They Get Last Laugh

Comedy 'How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog' Wraps Up Film Festival

By LIZ BRAUN, Toronto Sun, 17 September 2000

Leave 'em laughing.

 That seems to be the philosophy behind the grand finale of the 25th Toronto Film Festival, which wrapped up last night with a gala screening of How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog.

 The comedy, written and directed by Canada's own Michael Kalesniko, ended the film fest on a high note -- of hysterical laughter. How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog is the story of a misanthropic British playwright (Kenneth Branagh) living in Los Angeles. His understanding wife (Robin Wright Penn) is agitating for a child. A little girl (Suzi Hofrichter) moves in next door and changes everything.

 Also in the ensemble cast are Jared Harris as a stalker, Lynn Redgrave as Branagh's senile mother-in-law and Peter Riegert, Jonathon Schaech, David Krumholtz and a lot of other people who know how to be very, very funny on screen.

 The closing press conference for How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog reflected the movie -- lots of good humour all around.

 Asked about the fact that several people smoke cigarettes in this picture, filmmaker Michael Kalesniko says he supports smoker's rights.

 Someone else asks -- seriously -- if the point of the movie is: When you have troubles, go kill a dog.

 "Absolutely," deadpans Kalesniko.

 He rethinks that. "Let's consider it a pro-smoking movie as opposed to a pro-canine euthanasia movie."

 "I smoke," Kenneth Branagh chimes in. "But I didn't inhale." When the laughter subsides, he adds, "Nor do I recommend that the youth of Canada do so."

 Branagh says he knows playwrights after whom he could model his performance. "And nearly all of them smoke."

 The actor, most recently in our town to support his version of Love's Labour's Lost, says of How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog , "It's original to have a story in which people talk to each other. And nothing explodes." As for Love's Labour's Lost he says, smiling, "It was released earlier this year to an indifferent public and will no doubt be available on DVD or through other members of my family."

 Branagh is asked what is tougher to perform: Comedy or drama? "I find it all quite difficult," he murmurs, smiling.

 "The goal is to be as real as possible," he says of comedy, "but still get the laughs. If they don't laugh, you're dead. You're dead! That's what makes comedy so brutal. Sometimes it's just easier to pull on the tights and do something dramatic. People are so impressed. 'Look! Real tears!' "

 Later, Kalesniko says that How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog came about because, in real life, his former neighbours really did have a horrible dog. "I became obsessed with it. I even bought a sonic disrupter to mess with its ears, but all it did was confuse him for a moment and then the incessant barking began again."

 What finally solved his dog problem?

 "We moved."

 The filmmaker, who attended the Unoversity of Victoria and also did a film studies degree at Columbia College, wrote the screen adaptation of Howard Stern's Private Parts. This movie is his directorial debut.

 In the past, he says, he's worked as a reporter, a bartender and a teacher. "In the '80s there were just no jobs. A friend told me they needed overeducated, large men to teach way up north -- just to keep the kids in line," he explains.

 "So I went. It was not To Sir, With Love. One of my students beat me up on the street. One summer, my friend and I slept in the car, just trying to find work. We'd get $20 for cleaning the hold of a fishing boat. I thought, 'I 'm going to go to L.A. and be a filmmaker.' How much worse could it be?

 "At least it's warm there."


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Kenneth Branagh ... The actor at yesterday's press conference for his new movie, How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog.