Thursday, September 29, 2011

McGuinty's got my vote

I've had a love-hate relationship with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty for a while. I still haven't fully forgiven him for the 2007 Ontario referendum fiasco, in which he hobbled the once-in-a-generation chance to reform our First-Past-The-Post voting system. Ultimately, the crushing defeat for proportional representation in Ontario foreshadowed similar crushing defeats elsewhere. So I've buried that hatchet.

In this 2011 election, McGuinty has been running a mostly strong campaign encouraging voters to stay the course and keep his vision of moving forward together. His record on supporting public health care, public education, green energy and many other issues has been inspiring. He's pursued innovation and has shown an admirable willingness to make very unpopular decisions for the greater good.

There have been mistakes. But for the most part, McGuinty has been able to show us what thoughtful, hard-working, progressive, reasonable government looks like.

Compared to the pie-in-the-sky NDP plan put forth by Andrea Horwath in this election, McGuinty's record and plan for the future is far superior. In addition, the Liberals are now well-positioned to humble Tory Tim Hudak next Thursday, a delightful and welcome development after a year of disgusting conservative victories.

Alice Klein puts it well in today's NOW Magazine when she describes the choice for progressives in this Ontario election this way: "...the irony is that one relatively progressive party is running on a platform of stability and staying the course while it actually promotes a platform of positive change. Meanwhile, the other relatively progressive political party is supposedly running on a platform of change but is actually wooing voters on the basis of resistance to the changes being thrust upon us by forces far beyond anyone’s control."

I'm heartened by the polls which show McGuinty is in close contention for the top. Ontarians seem willing to stay the course and keep the leader with a passionately-articulated and reasonable plan in these hard economic times, versus a Tory pretender who has only uttered conservative generalities and old prejudices in this campaign.

I will be voting for Liberal Cristina Martins in my Davenport riding. She may not win against NDP upstart Jonah Schein, but I hope she does. The Liberals need every seat they can muster to hold back a horrifying Tory trifecta. The NDP plan is simply not a plan at all. It would be a shame to lose the gains the Liberals have produced.

My message to progressives in Ontario: Get real and please vote Liberal.

Friday, September 23, 2011

McGuinty's first big mistake in Election 2011...

TheStar Hudak and Horwath scold McGuinty for missing northern Ontario debate

In my humble estimation, Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty has been (mostly) kicking Tory leader Tim Hudak's butt during this Ontario election campaign. McGuinty's cause has been helped greatly by Hudak's own small-minded approach to leadership and politics. In response to the Liberal promise to provide tax credits to a small number of businesses that provide training/accreditation opportunities for immigrant professionals (in regulated industries), Hudak's response was over-the-top and showed a shocking lack of judgment. Hudak's first impulse was to fan the flames of intolerance against so-called 'foreign workers', even after it became clear the Liberal proposal was designed to assist Canadian citizens in the country for less than five years. It was as if Hudak was feeling nostalgic for 1995 when his hero and former leader, Mike Harris, fanned the flames of resentment against visible minorities over the employment equity issue and the poor over the work for welfare issue to great victory. Clearly in 2011, such attacks don't work anymore.

McGuinty has benefited thus far from what appears to be a strong desire by voters to "stay the course" and not choose risky or untested options in these uncertain economic times. McGuinty has a plan for the future and a relatively decent record. Hudak has a tonne of complaints and nothing much different from the current administration in terms of policy. Hudak's vision for the province remains largely a mystery to most voters. Until the decision by McGuinty to skip today's leaders' debate on Northern Ontario issues, McGuinty's campaign has been exceedingly effective. But this choice to snub a region already feeling neglected by Queen's Park puts several Liberal seats in great jeopardy. The Liberals now hold seven seats in northern Ontario. After today, they'll be lucky to hang on to three. More than likely, they'll get only two seats (Sault Ste Marie and Sudbury) and be shut out of northwestern Ontario altogether. Even my former boss, Michael Gravelle, who has previously commanded nearly 75% of the vote in his constituency, looks in danger of losing his Thunder Bay-Superior North seat. That would be a huge shame.

Why would McGuinty make this bizarre choice? For such a skilled veteran on the campaign trail, it confuses me. The Liberals are in a tough fight and the resurgent NDP has been biting at their progressive heels. With the Tories fading back to the low-mid 30s in terms of support, the Liberals need to reach the high 30s/low 40s in voter support to win that coveted third majority. But with the NDP's Andrea Horwath doing well in this campaign thus far, the NDP vote seems steady in the mid-high 20s. That would be enough for them to take six or seven seats in the North, up from three. In the end, we could easily end up seeing the Liberals fall just short of the 54 seats they need for another majority. If the campaign gets worse for the Liberals (as anything can happen in an election campaign), the Tories could get new life and end up squeaking out a victory by a seat or two. In that scenario, hanging on to those seats in the North might've made the difference.

