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wear a pin but open your wallet

By January 8, 2018 Film, Headlines, Performance

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.

Read More

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Best of 2017

By December 31, 2017 Books, Film, Headlines, Life, Performance

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.

  • the kids of the youth programme at Wavestage theatre who truly nailed my favourite Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, in particular the mature performance of young Lucas Guesebroek as Marley

  • 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:

  • Patti Cake$

  • The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

  • Dunkirk

  • Bladerunner 2049

  • The Big Sick

  • Step (documentary)

  • I, Daniel Blake

  • Girls Trip

  • 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; 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…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 — surely, he deserves a medal; my sister Mary who arrived, flood-ready with rubber boots and towels in the middle of the night; 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, and recreated 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; 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.  Still, she 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? That man was a talented couture designer and having a dress made by him was her gift to me all those years ago.  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

Happy New Year.

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Best bakers in Canada: a fan report

By November 3, 2017 Headlines, Life, With Love and Sugar

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.

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By October 31, 2017 Headlines


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TIFF 2017: the mess

By September 22, 2017 Film, Headlines, Performance

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.

Weekend  links:

  • 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:



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TIFF 2017: Scrumptious films

By September 18, 2017 Film, Headlines

What have you seen that you liked?

So goes the question rippling through line-ups. Non-TIFF goers are perhaps stymied by the dizzying pace of screenings; the rest of us shrug it off. This is what we do. There are no bragging rights, just crazy ones. See what you can while it’s here and forgive the mess at the edges; the corporate trappings, questionable allowances for priority seats, a steady screeching fan crush stomping out any and all sensible paths to theatres. Ignore it as you sample the banquet table, eyes always on the prize: spectacular voyages and peeks at universal truths, all of it lending instructions for living, and wondrous creative inspiration.

Not bad for ten days.Yes, your eyes will pop, your mouth will drop. Pay attention. School has begun.

I know you like lists. Here is mine from a feast of global storytelling:

Scrumptious: films to love

Call be by your name:

The lights went down and off I went to Italy for a morning of pure bliss. This is sumptuous filmmaking, shot in Crema, Italy, by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, in an Italian, French and Brazilian co-production about a summer coming of age love story starring a beautiful actor you’re sure to see more of, Timothée Chalamet, and Arnie Hammer; both bring to life characters first found on the page in the much-loved novel by André Aciman (adapted for the screen by the genius James Ivory). Luckily for non-TIFF goers: you’ll get your own chance at this heady trip later this fall as it’s set for release late November.

The Shape of Water

This is the eyes-pop-mouth-drop film for sheer beauty and magic throughout. Phooey to one critic who sneered and dismissed it as a “surf and turf romance”. Not so. Sally Hawkins does fall for an aquatic creature but in Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro’s hands, the creature is spectacular, as is the cinematography, production design, all artful, all dazzling. I loved the story, the cast, the setting, and the soul. Everyone cheered at the end of this one, cheering for imagination—here, it’s strutting in extraordinary strokes, cheering for the Toronto Elgin theatre and other Toronto locations used by del Toro, who loves Toronto so much he lives here part-time. I was spellbound. This one opens in Toronto early December.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Hurrah for clever Toronto film audiences who picked this film as this year’s People’s Choice winner. I voted for all the films in my scrumptious list so don’t make me choose one winner but colour me happy to see this film anointed. Frances McDormand is Mildred, a mother who takes action against the police for failing to solve her daughter’s murder. When you see as many films as I do, you are grateful as hell for perfect balance: this one has it. British playwright Martin McDonagh has delivered a script with snap and zero waste. If all films could be this lively, I would be a happy fangirl. Somehow he sneaks in a very rich mix here and makes it look effortless;exploding a study of grief into an angry symphony. One flaw: two brief portraits of minor characters, both sketched as dimwit young women…unnecessary and worth a sigh from this old broad.


French cinematographer Emmanuel Gras travelled to the Congo for this remarkable documentary about one man’s struggle to provide for his family. We follow Kabwita as he makes charcoal in the Congolese countryside and then carries it on his bike for three agonizingly long days to sell it in the city. There is little here but the very looming present, in real time segments, and the result is mesmerizing. Here is the human condition in extraordinary measures. When the camera follows him into an intense prayer session, I was moved to tears. This is a film that will stay with me long after many others have faded.

