Coach House makes it a home

The old, worn-down Coach House, with creaking wooden stairs and battered doors, has a homey feel to it that evokes the care and concern the press has for its writers. Since Stan Bevington founded the press in 1965, he has upheld the importance of interacting with authors to produce quality books.

This summer, Coach House Press finally purchased its property—two coach houses that contain the operation’s editorial and printing offices, as well as a small warehouse —at 80 bpNichol Lane, just behind Innis College. The aging buildings will require plenty of repairs, but for Bevington, tearing down Coach House and rebuilding is not an option. With its rich history of quality printing and publishing, the houses represent everything that makes the Coach House Press a huge asset to the community.

Part of what renders Coach House unique is their use of high-quality Heidelberg printing machines to produce their work.

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“Our industry is going through many technological changes,” mentions Bevington, “and it is really a challenge for us not to get carried away with the latest and greatest. We use really standard machines in a really standard way rather than buying new things all of the time. Our presses don’t necessarily go as fast as the new ones, but that doesn’t matter.” Coach House Press Editor Alana Wilcox is quick to add that the Heidelberg presses do “just as good, if not a better job, than the current presses.”

This is not to say, though, that Coach House is averse to modern technology: the press had been using the Internet as a means of promoting, advertising, and selling the books for ages.

“We got started early on the Internet,” remarks Wilcox. “Our printing company had a spin-off company that wrote the rules…you can listen to our books online and you have always been able to, but they’re still selling.”

The website is continually updated with info on newly printed books, as well as book launches and other events hosted by the press. Many of these events feature authors reading from their books.

“At the fall launch, you get a chance to see the author so that you can attach a personality and a voice to the writing, and we think that is really important,” says Bevington. Another way that the press integrates authors with readers is the tours that the press gives to students of all ages: “[We give] tours endlessly; students go away with the touch and feel and smell of books…and they remember it easily,” says Bevington.

“It’s interesting, especially when we do tours for high school students or even grade school kids. They’ve never connected the book to the process of producing it, so they come in and watch the process from the computer files, to the paper being folded and glued together into a book. They’re just wide-eyed…really, it’s quite remarkable, it’s nice to see,” adds Wilcox.

Coach House Press also gives tours to some U of T classes. “It’s very helpful for the university students to see real production as opposed to historical study,” notes Bevington. “It gives them a sense of why the paper is folded the way it is.” “[This is a] continually social space,” adds Wilcox. “People are always dropping by. You’d be surprised who you might find here one day sitting at the coffee table.”

The press also enjoys showing off its efficiency to students: the Heidelberg machinery is jammed into just three rooms, and in the last one, there are three individuals working at cutting and gluing together books. The negatives for individual books are stacked on shelves in between pieces of cardboard, with labels indicating the titles for future reprinting. “Probably our most famous play book, The Farm Show, has been continuously in print since 1972 [or] ’73,” says Bevington, “so we keep our printing plates and negatives ready for making re-prints.”

Some books published by the press are reprinted countless times, but Bevington states that the press’s goal is to “try to find authors that are not published by anyone else.” Every year, Wilcox receives approximately 1,000 new books ranging from poetry, fiction, drama and non-fiction about the city of Toronto—the only genres that Coach House Press publishes—and chooses the 15 best that the press will go on to print.

Coach House helped launch the careers of such acclaimed authors as Michael Ondaatje and Anne Michaels, and every year it continues to choose unique and interesting writing by up-and-coming authors. In explaining the type of literature they seek, Wilcox mentions that they “try to do stuff that’s a little more unconventional, not straightforward historical fiction or something. We try to do stuff that’s a little more adventurous, experimental, avant-garde.”

“We look for novels that creatively use language to make a story that we would have never expected,” adds Bevington, “whereas many publishers accept the narrative as the way to do a novel.”

In addition to reprints and new literature, Coach House Press takes on special projects, such as publishing the Hart House Review and many of U of T’s literary journals. Furthermore, the press creates catalogues for the Fisher Rare Book library. “We do some beautiful work for the Fisher Rare Book Library,” notes Bevington. “They choose us because they want really prestigious work. We get to look at the finest books in the library and [make] catalogues of entire collections. Right now we’re doing a [catalogue] about Darwin—all of the books that Darwin ever published are going to be on display in the fall—and we’re going to do a catalogue that has an overview of all of [them].”

