With “Hail, Caesar!”, Coen brothers show they’re still rebel filmmakers

The Coen brothers’ recent film, “Hail, Caesar!” is a pure rollicking delight, their funniest and sweetest film in years.

A loving send-up of the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood in the late 40s and early 50s, it is a film that can be enjoyed by the whole family on so many different levels.

Those were the days when the studio system churned out biblical Ben Hur-type epics with a cast of thousands; song and dance musicals starring Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire; cheesy aquatic dance numbers with Esther Williams; singing cowboy flicks with Gene Autry; and snooty Joan Crawford/Loretta Young New York Upper East Side melodramas.

In “Hail, Caesar!” the Coens brilliantly recreate set pieces from all these genres, but with their signature off the wall, quirky sense of humour.

However, the film is much much more than a an exercise in nostalgia.

On a deeper level, it subtly tackles larger themes of religion, faith, duty, ethics, morality and the influence of art on life and life on art.

The Coens also slyly take a dig at liberal Hollywood icons like George Clooney (who is one of the actual stars of “Hail, Ceasar!”)

The simple plot centers on a day in the life of a film executive and fixer, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) of Capitol Pictures.

This fictional Capitol Pictures is the same studio that seduced an idealistic New York playwright, played by John Turturro, in the Coen brothers’ first Hollywood-centered flick, “Barton Fink.”

Part film noir, part horror flick, “Barton Fink” was influenced by Nathaniel West’s “Day of the Locust” and Polanski’s “Repulsion”, and exposed the Hollywood dream factory as a hellish destination where artistic and creative careers and dreams are shot down in flames, both literally and figuratively.

Fast forward to 2016. Many wonderful Coen films later, the film industry, for all its weirdness, deception and shallowness, has been kind to the Coen brothers, who have clearly mellowed. In “Hail, Caesar!” their satire is still biting and at times edgy, but also joyful and lots of fun.

Eddie Mannix is a devout Catholic, a family man and true believer in God, country and Hollywood. One of the movie’s best running jokes is that Mannix is constantly seeking absolution from his exasperated father confessor, for such venal sins as sneaking cigarettes and lying to his wife. But there is something greater at play.

On a a deeper level, Mannix is conflicted. He loves his work — which is essentially keeping the Hollywood dream factory running smoothly, churning out fluff and idealized illusions, while backstage, he’s dealing with all kinds of sleazy, corrupt and potentially soul-destroying shite.

The Coens take us behind the painted-on backdrops, fake cityscapes and the constant turmoil among the imperfect stars and extras. We see more sausage factory than dream factory.

From this chaos, dreams and memorable images are created. But Mannix can’t help asking himself, is this what his life is all about?

For example, we see Mannix breaking up a soft core photo shoot involving a seemingly virtuous starlet, and bribing police to keep her name out of the gossip mags.

Then he deals with a twice married, bitchy, pregnant Esther Williams type (Scarlett Johansson), by arranging the handoff of her baby to a fake foster parent, then the re-adoption of her own child by the Esther character. (This actually happened, by the way.)

All the while, Mannix is trying to avoid Thora and Thessaly Thatcher, the competitive twin sister gossip columnists ( channeling Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper), both played hysterically by Coen regular Tilda Swinton.

It appears Thora wants to expose how Capitol Pictures’s box office star and matinee idol, Baird Whitlock, (George Clooney) won his first role by doing the horizontal tango with his male director, precious and prissy Shakespearian-trained director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). (Shades of Rock Hudson.)

And Thessaly has heard that Whitlock, playing a Roman tribune in the time of Jesus Christ, is now missing in action from the massive set of the Ben Hur-like biblical epic movie-within-a-movie, also titled “Hail, Caesar!”

On top of everything else, the Coens involve Mannix in three great set pieces that in themselves are worth the price of admission.

One is Mannix leading a focus group of four different religious leaders reviewing the depiction of the deity in the studio’s biblical epic. This exchange is one of the funniest Coen scenes ever.

The other marvelously funny two scenes are a Gene Kelly-like sailor-themed tap dancing routine with a blazing homoerotic subtext, and an attempt to turn singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) into a black-tie matinee idol.