Lady Bird

Among my very purposeful film picks were debuts and this one is stunning. Greta Gerwig has co-written films before with her partner, Noah Baumbach, but here, she shepherds her own script with confidence and heart and somehow avoids cliché in a well-worn genre.  It helps to have the wonderful Saoirse Ronan to play the rebellious teenager in the semi-autobiographical story set in Sacramento, with Laurie Metcalf delivering the second mother of the year performance (first is Frances McDormand, as mentioned earlier) and the talented playwright/actor Tracy Letts as the dad. Again, tone is king here. Gerwig nails it.

The Death of Stalin

I wanted this film, based on a graphic novel, to win the juried section of TIFF’s three year old Platform programming: it seem the three-member jury was seduced by dramatic fare (see below*). If comedy is done well, it looks easy. Scottish satirist Armando Ianucci has a huge fan base, thanks mostly to hilarious projects like VEEP ( he left after the fourth season) and In the Loop.  This is his first time delving into history and his dive is as profane as ever, in a delicious black comedy that had everyone in my screening roaring. A superb cast of performers play the Soviet dignitaries who are panicking at the demise of their leader, Joseph Stalin, and so begins a race for the leadership. Thank goodness for wit, on full display here.

The Florida Project

Sean Baker turned the cinematic world upside down with his film Tangerine, shot entirely on an iPhone. His follow-up is shot in regular 35 mm but again, Baker is set to stir things up with this absolutely absorbing story of a ragtag group living on the fringe in a motel on the outskirts of Orlando, Florida. The motel is run by Bobby, played wonderfully here by Willem Dafoe, who tolerates these kids just enough to keep them safe. I was set to hate this movie for the kids in the film have trash mouths and bratty is the behaviour code here, sure to grate on my nerves. Or so I thought. Sneakily, the film won me over. Dammit, those kids are engaging. Think Little Rascals with a contemporary spin and you’re halfway there. Poignant and packing a shimmering heart in ice cream colours, Baker’s film has done a very nifty trick here, capturing the world of childhood wonder in the midst of sober surroundings. The two young actors stole the stage at the screening I attended. More on that tomorrow.


First Reformed


Another habit of my TIFF picks (years in the making) are choosing titles in the Masters section. Sure, there’s the chance the Master has nobody left but sycophants who won’t tell him his latest effort is sour: we’ve seen this many a time. Get too good (or too rich) at your game and nobody tells you the truth anymore. More often than not, choosing a film from a cinematic giant means you’re in for a juicy ride. This film is from Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bill, The Last Temptation of Christ, to name just a few) and it is so engrossing I need to see it again, just to hear the bon mots from Schrader’s script. Ethan Hawke is brilliant as a priest suffering a crisis, one both unnerving and powerful. There are themes here that would be dangerous in the hands of a lesser talent. In Schrader’s hands, they underscore this thriller that might just be mistaken for a masterpiece.

The Other Side of Hope

From Finnish master, writer/director Aki Kaurismäki a fantastic story about a Syrian stowaway who escapes into Finland and begins to work in a restaurant run by a sour middle-aged businessman. In his first performance as an actor, Sherwan Haji begged us to not judge him harshly when he appeared at our screening to introduce the film. Hardly. His was a face (and performance ) easy to love. This film made my list because of the parade of fantastic faces cast and the overall genius tone: droll, deadpan, deadly. Can you make a comedy about the refugee crisis? Yup.

Very good: films not quite perfect but admirable and eminently watchable


The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Weird and wonderful, this dark tale surrounds a strange teenager who has wormed his way into a family’s life. No spoilers here — if you saw The Lobster or Dogtooth, you’ll understand the twisted world you find yourself wandering around in, courtesy of Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos. Here things could be merely sinister but you’ll laugh too, maybe nervously, and hold your breath right to the end. Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell lead the cast but the star of this show is Irish actor Barry Keoghan  (last seen in Dunkirk), who has thrown down a masterful performance. Keep your eye on this actor. He’s fascinating to watch. Is it a horror film? That would be far too easy. Lanthimos doesn’t fit into a box other than he is the guy everyone wants to work with right now. The film will be released in Canada November 17th.



