Tuesday, 21 November 2017

How to Love the Art While Loathing the Artist

I have been giving some thought over the past few months about the relationship the artist has to his/her art. Or more specifically, can we look at the art of people who have abhorrent views or have done abhorrent things with any sort of critical eye? In light of the myriad of sexual abuse allegations that have flooded forward lately from all walks of life and from all sides of the ideological spectrum, I have been asking myself if it is possible to love the art while loathing the artist.

When I was a kid, our family car was a Ford LTD station wagon. You know the type? Cream-coloured with faux paneling on the doors. A truly iconic '70s suburbia ride. While my grandfather was extraordinarily vocal in his opposition to ever purchasing a German-made automobile, there was never any resistance to the very American-made Ford my dad bought. There is no doubt in my mind that zero heeds were given by my family to founder Henry Ford's well-documented and prolific anti-semitic views that informed many of Hitler's own writings and still resonate with many hate-filled and bigoted people today. That Ford station wagon was simply the right car at the right time for our family and the disturbing history of its founding father never entered into the decision making.

In high school, I fell in love with the writings of T.S. Eliot. I still think that The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is one of the most beautiful poems ever written. It wasn't until many years later that I was exposed to his rampant anti-Semitism and his unrepentant Holocaust affections. I am stuck in a quandary. Must I now view Prufrock through a different and far uglier lens? Does the same hold for The Merchant of Venice or anything Roald Dahl ever wrote? Will I be able to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my grandchild knowing that its author probably would have hated the child it was being read to?

I offered this question on my Facebook page yesterday and the discussion was challenging and fascinating. I hope that my friends won't mind if I use a few of their thoughts.

One friend offered the following:
"Art is an extension of the artist-a magnifying glass put to some aspect of their interior world. We can't create in a vacuum - experiences colour every aspect of our lives. the positives and the negatives are inseparable parts of a whole. It is an uncomfortable experience - it creates dissonance. And it certainly makes us think about the work. It is provoking --- not a bad result for an artist."

I happen to agree with her point that art is often about making us uncomfortable. Moving past our comfort zones is what allows us to accept differing points of view and new experiences. It is the artist's job to make us think and to make us feel. Those feelings aren't always fluffy and happy. Sometimes they are ugly and challenging. But what happens when we discover an aspect of the artist that is continually reflected in the art? Woody Allen's seminal film Manhattan comes to mind.

Manhattan was the very first R-rated film I saw. My cousin who was already eighteen bought the tickets for us and I quietly snuck into the theatre. I remember thinking at the time that Mariel Hemingway's teenage Tracy was probably younger than I was and here was a forty-something and more-than lecherous Woody getting it on with a kid. It bothered me then and I was perplexed at the accolades that rained down on the movie. Neither Soon-Yi Previn nor Dylan Farrow was even a part of the conversation about Allen then, but I cannot look at this film using the same gravitas scale knowing now what I do about its director. And don't even get me started about Roman Polanski.

Another friend said this:
"I do believe that it is sometimes impossible to separate the artist from the art, depending on what the intention of the art is. E.g. Richard Wagner, the 19th century composer and consummate anti-Semite, deliberately used some of his music as anti-Jewish polemic. I do not listen to his music." 
She continued.
"On the other hand, it may be somewhat less problematic to enjoy art (visual, musical, etc.) that is not imbued with the ugliness of its creator's hateful behaviours. Woody Allen's movies come to mind, but I don't particularly want to put one cent into the pocket of haters or depraved people. I think we struggle so much with this because, over the centuries, some truly horrible people have created some truly remarkable art." 
The financial argument is an intriguing one. Enriching people who have knowingly and openly engaged in disgusting behaviour should be anathema. Has Mel Gibson ever done proper tshuvah (penance) for his anti-Semitism and his ugly treatment of women? And yet, time seems to have healed Hollywood's disdain for him. He was nominated for several Oscars last year and is currently starring in one of the hits of the holiday season. His reclamation seems complete, but what of his victims? I don't see million dollar paydays coming their way. Does the answer lie in the distance we have from the misdeeds? Will Kevin Spacey or Louis C.K. lay low enough for a few years and bounce back like Mel? Will Hollywood or the entertainment consumer afford them the opportunity because of their gifts? Can I look at a Picasso painting today with a different eye, even knowing what a shit he was to women because it all happened outside my gaze and I can in no way enrich him?

We are witnessing a revolution and in my view, it is long overdue. No longer are victims of abuse remaining silent and abusers are being called out for their behaviour. Powerful people in powerful places who have violated their positions for far too long are experiencing a reckoning. But as my lovely young cousin pointed out, what is happening now "feels weirdly specific who and what the outrage machine decides is ok or not ok." Bill Cosby will die a broken man but Johnny Depp is still out there grinding. But their art remains as tangible evidence of their talent and gifts and it cannot and should not vanish. Caravaggio was a miserable human being but his works are on display at the Louvre. Perhaps the answers to these complicated questions lie within what each of us is willing to tolerate. Where is my breaking point and how does it affect me in the here and now? Only each of us individually can answer that.

I believe that I need to hear a measure of true apology and true retribution. It can't be enough to simply say "I'm sorry without hesitation or reservation" but it is a good start. Has Woody or Roman or Mel ever tried even that much? Not to my recollection. But there needs to be more. Much more. There needs to be tangible action taken to alleviate the hurt and suffering and pain. I'm not certain what form that might take, but it certainly isn't shuffling off to rehab for a week and then back to business as usual. Maybe it comes in the form of mentoring programs for young victims who have been damaged by these people. Maybe it comes in other ways of giving back to the community. Maybe it comes with just staying out of the public eye.

I know that for me personally, there are certain individuals who will never be able to be redeemed. Their abusive behaviour is baked into their DNA and their art is forever lost to me. Some have been caught up in the tidal wave of shit hitting the fan and were negligent and behaved poorly once or twice. They may be worthy of salvaging if their future actions earn them that right and my trust.

Until then, as another friend said, "we struggle."

Monday, 13 November 2017

Ready For My Close-Up Mr. DeMille

I haven't written for awhile mostly because I have been fully and completely blocked. You, my single digits of readers, have certainly not needed me to comment on how massive the shitstorm is this fall. There are indeed crappy things going on in the world, but far better pundits than I have been far more eloquent in opining on such matters, so I have digitally kept to myself.

Until yesterday, that is.

Yesterday, my online presence ran smack dab into my real life world and it's all because of a pilot project that Toronto City Council decided to initiate right outside of my living room window.

Ready for my close up Mr. DeMille.

A bit of history and a quick primer on Toronto transit politics is in order to fully understand why a  tsunami of press people (ok. Only 4 so far.)  have filled my inbox since early Sunday morning.

King Street is a major east/west artery that runs through Downtown Toronto. The busiest three-kilometre stretch of King is home to the financial district, the entertainment district, restaurants, clubs, bars, banks, theatres, and thousands of condos. The public transportation for most commuters is the streetcar run by our transit commision the TTC. According to the TTC's own figures, upwards of 65,000 commuters use the King streetcar every day, making it the busiest transit route in the city. The TTC contrasts that with the approximately 20,000 drivers who traverse the same corridor daily. The numbers and the fact that streetcars are stationary vehicles that must remain on their tracks, often translate to traffic gridlock across King even at the best of daily travel times. Anecdotally speaking as one who uses this mode of public transport on a regular basis, it isn't unusual for this trip of three kilometres to take close to a half hour to forty-five minutes at rush hour. Most of these delays are caused by streetcars, who are carrying over one hundred passengers, having to wait for single passenger cars to turn left at various intersections. The city and the TTC realized long ago that transit on King was broken and needed to be fixed.

In the Rob Ford era of a few years ago, the "war on car" faction in the city desperately wanted to get rid of the streetcars. They viewed these people movers as anachronisms and the source of all their traffic ills that won't let them Fast and Furious their way across King Street. Financial considerations and a sane person in the mayor's office has at the very least demanded study of the route.

So, that is what Toronto City Council and the TTC initiated yesterday. Dubbed the King Street Pilot Project, the goal is to study the effects of traffic curbing measures on that very same three-kilometre stretch. The idea is that from Bathurst east through Jarvis, all cars MUST make right-hand turns at the next intersection and they CANNOT go through.

