Thursday, December 29, 2005

Brokeback Mountain: A (partial) review

I was going to write a review of Brokeback Mountain but the movie broke down about three quarters of the way through. I don't mean the plot went off the rails. I mean the film literally broke down. The screen just went black.

We sat there in the dark for about half an hour while a technician tried to fix the projector. But there was nothing they could do so they sent us home with free movie passes instead.

Since I have no idea how Brokeback Mountain ends, this is a spoiler-free review.

What I saw of the movie, I liked. No, loved. It's probably the best movie I've seen all year (and I haven't even seen the whole thing yet). It is both breathtaking and heartbreaking.

The film opens in the mountains of Wyoming. The setting is wild, rugged and untamed. It is the perfect backdrop against which to set a love story, especially a love story between two men. It is impossible to see their relationship as anything but natural and pure. Which I think (I hope) is the point of the film.

Their environment is completely stripped of externally imposed morals and values. Only in the mountains, under the trees, with sheep and horses and bears for company, are Jack and Enis truly free to be themselves.

I'm oversimplifying it a little. Generally, life isn't black or white. It's mostly different shades of grey. But there are a few things I will passionately defend as being right or wrong. To me, the struggle by gay people for acceptance and equal rights is no different than the struggle by African Americans for the same thing 50 years ago. They are both fundamentally about human rights.

Brokeback Mountain is an important film because it highlights that struggle in a sensitive and moving way. This isn't a story about gay cowboys. It's a story about love.

It's painful to watch Jack and Enis emerge from the wilderness and get married and have children. But in 1960s rural America, they didn't have much choice. They could either suppress their true selves or be open and live with violence, fear and ignorance.

There were two scenes in the movie that stood out for me. The first took place when Jack and Enis spent the summer together up in the mountains. Nothing had happened between them yet. One night, Enis stayed at Jack's camp but chose to sleep outside alone rather than join Jack in the small tent. Enis woke up shivering in the middle of the night after the fire went out. Jack insisted he join him inside the tent where it was warm.

The scene almost made me weep. Not because they finally had sex but because it was the truest depiction I have ever seen of what it's like to sleep in a tent in the backcountry, walled in by mountains, blanketed by stars. You could almost smell the campfire in their hair, the mildew in the tent walls and the sweetness of the forest-filtered air. It's so romantic it hurts.

The other scene that almost made me weep was when Jack and Enis saw each other again for the first time in four years. The film broke down shortly after that so I'm not really sure where the story goes from there. It did seem to be taking a darker turn so I'm curious to find out if it continues to spiral downward.

If you've seen the movie please don't tell me what happens. My sisters and I are going to attempt to see the whole thing later today. More when we return . . .

UPDATE: We've just returned from seeing the entire movie. If the first half was heartbreaking, then the second half was heart wrenching. I don't know what to say. I feel like driving out to Brokeback and throwing myself off the mountain.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Mall madness

Normally I do all of my Christmas shopping on December 24th but this year I did it early. Okay, I did it yesterday. But still. That's pretty early for me. It might even be a new record.

The thing is, I actually like shopping on Christmas Eve. I thrive under pressure. I enjoy being out there with all of the other last-minute shoppers. If I'm going to be stuck in a mall all day, I like knowing it's filled with my kind of people.

Plus, shopping on December 24th forces you to make decisions quickly. Which is very important for someone like me who can spend 20 minutes in an ice cream shop agonizing between mint chocolate chip and vanilla.

But I decided to do my shopping early this year because December 24th fell on a Saturday. That would have been a little too frenzied, even for me. I'm a procrastinator, not a masochist.

Anyway, I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday or Joyful Festivus or whatever it is you do or don't celebrate this time of year!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Recommended reading

One of my favourite Christmas traditions is reading trashy magazines with my sisters. Every December, all five of us cuddle up on the couch and go on a Cosmo binge. Nothing says family bonding like reading magazines about skanky bitches.

Actually, the only time I ever read Cosmo is when I'm in Toronto. My 18-year-old sister Hilary keeps a stash of back issues under her bed. I usually prefer more weighty reading material but those glossy pages filled with sex tips and secret confessions are impossible to resist. Cosmo is my kryptonite.

I might be less tempted to crack open the magazine if it didn't have such compelling cover stories, such as:

- That bitch ruined my wedding
- Very sexy things to do after sex
- Skank alert! The beauty trend that makes stars look sooo trashy
- Read his dirty mind
- Shocker! The kinky sex trend that even nice girls are trying

The thing is, I now associate Cosmo with Christmas. So when I'm standing in line at Shoppers Drug Mart and there's an issue of Cosmo on the stand, I feel all warm and fuzzy. Visions of my sisters start dancing in my head.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Wacky signs

There's no better way to show your irreverence to the election than by posting irrelevant signs on your lawn. At least two people in my parents' neighbourhood (also known as the exciting and controversial Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding) have done just that.

The first sign is subtle yet subversive:

I think the sign is meant to remind passersby that the Conservative Party is little more than a front for the Reform Party. The subtext is obvious -- the Conservative Party is full of fake Tories like Stephen Harper, Stockwell Day and Preston Manning. It's street theatre at its finest.

