The Pleasure Of Your Company (6/10)

Last night we saw the twelfth of our thirteen films, The Pleasure Of Your Company (tiff | imdb), a slightly above average romantic comedy. Normally the genre turns me off, but this one was reasonably funny. Completely lowbrow in parts (snot jokes just don’t seem to fit at the festival, and a man eating his stepdaughter’s diaphragm doesn’t belong anywhere), but I have to admit it was nice to laugh again after seeing so many heavy films.

Jason Biggs has this character down to a shlubby science, Isla Fisher is haaaawwwwwwwwwtttt, and the supporting cast was good (except Joe Pantoliano, but it wasn’t his fault; his character was just so out of place), so I’d say this was an ok movie done very well. As far as romantic comedies go, this was a good one, but that’s kinda like being the best remedial student.

[tags]tiff, toronto international film festival, the pleasure of your company[/tags]

Kokomo? Seriously?

The coffee shop on the ground floor of my building, which I have to walk by to get outside, often pipes in music from some godawful radio station or another, and whatever song they’re playing inevitably gets stuck in my head. Today it was particularly insidious: “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys. I practically ran back to my desk, jammed my headphones in my ears and hit play. My Nomad faithfully served up a couple of good tunes to blast that 80s shit out of my head: “Many Lives -> 49mp” by Final Fantasy and “Alright Alright” by Sahara Hotnights.


[tags]beach boys, final fantasy, sahara hotnights[/tags]

Mr. Death

Today I finished watching a documentary that’s been on the PVR since February: Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (imdb | rotten tomatoes). All I knew about it was that it was directed by Errol Morris and that it had something to do with electric chairs. The movie actually covered two major parts of Leuchter’s life, and I did not see the second one coming.

Fred Leuchter Jr. is a nebbishly little guy, with a nasal New England accent, gigantic glasses, bad teeth and some serious addictions (40 cups of coffee and six packs of cigarettes a day). I only mention his appearance to make it clear that the rest of his stort seems extra-weird when it comes from a guy who looks and acts the way he does. You don’t expect someone dubbed “Mr. Death” to look like Charles Martin Smith gone wrong.
So yes, the movie starts out with Leuchter explaining how he became something of an expert on the electric chair, and his descriptions of the modifications he made to reduce the suffering of execution victims. Too little current and they burn; too much current and they explode…and so on. Anyway, he built or fixed a few electric chairs, and was then given the contract to fix someone’s lethal injection equipment. Leuchter admitted that this didn’t make any sense, since the two mechanisms were entirely different, but whatever. He also worked on gas chambers and gallows in some states, which made him something of an accidental expert. This leads to the second part of the story, which just came outta nowhere.

It seems that Leuchter was recruited by the defense in the Ernst Zundel case to go to Europe, take samples of brick from gas chambers at Auschwitz and other sites, and return them to an American lab to test for the existence of poison gas, in an attempt to prove Zundel’s claims that Jews were not gassed at the prison camps. The lab was not told what they were looking for (nor the reason for the tests), and the lab technicians later argued that the tests — which showed no trace of the poison gas — were performed incorrectly and didn’t prove anything. Still, Leuchter took the negative results as evidence that there were no posion gas used at these sites.

At this point, people turned on Leuchter. And no wonder; he attended neo-Nazi rallies, and his report titled “Did Six Million Really Die?” became a piece of Aryan Nation literature. Leuchter defended himself by saying he only wanted to provide as much evidence as possible for Zundel’s case because he felt Zundel had the right to free speech. The principle of that action is admirable, even if the result is abhorrent, and if that were the extent of Leuchter’s involvement, he could be accused of poor logic and bad science, but not true anti-Semitism. However, he went beyond simple testimony and specious reasoning and sided with the indefensible.
Still, in the end, you almost feel sorry for him. He lost his wife, his job, his home…everything. By the end of the documentary you really believe that he ended up where he did without even really understanding how it happened. That’s why Errol Morris is a master, and why the film is so memorable.


Death, it seems, has been a common theme the past few days: the media, of course, have fixated more on Kimveer Gill’s blogging habits and clothing color than on his proclivity for guns. Of course, it wasn’t his computer that made him set out to kill people, nor was it his trench coat, or his guns, or video games. Nor was it “evil,” as people like to claim; calling him that is just a feeble attempt to distance ourselves from what happened, so that we can assure ourselves that no human would ever do such a thing. The man was psychotic, unstable, stupid, selfish; calling him evil is just an easy out.

I still feel compelled to say, though, that banning guns might’ve prevented this. Could someone still go on a murderous rampage with a knife or axe? Yes. Could someone still obtain a gun even if it were illegal? Yes. Would it be much, much harder? Absolutely. Would banning guns stop all murder? Of course not, but statistically it would have an effect. Might it have denied Kimveer Gill a gun and robbed him of the artificial courage he felt yesterday? Maybe, maybe not. But statistically, over enough cases, it would make a difference, and I think that difference is worth whatever downsides emerge from banning guns.
One last thought: while I think the idea of banning violent video games is absurd, it doesn’t excuse from karmic hell anyone who creates a video game about Columbine. Or anyone who buys one.

[tags]mr. death, fred leuchter, errol morris, kimveer gill[/tags]

The Half Life of Timofey Berezin (5.5/10) and Day Night Day Night (9/10)

Last night we saw film #10, The Half Life of Timofey Berezin (tiff | imdb). We didn’t realize it was the premiere until…well, pretty much everyone associated with the film showed up. Producers, editors, and of course the actors and director. The plot moves in two parallel streams: the titular Berezin, a technician at a secret nuclear facility, becomes fatally irradiated and has only knows he will die within a day or two. Faced with no way to support his wife and son, he steals some Pu-239 and goes to Moscow in the hopes of selling it. The other stream follows an incompetent criminal and his bumbling friends around Moscow, as they basically act like jerks (they run over pets for profit) and try to save their own asses from various crime lords. Eventually their paths cross and the story takes a few turns.

The first stream — watching the amazing Paddy Considine (who played Berezin) and his wife (played by Radha Mitchell) play their delicate game, where he tries to protect her but she obviously understands what’s happening, and where they try to pretend for the sake of their son — was infinitely more interesting than the dumbass-gangster storyline, which kept trying to dip into dark humour but failed. I found myself practically begging the diirector to switch back to Berezin or his wife every time the camera left them. Ultimately I felt like I was watching half a film. It’s too bad; I had really high hopes for this one.


Tonight, it was #11: Day Night Day Night (tiff | imdb), a welcome return to top-notch festival fare. Granted, this isn’t the kind of movie for everyone; it was definitely of the Dogme 95 genre: one hand-held camera, no music, no special effects, and so on. It was interesting subject matter (I hesitate to say “controversial”, though a mainstream audience would likely label it so), but garnered our respect because it didn’t lapse into easy stereotypes or blow-to-the-head hints.

The form was so bravely stark and well-executed it defies belief that both the director and main actor were first-timers. The tension — and it was very tense at times — was expertly built, the settings were used to perfection (somehow a tiny hotel room seemed the same size as Times Square) and the long, quiet, detailed shots of the main character brushing her teeth, or eating an egg roll, or asking people for change showed us more about her than a movie full of exposition or voiceover could have. The ambiguous ending was perfectly cruel. Or cruelly perfect, I’m not sure.

On the way home my wife pointed out that — barring a huge surprise from our last two films — this is our real festival movie for the year: the one that sneaks up on you, the true art hidden among the red carpet preening and overhyped twaddle. I’m sure some people who watch this film will hate it, but they sure as hell won’t forget it.

[tags]tiff, toronto international film festival, the half life of timofey berezin, day night day night[/tags]

"That's okay, I'm a teacher, I'm a teacher."

To relax on our day off after watching nine movies over the past five days, we decided to…watch a movie on DVD. Natch. Thumbsucker (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was pretty good…excellent acting all around, and Tilda Swinton didn’t even creep Nellie out that much. Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn and Benjamin Bratt were all great in their funny little parts. One of the main story threads is about self-medicating, though they never really resolved it. Too bad; it was getting interesting. The rest was better-than-average family dynamic stuff. It’s worth a watch, but there’s no need to rush down to the video store.



Today’s our “breather” day…we took the day off, and have no films until tonight, so we’ve spent the day sleeping in, relaxing, and doing a few errands. I got my hair chopped off and finished off the last little bit of work for my international business course while Nellie confirmed all the reservations for our upcoming Rockies trip. Tomorrow it’s back to work during the day and films each night (‘cept Friday) and then I’m back at school for a week. Once I’m back I’ll have to investigate what to see and do between Banff and Jasper.


After a friend mentioned the Atlantic Film Festival I had a look at the website. I wish they’d had the festival when I lived there. Or maybe they did and I just didn’t pay attention to stuff like that. Or I didn’t have the money anyway. Or I didn’t appreciate festival-type films. Anyway, if anyone in Halifax reads this, I’d encourage you to see a few films and support the festival. Just be sure to skip Candy.