There are clearly marked and designated yellow streetcar lanes at each intersection that drivers are not permitted to use. There are also clearly marked new right-hand turn lanes at each intersection as well as signage and new right-hand turn signals at each block. A driver might miss it the first time out of habit, but only willful ignorance and arrogance or piss poor driving would cause a driver to miss all of the markers. Taxis must also adhere to the new traffic laws, but they are exempt between the hours of 10pm and 5am. Police and transit authorities will be out in force for the first week of the project in an attempt to educate drivers and by the second week they will be handing out tickets and demerit points. It's $110 and 2 points if you don't follow the law.

Drivers are understandably upset. They often feel as though their commutes should take precedence over those lowly pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users. They are not happy about being diverted to streets north and south of King and many are vociferously trying to make their case to council about the possibility of simply circling for hours in the downtown core. They may have a case, but as with all things requiring study, we simply won't know until the pilot project is completed a year from now.

Which finally brings me to our Andy Warhol moment. We live at the corner of one of the intersections of the project and it just so happens that we have a bird's eye perspective of King Street from our living room. Knowing that the project was beginning yesterday, The Husband and I decided to spend a bit of time watching the new traffic patterns. Remember. It was Sunday morning and a fairly light traffic time for the downtown core. There were transit officials and Toronto Police Service personnel at the intersection as promised. What we saw were hundreds of cars flouting the new laws. Some were obviously oblivious to the new norm. Others were wilfull in their disobedience. Many were driving dangerously and many more were just plain angry. We saw one officer almost plowed over and just throw his hands up in disgust. Most cabs were in "fuck you" mode and pedestrians were caught up in a game of Frogger as they attempted to cross with their legs and arms still intact. It was mayhem.

So what would you do if you witnessed such a thing? Why start tweeting of course. I began snapping pictures of cars, cops, and people trying to make sense of the new project. You can follow along here but here are a few samples.

The best and the worst of social media started barraging my mentions. People thanked me for helping educate the public. Others told me I was stupid and had no idea what it was like to drive in the city. One genius decided to show off his masterful intelligence by quoting Henry David Thoreau at me about the art of civil disobedience. Just to be clear. I am not an advocate for nor a dissenter against this project. I was simply reporting what I was seeing. Unlike many, I am willing to give the project a chance and see how it develops.

Well...I suppose my tweets caught the attention of CBC News and one of their reporters direct messaged me asking if she could speak with us and come over to see what we were seeing. After a brief phone conversation, she and her cameraman made their way up to our place and we chatted for about a half an hour. The story led last night's local newscast. You can watch it here or read it here if your day is really boring.

I wish I could tell you that our fifteen minutes of fame is over, but it isn't. Given that today is a work day, the press and the social media trolls are working overtime. I have been quoted and featured in BlogTO this morning and The Husband is going down to do another interview this afternoon with GlobalTV. I am begging off of this one. Frankly, I am exhausted from the frenzy. 😂

People have been asking me what my opinion is on this new project. As a driver, pedestrian, and transit user I am willing to give it a try. Let's give it a shot and see what happens. King Street is a broken transit hub and I give credit to planners and politicians for at least trying to repair it. The project may very well fall flat on its ass, but we won't know that until the data comes back. That's the thing about science. It is rarely just anecdotal. Where I hope our media star-turn will help is in the education of the bastards who are so obviously flouting the law in the name of "civil disobedience." (I'm looking at you Toronto taxi drivers.) Let's at least be honest. Civil disobedience can really only be a thing when one group is being oppressed by another. Are you really going to whine about drivers being oppressed by right-hand turns? Talk about exercising one's privilege. Your "civil disobedience" might actually get some innocent person injured or killed. Is your "right" to drive through unimpeded on King really worth that hell? Follow the law until it isn't the law any longer.

