Friday, December 30, 2016

My Favourite Films of 2016

Scene from 'Moonlight', my favourite of 2016
UPDATED JAN 15, 2017

I love films.  I even produced my first short film this year as a director/writer/producer/editor called Tri-Curious (it'll be on YouTube by February 1st, so stay the mean time, check out my trailer for it on the right.)

There are many films I still need to see (I've listed those below.)  But here are my top nine of the year so far.  As I see more, I may insert one or two more into my top favourites.  
My favourite films of 2016: 

Moonlight - I missed this at TIFF, so I rushed to see it when it got a Toronto release and came to fully understand what all the fuss was about.  Quiet, contemplative, deeply intimate, this is the love story I’ve been waiting for.   I love deliberately paced, quiet films that let their characters breathe and evolve.   This film dealt with somewhat familiar LGBT subject matter, but through a lens we’ve never seen on the big screen, tackling black male masculinity, and masculinity in general in thoughtful ways that brought me relief and deep satisfaction.  This is up there with Brokeback Mountain, and perhaps even better as we get a hopeful ending that leaves open the possibilities of love.  

Hell or High Water - Stunning, fun, enormously funny and entertaining tale of two brothers (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster) on a bank robbing spree with a difference.  Set in west Texas, we see a side of America I don’t usually have much sympathy for, yet here you learn to love and understand the characters.  A perfect testament to our economic times, even this very year that saw middle America rise up in (misguided) revolt against the powers that be, I won’t soon forget this delight of a film. 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - The best Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back.  Original where A Force Awakens wasn't, this bold film is simply awesome.  As a longtime Star Wars fan, this was immensely satisfying.  The move to take the franchise out of George Lucas's old hands is paying off big time.  LOVED IT!!!!!

La La Land - Finally saw this and loved it.  I could stare at Ryan Gosling in a suit dancing around the screen anytime.  He and co-star Emma Stone are lovely together as their characters support each other as they struggle to make their dreams come true.   Yes, it's another Hollywood film about Hollywood.  But the catchy music, heartfelt performances and flashy, sensuous visuals make it a highly enjoyable masterpiece.

Snowden - Oliver Stone returns to fine form with this story about Edward Snowden, the former NSA operative and whistle blower who proved to the world the extent of the U.S. government’s spying on all of the world’s citizens.  I now have permanently put a black piece of tape over my computer’s camera to prevent future invasions of my privacy.  The encroachment of the establishment into the lives of citizens remains one of the biggest issues of our times and this movie is a must-see if you don’t yet understand much about Edward Snowden’s story.   (Also check out the documentary Citizenfour, also about Snowden, by Laura Poitras.) 

Jackie - This movie captures the disorientation and sorrow the real Jackie Kennedy must’ve felt in the hours, days and weeks following the 1963 assassination of her husband, former president JFK, with an intimacy that feels both raw and surprisingly current.  Amid her grief, the title character fights to ensure the legacy of her late husband and shape public opinion, her last act of loyalty to a man who would be remembered as one of the great U.S. presidents of the 20th century. 

Arrival - A thoughtful alien invasion movie for once.  Amy Adams is superb, as is everyone else.  For sci-fi fans who’ve been frustrated by other mindless alien attack movies in which all aliens arrive on earth speaking fluent English, this movie is for you. 

Hidden Figures - Superbly well-done historical drama that everyone can get behind and enjoy.  While fairly conventional in terms of its storytelling style, it still knocks it out of the park and packs an emotional punch by shining a light on some obscure, brilliant women who made incredible differences in helping launch NASA's space program. 

Frame 394 - I was proud to see the world premiere of this short documentary at Hot Docs in Toronto.  The film tackles the subject of police brutality against men of colour through the prism of a young white male techie nerd who inserts himself into the story through his analytical deconstruction of an amateur video of a police shooting.  Through the main subject’s journey, the film explores the notion of citizen engagement, subjectivity, and the risk one takes when one moves beyond simple armchair quarterbacking.  This film is on the short list for Best Documentary Short for this year’s Oscars. 

Captain America: Civil War - Loved it, enormously fun and entertaining, even a bit sexy (got a bit of a crush on Tom Holland as the new Spiderman), this film shows that Hollywood still can occasionally get their big franchises exactly right. 

Voyage of Time - If you love Terrence Malick and are ready for a steady stream of stunning visuals that evoke deep thought and emotions, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for.  I haven't seen visuals this relentlessly beautiful in years. 

Ghostbusters - The repulsive push back from entitled, misogynistic, lowlife men against this reboot made me sick.  The best revenge was the film was awesome and a great feminist response to genres previously exclusionary to significant female participation.  The icing on the cake was the sexy presence of Chris Hemsworth playing the hottest male bimbo secretary one could ever cook up, who soon gets possessed by the film’s bad guy spirit and exacts havoc. 

Honorable Mentions:



Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

Manchester by the Sea - Decent, well-crafted and acted, but disappointing.  It was simply too bleak with not enough emotional payoff.  Director Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count On Me was much better.  


