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TIFF 2022

By September 30, 2022 Film, Urban gadfly

We bought in for the 2020 couch version. Put on our masks for a hybrid Festival 2021. When it came time for an entire, in-person TIFF festival, Peter and I sat down again with our coloured sticky notes and schedules as we have done for years. We filled them in with one anticipated title after another. Giddy and gleeful on opening night, we put on our glam (the geezer version) to join the crowds on Festival Street.

A family wedding mid-festival meant we had half the time to screen films. Here are my highlights:

Festival Favourites

Empire of Light

TIFF programme notes described it as “a love letter to the people who come together under the glow of the cinema.”

Consider us sold for these two film nerds, perhaps our easiest pick this year.

We live in cynical times and this is a deeply UNcynical movie.

Sam Mendes, at TIFF premiere, re his film Empire of Light

As Hilary, the always sensational Olivia Colman brings myriad shades to her portrayal of a front-of-the-house movie employee who finds a kindred spirit in a new, much younger staff member, Stephen (Michael Ward). Their relationship within the beautiful Empire cinema house is the film’s core. Ward is simply spectacular; their chemistry is profound. The film is set in 1981 in a seaside town in the U.K. and is deeply personal for the 57-year-old Mendes, whose mother’s struggles with mental health inspired the story. Mendes, making his screenwriting debut here, told audiences at the Canadian premiere he wrote the screenplay in 2021, during the pandemic, specifically for Colman. She is among the talents in front and behind the camera: the film looks and sounds stunning. Look for it in theatres in early December.

Exiting the film, Peter and I found ourselves serendipitously with the rest of the cast in the backstage exit tunnel en route to the stage door. There, idling limousines and fans wait on the street after all the screenings. Shaking hands to congratulate director Sam Mendes (knighted in 2020) as he stood before me was one possible move. If I had seen Roger Deakins, I would have hugged him for his exquisite cinematography. As I came around the corner, about to step out into the daylight, there, inches from my face, was the prodigiously talented Michael Ward. In what proved to be my 2022 TIFF moment, I could not help being anything but honest.

Your performance was spectacular. I want to see everything you do next.

Ward grasped both my hands.

Thank you. That means so much to me.

Autographs and selfies are for the crush outside. To meet the artist who moved you to tears following their performance is the stuff of life. Peter and I once hung out for an hour on the sidewalk outside a Broadway theatre to meet the stars of Kiss Me Kate. They eventually emerged. We shared how we once played their roles in another lifetime. Magic was ours that frozen February night.

The Menu

The most fun we had at TIFF was for the world premiere of The Menu, and not because star Ralph Fiennes happened to sit across the aisle (we love your work, we whispered to him). Nor was it the food trucks waiting outside with themed food treats from the production company. Here, finally, was ripe satire, pitched perfectly to horrific ends. The story of a young couple visiting a famous restaurant on a remote private island is aimed squarely at pretentious foodies. As the lavish tasting menu from celebrated chef Slowick (Fiennes) unfolds, so did the twists and turns of a plot meant to shock and humour audiences. There are no spoilers here except this: I will never enjoy a campfire S’mores treat again without referencing this film. The story comes from the genius mind of Mark Mylod, one of the producers of another wickedly black show, Succession, but the film belongs to Ralph Fiennes from start to finish. Give this guy an Oscar already! The Menu heads to theatres in late November.

The Banshees of Inisherin

More fun to be had in this fable from Oscar winner Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin is a master class of two of the screen’s finest, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, as two former best friends. The dark and often hilarious story surrounds a falling out between two friends as the 1922 Irish Civil War rages across the bay. As the guileless Pádriac, Farrell is instantly all of us confronted with heartbreak. As the friend who wants out, Gleeson explores ideas of legacy and his relationship to music that will speak to artists in every discipline. I will admit to a general bias for all things Irish and any project with Colin Farrell attached, so embracing every bit of this black comedy is hardly surprising. Witty and grim: signature cocktail ingredients for the dramatist McDonagh. The film also prompted a memory jolt to our fabulous family trip to the Aran islands; the film was shot on the largest of those beautiful islands, Inishmore. Special mention goes to Kerry Condon as Pádriac’s clever and loyal sister, Siobhan. I was cheering for her the most. Condon is one of Variety’s ten actors to watch in 2022. Look for the film in theatres in late October.