Although the press has significant projects to tend to, it is now fully responsible for an even bigger one: the upkeep of the actual coach houses. For 40 years, Coach House Press had a cooperative agreement with Campus Co-operative Residence Inc., which kept their rent low and rendered purchasing their building unnecessary. Changes occurred within Campus Co-op that left the organization saddled with debt, and at one point “the plan was for us to move so that they could make houses on the laneway,” says Bevington.

“But we wanted to stay. Many of our friends thought that we had published good books on Canadian literature and that we’re an asset to the community, so we encouraged the powers that be to let us stay.”

“Our industry is going through many technological changes and it is really a challenge for us not to get carried away with the latest and greatest.

FF14 await full disclosure

After being sent back twice to produce further evidence, the prosecution will present their case in court once again today. However Mike Leitold, lawyer for 12 of the 14 accused, is still waiting for full disclosure.

The 14 were arrested after a March 20 sit-in protest at Simcoe Hall, under charges of mischief and forceful confinement of administrators who were in the building at the time.

Leitold said that reports of eight U of T campus police officers were missing from the disclosure. The case will proceed into conference between the attorneys only after the court is satisfied with evidence brought forward.

Meanwhile the accused will have to abide by varying bail conditions keeping them from organizing or protesting on campus, entering administrative buildings, and even being on campus, in the case of one of the accused. “This is how they are putting our lives on suspense,” said Oriel Varga, a member of the FF14 who recently graduated.

Stability First, Democracy Second

It only took a brief television address to deliver the news, but the lead-up to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s resignation was long and arduous. The process incited violence from the volatile region’s inhabitants and caused a stir of criticism from abroad. With dwindling support from his allies and a ruling coalition government pending, it was only a matter of time before an official resignation was called. During the live broadcast on Monday, August 18th, Musharraf took sole responsibility for recent turmoil in the region, claiming that he would rather resign than see his country crumble under the weight of an inevitable confrontation.

An ally of the United States since 9/11, Musharraf’s decision to resign will only strengthen Pakistani relations with the United States if stability in the region can be established. With an image tainted by battles with constitutional lawyers and judges, his exit was a victory for many Pakistani citizens. But how much of a success could it be, with violence now reaching a climax?

Due to the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party leading the coalition government, there is optimism that the People’s Party will be a contender in the upcoming election. The coalition government also reassured Washington and NATO that it is willing to match Musharraf’s security policy of combating militants, though negotiations with militants still remains a heated policy issue. Despite progress towards suppressing militant groups, there is still pessimism over Pakistan’s internal political dynamic. The region’s instability raises the question of whether a dictatorship is the only stable form of government available in the immediate future. Factional violence has been ample before and after the impeachment scares surfaced.

A military dictator who had strong ties with the United States, Musharraf provokes mixed feelings. Even though Americans like to deny it, dictators bring a certain measure of stability in alliance systems. It is difficult to determine whether the United States truly feels comfortable being the captain of democracy while it allies itself with dictators. However, no compliances can be achieved if Pakistan falls into civil war. The region is as unstable as ever, and touting democracy is hardly going to resolve internal issues.

Pakistan must focus on its domestic issues, such as combating violent militants, before it can tackle foreign policy. Sure, democracy is a possibility—but will it be undermined by civil war and an eventual coup? These are the challenges that Pakistan must face on its own, apart from foreign campaigning.

International Law on Trial

On July 18th, Radovan Karadzic was arrested on charges of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), an organization of the United Nations. Acting as the President of Republik Srpska during the Bosnian War, Karadzic ordered the mass execution of over 8,000 civilians in Srebrenica. After years of denial, the bodies of elderly men and children have been found among the mass graves that now mark the Srebrenica Massacre. Carried out by a small military force that possessed neither the capability nor the resources to fight at the level of their adversaries—the Bosnian military, using then UN-protected Srebrenica to launch attacks on its army—this act of barbarism is a testament to the brutality that a desperate disadvantage can elicit. The coming months will see Radovan Karadzic answer for his savage decision and the blood that was spilled onto the soils of Srebrenica at his request. Undoubtedly, Karadzic deserves to be arrested. But is it fair? Moreover, is it just?

