In praise of Don 

Our premier jack of all cinematic trades

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"I just love famous people don’t you? They’re so much better than the real thing."

So says sexy, psychotic serial killer Baby Firefly in The Devil’s Rejects , the latest ultra-violent, highly stylized, revisionist horror flick from Rob Zombie about a family that defies society by destroying it and the vigilante lawman who hunts them deep into his own violent nightmare. It’s serious and it’s the DVD of the week.

Sticking with famous people, and this week, the Whistler Film Festival runs Dec. 1-4 and along with over 90 kick-ass films the festival also brings scores of industry types and (Gasp!) celebrities to our quiet mountain town.

Normally I could give two shits about famous people (except Angelina Jolie, of course) but that was before I found out Don McKellar was gonna be here. Don McKellar, if you don’t know, is the coolest cat in Canadian cinema. Equally comfortable acting, writing, or directing, McKellar is our premier jack of all cinematic trades. He’s starred in Atom Egoyan’s Exotica , and The Adjuster, Cronenberg’s Existnenz , and Francois Girard’s The Red Violin (which he also co-wrote) to list just a few. As well, McKellar was the mastermind behind Twitch Cit y, which, for a while, was the only decent show on the CBC (other than hockey).

Don’s most memorable role, however, was Pokey the Barber in Bruce McDonald’s 1991 road movie Highway 61 , perhaps the greatest Canadian movie of all time. Pokey is a small town barber with musical aspirations who’s duped by a woman into helping her drive a drug-stuffed dead body (in a coffin) from Pickeral Falls, Ontario down Highway 61 to New Orleans. The unlikely duo is followed by Mr. Skin, who may or may not be the devil but wants the deceased’s soul anyhow. While Highway 61 deftly pokes great fun at our neighbours to the south (Jello Biafra plays the best U.S. Customs guard ever) the film isn’t afraid to laugh at us Canucks either. The script, written by McKellar himself, is utterly original and the Pokey character’s eccentricity showcases a writing/acting style that’s wholly Canadian and uniquely McKellar. This movie rules.

Another McKellar flick that rules, and is far easier to find, is his latest feature Childstar , one of 2005’s best films and readily available on DVD. Written, directed and starring Don himself, Childstar is about a super-famous American television child actor who comes to Toronto to make a generic action movie while dealing with the pressures of young fame and growing up lost in a cannibalistic industry. By the end, McKellar’s film comments on the artificiality of the entertainment industry, as well as on the people within it, including the parents, who are supposed to be the ones ensuring the safety of their children, not the guy driving the kid’s limo.

Canadian child actress Sarah Polley ( Road to Avonlea, Baron Munchausen) is all grown up now and has been stirring the pot lately regarding Canada’s lax film industry child labour laws and how word on the street is our kids are "easy to manage and mould." Surely Polley and McKellar must have discussed this topic since everyone knows all those TO movie folk routinely hang out together and party at each other’s cottages. Plus Polley starred in McKellar’s directorial debut Last Night, a superb end-of-the-world comedy. (Not to be confused with Gus Van Sant’s Last Days which is a boring shitheap disguised as a waste of film and time.)

This weekend make sure to check out Don McKellar’s short films as part of the Whistler Film Festival’s Shortfest programs. Whether or not Don McKellar, as a famous person, is better than the real thing remains to be seen, but as an auteur and cinematic genius he’s certainly one of Canada’s best.

AT VILLAGE 8 Dec. 2-8: Rent; Yours, Mine and Ours; Pride and Prejudice; Just Friends; Ice Harvest; Walk the Line; Harry Potter. Dec. 2-4: Whistler Film Festival. Dec. 4-8: Get Rich or Die Trying. Dec. 6: Junebug.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE Dec. 2-4: Whistler Film Festival. Dec. 3: So Low in South America. Dec. 5-8: Saw 2.

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