What the Ghomeshi scandal reveals about CBC’s leftist culture

So remember when the CBC spent months covering the Duffy trial, with the expressed purpose of bringing down the Harper government?

Well, what goes around, comes around. It’s payback time, you slimy, feather-bedding, taxpayer-supported biased CBC miscreants!

The Ghomeshi affair is symptomatic of the CBC’s leftist culture.

After all, CBC discovered and promoted the multicultural, nonwhite, hip Ghomeshi, who is of Iranian descent.

I have studied, read and written about all of Ghomeshi’s behavior towards women both within and without CBC. And his behavior was quite well known for years to CBC superiors, including his immediate boss, who was also of apparent Mideast background.

The CBC knew about Ghomeshi’s treatment of women but permitted Ghomeshi’s alleged abusive actions in the name of political correctness.

In CBC and in other leftist cultures, as we saw in Cologne, Germany, the lives of Ghomeshi’s women were sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.

According to that narrative, Mideast nonwhite folks like the hip, progressive Ghomeshi, could do no wrong. It is always the fault of the old or young white dudes.

Well, for CBC, the chop suey has really hit the fan.

Ghomeshi is the hip tip of the iceberg — of a CBC corporate culture that turned a blind eye to vulnerable women both within and outside the organization, because Ghomeshi was a progressive multicultural hero to the left.

This may be CBC’s culture, but this is not Canada’s culture, which treats women equally and with respect.

Ghomeshi is not only on trial for allegedly sexually assaulting and choking women. CBC is on public trial for indulging a multicultural-based sex assault culture in its own halls.

Are We Entering into An Era of Race-Based and Ethnic-Based Affirmative Action Academy Awards?

According to Reuters, Hollywood multi-millionaire black actors Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith are boycotting the February 2016 Oscar awards ceremony , “in protest over the absence of nominated actors of color, in any of the 20 acting categories,” ie Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

The Smiths and the well-known black Hollywood film maker Spike Lee, who is also boycotting the ceremony, allege that the lack of diversity of nominated actors and actresses is a result of the lack of diversity in the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and in the Hollywood film industry itself.

In other words, if there were fewer white men and women of privilege in the Academy and more black, brown, yellow and red men and women of “under privilege”, more men and women of color would be nominated and hence win such coveted Academy Awards.

I am afraid the cancer of politically correct “diversity”, which is currently infecting American college campuses, has now metastasized in the Hollywood body politic.

The Smith/Lee boycott of the Academy Awards show, because Will Smith was denied a nomination for Best Actor for his leading role in the film, “Concussion”, is a perfect example of how American liberals and the black community are trying to transform American society from a meritocracy to race-based and ethnic-based society, under the guise of “diversity”.

The term “diversity” usually means a range of things. It is normally a positive concept. As in, a newspaper contains a diversity of views, as opposed to a single viewpoint. The implication is that a range or diversity of views is preferable.

For many of us on the right, “diversity” has become a politically correct and dirty word.

Because for American liberals and the American black community, “diversity” does not mean to them a range of views, or multiple and different people, it really means, “race-based entitlement and preference.” It is not a means, but an end in itself.

To these same liberals and black community, the absence of “diversity”, also means racial discrimination

To bleeding heart American liberals, the American black community is incapable of being independent, strong, powerful, personally responsible and standing on its own two feet. And achieving success by virtue of its own efforts..The mutual push by American liberals and American blacks for diversity, which is in essence, “race-based entitlement and preference” is a natural by-product of this strange master-servant relationship.

And through this theoretical context, I believe we can best understand the actions of the Smiths and Lee and the Hollywood liberals who support them.

Because what Will, Jada Smith and Spike Lee, and countless liberal fellow Hollywood and media travelers,( say hello, CBC ) want in this limited Academy Awards context, are awards, not based on artistic achievement and merit, but based on race-based and ethnic-based quotas.

Or put another way, for the Smiths, Lee and the Hollywood liberals, the lack of success of American black actors, is not due to lack of merit, but due to lack of diversity or racial discrimination.

So let us test these theories by looking at the actual actors and actresses nominated for three different award ceremonies.

The following is a list of the 20 nominees in each of the three major award ceremonies: the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors’ Guild.