The second sign uses absurd humour to convey the homeowners' strong nationalism:

By hanging the sign sideways, I think they are trying to say that Gilles Duceppe and his separatist friends are out of kilter. Not that it matters. You can't vote for the Bloc in Ontario. Maybe the homeowners are showing their distaste for all of the local candidates and are staging a silent protest by hanging a Bloc sign.

Or maybe it's a backlash against the sea of Michael Ignatieff signs around here. Hanging a sign with Gilles Duceppe's face on it is a clever reminder that Quebecers are turning to the Bloc because of the Liberal sponsorship scandal. The homeowners' message -- don't vote Liberal.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into it. But it's more fun that way. Plus, it makes the neighbourhood seem way cooler than it really is.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The great debate (alternatively titled "Two hours of my life I'll never get back")

Wasn't that election debate a real barnburner last night? What's that? You missed it? You had better things to do on a Friday night? Not me! I watched the entire two-hour debate without a single bathroom break (a few commercials would have been nice). I even took notes.

Here are some of the highlights:

Stephen Harper kicked off the debate by saying he wants a free vote on same sex marriage. Ha, ha. This guy is hilarious. I love his dry sense of humour. If this prime minister thing doesn't work out for him he has a bright future on the stand-up circuit. Oh, wait. He wasn't kidding about same sex marriage. I take it back. He's not funny. He's scary, like a robot with creepy laser eyes.

Next issue up for discussion, gang violence. Paul Martin said he wants a ban on handguns. Stephen Harper thinks longer jail terms will solve the problem. Jack Layton's response? "Send more NDP MPs to Ottawa." Wow. Who knew Layton was such a hard ass?

Actually, sending more NDP MPs to Ottawa was Jack Layton's answer to everything. Health care? "Elect New Democrats." The sponsorship scandal? "A vote for the NDP elects an NDP MP." International relations? "More New Democrats in Parliament means more results for people."

If I had a drink for every time he told us to vote NDP last night, I'd be in the hospital with alcohol poisoning right now.

The best part of the debate was watching ordinary Canadians ask the leaders questions. Like the sociopath from Saskatchewan standing in front of a dozen rifles in his basement demanding to know what the party leaders thought about the handgun ban. Or the woman dressed in scrubs with a stethoscope around her neck who wanted to talk about, you guessed it, health care. The message? Canadian voters are a bunch of self-interested jerks who don't care about anything that doesn't directly affect them.

A university student from New Brunswick asked a question about Atlantic Canada's economy. Instead of answering the question, Stephen Harper launched into a monologue about his family's New Brunswick roots. And then Jack Layton and Paul Martin did the exact same thing. Cool. They all have New Brunswick roots. What this has to do with the election, I'm not really sure.

As for Gilles Duceppe, words came out of his mouth but I wasn't really listening.

Was there a clear winner last night? I don't know. I thought the guy who turned the microphones on and off did a pretty good job.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson, John Irving and . . . me?

So that's it then. I've nothing left to accomplish. Why? Because my name was mentioned in the same sentence as Hunter S. Thompson and John Irving in the Georgia Straight this week.

The man responsible for causing thousands of Straight readers to ask "Who the fuck is Sarah Marchildon?" is none other than Vancouver's Hot Rob.

Mr. Too Hot to Get a Date is the newspaper's City Single of the Week. The column is set up in a question and answer format and Hot Rob was asked that old chestnut, "If you could have a dinner party and invite any four people, dead or alive, who'd be coming?"

Rob's answer: Hunter S. Thompson, Sarah Marchildon, John Tesh and John Irving.

Okay, so the fact that Hot Rob also wants John Tesh to come to the dinner party throws his credibility into question. What's John Tesh going to do? Entertain us with some Christian music? Shudder.

Still, I am flummoxed and flattered to see my name in print alongside two of my literary heroes. I guess this means I can stop working on my novel. Actually, I haven't started writing my novel. But what's the point now? Hot Rob* thinks I'm the shit. I've nothing left to prove.

*Also, Robert's mom (hi, Sandra!) likes my blog. She emailed me to say she liked my "sarcastic" posts about Rob. She even invited me to her hot son's birthday party. But I couldn't go because I was in Montreal.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Drunk dialing

I arrived in Toronto late Friday night and the first thing I did was apologize to my parents for an embarrassing incident involving booze and cell phones the night before.

I blame the waiters at the Montreal restaurant for topping up our wine glasses after every sip. Our judgment was further impaired by two weeks of sleep-deprivation and stress. I may have failed Grade 9 math but I know that one plus the other adds up to two tonnes of trouble.

A few co-workers and I were out celebrating our last night at the United Nations climate change conference with a guy from New Orleans we had met the night before. Halfway through dinner, our American friend announced he wanted to move to Canada. Someone said he could marry me to get citizenship.

The joke should have ended there. But it quickly spiraled out of control. The next thing I knew, a co-worker pulled out a cell phone so I could call my parents to tell them about the engagement. Yes, I agreed, that would be hilarious.