Still on the subject of Irish actors, TIFF Rising Star Jessie Buckley may be known in the UK for her musical theatre chops but during TIFF she was mesmerizing filmgoers with her performance in Beast as the misfit Moll who falls for a man who may or may not be a serial killer. British director Michael Pearce has his own killer eye for visual detail and sets the tone at tense from beginning to end. This was another gem in the juried Platform series of films: all twelve films were picked for their strong authorial visions from mid-career talents, and most of them deserved that spot.  I loved Beast as much it terrified me.

If you saw his heart

Another Platform film (check) another debut (check), another female director (check, check, check)-would I go wrong with this pick?
Like Greta Gerwig, French film director Joan Chemla, who took part in the Toronto Talent Lab, stunned me with her first feature, a story she adapted from the Cuban book, Boarding Home, a series of portraits about the disenfranchised in a rundown hotel. In this film, Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal acts as her hero, a gypsy thief with a heart of gold, haunted by his past. Lots of brooding atmosphere and worthy production design made up for some of the weaker parts but Chemla is most certainly a star to watch.



Still in Platform territory comes a film from one of the Arab world’s best known directors, Nabil Ayouch, starring his gorgeous wife, Maryam Touzani in her first acting role. Razzia follows five narratives about Casablanca, weaving in and out of each over a forty year period. l loved this ambitious film, which was just chosen as Morocco’s candidate in the foreign language category of the 2018 Academy Awards. It falters on some of the storylines, but everyone on screen is captivating as hell.

What will people say

Equally captivating is newcomer Maria Mozhdah in this autobiographical film about female oppression from Iram Haq, a Norwegian-Pakistani actress and director. Mozhdah plays Nisha, a contemporary first generation teenager confronting her Pakistani-born parents’s traditional values. This film is perhaps the saddest film I saw at TIFF for it might as well have been a documentary, rather than a fictional piece, as it explores intimately the unravelling of a family caught between two worlds. a family like many here and across the globe. I cried at this one too. It made me miss my daughters terribly (empty nester, can’t help it) but you don’t need a daughter to feel gut-punched.

*Sweet Country

Australian director Warwick Thornton won accolades and prize for his 2009 debut, Samson and Delilah, and here he’s at it again: this won the $25,000 Platform prize in a race of excellent films. Guess the jury loved brooding westerns: this one set in the 1920’s in the outback of Northern Territory, Australia and centres around an Aboriginal who kills a white station owner in self-defence. My favourite thing about this fugitive narrative was the young kid, newcomer Tremayne Trevorn Doolan, who holds his own in a cast of heavyweight Aussie familiar faces including Sam Neill and Bryan Brown. While others were stronger in Platform section, I liked the film a lot; certainly nobody can argue the continued relevance or lyricism.


American indie darling Dee Rees brought together one of the best ensembles at TIFF for this 1940’s epic about two farming Missisippi families trying to cope during the war. The story overlap wasn’t always a success (the combat scenes were weak) but Rees has huge chops: this sprawling story was gripping and utterly relevant. Hard to watch as is all bold cinema, and some powerful performances across the board. After it premiered at Sundance to raves, Netflix picked it up: it will begin streaming November 17th.

Our People Will Be Healed

This film was the most hopeful film I saw during the entire ten days. I admit I was completely starstruck by the master documentarian behind the lens who wowed us all after the screening. At 85, Alanis Obamsawin is crackling with energy, style, and the ever fierce compassion that has driven all of her work with the National Film Board. This latest film, her 50th, is a celebration of a school in Manitoba, a school indigenous people across Canada hope can be a model in decolonization. Norway House is a joyful place of learning and community projects celebrating Cree culture. Obamsawin’s keen eye for children and their infectious energy is something I won’t forget anytime soon.

C’est La Vie!

Pure French pastry, a fluffy farce about a fussy Parisian wedding planner who tries to corral his event planning team for a massive wedding set in an 18th-century chateau. This film will cause you to develop a tickle, then a giggle, then a roar. These kind of confections in the American mainstream are often woefully predictable. In the hands of the directing pair, Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano, who made the beloved 2012 hit The Intouchables, it is just right.

