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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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Guest blog: Sing Sing Sing

By August 1, 2017 Performance

GUEST BLOG: As we continue our look at hobbies that become passions: singing in the shower is fine enough…for some.

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Summer movies

By July 26, 2017 Film, Performance

TIFF has just announced some of their 2017 lineup so get excited. Still, there’s enough decent fare before then in commercial theatres to tide this fangirl over until then. Here’s my midsummer list of a surprisingly satisfying summer movie season.

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Long weekend reads

By May 19, 2017 Books, Performance

What happens when you grow up with the Bogeyman narrative playing out large in the culture around you?  Literary darling Emma Cline grew up in California where the Manson drama was the defining event in the zeitgeist of her parent’s adolescence. The story of the charismatic sociopath was too familiar to her as a novel protagonist so she decided to focus on the peripheral players in the story, and conjured up a character who might have been on the sidelines of a dangerous cult. This became the starting point for her critically acclaimed debut, The Girls, which kept me enthralled on my sickbed this week.   Read More

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Have you read a poem lately?

By April 28, 2017 Books, Performance, Urban gadfly

April is National Poetry Month.
We almost missed it, didn’t we? There are so many distractions in this fine city. Last night I was at Hot Docs 2017, with Last Men in Aleppo. There are two more screenings of this. Highly recommended. I cannot think of anything else this morning.

Thank goodness for Henry, a clever boy I love, who gave me one of my most favourite gifts ever last year: a collection of his own poetry.

Meet the under ten set’s new poet laureate.

Hooray for Henry, you’re our Friday inspiration.

For more on poetry…

from a year ago:

The profane and the sublime

While you wait, make eggs. Read poetry.

from two years ago:

Whale breath

from three years ago:

Unclogging the air

from four years ago:

Pack a rock

from five years ago:

We were all children once

Happy weekend.

PS. The Handmaid’s Tale begins this Sunday on Bravo!


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Spring chicks

By April 21, 2017 Performance

“hanging out with the hipsters is hard work

how many selfies can you take without looking like a jerk?”

-Sheryl Crow, Be Myself

  • Sheryl Crow has released her ninth studio album, Be Myself. Nine seems a good number for Crow who has nine Grammies to match. After a recent foray into the country music arena, Crow’s latest is a fierce flourish of rock-pop born of a wish to revisit the sound and feeling of her earlier records. Still, the record hardly ignores the current landscape as the musician felt a sense of “real urgency” following Trump’s election. Match that with a recent bout of breast cancer, motherhood, and the launch of a new clothing line, and you have a sage on your spring jam.

  • Tap-dancing is one of those skills you can’t do without absolute commitment. See it nailed down in full glory this weekend with the most buoyant cast of spring in Wavestage’s latest production, Anything Goes.

  • Toronto’s Soulpepper is bringing their most celebrated productions to New York for a month of programming this summer. I’ve seen most of these shows and loved them here and here. Read on about the hidden figures behind this initiative and others.
  • Fun quiz: read this description and try to guess which famous Torontonian is featured in an essay in this week’s New Yorker:

 She would look striking even if she were not familiar. She owns an array of brightly colored winter coats—jewel red, imperial purple—with faux-fur-trimmed hoods that frame her face, as do her abundant curls of silver hair. She has high cheekbones and an aquiline nose, the kind of features that age has a hard time withering. Her skin is clear and translucent, of the sort that writers of popular Victorian fiction associated with good moral character.

 Read on here to see if you guessed right.

This spring chick is spring cleaning this weekend (sigh) between cheering (GO LEAFS GO!). Then again, I might just ditch and hang out in the best playhouse in my neighbourhood. Guess where? Then again, if I tell you, I might have to kill you.


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Kudos and Curses

By March 30, 2017 Performance

Winter has been rich for readers and arts lovers. Lots to love, and some? Not so much. Read More

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March Roar

By March 3, 2017 Film, Life, Performance


No, I’m not heading to the beach for some of this and that.  I’ll be at school this month (more on that to come) and yes, there are reasons to kick up my heels yet.

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Chutzpah is a good winter diet

By February 2, 2017 Film, Performance, Urban gadfly

It’s been a hell of a week out there. Reading and absorbing news is deadly. For now, a prescription of sorts:

Make coffee. Take dog for walk. Note the sunlight on the scant snow.  Try to work. Try to remember that work is meaning. Seek out seeds of growth and creative bursts that colour a black sky. Find them in art, in fiction, on the screen and stage. A million stories to reframe the day as one to embrace instead of despair.  Read More

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A wedding off the rails

By January 30, 2017 Performance

When you’ve been married a long time, you tend to forget the theatrics of that day, once upon a time, when an unblemished future was stretched out before you down the aisle.  Thanks to a couple of colleagues from my days in a television newsroom, I have hours of footage to prompt a rusty memory or two. Earlier this month, said footage was dug out, edited, and shown with those brave wedding party people who shared our celebration on that weirdly warm day in January of ’92.

My edited film is lengthy for this space to show you the final cut but here is Little Bo Peep Bride with some corny advice.

As a movie buff, you can’t find better material than corralling a massive group of friends and family for a ceremony that has every potential of falling off the rails. Ours was a magical circus with a few mishaps (my hairstyle, the missing bottles of Scotch swiped from the bar) yet we made it out the door to a car that honked all the way through the downtown corridor en route to our hotel room.

Of course, weddings and storytellers have enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship. The best of the lot avoid the sentiment and go for the funny bone like the new play, The Wedding Party, by Toronto-born writer/actor Kristen Thomson.

Well, a marriage is a contract you enter into, and some of the essential elements of the wedding are that words are spoken and witnesses hear them and believe them. That’s very much what happens in the theatre. You walk on stage and you say such and such, and everybody believes in it.

Kristen Thomson, playwright, on her new comedic play The Wedding Party

Thomson stars in her own play as the mother of the bride, and also a few other characters—all of the actors play multiple roles.  We never meet the bride and groom. Instead, “backstage” at the reception, various family members come and go and emote about their own disgruntled relationship with a wedding spectacle put on entirely by the father of the bride. Played for maximum laughs by Tom Rooney, he’s a wealthy tycoon, estranged from his twin brother, who shows up (of course) and cues the meltdown, fuelled by booze and bruised egos.

Popped in for potent laughs throughout are the father’s beloved dog, played deftly again by Thomson-remember all the characters she played in her hit I, Claudia? Easily nailing the nutty mom, a former circus performer shut out of the wedding planning and speech podium, Thomson’s drunk act is the high of this show. There’s a note here and there of real drama, but mostly we’re in high camp terrain and the timing keeps the pace going with swift turns of costume and character.

Winter requires outings like these and the headlines require it more-never has the sky looked so bleak. I am afraid to check my newsfeed.  Instead, I’m on the hunt for stories that swell the heart. Give me beauty in an ugly world and I’m yours. My heart is with all those families in Quebec City today.


The Wedding Party is playing at the Streetcar Crowsnest, the beautiful new home of the Crows Theatre in Toronto’s Leslieville. It runs until February 11th. Dine beforehand nearby at The Maple Leaf Tavern, the perfect set-up for a night of kicks. Or just order a fancy cocktail at the spanking new bar of the theatre itself and go ahead and take it inside to your seat. Permitted here. Permitted everywhere this winter in our sorry mess of a world.

Check back tomorrow for another winter outing:the terrific new film from Mike Mills, 20th Century Women.

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