Movies I need to see as soon as possible:

I, Daniel Blake

Toni Erdmann


I Am Not Your Negro


The Lobster

Love and Friendship


20th Century Women

Movies I’m planning to see soon, but not rushing:

American Honey

Edge of Seventeen

Being 17

The Birth of a Nation

Nocturnal Animals


The Worst of the Year: 

The 5th Wave - Incomprehensible crap with an even less comprehensible ending. 

X-Men: Apocalypse - with the lamest bad guy this franchise has ever seen.  Very disappointing. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Memo to Kathleen Wynne: Upload the Gardiner & DVP back to the province to stop tolls

There has been huge debate recently over Toronto mayor John Tory's proposal to impose tolls of some kind on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway (DVP).

Lots of anger too, mainly from those motorists who will potentially get stuck with extra user costs for choosing to drive into the already-congested city of Toronto.

Some progressives argue that tolls are good because they ding the actual users of the roads to pay more for their upkeep.  Tory has said such tolls would also help finance the many public transit projects he hopes to build like Smart Track.

Of course, this follows his dumb decision, backed by the majority of councillors, to spend $3-4 billion and counting to extend by one stop the Scarborough subway.   How progressives can give Tory such a blank cheque to continue to find new money for his "priorities" remains a mystery to me.

Yes, Toronto needs more public transit that covers all the corners of the city and gives 416 residents better transportation options.  The now-dead Transit City would've seen high speed transit added to the far corners of Scarborough and Etobicoke.  Other light rail options to some of those areas may still see the light of day though.  The Eglinton Crosstown line will eventually be finished, I hear, with 2021 as the expected start date for operations. 

Had Mike Harris not cancelled the Eglinton subway in 1995, that line would've already been a reality today.  We might instead be seeing the near completion of the Scarborough subway extension or even the Downtown Relief Subway Line today, rather than years or decades from now.

Such is the continued toxic legacy of Mike Harris and his neo-conservative, penny-wise-pound-foolish approach to government.   The debate over Gardiner and DVP tolls is also a part of that legacy as it was Harris who stupidly downloaded the costs for maintaining those regional highways to the city of Toronto.

Yes, property taxpayers in Toronto (and that's everyone who owns or rents anything in the city) are the sole funders of upkeep for the Gardiner and the DVP.   Folks who live outside Toronto pay nothing for them, even though they are clearly major regional arterial highways.  This is wrong and Tory's proposal, in part, corrects that.  There are no other such highways in the province so important regionally that are only funded by local taxpayers.

Ever since the fiasco of Donald Trump's election, I've been thinking hard about how progressives have lost touch with the working classes they claim to represent. 

It's clear that the father-knows-best attitudes of some progressives, particularly those downtown folks perceived as "urban elites", are contributing to this phenomenon.  If our progressive policies like road tolls and carbon taxes are just making it more difficult for average folks to live, then we are pushing them into the arms of neo-conservatives with their easy answers.

That's got to stop.  We've seen an erosion of support for Kathleen Wynne due to the perception that she's out of touch with the hardships faced by ordinary Ontarians.  Skyrocketing hydro bills are a part of that.  Teary admissions of guilt won't do much to reverse the damage to her popularity.  Some major populist moves that prove she's re-engaged with those hardships and willing to make tough decisions just might. 

I do believe that if John Tory succeeds in implementing tolls on the Gardiner and the DVP, with the approval of Kathleen Wynne, this will mean a total collapse of support for Wynne's Liberals in the one area of the province she still has much potential support: Toronto and the surrounding 905.   Tolls might be the final nail in the coffin that all but guarantees a Patrick Brown government after 2018.

What's the solution?  Simply deny Tory the road tolls and do nothing else?  Or refuse tolls but increase funding for Toronto transit projects?  Perhaps.  But that one-time capital funding won't help Toronto's long-term operating costs for these two highways. 

A better choice would be to reverse the stupid decision by Harris to download the Gardiner and the DVP to Toronto, I think.

If Ontario uploaded responsibility and upkeep costs for the Gardiner and the DVP back to provincial taxpayers and continued to promise never to implement tolls on them or other existing Ontario highways, this would relieve local Toronto property taxpayers, and also remove the threats of tolls on 905ers.  Instead, all provincial taxpayers would be supporting these highways like they do all others.

Sure, John Tory might be miffed he lost a potential source of revenue.  But Tory put Wynne in this awkward position by proposing this in the first place, while also highlighting one of Wynne's least popular decisions (privatizing part of Ontario Hydro) by ruling out selling Toronto Hydro.  She owes him nothing on this issue.   

Sadly, the uploading option doesn't seem to have dawned on Wynne based on her most recent statements.  She's still describing the Gardiner and the DVP as "local roads." 

The Gardiner and the DVP are not local roads used by local residents only.  They are major arterial routes that bring traffic from miles away directly into the core of the city.  Estimates are almost half of daily users of the DVP and the Gardiner are not from Toronto.