Imperfect but still listworthy

Happy End


A follow-up to the brilliant Amour, this from master Austrian director Michael Haneke is not as fully realized as that earlier gem but is still fascinating in part because of his ever provocative poke (much of it dealing with technology) at the mess of contemporary family life. It helps to have the ever dazzling Isabelle Huppert on screen as the matriarch but equally capable was the rest of the French cast.

Brad’s Status

Ben Stiller suffers a midlife crisis in a film that is more polemic than a real cinematic narrative, produced in part by Plan B, Brad Pitt’s company. Still, Stiller is fantastic as the dad taking his son to see colleges and who can’t relate to his pondering, often portrayed here in hilarious light from writer/director Mike White. This is the tell part of show, don’t tell, but go along with it. You might recognize yourself.  This is first world problem kind of film, the only one I saw at TIFF. For that, I’m glad.



The latest film, another Platform contender, from Swedish director Lisa Landseth brings together her muse, Alicia Vikander, onscreen once again for their third collaboration, this time set in a beautiful forest where the dying go to attend to their last wishes before being put to death by choice. Vikander plays one of two sad sisters (Eva Green) attempting to reconcile their past in this surreal setting. Rounding out the cast are Charles Dance and Charlotte Rampling, both lending some more dazzle to a sometimes sappy story. Still, I think Vikander and Green are huge talents. Nice to see stories by women for women.


Another in the Masters programme: Russian auteur Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan was one of my faves from TIFF a few years back. He follows it up with another dark tale about the grim turn a bad marriage can take and the child left behind. The only reason this isn’t up higher on my list is for a relentless middle act which dragged the film down. Still, that this guy makes every image poetic is clear. The film is stunning to look at, and as bleak and beautiful as Bergman. It is for these kinds of films I attend TIFF.

Ana, mon amour

From Romanian director Colin Peter Netzer, a rocky relationship is put to the test by mental illness, explored through time shifts and lots of sex, much of it implicit. To quote my TIFF partner, if it’s on a computer in a dark room, it’s porn. If it’s on a TIFF big screen, it’s art.  There is always sex at TIFF. Here it comes thanks to two fearless performers in a portrait of a truly toxic union. By the end, I was exhausted. But for awhile, I was mesmerized by these talented actors as they delved into the roots of trauma.

The Wife

I love Meg Wolitzer’s novels. So it was an easy pick to see this adaptation from Swedish director Björn Runge, especially one starring Glen Close and Jonathan Pryce, as a husband and wife dealing with the news of his Nobel prize for literature. It should be a thrill but there’s a mystery lurking that unfolds with Close at the centre. This movie needed more zip. Still, the mystery and good performances keep the film moving and Close delivers yet another riveting performance, a reason alone to see the film. Somebody please give this woman an Oscar sometime soon.


That’s it for films worth reviewing. The rest of my picks were meh and at least one was downright infuriating…if I had brought a tomato, it would have been pitched at the screen. More to come.


Appearing next in this space: TIFF 2017 wrap: quotables and quips and the messy side of TIFF

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Guest blog: Why I chose to get Nasty

By August 2, 2017 Headlines

Pink and nasty. Go get ’em girls.

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Canada 150: love is still the best flag to wave

By June 30, 2017 Headlines

So I’ve directed your gaze to a film about Canadian name-dropping, and another to that incredible creative machine, the National Film Board. Encouraged you to drop your drawers and jump in the lake at twilight, and if not, pick up a canoe paddle and give it a try. It’s always better in a canoe, naked or not.

Truly, if we all do only one thing tomorrow it’s this: relish our freedom.

Free to protest.

Free to learn, especially things we weren’t taught. Freedom to listen.

Free to be angry.

Free to welcome.

Free to love.

Free to wander.

Free to wonder at the myriad stories. There is no one ritual but many beautiful customs and I toast them all.

Especially free ones like listening to a bunch of new Canadian music playlists. Who doesn’t like to be reminded of our greats? Joni makes everyone’s lists, and so does Leonard, Feist, K.D Lang, Gordon Lightfoot…and Celine.  Apparently she’s cool again. Years ago she graced our green room at Global TV, my old stomping grounds. She was endearing and humble and a family person above anything else. Kind of like most Canadians I know. But I digress…

All holidays are hard for some people, especially those disconnected from the central narratives. Be cautious about branding. Even as I say it, I know I date myself. We live in the age of branding. To hell with it.