If The Menu was the most delicious fun I had at a TIFF screening this year, Bros was the rowdiest. Our audience laughed hard at comedian Billy Eichner’s gay rom-com. Eichner stars and co-wrote the screenplay with hit filmmaker Nicholas Stoller. We laughed, too. It’s just sexy and funny enough to hold up to an overkill marketing message: “the first queer rom-com from a major studio.” If you love rom-coms, you’ll have a riot here. Investing in the two leads is easy, even if the sappy, overly mainstream soundtrack was a turn-off and lost opportunity; this film won’t change your mind if you are NOT a fan of the genre, and it remains to be seen whether Bros will have success bringing back audiences to theatres. (The film is now streaming.) Festival premieres ending in long ovations and cheers are rarely barometers of a film’s success. “Papered” audiences are to blame: sponsors, family, friends, members of the film crew — Judd Apatow was the production company behind the film— and other biased constituencies will flavour a festival reception more often than not. They sure make for one helluva good party, though.


Fans surrounded acclaimed filmmaker Christian Mungiu after screening his latest film set in the foothills of Transylvania. All wanted to know more from this brilliant artist who generously answered one question after another about his craft. If Peter were giving out awards, he would start here. His interest in the Romanian New Wave put a star on our TIFF schedule. This is the most layered film I have seen this year and the most urgent, exploring an event exposing prejudice and xenophobia in Romanian society. In the movie, a community comes apart after the local bakery hires Sri Lankan migrant workers. The ensuing racist indignation stokes prior fissures, threatening to explode in the most memorable TIFF 2022 scene for me: a town hall meeting shot in one engrossing seventeen-minute take. The film premiered at Cannes earlier this year, where Mungiu is revered.

The Hotel

Chinese master Wang Xiaoshuai got my attention with his 2019 film So Long, My Son. Here, the auteur has done it again. Stuck in a Thai hotel during the early days of the pandemic lockdown, the director and a group of fellow artists decided to make a movie in and around their milieu. Sure, okay, and what did YOU do during a lockdown? In 14 days, the crew shot a story about a young Beijing woman who meets an older man in the hotel’s swimming pool. Artful and moody, Xiaoshuai’s masterful black-and-white take on isolation and entrapment may serve as a sobering marker of the global pandemic and the best case of artistic invention yet.

The Woman King

I love a good epic tale and Viola Davis. She leads the best cast of all my TIFF screenings this year as leader of the Agojie, an all-female military regiment protecting the African kingdom of Dahomey. Based on actual events, the film roused the sleepiest TIFFgoer (and a Twitter war). Hell, I wanted to stand and cheer. Davis is just so damn ferocious. Fans of violent battle scenes will be content, as will those craving intimate character studies: the film navigates both with beautiful, majestic results. Among director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s inspirations were Braveheart and Gladiator. I loved watching the powerhouse co-stars Lashana Lynch and Thuso Mbedu (also one of 2022 Variety’s Actors to Watch). The film is now in theatres.


Director Oliver Hermanus had a powerhouse helper making this adaptation of Kurosawa’s 1952 Japanese classic, Ikiru. His screenplay comes from 2017 Nobel prize-winning writer Sir Kazuo Ishiguro and stars the mighty talent Bill Nighy as a bureaucrat facing his imminent mortality. This film is simply a thing of beauty. I want to see it again immediately to inhale the lush soundtrack, the elegant colours and lines in every shot, and the understated brilliance of Nighy’s performance. Nighy abandons his usual comic energy here for an entirely new texture.

I must have been very very good in a previous life. One of the most eminent writers in the world suggests that you might be good for a film and then agrees to write it with you in mind?! Then to meet Oliver who turned in something absolutely exquisite and powerful…

Bill Nighy, star of Living, at the TIFF screening

Imperfect yet festival-worthy


Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence turned down a splashier big-budget David O’Russell film to star in theatre director Lila Neugebauer’s feature film debut. Lawrence delivers a moving and restrained performance as a military engineer on leave from Afghanistan after suffering a brain injury. Cast as a mechanic who befriends her, co-star Brian Tyree Henry brings much-needed energy to every frame. Unfortunately, the film is a little too subdued in parts; however, it is purposeful. This film is the first out of the gate of Lawrence’s production company, and I look forward to seeing what she produces next. Look for it in theatres and on Apple T.V. in November.

