Meet Reza Satchu, before you’re fired

Everyone arrives early for Reza Satchu’s Friday afternoon seminar. His students sit in assigned seats. No cell phones ring. When Satchu enters, there is instant silence. He launches straight into his lesson, singling out students for rapid-fire questions on this week’s Harvard Business School case study.

“The key to entrepreneurship is putting yourself in situations of discomfort,” he says. “If you’re comfortable, you need to move on. Look for maximum discomfort.”

The 30 undergraduates enrolled in Special Topics in Entrepreneurship are hand-picked from a pool of hundreds. After a term’s worth of guest speakers and case studies, they each hand in a business plan, and the top student wins a $5,000 scholarship endowed by Satchu.

If you’re in economics and looking for discomfort, you couldn’t do much better than this class. It’s been compared to “The Apprentice”–the Globe and Mail called Satchu “Toronto’s answer to Donald Trump,” and “the jerk millionaire professor.” The millionaire bit is indisputable. A Kenyan immigrant raised in Scarborough, Satchu graduated from McGill and went to work on Wall Street for several years before attending the Harvard Business School. After founding and selling several businesses (one for more than $1 billion), Satchu returned to Toronto to run his hedge fund Stellation Asset Management and give back to the community. He isn’t paid for his teaching: he sees it as charitable work.

For the most part, Satchu’s students are grateful—his retake rate is nearly 100 per cent, and many students call the class as the best course at U of T, a life-changing experience. But Satchu’s methods can be brutal.

“It’s very hostile,” says one student. “If you get your answer wrong he tells you very specifically, and earlier in the year it was much worse. He’d be like, ‘You were doing so well and then you gave this terrible answer, what were you thinking?’” Others complain that marks are too low for a course full of top students. A handful have dropped out.

“I’m not a touchy-feely guy,” admits Satchu, “but the only reason I do this is because I actually care about their success.”

“Success” is a word that comes up a lot in class. If you want to be successful, you need to start investing young. If you want to be successful, you need to be willing to take risks. A guest speaker on developing economies references Baron Nathan Rothschild: “The time to invest in countries is when blood is on the street, not when it’s been cleaned up.” After awhile, it all starts to sound a little ruthless, but Satchu insists that the course is not about making money.

“Success is about having a positive impact on your community. Success is about having freedom to do what you want to do,” he says. “Whatever you choose to do, you’re better off doing it well.”

Ultimately, this millionaire professor is looking to build a course that would have helped him as an undergraduate at McGill, where he says he coasted. He worries that Canadian universities still don’t prepare their students to compete with ambitious Americans.

“Kids from Harvard and Princeton and Yale are no smarter, but they have far bigger expectations than most Canadians coming out of undergrad,” he says. “I think knowing where the goal line is and pushing it out even further is half the battle.” If that battle involves asking one student whether he has “come up with any smart ideas” and then staring through an awkward silence, then so be it.

“Business environments are like this in the real world,” says one student. “No one is going to baby you, no one is going to tell you that your idea is good when it’s stupid. It’s such a weird experience, but ultimately it’s the only course that I’ve taken in the entire economics department that I’ve seen as truly useful.”

Savage love

There’s a scene two thirds of the way into Tamara Jenkins’ film The Savages that sums up why it’s so good. Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) are siblings entering middle age, neither achieving much success as playwrights or in their personal lives. When their abusive father is diagnosed with dementia, they have to work together to put him into a home.

Jon and Wendy walk in during a presentation for children of the demented at one of the prospective hospitals. As the presentation takes place at the front of the room, Jon and Wendy sneak in the back and, on the way to their seats, help themselves to a few cookies off the snack table.

“Excuse me,” says the presentation leader, in a voice that mixes annoyance, patronization, and phony cheerfulness. “We haven’t served the refreshments yet.” A withering silence follows, with fifty sets of eyes looking straight at Jon and Wendy. Dumbfounded, they tentatively place the cookies back on the table.

The Savages belongs loosely to the dysfunctional family subgenre, taking its place next to the best of Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. It’s a film about disappointed, isolated characters, with a strong air of melancholy, but it’s also one of the funniest movies of the year.

This is Tamara Jenkins’ second film, her first being 1999’s Slums of Beverly Hills. Why the long wait? The same old story: studios scared by a realistic plot, even with Hoffman and Linney, two actors of high regard but modest box office potential, attached. (“They’re superstars to me,” says Jenkins.)