The questionable justice of Karadzic’s arrest and subsequent trial begins with the matter of their timing. In Russia, the reign of Vladimir Putin has been marked by the consolidation of power through control of European oil supplies. More recently, Putin has set his sights on acquiring Serbia’s national oil. For Serbia, protecting this resource meant seeking support from the West in the form of membership in the European Union. With a pro-Western government recently elected to Belgrade by the slightest of margins, EU membership is well within Serbia’s reach. But as a condition of acceptance, the EU required Serbia to hand over Karadzic. It seems that Karadzic’s whereabouts were never much of a secret among Serbian leadership.

A week after his arrest, Karadzic is on trial before the Hague—representing himself. He is no longer the bearded man that posed as a new-age healer to avoid arrest. Shaven and groomed, Karadzic looks far more like the leader of Republic Srpska, dressed to play his new role in the court of the United Nations. He tells the court of a deal made between himself and a prominent American ambassador, Richard Holbrooke, in which Karadzic agreed to step down from presidency in exchange for immunity against such prosecution. The court ignores these statements and the details receive little coverage in the day’s news. After all, this is not meant to be a fair trial.

For Serbia, joining the EU means more than fitting in economically—it implies an adjustment of their national culture and mindset to suit the interests of the West. This trial indicates that Serbia is incapable of trying its own war criminals. Instead, the West must guide Serbia towards the EU’s more enlightened morality. With such cultural and political dominance in place, Europe and the West hope to make Serbia firmly impenetrable to Russian influence—economic or otherwise. This matter of EU membership has not gone unnoticed in Serbia. Days after Karadzic’s arrest, thousands of Serbians rallied on the streets of Belgrade to show their support. While the Serbian economy may be oriented towards a coalition with the West, Serbian culture remains firmly oriented towards conservative Russian influences. The West must be careful not to confuse a desire for economic alliance with submission to cultural dominance.

Unlike the government of Boris Tadic, the citizens of Serbia have a limited tolerance for international influences, regardless of economic need. Karadzic’s own actions reflect the disastrous chaos and brutality that can emerge when disadvantaged and desperate groups fight for what they believe to be rightfully theirs. In the present trial, doing what is right seems a simple and trivial matter, but doing the right thing in a way that is both fair and just to Serbian citizens will prove difficult. The EU’s decesion will do a great deal to determine whether Serbia enters the EU as an equal partner or an enemy in waiting.

We’re Still Scared of Russia

“What exactly is going on in Georgia, anyway?” I overheard a young woman ask her friend the other day, as they wheeled vintage cruisers along Bloor Street. “I dunno, like bombings or something,” she responded. They continued on their way.

I cringed a little, embarrassed for their public display of ignorance. “Bombings?” Please. But then, for no particular reason, I asked myself the same question: What exactly is going on in Georgia?

Ever since the August 8th invasion of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia by Russian forces, the ensuing conflict has been met with a combination of bewilderment, fascination, and frustration from the West. Despite a flurry of media coverage, interpretations of the events remain vague. What does this conflict mean and why did it happen now?

The tumultuous relationship between Russia and Georgia is hardly a new development. Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has been a vocal supporter of the West, petitioning for NATO inclusion and enthusiastically supporting the Iraq war. Western infringement aside, the ethno-political tensions between ethnic Georgians and separatist majorities in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have threatened the region’s political stability for years.

From a purely pragmatic standpoint, this invasion could hardly have been better timed. With the simultaneous opening of the Olympic games in Beijing and a lame-duck U.S. president squeaking out the final days of his term, one could certainly point to a window of opportunity for the Russian forces. Yet the root cause of the conflict remains a matter of debate: is this a battle for oil? Territory? Ideals? Even the most diligent probing finds no definitive answers.

Thus far, the responses of the media and political figures alike have been muddled by a history of uncertainties. It’s hard to examine Russia’s actions without rekindling old fears and retreating to a familiar sense of apprehension towards an unpredictable and unapproachable Kremlin.

Despite the expansion of NATO to include former soviet states, Western response continues to address Russia with the same “us vs. them” rhetoric that typified the Cold War. Even Presidential candidate Barack Obama, lauded for his resistance of stodgy Washington thinking, took the opportunity in his nomination acceptance speech to list “nuclear proliferation” alongside “Russian aggression” as 21st century threats against which Western allies must stand guard.

Likewise, Russia has shown considerable discontent toward the encroachment of NATO upon its borders. There is no doubt that NATO, a Western alliance implicitly pitted against an old Russian “enemy,” poses an ideological and symbolic threat.