Am I the only one who was repulsed by the network news coverage of what felt like…well, like nostalgia for 9/11? Not for the attacks themselves, obviously, but for the newsworthiness of that day? News networks seem to look back at September 11, 2001 as their finest hour, and can’t wait to hit the replay button whenever the opportunity — especially an anniversary — presents itself.
[tags]quiet time, atlantic film festival, 9/11 nostalgia[/tags]

Diggers (5/10), Blindsight (9/10) and Fay Grim (8.5/10)

I shall have to make these reviews brief, as I am both tired and stuffed. You’ve been warned.


We started the day with Diggers (tiff | imdb) at the Cumberland, a light-hearted drama/comedy about New England clam diggers and their small-town goings on. It was a pleasant little movie, neither memorable nor offensive. It did seem like a dreadful waste of such a talented cast (Paul Rudd, Lauren Ambrose, Ron Eldard, Maura Tierney, Josh Hamilton and Ken Marino) though. Not a bad way to start the day, but nothing to set my world on fire either.


We dashed out of there to get in line for Blindsight (tiff | imdb) and scarf down gooey, sugary treats. The screening started quite late, thus blowing any chance we had of staying for post-film Q&A if we wanted to make it to our third film of the day. Too bad, too; we really wanted to stay around and hear what the “stars” had to say. The documentary was about six Tibetan blind children who, under the guidance of their German teacher and an American mountain climber (both also visually impaired) and some sighted climbers, attempt to ascend a 23,000 foot mountain next to Mt. Everest. The documentary also gets into a bit of the story behind each child; blind children in Tibet are treated as outcasts, as suffering for “transgressions in past lives” as the TIFF synopsis puts it. The story of the children’s paths to the school could be a documentary unto itself, and the life of their teacher — Sabriye Tenberken — could easily be another. Needless to say, the story of the climb was astounding and inspirational, and had the cinematography to match.

After the credits rolled the director called Tenberken and Erik Weihenmayer (the blind American climber) to the front, and the crowd gave them a long standing ovation. At that point we had to leave, which was too bad; one of the six children (named Kyila) was just arriving from Beijing, and arrived at the theatre just moments after we left, I suspect to another standing ovation. I’m sorry we had to miss it.


But, the show had to go on, so we bolted from the theatre and into a cab. One very speedy ride later and we were in line at the Ryerson for Fay Grim (tiff | imdb). Once we got past the Jeff Goldblum fan funniness, found some seats in the balcony and waited through all the delays that I can only assume were from Jeff Goldblum and Parker Posey being harassed on the red carpet, director Hal Hartley made a few comments and started the show.

First of all, I don’t now why I haven’t heard of Hal hartley before. I think that perhaps he was making intelligent films before I knew what those were, so I hadn’t seen any of his work, including Henry Fool, the prequel to Fay Grim. However, after tonight, I believe I shall be renting a good chunk of his oeuvre. Fay Grim was a blast, a funny, tricky, off-balance (literally; nearly every shot was as crooked as 60s-era Batman) bottle rocket that reminded every one what a genius Parker Posey really is. The only reason I didn’t give the film a 9 or 9.5 out of 10 was because, for the last third or so it took a very slow and serious turn, and so the humour and style of the first two acts disappeared. This was necessary to set up the third film, which Hartley all but guaranteed would eventually come, but it left the film on a bit of a downturn. Still, it was tremendous art.


Not a bad day at the festival. We’ve now see 9 of our 13 films; tomorrow we have most of the day off to relax. Or, in my case, to get a haircut and submit my final bit of work for this course.

[tags]tiff, toronto international film festival, diggers, blindsight, sabriye tenberken, erik weihenmayer, fay grim[/tags]

Who has a crush on Jeff Goldblum? [UPDATED]

We were in line just in front of Jeff Goldblum climbing out of a limo. Some girl, who was obviously a fan, came running frantically from the other side of the line to shake his hand, but instead he grabbed and hugged her while her friend took a picture. A comical picture too, as it looked like her eyes were about to pop from their sockets and fall into her gaping mouth.

Downside: no sign of Parker Posey.

Aside: I love the signs on the Ryerson washroom doors that ask “Are you concerned about this washroom?” Uh, yes, but probably not for the reason you’re asking about…

UPDATE: Parker Posey was there after all. In fact, some guy in the audience asked her out.
[tags]tiff, toronto international film festival, fay grim, jeff goldblum[/tags]