The Savages has the feel of something at least partially autobiographical, but Jenkins hesitates to draw direct parallels to her life. “The story came together as a mosaic made out of all these little fragments of ideas, some of them from my own experiences, some of them from things I observed around me,” she says. “Then, it really started to come together through the characters of Wendy and Jon, these two adult siblings who have such completely different ways of dealing with the world and yet are thrust into this completely primal experience in which they’ve got no choice but to rely on each other.”

The film is anchored by two great performances by the always-reliable Linney and Hoffman (who, incidentally, is having another good year with Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead). Also worth noting is the cinematography by Mott Hupfel, who makes a rich palette out of grays and browns, and, occasionally uses harsh, bright lighting in a way that effectively suggests forced cheer.

“I really love these characters,” Jenkins says. “They’re terribly human and incredibly flawed and completely screwed up and I adore them for it. They’re these two mismatched, damaged people who are both in a kind of arrested development. Even though they’re in middle age, they really aren’t finished people yet, and that makes them very interesting.”

McGill booted from CFS

In a surprising turn of events the Canadian Federation of Students’ Quebec chapter has decided to revoke the prospective membership of the Student Society of McGill University. The federation had originally granted the SSMU an extension on its prospective membership until February so that McGill students could have the opportunity to vote on CFS membership when CFS-Q resumes normal operations.

Since last summer the SSMU, the Concordia Students Union, and the Dawson Students Union have been locked in a crippling power struggle over control of CFS-Quebec, one that remains unresolved.

Max Silverman, VP external of SSMU, said the CFS-Q broke its legal obligation to the SSMU by failing to extend membership after the SSMU agreed to postpone the referendum.

Amy Cox, president of the McGill Post- Graduate Students’ Society, told the McGill Daily that SSMU “destroyed the CFS-Q in less than a year.” Cox further accused SSMU of trying to hijack CFS-Q’s financial resources.

CSA and DSU representatives, along with those from the University of Toronto Students’ Union and the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson, also spoke out against the SSMU at the meeting.

Silverman said that SSMU was active in fighting tuition defreeze, while its detractors “were doing absolutely nothing.” Denouncing the allegations as “bullshit and nothing more than lies coming from people with very petty political agendas,” Silverman also denied that SSMU has a pending legal case against CFS. “That’s another lie,” he said

Toronto’s scene turns manga in Scott Pilgrim

If you love Japanese manga, Super Mario, and indie hipster chicks rollerblading through subspace kicking epic ninja ass, then you’ll love Bryan Lee O’Malley’s unique graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim which is set against Toronto’s indie rock scene.

Decked out in Kensington Market thrift-store swag, Scott Pilgrim is a dorky but lovable character. He’s 23, lives in a basement, and plays bass guitar in a largely unsuccessful garage rock band called Sex Bob-Omb. Ever since having his heart shattered by his college girlfriend—the enticing and egomaniacal rockstar Envy Adams— Scott’s life has been pretty empty. He remains destroyed, disillusioned, and lost until a mysterious delivery girl from New York named Ramona enters the picture (well, enters his subconscious mind while delivering a package in subspace—it’s complicated).

Scott finds Ramona’s peculiar life compelling and soon falls head over heels in love. However, in classic anime style, he finds out that he has to defeat her seven evil exes before he can officially date her. Scott accepts this challenge, and spends each volume of the series fighting off one of these jealous exes, taking the reader on an eerily familiar tour of Toronto’s sleazy hipster haunts along the way.

While unfortunately lacking the electric presence of Envy Adams, Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together is probably the most interesting and graphically elaborate novel in the series. O’Malley’s rendering of setting and costume is remarkably detailed, and he even includes an eight-page colour spread at the beginning of the volume. To compliment the rich new illustrations, the narrative picks up speed and we find Scott gaining experience points like mad as he battles Ramona’s malicious ex-girlfriend, starts recording with Sex Bob-Omb, and finally gets a job washing dishes at the Fresh Avocado.

Of course, Scott’s biggest problem is his ever-complicated love life. Just when things start to get rocky with his ninja girlfriend, Scott’s high school sweetheart comes careening back into his life to tempt him with her sexy little miniskirts. Will Scott stay true to Ramona despite their relationship problems? Will he give in to Lisa’s girlish charms? But most importantly…will he level up?

Get down to The Beguiling and pick up a copy of O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together before they’re all gone.

Hypnosis hype

While some people drink coffee, study in groups or pull marathon all-nighters to write essays and prep for exams, one local doctor is seeing more patients come to her to fix their study habit struggles. The twist? She’s a hypnotist.

Pushing all the myths aside, the practice of hypnotism is currently being used to help students overcome various poor and debilitating study habits. While many students do find help through the traditional means of academic counseling and time management seminars, there are cases where the reasons for procrastination, stress and anxiety are found to lie deeper within the brain.

A clinical hypnotherapist and one of the director of the Ontario Hypnosis Center, Dr. Georgina Cannon has seen numerous cases in which students and adults struggled to determine the cause of their lack of success, despite many efforts at correcting their behaviour. As a result of her years of experience in the field, she has amassed a lot of information behind many of the underlying reasons for poor study habits. Cannon says that for some students, procrastination is actually the result of a fear of failure.

“People who are perfectionists often procrastinate,” she explains. “They’re frightened to do it until the last minute.” Cannon says that many students perform this behavior so that they can reason their resulting grade was due to working last minute, not because of a lack of intelligence. She says the cause for such behaviour is the result of students having a lot of fear about “not being perfect and not being good enough” so that often they’re too frightened to even start working.

While a person may not be aware of the exact reasons for unconsciously “shooting themselves in the foot,” Dr. Cannon says that hypnosis sessions with patients often reveal childhood as the cause for shaping such behaviours.

“Usually they come from a family where one of the parents is quite dominant and the child feels ‘less than,’ so it doesn’t matter what they do, [the student] can’t be good enough,” she said. “That piece of not being good enough, is pervasive. And so it doesn’t matter if I get 99% the answer will be what’s wrong with a 100%.”

Cannon is quick to explain that this kind of attitude doesn’t mean that a person’s parents are right, or that they don’t love their child, it’s that they simply don’t know how else to behave. Cannon explains that parents are often so anxious and keen for their children to have the very best so much so “that they want you to be perfect.” Cannon points out that such a situation points is “of course, impossible” for someone to achieve.

As a result of the many patients Cannon has dealt with, she has noticed some clear patterns in the cases among male and female students. Guys, she says, usually attend hypnosis sessions for problems in anger management and study habits. In contrast, women usually go to her for emotional issues, problems regarding self-esteem and presentation skills.

Cannon reasons this distinction in problems is a result of the extra challenges women have to face: “I think women have grown up knowing they have to work hard just to stand still,” she said. “I think it’s just a fact of life that you have to work harder as a woman to achieve something than the guys do.”

While many of her patients have provided insight and information on the current concerns of students, it seems that public perception still holds to many false ideas about the practice of hypnotism. When asked about some of the more popular student misconceptions, Cannon is quick to denounce the popular hypnotist events at universities and colleges. She says that very often those shows perpetuate the common myth of hypnotists being able to control people’s minds, when the reality is quite different.

“Nobody will tell you anything against their will,” she explains. “You can’t take over someone’s mind, ever.”

It is this ability for a person to remain in control that sometimes limits the outcome of a hypnosis session. In fact, Dr. Cannon says that a person has such control during a state of hypnosis that they retain the ability to keep secrets and speak lies.

Recalling an example where a boyfriend called to ask if he could have his girlfriend be put under hypnosis to see if she was sheating on him, Cannon explained, “Hypnosis is not a truth drug.”

Furthermore, she says this to all those who still wonder about hypnosis as a possible means to control others: “If could take over people’s minds I’d have Johnny Depp living with me,” she said, laughing. “You can’t do it.”

For all those still sweating over the inability to use hypnosis to convince your professors for extensions on essays or easier questions on your finals, here’s a final thought from Dr. Cannon on looking at the larger picture: “This is only a speck of time in the scheme of your life. Swallow hard, bite the bullet, do it and it will be over.”

What’s hip for the holidays

This time of the year can do bad things to really good people. I’ve seen kids cooped up in Robarts for so many nights they weren’t even sure how to get home, and there were others who didn’t even want to go home, somehow they’d been convinced by some form of Stockholm Syndrome that the concrete beast had become their dark lord and saviour.

Luckily, we’ll all soon have some time off to regain our sanity. For those of you who are heading home to a small town for the holidays… I can’t help you. Maybe check out a bush party or something. You’ll just have to cozy up to the fire and listen to your wacky uncle tell you about the time he dropped acid on the way to Monterey Pop, because that’s about as close as you’ll be getting to any kind of culture. For the lucky ones who get to stay, here’s a short selection of essential holiday entertainment.