“Toronah”: A funny indie film about Toronto – with a cameo by Rob Ford

Post-TIFF, the major movie buzz in TO is about Toronah, a improvisational comedy set in Toronto.

A rough cut has been circulating in the downtown film world. It’s appeared out of nowhere.

Not just the cast, but the director and producer are all unknowns.

I have been told by inside sources that, from pre production to post-, Toronah was made in a mere three months. That’s unheard of in the Canadian or American film industry.

Rumours abound about its origins.

One source told me the film is the brainchild of three recent film school grads nicknamed “The Three Amigos.”

In the guerrilla filmmaking tradition, they shoot film first and ask for permission later.

Toronah is about funny, tragi-comic losers.

There is Mickey, a middle-aged dude from Chicago, financially down on his luck, in constant fights with his angry and disappointed wife. Basically, he’s a pathetic schmuck, an everyman.

Also, Mickey may or may not be in very deep doo doo with the mob, over some unpaid debts.

(Rumour has it that Toronah features cameos by real Toronto “wise guys”, playing themselves.)

Mickey is forced to come to Toronto to get some much needed cash from his wealthier cousin, Ricky.

There is Johnny K, a portly Asian fellow who’s awkward and a little clueless – who suddenly comes into possession of a black bag containing $100,000.

And the keys to a cool Yorkville condo. And one sweet set of wheels.

Toronah plays homage to Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, with Johnny K mistaken for the much wealthier Ricky, who is flying to Chicago to save Mickey — just as Mickey is flying to Toronto.

Johnny K, in a hilariously deadpan manner, has a series of sexual flings with drop dead gorgeous women/escorts/sidewalk hostesses/wannabe actresses, who all absurdly mistake him for Mickey.

There are other crazy characters who all cracked me up:

Boss Hogg — a profanity-spewing mountain of a man, all dressed in white — stole every scene.

Then there’s Billy: Respectable leasing agent by day, bisexual male whore by night.

Plus there’s a whole slew of salacious, man-eating women who may or may not be the long lost daughters of Mickey’s many previous liaisons.

But the straightest, most conservative, most compelling, most natural and clearly the most sober character in this whole film is the former Mayor Rob Ford, who appears briefly in the opening scene. This guy has natural stage presence. The camera loves Rob. And he nails his lines.

This film is crude, rude, lewd and many female characters are nude.

But what a fun-filled ride in a souped up Trans-Am it is!

Toronah: It’s my kind of film! (Bro.)

Canadian TIFF Actors’ Ridiculous Tommie Manifesto

Canadian celebrities at TIFF 2015, notably actors Rachel McAdams, Ellen Page and the curmudgeonly, ugly and mean Donald Sutherland, bombed badly in supporting publicly the appallingly stupid, Naomi Klein-penned, “Leap Manifesto”, aka the “Tommie Manifesto” ( named cleverly by us conservative wags after the horrified NDP, (supposedly centrist) leader Thomas Mulcair, who wants no part of that pseudo-Communist revolutionary shite show).

The public reputations of McAdams, Page and Sutherland are not the only ones that have been hurt by association with this manifestly moronic manifesto. Add to the list, such notables or forgettables as Pam Anderson whose best screen work ever was CPRing Tommie Lee’s manhood, together with multi-millionaire wheezebag and gas-guzzling hypocrite extraordinaire- Neil Young.  And the usual looney left suspects, such as Stephen Lewis, Suzuki, Barlow and anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian trade unionist Sid Ryan, to name a representative few.

I am a big Rachel McAdams ( “Mean Girls”, “ The Notebook”, “ True Detective”)  and Ellen Page (“Juno”, “Smart People”, “Freeheld”), fan.Donald Sutherland, on the other hand, was great in the 70s in “M*A*S*H.”, “Klute” and “Don’t Look Now”. Since then his ongoing scene-chewing evil role in “The Hunger Games”, is, to use a highly technical cinematic term-  pure crap.

We admire McAdams and Page for their acting talent and their ability through their craft to touch us and move us emotionally. But let’s face it. They are reading other people’s lines and expressing other people’s ideas.

Their fame and high profile are based upon their cinematic success and Hollywood promotion.

Where these actors fall miserably on their TIFF-ready faces, is they arrogantly believe that their artificially-created Hollywood fame- confers upon them influence and wisdom.