Are we nice? Are we polite? Are we tolerant?

We are free.

I choose to believe we are moving forward together. I choose to believe our welcome mat is a worthy symbol, no matter how big a loser that makes me, Steven Marche.

It has become abundantly clear in 2017 that patriotism is for losers. Patriotism is for people and for countries that need to justify their existence through symbols rather than achievements.

-Steven Marche

This week, a dear friend welcomed a new family into her embrace. She and a generous Toronto based collective have sponsored a new family’s arrival from Eritrea and the pictures and stories of this initiative are so bloody inspiring that I want to cry. It is theirs to cherish and I wish them all the bounty this vast land has to offer. Here is how my wonderful bighearted friend Deb (the best kind of Canadian there is) described Day 2 with her new friends:

They are smart and adaptable and are picking up our ways very quickly. It is truly remarkable.

Happy Canada Day. Be glorious. Be free. Be adaptable and remember those who can’t celebrate today. They are in our hold too.

They may say it’s too hard, it’s too ambitious. Well, I say love is ambitious.

Wab Kinew

Peter and I spent many Canada Days in Ottawa. This year we’ll skip the crowds. What does your Canada Day look like?


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Pink isn’t just for millennials

By April 3, 2017 Headlines, Life

Millennial pink has reached the zenith of zeitgeist gushing.  Didn’t know pink was a thing? Me neither. The Friendly Greek wore pink shirts decades ago; in my closet are several pink purses.

On at least two occasions, I wore a large pink hat.

None of this makes us anything remotely on trend. How can you be hip in a red blazer fit for a tour guide?

“No one really agrees on what shade millennial pink actually is. Nonetheless, we think we figured it out. Essentially, it’s a subtle, muted pink — not too bright, but also not too blush (blush is also the “new neutral,” have you heard?) How did this fad begin, you ask? It could have been when Apple released the “rose gold” iPhone in 2015, or when Pantone named rose quartz the “Color of the Year” in 2016. Either way, it’s a thing, and we’re here for it.”

“Gone is the girly-girl baggage; now it’s androgynous. It doesn’t hurt that the color happens to be both flattering and generally pleasing to the eye, but it also speaks to an era in which trans models walk the runway, gender-neutral clothing lines are the thing, and man-buns abound. It’s been reported that at least 50 percent of millennials believe that gender runs on a spectrum — this pink is their genderless mascot.” (Read here for a complete breakdown of the trend)

“A color becomes popular because it’s symbolic of the age we’re living in. These are turbulent times. People are looking for calm.”

-Laurie Pressman, Pantone Colour Institute (more from Bloomberg here)

“I don’t like it but I can see why it’s popular. This is how I feel about a lot of things pitched to my demographic. Still, better than Boomer Pink, which locked Millennial Pink in the basement without a job and is inexplicably snide about it.”

Alexandra Petri, Washington Post

Running out to purchase things in hot colours never works much for me (who has time?) but some manage to pull it off.

Around here, some pink is year round.

And other pinks show up when it’s their season to strut.

Easter brings out the shine in pink, and my mother’s gorgeous pink candles.

I’m not fussed if pink is out of fashion decades from now (or how about next week, thanks to the Trump green invasion), certain as I am of the longevity of Anne’s Seasonal Kitsch that keeps me from losing my mind cued up and ready for the uncharted curves ahead.

Pink is not about the feminine or the frivolous.  (art by Kate Dotsikas)

For me, it’s the pucker up* we long for…

…and in the eyelids of sleeping babes. I’m for those forever.

Come on now. Show me your hip side. Got any millennial pink in your collection? Share in the Have your Say section below.

*photo credit: Jane Langford

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A banquet but no feast

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Watching the Oscars while sick offers a cocktail of kicks. While I don’t recommend it entirely—stomach flu has zero charm unlike its cousin, the common cold which allows for chicken soup—I will say this for it: delirium rids the thing of any heft. Read More

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