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday about how this mess will make his drive into the city, which he deems already a nightmare, even worse. He is probably right, but he is exactly the problem that the city is trying to address. It is better and more efficient to move a hundred people at a time at the inconvenience of one. In order for Toronto to flourish and grow as a cosmopolitan centre, we need to become more reliant on other forms of transportation and yes, that will come at the expenses of the lone driver. We need to get people out of their cars and move them in a different manner. My career as a traffic reporter for the city is thankfully and rapidly drawing to a close, but I hope that this little episode will at the very least, make somebody think twice about arrogantly and wilfully flouting traffic calming measures that are there for the collective good. We are all in this together, Toronto.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Battle of the Sexes

Editor's Note:

Dawn and The Husband will be spending the next few days attending the Toronto International Film Festival, known to the locals as TIFF. As rookie attendees, they realize there is a great deal to learn and a great deal to know. They have selected a modest number of films (5) as their initiation into TIFF with hopes that perhaps this learning experience will lead to a more comprehensive schedule in future years. TIFF is also serving as a tremendous distraction from the world's ills, the impending High Holidays, and hurricanes named for Jewish uncles and aunts. The next several posts will focus on TIFF and offer very quick bullet point reviews for the movies seen. Plan your Oscar ballots appropriately.

If you are interested in the first four posts from this series, you can read them here, here, here, and here.

  • Today was our final day at TIFF and while the festival is winding down, the crowds on King Street haven't abated all that much. Maybe it is because it is Friday and there are still two more days for movie lovers to get their fix, or maybe it is because it is a stunning Friday evening in the entertainment district and the cafes and patios are packed with Torontonians aching for those last gasps of summer. Or maybe it is because of the movie shoot across the street from our building that is impeding both foot and car traffic. Whatever the reason, we have been truly impressed with our rookie season at TIFF. I have been fairly vocal in this space on previous occasions as to why we generally don't like the modern movie-going experience. While we both are cinephiles at heart, the constant chatter, eating, phone conversations, and generally rude public behaviour has pushed us towards iTunes, Netflix, and other On-Demand services. There is little of that anti-social behaviour from TIFF audiences aside from a few industry insiders who have obviously forgotten what public screenings are for. There really is nothing like viewing a movie on the big screen. It was what they were made for. I had forgotten and I am thrilled that TIFF brought us back to our roots.
  • Today's film, Battle of the Sexes is our third out of five that features a same-sex romance at its core. This is just a statement of plain fact and I can't tell you how happy it makes me at how nonplussed every single audience member was. There is an almost mainstream feel to it, as it always should have been. I remember vividly the ocean of ink spilled about big-name actors signing on to appear in Philadelphia or whether or not Brokeback Mountain was a legitimate Oscar contender due to its "mature" subject matter. The three movies we saw this year didn't really care. They just presented love as love in all its iterations and it was truly beautiful.
  • Battle of the Sexes was our filler film. I couldn't get tickets to another we wanted, so this was our fallback. It tells the story of the classic tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs that took place in front of a worldwide TV audience of over 90 million viewers. I was almost eleven years old at the time and I vividly recall watching Billie Jean kick Bobby's ass. That bit of information does not require a spoiler alert. It is historical fact and one of the great moments for the women's movement of the 1970s. Billie Jean King was already a feminist icon for her battles for Title IX and the pioneering of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) in order to bring women's tennis prize money in line with their male counterparts. She was and still remains a role model for young girls and women everywhere for her never give in mentality and her philosophy that women could do anything to which they set their minds. This movie is certainly an homage to her and to the struggles that are still facing women in the public eye today. Here's a story to illustrate my point. At the Rio Olympics last summer, a reporter interviewing tennis gold medalist Andy Murray said: “You’re the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals. That’s an extraordinary feat, isn’t it?” To which Mr. Murray rightly replied: "Male player. I think Venus and Serena [Williams] have won about four each." 
  • Battle of the Sexes is a very "Hollywood" film. That isn't to say it's not worthy, but rather it is merely formulaic. The acting is excellent. Emma Stone is terrific as Billie Jean King and her vulnerability is a real asset in the role. She also had to learn how to play tennis apparently, but when you have Billie Jean King as a coach I suppose you could do worse. Steve Carell is every bit the buffoon as Bobby Riggs, but he also brings a great deal of pathos to the part that almost makes the cartoonish and very narcissistic Riggs likable. The acting transcends the weaknesses in the direction and the editing and makes the film eminently enjoyable.
  • I watched Battle of the Sexes with a very jaded eye but I did enjoy it. I will admit that if we hadn't seen it at TIFF, we probably would have waited for On Demand or streaming services. It is just a bit too mainstream for my liking. I was much more in tune with the real-life throwback footage of Howard Cosell and the incredibly chauvinistic way he called the match, even going so far as to say that Billie Jean was "walking around the court like a man." I had no memory of that. I was also fascinated at the battles off the court that were won by these incredibly brave individuals who redefined women's sports. Dawn and The Husband's recommendation for this film: Two middling YUPS.
And...so ends our time at TIFF 2017. This was definitely an experience we will repeat. We learned a lot and saw some great movies. As a matter of fact, I saw more films in a theatre in this one week than I have all year. There are some who have become disenchanted or disillusioned with how corporate and slick TIFF has become and there is some merit to those criticisms, but for pure movie fun, it was a hoot.

Shabbat Shalom to all who observe and for those celebrating the upcoming Yamim Noraim, Shana Tova U'metukah. May the upcoming year be a sweet one, a healthy one, and one of peace. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Origin Story of All Origin Stories

Editor's Note:

Dawn and The Husband will be spending the next few days attending the Toronto International Film Festival, known to the locals as TIFF. As rookie attendees, they realize there is a great deal to learn and a great deal to know. They have selected a modest number of films (5) as their initiation into TIFF with hopes that perhaps this learning experience will lead to a more comprehensive schedule in future years. TIFF is also serving as a tremendous distraction from the world's ills, the impending High Holidays, and hurricanes named for Jewish uncles and aunts. The next several posts will focus on TIFF and offer very quick bullet point reviews for the movies seen. Plan your Oscar ballots appropriately.

If you are interested in the first three posts in this series check here, here, and here.

Winding It Down at TIFF

  • We are very aware that VISA is a major sponsor at TIFF, (their signs are all over King Street) but we had no idea that holding a VISA Infinite card could provide some very lovely perks for the film festival. As we once again stood in a queue waiting for our entrance into the world premiere of Dr. Marston and the Wonder Women, an orange-clad TIFF volunteer approached us. She asked everyone in line if they might be holding a VISA Infinite card. The Husband and I both looked at each other with the same WTF face but to his credit, he decided to dig out his wallet and check his VISA card. Who knew? Our TD Aeroplan VISA card is indeed marked "Infinite". We had absolutely no idea and still are unsure what this might mean in our everyday life, but for that moment we were winners. Our host volunteer explained to us that Infinite card holders were entitled to lounge access, free snacks, and a front row seat to the red carpet walk. So, the two of us followed her like dazed sheep into the lounge at the Princess of Wales Theatre where we were gifted with fresh popcorn, bottled water, chocolate truffles, and Luke Evans up close and personal. After almost a week of TIFFing, we still have so much to learn.
  • We had wonderful seats for this film but were located right beside an exit door. Usually, that wouldn't present much of a problem, but this particular exit was where the security people were positioned. One of the little things we have noticed is how seriously they take potential video pirates. As each film starts, a security person stands in an unobtrusive spot and with a special infrared device seeks out those shitheels who might be surreptitiously recording the film. Last night they caught somebody and were racing in and out of our exit door throughout the movie. I really understand that they were just doing their jobs, but a little stealthiness would have been nice.
  • Once again the industry people were the rudest movie-goers in the sold out crowd. Phones used by these bastards rang on three separate occasions. I think that there needs to be a TIFF code of conduct explicitly written for industry insiders.
  • One of the things that I have enjoyed more than anything else about the film festival is that I know little more than a blurb about each movie we have attended. The lack of reviews, spoilers, and cinematic trailers is so refreshing for this movie goer. I love that each film is surprising and intricate in its development. I might suggest that anybody planning on seeing any of the movies premiering here at TIFF within the next few months take a similar path. Try and stay off the internet, avoid the reviews, and eschew the trailers if at all possible. It does make for a far more exciting ride. It is why I have been purposely vague in my quick hit movie "reviews" and descriptions. Too much knowledge spoils the fun.
  • Wonder Woman is certainly having her moment in the sun. What a cinematic year this has been for the Amazonian heroine. Dr. Marston and the Wonder Women is the origin story to end all origin stories. Director Angela Robinson tells the tale of Professor William Marston, the creator of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and the very unconventional life he led with two very unconventional women, both of whom served as templates for his comic book character. (I find it very interesting that both Wonder Woman-based films this year were directed by women. Maybe it's time for Hollywood executives to get the message that women directors have much to say and that their movies can draw audiences.) The film stars Luke Evans as the very unorthodox college psychology professor, with the always severely underappreciated Rebecca Hall playing his formidable wife. Aussie actress Bella Heathcote beautifully completes the familial triangle as Olive. The three actors have sizzling chemistry, but it is the performance of Rebecca Hall that stands apart from the others. She deftly commands the screen as she hopscotches through her fears and desires. Her performance is a tour de force and I will not be surprised to see her during awards season. It is simply one of the finest performances of the year. Unfortunately, due to the death of her father, she was unable to be at the screening last night to accept the accolades. The standing ovation that the crowd gave was in large measure for her. Dr. Marston and the Wonder Women is a delight. It demonstrates that sometimes the superheroes aren't only in the comic pages. Dawn and The Husband's recommendation for this film: Two enthusiastic YUPS. Seriously. Go see this movie. (And yes...we are 4/4)