Certainly, this conflict can be interpreted as a battle of figureheads, a game of diplomatic one-upmanship and a call from Russia to stop being taken for granted. Perhaps the recent newspapers heralding a “new Cold War” are not merely spouting histrionics. The only certainties, right now, are the numbers: hundreds of casualties, and over a hundred thousand displaced persons.

Mile-High Unity

You’ve never seen anything like it: 85,000 spectators waving American flags and chanting “Yes We Can,” in tears after each of Senator Barack Obama’s promises of change and hope. Reminiscent of another important occasion in American history, Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver last Thursday paralleled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It was thus appropriate that Obama accepted his party’s nomination on the anniversary of King’s legendary march. As a former Senator Hillary Clinton supporter, “change” and “hope” once sounded like empty rhetoric devised in the Chicago war room to lure in gullible new voters. But after spending a week in Denver, I finally understand the power of these words.

Obama’s speech at Invesco Field was historic on every level. Record numbers of supporters both attended the event and watched Obama on their television sets at home. From one of the best seats in the house, I experienced the energy firsthand. I watched Daily Show correspondent John Oliver scurry among the delegates on the floor, and waved to Governor Howard Dean and Governor Bill Richardson as they peeked out from their VIP seating. I stood next to those crying with joy that America had made it this far.

The key to attending a national convention is to tune out the political pundits. When you’re lucky enough to attend one of the most important events in history, you have to block out the spin and allow yourself to experience the moment. The only news I watched last week was C-SPAN, to catch up on any missed speeches.

Returning to the real world, my friends and family who saw CNN’s coverage observed, “Well, they say Al Gore’s speech on Thursday was a little rushed, and I agree.” Perhaps I still haven’t come down from my Denver high, but I could not disagree more. Similarly, television journalists continue to debate whether the Clintons did enough to prove their support for Obama during the convention.

In my observation, Denver was a divided city until Bill Clinton spoke. Previously, voters fit into one of three categories: Obama supporters who thought Clinton was bitter, Clinton supporters who wanted to see her hold onto her delegates and possibly steal the election, and Clinton supporters who thought Obama fans were attacking their candidate, despite her efforts to mend the great democratic divide. Strolling the halls of the Convention Center, I heard the frustrations of them all. Some supporters were upset that the Clintons received prime-time coverage for two nights of the convention, and that the extreme Clinton supporters who were protesting Obama’s nomination by voting for Senator John McCain were receiving any coverage at all.

Obama’s nomination, however, is a victory in itself. He faced numerous obstacles throughout the hard-fought primary season, and so it’s easy to understand why his supporters feel cheated that their biggest threat was a member of his own party. However, as a Clinton supporter, I know that much of the tension between Obama and Clinton was created by Obama’s supporters. Every time Obama’s pundits lash out, deeming Clinton “bitter” and claiming that “no one will ever vote for her”—even though she won the hearts of 18 million voters and nearly the nomination—her supporters are backed into a corner. They feel under-appreciated, clinging to their candidate even more. If Obama’s fans could treat Clinton with respect, her followers would be more eager to support his campaign. Even after Senator Clinton’s speech on Tuesday, Obama supporters said that while they thought it was the best speech she had ever given, they still doubted her sincerity.

Bill Clinton’s speech changed everything, reminding the world of why he’s considered one of the best orators of our time. He inspired Obama and Clinton supporters to shake hands and pursue the Democratic goal of electing Obama as the 44th president of the United States. While some may criticize Obama for not being able to unite the Party, in Denver, President Clinton was the only person who could have done so. As his wife’s greatest defender and one of most admired Democrats, President Clinton needed to assure America that he believed in Obama.

The message of the convention was unity: a united party and a united America. Though pundits may continue to rock the boat to make headlines, the events in Denver united the Democratic Party. When McCain released his attack commercial highlighting comments made by Senators Joe Biden and Clinton against Obama, Democrats finally realized that they were falling into the hands of the Republicans. Obama sealed the convention by inspiring a new and stronger Democratic Party with the support of the Clintons. Senator Clinton spoke on the anniversary of women’s suffrage, and Obama spoke on the anniversary of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. It seems as though it was almost meant to be.