I guess party central in the Liberal war room figures they're already losing most of their northern seats, so why bother make the trek north today? I don't know. Seems foolishly reckless to me. But maybe they know something I don't. They usually do.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ends in the U.S. as YouTube Gay Soldier coming out video goes viral...

YouTube's Gay Soldier: 'Never Thought I'd Be So Comfortable' - ABC News

Yesterday marked the official end to the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy in the American armed forces. Now, finally, LGB soldiers in the U.S. army can be open about themselves without fear of being fired. (I leave out the 'T' from LGBT because the ban on transgendered soldiers still remains.) To mark the occasion, 21-year-old U.S. soldier Randy Phillips took the opportunity share his experience of coming out to his own father via YouTube.

Here's an ABC news story on Phillips, which makes mention of his many anonymous videos also posted on YouTube under the handle "AreYouSurprised," in recent months leading up to yesterday.

"It feels great. It's nice not having to look over your shoulder or worry about who you are talking to," Phillips told ABC News the day after "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was officially repealed. "I never thought I'd be so comfortable with it. It's very supportive. Everybody's been so great."

A heartfelt congratulations to all of those who can now continue to live their lives openly. I hope this trend continues for those still suffering from discrimination in the U.S. armed forces. I also want to congratulate Phillips in particular for his leadership and bravery, both for joining the air force in the first place, as well as sharing this life-changing moment with all of us.

Many LGBT people fear the moment when they finally come out to parents. It's beautiful to see Phillips' father's almost nonchalant response as well as his pledge to 'always love' his son.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The best of my fest: TIFF 2011

I caught five films this year at the Toronto International Film Festival, which wraps today. I purposely chose films which aren't on the verge of wide release and use TIFF as a launching pad (like Drive, Moneyball, The Ides of March, and many others, most of which I intend to watch in the months ahead in regular theatres.)

Of the five, only one was a disappointment. Here goes:

The Good Son, a Finnish film by director Zaida Bergroth, was the first film I took in. Haunting and subtle, it was a fascinating portrait of one young man's almost psychotically protective devotion to his self-involved mother. Ilmari (played by Samuli Niittymäki, pictured) is a dangerous teenager with more than typical family responsibility. His mother, the actress and tabloid target Leila (Elina Knihtilä), is an impressive whirlwind of fragility and vindictive vanity. This leaves Ilmari to raise his younger brother Unto (Eetu Julin) and guide his mother through career crises. The boys’ father is out of the picture and we are left to imagine why (although judging from mom's personality, it isn't too difficult.) Yet his absence leaves the family with at least a perceived opening for a new older man to interfere. Aimo (Eero Aho), one of Leila’s perpetually boozed up friends, sees that gap and tries to cut in.

The film centers around a family trip to a summer house after a disastrous premiere for the actress-mother. The adult partying begins as Leila invites several friends including Aimo to join them. Young Ilmari responds with shocking and increasing violence when he perceives any threat against his mother. At first it seems honorable, but quickly it becomes obviously dangerous. To make matters worse, Leila seems more than happy to exploit and manipulate her son's rage, sometimes just to cause a little trouble. As the story unfolds, Aimo becomes the victim of Ilmari's violence. As we reach the story's climax, mother Leila realizes almost too late she's allowed her son to turn into a bit of a monster and has lost control over him. While the final moments are ambiguous, leaving us only to imagine how this family can possibly evolve, The Good Son is fascinating viewing.

I Am A Good Person/I Am A Bad Person is the second feature film solely directed by Toronto filmmaker Ingrid Veninger (she co-directed a feature in 2006 before taking up full directing duties on Modra in 2010). I had never seen her work prior to this, but I must admit she will be a director I follow closely from now on.

I Am A Good Person profiles a mother-daughter relationship as the two embark for Europe to promote the mother's latest film. Veninger plays the mother, Ruby White, while her eighteen-year-old daughter Sara is played by Veninger’s real-life daughter, Hallie Switzer, who also starred in Modra. This movie was actually shot as the two toured with Modra earlier this year, a fabulous example of life imitating art. Little happens plot-wise, except to say that mother and daughter suffer somewhat typical struggles to communicate and get along. After a brief visit to Bradford, UK, daughter Sara departs for Paris to stay with a cousin, almost breaking her lonely mother's heart, who must then continue alone to Berlin for another screening. It's in Paris where we discover that daughter Sara is pregnant, something she's been keeping from everyone.