So that we, their audience, will actually care and believe what they have to say in real life, off screen. And that we poor huddled masses who shell out our paltry $10 bucks to see them on the screen, will actually be influenced by what they have to say and the causes they support.

Clueless, ignorant, self-satisfied, self-entitled, jet-setting, island hopping Canadian stars

So let me put this in terms- these clueless, ignorant, self-satisfied, self-entitled, jet-setting, island hopping Canadian stars and celebrities- understand.

Your public support of The Tommie Manifesto- “TWO THUMBS DOWN”.

Your first week-end box office numbers- bit the big one.

You and the Manifesto have bombed badly. A Heaven’s Gate bomb of historic proportions.

The studio is pulling out and cancelling all further marketing and disavowing all knowledge of this stinkeroo.

You have laid a big fat egg. Capiche!

In the time remaining, let me fill in the blanks.

The Manifesto’s solution is revolution. To blow up Canada’s economy. That is, its oil and gas economy

Simply, this ridiculous and irrational manifesto describes horrible ills that don’t exist in Canada- widespread extreme poverty, unsustainable inequality,  the horrible genocidal attack on the very existence of Canada’s native people. And to top it all off, Canada’s climate change policy is a crime against humanity- an ongoing relentless war crime.

The Manifesto’s solution is revolution. To blow up Canada’s economy. That is, its oil and gas economy.  Figuratively and literally, if need be.

And essentially, go back to earth. An utopian pre-industrial Walden-like existence. Where every one of us,  all 35 million of us Canadians, live off the land and tend to our garden and our cattle in our cute little farms.

And only sustained by utopian clean, renewable energy, pursuant to strict NIMBYism principles,  “ if you wouldn’t want it in your backyard, then it doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard.”

Which means no fracking renewal energy, of any sort-wind farm or solar- you frackingly stupid Hollywood nimrods!

Even the left of centre, Globe and Mail, corroborated my analysis of this lefty lunatic panacea.

The Globe’s editorial states:

“The manifesto calls for immediate social revolution in response to the threat of climate change. Its “demands” include “innovative ownership structures” as an alternative to “the profit-gouging of private companies,” and a “new iron law of energy development” that, if taken seriously, would pretty much put an end to every project ever – pipelines, windmills and solar-panel farms included. This iron law states, “If you wouldn’t want it in your backyard, then it doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard.”

If these Canadian movie stars and rock stars had expected that their natural audience, the leftist NDP party and its supporters would be influenced and jazzed by these suggestions, they were seriously misled. Or they have been powdering their noses, with “questionable” products.

Because this manifesto sank faster than Adam Sandler’s once buoyant career.

Response from NDP leader Mulcair and his NDP party- zip, nada, zero- crickets.

And for good reason, as the Globe’s editorial concludes:

“We don’t think Mr. Mulcair endorses the manifesto’s madness. He is far more moderate than that. He is also a politician, and he wants to govern a country that is by its nature suspicious of radical social upheaval, especially when promulgated by rock stars.

I love you, Rachel McAdams.  Because of your film work, you are the archetypal sweet Canadian “girl next door”.

But by signing your name to this crazy manifesto, while probably being chauffeured around in a very large gas-guzzling limo, from movie premiere to movie premiere and from private VIP party to private VIP party- you have transformed yourself into the ditzy, brain-dead lefty goof next door. Not a pretty picture, Rachel, my dear.

Magic Mike XXL could teach Patrick Brown’s Ontario PCs a thing or two

(MATURE CONTENT WARNING) What better way is there to spend Canada Day than with a hundred screaming women (ages 20 to 70) in a suburban theatre watching the Channing Tatum sequel to the very successful Magic Mike?

We are in an exciting and interesting time here in Ontario. The Ontario Progressive party under its new young and vigorous leader, Patrick Brown, is trying to evolve and grow from its deep rural roots and become more progressive, more suburban, more urbane, and apparently more tolerant and inclusive. And definitely more LGBTQ.

Hence the very successful, loud, proud Conservative contingent of 60+ strong, led by Brown and his feisty colleague Ontario PC MPP Lisa MacLeod, in the recent Toronto Pride Parade.