TIFF takes off

ADORATION – Atom Egoyan

Following the glossy Where the Truth Lies, Adoration is a throwback to the intimacy of Egoyan’s earlier, more complex work. Simon (Devon Bostick) is a half-Lebanese, half-Anglo high school student whose social circle meets almost nightly in an Internet chat room. While translating a story for his French class, he radically re-writes it on a whim, turning it into an autobiography about his fictional terrorist father. Simon’s fascinated teacher (Arsinee Khanjian), asks him to expand it for a drama presentation, but does not anticipate that he will post it on the Internet as truth. Simon’s parents, as seen in flashback, are cartoonishly pure, depicted in stilted and clumsy dialogue. Egoyan is on target in his depiction of the Internet as a breeding ground for fear and hatred, raising troubling questions about the lingering racism that that has been given a new lease after 9/11. Adoration may be flawed, but like all of Egoyan’s work, it’s both earnest and intriguing.

Rating: VVVv


Ed Harris

In the rare case that a new Western is made, it’s usually either revisionist or ironic. It is rather surprising, to see Appaloosa — a Western that is unapologetically old-fashioned. Ed Harris plays a no-nonsense sheriff with Viggo Mortensen as his loyal deputy. The pair are faced with the daunting challenge of cleaning up the small, corrupt town of Appaloosa, while vanquishing the murderous but well-connected Jeremy Irons. Meanwhile, Harris falls in love with an attractive widow (Renee Zellweger), but her affections are less than constant. Harris and Mortensen are ideal actors for this material — they’re stoic, manly, and appear to have been left out in the sun too long. Zellweger, so frequently miscast, has an ideal role. Appaloosa revels in its spare, dusty atmosphere, from the period costumes to a musical score that’s straight out of a John Wayne film.


BLINDNESS – Fernando Meirelles

When Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness opened the Cannes film festival last May, it went over like a lead balloon. It’s not hard to see why: based on the novel by José Saramago with a screenplay by Don McKellar (who also contributes one of his surlier performances), Blindness is a nightmarish work about human degradation and the downfall of civilization, a cross between Children of Men and Salo. The film depicts in eerily plausible terms what would happen if an unexplainable and incurable pandemic of blindness swept the United States. As an exploration of the implications of an end-of-world scenario, with a cast that includes Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, and Gael Garcia Bernal, Blindness is powerful and uncompromising, though it may not be something you’d want to endure.


BURN AFTER READING – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Following the success of No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers return with another film about a stolen plot device. A fitness guru (Brad Pitt) finds a disc containing the memoirs of an ex-CIA agent (John Malkovich) said to contain explosive revelations. Pitt and co-worker Frances McDormand plan to blackmail Malkovich, but their startling incompetence leads to assorted shenanigans. Aside from Tilda Swinton and Richard Jenkins, the actors approach this material with ironic detachment (expect much mugging). Alas, the Coens take the same alienating approach. While they seem to think that the idea of over-their-head half-wits is intrinsically hilarious, there are few guffaws. This is the Coen’s weakest film to date.


EDISON & LEO – Neil Burns

The villain of Neil Burns’ stop motion fantasy is an inventor named George T. Edison. Credited with inventing the light bulb and the motion picture camera, the film suggests some similarities with a certain Thomas A. Edison, and the fact that he has a son named Faraday confuses matters even more. Yet two questions persist during this film: who was it made for, and to whom could it possibly appeal? Edison & Leo begins like a movie for kids, with a tone that eventually darkens enough to include nasty violence and crude sex jokes. Despite the adult content, the characters embody the same two-dimensional archetypes laid down in the Gospel According to Disney, with voice actors (including Powers Boothe and Carly Pope) that recite their dialogue in patronizing tones they might use if reading a storybook aloud to a particularly slow-witted child. While the stop motion animation is fun for a few minutes, the characters are given so many annoying mannerisms (aggressive hand-gesturing, eyebrow-raising, etc.) that it grows tiresome.

Rating: Vv

EXAMINED LIFE – Astra Taylor

In this National Film Board co-production, Cornell West, Michael Hardt, Slavoj Zizek, Pete Singer, and other contemporary philosophers are asked to explain how to live a meaningful life. It’s a surprisingly complicated question, as the film is a veritable orgy of philosophical theory. Each of the interviewees wrestle with the near-impossible task of viewing human nature and ethics objectively. A sample of the issues brought up: can secular humanists believe in objective ethics? Is revolution possible in a first-world country? Why is it more satisfying to believe that catastrophic events have a higher meaning? Can humans ever attain absolute truth? These are the types of questions that college students debate at 4 A.M., fueled by caffeine or other, more illicit substances. To Examined Life’s credit, it possesses much of the same excited spirit of intellectual inquisitiveness.