Glass Onion: a Knives Out Mystery

Bloated and missing the late Christopher Plummer—easily the best thing about the first instalment of Knives Out. Here, the plot surrounds tech billionaire (Ed Norton) offering an intriguing invitation to his spectacular private island. Director Rian Johnson again pleaded with the TIFF audience at the premiere to avoid spoilers before the film opens in theatres this November. Forget spoilers. The only thing I recall is the pure candy of cast and location. I’m a sucker for the Greek islands; I got hitched there eons ago. Glass Onion‘s production crew filmed in Spetses during the summer of 2021, where the cast, all present on stage for our screening, partied hard throughout the shoot. It’s hard to feel much on-screen for either the characters or the mystery involved. Wait to see it on Netflix, who forked over millions for two more sequels after the boffo box office of the original. Johnson plans to make a string of these stand-alone mysteries.

I’ll keep making these as long as Daniel Craig can stand me.

Director Rian Johnson

The Whale

Director Darren Aronofsky is again the provocateur in this adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s play about a highly obese creative writing teacher. However, none of the film’s controversy will hurt its release later this fall. While the film is overly theatrical-—its origins transparent in every frame (Doorframes to be exact. Every actor seemed to halt there, which quickly became annoying)—Brendan Fraser, buried in a fat suit, manages a raw and shocking performance of a suicidal father. Look for his name on the Oscar ballot. The film will be in theatres in early December.

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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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Mango Crisp

By March 27, 2017 Recipes, Urban gadfly

I love weekend brunch. It’s my favourite meal to host, but so too is sitting down to a latte bowl made by someone else at a tiny gem in your own city. Hitting the Toronto brunch scene used to be a rare thing for us. You try hauling teenagers out of bed on a weekend morning, let alone waiting for them to get dressed and ready for a family outing. Now the Friendly Greek and I play tourist in our own town and smile as we ask “table for two, please.” Read More

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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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Service please, after you rest.

By November 10, 2015 Urban gadfly

Restaurants open past last call are crucial to foodie cities. Shift workers rely on them, as do university students, theatre hounds, tourists with jet lag.   Our on last visit to NYC, we arrived late due to delays and traffic, and dumped our bags and headed straight for the Blue Ribbon, first discovered over a decade ago after a chef pointed us there: It’s where we go after we finish our shifts, he told us. We’ve been going back ever since, often in the wee hours. There may be better paella or fried chicken and collards. I haven’t found any place yet in NYC I like as much.

Here in Toronto, late night diners just lost one option from one of our best. Beginning this week, Bar Isabel is closing at midnight through the week to give their staff a rest.

What? Quality of life?  In the restaurant world?

If it comes from this guy, I’d say we’re on to something.

courtesy Toronto Life

courtesy Toronto Life

The man’s sense of what Toronto craves has been impeccable. His food manages to fit the moment and the city with perfect accord.

-Stephen Marche, Toronto Life.

Meanwhile, another hot Toronto dining talent is also making waves for his consideration of staff. Hemant Bhagwani is ditching tipping to give staff more wages and let them share profits in his company. The chef and owner of the Amaya chain of restaurants will instead charge a 12 per cent administrative fee on every bill at his newly opened Indian Street Food Company on Bayview in Leaside.

I’ve always felt the dishwasher in the restaurant works the hardest and gets the lowest money. I want them to feel a part of the restaurant. It’s theirs as much as it is mine. That was key for me.

-Hemant Bhagwani

Retaining excellent staff is clearly important to both men, a consideration surely on the mind of Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality Group south of the border. This month, Meyer will begin a roll-out to eliminate tips at all of the group’s full service spots.  Meyer would like to see his country switch to a European-style all inclusive system.

To him, “hospitality” includes more than service. Meyer considers the front of house staff — the servers, bartenders, and runners who directly interact with diners — to be the diplomats in a much larger body politic. These emissaries are the face of an entire group of individuals providing hospitality, one that includes every member of the restaurant’s staff, from dishwashers to expediters to hosts. To him, “Hospitality included” means this won’t be a semantic game where a tip is just called by another name, and still goes only to the service staff’s bottom line — it means every individual employed by the restaurant benefits.

-Ryan Sutton,


Higher prices are inevitable as money has to come from somewhere. Will diners be scared off? What about workers used to tips? Meyer is behind two of my favourite spots in Manhattan: The Modern and Gramercy Tavern. Both excel in service, or so has been my experience.

For this amateur cook, service is everything. Good food and shiny decor mean little without some shred of courtesy. Neither was evident on a recent outing to the famed tea room at the Windsor Arms in Toronto.

We had booked a reservation earlier in the week for “Twilight Tea” online through Open Table. A harried hostess in the lobby couldn’t find our reservation or an apology. A wedding reception was underway, and there was little sense of anything but guests milling about in a cocktail cacophony. Eventually we were ushered into the back room where a table was hastily set. There was no one else around.

A server named Cindy arrived and took our tea order then returned to advise us that our food would take some time.  She was sweet enough; it’s not her fault things were off. Piped-in music featured a noisy blast of incongruent classics. Behind us, a group of girls shuffled into the room from the bar-they were hoping to get a group selfie. Forty five minutes later, we had our tea sandwiches and those infamous scones.


By then we had sipped enough tea. My daughter ventured out to the ladies room and overhead the hostess whining about the drama queens in the tea room. Back at the table in our corner,  we laughed it off and considered air conducting along to the William Tell overture. It was Saturday after all. We had each other and time off to play. Raspberry jam and scones are hardly incentives to weep.



The Windsor Arms is still a lovely place but they might want to take a note from the other tea services offered in town: scones will only get you so far and weary staff are likely looking for an exit. There are eateries who care about their staff and the service they provide. Options abound. For them…and for us.

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Ok. Blue Jays. We. Had. Fun.

By October 27, 2015 Life, Urban gadfly

What’s with the hat? Since when are you a baseball fan?


No surprise moves in middle age?

Go back to your cave, whiner.

Today is Blue Jays Appreciation Day, says Toronto Mayor John Tory.


I remember another such day a few decades ago, before a baseball strike wearied and wore down this fangirl.


I was a newlywed. A very attractive Joe Carter lived in our tower at the foot of Yonge Street. As incongruous as those two statements appear, it was a trippy time. I considered sending in stories of my meetings in elevators with Joe to magazines, you know the ones your male buddies said they read just for the articles inside; except we weren’t fated to meet, but for a chance sighting in the front driveway.  Also considered was a dash after his sleek vehicle, shouting Hey neighbour! A dominant klutz gene prevented me from any impropriety.

Ah, newlywed bliss.



We took our girls to the games then, before ballet lessons, basketball tournaments, and other teenage pursuits crowded the calendar.


And then we forgot about the game. Other games prevailed. Soccer, soccer, and did I say soccer?



So was it mere nostalgia for those years that had me glued to every game in this recent heart-stopping pennant race?

Hell, no. We just needed to cheer about something.  A federal election had exhausted the nation-this writer too. We needed to gather at the national hearth.


What’s that? There isn’t one?

Oh yes there is.


Watching the Jays games, sharing the excitement with neighbours, friends and strangers on the subway made us shed our Pod People postures. We became a village again.
I’ll leave the game details to the sports writers who show off their romantic sides during baseball playoffs.

Thanks for the ride. We had a blast.





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Winged words

By October 20, 2015 Urban gadfly

The morning after: there are the bags under my eyes, bigger than the weekly garbage hauled out to the curb. Add them to the new map on my face of every joy, every crushing defeat, etched in new and bewildering patterns on my face. There is also this little thing of knowing. Suddenly knowing a thing or two.  Is this what they call wisdom?

Aging means being surprised less-you’ve been there, done that, seen that, ready for the rock and the roll, and yet, when real surprises do come around, the effect is dazzling.

I didn’t make history tonight. You did.

We did it. We embraced change. Nobody really likes change.  We all say we want to clean out the wardrobe but then we buy the same sweater on our first outing.  Poor Justin, prince of collegial politicking , will soon discover that once he’s PM.

But let’s go back to last night. I’m stuck on it, enjoying those gorgeous gooey Big Statements stuffed into Justin Trudeau’s speech last night.

Words have wings so speak good things, says the button on my office board.

We know Pierre taught his son the weight of words in their house of books (I come from one of those, albeit one less celebrated and thankfully far from the public eye).

“He spent the last summers of his father’s life reading the dying man’s favourite plays to him-Shakespeare, Racine, Corneille, writers who saw by the light of the mind.”