And so it also just seems fitting to review a strangely compelling male stripper flick here in the deeply blue conservative, but highly iconoclastic pages of the Rebel.

Magic Mike XXL is clearly superior to the original Magic Mike. Okay, it is no Godfather II. But then againGodfather III was no Godfather II.

Magic Mike, in addition to starring Channing Tatum as Magic Mike – handyman by day and male stripper by night – also starred suddenly hot-again Mathew McConaughey as Dallas, the sleazy strip club owner and manager of the male stripping troupe, the “Kings of Tampa.”

This film was part female fantasy (half-naked, hard-bodied male strippers,) part romantic comedy as (Magic Mike trying to woo Brooke, his stripper buddy’s sister) and part moralistic drama, as one Mike’s young stripper protégés becomes too heavily involved in drugs and the stripper lifestyle, with its (apparently!) attendant violence.

Though directed by indie great Steven Soderbergh, the film did not hang together and was mostly forgettable. Magic XXL, on the hand, is more focused, with a simpler but more interesting and meaningful  storyline.

Gone is the sleazy, over the top acting of McConaughey.

In this film, the boys are back, with the “Kings of Tampa” taking centre stage – both literally and figuratively. The male strippers from Magic Mike – now self-identified as male entertainers -include aptly named Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello,) Tarzan (Kevin Nash,) Tito (Adam Rodriquez) and Ken (Matt Bomer.)

The story focuses on a male strippers’ convention at Myrtle Beach, which may be the Kings of Tampa’s last show together: Some of these guys are getting a little long in the tooth -Tarzan, though still a strapping example of manhood, appears to be suffering from arthritic knees  whenever he deep bends and painfully whips off his tearaway pants to expose his skimpy Speedos.

Others have outside business interests which demand their full attention – Magic Mike’s growing custom furniture business, Ken’s acting career and Tito’s start-up mobile frozen yogurt operation. Sensing that this may be their last hurrah – and the last time they each experience  hundreds of  screaming women sticking sweaty dollars bills in their jockeys – the boys embark on one last road trip from Tampa to Myrtle Beach.

The high point of the film, at least for me, is when these guys are cracking wise, bonding, kibitzing on and off the bus, and coming clean to each other and to us, the audience. We learn that Tarzan is a painter, a Marine and Desert Storm veteran, and Ken is a sensitive, struggling actor trying to increase his online presence. (I can certainly relate to that.)

Big Dick Richie reveals to his buddies that, though he’s a great-looking guy with tons of female admirers, he has not had sex in six months because he possesses a tragic flaw – an unusually ginormous member that apparently intimidates and repels all potential female partners.

Magic Mike also reveals that though he owns a home, a dog and a thriving furniture business, he cannot find his one true love with whom to settle down and produce award-winning underwear models, Brooke having exited stage left along with Dallas since the original film.

During this memorable road trip, the boys are invited back to a fancy southern plantation where they entertain 40-something, sexually frustrated southern belles led by Nancy (the still beautiful and radiant Andie MacDowell,) providing life affirming and empowering advice and pleasure, while gyrating and singing boy band covers.

Big Dick Richie and Nancy hook up, as Richie has finally found his opposite number, that one elusive woman who fits the proverbial glass slipper. Her yin to his wang, so to speak.

As in all great cinematic cheerleader competitions (Bring it On) or a cappella sing-offs, (Pitch Perfect 1 and 2) the boys realized that they must re-invent themselves and their numbers. Take risks. Throw out their tired old routines and create entirely new ones that truly reflect their passions and their identities for a broader audience.

In much the same way, Brown’s new and invigorated Ontario PC Party, after four consecutive and devastating electoral defeats, have had to throw out the old routines, the old advisers and the old way of doing politics and looking at politics. Electoral success has not been won in the past and will not be won in the future by merely energizing your hard core but declining conservative rural base.

As a straight heterosexual male, I was not moved by the male entertainers’ onstage performances per se, but I can see this film’s overall and broad appeal to both women and the LGBTQ community, and the subversive charm of these guys who simply want to bring fun and joy to their female customers’ lives – and also to their core gay viewing public.

But I did enjoy the male bonding, joking and camaraderie among the bros and the very funny and strong cameo appearances by such strong actresses as MacDowell, Jada Pinkett Smith and Elizabeth Banks. Not only does the film sequel hit a home run with its core gay and female audience, I believe it will successfully resonate with straight dudes, young and not so young as well, for the above reasons.

The lesson of Magic Mike XXL for Brown’s Ontario PC Party is to still appeal to the base, but also to take risks, be innovative, be different and go after those outside the base, for greater political appeal, support and ultimate political success. Also, a stuffed tube sock down the y-fronts might help; we can’t all be Big Dick Richie, after all.

Ex Machina makes artificial life look lovely

The newly released sci-fi thriller Ex Machina captures and stimulates the imagination on so many levels.

The premise is simple, but I warn you – writer/director Alex Garland has much more on his mind as he deftly navigates the filmgoer through the windowless corridors of his evil genius’ lair.

Software coder Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee at Bluebook – a popular search engine company a la Google, with the power of IBM and intrusiveness of  Facebook – has won an in-house company contest to spend a week with the company’s reclusive founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), at his private Alaskan compound in the middle of nowhere.

Caleb is clearly intelligent and painfully single, geeky, nerdy and in apparent need of female companionship – human or otherwise.

Nathan, a heavily bearded eccentric genius with a bulked up body of a mixed martial arts fighter, possesses the massive ego of a Jobs and a Zuckerberg. In his highly secretive post modern lab, Nathan has developed the latest in female androids.

Nathan has chosen Caleb to interview and assess Nathan’s latest creation, the almost life-like female robot, Ava, as to the level and sophistication of Ava’s artificial intelligence.

Ava, played by beautiful Swedish actress and dancer Alicia Vikander, is clearly an artificial creation, very far from the pneumatically perfect dream girl cyborg Kelly LeBrock of John Hughes’ Weird Science.

Ava possesses Alicia’s beautiful face atop a sexy silver, mesh-like exoskeleton which clearly discloses her inner wiring and other bells and whistles.

Yet over the course of a few days, the lonely Caleb gradually falls in love with Ava. Ava in turn confides to Caleb her loneliness, her desire to be free, her suspicions about her creator and her apparent yearning for Caleb.

Or does she?

Has Nathan programmed Ava to be cunning, empathetic, loving and sexually attractive to Caleb, or has Ava developed these human-like qualities on her own in learned response to Caleb’s needs and wants – and to her own confinement?

Nathan appears in complete control of his environment, his Ava and his beautiful but silent Asian girlfriend. The writer/director Garland clearly poses the question as to whether man can ever be truly in control – of his employees, his lovers or even of his own artificial creations?

Garland also raises important questions about what we as Google users or Facebook friends, sacrifice in terms of our personal information, privacy and identity and control of our lives to the Nathans or Zuckerbergs of the world.

The film drags a bit, in the middle, as Caleb interrogates Ava, exploring his relationship with her as Ava learns more about Caleb.

But don’t despair, the film ultimately takes a few very interesting twists and turns, and what was initially an apparently misogynistic fembot fantasy becomes a thrilling feminist revenge flick.

Hooray for Girl Robot Power!!!

While We’re Young: The Best Feel Bad Film of 2015

When you travel to Noah Baumbach country, it is certainly no day at the beach.

A good Baumbach film is not a fluffy rom-com, where disbelief is suspended from the nearest and tallest oak tree;   where the attractive hero and heroine wittily banter until they jump in the sack, fall in love, then fall out of love, then fall in love again and presumably live happily ever after as a married and successful couple with children.

In a Baumbach film, the hero and heroine, though attractive and ambitious, are usually bitter and disappointed with their careers, with themselves and with their relationship.  But Baumbach has an amazing way of squeezing humor out of darkness, disappointment, bitterness and failed dreams.

With his latest film, While We’re Young, he successfully delivers.

Josh Shrebnick, (Ben Stiller) and his wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are your archetypical Baumbachian characters.

Josh and Cornelia are both forty-something New Yorkers – intellectual, hyper-articulate, self-centered and painfully self-aware.  Josh writes, directs and produces documentary films; Cornelia produces documentaries, primarily in association with her very successful and well-known writer-director father (played by Charles Grodin).

Josh once made a very entertaining and successful documentary, but for the last ten years he has been struggling to complete his second film, an esoteric, disorganized, painfully boring and non-commercial commentary about the American power elite.

Cornelia, whose own producing career is too dependent upon her famous father, is between jobs.

Years ago, Cornelia and Josh nearly worked together on a film of which they were both passionate, but then Josh preferred going it alone; the project was stillborn and Cornelia never forgot or forgave Josh for that missed opportunity. Cornelia and Josh have also repeatedly failed at conceiving a child, and their childlessness has created a gulf between them and their married friends with children.

They are stagnating both together and apart.

Fortunately, Josh and Cornelia meet up with two young twenty-something New York artistic hipsters, Jaime (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried).

Jaime is an aspiring film maker. He shoots hours of film, literally and figuratively from the hip, then thinks later. Jaime is bursting with creativity out of his oh so tight jeans. Darby makes natural and organic ice cream. To Josh and Cornelia they represent their former energetic youth, vanished idealism and – perhaps – surrogate children.

Initially, Jaime wins Josh over. He is charming and deferential to Josh; he appeals to Josh’s vanity and professional insecurity. He wants Josh to be his mentor and advise him and assist him on Jaime’s own film project.

But things are not what they appear, and Jaime is more manipulative rake than devoted student to Josh.

Driver as Jaime is very well cast. As in his role of Adam (Lena Dunham’s dynamic and emotionally unstable boyfriend on Girls) he exudes a powerful and explosive energy. He is very effective as a charming, ambitious and single-mined hustling film maker, who will fabricate, manipulate and take advantage of his wife, Josh, Cornelia and even Cornelia’s famous father in order to make and complete his film and become famous in the process.

Admittedly, I was a little reluctant to enter Baumbach country, but I was rewarded with flawed and complex characters created by a director at the top of his game, as he deftly touched on subjects like youth, age, ambition, creativity , honesty, authenticity and how documentary films have been transformed from honest portrayals of reality to manipulated personal statements of the writer/directors.

As for Ben Stiller, one can devote an entire article, just to his craft. Unlike Woody Allen, Stiller refuses to play sympathetic and likeable characters who win the beautiful girl at the end.

In this film, he is neurotic, narcissistic, self-centred, insensitive and single-minded. Uncharacteristically, Stiller as Josh opens himself up to working with Jaime and he is predictably punished and humiliated in the process. Stiller’s Josh is cringe-worthy, but it is impossible to turn away from Stiller and his purposely pathetic performance.

On the other hand, Naomi Watts is certainly worth the price of admission, even at Cineplex’s grossly inflated VIP ticket rates.

Naomi Watts is a brilliant actress who has played some very strong and complex roles, like the Russian-British midwife in Eastern Promises, the American CIA agent/suburban housewife in Fair Game and a hysterically funny Russian hooker with a heart of gold opposite Bill Murray in St. Vincent.

Watts’ Cornelia, barren and professionally frustrated, also tries to recapture her youth by doing hip hop with Darby and experimenting with hallucinogens. She’s caught between her love and loyalty to the stubborn and uncompromising Josh and the intoxicating lure of success with the flawed but creative Jaime.

Even Cornelia’s “old school” filmmaker dad is taken in by Jaime’s film making style and entertaining though fabricated product.

Enter Baumbach country at your own risk. You may or may not leave entertained but Baumbach’s complex themes and messages will stay with you whether you’re young or not so young.

On Kimmel’s Show, Ford Was the Epitome of Grace Under Pressure

Initially I had my concerns with Mayor Ford agreeing to be a guest on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show.

But I should not have worried. Despite facing a barrage of good-humoured jokes, embarrassing videos of past foibles and probing questions, Ford comported himself calmly and coolly with good humour. Grace under pressure.

And Ford even had the self-confidence under the hot Hollywood lights, to launch a few zingers himself at his City Council critics and his enemies in the press.

This was great TV. It was edgy, no holds barred, two guys flying without a net — and laugh out loud funny.

Kimmel was in fine fighting form. He might have even been training for this bout with Ford for months. He was lean, he was quick and he was very well prepared.

Kimmel admitted half-jokingly, “In a way I feel that I’ve been waiting for this night my whole life.”

But Ford was ready for this match too. Ford strode out confidently, dressed in black with a bright tie and matching handkerchief. He looked more like lovable family man, Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero, of The Sopranos fame, than a magician, as Kimmel joked.

And then Ford started chucking Ford Nation T-shirts into the crowd.

For a big man, Ford is very agile and athletic. (Later in the show, Kimmel showed a brief video of Ford on a football field, falling backward on his ass, trying to throw a football.)

This was a good, aggressive start for Ford. He had come to play. The home town crowd loved the free T-shirts.

Right from the opening intro, Kimmel was jabbing Ford with a left, then a right, then a quick combo left/right to the face and to Ford’s stomach.

Kimmel asked, “Why are you on this show? What good could come of this?”

Kimmel was clearly the quick-witted Muhammad Ali, to Ford’s more slow-moving, but very solid George Chuvalo.

If Ford was a little surprised by this comical assault, he quickly recovered and responded that he came on the show because Kimmel had personally called him on his cellphone.

Then Ford counter-punched with a brief defence of his political career, by saying that for 14 years, 10 years as councilman and four years as mayor, he always responded to the people. He takes their calls, listens to their problems and if required, he goes out to visit them at their homes to solve their problems. In effect, he gives out his number, because Toronto residents are his bosses.

Kimmel was temporarily thrown by the sincere honesty of Ford, the consummate retail politician.

Then Kimmel tried to hit Ford below the belt, by quoting Ford haters who were angry with Kimmel for having Ford on his show. These trolls claimed that Ford was racist, homophobic and other outrageous things.

Ford kept his cool. His smile never leaving his face. Calmly Ford replied, quickly and adroitly, “Is that all you got?” to the approval of the Kimmel crowd. They might have felt, as I had, that Kimmel had blindsided Ford.

Then Ford, keeping his cool, started promoting Toronto as a fantastic place. To the effect that it is booming with tonnes of cranes all over the city (accurately implying that there is still a construction boom in Toronto).

Ford stated that he wanted people to come to Toronto to see how good the city was.

Just as Ford was about to promote Toronto’s film industry, citing the success of TIFF, Kimmel cut him off, which is unfortunate.

In a earlier CBC radio news report, prior to the Kimmel show, Ford had talked with a CBC reporter at length about the fact that Toronto had a very successful film and television industry. With millions of dollars being invested annually in film and television productions, this creates thousands of well-paying industry jobs. Ford was trying to use his profile to promote Toronto as a great place to do film and television business.

In the second round, after the break, Kimmel tried to sucker-punch Ford, by moving him off the comfort of the couch to a large TV screen, in order to have Ford comment on some of his most embarrassing videos:

  • Ford’s rant against an unknown enemy, (Ford admitted not remembering that video);
  • Ford accidentally knocking down fellow councilor Pam McConnell in the council chambers;
  • Ford speaking Jamaican patois at the infamous Steak Queen fast food restaurant (Ford explained that this was a private meeting with friends and that he has a lot of Jamaican friends, undermining claims that he is truly a racist.)

Fortunately for Ford, he laughed off these very embarrassing videos and when he returned to the couch, he
defended his record as mayor:

According to Ford, he’s tamed the unions, stopping further strikes by the city garbage union and the TTC, privatizing garbage services, saving Toronto taxpayers over $800 Million and keeping tax increases to below 2 per cent annually. Yet Toronto is still booming.

Ford concluded with saying “90 per cent of what I said I was going to do is done.” Ford caught Kimmel flatfooted with that legitimate claim.

In the last round, Kimmel was easier on Ford and suggested that he may want to get help for his drinking. Ford, true to form, countered that he was not elected to be perfect. Which of course was true then, as it is now. Ford never represented himself as a paragon of virtue or a model for Toronto’s children.

Kimmel concluded that “Ford is the most wonderful mayor I have ever witnessed in my many years.” I sensed that deep down, Kimmel, like the famous Ali toward Chuvalo, respected Ford, for being such a good sport.

And for surviving this tough 16-minute comic onslaught, still on his feet, with good humour.

Verdict: Kimmel may have won on comic points, but Ford did not embarrass himself. Nor did he embarrass the city of Toronto.

And, typical Ford, he controlled the media for the last several days.

I still think Ford is the man to beat.