Is it just me or did that horrific crash in Humboldt not just seem the most Canadian ever of tragedies?? A bleak and frozen intersection, a hockey team of beautiful boys, an overturned bus? Is it just me that can’t stop thinking of that sad and stunning 1997 Atom Egoyan film, The Sweet Hereafter? I know I’m not alone in my tears. Last night, the GoFundMe page dedicated to the hockey team stopped taking donations after raising $15,185,700 in twelve days.
Is is just me or was the crowd at the ACC in Toronto just a little too ratcheted up for the Leafs playoff game? Waving those silly towels in the air like the mad dogs we’ve become, fed up entirely with Fake Spring, one of thirteen Canadian seasons (freak February thaws, dog turd melt, pothole construction). We need to cheer for something. Go Leafs Go!
Is it just me having a laugh listening to Viggo Mortensen making the media rounds in Toronto this week? Here to chair the jury for the $100,000 Glen Gould prize, Mortensen had to endure just about everyone being dumbfounded at his depth. “Isn’t it fascinating to discover someone with so many layers” mused one. Over on Breakfast Televison, the host dubbed the actor (also poet, painter, photographer, author, and musician) a “renassiance man”. Over here at the Red Chronicles, I’ll stick with a gem befitting no box. Mortensen said he doesn’t much believe in any kind of artistic competition but was drawn in by the level of artistry, his respect for the other jurors and past recipients, and his own curiosity, which he confessed was his guiding principle. Just place him at the head of my Fantasy Dinner Party, please and thank you. Past winners include Oscar Peterson, Leonard Cohen, Yo-Yo Ma, Phillip Glass; this year the prize went to opera singer Jessye Norman, the first female laureate in the prize’s history. Wow. It took only twelve years…
Is it just me being schooled by my children? Over at the Pulitzer HQ, the folks who dole prizes out are also waking up to reality. Kendrik Lamar is the first hip hop artist to win the music Pulitzer for his 14-track “Damn”. The Pulitzer has long been interested in jazz and classical works yet this year’s board deemed the twenty-nine year old’s work as a “virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of African-American life”. Now it’s my children turn to gape. Huh? We knew already, Mom. Waaaaay before you clued in.
I know it is not just me who lives in a world controlled by robots. Don’t think so? Didn’t you just have to type in some code for your computer’s brain to let you in? For basic access? Now let your mind travel to space. Luxury space travel. Book it now. (Globe and Mail)
Is it just me or does this sound just wacky…and wonderful too. Gravity blankets. They’re a thing.(New Yorker) Would you get one? Report back and let me know if your sleep was suddenly delicious.
Drama. The certainty of it is sure to bring viewers to the Oscar telecast tonight. But how many viewers? The awards show has been bleeding viewers in one steady decline to match that of the overall box office: we are just not going to the movies as often. Streaming devices have proved so disruptive that movie fans like me should be alarmed. Our beloved and immersive art form is in threat. Yes, wondrous things are happening on small screens, yet watching anything that way is a different way of interacting with art. Not a worse way, just a different way. If you can pause the film, get up and let your dog whining at the door out, you are not immersed; and that will fundamentally change the way these stories will be told in the future. Already, wizards are at work interpreting data of this very nature.
Now, there are things that should be killed off immediately. Let’s start with the casting couch. Set all of them on fire. I’ll dance around that blaze.
Other things I’d like to see gone forever? Read on:
Watching the Olympics over a two-week span is to view one inspirational narrative after another, sandwiched between superhuman feats of athleticism. Some have a little extra romance to offer. Or so we hope…
When you watch films as often as I do, you sit in a surfeit of sameness. Green screens film often bore me; the behemoth that is Marvel and caped leotards running about saving the world from evils, all one-dimensional, mostly eliciting yawns from me…then I saw Black Panther. Black Panther is a game changer; a touchstone for real cultural change, all so elemental that our shame should be deep.
Why? Tell the story of your people. And your people will see themselves and feel authenticated. Story is culture. Through story, we allow others in, and begin to understand one another and develop social consciousness. Without stories, we are nothing. Read More
The Golden Globe awards are popcorn and candy floss; bread and circus for the masses still stunned from holiday comas.
It’s just fluff. Or is it?
This year, a seismic shift turned the tables on a creative community reeling from one announcement after another of powerful industry men being rooted out from their plush and seedy man caves.
Instead of rainbow gowns, women—actors and all their peeps—were wearing black for a movement they hope will open the gates to true equality in pay, in production, and so on.
Is it a true shift?
Wearing black is easy. Ditto a lapel pin. Real change comes with money.