The Too-Explicit Injustice of Kind Population! (Whippersnapper Gallery, December 7th, 7 p.m. on display until December 21st)

Toronto’s most prominent photo bloggers show their stuff at the student-run Whippersnapper Gallery. Featured on the College Street location walls will be the GTA centric Rannie Turnigan of PhotoJunkie, internationally known Sam Javanrouh of Daily Dose of Imagery, pedesterian-photographer Adam Krawesky of Inconduit, and campus art stars Istoica who have captured many of U of T hottie on their daily website.

Trampoline Hall (December 10 at Sneaky Dee’s)

The popularity of this monthly lecture series on totally random subjects has been spiraling as of late hosted by a charmingly anxious Mischa Glouberman and featuring the best and brightest of Toronto’s cultural scenes. As an added bonus, attending Trampoline Hall might mean the rare chance to hobnob with Varsity editors! Quite the thrill!

Joel Plaskett Emergency (December 10-15 at the Horseshoe Tavern)

Canada’s severely underrated rock hero begins an incredible six-night stand at the Horseshoe Tavern, in which he will play each of his five solo records (one per night) in their entirety, followed by a mix of everything on the Saturday. For those of us who have been rabid Plaskett fans for years, it will be a chance to hear tunes that are rarely played live, like “Non-Believer,” or the spectacular “Clueless Wonder.”

Cavalcade of Lights (Saturday nights at Nathan Phillips Square)

Join in a Torontonian holiday tradition by ice skating at Nathan Phillips Square to a soundtrack of live performances by mediocre Canadian talent. It makes me think back to the performances of years gone by, and triumphant sets by such legends as B44 and Staggered Crossing. I’m scarred to this day.

Handsome Furs (December 20 at Lee’s Palace)

This Montreal duo cap off what has been an incredible year with a headlining set at Lee’s. It might be your last chance to catch them for a while too, because Dan Boeckner will no doubt soon turn his attention back onto his main gig, Wolf Parade, who are due for a much-anticipated second album in April.

New Year’s Eve

Don’t be afraid if you’re lacking plans to ring in 2008, because there are awesome events planned just about everywhere. By Divine Right headlines an incredible bill at the Tranzac, and the Sadies play the Horseshoe. If the dance floor is your game, hit up Sneaky Dee’s for Shit La Merde featuring excellent electro in the form of Dougie Boom, Inflagranti (NYC), and Supercycle (Vancouver). To impress a date, the Mod Club is offering champagne at midnight, which is far classier than the cocktail of creeps you’re likely to find at the Dance Cave.

‘Tis the season to spend money

The holidays are approaching. Registers are ringing, twenty dollar bills are fluttering out of wallets like snowflakes. The Season of Spending is upon us yet again. Big deal.

It seems to me that every year, November rolls around and the Christmas decorations are brought out for another holiday season, people immediately launch into the same predictable annual gripes about the materialism and consumerism that seem to engulf us every winter.

The truth is, there’s little point in humbugging over the commercialization of Christmas these days. By now, we are all aware that corporations start the holiday season way too early and milk it for all it’s worth. Christmas decorations go up in stores before the Halloween candy gets discounted, and shoppers start on their Christmas lists before autumn turns to winter.

The corporate hype around “the holiday season” is less menacing than the ways marketing constantly pervades our lives the whole year round. At least during Christmas everything is out in the open. People buy gifts for one another in celebration of the birth of Jesus, and competition for your dollar, while still crass, at least blatantly obvious.

In a society where we introduce Santa Claus to children practically the moment they emerge from the womb, encouraging toddlers to write long wish lists to Santa and his helpers before they can properly hold a pen, how can we realistically expect people to restrain their holiday spending? No spending means no gifts, and despite what Dr. Seuss would have you believe, no gifts means no Christmas.

But what’s really frightening is what goes on the rest of the year, when retailers’ agendas are not so obvious. Sure, every business’s goal is to make money, but the ways in which we are duped out of our money on a regular basis is truly frightening evidence of the power of marketing.

We are all familiar with MasterCard’s infamous TV ad campaign. It uses a phrase traditionally used to deplore materialism and spending—“Money can’t buy you everything” —and cleverly appropriates for their profit-driven agenda: “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterCard.”

Each commercial typically features a “priceless” moment at the end, which contrasts with all the other expenses that appear at the bottom of the screen throughout the commercial. The company’s message seems to be “Money can’t buy happiness…but actually yes it can. So get a MasterCard.” This insinuation is despicable, and is a prime example of how businesses have no problem banking on human emotions for their own gain.