-Ian Brown, In search of the real Justin Trudeau

As a literature major at McGill ( my turf but there was no Justin pretty boys in my vintage, just one Friendly Greek), the young Justin mucked about with words aplenty. His friends usually respond what most people don’t know about him is how much he reads, or how he can recite poetry in any given situation.

“A positive, optimistic, hopeful vision of public life isn’t a naive dream, it can be a powerful force for change.”

None of this makes a good leader necessarily.  It does mean he understands a fundamental human need.

Maya Angelou knew it. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what they did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

We were made to feel special by the Trudeau campaign and in his victory speech last night: our “better angels” felt soothed. Stephen Harper either forgot this essential rule, or he didn’t care. The first thing out of his mouth in his concession speech last night: he came into politics because he believed hard-working Canadians should keep more of the money they earn because government should manage money the way people manage their own.  Really? You want to go out talking about our wallets?  Before he left office, Harper and his campaign team spent $25 million on attack ads.  As it turns out, Canadians wanted a different script, free of divisive sideshows. Those attacks stoked our shadow sides. Icky. Harper may have been a clever politician yet his words and wedge issues have wounded the Canadian soul.

The confinements ahead for our new PM are considerable. Special interests. Competing agendas. Hidden undermining. An ambitious newly-elected group who need direction and steady leadership. None will be won over by tone alone.

It’s a harsh world. Diplomacy is about tone.

Tone matters. Words matter.

Let’s sit and enjoy them awhile.

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Cheer for the dreamers

By October 19, 2015 Urban gadfly

They’re everywhere.  A little breathless, apple-cheeked, stacks in hand.  Street to street, neighbourhood to neighbourhood.

Volunteers getting the vote out. Every single one counts today.

I want to roll down my window as I drive by and cheer for them.

Cheer for the hope in their gait.

Cheer for the heart that pumps bigger and better.

Cheer for the faith in systems, in the wheel turning in the right direction.

Cheering is better than griping.



Advance poll results indicate a huge increase in voting. This thrills me. We are not deadened pod people after all.

Today is a day for the dreamers.

Put away your faded flags.

It’s a good day to be Canadian.


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Cheeky public art

By May 19, 2015 Urban gadfly

The Olympics of art, the 56th Venice Biennale, opened this month. Always provocative, this century old festival is the most prestigious contemporary art celebration in the world. Eighty five invited nations take part by unveiling works in pavilions and exhibition spaces around the city. Canada’s presentation, in the Giardini di Castello, comes from the artist-collective BGL of Quebec City, who turned the tiny Canadian pavilion into a dépanneur (corner store for the rest of Canada), a wink to the working artist’s need for a sideline to survive.


It felt more reminiscent of Saturday-night lineups on the night’s last cigarette run than your average wander-in corner-store experience. But then again, nothing is average in Venice. Half cheeseball amusement park, half natural splendour, the city is a befitting location for this work, which is so thoroughly and distractingly amusing while, at its essence, making a biting statement about the moneyed art scene it serves.

-Canadian Art

Forgot to buy your ticket to Venice? Me too.

We can console ourselves with Outings, also an international initiative, but one that involves “freeing” anonymous figures from historical art to street art. Now appearing in more than a dozen cities around the world, these works, from digital prints pasted with transparent wallpaper glue, are meant to bring art to neglected corners of cities. Anyone can participate so get busy. Here’s how.


San Francisco artist George Zisiadis designs for the streets too. His latest, “Bench Go Round” re-imagines boring city benches to create real connection and play between strangers. I vote for these to dot all our Toronto streets and send cell phones flying to the curb.

Here in Toronto, a giant photographic mural has been installed at the waterfront that transforms a dull city block into a stunning image. Canadian artist Sarah Anne Johnson used both photography and painting to create Best Beach, mounted on the west side of the Westin Harbour Castle at the foot of Bay Street.This brilliant initiative, on view for the next two years, comes thanks to lead sponsor, Partners in Art, who teamed up with StreetARTToronto and the Contact Photography Festival.  Kudos to all. More please.



Not inspired yet? Try making your own spectacular mural in this Toronto funhouse.

Grab some chalk. The sidewalks are waiting.



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I see the world in your eyes

By May 1, 2015 Urban gadfly

What are you doing this weekend?

I am planning to make eye contact with my other half.

Read More

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