I’m staying in tonight. Spending the last day of the year with my main squeeze, my only squeeze, who has mopped the floor three times this holiday season and knows how to make a bed better than any hotel maid. He has many tricks but these are two you appreciate after a long marriage. That he makes me laugh daily is why this party girl is content with our plans to cook up Nigella’s champagne risotto and tick off happy moments in our cosy abode. I promised him chocolate mocha creme brûlée. I too have other tricks but that’s one of them.
Last day of a very rich year. Rich in lessons. Rich in moments. Rich in howling at the moon or the tv screen. A year I almost threw my phone in the toilet for surely nothing good was worth reading on it, or in my still-delivered-daily newspapers.
On the first day of this year, I made a toast with my family present, a toast to buoyancy in heavy times. I’m thrilled to say I think we made it. The world is not broken. Aim for the light.
Here is my Best of 2017: or what I can remember after the holiday coma.
Favourite moments on the page:
In a year rocked by revelations of terrible deeds, one author’s words screamed at me from the page. Of course it was Alice Munro (Lives of Girls and Women). “There is no protection, unless it is in the knowing.”
from Felicity by poet Mary Oliver, this line from her poem Moments: “There is nothing more pathetic than caution, when headlong might save a life, even, possibly, your own.”
from The Girls by Emma Cline: “That was our mistake, I think. One of many mistakes. To believe that boys were acting with a logic that we could someday understand. To believe that their actions had any meaning beyond thoughtless impulse. We were like conspiracy theorists, seeing portent and intention in every detail, wishing desperately that we mattered enough to be the object of planning and speculation. But they were just boys. Silly and young and straightforward; they weren’t hiding anything.”
from Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips: “She doesn’t picture them as Arabic—she has been wondering, of course. But they do not sound like that kind of terrorist. They sound like young, obnoxious white men—aren’t they always young white men?—and she is not sure whether this makes them more or less dangerous than fanatics on a jihad.”
Canadian poet/novelist Steven Price wrote the kind of big fat novel you want to hide out by the fire with and speak to no one but the characters on the page. I loved it, and read it in the moody month of March and I wish to return to exactly that sensation every time I read. By Gaslight was my favourite read of 2017.
Favourite moments on the stage:
Come from Away was the first show I saw early January 2017. What a start to my year of theatrical highs, thanks to an early birthday present from my sister. My 2017 personal theme of buoyancy was shared by those actors on that stage delivering the most heartfelt piece of Canadian theatre I have seen in years. Come from Away later opened on Broadway and scored seven Tony nominations, and won for best direction of a musical.
The Shaw Festival’s Michael Therriault as Bill Snibson in a note perfect production of Me and My Girl
The brilliant new musical Life After featuring a sensitive and intelligent performance by lead actor Ellen Denny who brought me to tears. “If you grow, then you know it was worth a little bruising. And it’s alright, as long as your height gains in inches what you’re losing.” I’ll be watching everything playwright Britta Johnson does now.
Kristen Thomson made me howl in The Crow’s Theatre production of A Wedding Party
In the lobby of the small but mighty Coal Mine theatre, following a fantastic production of Superior Donuts, I was introduced to Sarah Polley (there, along with many other actors, to wish the cast well following the show). Polley has zero airs. That she penned a brilliant piece in the New York Times later this year made me even prouder of this true Canadian gem.
The entire cast of Soulpepper/Bad Hats Theatre coproduction of Peter Pan lifted me high into the rafters of imagination. I felt blessed to have seen it, alongside my nine-year old nephew who told me after the play he wished he could learn swordplay to take on Captain Hook. I’m with you, Henry.
Is it cheating to say I loved a performance on ice? A stage of sorts, no? My six-year old niece Charlotte sparkled and held her own in a year end skating show that also featured dazzling performances by Canadian Olympians. Made me itch to get my old skates out. See you on the ice this Saturday.
Favourites on screen: A near impossible task for this film nerd as you regular readers will know by now. Best place to start is my Scrumptious Films list from TIFF 2017 for my favourites, many now released in theatres.
In addition, these films all impressed and moved me in some way:
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The Big Sick
I, Daniel Blake
Land of Mine
The Man who Invented Christmas
Favourite moments lived (in no particular order because memory doesn’t work like that!)
Moving was an unwelcome theme this year. Moving kids from residence to home and back to university and out of apartments and then to another country and my own belongings to pack up while my house was under repair from a flood and then unpack when it was done and through all of it, the kindness of family and friends who didn’t know they saved me from myself with their extra arms (my godson Ben who responded so swiftly when we asked for help moving heavy stuff that he surely deserves a medal, my sister Mary who arrived, flood-ready with rubber boots and towels in the middle of the night, my friends who offered houses and food and come sit in my garden).