Wynne's current reaction to the tolls proposal - that she would simply approve any city of Toronto request for tolls - is the wrong one.  Unfortunately, it's in line with some of her other tone deaf decisions that have created the impression she's out of touch with the average Ontarian.  She better get smarter if she doesn't want to hand power over to Patrick Brown's PCs. 

Uploading the costs for the Gardiner and the DVP back to the province would be a major win for the premier, who's got to be desperate for one these days.   It might even be the beginning of the recovery she so desperately needs if she's going to pull her Liberals out of the popularity basement and have any chance of hanging on to power in 2018.  Seems like a brilliant plan to me. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Electoral reform seems dead despite Trudeau's latest words

I've been a longtime advocate for dumping Canada's first-past-the-post / winner-take-all voting system.  It continues to shock me that otherwise intelligent people continue to support it. 

I remember being a rabidly anti-free trade teenager in 1988 during the early part of the federal election that year when I looked at polls showing Brian Mulroney's PCs with 45% support.

"There you have it, they can't pass free trade because the Liberals and NDP have a combined 55%," I said to my parents.

They shook their heads and explained that Canada's voting system doesn't align to the popular vote; parties need only to carry the majority of seats by winning the most votes, usually with much less than half of the popular vote.

In truth, most parts of the democratic world embrace proportional voting (PR) systems where the seats won in Parliament align with the will of the people.  When new democracies have been established around the world, PR systems have been put in place to avoid the dangers of extremists winning total power with as little as 30-40% of the vote.  This has been civilized.

But not in Canada.  Recent Canadian elections have seen one party win a majority of seats with less than 40%.  This used to be rare, even under winner-take-all, but now it is commonplace.  

Just last month, the world was thrown into craziness with the "election" of Donald Trump, thanks to the U.S.'s own archaic winner-take-all Electoral College voting system.  The people voted for Hillary Clinton by 2.5 million votes (and still counting), but they've been overruled by a rigged system that has handed victory to a racist, whiny buffoon.   Despite attacking the electoral college when he wasn't a candidate, Trump now supports it because it handed him victory.  

Such is the case with any political party in Canada that actually stands a chance of winning elections.  The NDP, when it's been in power in the provinces, has never moved to implement PR voting systems.  Indeed, the British Columbia NDP has been most vociferous in its opposition to previous PR options in that province.  This is ironic considering the status quo has ensured B.C. New Democrats have been completely shut out of government and decision-making power for 31 out of the last 41 years.

Chantal Hébert is absolutely correct here that the federal parties continue to put their own partisan interests ahead of the public interest in this current debate.   

Despite Justin Trudeau's election promise and his current unwillingness to abandon it publicly, it now seems clear electoral reform isn't going anywhere federally anytime soon.  

The Liberals on the parliamentary committee that reported this week refused to cooperate with opposition colleagues on proposing a way forward for the debate, even calling Trudeau's promise to reform in time for the 2019 election as "hasty".  

Those same Liberals could've made a deal with the New Democrats to implement the only system that would actually be an improvement over the status quo - proportional representation - but they clearly refused.  

Thus forcing the NDP and Greens to side with the Conservatives on proposing a referendum on proportional representation versus first-past-the-post.  

Yes, the Conservatives have agreed to a referendum that could see the implementation of a voting system they would hate.  But they have done so simply because they are confident, based on recent Canadian history, that PR would be voted down by the public in favour of the status quo.  That's been the case in every recent referendum on the issue with the exception of a Prince Edward Island plebiscite this year where PR won with 52% (but now the PEI government plans to hold another binding vote on the same subject.)  

With the Trudeau Liberals in charge, it seems they've lost their appetite for change.  As Hébert points out, they've done nothing to promote the one voting system Liberals seem to favour the most - instant runoff or ranked ballots - at public meetings held by MPs or the parliamentary committee.

Trudeau's Liberals are clearly laying the groundwork to abandon this pledge.  They'll do so with the support of a majority of Liberals, unfortunately.  

When I campaigned in favour of Mixed Member Proportional during the Ontario 2007 election, the reactions I got from most Liberals were largely hostile.     

That crushing 2007 defeat, along with various other voting reform defeats, convinced me Canadians, like Americans and Brits, simply don't embrace the values of fairness and equality as much as I hoped.  To the majority, stability and the ability of governments to act with autocratic control and decisive action seemed more important than ensuring parties with 10% of the vote get 10% of the seats. 

I've argued ad nauseam that the current voting system essentially ensures that 3 + 3 = 9, while 2 + 2 = 3.   Sometimes it even ensures that 4 + 4 = 7, while 3 + 4 = 10, when it hands victory to the popular vote loser.  It's broken!

People just shrug their shoulders and their eyes glaze over.  Canada seems pretty strong and stable with the current system, so let's just keep it, they say. 

You can't win such arguments with those who value power and stability more than justice.