Rating: VVVv


Chand (Bollywood star Preity Zinta), a young Indian woman, is sent to live in Canada as part of an arranged marriage. In the establishing scenes, all of the characters are dressed in traditional Indian clothing. Coupled with the fact that arranged marriage is anachronistic to the average western filmgoer, Heaven on Earth initially takes on the look and feel of a period piece. Yet the contrast is jarring when we see Chand applying make-up in a modern airplane bathroom, growing starker when her depressive husband begins beating her with little provocation. With films like Water, director Deepa Mehta has often contrasted the role of the modern Indian women with their function in the traditional family unit. Though Heaven on Earth heads for supernatural territory, Mehta is most effective with the shocking and uncomfortably realistic scenes of domestic abuse.


IL DIVO – Paolo Sorrentino

Il Divo begins with an ‘Italian glossary,’ defining several key Italian political terms from the early 1990s. While I appreciate the attempt to keep the viewer well-oriented, I was thinking, “Wait, hang on…could you say all that again, a little slower?” Either way, Il Divo doesn’t slow down. As it covers the fall from grace of Christian Democrat leader Guilio Andreotti, seemingly dozens of true-life characters are introduced, corrupted, killed, elected, rejected, and prosecuted. Sorrentino’s aggressive directorial virtuosity recalls a Goodfellas and Casino-era Martin Scorsese, with long tracking shots, fast cutting, roving camerawork, and a general atmosphere of hyperactivity. While his style is coolly distancing rather than engrossing, I suspect Il Divo will improve upon repeated viewings, when the labyrinthine intricacy of the plot will hopefully become clearer.

Rating: VVV

LA FILLE DE MONACO – Anne Fontaine

In one of his Life in Hell comic strips, Matt Groening described what he believes to be cinema’s greatest paradox: “The French are funny, sex is funny, and comedies are funny, yet no French sex comedies are funny.” La Fille de Monaco does little to dispel this notion. Bertrand (Fabrice Luchini) is a top attorney whose current trial is high profile enough that he needs 24-hour protection from Christophe (Roschdy Zem), a no-nonsense bodyguard. Almost by accident, he strikes up a relationship with Audrey (Louise Bourgouin), a sexually adventurous femme fatale who provides his life with certain fringe benefits, but also adds to his neuroses. The fact that she once had a fling with Christophe adds extra tension. The film’s first half is a light and fizzy screwball comedy with shallow characterization: Bertrand is uptight and bumbling, Christophe is scowling and imposing, and Audrey is a two-dimensional vixen. In the second half, director Anne Fontaine veers into more dramatic territory, as Christophe’s conflicted feelings about Audrey become increasingly intense. But by establishing the characters as paper-thin, Fontaine hasn’t given us any reason to care about them in the conclusion.

Rating: VV


Ten years and $20 million in the making, Paul Gross’ Canadian war epic has lofty expectations to live up to. I suspect Gross will have a tough time with the critics, who will probably dismiss the film as corny and melodramatic. Gross stars as a shell-shocked WWI veteran haunted by memories of Vimy Ridge who falls in love with an Albertan nurse. She has problems of her own — her father died fighting on the German side, and her asthmatic younger brother is determined to fight in the war despite his 4F status. Gross goes overboard on the symbolism (at one point, he actually a carries a cross through a battlefield), and I doubt the road to Canadian box office success is paved by resurrecting the hoariest clichés from the American War Movie Playbook. Passchendaele does, however, climax with a humdinger of a battle scene that will undoubtedly become a staple for particularly dry grade 10 history classes.