Monday, 11 September 2017

"TIFF"ing With Jewish Toronto

Editor's Note:

Dawn and The Husband will be spending the next few days attending the Toronto International Film Festival, known to the locals as TIFF. As rookie attendees, they realize there is a great deal to learn and a great deal to know. They have selected a modest number of films (5) as their initiation into TIFF with hopes that perhaps this learning experience will lead to a more comprehensive schedule in future years. TIFF is also serving as a tremendous distraction from the world's ills, the impending High Holidays, and hurricanes named for Jewish uncles and aunts. The next several posts will focus on TIFF and offer very quick bullet point reviews for the movies seen. Plan your Oscar ballots appropriately.

Another Day, Another Film at TIFF
  • The festival has proven to be a wonderful distraction for both The Husband and me. Between the never-ending shitshow that is playing out in real time south of the border, to the fretful past few days worrying about friends, family, and property who were in Aunt Irma's path, to the nauseating mayoral announcement of the nastier and more explicitly evil of the Ford brothers, to the upcoming High Holidays, the early part of this month hasn't really been a cornucopia of fun times. TIFF has allowed us to escape from some of that outside misery and to bury ourselves within the escapism of the movies. I honestly can't think of a better use for my entertainment dollars right now.
  • While many continue to hunt down and stalk celebrities, I am far more excited when a sighting just happens organically. Truth be told, I have never been starstruck. I am in awe of the talent and the art but celebrity frankly bores me. Still, it can be a wee bit thrilling when while just strolling down King Street yesterday, we happened to bump into Willem Dafoe headed into our local Starbucks for a caffeine infusion. What was even better? As we ventured further down the street, there in front of us was his six-year-old costar from The Florida Project Brooklynn Prince, all decked out in her TIFFiest finery, signing autographs. Yes...I said six years old! Hollywood. OY!
  • Today's film, Disobedience, is set in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community in the London neighbourhood of Hendon.   I am usually very suspicious of Jewishly themed movies for a number of reasons but chief amongst them is that Jews like to go and see Jewish movies and act as if we somehow had a hand in creating them. I call it the "Pride of the Tribe" mentality. As a result, today's noon showing of this film felt like being dropped into the middle of a Hadassah-Wizo conclave. Half of the middle-aged Jewish women of Toronto were in the sold-out crowd. Some had dragged their less-than-enthusiastic husbands along for the ride. As we stood in the queue waiting to enter the theatre, the gentleman behind us complained to his wife that she had tricked him into attending a drama when she knows that he only likes comedies. Worse yet for this guy? There are two women as the leads. Popcorn was his only saving grace. 
  • A quick aside. How funny was it that during a rabbinic study session in the film, the yeshiva bochers (young men) were studying the first verses of Song of Songs...the very same verses that The Husband and I read aloud during Torah study this past Shabbat? We kept waiting for one of the rebbes in the scene to bring up Rashi's interpretation.
  • One other quick aside. The orthodox Jewish woman played with such surprising depth and repression by Rachel McAdams shlepped the very same bundle buggy that I purchased for The Husband. It was described in the movie as "very frum". I was almost under my seat during that scene because I was laughing so hard. The Husband was less than impressed.
  • Disobedience was a pre-festival choice of mine and The Husband came along for the ride. It is the tale of childhood friends reuniting following the death of one of their fathers. There is an acute somberness to the film that is necessary to the storyline so that when the release finally does come it is welcome and exhilarating. Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams create characters of complexity and depth, but it is Rachel McAdams' Esti that is at the heart of the film. We see her in a role unlike any she has ever played before and she is almost struggling to keep her natural radiance submerged. When both she and Esti let it go, it is almost magical. It is so refreshing to see women in a film that are not there to serve as eye-candy or to prop up the men. This is a story about two women and it is ably crafted by director Sebastian Lelio in his first English language film. Disobedience is a slow simmer, but it is a freeing delight. Dawn and The Husband's recommendation for this film: Two enthusiastic YUPS!

A quick note. We don't really like every film we see. We have just been lucky so far at 3 for 3. Hopefully, our streak will continue.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Sunday at TIFF with George

Editor's Note:

Dawn and The Husband will be spending the next few days attending the Toronto International Film Festival, known to the locals as TIFF. As rookie attendees, they realize there is a great deal to learn and a great deal to know. They have selected a modest number of films (5) as their initiation into TIFF with hopes that perhaps this learning experience will lead to a more comprehensive schedule in future years. TIFF is also serving as a tremendous distraction from the world's ills, the impending High Holidays, and hurricanes named for Jewish uncles and aunts. The next several posts will focus on TIFF and offer very quick bullet point reviews for the movies seen. Plan your Oscar ballots appropriately.

A few quick hits from TIFF

  • King Street or "Festival Street" as it has been dubbed during the festival, has been a walking wall of people this weekend. The mayor has stated publicly that he wants this to be the last year that King will close on the first weekend of TIFF. I do understand the city's issues. Diverting the streetcars, asking commuters to find alternate routes into work, and moving traffic onto other arteries is a major pain in the ass. But...it is also an amazing street festival that is drawing thousands of visitors into the entertainment district and the bars and restaurants are absolutely loving it. I think that the mayor might want to chat with some of these small business owners before he makes this recommendation to council.
  • I DO NOT understand these crazy "star gazers" who are staking out areas behind theatres or camping on the street in front of restaurants to catch a glimpse of simply anybody. As we walked by the Princess of Wales theatre this morning, we noticed the huge crowds waiting with fevered anticipation. I asked one woman who they were waiting for and she answered, "I don't have a clue, but it must be someone big." Here's an example of what they see. Behind the elbow of the guy holding up his phone, you might catch a glimpse of Jake Gyllenhaal. That's me in the black jacket.
     I mean...Jake is cute and all but this wasn't even a brush with fame. It was more like a whisper. As we walked by a sandwich shop today, fifty people were waiting for Steve Carell to finish a smoothie. Honestly. This is a strange way to spend one's time.
  • As we waited on the queue for today's film, TIFF volunteers came by to collect any garbage we might have. Toronto may not be a perfect city, but we do try really hard to be a clean one. ***TIFF TIP ALERT*** Make sure that you are aware of the food and beverage policy at the individual venues. Some theatres will allow you to bring water or snacks. Other aren't so friendly.
  • Today's film was Suburbicon. I will admit that this was not a film I was eager to see and I did acquiesce to The Husband and his love of everything Coen Brothers. I have mixed feelings about the brothers and their films. I love some and hate others. But, this is TIFF and one must be open to a variety of film types. In Suburbicon, director George Clooney has taken an aging Coen script written in the early '80s, tweaked it, and created a brutal dark comedy combined with a historically accurate racially charged moment from America's checkered past. It is obvious that Clooney was eager to make a statement in this film and while there were times that I thought his attention was too divergent, the film does work on both levels. While Matt Damon and Julianne Moore are the big draws, the film is actually flat out stolen from them both by the work of young Noah Jupe and a wonderfully evil turn by Oscar Issac. 
  • Suburbicon actually surprised me. I went into the theatre ambivalent and walked out fulfilled. It is a film that will really please Coen Brother disciples and given his history and comfort with Ethan and Joel, Clooney is a good fit as director. (It was a really wonderful surprise when George came out and did a quick Q and A with the audience. That doesn't usually happen unless the movie is a premiere. He is brilliantly funny, easy-going, happy to answer questions about his work...not his personal life...we were warned, and truly charming.) Suburbicon is not for everybody but it will find a willing audience with dark comedy aficionados and those looking for a bit more depth in their film choices.  Dawn and The Husband's recommendation for this film: An enthusiastic YUP from The Husband and a YUP, GO SEE IT from Dawn. 

Friday, 8 September 2017

Lessons Learned From TIFF-Day 1

Editor's Note:

Dawn and The Husband will be spending the next few days attending the Toronto International Film Festival, known to the locals as TIFF. As rookie attendees, they realize there is a great deal to learn and a great deal to know. They have selected a modest number of films (5) as their initiation into TIFF with hopes that perhaps this learning experience will lead to a more comprehensive schedule in future years. TIFF is also serving as a tremendous distraction from the world's ills, the impending High Holidays, and hurricanes named for Jewish uncles and aunts. The next several posts will focus on TIFF and offer very quick bullet point reviews for the movies seen. Plan your Oscar ballots appropriately.

Lessons Learned From TIFF-Day 1

  • Standing in line is a fact of film festival life even when you have tickets. We arrived almost an hour and a half before our scheduled time and were still on queue halfway up Yonge Street. Worse yet, it was pouring rain and umbrellas were continually poking into eyes, ears, and necks. We became quite friendly with our linemates and picked up a few really good TIFF tips like wear comfortable shoes and clothes, pack a bag for the weather, bring snacks, and perhaps send one person to wait on line while their friends simply join as the line begins to move. If this were movie-waiting etiquette south of the 49th, I am certain we might have seen a Hamilton-like duel with pistols drawn in the middle of the street. But this is Toronto the Good and everybody just accepts it with humour and affection.
  • We found really great seats in the theatre that just happened to be in the general proximity of many industry insiders. Most seemed to be distribution company buyers and as our film On Chesil Beach is still in search of distribution, there were a lot of these guys on hand. ***TIFF tip alert.*** Try and avoid sitting near these people. They are extremely inconsiderate movie goers. Most were on their phones throughout the film and every single one was texting continually. They did everything business oriented imaginable except "take a meeting" in row R at the Wintergarden Theatre. Hopefully one of those rude bastards will offer a distribution network for this film. It is worthy.
  • On Chesil Beach was a film that both The Husband and I had on our pre-TIFF wishlists. I am a huge fan of author Ian McEwan and adored the film adaptation of one of my all-time favourite novels Atonement. I haven't yet read On Chesil Beach, but the film description had me at actress Saoirse Ronan. I will watch her in anything, even The Lovely Bones. (God...I hated that book and I hated the movie even more, but it did star Saoirse Ronan.) She is the rare actor who has successfully made the transition from child star to luminous and extraordinarily talented adult thespian. I liken her to a young Cate Blanchett. She is able to convey emotion without ever speaking a word; her face a road map of sentiment and her choice of roles has been thoughtful and wise. She does not disappoint in this film.
  • On Chesil Beach is a gut-wrenching film. It twists the audience into so many knots that it is necessary to keep the Zantac handy. The screenplay by Ian McEwan, based on his novel, is traumatic and painful, but oh so real. The roles of Florence and Edward are played with searing agony by the aforementioned Ms. Ronan and newcomer Billy Howle. (Dunkirk). There were many in the audience who found the subject matter difficult and would have preferred an easier character play and love story, but the authenticity of On Chesil Beach is what makes this film so brilliant.
  • We left the theatre spent and satisfied. On Chesil Beach isn't for the faint of heart movie goer, but rather it is a film for one who is drawn to character studies and the struggle of what goes into building a real relationship. If it gets a decent distribution deal, it could do very well into awards season, particularly for its lead actress. Dawn and The Husband's recommendation for this film: Two enthusiastic YUPS!
Our next film isn't until Sunday. Until then....Shabbat Shalom to all who observe and for those of you facing that bitchy Irma...stay safe, friends.