The movie has some quietly hilarious moments. The film within the film, 'Headshots', the film Ruby is ostensibly accompanying around the festival circuit, includes a bizarre series of close-up shots of men's penises just before the end credits. The character's eventual explanation for why she made the film provides great laughter long after I Am A Good Person ends. I loved the women-centric nature of this film. All of the male characters are perceived solely through female eyes and I must say most were awfully attractive. This was quite refreshing.

Beauty by South African director Oliver Hermanus will stay with me the longest of the five films I saw at TIFF. Quietly devastating, the film profiles a deeply closeted and macho Afrikaner named Francois (played by Deon Lotz), a successful family man who finds himself magnetically drawn to the beautiful 23-year-old son of a close friend (played by Charlie Keegan, pictured with Lotz). Lotz' Francois is the epitome of male repression, his entire married life a total lie. His fascination with Christian seems to be his undoing as his carefully constructed life begins to unravel.

At first, I thought the story was heading in the same direction as Death in Venice. How wrong I was! Francois becomes increasingly isolated as he struggles to deal with his infatuation. A violent scene in a hotel room near the end is utterly shocking and confirms the main character's downward spiral. In the end, we are left with great sadness as Francois slowly realizes the love he has denied himself through his sick choices. As he sits quietly at a table in a restaurant alone, he stares across at a lovely, young gay couple living the happy life he can no longer even imagine. The closet is a scary and lonely place.

Some commentary has stated that Beauty is also a scathing portrait of conflicted masculinity in post-Apartheid South Africa, with Francois's generation of hypocritically macho, Caucasian men contrasted with Christian's open and tolerant youth. This makes the violence in the hotel room all the more disturbing.

Touted as one of the first Vietnamese films to depict homosexuality both explicitly and positively, Ngoc Dang Vu’s Lost in Paradise is a contemporary tale of living on the margins of Vietnamese society. Khoi is a fresh-faced 20-year-old who makes his way to Saigon, where he befriends Dong and his boyfriend, Lam. They take the first opportunity to make off with Khoi’s cash and belongings. But when Dong is abandoned by his boyfriend and winds up on the streets hustling for money, he runs into Khoi again, and they strike up an unlikely romance.

While the actors were cute, I have to say Lost In Paradise was quite disappointing and unoriginal. We're never given any real reason to believe the romance between Khoi and Dong. The former seems to sit around home all day nursing injuries and doing little else, while the latter, Dong, continues his self-destructive hustling on the streets of Saigon. Dong's inability to leave behind prostitution is just one of many illogical plot developments. Worse, the dialogue is unbelievably on the nose. Why show a character's love when you can just say it? Queer film has evolved long past these feeble stereotypes in most parts of the world, but sadly not in Lost in Paradise.

Finally, I checked out Hysteria, the new film by director Tanya Wexler and starring hottie Hugh Dancy, the lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal (both pictured on the right) and the always-entertaining Jonathan Pryce. It was a delightful romantic comedy/period piece that profiled the invention of the vibrator in the 1880s. Dancy plays Doctor Mortimer Granville, who is recruited by Pryce's doctor character to assist female patients diagnosed with the catch-all and fictitious condition then known as 'hysteria.' The therapy: careful, manual stimulation of a certain female body part. Of course, at the time, the female orgasm was yet to be acknowledged by the medical establishment and it never occurs to Pryce's Doctor Dalrymple that these housewives are experiencing something more basic and natural than a mysterious epidemic of insanity: horniness.

Aided by a goofy pal with a fascination for gadgets and electricity (Rupert Everett, still looking a bit strange after his face lift a couple years ago), young Dancy comes to invent the first vibrator and begins testing it out on Pryce's patients, to their utter delight. The result is a revolution in women's medicine that precedes the time period's eventual women's liberation. To wrap these events into a charming romantic-comedy seems totally appropriate. Why can't the inventor of the vibrator look like Hugh Dancy and be caught in a love triangle between two sisters? Wonderful, all around.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Message to Sun Media readers...

I captured this today on Sterling just outside the delicious Nestle chocolate factory. Had to share...hahaha!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nenshi first Calgary mayor to lead Gay Pride parade

Progressive, decent folks in Toronto are looking west to Calgary today with a bit of envy at news that city's mayor, Naheed Nenshi, led today's Gay Pride parade (pictured).Torontonians hardly knew the idea that a mayor would actually exert a bit of effort to be the mayor of all the people was something one election could erase; yes, today in Toronto we have a horrific example of democracy gone bad with a mayor more interested in ripping the shit out of the city and selling public assets to his private sector friends, all the while his red-necked, idiot base cheers.

Oh, dark days, please end soon. And let that first sign come October 6th when we reject the third horseman of the Conservative Apocalypse, goofy Tim Hudak, and re-elect a Liberal majority government (yes, that is my prediction for the Ontario election on the eve of the vote call.)