Rating: VVv

RELIGULOUS – Larry Charles

One’s appreciation of Religulous depends on their appreciation of Bill Maher. This documentary follows him touring the holy lands, the Bible Belt, and a few odd religious offshoots (a gay correctional centre, a creationist history museum) as he makes the case that religious institutions are corrupt and hypocritical and that faith leads to bigotry, irrationality, and closed-mindedness. While Maher interviews many, he’s less interested in debate than forwarding his own hypothesis. Is there anything to learn, for example, from the long scene where Maher runs logical rings around a guy who plays Jesus at a theme park except that Maher is more quick-witted than the average theme park worker? I wish he showed more of the intelligent religious defenders and less dim radicals. Nevertheless, Maher is smart and witty, and even if his observations are old news, they’re still fascinating. Isn’t it a little disturbing that so many people take “the talking snake” literally? Isn’t the idea of living a good life only to get into heaven an immoral one? Isn’t it astounding when a fundamentalist senator smugly proclaims, “You don’t need to pass an IQ test to get into the Senate?” I would have preferred if Maher and Larry Charles tried to spark debate instead of just defending their foregone conclusion, but Religulous is an articulate, sometimes funny, and fairly substantial defense of atheism.


SUGAR – Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Instead of being lured to the high budget big leagues, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have followed up their acclaimed Half Nelson with another small-scale slice-of-life, which I found even more interesting than their breakthrough. Miguel ‘Sugar’ Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) is a dynamic Puerto Rican baseball player who is invited to the United States minor leagues. Unable to speak English and placed in a country that regards him patronizingly, he finds it difficult to adapt. Sugar is a convincing film about culture shock and self-confidence, and Boden and Fleck’s nonjudgmental treatment of the characters is admirable.


SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK – Charlie Kaufman

How to describe Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, a surreal pseudo-comedy about a self-loathing playwright (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who aims to stage a life-sized version of a small city as his next production? It’s a hall of mirrors. It’s not linear. It’s cumbersome. It’s dense. It’s funny and groan-worthy, pretentious and sublime. It’s cubist, mannerist, realist, abstract, non-representational, baroque, and rococo. It’s James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth, Harvey Pekar, and Dr. Seuss. It’s Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Woody Allen, David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini — both the Coens and the Farrelly Brothers. I found this film brilliant, tiresome, fraudulent, ridiculous, intelligent, weird, moving, emotional, sterile, self-satisfied, ambitious, innovative, calculated, spectacular, sad, gross, entertaining, narcissistic, delightful, overreaching, and fun. It made me feel enthralled, excited, depressed, lonely, intrigued, exhausted, exasperated, elated, and frustrated. And so obviously, I can’t wait to see it again.



The principal reason to see Waltz with Bashir is the extraordinary quality and originality of its animation. For his animated documentary about the first Lebanese war, Ari Folman has taken actual audio recordings of interviews with war veterans, animating both the interviews and flashbacks in a style that brings to mind Persepolis, Waking Life, and a paper puppet show. As much as I enjoyed looking at Waltz with Bashir, the animation doesn’t suit the material. As the interviewees describe their guilt over taking part in acts that were arguably genocidal, the whimsical animation places a filter of irony in front of their harrowing memories. Only in the final moments when Folman shows archival footage of the war’s aftermath does the film achieve the emotional resonance it requires.

Rating: VVv


During the long ordeal that was Zack and Miri Make a Porno, I reflected upon a brief moment in the ‘90s when Kevin Smith seemed to have the potential to be a truly interesting cinematic voice. These days, it’s more lame sex jokes from the man who brought you the bestiality scene in Clerks 2. Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are longtime platonic friends and roommates that have hit financial woes. To pay off their debt, they decide to direct and star in a porno, with the agreement that the on-screen copulating will be strictly business. Predictably, they find that having sex changes their dynamic. While Smith’s snickering attitude towards sex and pornography will be a riot to anyone who is still in grade seven, his racial humour is unpleasant and pointless. The cast (an eclectic bunch that includes Craig Robinson, Traci Lords, Justin Long, Jason Mewes, and Katie Morgan) is game, but Smith’s profane rat-a-tat dialogue, so fresh and original in Clerks and Chasing Amy, now sounds like a guy trying to cash in.

Rating: VV

Frosh it up!

“You can’t spell suck without UC!” Incoming freshmen delight in spirited cheers, chants and chimes during this year’s Frosh activities. Culminating September 5th, UTSU’s Orientation Day will feature a university-wide clubs showcase, campus parade, and free afternoon concert featuring Tokyo Police Club, Basia Bulat and Cadence Weapon. An after party will be held at the Hart House Great Hall. To all incoming students we say welcome—now don’t forget to wear flip flops in the shower.