Anyone who bemoans the orgy of buying around Christmastime must be forgetting all of the other unnecessary spending we do on a regular basis, a lot of it on ultimately useless things.

Starbucks has cleverly convinced us that a coffee is worth $5 and a 20-minute line-up. How many of us raced to get the new touch-screen iPod when it came out, because I mean, come on—it has a touch screen!

We are all constant targets of some marketing campaign or advertising strategy, not just at during the holiday season. It’s simply inescapable in the world we live in. But too often, we fall victim to these machinations when we really don’t have to. Instead of launching into the same old complaint about commercialization and materialism of the holiday season, we should instead open our eyes to the hundreds of ways we are lured out of our money on a regular basis, and resist them.

Convoluted Youth is no masterpiece

You’re going to hear some wildly mixed reactions to Youth Without Youth, Francis Ford Coppola’s first film in 10 years. When it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September, it received poor reviews (“Youth Without Youth will translate to theatres without audiences,” said Variety), and I’m sad to report that at the press screening I attended, several of the critics giggled repeatedly at inappropriate moments. But while this movie likely won’t find box office success, and its Oscar-season release seems like wishful thinking, it feels like the kind of movie that will find a rabid cult of defenders.

It would be nice to say that Coppola, who hasn’t made a great film since Apocalypse Now, has hit one out of the park with his return to directing. I don’t think he did, but certainly this challenging project is worthier of Coppola’s talents than Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jack, or The Rainmaker.

Based on a novella by Mircea Eliad, Youth Without Youth begins in 1939 when Dominic Matei (Tim Roth), a 70-year-old professor who has never finished writing his time-consuming book about linguistics and has never found love, is struck by lightning. Miraculously, this doesn’t kill him but revitalizes him, restoring his youthful looks and giving him superhuman abilities. Dominic soon attracts the attention of the Nazis, and falls in love but, of course, complications abound.

The plot isn’t quite as simple as that—Dominic’s active fantasy world comes into play, with inner dialogues and erotic fantasies woven into the story in a way that blurs the line between where his mind ends and the world begins. The film also switches back and forth between genres— or genre stereotypes, at least—with alarming abruptness. There are times when Youth has the lovesick melancholia and jumbled-timeline structure of a Wong Kar-wai film, times when it becomes an all-out melodrama, and times when it mimics Old Hollywood spy thrillers and film noir capers (a giveaway comes when Dominic points out a Maltese falcon on his balcony).

This is apparently a very personal film for Coppola, who largely self-financed the movie and tinkered with it in the editing room for nearly two years. Some reviews have suggested that Dominic is partly a stand-in. Like Dominic, Coppola has laboured fruitlessly on an ambitious project—spending the last decade trying and failing to mount a film called Megalopolis. Would it be unkind to also suggest that perhaps Coppola identifies with the elderly Dominic because he, too, is generally considered to be past his prime?

My rational mind says that the film doesn’t work. While its attempt to mix genres into the cinematic equivalent of Dominic’s psyche makes it an interesting experiment, but it is an emotionally distant movie. But Coppola has proven himself to be a filmmaker who knows what he’s doing, and I’m positively intrigued by this film’s strange internal logic.

I wonder if this movie will improve on repeated viewings, when the convoluted plots’ subtleties become clearer and doesn’t have to contend with the high expectations placed on it at initial viewing. Perhaps Youth could be the kind of film that develops admirers who create their own theories about the symbolism, the autobiographical elements, and the tenuous line between fantasy and reality. Otherwise its a movie so personal that the only audience member who completely understands it is Francis Ford Coppola.

Certainly there are flaws. Whether the muddled plot and sudden shifts in tone are fatal flaws depends on your perspective, I suppose, but what to make of the stiff, awkward performances of the majority of the supporting cast? Even Tim Roth and Bruno Ganz, the two acknowledged masters in the cast, have trouble with their stilted dialogue (although Roth generally acquits himself admirably in a challenging role). And there are times when the sillier aspects of the story threaten to enter high camp territory (I’m thinking of the Nazi scenes in particular).

I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from seeing Youth Without Youth. It looks beautiful and many individual scenes have flashes of greatness. The story about a failed man given a second chance has some emotional resonance, and the oddly structured narrative is interesting to follow. Sometimes Youth Without Youth stimulated me, and sometimes it tried my patience. I’m giving it a two-and-a-half star rating, but I don’t feel very confident about that grade. This is a movie that demands repeated viewings, and I have only seen it once.