My entire wedding party gathered at the start of the year here in our home to, among other things, recreate our wedding photo from 25 years ago. One of my bridesmaids brought a surprise. She unzipped her winter coat and there underneath was the dark red velvet dress made, along with all the others by my mom way back when women did these kinds of heroic domestic duties. We all shared laughing fits when she told me it didn’t zip up quite as readily in the back but she still wore it with panache. Later that night, my other bridesmaids brought out letters I had written about this crazy man child I adored, way back when taking a pen to paper and gushing about love was still in fashion. Both my girls were there to listen to it all. When I showed a movie I made about our wedding to my mom, who sometimes forgets, she said, “weren’t we lucky to have that talented man to make your sparkly dress?” I won the lottery that night. Yes indeed.
My eldest graduated from University of Toronto this year (Victoria College) and was able to celebrate this with her grandparents, who graduated themselves from this very institution six decades ago, and other cherished family members who attended the university. After a glorious day on the lovely campus, as we drove away, came this from our newly minted graduate: I learned a lot here. This was a good place for me. Later, my daughter told me her beloved Pappou, who hasn’t been well and was unable to attend her ceremony, gave a long diatribe about having no mother or sisters (he grew up an orphan, and was raised by his four older brothers) and then told her, our family needed more women. You were born and you are a smart woman, We need more like this.
I will be in a bad mood if you don’t come. Blessed are you if you get that kind of text from your sister.
Barenaked laps in a lake that time forgot in Algonquin late summer. I was there for a solo retreat courtesy of my brother John who joined me on the first night for a beer. Did he himself deliver that perfect sunset? Or the autumn Ontario heat wave that made warm water that felt like a hug? Who knew I needed it that badly that moment?
Dancing in the aisles to Earth,Wind& Fire with Peter and the girls. Best moment of the summer, second only to a spectacular weekend of wine, theatre, friends and gorgeous weather in Niagara over the Canada Day weekend.
Attending McGill Homecoming and I get to sit in a dazzling new Montreal resto (Jatoba) and hear my own McGill kid tell me, over the course of a fantastic meal, about the hardest paper she’s ever written, and did I say yet it is likely the best I’ve written too?
A three-way tie between the absolute glee when we sat down together in my dining room for our annual Christmas book club table with all our wee trinkets for one another- you’d think we were opening diamonds; when my pal Jo went to dig her dish gloves out of her purse to do all the dishes and everyone pitched in to dry; the recitation of A Night Before Christmas by another member Jill, complete with perfect eyebrow punctuation.
Sitting beside my folks at Christmas dinner. My dad clinks a spoon to his wine glass; we all stop talking. “Let’s remember this is a good country. And I’m lucky to have my wife.”
Picking up my kids in the airport following their six week Summer of 17 Sisters backpack trip. There is no better moment than seeing my kids in that airport. Not by a mile.
There are things that, as a parent, you cannot do for your children, as much as you might wish to. You cannot make them happy (if you try too hard they become whiners); you cannot give them self-esteem and confidence (those come from their own accomplishments); you cannot pick friends for them and micro-manage their social lives, and finally you cannot give them independence. The only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out.
-Michael Thompson, Homesick and Happy
I wish all my readers a magical year ahead. What adventures will it hold? I know one thing. It will be more fun with you along. #WeRallinthistogether
The Great Canadian Baking show debuted Wednesday night here in Canada and this baker was keen to check this out with my own baking lens. With me: an enthusiastic group of baking fans —we had us some big fun dishing on this Canadian version of this hit British show—and among my guests, a dear friend of many decades, a friend yet to ditch me through all the wonkier stages of my life, including the development of my food memoir. Anyone left standing after that? Friend for life.
Robyn Stafl drives a car as big as her heart— her love of surprising others with thoughtful gifts and gestures would be enough to keep her around (and she has a chauffeur hat to boot), but every posse needs a funny bone and ours is a shared skewer to all things pompous. Whatever our adult successes, we will always be giggling from the school locker room, waiting for the weekend where mayhem is sure to erupt… with our names attached. My lips are sealed.
Robyn is also queen of her own kitchen (when she has the time: this baker is also manager, lease reporting at Allied Properties, a commercial real estate company). Like me, Robyn loves to mess about with sugar and create sweet moments for her family. Emails from my old friend have subject lines, just checking in, how can I help, what do you need? but my favourite has to be: everything tastes better with ice cream. What’s not to love?
Did we like the show? Here’s a sample of our evening. Bubbles and such to start, and then…we’re off.
