing they're coming down if Newfoundland doesn't get what it wants. He negotiates a good deal for the lower Churchill hydro project and stares down Paul Martin, then the Prime Minister of Canada, to wrest a hefty share of revenue from Newfoundland's offshore oil. Suddenly, Newfoundland is a 'have' province. William's astute business tactics have changed the fortunes of Newfoundland and the little guy is the most popular premier in 8 out of 10 provinces.

Williams' incandescent pride in Newfoundland illuminates the movie.  And his fierce tactics remind you of an enforcer in hockey, the game he loves.

This movie is an uncritical look at a colourful character and is a rollicking good time.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Welcome to Leith

Leith is a small town in North Dakota where land is cheap, dwellings are modest at best and residents have never heard of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Until the arrival of the repugnant white supremacist Craig Cobb who starts buying lots and rundown buildings with the intention of building an enclave of like-minded people there. Since the town's population is only 24 (including children), it won't take many new arrivals to take over the town's government. Soon a new family joins Cobb, swastika pennants are flying, town council meetings feature nasty confrontations and armed supremacists start patrolling the roads.

The townspeople clearly don't want the new arrivals, and feel deeply threatened by their presence and behaviour. They retaliate by passing an ordinance requiring all dwellings to have running water and safe sewage and indulge in a bit of friendly tire-slashing and harassment. Cobb and his pal are arrested on charges of terrorizing the town and escape long jail terms with a plea bargain.

Meanwhile, the sheriff and townspeople visit Cobbs' house with the health department's condemnation and tear it down and burn it to the ground. Ironically, as despicable as these new arrivals were, this final scene of destruction made me think of Kristallnacht.

Welcome to Leith was made possible by over $60,000 raised on Kickstarter. A disquieting movie worth taking in.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Hot Docs 2015

Hot Docs is officially underway. The largest documentary film festival in North America, Hot Docs has been a growing success since its launch in 1992. It's a busy ten days for documentary aficionados.

Around the World in 50 Concerts

This lovely film about Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra features simply gorgeous music, interviews with members of the orchestra and a look at the logistics, including thermal packaging, of transporting all those instruments.

What makes the movie so special - besides that gorgeous music - are the stories of audience members with a passion for music. There's the Argentinian taxi driver who can't wait to get behind the wheel where he can listen to classical music in peace. The music of Mahler brings back memories and a tear to the eye of a melancholic Russian, who survived both Hitler and Stalin. Music is the sole redeeming feature in the hard life of two poor South African girls, who play in an exuberant marimba band.

Try to see this movie!

Pleasure at Her Majesty's

This film follows the preparations, and some glimpses of the final performance in a 1976 Amnesty International benefit concert organized by John Cleese. The first part of the film showing the preparations was muddled and the sound quality made it hard to understand multiple voices speaking at once. There was some payoff in the second part with routines from the final performance, including the famous dead parrot skit. But the content of this film was not enough to make up for low video resolution and poor sound quality.

Give this one a miss.

Rolling Papers

It's 2014 and Colorado has just legalized marijuana for recreational use. The Denver Post, like all newspapers in the 21st century, is struggling to stay alive. Maybe a marijuana web site can make the newspaper relevant.

I learned quite a few interesting facts about marijuana legalization, both in Colorado and Uruguay, about the need for regulation, and how marijuana reviewers can sound like wine reviewers in their rapturous descriptions of varieties of weed. And I enjoyed the wonderful pictures of different species in dazzling close-ups. But the movie didn't have a single driving theme that pulled it all together and left me pretty lukewarm, despite the delightful pun in its title. I'm sure there will be better movies than this for your schedule.

Dear Araucaria (double feature with Rolling Papers)

Some people get an obituary in a newspaper. The Guardian made this short film as a eulogy to its long-time crossword puzzle setter. When John Graham, known as Araucaria, developed terminal esophageal cancer, he broke the cardinal rule - no diseases as answers - and included words about his disease and palliative care in the answers.  Soon informed, dedicated puzzle solvers flooded him with good wishes. This is a nice short film.

Monday, April 20, 2015

What's in a word? Thugocracy

The Economist has again proved its deftness with the English language.

In an article about South-East Asia, the article stated that ASEAN (the Association of South-East Asia Nations) had only four stable countries. Two were described as dictatorships (Laos and Vietnam). One was an Islamic Sultanate - Brunei. The last one, Cambodia, was described as a thugocracy. What a wonderful word!

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