I don’t really want to remember how our conversation went (something along the lines of “Are you guys awake? Guess what? I’m engaged! To a guy I just met!” but with more slurring and less coherence). Bridging the communications gap between the sober and the intoxicated is never very pretty.

I had a moment of lucidity when my pseudo-finance grabbed the phone from me and started talking to my parents. Oh my god. Did he just call my dad “dad”? Did he just tell my mom he loved her? Did he just ask to move in? He didn’t just tell them I was pregnant, did he?

Oh, it was ugly. Luckily my parents have a good sense of humour and played along with him before I tore the phone from his ear and flung it across the room.

I had almost forgotten about the drunk dialing incident until my mom picked me up at the Toronto airport and asked where her new son-in-law was. Yeah, sorry about that, mom. We were loaded. There is no engagement, no grandchild on the way. Hope we didn’t wake you up.

The Jerry Springer-style moral of the story is that a cell phone can be a loaded weapon. Use it carefully this holiday season.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


The United Nations climate change conference finally wraps up tomorrow. Even though I haven’t had a day off in two weeks, I’m sad to see it end. I really like having someone else make my bed every morning.

As for the conference itself, I’m happy it’s coming to a close. I’m tired of being surrounded by people who don’t speak English. Before you start sending me hate mail, I’m talking about the delegates, not Montrealers. Everyone here speaks in acronyms: SBSTA, UNFCCC, GHG, JI, CDM. And they wonder why they’re not getting much media coverage.

I have become deeply cynical about these meetings. There’s a lot of talk but not much action. The negotiations are tedious and the process is full of bureaucratic in-fighting and political posturing. I’m not very impressed.

I’ve noticed other things too, like:

1. The Tim Hortons outside the conference centre runs out of chocolate chip muffins by 2 p.m. every day.

2. Family Guy is still hilarious even when it’s dubbed in French and you can’t understand what the characters are saying.

3. They sell beer inside the conference centre.

4. The most popular side events are the ones with free booze.

5. Men here blatantly check you out. They also buy you drinks. It’s awesome.

6. There aren’t a lot of sexy environmentalists. I had my eye on a gorgeous German and danced with him (okay, near him) at the big NGO party on Saturday night. But he seemed more interested in saving the planet than creating a little global warming with me in my hotel room.

7. There’s not a lot going on at McGill University at night. I tried to find a class to sit in on for fun but most of the buildings were dark and empty.

8. The climate change conference somehow manages to be extremely stressful and exceedingly boring at the same time.

9. Montreal has great restaurants and bars but they’re too smoky. Boo!

10. People in Montreal are no more or less stylish than anyone else in the country: Yes, there are a lot of beautiful people here but I’ve also seen lots of bad hair, baggy fleece jackets and ratty jeans.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Inside the bubble

It feels like an invisible dome has sealed off Montreal from the rest of the world. Or at least isolated the four-block radius surrounding the United Nations climate change conference.

There are almost 10,000 people from 190 countries here and yet the only thing anyone talks about is climate change. If you didn’t pick up a newspaper, you’d have no idea anything else was happening outside this place. There’s a federal election campaign underway but it may as well be on another continent. I feel like I’m underwater. Or trapped in a Pauly Shore movie.

Welcome to the United Nations, or as I like to call it, Bio-Dome. There’s food on every floor, a massive computer room, a press room, conference rooms, couches, booths, bathrooms, cappuccinos. You could live here. Some people practically do. You don’t even have to go outside. Most of the hotels are connected to the conference centre by tunnels. I think I’m suffering from some sort of bubble affective disorder.

As for the conference itself, I generally have no idea what’s going on. I mean, the agenda is packed with esoteric items like: “Implications of the implementation of project activities under the clean development mechanism, referred to in decision 12/CP.10, for the achievement of objectives of other environmental conventions and protocols.” I’ve been working on environmental issues for five years and I have no idea what that means.

If this job doesn’t work out for me, I think I have a bright future in terrorism. Either I have the most innocent looking face on the planet or UN security is extremely lax. For example, all of the delegates had to show photo ID when we registered at the conference but I left my passport in Vancouver and couldn’t find my driver’s license. The only other photo ID I had in my wallet was my Triathlon British Columbia card, which is basically a laminated square of paper with a headshot glued on it. But it was good enough for UN security and they let me in. That’s right. They let me in with a flimsy piece of ID I could have slapped together in five minutes at a copy shop.

On a completely unrelated topic, where are the Starbucks in Montreal? I haven’t seen a single one yet. I’m starting to go through gingerbread latte withdrawal.

Also, I’m proud to say I've added two new words to my French vocabulary. I now know the words for medium (moyen) and receipt (resu). I’m still faking it by smiling and nodding for everything else. I’m trying not to speak English but I’m tired. I’m still on Vancouver time. Waking up at 6:30 a.m. feels like waking up at 3:30 a.m. Then again, waking up at 6:30 a.m. in Vancouver doesn’t feel much different.

Anyway, I’m trying to beat this jet lag thing by going to bed early tonight. Besides, my eyes are blurry and I can barely see. In addition to smelling like cigarettes, my hotel room is darker than the inside of a chocolate croissant.