To watch, you’ll need a password. Subscribers to my monthly buzz sheet will receive that today. What are you waiting for? Sign up here now.
Happy Baking, all!
It’s Friday and here’s what caught my eye this week:
Is sexual exploitation institutionalized in the entertainment industry? Is that arena so steeped in archaic ways? Do people who are aware of exploitation have no moral compass?There are many ways to interpret the flood of accusations that the Weinstein exposé unleashed. Its possible to suggest that a disgruntlement with Donald Trump has led to the exposure of figures who are symbolic surrogates for the U.S. President, and some sort of instinctive cultural cleansing is unfolding. It’s possible to joke bitterly that, since Spacey plays a scheming, ruthless president in House of Cards, the public has higher standards for fictional presidents than real ones.
What I know for sure: look to our own circles for the good men. Search for answers in art.
Two stunning ballets are playing this month on stage at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, and they are both personal favourites; The Winter’s Tale and Nijinsky. If your take on ballet is The Nutcracker, these two dazzling ballets will rightly adjust your frame. The National Ballet of Canada continues to draw in new audiences around the world and just came back from repeat standing ovations in Paris on their recent tour. Critics were particularly impressed with Guillaume Côté, now a father of two. Here he is with his baby. Go ahead, be charmed with this tweet. I know I was.
I love this artist who corralled her siblings and friends to star in her own music video and caused an online stir. Halifax sensation Ria Mae is my new jam. 🎶I believe everyone’s with me.
HAPPY WEEKEND. RESIST HOLIDAY CREEP. Daylight savings means dark mornings and dinner hours but there’s a blaze of red on the trees now and it ain’t tinsel. NOPE.
Hats off to the film programmers. You did another stellar job bringing the world to our screens. Kudos for killer curating! And all the volunteers. You make me happy every year. I love seeing fellow movie freaks in those orange shirts, doing their best to shepherd the line-ups.
Still, TIFF lost some lustre this year. In my final TIFF 2017 post, here is the messier side of the festival. My beefs are few:
When a director comes out on stage and apologies to his audience for what they are about to see, the audience should just get up and leave. Apologizing is patronizing. TIFF audiences have seen plenty of provocative work over the decades. Fainting is for the fawning mobs pressing for selfies outside. There are some movies you never want to watch again but are still glad you saw once (Silence of the Lambs, Schindler’s List, First There Will Be Blood).Mother! the latest from shock darling Darren Aronofsky, isn’t one of them. It’s just bad torture porn. Did this film need a big splashy gala ticket? Jennifer Lawrence, Aronofsky’s romantic partner and star of this insanity, should have run away too.
What’s with the plethora of priority seats? Perhaps Aaron Sorkin papered the audience for his directorial debut, Molly’s Game (indulgent, way way too talky..and I’m a Sorkin fan). But when almost every seat in the first floor of the theatre is reserved, one wonders if TIFF still deserves to be called The People’s Festival.
Delays were the worst I’ve ever experienced; line-up chatter echoed my frustration. A delay in the screening means a carefully curated schedule becomes a wash. Missed endings? Check. Missed Q&A’s? Check. Standing in line is expected. Standing in line outside on the pavement as you watch the start time of a movie come and go, and nobody’s in the theatre yet is a good way to lose your core audience.
I have resigned myself to ads but why not preface each TIFF screening with a film short*? Open it up to artists across the country? Run the ads instead at the end with the credits, with all those who helped make the film. That’s where sponsorship nods belong. I watched a makeup ad over three dozen times. “Real beauty is colourful” (all the models are wearing black). “Real beauty is unique” (all the models are impossibly thin, leggy, and longhaired). Sigh. I understand sponsorship. These things don’t get made on their own. That’s why I support the festival myself. Meanwhile, in the multiplexes year round, moviegoers have to sit through ridiculous and utterly mindless gimmicks to play on smartphones to pass the time before the film begins. And distributors and executives wonder why nobody is going to the movies anymore…
Rant over. Go watch a movie and support filmmakers. This is your season.
I saw this young talented actor on stage earlier this summer in a gorgeous production of Me and My Girl at the Shaw Festival and now grieve his passing. Read theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck’s beautiful obit of Jonah McIntosh
So worth it: (and only one hour long!) Before Jerry was Seinfeld. Streaming now on Netflix.
Missed TIFF? *Try the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival happening this weekend at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Get excited for Alias Grace. The six episode miniseries adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel (yes, another one!) will air in Canada on CBC this coming Tuesday and will stream November 3rd on Netflix.
Simple yet brilliant answer to all this happiness talk: