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. 

Sunday, 3 September 2017

A Brief Moment in Time Captured in GIFS...Part 3

Day 3 of this saga actually begins on Day 2.

Too many hours. Too much of nothing. So little progress left both The Husband and me looking and feeling much like this.



Nine months of anticipation, planning, and excitement and we are brought down by a stubborn fetus who adamantly refused all entreaties to leave its comfortable womb.



As midnight on the second day approached, we were both utterly and completely exhausted. The drugs that they had given me were wearing off and every pregnant woman who had been wheeled in after had come and gone with their new bundles of joy. Our doctor had brought in a specialist to consult who was so brash and miserable, she frankly scared the shit out of me. She actually threatened...yes I said threatened...me with a C-section. Well, I was having none of her bullshit and decided right then and there that this woman wasn't going to come within 10 metres of me and my unborn tiny human ever again.



This baby was going to be born and be born the old fashioned way, even if I had to rip it out myself.

By the way...a quick word about prenatal classes. As first-time parents, we were absolutely enrolled. There were supposed to be ten sessions. As a result of our earlier than planned delivery, we only managed to attend four. Obviously, we missed quite a bit that probably would have come in handy during our extended labour and delivery. When The Husband called our instructor to advise her that we would not be returning due to the birth of the baby, she asked if her teaching had been beneficial. The Husband answered very much like this...



Midnight of another day came and went and we were still waiting. Finally, at around 2:00 am they took me into delivery and after approximately 37 1/2 hours of labour (yes, you read that correctly!) at 2:32 am on the morning of September 3rd, 1987, out he came complete with ten toes and eleven fingers. Of course, none of us, not the doctors, nurses, The Husband, nor I noticed the genetic polydactylism until the next day. We were all simply too exhilarated to care and too exhausted to count.



They took him from me to weigh, measure, and APGAR and told me that normally they would have wheeled us both back to a room, but they really wanted me to sleep. I didn't need the coaxing. Within a half an hour I was like...



And The Husband was headed home for a nap.

As morning on the third day arose, I was completely mesmerized and totally and completely in love. I was also acutely aware that I had missed the funeral of my friend. So many people I knew were in a state of vacillation. They wept with joy for the birth of our Older Son and at the same time, they wept with sadness for the passing of a dear one.



There will always be a bit of sadness associated with that time. It honestly can't be helped. Life is indeed a strange circle. But the joy that I felt then and still feel today thirty years later, is untrammeled and limitless. The pleasure and delight I feel whenever I look into my son's face and the pride I experience whenever I admire the man he has become, is infinite. He is the reason that I am a mother. I love him more today than I did yesterday and less than I know I will tomorrow.



Today I wish him the happiest of birthdays. I know that milestones like this one are difficult for him and I won't push too much. I am stunned at the mercurial passage of thirty years, but I will simply say this to my Older Son:

You are the fiercely independent one. The one who has always been smarter and more determined than almost everybody and never been afraid to show it to anyone. You do not suffer fools and you do not do stupidity. You don't do phony and you refuse to pretend. You are incredibly moral and you live by your values even when others don't always understand you. You have been called "quirky" and "weird" and "sarcastic" and "different", but we both know that all of that is the beautiful and unique side of you. You are brilliant and funny, talented and decent. You have challenged me since that very first day thirty years ago and I have loved all of that about you and more, now and always. I love you my Older Son. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. Happy new decade to both of us. Celebrate it well and never be shy about being your authentic self.





Saturday, 2 September 2017

A Brief Moment in Time Captured in GIFS...Part 2

Day 2 of this story actually begins at midnight of  Day 1.

By midnight, the doctor told us to pack up and head to the hospital. Pacing around our home had done little to move the process along, so he figured the hospital was a better place for him to keep tabs on me. So, off we went.



But the tiny human that I was marinating proved to be a stubborn cuss. Foreshadowing? Our arrival at the maternity ward did nothing to improve our progress. While the staff was lovely and caring, there was very little they could do to improve our situation, so there was a lot of this.



And for The Husband, there was plenty of this....



To this day, thirty years later, he still complains that while he absolutely acknowledges that I was doing all of the difficult work, (hence the term LABOUR!) he actually got zero sleep over those hours because of the fact that he had to sleep in a chair. My pity knows no bounds. (Does sarcasm translate through a screen?)

I will dispense with many of the gory details of this story. Birthing babies is indeed a beautiful miracle and we shall leave it at that. But...for the entirety of September 2nd, 1987 we did a lot of this...



And this...



With some of this thrown in...



And absolutely NONE of this...



And still none of this...



And all that day, family and friends were preparing to say goodbye to my friend. All my life's a circle indeed.




Part three will be up tomorrow. Stay tuned to this space for the grand finale.